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DELHI by Sam Miller


Adventures in a Megacity

by Sam Miller

Pub Date: July 20th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-61237-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

Energetic, idiosyncratic tour of India’s capital city.

Delhi, writes BBC correspondent and full-time Delhi resident Miller, is a sprawling urban area of 15 to 17 million people, both ancient and modern. To know the city is to walk it, and so Miller did. Beginning at centrally located Connaught Place, he proceeded in a spiral that led him through the entire city. Mughal palaces gave way to bloated monuments to imperial British rule. A five-story modern shopping mall led to slum housing built over a sewer. Throughout, mosques, temples and skyscrapers battled for the city skyline. Miller stumbled onto countless misadventures amid the people and out-of-the-way places of Delhi. An enterprising shoeshine man surreptitiously and repeatedly smeared feces on his shoes. The author was chased by man-eating pigs, and he visited, in Delhi’s still wild and forested Ridge area, the Prince and Princess of Oudh, royalty now fallen on hard times. Along Delhi’s great river, the Yamuna—now practically a sewer—he encountered a little-used electric crematorium. He viewed at a museum the pocket watch Gandhi dropped at the moment of his assassination, and viewed it again at another museum. He ate Chicken McCurry at McDonalds. He met a rag picker at a garbage dump whose son studied computers in college. He discovered an obscure but beautiful mosque in a thicket of bushes only to find it demolished a few weeks later, replaced by a squash court. Miller misses little and greets it all with good humor, revealing a city teeming with life and aspirations. Yet, these aspirations, he fears, may cause it to be buried under “a thickening crust of modernity”—Delhi destined to resemble all cities everywhere.

Miller is a delightful tour guide, capturing this “monstrous, addictive city” as it stumbles toward the future.