28 Jan, 2019

Amid the glory of the Mohatta Palace on Sunday evening, a new book was launched that acknowledges the echoes from the past.

If Stones Could Speak by Iftikhar and Naseem Salahuddin celebrates the archaeological and cultural heritage and wealth of the world by presenting historic sites and monuments through extensively researched facts and beautifully captured photographs.

Mr Iftikhar shared with the audience how it took the duo four years to write this book. “This book is a personal tribute to the resilient edifices of history, edifices that have survived the vagaries of nature and the ravages of time only to finally succumb to a traveller like me who discovers and documents them. To visit these vestiges of history is to travel back in time and relive the past in all it ethos and grandeur,” he said.

Quoting Kipling’s poem ‘Cities and Thrones and Powers’, Mr Iftikhar shared some of the photos included in the book while talking about how over centuries, “empires have fallen, kings and princes are no more, the palaces have crumbled, and lie buried under the heap of history.”

The Nabateans, to the ancient Pharaohs, Persepolis and Samarkand were just some of the place Mr Iftikhar transported his audience to. He even recalled searching for the obscure corner in Rangoon where Bahadur Shah Zafar was buried, neglected and forgotten, and visited by very few.

Naseem Salahuddin recalled how a few years ago, she and husband were reminiscing about their adventures to different parts of the world when the idea of the book took root. “We were rummaging through our travel photos and recalling our adventures, when we realised that these stories would with the passage of time become anecdotes and gradually fade into hazy recollections. So we decided to write, publish and share them with our friends.”

Many hours were spent reading and painstakingly researching history from reference textbooks, she added. When the couple travelled to arcane destinations, they thought of those who had initially trekked and traversed these paths. “Travellers like Ibn Batuta and Marco Polo discovered these places on their own, travelling on mules and camels, on dusty roads.”

Shamsh Kassim-Lakha also spoke at the launch and applauded the publication for providing practical lessons in pluralism. “This book is not a travelogue but a well-researched scholarly publication with over a 100 references which have also been listed,” he said.

“Iftikhar and Naseem by making these stones speak have evoked respect and awe for the rulers, builders and thinkers of the eras gone by. Through their illustrated lessons, the authors have educated us about the autocrats who through their ruthlessness changed the course of history many times.

“In the chapter, ‘Footprints on history’, the authors have brought to life the thinkers who have shaped our thoughts over the centuries. It is the stories and photographs of these thinkers that I am most impressed by. They remind us that while kings and generals conquer, and left their legacies in stone, it is the thinkers and teachers whose legacies will live in our minds and hearts forever, and will not be eroded by time.”

Author and poet Zehra Nigah was her usual witty self while speaking about the book. She told the audience how at different points while going through the book, she kept recalling different verses from Iqbal.

She credited the couple for not just excelling professionally but also taking time to read and write and therefore giving the audience a publication that is worthy to be included in libraries so that youngsters can access the historical information compiled and take pleasure from the beautiful photos.

Several of the photos taken by Iftikhar and Naseem Salahuddin were also displayed for the audience to enjoy up close and personal.

Originally published in Dawn, January 28th, 2019