LAST month New Delhi saw an offbeat book release. No political bigwigs, no frills, no babus to do the inaugural rounds etc and though the ĎGarden Restaurantí, tucked at one end of the sprawling Lodi Gardens, was overflowing with people, they were the author Sam Millerís friends and colleagues and book lovers residing in the Capital. And if that wasnít offbeat enough, there was more. The book ó Delhi: Adventures In A MegaCity ó was to be released by an ordinary and an apolitical person.
And with that refreshing start, one can well expect the book to have refreshing and offbeat inputs to it. As Mark Tully remarked, "I have lived in Delhi for 40 years and always wanted to read a book which I feel encompasses the whole of my city. Here it is `85it is a wonderful read".
William Dalrymple commented, "Sam Miller has created a book that is both a quest and a love letter, and one which is pleasingly eccentric and anarchic as its subject".
And Rajdeep Sardesai went a step ahead by stating, "For anyone who has even had a fleeting relationship with Indiaís national capital, this is a must read".
Yes, indeed it is. It is written with feelings and focuses on some of the offbeat features of the city which we tend to overlook or else take for granted.
Sam Miller could unearth the not-so-obvious because he seems passionate about this city `85going about on foot, discovering forgotten aspects and unearthing the lesser known.
Married to an Indian, Miller has been closely associated with New Delhi for the past so many years. He was BBCís Delhi correspondent in the early 1990s and later managing director South Asia for the BBC World Service in London. He was posted back (to Delhi) in 2002 and has been living here since then with his wife and two teenaged children.
Excerpts from an interview
Q. What defines your intense bond with Delhi?
A. Iíve always been fascinated by cities, particularly the ones where so much of life is lived in the open. Iíd hated Delhi at first and didnít quite understand why; but that fact encouraged me to explore it when I returned, and find the different sides of the city.
Q. You have managed to move towards the offbeat and not followed the routine. Was the going tough?
A. It was quite tough, but the very poor almost all walk ó so it is certainly possible, though occasionally it was a little unsanitary or dangerous. I was hit (lightly) by auto-rickshaws on three occasions but each time it was my fault; I was chased by pigs, and threatened by a group of butchers.
Q. Did the very sight and historic backdrops of some of the monuments get you slipping (nostalgically) into history?
A. What interested me was the localsí view of the monuments ó do they feel any pride or benefit in relation to them? Often they donít and that needs to be addressed if the minor monuments are to be preserved.
Q. Delhi has been witnessing chaos on the roads ó traffic snarls, poor infrastructure and bad roads ó and yet you have been on Delhi roads. Comment
A. When youíre walking itís quite nice to be walking faster than cars which are stuck in a traffic jam. Too much in Delhi depends on the roads, which is why the Metro is so important.
Q. New Delhi houses the powerful and the rich and yet for the release of your book you invited one of the lesser known residents ó an ageing resident of Connaught Place, Khorshed Italia.Why not a politician, a babu or a business tycoon?
A. It just seemed right for this book. Khorshed Italia was the first person I met on my walk, and I donít bump into politicians or tycoons on my wander through Delhi. They usually travel by car
Q. Its said that there are several Delhis ó Old Delhi, New Delhi and the suburbs. Which one of them fascinates you?
A. Thereís something fascinating in all them. Itís more obvious when there are ancient ruins. But peel the veneer and there is almost always something interesting everywhere. Good journalists know that there are least two interesting stories to be found on every street. Itís just a matter of finding them.
Q. Which other city /cities attract you enough to write an entire volume ?
A. London ó my hometown; Mumbai ó my sasural; Kolkata ó which I wrote about first; Damascus and Cairo where I had bizarre adventures long before I came to Delhi; and New York, of course.
Q. If a reader gets all too enthused and decides to visit Delhi (that is, after reading your book) what would be your advice to him or her, in terms of dos and doníts, so that there are no pitfalls and disappointments.
A. Look out for manholes, be patient and nosy.