I was born in Delhi and lived there for 26 years of my life. Growing up in the city that seemed to be full of village idiots more than city-fools was challenging. And on top of that being a female made it worse. You couldn't cross a street without having cat-calls and if you took public transport, it meant getting felt up by smelly pervs. I have next to no fond memories of being / walking around in Delhi. It was always a chore an errand. Both my parents were born and brought up in Delhi, they love the city. I hated it.
As I read through this book, it was as if brought right back in front of me in all its glory minus the cat calls. This book helped dig up some buried happy memories of my own city and did so in a very honest and vivid way. I love this book.
As the world's population has become majority urban, books on Asian Megacities have been increasingly frequent additions to travel literature. This book, however, stands out. The author had been married to an Indian for 15 years when he wrote the book, spoke Hindi and both lived in and loved his subject. Using the device of a series of spiralling walks (itself a pretty unusual way for a westerner to get about) the author observes princes and paupers, thugs, victims, the famous and the ordinary. It's a Tristam Shandy of a travelogue, but the superficially random nature of the episodes and stories give a fantastic picture of the city which contrives to present it as being as fascinating, and storied as its more chronicled sisters Mumbai and Kolkata.
Facing down "disbelief and ridicule", our flâneur sets out, on cracked heels and gammy right knee, to explore Delhi's tawdry splendour in a spiral-shaped route, chosen in order to both capture the city's heart and to take readings of life at its outer reaches. He is no dandy: his trousers are muddy, his shoes filled with rainwater or caked in sludge, and he wears a green hat and a 35-rupee watch. The Yamuna is his Seine, arc-welders his gas lamps.
He trips on rough pavements, crosses highways, clambers onto rooftops and over 500-million-year-old rocks. He unflinchingly encounters the city's carbuncles and decrepitude, and its formidable acronyms, pausing now and then to wonder at the "multiple paradoxes" of this megacity over cups of chai from roadside vendors.
With laudable equanimity he meets railway accountants, cockroaches, and asthmatic goats, non-vegetarian Doberman-pinchers guarding minor royalty, and a well-meaning drag king. Then there is The Shit Squirter of Connaught Place. And Martin the Brylcreemed rookie Seventh-Day Adventist preacher.
The book is very, very funny and often moving, as scenes unfold which call up that emotion familiar to any sensitive observer of this city: in Miller's words, "that ugly vacuum between hilarity and despair". He finds Delhi's heart - with its white Lutyens bungalows - quite heartless and talks with the humble functionaries who live out seemingly futile and fragmented lives and whose existence is rendered all but invisible by the city's indifference. He is helped (or laughed at) on his way by, among others, a deaf mute, nightwatchmen, street vendors, construction workers, pallbearers and a slum-clearance survivor. A tiny rag picker explodes an array of pessimistic preconceptions.
Despite this often-bleak portrait of a city choking on its own modernity, there is transcendence in Miller's joy at the simple human encounters that can reveal Delhi's kinder side to anyone willing to make an effort.
Copious footnotes, as tangential as Old Delhi bylanes, offer a wonderland of minutiae that will delight the obsessive compulsive and the psycho-geographer alike.
I bought this book as a read when flying to Delhi on business with a few days to spare and read it there while visiting many of the places described. This is an excellent, entertaining and at times very funny book, which captured my experiences over the week I was in the city. Delhi is a great fascinating city and this book helps inspire you to explore, understand and get to like the place. A good easy travel read.
Sam Miller's book about Delhi is a captivating blend of facts (spanning history, geography, politics, religion, architecture and culture), autobiography and hilarious anecdotes. The author's unconventional approach and passion for the city make it a compelling and evocative read.
Adventures in a Mega city is the book that Dickens might have written if he had ended up in Delhi at the beginning of the twenty first century. Miller, whose native city is London but is now a resident of Delhi having married an Indian, has a querulously engaging tone - part Englishman abroad, part detective - as he takes us through some of the lesser known byways of this extraordinary city. The book is by turns learned, exasperated and very funny - it is worth buying simply for Miller's fruitless attempts to pronounce the word toast so that he is understood by Indian waiters. A must whether you are travelling to Delhi, or simply curious about the capital of the world's largest democracy.
Well worth reading for all those spending time in Delhi. Not ideal for tourists only staying a couple fo days, but for anyone heading there for a longer stay this is a great intro to your new city. It is easy to read and very engaging.
For someone who knows or has known Delhi, this is a great read. It was so fascinating that I had to purchase the Eicher road atlas to follow his every step. Read it in a couple of days, you can't put it down
Delhi, a "megacity" of 15 million plus people, with historical ruins to rival Istanbul, Cairo and Rome alongside modern tower blocks, is going through rapid change. Millar has lived in Delhi as a BBC correspondent, yet he wanders through the city more like a backpacker than a "Delhiwalla", taking a strange spiral route which makes it difficult for the reader to follow. I kept having to refer to his hand-drawn maps and even then I was confused.
To be fair, Miller is not just doing the well-trodden tourist routes. He tackles many of the backstreets and end-of-Metro outposts, unearthing genuine surprises (such as the Delhi slaughterhouse) and providing entertaining anecdotes on the way. Yet for all his sympathy and affection for the place, he somehow fails to connect with Delhi people. He comes across various officials, vendors, street urchins and other individuals who are simply puzzled at the intentions and questions of this (to me) rather sad and lonely foreigner. In Gurgaon, the gleaming new Delhi suburb, he laments that nothing happens to him and there is no one to speak to, yet he shelters from a rainstorm in a security guard's hut "in the invigorating company of a garrulous Japanese businessman and a flirtatious teenage Gurgaon college student". What do they think of life in Gurgaon? We never get to know.
Miller has written a city travel book for the internet age jumping from scene to scene as if wandering from link to link, occasionally returning to homepage before resuming his journey. He resorts to google for snippets of information (whether or not it has to do with Delhi or even India) and google maps for close ups of streets or buildings. He quotes often anonymous bloggers' without saying whether they were posted a day, a year, or two years ago - and that matters in such a fast-changing city. Miller even intriguingly uses SimCity (the computer game) for "insights" into city growth. The result is a pleasant, quirky read, enjoyable enough for the casual reader but the book is crying out for a better sense of the human experience of what it is to live in the Megacity. He is shocked at the plight of the ragpickers but that scene is a fleeting one. Without many more human voices to explain the ever-widening contrasts of Delhi, I could just as well read wikipedia. Despite this, four stars for making the offbeat so interesting.
Having visited Delhi I wanted to find out more about the city. This book certainly ticks all the box's. Informative, funny, and written in a style that makes you want to read on. It's not just a travel journal, it's a life story as well. Full of little anecdotes and information about things that other travel journals don't cover like the item about the employees of a bankrupt company that still go to the derelict office 5 years after the company ceased trading. And what a great way to see the city, spiral out from the centre, marvelous. I will be back in Delhi in September and the book will be with me. Thourghly recomended 5 stars.