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Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity [NOOK Book]

Overview


A provocative portrait of one of the world’s largest cities, delving behind the tourist facade to illustrate the people and places beyond the realms of the conventional travelogue

Sam Miller set out to discover the real Delhi, a city he describes as “India’s dreamtown—and its purgatory.” He treads the city streets, making his way through the city and its suburbs, visiting its less celebrated destinations—Nehru Place, Rohini, Ghazipur, and Gurgaon—which most writers and ...

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Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity

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Overview


A provocative portrait of one of the world’s largest cities, delving behind the tourist facade to illustrate the people and places beyond the realms of the conventional travelogue

Sam Miller set out to discover the real Delhi, a city he describes as “India’s dreamtown—and its purgatory.” He treads the city streets, making his way through the city and its suburbs, visiting its less celebrated destinations—Nehru Place, Rohini, Ghazipur, and Gurgaon—which most writers and travelers ignore. His quest is the here and now, the unexpected, the overlooked, and the eccentric. All the obvious ports of call make appearances: the ancient monuments, the imperial buildings, and the celebrities of modern Delhi. But it is through his encounters with Delhi’s people—from a professor of astrophysics to a crematorium attendant, from ragpickers to members of a police brass band—that Miller creates this richly entertaining portrait of what Delhi means to its residents, and of what the city is becoming.

Miller, like so many of the people he meets, is a migrant in one of the world’s fastest growing megapolises, and the Delhi he depicts is one whose future concerns us all. He possesses an intense curiosity; he has an infallible eye for life’s diversities, for all the marvelous and sublime moments that illuminate people’s lives. This is a generous, original, humorous portrait of a great city; one that unerringly locates the humanity beneath the mundane, the unsung, and the unfamiliar.



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Miller offers a flâneur's account of Delhi-"India's dreamland-and its purgatory" as he strolls through slums and gated communities, humble neighborhood parks and historic tombs. A longtime BBC correspondent based in Delhi, Miller understands and deftly conveys India's contradictions and makes cultural commentary with an insider's confidence. Even if there is a strain of smugness-Miller seems to enjoy feeling slightly superior to more unseasoned foreigners and middle-class Delhites who don't share his interest in walking around the city-it's fleeting; he is so likeable and so willing to confront the city on its own terms. He visits porn theaters, visits cult members, falls into manholes. He shifts easily from the comic to the serious, to the darker details of Delhi life-the water shortages, violence, disease, and staggering income disparity-helped by a picaresque narrative complete with chapter headings ("Chapter One: In which the Author is dazzled by the Metro, finds a cure for hemorrhoids, and turns the tables on a an unscrupulous shoeshine man"). A cityscape suffused with wisdom, chance, and delight.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher
*Named a Best Travel Book of the Year by The Guardian (UK)*

“Sam Miller has created a book that is both a quest and a love letter, and one which is as pleasingly eccentric and anarchic as its subject.” —William Dalrymple, author of City of Djinns, in his “Books of the Year” for the New Statesman (UK)

“As a modern-day flaneur, Miller makes laser-sharp observations of the city’s architecture and inhabitants, talking to everyone from university professors to ragpickers.” —Lonely Planet Magazine

“A walking encyclopedia on contemporary Delhi.” —India Today

“[Delhi is] a revelation. . . . The liveliest of city travelogues.” —Literary Review (UK)

“Miller’s talent is dizzying and his narrative a rich accomplishment. I walked miles in Delhi—without moving an inch.” —The Times (UK)

“A thoroughly entertaining book . . . about a fascinating city.” —Financial Times (UK)

“[An] erudite, comical portrait of a city. . . . An entertaining and thoughtful book.” —Evening Standard (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429963855
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/20/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 937,464
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author


Sam Miller was born in London in 1962. He studied history at Cambridge University and politics at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, before joining the BBC. In the early nineties he was a BBC World Service correspondent in Delhi. He returned to Delhi in 2002, where he now runs media projects for the BBC World Service Trust, and also works as a TV commentator, journalist, and book reviewer. He is married to Shireen and they have two children, Zubin and Roxana.


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Read an Excerpt


DELHI
Chapter One: In which the Author is dazzled by the Metro, finds a cure for haemorrhoids and turns the tables on an unscrupulous shoeshine manI WAS STANDING in a sleepy park in the centre of Delhi, struck dumb by what I could see beneath me. My face was pressed hard against the glass of a concealed skylight and I was gawping down into what seemed to be another universe. An enormous, pulsating cavern had been cut deep into the ancient rock and soil beneath Delhi's venerable Connaught Place, at the very centre spot of the Indian capital. Beams of dust-laden natural light illuminated the glistening steel and marble concourse below me. It was a hive of hyperactivity, milling with purposeful people--like the science fiction image of a subterranean city. This, then, is the dazzling new heart of Delhi.Connaught Place, twentieth-century Delhi's commercial and geographical hub, has undergone irreversible change. It now houses a vast underground railway junction, the lynchpin of Delhi's new Metro system. The Metro is both a monument to modernity and a harbinger of change. India has ambitions of great power status, and its capital is now one of the most populous cities in the world. Once upon a time, the people of Delhi were accused of always living in the past, of romanticizing Delhi as a city of poets and courtesans; a city of empires--Mughal and British. Today, the emphasis is resolutely forward-looking. In this city of migrants, the congested, hypertensive older parts of Delhi are seen as squalid embarrassments or touristic culs-de-sac. And the new Metro, all steel, glass and concrete, is Delhi's latest offering to the gods of progress, to be placed alongside those other gifts for 'a modern future'--the convention centres, flyovers, multiplexes and shopping plazas. The Metro has become the icon of Delhi's uncertain future, carving its way above and beneath the city, overshadowing and undermining the forgotten and neglected mosques, temples, churches, forts and tombs of previous rulers.From my secret window in the station's vaulted ceiling, high above the maze of footbridges and walkways, I stare, dazzled by this new world below. I track confident commuters as they weave their way, with some irritation, through gaggles of confused tourists. There's amiasma of electronic destination signs, and neon-lit bookshops and cafes. Police officers use hand-held metal detectors on impatient passengers. A young western woman with a backpack is struggling with the ticket-less token-operated entry gate; an elderly Sikh man shows her how to use it. There are wide staircases reaching down to the deepest level of the station, where the Metro's north-south artery runs--soon this line will go all the way to Gurgaon in Delhi's Deep South. The two visible platforms are broad and clean, and sleek trains slide elegantly into the station, briefly spitting out and sucking up passengers, before smashing their way through the darkness towards a distant suburb. A pigeon, stranded inside the station, flutters high above the concourse. It flies towards me, dashing itself against the glass of the skylight. It plummets towards the concourse, apparently unconscious and then pulls itself out of its fall, just inches from the ground--and flies drunkenly away.The desperate pigeon has broken the hypnotic spell of the Metro. And I'm reminded of my purpose--that I should start my walk. As I peel myself away from the skylight, leaving a ghostly imprint of my face on the glass, there's a squirting sound behind me. A single jet of water lashes my back. Some fountains, behind which the skylight was concealed, are being turned on. I manoeuvre my way along a narrow parapet and stand, slightly damp, in the middle of Connaught Place. This is my starting point, the hub of my spiral.The centre of Connaught Place is occupied by what looks, at first sight, like a fairly innocuous, well-kept municipal park. It has manicured lawns and pink footpaths, a few newly planted shrubs, a courting couple, five men playing cards, some faux-Edwardian street lamps, a small stone-built amphitheatre, and a series of ponds and unpredictable water fountains concealing the parapet that led to my skylight. But this sleepy park is, as I discovered when I peered into cavern below, not quite what it seems. It is, in fact, a landscaped lid covering a deep hole: an entirely artificial creation perched on the roof of the subterranean Metro station.When I first lived in Delhi, in the 1990s, the centre of Connaught Place was a real park, the kind in which a dog can bury a bone, or where trees can grow roots. By my return to Delhi in 2003, it had become a huge construction site, with an enormous hole at its heart. I worked from an office which had a spectacular long-distance viewover the hole, and would watch as construction workers eviscerated the old heart of Delhi. Most days at lunch time, I would stroll around the grey tinplate fencing that ringed the hole, painted with the circular red logo of the Delhi Metro. There were no gaps in the fences, and so the hole, and the shattered earth within, was invisible to most Connaught Place flaneurs. However, I am 6'1" and by balancing on a metal bollard I could peer over the fencing, through a tangle of steel, into the gloomy darkness that now forms the multi-level Connaught Place10 Metro interchange--and try to assess how much progress had been made. Occasionally, as if by magic, the blue-white incandescent sparks of an arc-welder would briefly illuminate the bottom of the hole fifty metres below. And I would spot shadowy rebates in the levelled earth, convinced that they must be the Metro platforms of the future. And now, less than two years later, as I begin walking around the innermost circle of Connaught Place, the station is complete, and more unexpectedly, almost invisible: camouflaged from public view by the park I have just left.Connaught Place has a very deliberate geometry. 'Stamped by foreign hands, concentric,' according to the Indian poet, Tabish Khair11. A near-spiral, Connaught Place, or 'CP'12, consists of threecircles, nestled neatly inside each other, spoked by seven radial roads. CP was completed in the 1930s, in the twilight of British rule. It was carefully inserted as the capital's new commercial centre into the forests and scrub that separated the newly built government buildings of New Delhi from the old Mughal city of Old Delhi. The inspiration for the double-storyed curving colonnades13 of CP, the architectural historians tell us, was Bath's Royal Crescent and Circus, or even a decapitated, inside-out version of the Colosseum. CP still has a certain tarnished grandeur, a Palladian outpost suffering from modest urban blight. Hoardings and signboards have broken the careful lines and silhouettes of the colonnades, but the sense of circularity still exists, as anyone who has ever got lost in CP can tell you.To my left is the circular park I have just fled, and to my right is a curving colonnade in white, two storeys high, emblazoned with the signboards of multi-national brands: Pizza Hut, Benetton, Reebok, TGI Fridays, Samsonite. It's still early--shops and offices are just opening. A guard sleeps on a chair inside a sports shop, the glass façade providing no shelter from intruding eyes. Above him is a sign with a picture of a cricketer and the words 'Proud to be Indian'. I take a picture, setting off my flash by mistake and waking him. He grants me an embarrassed smile, makes himself comfortable and goes back to sleep, hand on groin. Morning cricketers--affluent teenagers, boys and girls on school holidays, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and speaking English--have taken over a parking lot; the boys titter as a girl in pink tries to bat. She is out first ball. A strutting youth with an incipient moustache and a sneer on his face then hits the ball down a Metro staircase. 'Six!' he proclaims, lifting his bat high in the air. A few seconds later, the ball returns on the same trajectory, courtesy of an unseen arm. There are more than ten such entrances to the Metro; like the station itself they are camouflaged: discrete half-hidden staircases cut into the pavement. But standing proud in the morning sun, glinting like a single silver tooth in an ancient jaw, against a backdrop of the peeling plasterwork of CP shops, is apassenger lift for 'physically challenged' Metro customers. A striped grey squirrel shimmies up a nearby gulmohar tree, and runs down a drooping branch and drops onto the roof of the lift. A pariah kite hovers and swoops above, but does not find its prey.Completing the first, innermost twist of my spiral, I veer outwards into the middle circle of CP, a service lane, a tangle of buildings and smells and autorickshaws. Steep stone stairs lead up to accountants' offices, tailors, employment bureaux and software developers. I hesitate, I can't visit them all. But one signboard intrigues me: 'Mail Massage services'. I go up. It's locked, and I peer through the glass door, discovering that the second word, not the first, was misspelled.In the narrow service lane, there are reserved parking spaces, marked out in white paint, for the chairman and the managing director of DSIDC--which reveals itself, in a much smaller font to be the Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation. This public sector company has spread its wings in unlikely directions in recent years--and has divided its offices between two sideline businesses: a cybercafé and an alcohol shop, both managed by DSIDC. I choose the cybercafé--six small shabby-brown booths, all occupied, all quiet--just the energetic tapping of keys. The booths are far from private and all the computer screens are visible. Elsewhere in Delhi and in India, Internet cafes are places with curtains, or carefully constructed so as to allow privacy. One Indian journalist told me to go into any Indian cybercafé, and press the Back button, 'Always porn, hard-core stuff, or online dating.' But the DSIDC has a noporn policy. A large notice above each computer: 'VIEWING OF OBSCENE SITES STRICTLY PROHIBITED'. I decide to wait for a machine to become free and pay for half-an-hour. I start pacing around, eyeing the users, all male Indians, and none of them looking at porn. One is writing up a CV, two others are e-mailing, one more is filling in a spreadsheet. This cybercafé is a place of work and aspiration, not pleasure. A man wearing a baby-pink tie and a maroon shirt stood up wearily and left. I plumped myself down. His seat was warm and the booth was ripe with aftershave. The Back button on his computer led me to a job recruitment site. After deleting Viagraspam from my e-mail account, I still had seventeen minutes left. Looking around for inspiration, I punched in 'Connaught Place' and 'Internet'. The second search result, Trisoft.net caught my eye.... Trisoft Systems and New Delhi Traders Association (NDTA) joining hands to host Asia's largest shopping complex, Connaught Place (CP), on the Internet ... ."trisoft.net/press/media/media1998.htm--18k--Cached--Similarp_agesClicking through, I was able to enter the world of India's first Internet boom of the late 1990s. Hemant Sharma, a 'cyberbrat', according to one press cutting proudly displayed on the site, had left a good job at Microsoft to return to India and set up Trisoft. Among his projects was the creation on the Internet of a 'virtual Connaught Place'. Cpmall.com was launched in 1999, and meant shoppers around the world could 'visit' and purchase from 700 stores in CP without ever having to leave their homes or offices. But cpmall.com, when I searched for it on the Internet, no longer existed, and Trisoft's site had not been updated since 2002. Had it crashed along with hundreds of other early Indian dotcoms? I looked up Trisoft's contact details and e-mailed Hemant Sharma, at his ancient Hotmail address. The headquarters of Trisoft was listed as two blocks further along my spiral at E-30 Connaught Place. It was time to continue walking.The sun was now high enough to shrink my shadow to an area no bigger than a laptop. I ploughed on in search of E-30. The wooden signboard listing the occupants of E block does not even include the number 30, let alone mention Trisoft. I drifted past a green-tiled open-air urinal, a chalk scribble showing it had last been cleaned four hours earlier. It was in use; two men, Little and Large, comically unaware of each other, but with perfectly synchronized arm movements, as they waggled their unseen penises dry.I gave up on my search for Trisoft14, and retreated to a more hospitable place. KI, the mother of a friend of mine, has lived in CP, in her current flat, for sixty-eight years. It was the first time I had seen English-style fireplaces and mantelpieces in a Delhi home. I was licked and nuzzled by KI's dogs, Inca and Khushi, as I devoured a Parsee15appetizer of Papeta-par-eeda--baked eggs and potatoes. She recalled moving into CP before it was complete, when jackals could be heard howling at night, and she said, grimly turning to her dogs, that the jackals would gobble up pets that weren't locked in. When I asked her about how CP had changed, she looked up to the heavens. She recalled the old bandstand in the central park, where a police band played every Saturday during World War Two. It was a beautiful park. 'The war years,' she began, with a nostalgic effusiveness that quickly dissipated into halting embarrassment, 'were lovely years'. Then came independence in 1947 and the partition of India. Most of the Muslims of Connaught Place, she told me, left for Pakistan. 'There was some looting', she said, 'but the army protected CP from the worst violence and there weren't killings like elsewhere.' She took me onto her balcony and pointed out a petrol pump. 'The Muslim owner asked my father for one thousand rupees for it, that's all. But he said "what would I do with a petrol pump?"'KI helped out at a nearby hospital and looked after Hindu refugees from Pakistan, women who had been separated from their menfolk, and who'd been raped. 'We tried to get them back with their husbands, to reunite them. There was something that shocked me, though. Educated men would not take their wives back, if they had been raped; but poor men, illiterate men--they would. I couldn't understand that. Still can't.'Over a rich mutton pulao, whose spices, cardamom and clove, were whirling their way out of the battered cooking pot and spinning around the room, KI continued, undeterred by my gluttony. 'Earlier, children could roam around CP freely, playing seven-tiles or rounders. Now there are so many call-girls; riff-raff, riff-raff.' Her voice trailed off. She fell silent, a trace of a tear in each eye. She sniffed, pulled her shoulders in, looked around and picked up where she had left off. Almost all the families she had known as a teenager had left; she herself had been offered a huge sum to move. But she would remain.Although CP was designed as the new commercial hub for Delhi, it was always intended that families should live there too. The upstairs floors were built as homes, with large airy rooms, fireplaces andbalconies. There were good schools nearby, and of course, the evanescent central park. There were few cars, and no high-rise buildings. CP had many of the elements of a model new development. However, Connaught Place was then on the edge of the city, which quickly encircled its circles, and grew and grew. Now Delhi stretches for many kilometres in every direction and CP shows all the symptoms of inner-city decay. In the evenings, it became the haven of the call-girl and the pimp. In the day-time, dazed backpackers still get harassed and cheated, and find the occasional bargain. A few older Delhi-ites still swear by the shops of CP, but most prefer to go elsewhere. Recently, the arrival of the Metro has encouraged brave talk about the rebirth of Connaught Place as the commercial heart of Delhi.I stumbled back down KI's steep steps and out into the hazy punishing sun. I continued doggedly around the middle circle, the only one of the concentric triplets of CP whose geometry has been broken. In the space between two radial roads, is a lumpily landscaped mini-park, full of strange metallic and concrete protrusions, where lovers can rest and fondle, and where ear-cleaners linger with intent. Sirajuddin saw me coming. He dug a long, thin, pointed steel scraper into the ear of his smiling companion--and smiled up at me. 'Dekho, look' (he provided his own translation). And then the scraper emerged from the ear with a piece of brown wax the size and shape of the body of a wasp. He offered to look into my orifices. He took out a tiny frayed notebook full of testimonials, 'Aap kahan se hain? (where are you from?)'. During the 2003 Gulf War, I used to reply 'Finland' to this question--as a way of avoiding arguments--but now I had reverted to the truth. He flicked through his notebook and found an appropriate page. I began to read: 'Sirajuddin is a very persuasive man and is also a magician with ears. I could not believe the amount of crap that came out my ears. Rs 300 is very reasonable for this service. Mike. England 17/1/ 95.' Brandishing his scraper, he told me that his name was mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide to India, and that he had been cleaning ears for twenty-five years. He could see that I wasn't convinced. He flicked to the next page of his notebook. '23/5/95. After years of planning to get my ears syringed due to being almost deaf, I fell for having my ears done by Siraj. Well worth it. Rs 600 and a whole lot more hearing. Go for it, its safe and relaxing. Julia, Charge Nurse,London'. I, a regular cotton-bud man, decided not to go for it. I had already steeled myself to the idea that I might have to walk through a sewer if necessary as part of my perambulation, but I would not, on any account, have a pointed metal object stuck deep into my ear. Instead, I disappeared into an opening in the ground, and tripped my way down a spiral staircase.The carbuncular protrusions in the park that I'd just descended from are actually air-vents, waste-pipes and sky-lights serving the labyrinthine, sleazy, electronic, underground world of Palika Bazaar. This is Connaught Place's alter ego, its sunless and shrunken doppelganger, built like CP in circles. Palika Bazaar is, in the modern vernacular, a grey market, with dodgy goods galore. Neon-lit stalls, set into this concrete underworld, sell fake perfumes, Minnie Mouse wall-hangings, 101 Dalmatians T-shirts, plastic jewellery, hair-tongs from China bearing the label 'Intellectual Ionic Hair Permer', bust-developing cream, pirated DVDs of new Hollywood films, Indian and European porn movies on VCD, mobile phones without guarantees at 60 percent of list price, and, as I discovered precisely 57 minutes later, a watch battery that didn't work for more than an hour.I wandered into a shop called Astro-Scan, which promised computer horoscopes within five minutes. I handed over Rs 125, and the date, time and place of my birth. A young woman dressed in a crimson salwar kameez, entered the details into her late 1990s PC, using special pandit-ji16 software. In three minutes, twenty seconds, I had received eight closely typed pages of horoscope. I learned that I am a) 'jolly natured', b) proficient at mathematics c) a 'glib talker', d) like to spread religion through music e) have drooping shoulders f) like cardamom, g) am attracted to the opposite sex, h) have a skin disease i) am good at interior decoration and j) have a 'unique and weird nature'. 6½ out of 10, I thought. Not bad. As I left, thanking the crimson lady, she eyed me--and said with a malevolent smirk 'you will have many girlfriends'. Exit 4 from Palika Bazaar led me up and out into the blinding sunlight of the outer circle of CP. It was too hot--and I hailed anautorickshaw to take me home to the quiet, tree-lined, cattle-filled streets of South Delhi.I resumed walking from Exit 4 three days later, heading past Statesman House, a fourteen-storey circular office building, whose malnourished Palladian columns pay minor homage to CP's colonnades on the other side of the road. It has a curious seventeen-storey companion on the next corner, Gopal Das Bhavan, its cross-section like a pinched ellipse, and closely modelled on a tall stack of dirty dinner plates. This was my place of work, on the thirteenth floor, for thirteen months. It had a good long-distance view of the Metro and the great hole of Connaught Place. Gopal Das Bhavan entered the national consciousness for a brief period in 1997 as the backdrop for a legendary act of incompetence and brutality by the Delhi police. A team of undercover officers pumped 31 bullets into a car, occupied by suspected criminals, waiting at the traffic lights outside Gopal Das Bhavan. According to one witness, 'they opened the doors and dragged the bodies out. They were kicking the bodies to make sure they were dead.' The police then realized they'd got it wrong. It wasn't bearded Mohammed Yaseen, dangerous kidnapper, in his cobalt blue Maruti Esteem, but bearded businessman Jagjit Singh, in a different cobalt blue Maruti Esteem. Jagjit Singh, and the car owner, Pradeep Goyal, were dead. The prime minister ordered an inquiry, some police officers were reshuffled, others were charged with murder17.Beyond Gopal Das, I pass the fire station, then a whimsical police notice-board--'with you, for you--always ... Delhi police'--and a fruit stall with four varieties of mango. The buildings get smaller: lamination shops, rubber stamp shops, take-away restaurants with kerosene stoves on the pavement, railway property fenced off by red-brick boundary walls, perfect as a urinal--and in constant use. Amidst the pissers, a disconsolate cobbler is seated beneath this sign in English, 'Urinating prohibited. Defaulters will be prosecuted.'A little further on, a narrow, partly covered passage leads to an unexpected open space, home to one of Delhi's youngest Sufi shrines,predating CP by just thirty years. Inside a blue-washed sideroom sat Maulana Mohammed Omar Faridi Salimi Fakhri Chishti, President of the Sufi Council of India, mobile phone and business cards at his side. He signalled that I should sit on the floor close to him. Opposite the Maulana were two women, a mother and daughter, to each of whom he dispensed a little packet containing a grey powder, and a piece of paper on which he wrote some Arabic words in brown ink. I asked the women if the paper was a prescription for medicine. They looked at each other coyly. The daughter eventually responded, in an upper-class Indian-English accent: 'Yes, in a way ... but much better than that.' She wouldn't tell me more. They got up to leave, nodding gratefully. The Maulana turned to me and began his explanation, with the two women just within earshot. 'You see, the mother ... well, she has very bad piles.' He pointed helpfully at his own bottom. 'And, the daughter ... she just can't get pregnant, however much she tries.' The two women seemed to speed up their departure from the room, as the Maulana continued. 'The powder is a herbal medicine, made from the bark and leaves of a tree over there,' he continued, pointing to the shrine compound. The piece of paper had words and verses from the Quran, he explained, and each word had a numerological significance. The paper must be kept close to the body. He then went into a long digression on Islamic numerology, and the numerical value of each Arabic letter, and ended by providing me with a mathematical formula for converting the Muslim calendar into the Christian calendar18. I asked him about the success rate of his fertility treatment. 'Ninety-five per cent' he replied immediately, without batting an eyelid. 'And piles?' I persisted. He looked at me suspiciously, as if I was mocking him, and said nothing. He lapsed into meditation, and I gathered my belongings, ready to leave, feeling that I had caused offence. He looked up at me again, and gave me a hard, wary stare. There was something he wanted to say. 'Let me tell you, I have almost 400 patients a week, almost all of them are Hindu--not Muslim. Do you understand? Those ladies, the ones who were just here--they are Hindus; the one with piles, she had been coming to me for thirty years.' I felt like saying it was about time she tried another doctor, but I bit my tongue, recognizing that he was making an important point about Hindu-Muslim relations in CP, and indeed in Delhi generally. He presented me with two boxes of joss-sticks, and a business card complete with e-mail address--and one of his numerology students accompanied me out into CP.I was coming towards the end of the Connaught Place twist of the spiral. I hurried past Hotel Alka ('the best alternative to luxury'); and more municipal corporation signboards, 'Say No To Plastic Bags'; and a large cartoon of a man spitting, a gob of saliva suspended in mid-air, with a big red cross, like the Swiss flag, drawn over his face. The next block is dominated by one building: the Regal, one of Delhi's oldest cinemas, built at the same time as the rest of CP. It was briefly famous around the world. In 1998, a group of self-proclaimed defenders of Hinduism ransacked the Regal for showing an Indian film in which two Hindu women, sisters-in-law, fall in love. A few weeks later, a counter-demonstration outside the cinema saw the slogan: 'We are Indians, Lesbianism is our heritage' deployed for the first time on the streets of Delhi.In pre-independence days, one acquaintance told me, there were daily matinee shows at the Regal--for the British women, 'all good family films'. These days, mornings are for masturbators. Outside the cinema was a poster for Love Affairs showing a near-naked, western woman arching her back, her breasts lightly sprinkled with silver glitter. 'Randy, Raunchy & Hot For You', 10.30 a.m. show only. I looked around nervously for anyone who might know me, ready with my explanation that I was working on a story. My ticket cost Rs 40. Inside, already showing, was a very bad print of a German film, with English subtitles. It was a comedy of sorts. The main character was wearing dark glasses and carried a white stick. He was pretending to be blind,going up to unknown women in the street, touching their faces with his fingertips, as they smiled kindly and slightly nervously. He then lowered his hands and--to the audible delight of my fellow cinema-goers, all of them men--fondled his victims' breasts. There was no nudity, a fair amount of groping and a lot of rustling in the back rows of the stalls. I left early--emerging into the mid-day sun, as the queue built up for the main Hindi feature film. I walked past another of my circle of circle restaurants: DV8 (say it out loud)--proclaiming itself to be 'away from the ordinary'.Nearby stands one of the unheralded glories of modern Indian architecture, the Indian Life building. It is a majestic triumph of asymmetry, like a huge goalmouth viewed from the right-hand side of the penalty area, with a steel pergola as its roof netting. There are four separate upright structures, with huge gaps between them--connected only by the pergola. A central column, plain and solid and white, flanked by two vast wings whose scale and floor space are modestly underplayed by great darkened reflective sheets of glass. These mirrors give space and grandeur to the rest of CP, and create a legion of virtual trees. On each side, there is red-tiled masonry, a Mughal colour, and far to the right, toward DV8, a red column, knife-edged, cutting through the Delhi haze. The building is, in the best possible sense, a waste of space. Unlike so many of Delhi's modern buildings, there is no attempt to squeeze in as much floor area as possible. It is low density. The building has space to breathe and so does Connaught Place19.Outside on the pavement amid the trees, I feel less comfortable. For this marks the site of my moment of greatest shame in Delhi. Here I once rubbed faecal matter from my right shoe onto the torn jeans of a poor man. Let me explain. Three times I have been caught by the phantom shit-squirter. On the first occasion, I was approached by a shoeshine man. He pointed at my right shoe, on which sat a perfectly formed slug of mud. 'Shit,' the man said, offering to clean my shoes for me. I pulled off my shoe and ascertained rapidly that his surmise was correct: I had a strange worm of shit on my shoe. I wiped it off with a leaf. It happened again, a month later, as I emerged from the same underpass. I realized this time that here was some scam, a way of encouraging tight-fisted, dirty-shoed foreigners to exchange some money for a good polish. I shouted at the shoeshine man, there was a minor scene--and eventually I sloped off, shit still on shoe. Then the third time, I decided I would try to take a photograph of the person who put the shit on my shoe in the first place. But I was daydreaming as I wandered through the underpass--and was squirted again. The same shoeshine man appeared, clearly not recognizing me. I was both furious and embarrassed to have been caught again, especially since I was attempting to catch the scamsters out. To the consternation of passers-by, who hissed at me but did not intervene, I grabbed the man by one shoulder and cleaned my shoes on his less than spotless trousers20.Delhi's highest restaurant is just a market-trader's scream away from the Indian Life building. Getting there, however, proved complicated. I headed twenty metres south down Parliament Street and plunged left into a busy, unnamed street market. Many of the traders seemed to be looking, with some concern, in my direction. Igently lifted my hat as if to indicate that I intended them no harm. They began furiously packing up their goods, mainly clothes, gathering them together in huge sheets of jute. I looked behind me, and realized that I was not their object of concern. There was an open mustard-coloured truck now blocking the route by which I had entered. Six men, the leader wearing a pink-and-white bandana,21 got down from the truck, and started pushing their way into the market. They deliberately overturned a ramshackle table covered with shiny plastic belts. A woman began to howl and wail in an unexpectedly assertive and aggressive manner. Suddenly, the bandana man spotted me, and looked a little sheepish. I didn't say a word, although I did reach for my camera. 'Illegal, all illegal,' he told me in English. Another man, a trader, whispered 'NDMC' to me; he spoke these letters as if the New Delhi Municipal Council22 was the KGB. The bandana man asked to see one other trader's market permit, and then he and his gang sloped off.I sat down on a low wall next to a man who was picking his nose vigorously. Between excavations, he told me that the market inspectors normally just demand money--or confiscate goods. My presence had stopped them. I looked away and up, and saw a huge building looming above me. I identified it as the southern face of the Indian Life building. It was no longer a curtain of mirrors but a wall of red, punctuated with deep-set sun-excluding windows. It seemed to be an entirely new creation, appropriate for the side of a building that faced and endured the punishing pre-monsoon sun. As I reflected on this work of architectural brilliance, a large, desperate woman interposed herself in my line of vision and tried to sell me three pairsof different-coloured luminous socks for Rs 100, or, for Rs 50, a toddler's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' T-shirt. I hurried off, brushing through the middle of a group of lawyers, in black and white, and with tie-less buttoned-up wing collars, emerging from a back stairway that led to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.I had spotted my next place of succour, Antriksh Bhavan, sticking up from behind a decaying jawful of fang-like unplanned high-rise office buildings, an orthodontist's nightmare. There were still two broad New Delhi radials to be crossed, originally named after a royal wife (Queensway) and a viceroy (Curzon Road). They'd been Indianized since independence into the populist Janpath (People's Way) and a tribute to the long-suffering wife of the father of the nation (Kasturba Gandhi Marg). Both are now sluggish, congested tourist traps lined with trinket shops and airline offices. I pass a flower shop called 'The Green Revolution.' 'We bring nature closer to you in this concrete jungle.' A young cyclist in a green apron, and, from my vantage point, no other visible clothing, emerged from a side lane with a bunch of red carnations, wobbling as he steered one-handed through the oncoming traffic.Antriksh Bhavan (or Cosmos Building) is a tall concrete cuboid with lots of smaller space-age protrusions. Stuck on its roof is a close approximation to a lunar landing module. It's unmissable--Delhi's first revolving restaurant. I should have guessed what was to come from a signboard at ground-floor level. A freelance restaurant critic had, with a magic marker, crossed out the second 'v' of revolving and replaced it with a 't'. I approached the lift. Just ahead of me was a man with a long, rounded black beard who entered the lift. He pressed an unseen button--and to my surprise another set of doors opened, through which the bearded man immediately exited. The lift not only served as a means of going up and down but also as a corridor through the middle of Antriksh Bhavan.Now, I was a first-time visitor to revolving restaurants. I had always supposed that the whole restaurant would--well--revolve. Not this one. Only the floor moved, with a disconcerting jerk. Five millimetres forward, two millimetres back, I estimated. Derh23 ganta--one and a half hours--I was told, for a full circle. The walls, the windows stayed where they were; the tables, the chairs and I were, in fits and starts, on the move. The carpets were not quite wall-to-wall--and close to my feet was a small gap through which I could have squeezed my multi-paged cardboard menu, and allowed it to parascend on to the fortified precincts of the neighbouring American Center. The well-thumbed menu had several innovative features: there were, for example, samples from past meals on many of the pages (and on the napkins), and the text--in English--had clearly been translated by a computer loaded with early 1990s software.I had sat myself down at a window, with a quite spectacular view over Connaught Place, and its clearly delineated concentric circles. Only from this height does the design of CP really impress or make sense; or does it feel like the heart of a megacity. Perhaps CP's architect only intended his creation to be fully understood--in those preskyscraper days--by the gods and by aviators. From above, the rest of Delhi does appear to radiate out, miraculously, from CP. To the north: railway stations and Old Delhi, the Red Fort and the minarets of the Jama Masjid. To the east: silvery slug-trails of water marking the Yamuna river, once Delhi's raison d'être, now little more than a sewer; and beyond that the huge settlements of east Delhi. To the west, the modest hills of the Ridge--still green and barely visited--which, not long ago, with the Yamuna, provided Delhi with its natural borders. Now the city stretches for miles beyond the Ridge. And although it was a clear day, I could not see the borders of this city of derh crore, fifteen million people. To the south--where I hoped tomake out the distant skyscrapers of Gurgaon, Delhi's most modern incarnation, I could not see more than thirty metres. My view was blocked by a thirteenth-storey junkyard, a repository for broken chairs and ancient typewriters--the top floor of the offices of the Hindustan Times newspaper.As I prepared to order, I could hear an Italian couple arguing with a waiter about their food, which had not reached, they seemed to be saying, the basic level one would expect of a restaurant. Fussy tourists, I thought to myself--gazing around, noticing that there were no Indian diners--usually a sign that the food is less than satisfactory. I ordered simply: chicken kebabs and naan bread. Both were inedible, the former leaked visceral fluids, had more gristle than meat and looked as if it had been carved from a living chicken a few minutes earlier. The naan would probably have been rather nice on the previous day. I had been brought up not to complain in restaurants, and decided to move on to the next course. Fresh fruit salad, I thought, was a safe choice. Two minutes later, an elegant, cracked cocktail glass arrived containing what was clearly tinned fruit. I did complain. The waiter hurried off and brought back the manager, who turned out to be the same bearded man I had briefly encountered in the lift-cum-corridor. He was carrying a tin. He pointed politely to the writing on it. 'Fresh fruit salad', I read. I was lost for words. There was no look of victory in his eyes--and I was very hungry. I downed the tinned fresh fruit salad as the kindly manager looked on.Delhi has more cars than Bombay, Madras and Calcutta combined. That's partly because it has bigger, more open roads; but also because it had an appalling urban transport system. The Metro is supposed to change all that. But for now the construction work had made things worse. The land around Antriksh Bhavan had been turned into an office-workers' car park. The cars were parked five rows deep; often so close that one could not walk between them. Handbrakes are left off, and car-park attendants rolled the cars back and forth, undoing and reorganizing their vehicular logjam, guessing which car they will have to move next. Viewed from above, it becomes a complex mathematical puzzle. How many other cars need to move to get that Skoda from the back row out of the car park? A shirtless boy, thirteen perhaps, had had enough of trying to find a pedestrian route through the car park, and was stepping from car bonnet to car roof andmaking fine progress. The attendants started shouting at him. In vain, of course: to catch him, they, too, would have had to walk on the cars. As I struggled to find my galumphing way through the tangle of cars, I envied the nerve and nimbleness of that boy.Eventually I cleared the car park, and reached Barakhamba Road, eastward-leading, the last of the CP radials. Barakhamba Road is central Delhi's only true street of skyscrapers. Thirty years ago, there were only British-built bungalows24 on this part of Barakhamba Road. Now there is just three-quarters of a bungalow left. The old house at 20, Barakhamba Road25 has had one side of it torn away by bulldozers. The rest still stands as a vacant ruin, dwarfed by its neighbours, a decaying reminder of Delhi's recent past, gradually returning to dust.An Early IntermissionI AM STRUGGLING, disconsolate. I have been out on the streets of Delhi at dawn to escape the May heat. It has reached 45°C; that's 130°F in the language of my childhood. The sun parboils my brains, desiccates my skin. The undersides of my feet, cracked and crispy, have become a red cherry mille-feuille. But there is worse. I am suffering self-doubt, barely known to me. I find it hard to admit to myself what I am doing. I am stealing time to wander around Delhi in a spiral. There is no slower way to explore a city, no other route through a city that is as purgatorial. It is as if moving continents has left me a little unbalanced. Understandably, I command no sympathy from others.And I have become a little obsessed with spirals. Yesterday I met a charming young undertaker, who was holding forth on the problems of refrigeration in the Delhi heat, when I spotted, on his van, his ersatz hearse, a spiral. Or a near-spiral: it was helical, a snake wrapped round a staff. He explained to me that it was the international ambulance symbol26. The red cross, he told me, had been reclaimed by the Red Cross. We got so caught up discussing the politics of symbols, that he forgot to show me his morgue and 1 forgot to ask him why a hearse was carrying an ambulance symbol in the first place.I also realized that I had embarked on a spiral that is anti-clockwise, without consciously deciding to do so. This has troubledme unnecessarily, I think. But I have, in autistic mode, been working it over in my mind. I have a bad right knee, an uncured veteran of six surgical interventions.27 It is fine for walking, but I dare not twist it, lest the thigh bone should become visibly and painfully detached from the kneecap. I naturally rest greater confidence on my left leg, and lean in on it--and therefore tend to veer slightly leftwards unless corrected. This delivers a natural anti-clockwise tendency to my movements. My brother once had an Eastern European car which had what he described as a leftwards 'wag' to its steering, which needed constant vigilance and clockwise adjustment. I seem to have my own leftwards wag. The only time this matters is when I meet an insurmountable obstacle to continuing my Bernoulli spiral. Then, I have decided that I must veer to the right, not the left, and ensure I never touch the trail of the previous whorl-twist.I will go on, through this heat and through this self-doubt, and probably take some pride in deceiving people about my ambulatory activities. And I find unexpected solace and inspiration from the world of spirals, and occasionally from the poems of the dead. I found these lines, of a recently deceased poet, that I have learnt and repeated back to myself.At worst, one is in motion; and at best, Reaching no absolute, in which to rest, One is always nearer by not keeping still.28These words seemed to defend my madness and perversity, and encourage me to continue. They might even be construed as a description of a spiral walk.DELHI. Text and maps copyright © 2009 by Sam Miller.
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