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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Delhi

Here’s a brilliant outline of the super-rich class of Delhi by Rana Dasgupta published in a 2009 edition of Granta:

“Delhi is a city of traumas,’ he says. ‘You can’t understand anything if you don’t realize that everyone here is trying to forget the horrifying things that have happened in their families. Delhi was destroyed by the British in 1857. It was destroyed again by Partition in 1947. It was torn apart by the anti-Sikh rampages of 1984. Each of these moments destroyed the culture of the city, and that is the greatest trauma of all. Your entire web of meanings is tied up in culture, and if that is lost, your self is lost.

[...]

That’s why Delhi is by far the most consumerist city in India,’ he continues. ‘People buy obscene amounts of stuff here. Delhi has an impoverished symbolic vocabulary: there hasn’t been enough time since all these waves of destruction for its symbols to be restored. If I don’t have adequate symbols of the self, I can’t tell the difference between me and mine. So people buy stuff all the time to try and make up for the narcissistic wound. It’s their defence against history.”

And if you like this, or like Delhi (if that’s possible) or live there (there, there...) you should have a look at Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi, a book about an elite family of Shahjahanbad set in the early 20th Century. The book is actually badly written and its language is oddly archaic considering it’s not a very old book, but it does paint a fairly vivid picture of the elite classes of Delhi in those times and the contrast with the present—kaboothar baazi vs racing Bentleys; indolent poetry vs frenzied bhangra and so on-- couldn't be starker .

Maybe that explains why Delhi is so neurotically in-your-face (or at least, relative to most Indian cities it is)—changing who you are, so drastically and so completely, must really be tough on you.

4 comments:

Meghana said...

Indeed, Delhi is a traumatized city. There is not much that a majority of Delhi-ites can identify themselves with - the Kutub Minar, Red Fort, Purana Qilla, India Gate - monuments reminescent of the conquest over Delhi. That is precisely why the Pramukh Swami of the Swaminarayan decided to build these majestic temple in Delhi. Tour operators have finally something Hindu to show to wives of visiting dignitaries.

Hades said...

Not exactly my point, but, well, whatever floats your boat, Meghna. :)

Proserpina said...

-->That’s why Delhi is by far the most consumerist city in India,’ he continues. ‘People buy obscene amounts of stuff here.

Word.
People throw a birthday party where alcohol is sprayed on the dance floor. It wasn't the first time I realized the elitist, narcissistic [or self involved]tag Delhi has got, is ,well, true.

the only positive I saw : the dance floor is free of bacteria now.

Hades said...

the dance floor is free of bacteria now.

Haha! I see you're a glass-half-full sort of person!