Pushpesh Pant’s hands are full for the next two years. During the pandemic last year, the Delhi-based food historian and international relations expert was appointed as consultant curator for the Awadh archives and museum proposed to be built at the five-acre ‘masjid complex’ allotted to the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board in Ayodhya’s Dhannipur village in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case. The archives/museum will be part of the Indo-Islamic Cultural Centre, which will also comprise a library and community kitchen, all centred on Awadh’s heritage.
Pant is geared up for the task even amid all the uncertainties. “The current state of the pandemic and the upcoming state elections in Uttar Pradesh may delay the project, but the work is in progress. I have continued with my research consultations and am steadily working on the blueprint of the museum, library and community kitchen,” the 75-year-old retired scholar said in a telephonic chat.
The masjid complex is coming up under the supervision of the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation, a trust constituted by the UP Sunni Waqf Board to build the mosque at Dhannipur village. Besides a library, museum and community kitchen, the complex will also house a hospital and school.
Harmony & humanity
According to Pant, the premise of the museum will be Indo-Islamic culture as it will foster the multicultural fabric of India. “I am developing a centre to represent the syncretic culture of India in which Hindus and Muslims live in harmony, heal and feed humanity in the true spirit of Islam… a true representation of the glorious past. If you keep talking about revenge, there is never going to be reconciliation. So my work should depict reconciliation and not revenge… just as the well-known biographer Rajmohan Gandhi expresses the trajectory of south Asian history in his book titled Revenge and Reconciliation,” he says.
Interestingly, Pant’s Islamic cultural orientation comes from his ancestors. “My maternal grandfather served as the home minister of the Rampur estate in Uttar Pradesh… he was the only Hindu minister of the nawab of Rampur,” explains Pant.
History on a plate
Around 500 square yards of the five acres allotted have been earmarked for the museum, library and community kitchen, which will offer some delectable fare. “The community kitchen will serve dishes with unique history like the murgh shikasta hari pasand dish, once prepared by ghazal singer Begum Akhtar exclusively for king Hari Singh of Kashmir when he visited Faizabad, so named hari pasand… besides gosht-roti, tehri, puri-sabzi, baigan ka bharta, nonia gosht, zarda, chaap and more. One can relish dishes from Awadh, Lucknow, Faizabad, Jaunpur, Banaras and Barabanki regions,” says Pant, listing the names of a few friends and key collaborators for the museum, including Atiya Zaidi in Jaunpur, Izzat Husain and Muhammad Farouk in Lucknow, Prasads in Shahjehanpur, Sherwanis and Qamar Agha in Allahabad, Sara, Aslam and Hemant Sharma in Varanasi, Ali Mahmudabad and Osama Jalali in Rampur, Yatindra Mishra in Ayodhya, and Raman Hitkari in Faizabad.
There are plans to promote and serve Faizabad’s local cuisine in a rustic thela format and engage local chefs to help sustain their livelihoods. “We all like to visit the roadside kebab-roti eateries in Purani Dilli. Similarly, we want to promote homegrown food prepared in a seasonal, affordable and nutritious manner. Tasting sessions in Delhi, Lucknow and Agra in the future will give a glimpse of what we serve at the complex,” explains Pant, who is also a consultant with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and is currently cloud-sourcing ideas with five-star hotel chefs who can voluntarily train local chefs.
Old & new
With an emphasis on open and green public spaces, the museum will showcase constructions of Indo-Islamic culture in tombs and temples with models of Lucknow’s Rumi Darwaza and Bara Imambara, as well as a digital archive with illustrated drawings and manuscripts.
The library will have Hindi translations of Urdu books, specimens of Urdu calligraphy, besides Indo-Islamic art and photographs of different mosques in India. From the biggest mosque in India, Bhopal’s Taj-ul-Masjid, to Sunehri Masjid in Jaunpur and Mishkal mosque in Kozhikode, which is regarded as an important cultural, historical and architectural monument in Kerala, there will be a variety on display.”Keeping the sanctity of the Holy Quran, the Tabizi Quran, a micro miniature edition, packed in a small amulet-like casket, can display the virtuosity of the calligrapher. I want to cover the impact of Awadh on the rest of the cultures. Like the Shia influence of the Nizam of Hyderabad can’t be taken into a Sunni Mosque, but this can be part of the archives… Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library in Patna or The Rampur Raza Library located in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, has illustrated manuscripts… these can be a repository of Indo-Islamic cultural heritage and a treasure house of knowledge,” shares Pant, adding that they will also have Indo-Islamic calligraphy, chikankari works, ittar, pottery craft, handicrafts, etc.
There are plans to train children as well. “A madrasa for kids to learn calligraphy on computer or (we could) train young boys as guides who can speak different languages and explain to tourists about the place and its history… the possibilities are endless,” says Pant, adding, “I’m not a Muslim but an atheist, and grateful to be chosen for the job.”
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