Saturday, February 29, 2020

Another Book on the Red Fort

The Red Fort is an iconic and complex piece of construction that has undergone both natural and forced transformations. It has been the subject of inquiry and research by many writers, and contains layers of information that can be discussed at multiple levels, with much that we need to appreciate, understand and apply in our present times. Debasish Das’s Red Fort, Remembering the Magnificent Mughals ( 2019) is a presentation of his journey in travelling within the spaces of the Fort and trying to comprehend them.

Das also writes a blog through which he has been sharing his explorations of the city of Delhi and its past. The book is a continuation of his exploration and is a personal interpretation guided by interactions with popular writers and scholars and heritage walkers. The book ties in various figures who have peopled Delhi’s historic and physical landscape, beginning from Babur. It is organised in a  sequence that moves from the city to the Fort, and is divided into short chapters, some as brief as two pages. These move between a variety of themes, dipping into aspects of the Fort’s architecture as well as ‘Perfumes and Oils’, ’Games and Pastimes’ and ‘Hooqah, Wine and Opium’, among others.

There's much to commend in the book. It is written with sympathy and feeling. The fact that the chapters are short and organised into themes covering popular events, anecdotes and figures, will help those who are new to the Fort and are looking for a quick overview. The author's focus, as he writes in the introduction, is on the stories behind the Fort; and his objective is to bring these alive, which he manages to do even with limited images.

Inevitably, the information in the book is influenced by the more popular narratives, reinforcing some conventional notions about the Fort. More specialised interpretations leading from rigorous primary analysis, which may not have perhaps been easy to access, do not form part of the source-base. Nonetheless, it is an extremely encouraging sign when history is no longer confined just to the domain of the professional. Histories are shared, and all of us need to dialogue with what our histories have left us with - and in the process dialogue with each other. Place-histories are a tangible way of conducting such a dialogue to connect us with the past and present of the places we inhabit. That more and more people are sincerely trying to be a part of their place-histories bodes well for our future.

No comments:

Post a Comment