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Delhi [Paperback]

Khushwant Singh
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books India; Open market ed edition (22 April 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140126198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140126198
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 12.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 353,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Sprawling over several centuries of Delhi's evolution, the novel is often bawdy and irreverent, but nonetheless is also a meticulous study of the history of the city. The author is also an historian who has written, "A History of the Sikhs" and "Delhi: A Portrait".

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4.0 out of 5 stars Bits i love and bits i didnt like 24 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Loved the history bit as it was really interesting. Mr Singh is an author who has the knowledge about history and knows his readers. Worth a read and the price.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I also bought two other books from you on Turkey. Unfortunately for a 78 year old the print in one of Themis a bit there any way of knowing before a purchase how big the print is going to be I am impressed by your follow up
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Khushwant Singh's libidinal history of Delhi 5 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Khushwant Singh is the Master of Bawd ! This novel is the product of twenty-five years of his libidinal excursions into literature. As he says in the foreword, he has injected liberally, in this interpretation of the history of Delhi, the stores of his seminal fluid. Only a master of the language like Khushwant Singh can write such an erudite thesis on the expulsion of wind from the nether orifices - the chapter on farts is a masterpiece. The weaving of the past and the present with a characteristic Khushwant-style bawdy humor, can be appreciated truly only by the denizens of Delhi, who have grown up reading his novels, articles and jokes. But I highly recommend reading this masterpiece from the author of The Train to Pakistan. Only true Khushwant Singh fans can appreciate the untying of the Pyjama Cord of History that he has attempted in this novel (like his heroes who invariably open the heroine's pyjama cords).
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dehli - The story of the city 20 April 2004
By Jasleen Matharu - Published on
Khushwant Singh - one writer who can shock a reader out of their senses without alienating them. His writing style has be tagged everything on the spectrum - from brilliant to scandalous. Whatever may be the case, he is one of the most important English language writers of this century. He has tackled ever subject from religion to politics. His capabilities are unlimited from fiction to non-fiction.

Enough said about the writer. I picked this book due to its title. Being a Delhi born myself, I was more then curious to find more about one of the most fascinating world destinations. This book is a delicate balance of fiction and non-fiction. It chronicles the history of New Delhi from the eyes of an old Sikh guide - Mr. Singh. His passionate romance with Bhagmati - a hermaphrodite and a representation of Delhi is beautifully paralleled. It progresses with chapters divided in narrations by poets, sultans, soldiers, white memsahibs. Laden with every possible creative/literary technique, this book is a must read for those interested in world fiction, socio-cultural studies, world history... and more.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A buffet of historical narratives 18 Aug 2009
By Vivek Sharma - Published on
The novel Delhi penned by Khushwant Singh is a story that spans both the grandeur and squalor of the city that it seeks to uncover through a perverse romance. A city that has witnessed at least seven rounds of complete destruction and reconstruction, Delhi, the capital of India, is a city of culture and calamity, of conceit and capability, of poets and pests, of politicians and saints. To capture the manifest and unmanifest faces of Delhi requires a canvas that delights and nauseates in equal measure. Perhaps Khushwant Singh knew of this aspect of his beloved city, when he created a bawdy, old, reprobate protagonist, in love with a hijra (enunch) whore, as the person seeking to describe his love-hate relationship with that whore and this city. While the principal narrator busies himself with unusual sexual acts with his half-man, half-woman partner Bhagmati, he also allows himself pleasures with foreign and native beauties, all leading him into another fold, another fleshy nook, to his conquests another tale. This romance fades to backdrop as the narrator discovers the legends that lurk in various streets, forts, abandoned palaces, embankments, towers, temples, mosques, gurudwaras, memorials, burial grounds and coffee houses of the city.

The greatest delight in the novel, lies in reading about Timur, Mir Taqi, Nadir Shah, Hazrat Kaki, Nizamuddin, Bahadur Shah Zafar & Moghuls, Tuglaks, Lodhis, First War of Indian Independence (or The Sepoy Mutiny), emperors, temptresses, poets, saints, Sikhs who helped British win in 1857, bodies burning on banks of Yamuna, Englishmen, builders of New Delhi, Aurangzeb, neo-converts to Islam or Sikhism, Khusrau, assassins of Indira and mobs who rioted after partition and after Indira's assassination and Mahatma Gandhi. The most captivating details of this novel tell us about these innumerable people who lend their blood, their faith, their best and worst aspirations and actions to provide that special character, mystery, mystique to Delhi. The novel is an ode by a Delhi's son to his fascination with undying and relentless, razed and raging, crazed and craving, old and ageless, brutal and brave, buried and slaved, free and frayed, remorseless and mourning, Hindu, Islamic, Sikh and in equal measure sufi and atheist soul or spirit of Delhi.

The narrative is at its best when Aurangzeb, Nadir Shah, Sikh fighter of 1857 war, Zafar, a refugee who wants to avenge deaths of his family members, or Mir Taqi Mir describe their lives and their times: for writing these pieces alone, Khushwant Singh deserves a permanent place in the literary tradition of India and the World. These characters, chosen from several generations of possibilities, speak with a honesty characteristic of Khushwant's writing: the wanton is as omnipresent as is the sacrosanct. There are many verses from major poets (including Mir and Zafar) that appear in translation. It was Mir who once said: "Dil ki basti bhi shehar dilli hai/ Jo bhi guzra usi ne loota." (Delhi alone is a city of love; all those that have passed through have looted it). While Ghalib is not mentioned outright as a narrator, his times are described quite well as he was contemporary of Zafar, and befittingly, the novel starts with an epigram from Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib: "I asked my soul: What is Delhi?/ She replied: The world is the body and Delhi its life."

For anyone who has lived in India between 1970 and now, the name Khushwant Singh brings memories of his Santa-Banta jokes and his weekly column that appears in most newspapers, with a caricature of him sitting in a light bulb. In those columns as well as here, Khushwant always succeeds in telling us a good story, occasionally writing lines that are exquisite, occasionally saying things that are offensive to many or just seem like an injustice to the caliber that this grand old man of letters definitely has. To love and discover Delhi, one must learn to ignore its smell of pi*ss and sh*it (New York these days has plenty of that), ignore its hostile, acerbic reception to guests and visitors, ignore its age, bitterness, immensity and obscenity. To read Khushwant Singh, one must learn to ignore the trivia and trivial, that comes packaged with the historical and memorable writing. The notoriety of the writer, in this case, must not stop us from savoring fantastic details about Mehrauli, Hauz Khas, Nizamuddin and Red Fort, among others. For example, do you know the name of five villages that Pandavas asked for after their exile? Do you know who built Hauz Khas? Do you know who saved the British army from total annihilation in Delhi and why? In equal measure, do you know how many types of f*rts are there and how they must be classified? Khushwant Singh quotes many lines from Saadi, including "O Sage ! the stomach is prison house of wind,/ the sagacious contain it not in captivity,/ if the wind torment thay belly, release it, f*rt;/ For the wind in the stomach is like a stone on the heart." With Kushwant Singh, even a f*rt is art!

After reading Train to Pakistan and Delhi, I have become increasingly convinced that Mr. Singh is our man for the future: he will be seen as the painter whose canvas is populated with the bylanes and backdoors that whisper realistic details about people and times, that most of his contemporary authors fail to touch or write about. He writes without bothering to explain things to non-Indians, so foreigners will need to work harder to read him, but since he writes about people, politics and religion, issues that are and will remain important to every inhabitant of Delhi, Punjab and India, his writings will redeem him in eyes of one and all. This man in the lightbulb, this lightbulb, who was born in 1915, has translated a lot of great poets from Punjabi and Urdu into English, has written about history of Sikhism and Ranjit Singh, and yes, he has also written about Sex and Scotch with unfailing enthusiasm. He has known every major Indian writer of twentieth century, and outlived most of them, to tell these tales, and when he speaks, we grandchildren can only wonder, how he knows all these details.

If India is a land of unresolved contradictions and organized chaos at work, Delhi is befitting as its capital. The soil of Delhi boasts of sweat and blood of at least twenty six centuries, starting with Indraprasta, as mentioned in Mahabharata, (though earliest archeological remains are, I believe, from the sixth century BC), to the current city that has well over twenty million inhabitants. Khushwant Singh's novel is laced with details about history and monuments of Delhi that take the reader through the familiar names and lanes, providing meaning and mannerism to rocks, stones, bricks, and ghosts from a bygone era. The dead and alive live in harmony in this city, the palaces turn to wilderness and wilderness to townships in manner of few centuries. The dominant Gods change, the language and the tongues change, the spices and kitchens invent new flavors and aromas, and all that appears or disappears, stays as a memory or as song, in dust or in verse, through arts and crafts that traveled out of that time and place. The temples were destroyed to create mosques, mosques razed to create ruins, ruins restored into housing colonies, housing colonies for refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tibet, Pandits from Kashmir. Roads raised over remains of slums, slums planted over public gardens, parks overgrown over unclaimed or reclaimed lands. In such a city, Khushwant Singh's characters receive their share of history by breathing the air that stinks of history and rage, that seduces with mango flavors and rum punches. In this history, they seek their own woes and pleasures.

A city revealed, is a personality understood: it is the relationship with Delhi, that defines the character of a Delhiwallah, the protagonist of the novel, the writer as well as the reader who wanders through a fifteen hundred square kilometer landmass with a population density of ten thousand per square kilometer. Delhi air is packed with centuries of whispers; Khushwant packs many interesting ones into this novel. Read it for Mir, read it for Zafar, Nadir Shah, Timur, Khawaja, Mahatma, and for knowing about crazed Budh Singh, who dies a crazed death at the hands of mob in 1980s. Read the novel to gaze and grapple with the treacherous, bloody, voluptuous, insatiable, inexhaustible, adventurous, amorous, pompous, powerful, poetic, prosaic, potent & impotent, passive and purgative, lurid and lucrative avatars of Delhi, of Delhiwallahs, of Indians, of ourselves.

Let me end this review by lines written by quoting a few poets. First Ghalib and Zauq, who said these verses around the same time; Ghalib: "Hai ab is maamure mein, qaht-e-gham-e-ulfat 'Asad'/Hamne maana rahen Dilli mein, par khaayenge kya?" (There is now in this town a famine of the grief of love, Asad/ We've agreed that we would remain in Delhi-- what will we eat?) & Zauq: "Kaun jaaye Zauq par, Dilli ki Galiyan chhod kar" (Who would quit the lanes of Delhi, Zauq and suffer exile?). But again, let us end with Mir, "Dil va Dilli dono agar hai kharaab/ Par kuch lutf us ujde ghar mein bhi hain" ((Both heart and Delhi may have been worn out/ But some little pleasures still remain in this ruined house).
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting and disturbing narration of the History of Delhi 11 Dec 1998
By A Customer - Published on
The book starts early in this millenium, and with each alternate chapter proceeds through the centuries until the present time, alternating with chapters based in the present. The chapters dealing with the past are fanstastic especially if you know the city of Delhi and have curiosity about its history. The story is told from the viewpoints of various characters, with different styles, and is really a marvelous read.
unfortunatley the parts dealing with the present (or within the last 50 years) are rather lame. Only the first and the last chapters that tell of the present are must reads. The rest are quite forgettable and quite disturbing to the sensibilities of many.
But despite this, the book has to be read by anybody who is interested in how India took its present shape over the centuries. If you don't care about the History of India, skip it.
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent 20 Jun 2014
By Pupul - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brilliant book! Very moving, nicely woven with history. It's one of the best books I have read from an Indian author
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