Nominated | Book Awards 2020 | English Non-fiction
What is today the overcrowded, neglected city of Old Delhi was once the magnificent capital of the Mughal Empire. At its heart was the spectacular Qila-e-Mubarak, now known as the Red Fort. Commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639, the beautiful city of Shahjahanabad was built around the spectacular Qila-e-Mubarak (Red Fort), on the banks of the Yamuna. Almost a decade later, in 1648, Shah Jahan entered through the river gate and celebrated the completion of this 'paradise on earth' filled with gardens, palaces, water bodies, mosques and temples. About two hundred years later, the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, left the fort by the same gate after the failed Mutiny against the British in 1857. Subsequently, both the fort and the city fared badly, as they faced the wrath of the British. The final instalment in Rana Safvi's informative, illustrated series of books on Delhi, Shahjahanabad: The Living City of Old Delhi describes the magnificence of the fort and the city through its buildings that are a living monument to the grandeur and strife of the past.
Rana Safvi is a renowned writer, scholar and translator. She is the author of Where Stones Speak: Historical Trails in Mehrauli, the First City of Delhi, The Forgotten Cities of Delhi and Tales from the Quran and Hadith. Her blog, www.ranasafvi.com, is a repository of her writings on Indian culture, food, heritage and age-old traditions. She lives in Delhi with her family.
Rana Safvi’s history of Shahjahanabad is as much about its inhabitants as about its grand buildings. The third book in the ‘Where Stones Speak’ trilogy is unique in that it speaks of a living city, for Shahjahanabad exists today too…. To present this living fabric of heritage through a book of popular history is daunting, therefore, and must necessarily come from a place of deeper understanding – one that a cursory visit to the ubiquitous Jama Masjid or a meal at the now mainstream Karim’s Hotel cannot provide. Only an individual steeped in every morsel of nihari found in the city, every faded inscription in the lost monuments of every qatra, could possibly have this skill. In other words, only Rana Safvi.
‘Most people have no idea of Shahjahanabad’s glory days’. Rana Safvi says it’s heartbreaking to see Shahjahanabad, a city that was once one of the finest in the world, being notified today as a slum… My pain at destruction of heritage anywhere in the world is very real and palpable. When it comes to India, it becomes even more personal and acute. How can we afford to lose it? These glorious structures are ours, a part of our glorious heritage and we have to restore and preserve them’.
– Hindustan Times
Anyone familiar with Rana Safvi’s work knows how well she writes. Her words, as much as the pictures show readers the places she writes about. Her imagery isn’t devoid of emotion though and her writing builds the atmosphere of the times she talks about and readers will be all but teleported. This book is a must-read for those who enjoy history and live in Delhi.
– Times of India