Delhi: The City of Djinns

By Sunil Kumar

The title is evocative; it reminds me of the blood spilt over centuries. But; there’s something more to this post; beyond the obvious. Reminds me of a question I asked an archeological expert about preservation in Delhi.

The expert who was sponsored by the Aga Khan trust; replied that the ASI looks after a few monuments: Qila Rai Pithora; and as for British monuments; technically anything heritage wise is well over a hundred years.

Although Mumbai’s the city I’ve been in for most of my life; there’s a certain fascination for the history and wide boulevards of Delhi; instrumental in directing most of India‘s history.

One of Dalrymple’s statements; the inversion of the racial equation post-independence; was in my opinion; beneficial to the city; sitting as it has always has; on the crossroads of North India. No guesses what the future will bring. Currently it is a semi-national capital; with ghettos of Bengalis, South Indians, Tibetans and everybody else apart from the usual North Indian mix.

Maybe if we had none of the barbarian hordes of Turks and Afghans for so many years; the modern city of Delhi would have been an oasis of more temples; and a city devoid of a bloody past. Civil servants in the country are indeed a cohesive clique; the foundation for this malaise as always lying with the British.

Maybe Francois Gautier; the French writer is more of a friend of India; but the fact remains; many Indians including me; have this peripheral fascination the country of snide; villainous traders.

Khushwant Singh‘s Sikh take on “Delhi: A Novel” was in his quintessential style; as he always seemed to be oscillating between his Sikh identity, Urdu affectation, hackneyed secularism and Anglophilia. The simple-minded Sardar(maybe not) with his family’s sycophantic relationship with the British; was a pretty funny man.

Snippets of his life seem to be a constant facet of all his books; Nehru’s philandering, the obnoxious and clever V.K Krishna Menon; and his admiration for people from his own community are subject repeated ever so often. Reminds me of a college professor who talked about Pfizer in all his lectures; to the point that it sounded jarring.

Carnal pleasure is Singh’s forte; something he may have used to devastating effect. Apart from that; his insider relationship with the Nehru-Gandhi family; especially Maneka(a fellow Sikh; although this changed later) gave me some jolly good insights into the clever but decisive persona of Indira Gandhi.

At a time; when scandals were not so in-your-face; Khushwant Singh decided to publish some pretty raunchy pictures of Suresh Ram; son of Babu Jagjivan Ram copulating with a DU student. The overt reason; Indira was angry at Jagjivan Ram defecting to the Janata Party government in power.

Apart from M.O Mathai; Nehru’s former secretary claiming Indira had multiple lovers; the history of India’s unoffical royal dynasty is a tale of years of wasted opportunites; a coterie of servile people; and unbounded arrogance.

Also Indira’s blatant favoritism towards the Italian au pair rather than the Sikh landowner’s daughter; is another fact that makes me wonder twice about our former leader. The murky past of the Nehru-Gandhi family is a mystery; and there are indeed many unanswered questions; swept away by the sands of time.  The rumor that she was turned out by Rabindranath Tagore from Santiniketan(carnal antics again) may also have some basis in fact. I’m just the raconteur here; as are most other people in the world.

Like most Indians; there is admiration for the 1971 war victory; which actually remains a testament to the army; although we can credit the PM to some extent. Khushwant’s break with Indira came after 1984; even though he claimed to be agnostic; he was probably deeply attached to the Sikh faith he was born into.

“Delhi: a novel” also informs us about the intrigue and human drama that prevailed over many centuries; in the seven cities in different parts of the national capital; most of which are abandoned and ruined presently.

I personally wish the Hindu past of the city should be researched even more; apart from the location of “Indraprastha”; the Pandava’s capital that is supposed to be somewhere in the Purana Qila.

Present-day Delhi is a complex city; representing India’s own existential dilemma; a nation unlike anything else on the planet. For the country’s sake; we should bid adieu to his privileged caste of the clever manipulative ideologue; and aim for good governance; a difficult fact but achievable.



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