Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi
Anand Vivek Taneja


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Walking Away from the Theater of History
chapter abstract

The introduction begins with an ethnographic anecdote of a man who walks away from a historical play being staged in the ruins of Firoz Shah Kotla and is stopped short by the invisible voice of a Muslim saint. This anecdote becomes the allegorical frame through which the book is introduced. The introduction sketches out the history of Delhi from the late 18th century to the contemporary period, but more importantly argues that for those who come to Firoz Shah Kotla, it is not the past as history that is important, but more importantly, the past as holding open potentialities for life, for the present and the future.

1 Jinnealogy: Archival Amnesia and Islamic Theology in Post-Partition Delhi
chapter abstract

This chapter brings together oral history accounts, popular Urdu theological literature, and files from the Record Room of the ASI to bring together two parallel tracks; the growing presence of the jinn in post-Partition Delhi and the institutionalized amnesia of the official archives concerning everything prior to Partition and Independence in 1947. The chapter shows how the jinn are increasingly present in the blank spaces of the map, where the plans of the bureaucracy, the verdicts of the judiciary and the illegibility of the post-Partition Indian state attempt vast erasures of the city's Muslim landscapes, and how jinnealogy, the supersession of human chains of memory by the long lives of the jinn, challenges the magical amnesia of the state by allowing for other temporalities and modes of witnessing against the empty, homogenous time of the bureaucratic present.

2 Saintly Visions: The Ethics of Elsewhen
chapter abstract

Drawing upon ethnographic accounts from Firoz Shah Kotla as well as Urdu literary evocations of Delhi's ruin-scape, this chapter demonstrates how the experience of the sacred amidst these ruins is that of an immersion in multiple times simultaneously, and a cessation of time's "flow". The immersion in multiple times at ruins like Firoz Shah Kotla contains transformative potential for the people who come here. Here, the jinn-saints, often seen in visitors' dreams and visions wearing medieval robes, embody another time, different from the frenetic time of the contemporary city. This chapter shows how nineteenth-century colonial violence imbued the ruin known as Pir Ghaib (the invisible saint) with sacrality. This sacrality was linked to the nostalgic remembrance of the exiled Mughal emperor and the lost political order of Mughal rule, deeply tied to Sufi ethics and ideas of justice.

3 Strange(r)ness
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the ethics of nameless intimacy at Firoz Shah Kotla, where people who have known each other for twenty years or more seldom acknowledge caste and religious identity, rarely learning one another's proper names, referring to each other instead by nicknames and locational epithets. It shows how this ethics of namelessness points us towards a Sufi culture of gharib-navazi (hospitality to strangers) that is central to the healing power attributed to dargah spaces. The anonymity afforded by namelessness allows people to, even if temporarily, escape the often oppressive structures of social and familial identity. This estrangement, this making strange of the self, is the beginning of a process of reinventing one's self and relation to the world. One aspect of this process is expressing and acting on one's individual desires, even when they violate the normative morality of family and community.

4 Desiring Women
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses male-female interactions at Firoz Shah Kotla, where unrelated men and women often sit together for hours, speaking of desire, love, and loss. This is highly unusual in Delhi, a city with a reputation for violence against women. Here, in a space of Islam, a religion associated with a highly patriarchal order, women can be freer and more open, in both their interactions with men and in talking about their desires, than they can be in most public spaces in Delhi. Drawing on letters written by women at Firoz Shah Kotla and comparing them to women's voices as portrayed in pre-modern Rekhti poetry, it establishes a long tradition of intimacy with Muslim saintly figures that has allowed women to articulate individual longings and a sense of selfhood. It shows how the anti-patriarchal potentialities of Islam have continued to coexist along with the patriarchal juridical consensus.

5 Translation
chapter abstract

This chapter begins with an ethnographic anecdote from Firoz Shah Kotla, where one of the author's friends equated Sat Yug (The Hindu idea of a past golden age) with contemporary Iraq. This was one of several moments in which he brought together and made equivalent things otherwise separated by vast temporal and conceptual distances. This chapter shows how we need to expand the idea of translations beyond language and texts to understand translation as a mode of being, which allows for the creation of shared sacred landscapes, ethical worlds and domains of meaning across conventional theological and communitarian divides. it discusses the historical processes of translation through which popular Islam has become an indistinguishable part of the ethical life of North India; the invisible religion which underlies the visible religious differences between Hinduism and Islam.

6 Stones, Snakes, and Saints: Remembering the Vanished Sacred Geographies of Delhi
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This chapter draws on eighteenth and nineteenth century accounts of prominent Sufi shrines in Delhi to show how these shrines were integrally connected to the ecology of the city. The author follows these accounts with his own visits to these sites in the contemporary city, where they have been completely disconnected from the ecological. Through oral histories, this chapter shows how this disconnect can be attributed to colonial policy, post-colonial growth, and pollution, all of which have radically changed the ontology of the sacred in the city from one of immanence, embedded in the local landscape, to one of immaterial transcendence. Only at a few sites like Firoz Shah Kotla, protected from development by archaeological policy, is an older memory and modality of the sacred still possible. The remembrance of older relations to the ecology includes the sanctification of the animals encountered in this space.

7 The Shifting Enchantments of Ruins and Laws in Delhi
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This chapter draws upon files from the post-colonial ASI, newspaper reports, and conversations with conservationists active in contemporary Delhi. It outlines a genealogy of conservation practice in Delhi and its changing relation to the life of the city, from the early twentieth century to the present. In the early twentieth century, for both British conservationists and Indo-Muslim antiquarians, these ruins were enchanted spaces, imaginative gateways to an otherwise irrecoverable Mughal past. The identification of Delhi's ruin-scape with Muslim sovereignty led to violent attacks on these sites during Partition violence, and this violence fundamentally changed the city's relation to its Muslim past. In the post-colonial era, Muslim monuments became spaces of darkness and death where no signs of (religious) life were permitted.

Conclusion: Remnants of Despair; Traces of Hope
chapter abstract

The author traces his autobiographical exploration of and investment in the ruin-scape of Delhi, and his concern that the forms of life indexed by these ruins seem impossible to recover for the majority of the contemporary city. This chapter looks at recent examples of jinn veneration from Lahore, an analysis of a recent Bombay film, and new conservation paradigms taking root in Delhi to think about how the rituals, ethics, and human and animal relations at Firoz Shah Kotla connect to wider trends in South Asia. The new conservation paradigms in Delhi wish to reconnect ruins to the human life of the city, and also to the city's ecology. While this new paradigm of preservation is secular, it shares remarkable similarities with the "religious" outlook of people at Firoz Shah Kotla.