To most foreigners, Mumbai (the erstwhile “Bombay”) epitomizes India with its bustling commerce and its highly productive motion picture industry, popularly referred to as “Bollywood.” But outsiders forget that it is Delhi (actually, New Delhi, to separate it from its colonial brother, “old” Delhi) that is India’s political capital. In a series of essays, Rana Dasgupta captures the zeitgeist of the city in both its entrepreneurial glory and its bureaucratic madness. Written in lapidary prose, Dasgupta traces the origins of a city once considered a pharos of the British Empire in India to its development as the nexus of political power in the world’s largest democracy.
Dasgupta writes from the perspective of an outsider who has made Delhi his temporary abode. Many of the essays detail the vicissitudes of everyday living in this teeming metropolis, but the author adds the under-text of history and sociology to lend buoyancy to his narrative. We come across scions of wealthy families who bask in the comforts that money (even ill-gotten) can buy, but also regular people who come to the city to find their dreams.
Weaving between the past and the present adroitly, Dasgupta portrays a recondite city that is comfortable in its power yet wears the power uncomfortably. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand India.