Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Two tales of a capital city

Forget the Commonwealth Games. They will pass. Our national capital – occupied, abandoned, rebuilt over centuries – will remain and this may be the right week to 'celebrate' Delhi, considering it has just got its own logo and a theme song that exhorts every resident to sing from a heart that beats in time with their restless city.

These two books spin the brand new theme song, "Dilli meri jaan, dilli meri shaan", in two ways. Mala Dayal's anthology consists of 11 essays on various aspects of Delhi – how it was built; how it was planted; the food that sustains it; its lingo; sufi shrines and music. It has academic rigour and folksiness enough for a 360-degree view of a city that is rapidly – despite the Games – metamorphosing into a great megapolis of a mighty emerging power. But Supriya Sahai's black and white sketches of life as seen on Delhi's roads, completes the somewhat seminar-like feel of the other.

Khushwant Singh's account "My father, the builder" kicks off Celebrating Delhi. Anyone who bought the book for just this one essay might be justly pleased. It is a simple and heartfelt story told by a man who disarmingly confesses at the outset that he has "done no research on the building of New Delhi" from "barren waste". But Singh, of course, has "lived" the building of the new capital of the Raj, internalizing the travails of converting "brick kilns" into a stately imperial seat of government. "My memory goes back to the time when there was no city but a lot of brick kilns," he writes, recounting the miniature train that ran from Badarpur "up to what is now Connaught brought sand, gravel, stones and other building material and deposited them at different grandparents, parents and my elder brother and I lived in a large shack. My earliest recollection is of being woken up by the deafening roar of the 'ara' machines cutting stones with iron saws into different sizes, and the tick, tick, tick of masons chiselling stones into patterns..."

Full review here TOI Crest 

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