“I asked my soul:
What is Delhi? She replied:
The world is the body and Delhi its Life!”
– Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib
Thus goes the quote, and Elizabeth Chatterjee in her debut novel vastly does justice to it, dissecting the very anatomy of modern day capital, peeling whorls and layers of city’s skin to reveal its aspirations, charm, insecurities and flaws.
The author’s journey through nook and corner of the vibrant city captures every nuance from Connaught place to markets of Chandni chowk, from Saket malls and snobby boutiques and coffee shops in Hauz Khas Village to Akshardham temple. She manages to grasp the very pulse of the city in her writing pertinently doing justice to every experience experienced, being half Indian and half European.
The writing style is fluid and jovial, it never slacks and the narrative comes out as witty and satirical. With her distinctive style Chatterjee manages to call a spade a spade without being too offensive or overtly sarcastic. The narration doesn’t get boring at any time and engrosses the reader suitably with the interspersed ironical humor.
The fifteen thematic chapters in the book are uncannily perceptive and concise and comment on every single thing that is quintessentially Indian or Delhite-ish, from jugaad to gang rapes and institutional misogyny, from noses and tongues to hearts and souls, and from cricket to hassling beedi smoking maid.
As a citizen reading the book it gives a thorough insight into our own selves, holding a mirror, which would do us good to stare and ‘reflect’ into.
The read is rendered fascinating mainly because of the two facts: firstly because it is written by a foreigner, Oxford studied PhD scholar and secondly because, what is a customary, regular standard for anybody Indian living here hardly invoking a reaction, is outrageous, authoritarian, immensely inegalitarian and diabolical for somebody outside the microcosm of the country.
In author’s own words:”Delhi: is a delirious city, city of tense present, future imperfect. Yes it’s easy to criticize.” Yes it sure is, but being a naively biased Indian, I honestly accept, it was difficult not to take offence and appraisal as personal impeachment, agreeing, though malevolently all through for the ‘facts’ stated.
To sum up, it is an interesting, engaging and entertaining read for anyone with good sense of humor hoping for a genuine inquisitive viewpoint of the great city, and not just a travelogue.
About the Author:
Born and raised in Yorkshire, Elizabeth Chatterjee is a perpetual student. After a history degree, she moved on to study contemporary Indian Politics. She is currently working on her doctorate. In 2008, she was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where she eats alarming amounts of cheese in between visits to Delhi.