Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity by Sam Miller
This book was launched almost at the time when I shifted my base from my favorite city Bangalore to Gurgaon, which falls under the umbrella of Nation Capital Region (popularly called NCR), and hence considered a part of Delhi. I have always been looking at books that I can recommend to the visitors to India, that they can read to know about the city and country that it is. Being someone who likes to write about my travels, this book was also about traveling within the city that you live in. So I picked up this book, to read about someone’s experience of traveling around this giant city, to re-connect with Delhi that I left behind some 7 yeas ago and to explore another style of travel writing. But what drew me most to this book was the fact that it was written by someone who actually walked around the huge city in a spiral and experienced the city. I always felt that in an ideal city, the distances should be such that the city can be covered on foot by an average walker, beyond that the cities should not expand. Of course in the big cities, it does not even apply to the sub cities or suburbs. During my travels, I like to do some early morning walks in the city to see how the city wakes up. There is no doubt that the best way to know the place is to walk around, stop at anything that catches your attention and talk to people here and there, the kind of people you may never meet otherwise.This book is as much about the author as it is about Delhi. In fact in lots of places it is about the relationship that the author shares with the city. Sam went around the city, starting at the centre of the city today is CP metro station and then took an anti-clockwise spiral route to explore the city on foot. His complete journey was divided in 12 sub routes, which put together formed the planned spiral. He has just followed his route, and speaks about the places and people that he met on his way. It looks like that he deliberately does not talk about the popular tourist spots of Delhi, but he does mention the places which he think deserve a better mention in the guidebooks of Delhi, but have been neglected all along. He also writes amusingly about the people he met, some by design and some by default. He talks about some strange encounters he had with people during his walks which sometimes make an interesting reading and at times looks like stretching it too much. But probably the difference may be of a local and a non-local eye. Some things that we find very normal are usually not so to a foreign eye.
The book is written in a new way. The twelve chapters are from the 12 walks that the author did to write the book. From the way they are written it looks like that each walk was done in a day, barring a couple of chapters when the author had to break the walk and come back some other day to complete it. Two consecutive chapters are separated by an Intermission, where the author has put down his thoughts in various things about living in Delhi primarily coming from his own experience of living in Delhi. Most of the times these appear as random thoughts that occurred to the author as he was writing the chapters, and included them in the book. There are pictures, most of which have been taken by the author himself during the walks. Each chapter is begins with a map of the route that the author took, depicting the landmarks, topology, author’s route and events mentioned in the chapter. The events actually make author’s journey look quite adventurous. I definitely want to visit some of the parts mentioned and walk around to feel the place. The title of each chapter has been written in third person while the whole book is written in first person, probably required a bit more efficient editing. It may sound frivolous, but the font and the layout of the book do contribute to the overall readability and that is where this book could have been better. The photos are not aligned, the margin on the pages not properly designed, far too many foot notes which could have moved to the back of the book. The book has been written more like a blog with whole lot of research done on Google and references provided. Overall, I think the author could have gone a level deeper, flow could have been a little better, but nonetheless it is a welcome book, as it explores an area not many have dared to explore: Walking a mega city on foot. This also looks at Delhi as it exists today, rather than focusing too much on its glorious and colorful past only.
Weather you live in Delhi, visiting Delhi or simple interested in Delhi as a city, this book can make an interesting reading for you…
Sam, if you read this blog, I would like to go out on a walk with you sometime…:-)