Deep, unsettling explorations into a city that has lost its soul, from a British-Indian novelist who has lived in Delhi for more than 10 years.
In the two-plus decades since the 1991 “liberalisation” of the Indian economy, writes Dasgupta (Solo, 2011, etc.), its capital city has been radically transformed. Once a quiet, bureaucratic, family-oriented haven for refugees from the convulsions of the 1947 partition, Delhi is now a nakedly acquisitive engine for getting rich quick. The advent of globalization and the embrace of open markets and free enterprise brought great hope that a “new reality, uncanny and wonderful…would emerge.” But as part of this new reality, land prices rose through the roof, displacing masses of longtime residents and replacing the city’s famous green spaces with malls and high-rent blocks. The entrepreneurial frenzy made millionaires overnight; a new middle class broke with old traditions such as arranged marriages; and crime escalated, especially against women. The new fast-and-loose lifestyle has created what Dasgupta describes as trauma and neurosis in the people he met. His lengthy interviews with the new bourgeoisie and various upstarts alternate with historical glimpses of Delhi’s important early development, including the establishment of the Mughal capital there in the 17th century, the destruction of much of the Mughal city (and Urdu culture) by the British after the 1857 sepoy uprising and the rebuilding of the city in 1911. Muslim residents fled or were hounded out after partition, encouraging an influx of Punjabis (Sikhs) who make up a large portion of today’s entrepreneurs. The “mindless and heartless consumerism” of the affluent West, rejected by India under socialist-minded founder Jawaharlal Nehru and his dynasty, has now been embraced.
A sincere, troubling look at India’s wrenching social and cultural changes.