You do not know Delhi till you know its dargahs: graves of its many Sufi pirs. Historic monuments like the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort mark victories of Muslim armies as explicitly claimed by the Quwat-ul Islam mosque next to the Minar. But the Sufis made continuous efforts to bring Islam closer to Hinduism: to mark stages of success in that direction. Sadia Dehlvi has done path-breaking research work in this direction. The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi (Harper Collins) is an invaluable collection of essays on the Delhi Sufis, the legends attached to them and miracles performed by them. They tell you more about Dilliwalas of the past than any other book I have come across. It is well-written and profusely illustrated. Sadia has put us under a debt of gratitude.
To start with I could not understand the title of the book Culture of the Sepulchre. From the picture of Idi Amin on the cover I worked out it must be about the first black ruler of Uganda. I happened to be in the country on the invitation of the Indian community a few weeks before Idi Amin wrested power and became the ruler. Every town I visited I saw notices on Indian shops reading 'property and business on sale'. They sensed that when the blacks took control of their country, they would loot their shops and homes. Many had fled to England and Canada with whatever they could take. And so it happened. A few weeks after I returned home to India, Amin grabbed power and became the King of Uganda. First he showed the whites their place. He seated himself in a throne-chair and ordered the Englishmen to take it round streets of main cities. Then, as Sultans before his time, he proceeded to eliminate his enemies and acquire a large harem.
He cast his eyes on some pretty Gujarati girls - daughters of proprietors of sugar and cotton mills. The families fled from Uganda. Then he sensed that his assassination had been planned. He fled to Makka where he spent his last years.
Amin continues to be a fascinating subject for a historical and psychological study. But it needs a scholar to write about him. The author of his biography Madanjeet Singh is no scholar. So his biography Culture of the Sepulchre: Idi Amin's Monster Regime (Penguin Viking) makes very poor reading.
I was surprised that as adviser to this prestigious publishing house I was not consulted when the manuscript was delivered. I am pretty certain that neither was Chiki Sarkar who is the head of Penguin India. It was the English partner who held the majority of shares who decided to publish it.
Madanjeet Singh does not know how to write a biography. He has made a mess of the job. He has lots of money; he will further enrich himself.
Age of Violence
My dear young lady, you will be thrilled
If you refuse to marry your lover,
you will be killed.
My dear teacher, learn to be mild
Never report against or rebuke a child
You had better save your life
For, in his books he hides a knife.
My dear brother, take extra care
And never argue with your neighbour
Even if he usurps your house
or parking space
Be good to him and sue for grace.
Let the motorists overtake you
Let them do whatever they do
Learn to be happy, learn to clap
Even when your son gives you a slap
And if you are waylaid by a robber
Salute him and surrender
For, in this media age, in
this age of road rage
For, in this age of soaring violence
Even saving your life is an offence
Only your impotence is your defence.
(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)
A middle-aged Jewish guy is out for dinner with his wife to celebrate her 40th birthday. He asks, "So what would you like Julie? A Jaguar? A sable coat? A diamond necklace?"
She says, "Bernie, I want a divorce."
He replies, "I wasn't planning on spending that much."
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)
The views expressed by the author are personal.