Delhi has always intrigued both its visitors and its citizens. Unlimited history, mythology, diversity, and mystery make it a unique city. A study of Delhi can never be complete. Students of Delhi usually end up going deep into one or at most two aspects of it. Celebrating Delhi is an anthology of essays on various aspects of Delhi. It is one of the most well-rounded books that I have read on Delhi. It covers 10-11 different aspects of Delhi. Where a scholar or at least an ardent student of that aspect comes and talks about his or her favorite aspect of his or her lens through which they have seen Delhi. Most of them are well-known names of Delhi. And you would have read them here and there regularly.
Khushwant Singh talks about his father building the New Delhi. Upinder Singh talks about the ancient and not commonly known features of the city. William Dalrymple talks about his favorite period of Delhi’s history i.e. the mutiny and the religious angle thereof. Pradip Krishen talks straight out of his book on trees of Delhi. And the factors that led to choosing primarily non-native trees to line the avenues in New Delhi. Dunu Roy passionately talks about the underprivileged working class, who physically build the city. And are constantly pushed out of the logical limits of the city. Ravi Dayal’s piece on a Kayastha’s view of the city brings out the nostalgia of an eternal Dilliwallah.
I loved Sunil Kumar’s article on two non-descript Sufi shrines in south Delhi, which were made prominent again by enterprising individuals. And how the character of the two places changed from being spiritual and secular to deeply religious in a period of less than two decades. It is a personal journey of the author who observed and studied the two places along with his students and documented the change as it happened. This piece will give you lot of insights into how India is moving towards a religious identity. And one of the routes is by reclaiming the lost signs and rejuvenating them.
Vidya Rao’s introduction of Delhi Gharana of Hindustani classical music, which not many know of, is an eye-opener. She talks about the Gharana’s origin and the various influences that it absorbed over the ages. It talks about the prominent musicians associated with the Gharana. And the typical style that includes Qawwalis that it stands for.
Sohail Hashmi’s take on the language of Delhi is interesting because you would always be yourself at a loss when you have to answer what is the native language of Delhi. It is through this reading that I came to know how Urdu originated as a language in the army camps of Delhi. And that it was originally called Hindavi. He quotes examples from literature where poets and authors have used many dialects as we know them today into their writing. Indicating that maybe there was no such distinction then in them. And they were accepted as part of the same language. He then talks about the language of the court and language of the people.
Priti Narain talks about the food of Delhi in and this article probably is her personal view of Delhi’s food. Or maybe the subject of the food itself is so personal that each person will have his or her own view of what is Delhi’s ‘Asli Khana’.
The piece that I enjoyed the most was Narayani Gupta’s Toponymy of Delhi. How the history is woven in the names of its localities. There is a broad categorization of names, like the names that were given for the geographical features like hills and lakes or physical features like Baolis, ghats, bagh, and wells. The names like Urdu bazaar that refer to the market for the army. It talks about various Purs, Nagars, Katras and Kotlas that punctuate the city. And how the point in time of the settlement influenced the names. You would have heard most of the names. And probably lived in a few and driven past many of them. After reading this you may stop by and think how that area came into being and why is it called so. A very interesting piece, that shows history living in the present through the names.
Celebrating Delhi is a light book. And has an interesting take on various angles of Delhi both past and present. I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading about Delhi.