Tag Archives: Delhi

Drive-By Hooting: On Board Delhi Tourism’s Party Bus

2010 was a red letter year for Delhi transport. The airport’s T3 was inaugurated in time to welcome athletes arriving for the Commonwealth Games; the Delhi Metro opened two more lines. Cycle lanes sprang up along recently constructed BRT routes.

A fleet of big, blue high-capacity buses also joined their shiny new red and green cousins. Long after the cycle lanes gave way to motorbikes, and cars reclaimed the bus lanes, these “hop-on-hop-off” buses continue to ferry tourists to and from about 20 city landmarks every day. Inspired by similar efforts abroad, Delhi Tourism’s HOHOs provide an alternative to full-day taxis and charter buses, and feel like a more organic way of exploring the city even to long-time residents.

Sharing-averse Delhi, know that you can also rent the entire bus for a six-hour tour for yourself and 32 of your closest friends. This is largely targeted to and used for children’s birthday treats, but since our dignity knows no age bar, we tried it out by throwing a party for a group of adults.

The Feels Of The Bus

After a couple of painless emails with the helpful HOHO team, we worked out an itinerary that incorporated the Shankar International Dolls Museum, the Rail Museum, and the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, as well as “drive-by” sightseeing through central Delhi and Chanakyapuri.

Our HOHO rolled up earlier than the appointed time, lovingly festooned with balloons, streamers and a Disney-princess-adorned Happy Birthday sign on its bumper, causing a small commotion. Aunties leaned out of windows to inquire about rates, and cars slowed down to stare.

The feeling of being part of a circus caravan only increased as we squeezed through Bhogal—like a great blue whale in a narrow strait—and Robin, our guest relations representative, cued up the season’s party hits. Bus conductor?

Floating above the sparse Sunday traffic in central Delhi to the tune of “Kar Gayi Chull”, our self-consciousness settled into a kind of giddy hilarity, aided by Robin’s party-starting efforts. (We imagine the game involving bursting balloons with our bums would really spice up a corporate retreat.) His DJ skills weren’t shabby either: we pulled up to the Doll’s Museum dancing (in)appropriately to “Baby Doll”.

 Robin adeptly threw out only occasionally dubious tidbits of Delhi trivia as we rode. He quizzed us as we swooped up Raisina Hill (“Who built the Parliament?” Answer, “Local construction workers”); then through the broad avenues of Chanakyapuri (“Did you know visa stands for ‘visitor intending to stay abroad?”).

Robin’s puckish energy was infectious: as the HOHO wallowed in southbound evening traffic on Aurobindo Marg, indulgent smiles spread across the faces of the surrounding commuters. For a moment, the street became a bizarre Bollywood set, bathed in the pretty polluted glow of a Delhi sunset, rather than a gauntlet to be run.

Bus Ki Baat

Our verdict: whether you want to throw a card party on wheels, or keep that contingent of foreign wedding guests out of your hair for a few hours, we recommend going HOHO(ho). Time is your only real challenge: if you’re boarding this bus, tell your guests to arrive half an hour before departure, as extra time en route incurs extra costs. Alcohol could be another sticking point, since this bus is strictly on the wagon. It’s shocking how they’ll put anything in Coke bottles these days, though.

Getting there: Visit www.hohodelhi.com or call 99589-66566. Prices vary by time and distance, but a typical six-hour tour costs Rs 12,500, including personalised decorations and taxes. Guests provide their own food and drink and any entry fees.

Accessibility: The low-floor bus is disabled friendly.

Originally published in Brown Paper Bag Delhi, November 2, 2016.

Published: November 2, 2016

Mini Music Videos

Phoneography.

 

A video posted by toutress (@toutress) on

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Published: March 2, 2016

Delhi-spotting

Looking for home at the National Museum’s Cosmology to Cartography: A Cultural Journey of Indian Maps exhibition.

delhimaps1

Published: August 16, 2015

Saqi, April 1946

One of the most interesting covers I came upon while browsing through the British Library’s Endangered Archives project is the April 1946 issue of Saqi. The issue is the Urdu journal’s special humour edition. The illustration is signed by Sobha Singh, the artist best known for his paintings of Sikh gurus (several Saqi covers are signed by him).

Saqi April 1946. From the Endangered Archives Project, British Library

Saqi April 1946. From the Endangered Archives Project, British Library

On the top left are the opening lines of “Wataniyat” (Patriotism), a poem by Allama Iqbal published in the 1924 collection Bang-e-Dara (The Call of the Bell). They are found on a number of the Saqi covers. For some reason, however, the last few words are changed from (what I think is) the original poem (online, with a rough translation here), from the antonymous “lutf-o-sitam” to the synonymous “lutf-o-karam”. (Hover over for definitions.)

اسدورميں مے اور ہے جام اور ہے جم اور

ساقي نے بنا کي روشِ لطف وکرم/ستماور

Is daur mein mai aur hai, jaam aur hai, jam aur,
Saqi ne bina kii rawish-e-lutf-o-karam/sitam aur.

This round, the wine is not wine, the cup not a cup, the crowd more than a crowd.
The Saqi has set in motion new modes of pleasure and generosity/oppression.

All definitions from Platts Dictionary.

Published: August 15, 2015

Capital Rambles

Delhi: Unknown Tales of a CityDelhi: Unknown Tales of a City
By RV Smith
(Roli, ₹295)

Among the contemporary crop of Delhi’s flâneurs and society chroniclers, Ronald Vivian Smith is a tall figure. The septuagenarian arrived from Agra in the late 1950s, and his regular columns in The Statesman and The Hindu span the decades of wandering he has done in his adopted home city since then. Many of these columns are available online—rich inspiration for the first generation of city bloggers— and have also periodically been published in books such as The Delhi that No-one Knows (2005), Capital Vignettes (2008) and Delhi Rambles (2014).

The newest such edition is Delhi: Unknown Tales of a City, comprising columns from between 1990 and 2011, and brought out by Roli Books. Through anecdotes and encounters with Dilliwalas, both past and present, Smith explores myriad facets of the capital. As a raconteur, it is Smith’s “sense of delight in histories discovered over the years,” as Narayani Gupta wrote in her foreword to The Delhi that No-one Knows, that anyone who has had even a passing flirtation with Delhiyana will be able to identify with. As Smith talks about festivals, monuments, rulers and poets, the feeling of discovery is familiar; accessible. Yet Smith’s distinct personality only flashes through sporadically: in his attraction to a beautiful face, his self-deprecating awareness of the meandering nature of his own writing.

The journalist Mayank Austen Soofi, in a way one of Smith’s successors, notes in a profile in Mint Lounge that “Unlike other celebrated writers on Delhi, Smith remains as invisible as the people and places he writes about.” Particularly jarring in this book is the use of the neutral third-person, which results in awkward phrases such as “one stumbled” and “as one looked up with a start, one found a female form in white…” A more intimate first-person narration from Smith, if not a proper memoir, would be welcome.

And as far as compendia of vignettes go, this one could have been better shepherded. While The Delhi that No-one Knows has Smith’s writing grouped by geographical area and Capital Vignettes has thematic sections, the columns in Unknown Tales of a City seem somewhat arbitrarily organised, almost in a slightly muddled alphabetical order. Related columns—such as those about Diwali, or Bahadur Shah Zafar—could for example have been combined into longer chapters by an invested editor. An index would have been helpful, too.

Unknown Tales is still an enjoyable dip, in part because Smith is clear-eyed about his hobby. “Legends are more enchanting than factual history,” he writes. Concluding one particularly juicy tale, of a rumour about kebabs made of human flesh, Smith writes, slightly tongue in cheek, “Where exactly the tikka seller sat in the Mori Gate area is difficult to say now… Ask Mullaji, if you can find him, and he will confirm that this is true.”

In Smith’s tales of an old but rapidly changing city, facts are less important than the stories people tell. Some of the most interesting entries deal with the evolving names of places: Chandni Chowk, for example; or the names of places that no longer exist, such as a list of dry or covered-up wells. As one haunted well disappears under a new colony, it becomes, like so many other landmarks, “part of the gossip of old fogeys.”

Particularly poignant is Smith’s description of a deserted sentry tower in the cantonment near Naraina, which evokes thoughts of  “the futility of maintaining a watch over something which will eventually need no vigilance and harbours only vagabonds at night. It’s most distressing to think like that. You come back to the fishmongers…Perhaps the fishmongers may move out too and the sentry tower will be demolished. Then only memories will remain.” One could say Smith’s writing mirrors the city itself: rambling; extending, a bit haphazardly, in many directions and many layers; but with snatches of beauty and nuggets of history hiding just under the surface for those who go looking.

Originally published in Outlook Traveller, August 2015.

 

Published: August 3, 2015

Portrait of a lady

The last century of Mughal rule comes to life in The Mirror of Beauty, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s compelling picture of Delhi and its wider world ♦

 

 View as PDFThe Mirror of Beauty

Beloved of poets and coveted by kings, conquered and constructed again and again, Delhi in its present avatar is a tough city to love. Yet many still regard it with affection, looking through the rosy veil of nostalgia at the capital’s embarrassment of ruins: from the tiny, pipal-shaded shrines in Shahjahanabad courtyards, to the Kalan Masjid, steeply soaring out of a narrow alley near Turkman Gate. What would it be like to see the city’s empty palace rooms and silent tombs fill with life again?

It is to this Delhi of the past, specifically the 19th century, that Shamsur Rahman Faruqi allows the reader to travel in his monumental 2006 Urdu novel Kai Chand The Sar-e-Aasman, now reworked in English as The Mirror of Beauty by the author himself. The pinnacle of its creator’s fictional oeuvre, this novel sits atop a lifetime’s worth of work in Urdu literature. Faruqi, who ideally should need no introduction to the English literary scene, was born in 1935 and lives in Allahabad. A respected Urdu critic who also writes poetry and fiction (and had a career in the Indian Postal Service), he is that rare literary figure who is both steeped in the culture of his own language and well-versed in other traditions. For example, the novel’s envoi is taken from “The Traveller”, a 1763 poem by Oliver Goldsmith who writes of being, “Impelled, with steps unceasing to pursue/ Some fleeting good that mocks me with the view.” In The Mirror of Beauty, Faruqi finally captures that view – of India seen through the portal of its capital city, during the period when “The Company may have been ruling, but it did not reign”. And he does so in gorgeously detailed miniature style, with figures of complex hue, set against both urban and natural landscapes. At the very centre of the frame is Wazir Khanam, a woman so beautiful that “you would feel that the Tailor of Eternity had cut all dresses for her and her alone”. As a miniaturist illustrates myth, so Faruqi fictionalises history: Wazir Khanam was in fact the mother of the poet Dagh Dehlvi and eventually the wife of an heir apparent to Bahadur Shah Zafar.

mirrorYet in Faruqi’s portrait of her, Wazir is more than simply wife, mother, daughter or lover. He brings the interior life of this otherwise peripheral person to the fore, with finesse. She does not necessarily control her destiny – no character really has that kind of power – but she pushes against fate. While she accepts the fact of her beauty, even uses it to her advantage, Wazir’s spirit yearns to transcend the societal expectations of her sex. In a telling moment, British Resident William Fraser, who was murdered in 1835 (a death Faruqi vividly brings to life), woos Wazir and mistakes her for a mere nautch girl: “In spite of his vast experience and natural capacity for discerning subtleties,” Faruqi writes, “Fraser missed out completely at judging Wazir and did not appreciate that her own sense of self was that of a refined woman of good family, though of decidedly liberal views.” In Faruqi’s sensitive delineation, Wazir is neither stereotype nor anachronism.

Around this extraordinary woman circle the men of the story: her lovers, her husbands, her son Dagh, her forefathers in Kashmir and Rajasthan. Then there are saints, soldiers, scientists and, most of all, the poets, who form a colourful crowd behind Wazir. Dagh and Mirza Ghalib are two of the book’s most verbose verse-mongers, but for many characters, poetry itself is the medium through which their most emotional conversations take place. Faruqi, whose many poetry-related accomplishments include a four-volume project on Mir Taqi Mir, presents the conversation between 19th-century poets and those who preceded them as a continuum, running through public performances and secret notes, in royal chambers and chai-stalls. Summoning the spirit of the Persian mystic poet Hafiz, an augur tells Wazir: “If you read his poetry, imagining that those words have just been uttered by him, and uttered for you alone, then… The poet never dies. He’s present through his words: it is just that he… talks to us in twig and branch, in garden, park and meadow, in palace and the poorest alley, in castle and tent…” Sometimes the couplets studding The Mirror of Beauty can be opaque in translation (Romanised Urdu footnotes would have been brilliant), but they still imply a world where literature was not quite so set apart from life.

Literature is but one element in the backdrop of this portrait of a woman, her city and times. The scalloped arches, domes and minarets of Delhi’s architecture are also visible in “the city which ceases to remember past sorrows in the shortest possible time”; which proclaims “its undying youth and beauty through the… towering spire of Qutb Sahib… the power and grandeur of Muhammad Tughlaq’s mausoleum… through the mellifluous sounds of the reciters of the Quran or the Primary Declaration of Faith in the ancient mosque attached to the meeting house at the effulgent mausoleum of Nizamuddin Auliya… through the grey blue pigeons which roost at the two-toned dome of Shahjahan’s mosque… through the sudden starting up of the fountain in savan bhadon, the large six-sided tank in the Haveli [the Lal Qila]…” Built into these stone, brick and marble structures is the city’s social fabric. When Wazir first leaves Delhi to live in Jaipur with an Englishman, she recalls “the whispers, the silences, the intimate conversations, the exchange of quick, friendly phrases, the faces showing through narrow windows at the back that provided safe communication between homes, the phrases sweet and musical like the trill of the harmonicon – a small little interior hutch of one’s heart in spite of lives lived together in narrow houses. All that was Delhi…” There are perhaps even a few glimpses of the modern city presaged in its past: even then Dilliwalas are “past masters in fashioning rumours, making and exchanging news, flying every kind of kite in every kind of weather…” And when Wazir worries about “having to return alone after nightfall” from a party on the Pahadi (The Ridge), the contemporary reader can sympathise with her plight.

In language that can be flowery or formal but is always unselfconsciously literary, Faruqi fills in the nuances of Delhi life with a fine brush. Subtleties of fabric and dress are laid out in long passages describing outfits down to their transparency and regional provenance. There are long honorific titles, much capitalised, referring to kings and other important men. The dialogue reads appropriately to its era, with little flourishes like the Nawab of Loharu’s taqia kalam, or pet word, “bhaiwallah”, and Welsh adventurer Fanny Parkes’ spirited memoirs through her one-sided conversation with Wazir. There are passages describing diet and Unani medicine, highly refined codes of hospitality and etiquette, and the various arts – from music to painting to carpet-weaving. The chapters describing a journey through Thuggi territory are gripping, suspenseful, and creepy as hell. This isn’t a subaltern history as such, but by describing in detail the lives of a society’s consumers, Faruqi gestures at the whole world of creative, small-scale production supporting it.

This way of life is threatened by the creeping influences and sometimes violent impositions of British might. Despite its romanticising tendency, The Mirror of Beauty is not a self-Orientalising book, but one attempting to show how an entire world was destroyed from the inside out. “The Firangee mind was by nature haughty, tyrannical and overbearing,” muses Hakim Ahsanullah Khan, Delhi’s “Rhazes and Avicenna”. Mughal heir apparent Mirza Fakhru realises that there was “an alien presence in their midst… impinging not on just economics, trade and money… The Firangees impact changed the values that attached to art, poetry, social conventions… They were increasingly successful in teaching the Hindustani that the values that he loves, the lights which he hopes to lead him into worldly success and Heavenly favour, are wrong, or at best outdated.”

Ultimately the question of whether a decline in Indo-Islamic culture was inevitable “absent the political pressure and military conflicts of those times” is at the heart of The Mirror of Beauty, and it is referenced in the novel’s first book (there are seven). These early chapters, the book’s “frame”, narrate the discovery of a portrait of Wazir Khanam in a London museum by her descendent Wasim Jafar, who shares it with Dr Khalil Asghar Farooqui, a retired opthalmologist. In a description that could apply to Faruqi himself, Farooqui writes of Jafar: “Old pictures, books, documents, manuscripts, were thus milk and bread to him.” It is the English reader’s good fortune that Faruqi decided to share this knowledge (even incorporating primary sources in translation) in such tantalising form. “The people of today are developing the habit of forgetting,” he notes, introducing a chapter related to Madhava Rao Sindhia, “The dust and smoke of modern life are busy obliterating, or at least dimming, many such events hidden in the mazes of family stories and even the histories of nations.”

Recuperating these histories is difficult, but not impossible. Like Jafar, Faruqi rejects “the notion that the past is a foreign country and strangers who visit there cannot comprehend its language… old words can be narrated in new words…” Putting the notion to practice in his translation of a verse by Hafiz, Faruqi describes a beauty so deep and complex that her reflection “sends the mirror to sleep”. We may never see more than a reflection of the past we’ve lost – that fleeting good that, in Goldsmith’s words, “allures from far, yet as I follow, flies”. But the reflection itself is such a beautiful dream that we are lucky to have seen it at all.

The Mirror of Beauty, Hamish Hamilton, ₹699.
Originally published in Time Out Delhi, July 2013.

Published: July 15, 2013

News flashback

Anuja Chauhan’s third romantic comedy is set in Delhi of the 1980s ♦

Those-Pricey-Thakur-Girls-600x864A tall, dark and distinctively handsome journalist with a conscience meets a beautiful, intelligent “DeshDarpan” newsreader with four sisters, a house on Hailey Road and a distinctive mole on her chin. Delhi in the 1980s and India’ widening mediascape are the backdrop of Anuja Chauhan’s latest romantic fiction – her third after The Zoya Factor (which drew on cricket culture) and Battle for Bittora (politics and electioneering).

Debjani, the second-youngest of retired Judge Thakur’s five overprotected daughters is a dreamer with a love for underdogs, who is finally blooming, as her mother might say, into a proper young lady with romantic prospects. She’s just started a job as a national news reader on DD when she meets Dylan Singh Shekhawat, an investigative reporter thirsting for justice for the victims of the 1984 anti- Sikh riots, which he witnessed.

As in her previous books, Chauhan thinly disguises historical characters and events, stirring up a familiar stew of places, dates and personalities. Political scandals, cultural phenomena and a society in transition form a pleasantly recognisable milieu in which the action unfolds on the scale of one family’s dramas. Chauhan chatted with Sonal Shaha about the book.

What were you up to in Delhi in the ’80s and where did the idea of this house on Hailey Road come from?
I passed out in ’88, so most of the ’80s were spent in school. I was exactly where Eshwari [the youngest sister] is in the book. I wanted to write a book about a family property dispute because I know lots and lots of families who were going through that. More and more we all have some grandmother’s house or something which is owned by lots of uncles and aunts. Everywhere people were breaking down bungalows and going in for this condo sort of living, so there was this transition phase I wanted to catch. People had so many brothers and sisters those days and that’s why, I think, those houses are so fiercely disputed now. Also I felt that there was lots of scope for humour. Only in Indian families people will have sued each other but they’ll still be eating breakfast together; they meet at weddings and they’re all hugging and dancing together.

Then Hailey Road – one, I wanted people from all over India to understand, so I thought next to Connaught Place is a good place, because people know [it] and it was like a big hub. Then, I had an uncle, as in a dad’s friend uncle, who had a big old house on Hailey Road – it was notoriously famous for these disputed houses.

The alphabetical naming of the five Thakur sisters was a masterful way of organising the characters…
I gave my husband an initial draft to read and he was like, “Oh my god, I can’t…” So then I thought, I’ll make it alphabetical – and it sort of works with the Judge’s personality. People do these things… name children Raja and Rani… Like my sisters have rhyming names.

anuja

Anuja Chauhan

There’s this dark backdrop of the 1984 riots, but the house on Hailey road seems constantly drenched in sunshine.
Yes, and that was what was really pissing Dylan off, because he was like: “You guys are clueless! You sit in here and it’s all about girls and their little embroidered shorts! What’s wrong with you!” I just wanted to create that walled garden, where they haven’t even noticed the riots, they have no clue.

Can you tell me more about next year’s sequel, The House That BJ Built?
When I started writing [Those Pricey Thakur Girls] I realised that I can’t write it in one book, because you have to trace several generations. I actually toyed with starting it in the ’50s, but then I thought that’s too [far back]. My daughters are 15 and 17 now and they seem quite into this whole ’80s thing; they were very intrigued.

So in [The House That BJ Built], all these girls are gonna be aunts and it’s going to be a lot about fashion actually because Bonu [a child in the current book] is going to be running, you know, a lot of girls have these little tailoring boutiques and a Masterji and ten people sitting… Because her dad believes in being a businessman, she’s going to have, like, a very strong sense of business, and she’s going to be ripping off clothes from Hindi movies. Anyway, I shouldn’t be talking about it so much…

Do you see the family saga spiraling out into other stories?
I thought I needed to do Eshwari and Anjini’s book, [set] in the ’90s and then come to Bonu’s book in the 2000s, but I don’t know. I’m so un-enamoured by the ’90s. I spent [them] having children.

How did you keep track of all the individual histories?
With this one I went a little crazy. Actually, I must have written about 800 pages, and the book is only 400 pages. So I took it forward a lot more before I realised, oh god, I need another book. I was just completely ruthless – I chopped out and threw. But the only thing I felt really bad about cutting was Dylan and Debjani’s church wedding and then a Hindu wedding and then a wedding night…

If you could imagine writing about 2013, 30 years in the future, what kinds of details do you think you might pick out?
I think that only with the wisdom of hindsight can you write that kind of stuff. Because if you were writing in the ’80s, you’d have assumed that Doordarshan was powerful… booking a trunk call after 10.30 and all that… these are things that only make sense because you have the benefit of hindsight.

Those Pricey Thakur Girls, HarperCollins, ₹350.
Originally published in Time Out Delhi, March 2013.

Published: March 4, 2013

The Walls of Delhi

Uday Prakash’s stories bring downtrodden characters to life ♦

thewallsofdelhi_web“I bet you’re thinking that I’m taking advantage of the one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of the birth of Premchand, the King of Hindi Fiction, to spin you some hundredand- twenty-five-year-old story, dressed up as a tale of today,” writes Uday Prakash, in one of his stinging authorial asides, “But the truth is that the account I am putting before you, in its old and backward style… is a tale of a time right after 9/11, in the aftermath of the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York; a time when two sovereign Asian nations were reduced to ash and rubble.”

The truth – whether in that particular story, “Mohandas”, of a low-caste villager thwarted at every step by corruption, or in the two other tales in The Walls of Delhi – is Prakash’s primary obsession. In his title story (the collection is translated by Jason Grunebaum) he charts the changing fortunes of a sweeper who discovers a stash of dirty money in a Saket gym. In “Mohandas”, he destroys any illusion of the modern Indian village as a Gandhian idyll, and “Mangosil” is the story of a family in Jahangirpuri struggling to break into middle class life while coping with a son’s mysterious medical condition. Prakash delicately paints these grey worlds, where power triumphs and corruption festers, then exposes the truth as black and white with moving results. Yet these stories aren’t uniformly dreary; as he writes, “Don’t you think that amid all the pain and sorrow and bleak colours of this story little drops of joy have been interspersed?” These tempering moments of hope, which is constantly smothered, throw the harshness into relief.

Grunebaum captures Prakash’s satirical, darkly funny, conversational style, and though the book would have benefitted from stronger proofreading (a few mis-transliterations of Delhi neighbourhoods particularly jar), The Walls of Delhi is a highly recommended contemporary Hindi collection.

The Walls of Delhi, Translated by Jason Grunebaum, Hachette, ₹350.
Originally published in Time Out Delhi, February 2013.

Published: February 1, 2013

The Householder

Amitabha Bagchi’s second novel focuses on corruption in Delhi ♦

householderNaresh Kumar, the householder of the title, is having a little trouble holding his home together. As PA to a powerful Delhi bureaucrat, Kumar has a routine but tenuously balanced life that’s built, like a pack of cards, on years of under-the-table transactions, shady deals and missing papers. Now, his daughter is having trouble conceiving, his son is rotting away at a call centre, and his career is threatening to fold up following a mishandled deal.

Corruption is at the heart of this tight, nuanced novel – the second by Amitabha Bagchi, who also wrote Above Average. Questions of good and evil, and the shades of gray that power casts over actions, infuse the story of the Kumar family’s threatened fortunes. Bagchi masterfully captures the self-justifications and corrupt compromises that are a part and parcel of Delhi life – from throwing litter on the ground in the absence of a dustbin to sending a patsy off to jail for a murder.

Bagchi always privileges the story, however, letting moral questions percolate in the background. Characters may suffer self-doubt, but they remain consistent, believable middle-class Dilliwalas, for whom the primacy of power is self-evident. The nuance with which Bagchi draws out the dynamics of supplication is remarkable. For his characters, bribery and blackmail are simply necessary survival skills.

Particularly noteworthy is a subtle transition from Kumar’s brand of corruption, which justifies itself in the name of the holding a family together, to its new, post-economic liberalisation version: corruption in the name of individual freedom. But as old power systems figure out how to coexist with new ones and middle-class Delhi transitions from a family-first to a me-first mentality (forget civic responsibilities), there’s still room for a little tenderness in the relationships between couples, fathers and children. The plot’s solution may be a bit too neat for some, but the uncomfortable questions Bagchi raises refuse to go away.

The Householder, Fourth Estate, ₹399.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, 2012.

Published: May 3, 2012