An Elaborate Compendium On Contemporary Delhi
How do you make sense of a city that is shifting so fast that you can become disoriented sitting in your own home? The book Finding Delhi: Loss and Renewal in the Megacity brings together a kaleidoscopic view of the fast-moving constantly-changing city that is Delhi. The book is an unparalleled account of contemporary Delhi—one which is being re-engineered everyday to turn it into a “world-class” city—and its effect on the people who experience it on a daily basis. It talks about how Delhi is losing its character in a race against time to become a “world-class” city—the likes of New York and Shanghai.
The book is a chronicle of the “loss and renewal” of this enormous city, written by 14 full- and part-time residents. They write about issues as urgent and diverse as public transport, the state of Yamuna, women and the megacity, housing rights for the poor, recycling and recyclers, shopping malls and the officially sanctioned campaign against street vendors and the homeless ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The book examines the nature of the transformation—the kind of opportunities that are becoming available to some, and how much is being taken away from others.
The book is edited by Bharati Chaturvedi, an environmentalist and a Delhi-based writer. In her introduction to the book she writes: “For many of them the city is a contradiction—it is a site of hope and also despair…” The writers have given a detailed account of the issue he or she is dealing with. From the elaborate foot notes to the historical references, each narrative is skillfully written.
The book is divided into three parts: “Cityscape”, “Challenges” and “Experiences”.
In the “Experiences” part, people from different sects of the society—two dhobis, a housemaid, a fruit vendor and a waste handler—write about Delhi as they see it. These people talk about what they think of the city and how they relate to it, but incidentally none of them have any expectations from the city. In “Life, Citizenship, Trash”, Jai Prakash Chowdhury (Santu), a waste handler, writes about how he has been dirtying his hands to clean out the mess created by the “wealthy”. He also talks about how the new system for garbage collection not very helpful and that the new organisations are taking away their livelihood.
“Remaindered Things and Remaindered Lives: Travelling with Delhi’s Waste”, written by Vinay Gidwani, is one of the most detailed chapters in the first part. The writer has taken into account every detail that the reader would want to know. It deals with the geographical, sociological and environmental issues that surround Delhi.
Gidwani beautifully crafts the narrative, often awakening the reader from unawareness and giving them a perspective of the India that is still lost in the slums and its people who are happily working in hazardous places, just so they can earn a living. He goes on to tell the reader about the increasing exposure of these workers to various ailments. This essay is rather an eye-opener for not just the common man but also the industrialists and government bodies who seem to be hibernating.
The book comes as a relief to its reader because it tries to engage with that part of Delhi that is left out in the sort of accounts mentioned above—the not too pretty underbelly of the Indian capital. The writers concentrate on the living conditions of the poor and the damage done to their lives due to infrastructural developments. Monologues of a waste collector, a domestic worker, a dhobi and a fruit vendor are included in the book to fulfill this end. It does succeed in throwing a somewhat different light on the state of Delhi.
By Tulika Rattan