Title: DELHI MOSTLY HARMLESS - ONE WOMAN'S VISION OF THE CITY
Author: ELIZABETH CHATTERJEE
Publication: RANDOM HOUSE INDIA
Price: INR 299
An Indian with a Hitler-type moustache goes abroad and marries a Finnish Ice-hockey player twice his height. They have kids and the Indian surname is retained by the son, who passes it on to his two sons and a daughter. This daughter, Yorkshire born Elizabeth Chatterjee is the author of this book. Research work for her PhD brings her to Delhi frequently and this book is a collection of most of her experiences (read horrid experiences) in Delhi.
From the calm and quiet of Oxford to the sweaty wretched culture of Delhi and then back home, the book captures some of the most intimate experiences and feelings of the author. She has captured almost all of her feelings about Delhi, right from landing till the time of leaving for home back in Yorkshire. This journey for her has been a ruthless one and overflowing with hardships. She even managed to find some links into her very complicated ancestry.
Delhi is much like a cruel step-mom and life for everyone here is difficult. It isn't a city that pampers you. Each step towards progress is a barefoot uphill journey here, but yes the ladder to progress is available here (for most people).
The book goes on to explain how each and every person you come across in Delhi is a cheat and just born to harm others. Almost every page of the book has some details that sting your self-esteem, understanding that in the eyes of an Englishperson, you as an Indian (and specifically as a Delhiite) and your very existence is a shame. The things that we consider the best, that which we pride upon are as wothless as we are (for instance, Sathya Sai Baba was a spiritual rockstar who used to wear orange prison jumpsuits, Akshardham is a big, glossy, self-congratulatory theme park obsessed with numbers and statistics, Chandigarh - the so called city beautiful of India is Le Corbusier's architectural psychosis and is a desert of slabs .. and many more). The part that I am yet to clarify as good or bad, is the fact that as the book progresses, you, as the reader, become addicted to these stings and by the time the book comes to a close, you are smiling from ear to ear. Atleast some accomplishment for a hopeless Indian (or a Dilliwaalah maybe). eh?
The author has supreme and complete knowledge about all things about Delhi, India and the world. Besides providing factual data and description of many many aspects related to the city (some unfortunately incorrect), the book also provides general knowledge about India and many of her related aspects. Before reading the book, I had no idea that Indians were colonized by the British precisely because Indians were just too lazy to fight back. How bad. I just realized, much of my education beyond the 4th standard is on farcical grounds. I also learnt that Diwali is nothing more than diabetes.Well.
Well, all is well till the book does not somehow reach those who take religion a little too seriously, for, any relation between 'Hari' and 'whorey', however small, IS offensive.
So, much like my existence, my city, my festivals, my education - my religion too is worthless. Lesson learnt, Professor!
There are a few big consolations that the book provides. First, the title, 'Delhi mostly harmless' is an encouraging one, surprisingly positive for all that the book offers. Second, it is mentioned somewhere in the book that statistics show that it is unlikely that a resident of Delhi would be murdered. Yay!! Third, the fact mentioned earlier that the stings are addictive. For all this, you can actually read the book real quick and also manage to smile. Somehow. Fourth, any mention of any other city/country, even Britain, is in equal shade of contempt, so maybe the author's level of expectation from the world to just too high. Chalo theek hai!
I, having lived in Delhi for almost 2 decades, can say for sure that many of the tears and fears expressed by the author are held by most of the people. Life in Delhi is cruelly harsh. Not two words about it. But I fail to get myself to endorse the fact that if there were hell somewhere, it would be much better than Delhi (though this is not directly expressed by the author).
Go read this book, if you please. As for me, I shall happily feature in the author's next book, as just another example of the all-pervasive fiendishness that this city offers.