How did you develop the passion for History?
I owe my initial interest in history to my school teachers, particularly my teacher in class 11 and 12. After that the interest just kept growing.
You have been spreading awareness about the history of Delhi for a long time. Which part of Delhi is your favourite and why?
It is hard to choose, but for spectacular structures I would look at Mehrauli – the QutubMinar and the neighbouring Mehrauli Archaeological Park. For a vibrant living heritage I would go to ChandniChowk.
Your Heritage Walks are extremely popular.Which walk arouses the most interest?
The specially themed ones have proved most popular, i.e. looking at the Red Fort as it looked in Mughal times, by comparing it to vintage paintings. Or doing an 1857 route from the point of view of Indian participants – reading out from their accounts, poetry etc.
Your book ‘ChandniChowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi’ has been nominated for the Valley of Words Book Awards 2018. Are literary awards important for authors to establish credibility around the literary circuit?
I certainly think they are. They give visibility to a work and an author.
Your book covers so many interesting topics such as religion, Nadir Shah, MirzaGhalib, prominent women of Shahjahanabad, Havelis, Conservation in Delhi. Are there any favourite feedbacks that you have received for this work?
I love it when people who are passionate about Delhi and its history, come up and say – ‘I learnt something new’! If people who think they already knew a lot about the subject find the book or its illustrations refreshing, I think I did my job.
Do you feel that the Government is doing enough to protect our heritage?
Lets put it this way, there is so much to be done, whatever it did would not be enough. I think we all have to come forward and participate. That is why I hope that I can add to people’s awareness through my walks, talks, and writing. Some people have told me that they liked the fact that ‘ChandniChowk’ ended on a positive note. It made them believe that we can rescue this historic neighbourhood from the results of years of neglect. If enough people can think this way, things can change. Changes have to be brought about through a concerted joint effort by government, communities and experts.
How do you see the literature festival circuit evolving and what do we need to keep doing to make people read more?
The most important thing is to move out of exclusively elite settings, reach out to more people, different people, more languages, more cities and towns.
About the interviewee:Swapna Liddle is a historian who has worked to take history out of the classroom. Her focus has been on Delhi, through a PhD on nineteenth century Delhi, as well as through many years of activism in the cause of preserving Delhis historic buildings. Her writing reflects both these interests, as she works to make history and heritage accessible through informative, entertaining and easy to read works.
Delhi: 14 Historic Walks (Westland, 2011) grew out of several years experience in leading heritage walks to raise awareness about historic sites. ChandniChowk: The Mughal city of Old Delhi (Speaking Tiger, 2017) is a history of one of the worlds greatest historic cities, established by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan in the seventeenth century. She has also written several articles for academic journals and books, and edited and annotated Sair-ul-Manazil (Tulika 2017), the translation of a nineteenth century work on the monuments of Delhi.
Her forthcoming books and projects include a history of the founding of New Delhi as the capital of British India, a study of a nineteenth century map of Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi), and a history of pre-1857 Delhi, based on her PhD thesis.