With travel and tourism coming to a rude stop with the pandemic, many of us have missed the ability to be able to amble about one’s city or locality or to tour other places as much as we would like. While we were sequestered at home and beginning to feel stir crazy, a group of college students found an interesting way to not only go around the city and explore its unseen bits but also make it accessible to a larger audience through ‘Raahi’.
‘Raahi’ is a Heritage Walk Society of the History Department of Miranda House, Delhi University, consisting of around 70-80 young women members. The society is currently led by Shivani Krishnakumar as the president and Maheen Fatima Ahmed as the vice-president.
Initially named ‘Musafir’, the society was launched in 2016 by Saumya Sahai. “I got the idea of history students leading the walk as this would be a different experience and would allow students to build on their classroom learning,” said Sahai.
During the initial years, ‘Raahi’ conducted two-three hours long heritage walks on Sundays across Delhi. “For our department fest, ‘Tarikh’, we invited eminent walk leaders and historians like Sohail Hashmi and Swapna Liddle to conduct walks for us,” said Krishnakumar.
However, in 2020, with the complete nationwide lockdown kicking in, like most of us, the members of ‘Raahi too felt clueless about how to continue as their activities required a physical setting.
That’s when Krishnakumar came up with an idea.
“After days and weeks of feeling directionless, the idea of starting an entire series chronicling the history of Raahi struck an instant chord,” said the president. Under ‘Raahi Safarnama’, they recounted the story, their achievements during the past few years and published it on their Instagram page. They also reached out to their former presidents and vice-presidents, recorded their experiences in the form of Instagram posts and called the initiative ‘Raahi Ke Raahgir’.
She further added that during this process, the thought of virtual walks occurred to Mumtaz, the former president of ‘Raahi’, wherein they would capture videos in which the walk leader takes others on a virtual ride and explores various aspects including heritage monuments, food history and art.
“We had our first-ever virtual heritage walk on Murgh Musallam. This walk rid us of our doubts and fears,” said Krishnakumar.
In due course, they decided to tread upon an unexplored path and widened the area of virtual walks from Delhi to various other heritage sites of other states of India including Muziris, Dhauli Shanti Stupa in Orissa, Akbar’s tomb in Agra, Rumi Darwaza and Hussainabad Clock Tower in Lucknow, architectural wonders of Assam belonging to the Ahom era amidst others.
“All our students were scattered throughout the country. Interested students conducted walks in their hometowns during their vacations,” she said.
According to her, since everyone couldn’t physically attend the walks, the walk leaders recorded videos or conducted Instagram live sessions of their walks. “From being a Delhi-based society, we slowly made our presence felt across the country.”
In addition to virtual walks, they released merchandise that reads, “Miles to go before I sleep!”. They also conduct webinars, tutorials and virtual events with speakers such as Sohail Hashmi and Anas Khan of Unzip Delhi fame.
“Of all the events we have organised so far, two major ones would include a performance demonstration and lecture on Tholpavakoothu (a shadow puppetry art form of Kerala) in collaboration with Padmashri Ramachandra Pulavar; and an event on Gaudiya Nritya, a performance demonstration followed by a lecture,” Krishnakumar said.
In order to reach out to more people, they have started a blog and a podcast titled ‘The Past and The Curious’ and ‘Beeti Hui Baat’ where they invite as many people as they can to submit their entries and collaborate on podcast episodes.
The History Department of Miranda House is organising their annual fest, ‘Tarikh 2022’ in collaboration with Live History India, from February 26, 2022, to March 2, 2022. The fest would kickstart with a progressive Kashmiri folk music performance by Gaekhir Republik, and would include other events like Irish folklore discussion session with Liz Weir, exploration of history through fiction with Madhulika Liddle and more.
In the future, the team not only aims to collaborate with various heritage-related organisations including INTACH, Beyond Heritage, Sahapedia, amongst others; but also aspires to traverse many more unexplored streets and cultures through heritage walks with their “tight-knit family of 60 something lovers of antiquity”.
You can find them on Instagram @raahi.mh.