Finding Delhi – Loss and Renewal in the megacity Edited by Bharati Chaturvedi
Delhi is and always has been an ever-changing city. Today it is in a race to become a world-class city, with a lot of concepts borrowed from other acclaimed world-class cities. This also means the city going through a major transformation, both visible and invisible. The visible is right there for us to see, the infrastructure being setup, grand events being hosted and artists and writers working overtime to present their perception of the city. The invisible is the changes happening in the lives of the people. There are positive changes that the prosperity brings, but sometimes this is not divided equally amongst all the inhabitants of the city. Sometimes the privileges are taken from some and given to others.
Author, who is an environmentalist and the founder of NGO Chintan has edited this anthology of essays about the invisible part of the change that is happening at the moment in Delhi. Essays repeatedly talk about the people who have constantly been pushed towards the outer boundaries of the town to accommodate the relatively rich people nearer to the center of the city. It talks about the dhobis who can no longer make their two ends meet with their traditional profession, it talks about the maids who come from far off places and make Delhi their home not only for themselves but for their generations to come and it talks about the homeless people who end up spending cold winter nights in open.
It talks about the waste that the city generates and the role of rag pickers and kabadiwalas in keeping the city clean. One essay very interestingly traces a discarded sports shoe to Mundka where it is divided into various components to be re-cycled separately. It also talks about other landfill areas, which are completely inhabitable. It talks about the Yamuna, which is probably polluted beyond any possibility of repair. It talks about the city changing from being a walking or a cycling city to a car only city. It talks about the impact of cars on roads and the ecology.
Taking a poor vs rich approach, it talks about the elitist view of the press, or rather taking on issues that directly impact them, and a prelude in the piece talks about the media’s ability to influence the thought process as in case of handling environmental issues. The essay on women in Delhi is the most balanced one as it talks about the issues women face in the city but also acknowledges that the same city lets women break many barriers that can not be broken elsewhere.
It shares experiences of people who the book probably wants to represent. 2 dhobis, a housemaid, a fruit vendor and a waste handler. These people talk about what they think of the city and how they relate to it but incidentally none of them is able to spell what they would like the city to be or if they have any expectations from the city. I really liked what one of the maids says, ” If you slog hard enough, you can always earn here”. This is very true of Delhi or for any other big city and that is why people leave the comfort of their own villages and towns and settle down in big cities. They compromise on their living standard, their status in the society and the comfort of being in the known place. This is true to a different extent for anyone who migrates to the city irrespective of which strata of society they come from.
The book does present a very important point of view that is often missed in the gloss of fast moving components of the city. But I felt it is a book written in haste as if some deadline was hanging on the head and whatever was available before the deadline was put in a mixer and out came a book. With such a strong subject, a lot more depth could have been added. The chapters or essays are random and have no common thread and no context has been given for them. The experiences that are shared at the end needed much more editing. These stories could have had a very huge impact on the reader if the storytelling was better. The idea of people impacted telling their own stories is great and I am not sure if this has been experimented before.
Again, if you live in Delhi, this is a book that might make you think and may make you little more sensitive to the people who are around us but still remain invisible or come to light only by their absence. Read it.
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