When books are written about cities, readers get divided into two major sections. First group that completely understands the author’s views and gets where he/she is coming from. Second group, that vehemently disagrees and takes offence at the author for having tarnished the soul of their beloved city. These reader dynamics change when the city under the scanner is Delhi. The capital’s worst critics are most of the times people who are absolutely in love with it. The long time residents, the recently relocated, the passing nomads, university crowd and just about everybody who has had a close encounter with Delhi, will tell you that it’s a very difficult, often unsatisfying, love hate relationship. I have lived in this city, loved and hated it. I still take offence when someone takes pot – shots at it but grudgingly nod in agreement.
Elizabeth Chatterjee’s book gives you the uncensored version of Delhi. What’s a commonplace occurrence to a Dilliwala, is scandalous, at times outrageous to the Yorkshire born, Oxford educated PhD Scholar. She takes you on a tour of Delhi that encompasses shady motels of Paharganj, the shiny malls of Saket, the snobby boutiques and coffee shops in Hauz Khas Village and the narrow lanes of Old Delhi. Her haggling skills are tested with the auto rickshaw drivers who negotiate like seasoned diplomats in hostage crisis.
Her confrontation issues with the Hindi speaking, beedi smoking maid, reminds you of the time when your maid, one you got gifted when you moved to the city, made you want to cry out in frustration. Her struggles with house hunting which would surely have left her harried, does not fail to bring a smile on your face, knowing how that same thing could/would have happened to you. Even though she has pointed out many a times that her firangi looks gets her the kind of treatment, people living in Delhi, would love to disagree. Desi or videsi, this city treats you the same. With utter disinterest and borderline callousness. Only difference being, we do not write a book about it because after twenty something times, these things fail to bring out a reaction. However , when someone does write about it and more so when it’s written by someone who has caught the pulse of the city, we nod our heads in approval. We read the book cover to cover and excitedly pass it on to another Dilliwali / Dilliwala.
Review copy provided by Random House India
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