Talking the walk, Swapna’s Delhi Walk

When  Swapna Liddle’s  Delhi – 14 historic walks   was made available by  BlogAdda for book  review  I grabbed it because I wanted to  ‘re-visit’  Delhi; and because I believe heritage walks are not just for tourists,  but are  also for the likes of me wanting to re-discover Delhi. And here I found a historian with a doctorate in 19th century Delhi  to take me around.

Carrying,  as I do,  an emotional baggage of  having spent my college, and early working life in the city, I admit to reading  Delhi – 14 historic walks with tinted eye-glasses that had weathered 30 Delhi summers (1950-80s).  And if,  in  Liddle’s  290 pages,   I find the  book  leaves something to be desired,  it is because of my rather high expectations.  I expected the author to lead me by the hand while talking the walk,  pointing  things with anecdotes.  I expected a story-teller to bring  alive  the ruins and tombs of nawabs and other nobility with tales,  gossip and myths of their life and times.

I wasn’t totally disappointed, though.  Diwane Khas  at the Red Fort assumed a khasiat (added value) for me after reading Swapna Liddle ,  in the sense  I visualized  the emperor’s special court hall as the  spot where  Shahjahan  suffered the indignity of getting  deposed from the throne by his own son Aurangazeb.  Among other nuggets from history that Liddle weaves in her historic walks was Mehrauli’s  Metcalfe connection.  Sir Thomas Metcalfe,  British agent at the Mughal court in the 1840s, showed up as  bit of a crank in the sense that he converted the first floor of Quila Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli as a retreat.
The Qutab Minar, widely known as symbol of the Turkish conquest of northern India,  was seen by the Muslim faithful as a maznah, from where they gave the call to the faithfuls to come for prayer. Someone who could climb up the Qutab (72.5 m), and still have the stamina to call out to the faithfuls,  must have had super-human lung-power. Hogwash ?  Perhaps,  but it made an interesting read.

The book made me wonder  how Ballimaran got its name ;  I had no occasion to learn, till I read Liddle,  that  Mirza Ghalib lived in a rented haveli that belonged to a neibourhood  hakim.  And that Delhi’s St.Stephen’s College  was initially housed in a modest Chandni Chowk  house in narrow lane called  Katra Kushal Rai.

I wonder if  sarkari tourism  depts.  realise the potentials  of  city walks.  Walking tours are mainly done by  NGOs and through  individual initiatives.  I have read about some city-loving  San Francisco residents devoting their weekends to  taking interested  visitors on neighbourhood walks.  Nearer home, the walks with which I am familiar,  in Mysore and Mylapore (Chennai),  are individual initiatives.  The royal Mysore walks  is the creation of a software techie who got bitten by the walkbug in Singapore. While on assignment abroad Vinay was so taken in by the Singapore city walk  that he chose to return to  native Mysore  to start a heritage walk.  Vinay’s business model has apparantly been  successful  enough for him to start a Mysore bike tour.

I wish his success drives him enough to try out walks for other interest groups –  R K Narayan walk (of his haunts in the city),  the Maharaja’s College walk,  Kukrahalli walk (for bird-watchers),  The Mysore Banyan Walk , Mandi Mohalla or  the Agrahara walk. Speaking  agraharam,  my media friend Vincent D’Souza  has been conducting walks centred on the agraharam in Chennai’s Mylapore. 

INTACH with which the author is associated conducts the walks  she writes about in her book.  Her friend  Surekha Narain,  who acknowledges  Swapna Liddle  as a guiding force, is into conducting  Surekha Walks  devoted to the  Ghalib trail, the Pahargunj bazar, and the 1857 Mutiny walk.  I have a few walks ideas, triggered by my sense of Vintage Delhi. Would  Surekha  consider any of these ?

The Coffee-house walk:  Starts from Janpath where the original coffee-house was located. When the India Coffee Board decided to close  down  its chain of coffee-houses in 60s, their employees, left in the lurch, were backed by the Delhi coffe-house regulars to form a workers’ co-op to take over the Board abandoned coffee-houses. When they  faced eviction from  Janpath, the workers union started the search for an alternative, with  the support of coffee-house regulars –  they included artists,  academics,  poets,  journalists, politicians, lawyers,  insurance agents, and students. Among the regulars were  Inder Gujral and Young Turk  Chandra Shekar.  A joint agitation by coffee-house  regulars and workers  resulted in NDMC  allotment of open space where Thambu coffee-house came to be located .  So called because , the the coffee-house functioned under a tent.  That was the space where  Palika Bazar is now located.  The workers’  coffee-house  eventually moved to Mohan Singh Place,  still in Connaught Place (CP).

Meanwhile,  some  regulars from my time (70s-80s)  drifted away to other C P  locations such as the United Coffee House,  the Tea House in Regal Building. On a Delhi trip a while  back I discovered  a small band of old time regulars meeting  at Connaught Circus Embassy restaurant.  The group of coffee-regulars  is sustained  by my college friend  S P Dutt  (Barkha’s  dad) – we have been coffee-house regulars  since our days together in Hindu College,  till our jobs took us away from  Delhi.  I left New Delhi in early 80s, for good.  SPD, as friends call Dutt, returned to the city,   re-connected with old-time regulars after retirement,  and Embassy is where they meet nowadays.  Out-of-towners ,  like yours truly,  visiting Delhi can catch up with  S P Dutt’s group at Embassy, on weekdays –  ‘make it there,  11ish’,  as SPD would say when you call.

Karolbagh Monday market:  A weekly walk, on Monday,  holiday for  Ajmal Khan Road traders. It is  on Monday pavement hawkers of all type take over the stretch from Pusa Rd. end to the Unani hospital. The pavement close to the Gurudwara Rd. crossing on Ajmal Khan Road  would be of interest for pavement shoppers of used books.

Worship Walk, of 3 histoic temples, a gurudwara and a church. Could start from the Hanuman temple near Rivoli Cinema, Connaught Place;  walk down Irwin Rd. to  Gurdwara Rakhab Gunj;  Continue the walk upto the Gole Post office, where there is a church;  take a turn towards the Bird Rd. Kali Mandir, located on encroached pavement; and make your way to Birla temple on Mandir Marg via the heritage Gole Market.

The Mandir Marg Ridge: This walk could interest alumni of Mandir Marg schools,  notably Harcourt Butler and Madarasi.  Students living in Karolbagh used to walk to school through the ridge,  picking along the way  wild berries with sour-sweet taste,  that grew on thorny bushes.  The back-door ridge was also the escape route, notably for those who had running accounts at the Madarasi  school front  chai-samasa dukhanwala.

Delhi University Walk: For students in my times,  who did cafe-crawling before,  after,  and,  often, during class hours.  University coffee-house,  strategically located near the campus gate bus stop,  was usually the place where students started their day. From here it is a few minutes walk to the Miranda House cafe,  so named because  of its proximity to the noted women’s college hostel. And then there was Wenger’s,  an upscale cafe near the university library, conveniently located for students meeting  for ‘group study’.  After the study session at Wenger’s  day-scholars take a walk with hostellers to catch the bus home,  from the Miranda House stop. The 8 pm bus to Kashmere Gate,  Daryagunj and beyond  that passed by Miranda House was  widely known  among students as Ashiq Special. 8 p m was when the  women’s hostel gate closed for the day.


Oprah, Rushdie rob limelight in Jaipur

Ms. Winfrey,  the one and only Oprah Winfrey,  says she was flummoxed to find that India, a country that prides itself on its close-knit families and respect for elders could also need shelters to house widows shunned by their families.  After her visit Oprah called  Maria Shriver,  and both of them  resolved to help fund the organization that runs the widows ‘shelter.

The audience applauded. The audience comprised mainly writers,  critics and other participants at the  Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).   Ms Winfrey was being interviewed for telecast by  NDTV’s  Barkha Dutt.   Viewership for the show  telecast, prime time,  was  high.  And Oprah  was at her scintillating self;  said a lot of sensible things.  Loved the show.

My issue, however, is with the Jaipur festival folk who hosted the Oprah show.  Someone  with  celebrity status such as Oprah needs no promotion; she commands media attention wherever she goes.  The same cannot be said for many others at the literature  festival who deserve to be heard by a wider audience.  I wish the organisers programmed their proceedings in ways that enable lesser known participants gain much-needed media exposure. I know,  festival organisers can turn around and say they host varied programmes . They can’t be faulted if such festival proceedings  go unnoticed in the media. Organisers cannot tell newspaper reporters  and TV channels whom or what to cover at the festival.

And the media always  goes after celebrities.  The reason why persons of social stature and celebrtiy status are invited to such events is understandable. The festival organisers need participation of the likes of Oprah and Rushdie much more than their need to participate at Jaipur.  In the process  the celebrity invitees take up virtually the entire space, and media attention,  leaving most other  participants  crowded out of the limelight.

The Oprah show at Jaipur took up media time/space that could have otherwise gone to other participants  who could do with some publicity to further their career. The factor that drives lesser known,  but promising,  writers to Jaipur is the possibility it holds for  networking and for media attention.  A person of  Oprah’s calibre and celebrity status has scores of platforms open to her. Ms Dutt could have done her interview in a studio setting.  The festival  organizers could have hosted a round-table format, with Oprah interacting with  a group of writers who deserve to be heard and seen on TV .

What dominates  media coverage at Jaipur is  the protest-reading by four writers , of passages from The  Satanic Verses,  and the controversy over the proposed  visit to Jaipur of author  Salman Rushdie.  And then we had him  announce that he wasn’t coming, after all.   Rushdie’s announcement came with a much publicised statement,  citing intelligence report that held him back from Jaipur. Apparently,  Rushdie  knows  how to gain publicity mileage  even  in absentia.

A Hajj roznamcha

51-vjxra2NL._SL500_AA240_Amir Ahmad Alawi of Lucknow went on Hajj pilgrimage in 1929. It took him five months those days;  and he maintained a diary of the pilgrims progress on a daily basis.  Alawi wrote,  not for publication,  but  for himself,  and for his circle of friends and relations.  Had they invented the Internet eight decades earlier Alawi would have blogged his Hajj roznamcha.

Alawi’s account  has now been published –  Journey to the Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Diary – at a time that coincides with  the Hajj season this year.  Last year over 17 lakh Muslims from the world over visited the holy sites of Mecca and Madina. Hajji Alawi’s diary has been English translated and edited by Mushirul Hasan, historian, and Rakhshanda Jalil of jamia Millia Islamia.

Citizen Musharraf talks peace

His folks at Islamabad had tried to dissuade him from visiting India, said Gen. (retd.) Pervez Musharraf.  He knew we would ask him combative questions. That he  chose to come nonetheless, and stood his ground at a Q & A session in New Delhi, Saturday last, earned him a standing ovation.  His audience included our former army chief Gen. (retd.) V P Mallik,  J & K’s Farooq Abdullah,  ex-attorney general Soli Sorabjee, ‘Samajwadi’ Amar Singh,  leading members from the media and corporate India. 

The former Pakistan army general  said  he was here to talk peace. The burden of his piece was that India and Pakistan would do well to bury their past, stop the blame game; and move on with the confidence-building excercise to bring peace to the region. Citizen Musharraf  evidently had problem convincing a sceptical audience.  But then, he noted, anyone from India  facing a comparable audiance in Pakistan would face the same music. Would someone from India want to try ?  Anyway, the Musharraf Q & A, televised by Headlines Today, were moderated by Mr Aroon Purie of India Today. And , thank you, Mr Purie, for a  live telecast without commercial break.

Gen.Musharraf would like to see India stop the Pak army and ISI bashing. And in response to a query, he observed the RAW was doing the very thing India accused ISI of;  and until they both stopped working against each other, India-Pakistan relations wouldn’t improve.  Soli Sorabjee came up with suggestion : How about handing  over Dawood Ibrahim to India? When Gen. Musharraf  wouldn’t agree that such a hand-over would change  ground realities  Mr Purie cut in to quip, “why not try it (handing over), sir?”. To which Gen.Musharraf countered, “What, if it doesn’t work?  Would he (Dawood Ibrahim) be handed back to us?”.

 Gen Musharraf has a way with words. You may recall , during a US visit he was asked by TV guy Jon Stewart, “where is Osama bin Laden ?”

“I don’t know,” deadpanned  Gen.Musharraf, “Do you(know where to find him)?  You lead on,we’ll follow you” (laughter). This was the fist time a sitting head-of-state  appeared on Jon Stewart’s satirical show on Comedy Central. 

Next Q:  George W Bush and Osama bin Laden; who’d win a popular vote in Pakistan ?

Gen.Musharraf:  “I think they’ll both lose miserably”. 

I don’t suppose Bush would have taken it kindly. But then, as the general told a questioner at the India Today Conclave, “I don’t believe in hypocrisy”.   Now that he is no longer in power, Gen.Musharraf  is, presumably, in the process of finding a role for himself;   he would like to do whatever he can to further the peace agenda,  to promote wider people-to-people contact.

Why not make  the general a  ‘peace envoy’  for the Indian sub-continent? He might out-shine Tony Blair , Europe’s  peace envoy to the Middle-East.  Speaking of p2p contact, Gen.Musharraf  could use his  influence to mobilise young  bloggers  such as Mayank Austen Soofi to  network  informed youth in Pakistan and India.  They are the ones who would be more amenable to burying the murky past;  and moving on,  to focus  on the positives. New Delhi-based Mayank  runs, what the Pak media  termed,  ‘the website that teaches you neighbourly love’.

Gaza under ground attack.

After a week of pounding from air Israelis moved their troops into Gaza strip. TV channels,  notably CNN,  kept up  a running coverage,  but their reporting was from the Israel end,  for no foreign journalist has been allowed into  Gaza. 100_0571100_0562TV doesn’t take us behind this picture of  smoking  Gaza.  It takes a  blogger to give us a sense of the misery and hardhip of ordinary Gazans,  whose most normal condition of life  today is its uncertainty.  A US-based blogger Laila El-Haddad,  who has, till now,  managed to stay in touch with her parents in  Gaza,  shares her thoughts on the plight of  Gazans, trapped in their homes and nowhere to go for safety.

100_0566Excerpts from Laila’s blog post,  after a call to her father,  a physician in Gaza, soon after the land offensive  started on Saturday night:  He said Israel destroyed 3 JAWAL  centers (the mobile  provider); so many mobile phones, including his own,  are  down,  but his landline is functional.. He tells me that a building behind my cousin’s house in Gaza City was destroyed,  and is now burning down in a voracious fire.  It had an orphanage in it.  My mother says she won’t lie..they are terrified.  100_0568

Flares and firebombs are being shot to light up the sky.  Propaganda fliers telling the people of Gaza that  “they chose Hamas and Hamas has abandoned them”;  that “Hamas  will lead them to catastrophe”…and calling on them  (Gazans) to “take charge of their destiny” and to call a given phone number or email with tips and then a warning  to call  “in secrecy” (thanks for the tip). Israel is also  broadcasting on al-Aqsa TV station there.


A sampling of a spate of comments to Laila’s post:

It happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina,  it happened in  Rwanda,  it’s happening in Darfur and what exactly should  we call the mass murder of Palestinian civilians?  Surely not a “quest for peace”.

We are so frustrated,  we go to rallys,  we blog but we feel so helpless. We call our cousins and they sound so scared it frustrates us – Nadia Hammad

I just watched the CNN news interview with you (Laila) and your dad.  I can’t belive how your dad, mashallah,  controlled himself while under attack and you didn’t lose it either listening to him . 

I am a Canadian…non Arab, non Muslim…but a human being and a mother. I cry for the Palestinians just as I did for the people in Lebanon and the Iraqis.

Mumbai 26/11: Bloggers chip in

In the begining there were bloggers. And there was a  flash-flood of posts on the Mumbai terror strike.  Many of them, bloggers, went beyond giving vent to their indignation; beyond fault-finding, finger-pointing, Paki-bashing, and came up with thoughts on steps we need to take not to get caught napping, again.

And then, someone came up with the idea of putting  together their thoughts.  Based on  the  collective thoughts of 100 plus bloggers   Ashutosh Didwania,  a public spirited IT professional,  devised an online survey to  elicit public opinion. IndiBlogger  weighed in with their  support structure to promote the 17-point survey.

To be meaningful, each of us, bloggers or not, could do our  bit create public awareness  about the survey ,  by spreading the word among our e-mail contacts.  Agreed,  this online  exercise  is restricted  to the Net-empowered among us.  The  survey,  though limited in its reach,  is  significant for its scope and content,  I reckon.

To give you an idea of the preliminary response to the  survey that went online a couple of days back,  nearly 75  percent of the first 100 who responded  favour diplomatic moves,  rather than  any military action. While recognising that both people,  in India and Pakistan, are victims of terrorism, 68 percent is for people-to-people contacts,  online and  through other means,  in mobilising people’s opinion against terrorist groups.  One in every 10 respondants, however, made it clear that they would have nothing to do  with those across the border.  I wonder, wouldn’t you, how many nay-sayers are  there over there. 

Click here to access RIM survey.

Avaaz – voicing India-Pak solidarity

I am still hoping — just once — for that mass demonstration (in Pakistan) of ordinary people against the Mumbai bombers, not for my sake, not for India’s sake, but for Pakistan’s sake. – Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.


A global civic advocacy group – – plans to send a message to terrorists that fellow citizens in India and Pakistan stand united in denying extremists their ultimate victory. “If hundreds of thousands sign it, our message will be unmistakable”, says the group’s website.

The solidarity message will soon be published in newspapers across India and Pakistan, and delivered to political leaders in both countries. Till date over 65,800 have signed the message, which says, simply, Mumbai: We will not be divided.

The India-Pak solidarity call finds its echo in the New York Times opinion pieces, by two high-profile writers – Tom Friedman and Amitav Ghosh. Both make out a case for a cross-border people’s movement against terrorism. This is seen necessary to strengthen the hands of the Pak government in tackling  elements within the Pak establishment that sympathise with and support terrorist groups.

Blanket denials by Pakistan, of terrorists presence in their midst wouldn’t help; nor would India’s tough posturing.  Does anyone honestly believe that Islamabad, even it musters the  will,  has the political capability to take on Lashkar-e-Toiba, let alone capture their operatives ? Lashkar, they say, have political clout and their source of funds include opium trade.

Amitav Ghosh, in an op-ed piece – India’s 9/11? Not Exactly – writes that  similarities between the terror strikes in New York and Mumbai shouldn’t lead New Delhi to respond the same way as the Bush Administration did  in 2001. India would do well to learn from Spain,  whose response to 2004 Madrid train blasts emphasised vigilance, patience, and careful police work in co-ordination with neighbouring countries.

Columnist Tom Friedman referred to Pakistani media that voiced their citizens’ anguish and horror over Mumbai terror strikes. The question is whether these citizens would be ready to take to the streets. Referring to violent protests in Lahore and Peshawar in 2006, against disagreeable cortoons published in Denmark the NYT columnist asks if they are ready ” to take to the streets to protest the mass murders of real people, not cartoon characters, right next door in Mumbai”

Says Mr Friedman, “while the Pakistani government’s sober response is important, and the sincere expressions of outrage by individual Pakistanis are critical, I am still hoping for more. I am still hoping — just once — for that mass demonstration of “ordinary people” against the Mumbai bombers, not for my sake, not for India’s sake, but for Pakistan’s sake”.

It is all very well for Amitav Ghosh and Tom Friedman to call for India-Pak solidarity. In fact, I wouldn’t expect anything else from them. If it has to have an  impact on  people in the sub-continent and their leadership,  the solidarity call should come from editors in the mainstream media and  prime news channels in Pakistan and India.

NYT: A test for Pakistan on curbing militants