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Remains of the Past

Rakshanda Jalil

By Sir Syed Ahmad Khan
Urdu Akademi, New Delhi, 2006, Rs.230.00

By Mirza Farhatullah Beg. Edited by Salahuddin
Urdu Akademi, New Delhi, 2009, Rs.45.00


For the middle of the nineteenth century, it could well be well: 'Those were the best of times; those were the worst of times.' One way of life was coming to an inexorable end; the other was still waiting to be born. The Rebellion of 1857, considered by many as the First War of Independence, did not merely mark the end of a way of life; it also, in a sense, marked a departure in a way of seeing things. While the Muslim response(s) to the events of 1857, the effect on Muslims in general and Muslim intelli-gentsia in particular and the changes ushered in their life and literature as a direct result of this cataclysmic event have been studied by scholars and historians, perhaps no one could have better enunciated the effect of these changes than those who lived through these trying times and were directly affected by these events. Also, given the close relationship between social reality and literary texts, it is important to revisit and reexamine the literature(s) produced during times of great social upheaval. Doing so can provide a far more nuanced understanding of historical events than official records and documents. The two books under review are, therefore, important and useful. The first, Aasarussanadeed (meaning 'remains of the past') was originally written in 1847 and subsequently revised and published by the Asiatic Society in 1862. In its first edition, the six hundred pages of text were illustrated with over a hundred lithographic illustrations. It listed not just the monuments that lay scattered across the many 'Delhis', but also described the city's fairs, festivals, and included a lengthy account of the city's vibrant cultural life. Compiled at real physical risk to life and limb (for its compilation required the venerable and lugubriously well-built Sir Syed to be dexterously raised and lowered by an ingenious pulley), the four-volume work can be regarded as a lasting monument not only to the author's industry but also to his sense of culture and history, and his realization, well ahead of his times, of the need to record and preserve the monuments of Delhi and their inscriptions. The first edition also contained a large section on the sufis, men of learning, and poets and artists of contemporary Delhi. Divided under ten headings, it also included a listing of 118 eminent citizens of Delhi. Its French translation by Garcin de Tassy was brought out in 1861. ...

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