Utpal Borpujari

August 17, 2009

Bringing alive the real Delhi

Filed under: Deccan Herald,Media — Utpal Borpujari @ 6:08 pm
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By Utpal Borpujari

At one point in his book, Sam Miller writes about a lift at Antriksh Bhawan, which has Delhi’s only revolving restaurant providing a panoramic view of the capital city. The lift in the building at the heart of the city, just off Connaught Place — or Rajiv Chowk as it is known now — has two doors, and Miller writes how he was startled when one person entered the lift with him and pushed some button to get out on the other side on the same floor.

The lift unintentionally provides a typical window to the idea of Delhi — you open one door and look around, and surely you will find another door that will take you to a fresh, new experience. Delhi, teeming with millions that live amidst the stark contrast between the lush green Lutyen’s city and the crowded bylanes snaking through illegally-constructed buildings elsewhere, is a city about experiences.

And with seven cities buried beneath what we know as Delhi, it is a city that has something on offer for each and every person, even the ones who hate its summers, its crowds and the overwhelming lack of respect for rules and regulations in its people who somehow tend to soak in the air of self-importance emitted by its numerous politicians and bureaucrats.

Miller’s book succinctly brings alive the real Delhi and the people who live in the subaltern. Unlike many other tomes on Delhi, here you don’t get to read about its monuments, its history, its corridors of power. Yes, they are all there, but only in the passing.

Instead, Miller writes about the lanes of Paharganj, the unpalatable food of the revolving restaurant, its markets, its mosquitoes and practically everything that would not find place in a book on a city.

But that does not mean Miller’s book turns Delhi into a city of vices. What his writing does is to bring alive a real city with real people who live real lives with all their little joys and sorrows. The free-wheeling writing style of Miller, enhanced with his journalistic eye for detail that records the mundane and reproduces them in a delightful narrative, makes it a great journey of the city. 

Delhi is a city that one cannot write about without referring to its historical monuments, but here too, Miller has chosen not to focus on the too well known ones. He instead writes about lesser-known structures like the Zeenat mosque, build by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s daughter, and while doing so, he creates an image of the lost Delhi of yore as he recreates the surroundings going back to a scene from the Merchant-Ivory production The Householder which had the mosque as a beautiful backdrop.

From the past to the present typified by the expanding Metro network, and from the high life to the life of those placed low on the social hierarchy, Miller’s pen touches almost everything that makes Delhi an exciting city. That makes his books an exciting read.

Delhi: Adventures in a megacity; Sam Miller; Penguin, 2009, pp  293, Rs 499

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldpaper.com, 16-08-2009)


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