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At long last,booming Delhi carves out a chunk on bookshelf

Ever since Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children exploded onto the literary stage in 1981,Bombay has been the Indian city that has captured the imagination of most writers.

Written by Vaibhav Vats | New Delhi |
June 18, 2009 1:56:03 am

Ever since Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children exploded onto the literary stage in 1981,Bombay has been the Indian city that has captured the imagination of most writers. From Rohinton Mistry,Gregory David Roberts and Suketu Mehta many have embraced it as the object of their inquiry and affection.

And now,it seems it is Delhi’s turn to have its place in the sun. A spate of books now point to a firm trend which make Delhi its muse,the most prominent being Delhi Noir,a collection of 14 stories,“a world of sex in parks,male prostitution and vigilante rickshaw drivers”. Contributors to the volume include Irwin Allan Sealy,Ruchir Joshi and Tabish Khair.

And then there is Jaishree Misra’s Secrets and Lies and Pinki Virani’s Deaf Heaven. Delhi Noir comes out in August while the two other novels come out later this year.

The unexpected success of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger — partly set in Delhi and neighbouring Gurgaon — has thrown light on a process that begun years ago,an urge to engage and define Delhi in new ways.

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Novelist Rana Dasgupta,who is working on a couple of essays on Delhi,feels Delhi evokes the intensity of a city being rapidly reconstructed. “In the texture of Delhi life,all kinds of things have disappeared — quiet tea shops,empty land. Most of Europe’s great modernists were inspired by the destruction and recreation of their cities. Delhi at this juncture prompts questions,which are the questions of our moment.” He calls it a mature literary project,of “looking at reality in its own terms”.

For Mridula Koshy,whose recent debut collection of stories If It Is Sweet is largely set in Delhi,the idea is to give the city a place in literature that it deserves. “Delhi has as much potential as New York or Paris. There are stories waiting to be told from every footpath.”

And these stories are increasingly being told. Sam Miller’s Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity is slowly on the way to becoming a bestseller. Miller first came to the city in the early ’90s,but began to explore the city only during a second stint that began in 2000. Wandering around Connaught Place during lunchtime breaks from work,he felt Delhi had become a city very different from the one he had first read about in William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns.

“Delhi is changing faster than any other city in the country,” says Miller. “Her charms aren’t as obvious but there is tremendous potential for exploration if one is curious.”

Renuka Chatterjee,chief editor at Westland Books,says: “Earlier,Delhi was considered an overgrown village,not an exciting metropolis. Now it has moved from a narrow,quiet framework to that of a truly global city.”

This is good news for the book business as well. Mithilesh Singh of Bahri Sons Booksellers says: “The market for books on Delhi has steadily increased. We sold 125 copies of Sam Miller’s book in the first month alone.”

“The sale of books on Delhi has increased by 20 per cent over the last two years,” says Vallabh Kumar of Landmark Books. “With more titles coming up,this is only bound to increase.”

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