Hello from Delhi (and Dehra Dun, and Chandigarh)

We’ll be returning to Goa in a day or two, but meanwhile there was some family visiting to attend to in the north.

First up, Delhi. My dominant impression of Delhi this time around is of seeing construction everywhere for new Delhi Metro stations. In a couple of years (when Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games), I’m sure it will all be wonderful, but right now it adds to the traffic headache. That said, I was impressed by the new domestic airport terminal (the old one was hopelessly insufficient), and by what I took to be preliminary attempts at revamping the central train station.

We were happy to get to meet Jai Arjun Singh at a Crossword book store (Jai, thanks for waiting for us) in Saket, south Delhi. The bookstore was in a massive, opulent new mall called “Citywalk Select,” which has designer boutiques everywhere (Indian, European, and American), and the general feel of the massive King of Prussia mall near our house in suburban Philadelphia. It was certainly surreal, after seeing continuing signs of poverty elsewhere in the city, and Samian wondered how there could be enough Delhi-ites who can afford to pay $500 for Kate Spade purses to support these stores. Also surreal in such a place was the presence of the writer Ruskin Bond, who I think of as an R.K. Narayan-type writer (simple, elegant, and compelling storytelling), not someone you would ever expect to see in this kind of place. In this case, he was doing a book-signing at the bookstore, which was surprisingly packed.

When you’re traveling with a two-year old, you don’t get to read quite as much as when you’re either alone or with other grown-ups. Still, I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Carlo Levi’s Essays on India here and there, and I thought some passages from his essay “The Invisible Capital” (1957) might be of interest:

The city of New Delhi appears, as you drop suddenly down towards it out of the sky, as something unreal and abstract, an immense placeless space, a utopian place. It doesn’t really seem like a city; there is no centre, no cluster of houses, only a vast expanse crisscrossed by immensely broad boulevards that seem to stretch out endlessly into the distance, and dotted here and there by monumental buildings, isolated in the greenery. Much as in the shapeless, ameboid city of Los Angeles, the distances are so vast that you can only move around by car (this modern conveyance that ensures medieval isolation). It is also reminiscent of Washington, with its plan of an administrative capital, silent and reserved; to an even greater degree, it is reminiscent of London, in the attempt to blend a sense of power with a yearning for the earthly paradise prior to the original sin.

I think the comparison to Washington is probably the most apt (I don’t see the comparisons to London or Los Angeles at all). More from Carlo Levi on Delhi below:

Construction began here in 1911, in the last few years of a wold that promised eternal progress and security, and New Delhi remains — as if it were somehow separate from living reality — as a perfect document of that time and that empire, of its rationale and the principles upon which it was founded. It is, first and foremost, a magnificent monument to an immense empire, the embodiment of an act of detached, prideful will, a will that celebrated and affirmed itself as eternal by projecting itself into the future. But this power chose not to touch, or roil, or modify nature: rather, it seemed to prefer to identify itself with a nature that existed before time itself, a paradisiacal nature, with an absolute naturalistic utopia . . . In this paradise of the viceroys, the detachment is absolute: remote from the real inhabitants, from life itself, and from all of life’s muddled heat, pain, and movement. Everything matches a rigorous hierarchy of reason, a precise, age-old, meticulous ceremony.

The above seems like the point of view of someone who came to Delhi and spent a lot of time in government buildings. From the other point of view, one could say that it’s those massive government structures that are detached; the rest of the city, even caked by dust and choked by suspended particulate matter, is very much alive.

One more paragraph from Carlo Levi:

In this gigantic hidey-hole, it is possible to avoid being seen, like gods, and to see nothing. Even today a foreigner who lives in a large hotel or a government building can entirely ignore the country in which he or she lives. Soviet writers, who scrupulously attend, with their interpreters, the sessions of the pan-Asiatic congress (the reason for my journey here), with the paternal grandeur and quasi-British detachment (though instead of whiskey they brought with them Armenian cognac), have waited a full week for the sessions to end before taking their first glances at India. It is possible to stay in New Delhi and see nothing, understand nothing: but it is not easy, because the other reality (to which the sole concessions are stylistic: the Mughal architecture of the viceroy’s house and other buildings) filters through everywhere unstoppably, just as the tendrils of plant life work their way into the cracks in an old abandoned wall. The vast English lawns have become, through some unknown alchemy, though still bright green and perfectly trimmed, part of an Indian countryside. All that is needed is a woman washing her sari in front of the India Gate, or a begggar lying careless on the grass: all it takes is the trees, and the orange light of sunset.

Though it’s now somewhat dated, and certainly bound up with Levi’s particular experience of Delhi as an “official” visitor, much of what he says here seems to me to still apply.

A few more travel notes…

We went to attend a wedding in Dehra Dun, and were staying at a guest house near the Doon School, the English-medium private school that has educated a shocking number of contemporary Indian writers. On a free afternoon, we walked over to the front gate, and tried negotiating with the rather imposing security team about seeing the campus, but no dice. (Samian made up some story about how we have a friend in America who went there, but it didn’t fly.) We were left admiring the lush campus from outside the eight-foot walls, and walked back to our guest house, past local women carrying gigantic loads of felled tree branches on their heads. (Perhaps we saw enough.)

Meanwhile, the town of Dehra Dun is choked with traffic, and the streams that run through are heavily littered with trash and heaps of used plastic bags. (The government knows it’s a problem. In several states we’ve passed through, we’ve seen state propaganda on billboards against the use of plastic bags: “We, the citizens of Uttarakhand, pledge not to use Plastic Bags.” I don’t know if it’s working.)

The drive from Dehra Dun to Chandigarh was particularly scenic, though the views were marred by the fog (smog) that hangs heavily over much of northern India at this time of year. Our driver had some colorful stories, one about a place called Kala Amb (black mango), where, legend has it, there was a special tree that had a branch that only grew black mangoes. For years, the Panchayat of that town conducted its business near the tree, and whenever someone was to be hanged, they were hanged on the black mango branch.

Another intriguing story our driver told us was about the road from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh, where, according to him, wild elephants sometimes like to come out and sleep on the roads at night. You have to go around them, and not trouble them too much, lest they decide to uproot a tree, and smash your car with it. He said there was one particular case of a deranged elephant, who had been exiled from his herd, who went on a rampage and killed quite a number of people in this way (I have no idea if this is even remotely plausible, but it’s an intriguing idea: the alienated, sociopathic elephant.)

52 thoughts on “Hello from Delhi (and Dehra Dun, and Chandigarh)

  1. I have the same memories of my time in New Delhi as I do from junior high – exquisitely beautiful and painful all at once. Your writing makes me miss it all the more.

  2. In a couple of years (when Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games), I’m sure it will all be wonderful…

    You’re being very optimistic, Amardeep. I seriously doubt the traffic/infrastructure situation in this city will be “wonderful” anytime in the foreseeable future – it’s more like a permanent work-in-progress.

    Good to meet you and Samian too.

  3. In a couple of years (when Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games), I’m sure it will all be wonderful…

    You’re being very optimistic, Amardeep. I seriously doubt the traffic/infrastructure situation in this city will be “wonderful” anytime in the foreseeable future – it’s more like a permanent work-in-progress.

    Good to meet you and Samian too.

  4. 3 · Jabberwock said

    You’re being very optimistic, Amardeep. I seriously doubt the traffic/infrastructure situation in this city will be “wonderful” anytime in the foreseeable future – it’s more like a permanent work-in-progress.

    unfortunately, i’ve to agree on the infratsructure cynicism. but i traveled on the delhi metro recently during non-peak hours, and getting to DU was a breeze. or back to central delhi from purani delhi. pretty doable with a bachha in tow as long as it’s not rush hour. i might to go to check out citywalk today. and for the life of me, i can’t fathom how these designer/boutique stores turn a profit either. but there seems to be a lot of money beng flashed around delhi. well, hopefully all boats will rise and such..i’d like to see some good stats on demographics in delhi.

  5. the alienated, sociopathic elephant

    It is true. Most aggressive elephants are outcasts, elephant herds don’t attack.

  6. portmanteau: the Metro has definitely made a difference overall, but as I was discussing with Amardeep the other day, Delhi is unlikely to see the sort of mindset change that will lead to youngsters from upper-middle class families leaving their cars at home and using the Metro to travel to office – even when this is more practical/less stressful than driving through Delhi traffic. It’s just too much of a “prestige” issue. Also, when you consider that it’s so easy (and cheap) to employ a driver in Delhi, I doubt the Metro will staunch the increase in road vehicles.

    On the flashy new malls: I’ve been told by people in the publishing trade that the bookstores in these malls are finding it difficult to justify the huge rents they have to pay. Don’t know about the stores selling luxury goods.

  7. pretty doable with a bachha in tow

    ahh, Port, and there I’d always thought you were so sporty! ;-)

  8. Talking about deranged elephants, here’s a true story. Growing up, we lived for a while near the tea gardens of Darjeeling. The plantation workers used to brew toddy and the smell of the brew would attract the elephants. They loved the concoction so much that they would scare the men away and drink the toddy. Then, deranged and drunk, they would wreak havoc on the plantation and nearby structures!

  9. our driver told us was about the road from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh, where, according to him, wild elephants sometimes like to come out and sleep on the roads at night. You have to go around them, and not trouble them too much, lest they decide to uproot a tree, and smash your car with it. He said there was one particular case of a deranged elephant, who had been exiled from his herd, who went on a rampage and killed quite a number of people in this way (I have no idea if this is even remotely plausible, but it’s an intriguing idea: the alienated, sociopathic elephant.)

    I am surprised that a poco (and I don’t mean it in the dimunitive sense) professor like you did not see it as a natural allegory of triumph of the subaltern over the Raj.

  10. He said there was one particular case of a deranged elephant, who had been exiled from his herd, who went on a rampage and killed quite a number of people in this way (I have no idea if this is even remotely plausible, but it’s an intriguing idea: the alienated, sociopathic elephant.)

    You should read Shooting an Elephant by Orwell. It lends interesting insight into both the biology discussed as well as colonial British India (the incident is in Burma, I think) :) And is additionally, a very good essay.

  11. 11 · Rahul said

    10 · Dr Amonymous said
    You should read Shooting an Elephant by Orwell. It lends interesting insight into both the biology discussed as well as colonial British India (the incident is in Burma, I think) :) And is additionally, a very good essay.
    Umm, you missed the elephant in the comment room

    Shucks. I actually saw that comment – just not the link. It makes a lot more sense with the link :) Anyway, I think “must” is a more interesting concept than the feelings of British imperial overlords (however self-hating and insightful they may have been) :)

  12. The drive from Dehra Dun to Chandigarh was particularly scenic, though the views were marred by the fog (smog) that hangs heavily over much of northern India at this time of year.

    it is also shit inducing, especially in uttaranchal. on a long interstate drive, the only thing for a tourist to do is to huddle in the back seat and remember the old boy in the sky as the trucks scream down only to pull away at the last moment. it’s a game of chicken – and the odd occasion when one of the drivers fails to negotiate the sliver of space between vehicles, everyone screeches to a mindgnumbing halt. of course, if You are driving around in desh, after all the time in Philly, you have big brass ones and I raise my topee to you.

  13. Another intriguing story our driver told us

    Make sure he doesn’t get any ideas from having read Interpreter of Maladies or, worse, The White Tiger!

    on a long interstate drive, the only thing for a tourist to do is to huddle in the back seat and remember the old boy in the sky as the trucks scream down only to pull away at the last moment

    I don’t know, I find the entire loss of control very relaxing. What’s the point of worrying about something I have absolutely no influence over?

    hough the views were marred by the fog (smog) that hangs heavily over much of northern India at this time of year.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard any of the bellyaching about the large swaths of time lost every morning to fog, in the test match that just finished at Mohali. I guess that entire corridor is just replicating LA’s weather patterns with heavy pollution settling in still valley air.

  14. I don’t know, I find the entire loss of control very relaxing.

    um.. for me the only thing that relaxes (and clenches) is the sphincter. i’ve been on one ride where the driver fell asleep and I had to yell in his ear when he veered once too many times into the median. another one seemed to be a druggie. i think they take some kind of stimulant and survive pretty much on chai and the drug. ditto for the truck drivers I’d imagine.

    that said – i was looking up this map and it is interesting in the proximity of a muzzafarpur to haridwar, or a modinagar (after a business magnate) to meerut (historical significance). as a great man once said (i did, a few weeks back on prob this forum)… one day in india is like a week anywhere else.

  15. Meanwhile, the town of Dehra Dun is choked with traffic, and the streams that run through are heavily littered with trash and heaps of used plastic bags. (The government knows it’s a problem. In several states we’ve passed through, we’ve seen state propaganda on billboards against the use of plastic bags: “We, the citizens of Uttarakhand, pledge not to use Plastic Bags.” I don’t know if it’s working.)

    On this count China is better…They have banned plastic bags. And I guess they are better than Indians in enforcing that rule.

  16. Amardeep,

    Thanks again, interestingly I believe Ruskin Bond lives in Mussorrie which is less than an hour from Dehradun. I haven’t been to Dehradun in years, but I remember they have excellent bakeries. As for Luxury good sales in India, I remember reading somewhere that the LV showroom in Bombay is doing excellent business. An aside, the loan default rate on luxury cars is the highest in New Delhi.

  17. I barely know Delhi. It was, and remains, only a transit point to the lesser parts of India. But I have wondered about the city. Did it always have a Punjabi hue or did this emerge only after the Partition? Who are regarded as the original Dilliwalahs?

    First of all, there are no “lesser parts if India” and second, you can read William Dalrymple for an immediate answer and then also wonder if “The Purana Qila built on an ancient mound, perhaps conceals the ruins of the city of Indraprastha of Mahabharata story. Archaeologists carried out excavations at the Purana Qila from the 1950′s to the 1970′s. The excavations showed that the Purana Qila was indeed a very old site. Archaeologists found that the settlement had many phases dating from about the fourth century B.C. (or earlier) to the nineteenth century A.D. Pieces of old pottery known as Painted Grey Ware were also found and this suggested that people may have lived at some spot in or around the Purana Qila from about 1000 B.C. onwards “

  18. @ Pervez: hilarious.

    And Ruskin Bond does live in Mussoorie. I was visiting a cousin who pointed out his house, so I took a picture. When I uploaded the image, his face was clearly visible in the corner of a window. Spooky.

  19. Likewise, I would also recommend Dalrymple’s City of Djinns to anyone who hasn’t read it. The Levi book sounds really interesting, too. I haven’t been to LA but, this semester, having had to read about the Los Angeles School of Urbanism in three different classes, I would have theoretically agreed with a correlation between LA and Delhi, or indeed many “third world” / global south megacities. I wouldn’t expect them to be really the same, but rather those in the latter realm as sort of bizarro world equivalents. If you’re interested, read Dear and Flusty’s “Post-modern Urbanism” article, which may have started it all (though take it with a grain of salt), or Edward Soja. (Or Mike Davis – I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s drawn connections between his studies of Los Angeles and global megacities.) Well, I saw it as a cross of the post-modern model and the multiple nuclei model. Essentially, what they say about LA is that it’s a centerless, fragmented, seemingly random and chaotic city, but people like Dear and Flusty posit that it’s not as random as it looks and suggest that the movement of global capital actually has a lot to do with the development of the city (economically as well as physically). LA also heretofore (though I don’t know if they’re going to continue with either the city council’s support of a mag-lev intra-city rail system or the metro authority’s subway idea, given the recession) did not have much in the way of public transit, and is essentially predicated on the automobile and sprawl.

  20. Yeah, Ruskin Bond does live in Mussoorie, where he’s sort of a Larry McMurtry type. That comparison will likely raise a lot of eyebrows since the two have almost nothing in common except for this: they both have turned their fellow locals into compelling, quaint characters, much to the chagrin of said locals (including my great aunt, in the case of Bond). I take it, Amardeep, you didn’t have time to go up to Mussoorie, though at this time of year it would not have provided the kind of respite it’s known for, but it really is lovely. Anyone who goes should check out Landour, a cantonment above town, which is even more peaceful and secluded.

  21. YAY, Chandigarh! I fall in love everytime I go out in Chandigarh.

    About the economic disparity, when people had no cars I was being shuttled in Mercedes in chandigarh. Last time I was in chandigarh, I saw bentleys, Ferraris, Land Rovers and obviously Mercedes. India always has an appetite for luxury

  22. I miss it all so much reading this blog. Chandigarh is such a pretty place. My family loves it there. Would love to hear your rendition of chandigarh and your time spent there!!

  23. 22 · AR said

    @ Pervez: hilarious. When I uploaded the image, his face was clearly visible in the corner of a window. Spooky.

    He has a photo of himself pasted on the window.

  24. I’ve heard quite a few times and over and over again, that the people in Delhi are hostile towards South Indians (when I say South Indians, I’m referring to Dravidian speakers). Is this still true?

  25. boston_mahesh, that is so untrue. Obviously you are going to hear about some incidents, but those are exceptions.

  26. 28 · boston_mahesh said

    I’ve heard quite a few times and over and over again, that the people in Delhi are hostile towards South Indians (when I say South Indians, I’m referring to Dravidian speakers). Is this still true?

    Some people in Delhi were like that, just like Raj Thackeray’s “maharashtra is for marathis, not biharis” rant. I have had personally a few neighbours who made fun of “madrasis” and would say “Andla pondla” to mimic tamil, which I used to speak to my mom or dad even in public. Funny thing was that these kids used to speak punjabi to their parents, but they did not understand the concept of languages (ie. others could also have theirs, etc) My dad has experienced some of that at his workplace. But all that was 15-20 years back. Things have changed a huge amount in Delhi, but that does not stop a few bigots from existing still , does it? Don’t blame all Delhites. Anyways stereotyping based on regions in rampant in India everywhere. By the way, my family and myself used to judge people based on if they were: [Negative qualities first] Malayalee (cunning), or Bengalis (stink of fish and borrow) or Gujju (always fat) or Punjabi (greedy and rude) or Bihari (very rustic) or Sikhs (funny and goofy).. oh god, i can’t even imagine what a frog in the well i used to be.

    The positive quals for these people were: Mallu: intelligent & literary-wise, bengali: very good at the arts, Gujju: good business sense, Punjabi: good business sense and organization, Bihari: industrious and trustworthy, Sikhs: very trustworthy and brave.

  27. wild elephants sometimes like to come out and sleep on the roads at night. You have to go around them, and not trouble them too much, lest they decide to uproot a tree, and smash your car with it. He said there was one particular case of a deranged elephant, who had been exiled from his herd, who went on a rampage and killed quite a number of people in this way (I have no idea if this is even remotely plausible, but it’s an intriguing idea: the alienated, sociopathic elephant.)

    It’s true. That was my cousin.

  28. Another intriguing story our driver told us was about the road from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh,

    I think a lot of these stories are more like urban legends.

    Most of Dehra Dun is a mess, but there are pockets of Dehra Dun which are really clean and well kept.

    I have been inside Doon School many years ago to visit my cousin then, and it has its own self contained world (I would guess something like Phillips Academy).

    Dehra Dun at one time had lively community of Chinese Indians, but most of them have immigrated to USA or Canada. Calcutta still has quite a few.

  29. 31 · Real_delhite Wrote: said

    28 · boston_mahesh said
    I’ve heard quite a few times and over and over again, that the people in Delhi are hostile towards South Indians (when I say South Indians, I’m referring to Dravidian speakers). Is this still true?
    Real_delhite Wrote: Some people in Delhi were like that, just like Raj Thackeray’s “maharashtra is for marathis, not biharis” rant. I have had personally a few neighbours who made fun of “madrasis” and would say “Andla pondla” to mimic tamil, which I used to speak to my mom or dad even in public. Funny thing was that these kids used to speak punjabi to their parents, but they did not understand the concept of languages (ie. others could also have theirs, etc) My dad has experienced some of that at his workplace. But all that was 15-20 years back. Things have changed a huge amount in Delhi, but that does not stop a few bigots from existing still , does it? Don’t blame all Delhites. Anyways stereotyping based on regions in rampant in India everywhere. By the way, my family and myself used to judge people based on if they were: [Negative qualities first] Malayalee (cunning), or Bengalis (stink of fish and borrow) or Gujju (always fat) or Punjabi (greedy and rude) or Bihari (very rustic) or Sikhs (funny and goofy).. oh god, i can’t even imagine what a frog in the well i used to be. The positive quals for these people were: Mallu: intelligent & literary-wise, bengali: very good at the arts, Gujju: good business sense, Punjabi: good business sense and organization, Bihari: industrious and trustworthy, Sikhs: very trustworthy and brave.

    Boston_Mahesh Wrote: Hello Mutineers and Real_Delhite:

    Very good to hear that in Delhi, the ethnic stereotypes are fading. People there are also very nice. Regarding Sikhs – you’re right. They are the most trustworthy, straightforwards, generous, and fun people that I’ve ever met, which is why I am going to the Golden Temple in 4 day’s time! Regarding all those different Indian ethnic groups: Sure, I’ve got friends in all of those categories, and also, I may have met jerks within those ethnic groups. But at the end of the day, I’m so happy and relieved to see a brown person. At my former job, one instant kinship that I formed (note – I didn’t say ‘friendship’) was with a big-hearted Indian guy, and he was a moral-booster. EAST OR WEST, INDIA IS THE BEST.

  30. At my former job, one instant kinship that I formed (note – I didn’t say ‘friendship’) was with a big-hearted Indian guy, and he was a moral-booster. EAST OR WEST, INDIA IS THE BEST.

    This can go both ways…have met a lot of Indian jerks in the workplace. But you’re right, there can be an instant kinship in some cases too.

  31. 34 · boston_mahesh said

    EAST OR WEST, INDIA IS THE BEST.

    NORTH OR SOUTH, INDIANS ARE LOUTS. It rhymes, so it must be true!

  32. But I have wondered about the city. Did it always have a Punjabi hue or did this emerge only after the Partition? Who are regarded as the original Dilliwalahs?

    The original Dilli Wale are a diverse group, including both Hindus and Muslims of various castes, but having in common the Delhi variety of Hindi/Urdu (which is essentially what standard Hindi/Urdu are based on), and sharing Delhi culture. Among them are Brahmins, Baniyas, Kayasthas, etc. The people of rural Delhi are predominantly Jat (Hindu) and Yadav, along with of course some other service castes. Many of the Dilli Muslims, especially the educated and economically successful ones moved to Pakistan (largely Karachi) after Partition.

    The Punjabi hue of current day South Delhi is a post-1947 development. Urban upper and middle trading castes (Khatris, Aroras) from Punjab (many of whom were from urban areas even before 1947), preferred moving to Delhi rather than to Indian Punjab, which other than Amritsar had no cities comparable to Lahore or Rawalpindi. This group included Sikhs but was predominantly Hindu. On the other hand, most of the Sikh Jatts as well as others from a rural background in Pakistani Punjab chose to move to Indian Punjab rather than Delhi. This group included Hindus but was predominantly Sikh. Just as Delhi became a Punjabi-heavy city for the first time in 1947, Indian Punjab post-1947 became the first place where Sikhs became a majority, EVER (after Haryana and HP were subtracted from the equation).

  33. 36 · AC Desi said

    34 · boston_mahesh said
    EAST OR WEST, INDIA IS THE BEST.
    NORTH OR SOUTH, INDIANS ARE LOUTS. It rhymes, so it must be true!

    AC Desi is Crazy.

  34. It’s interesting to read about the stereotypes people have about different groups in India because in East Africa, those same stereotypes are applied to the Asian Immigrants.

    The Sikhs are tough and brave and you’ll find many of them in the army and police force. They also are less likely to suffer racist taunts because people are afraid to pick on them in case they retaliate! This fear of retaliation does not exist with the other groups.

    The Gujarati’s are known for their business acumen, but they do not/have not assimilated well.

    The Goans’ are about the only group that is well liked, but that’s because they are christians and tend to inter-marry and inter-mix.

  35. What a FaScinating turn of conversation. Coincidentally Reuters just reported the following

    KOLKATA (Reuters) – An Indo-French team has discovered a cenotaph deep within in the swamps of the Sundarbans. A source familiar with the exploration spoke on condition of anonymity about the etchings on the monument’s walls. He said that the wall carvings reveal insights into Indian society several millenia back and precede the Indus valley civilization. A well-preserved carving of a man with a large head wrap with a club reveals the hunting practices of yore. Another figure with religious body markings holding an abacus was apparently an accountant of that time. The scientists are puzzled by one image in particular. It is of a faceless figure holding a large organ as if inviting his audience to take a blow. The investigation is underway and are expected to last well into 2009.
  36. From the Reuters articel:

    It is of a faceless figure holding a large organ as if inviting his audience to take a blow.

    Must be a fake. Large organs are not traditionaly associated with bengal.

  37. I think Delhi is originally seen to be a Muslim city with its dominant culture being Muslim, at least upto 1857. But much of what remained Muslim when the British left ceased with the Punjabi influx. Is that right?

    I don’t think this is an accurate characterization. The aristocratic and higher culture was definitely Muslim even up until the Partition, but the majority was still very Hindu. The aristocratic culture was then replaced by consumerist style culture with the punjabi influx.

    I too recommend Dalrymple’s book which I read ages ago and don’t remember much of except that I remember finding it unputdownable. I think he addresss most of your questions in there.

  38. Also, I think Lahore used to be a Hindu-majority (or Hindu-Sikh-majority) city. Amritsar still is a Hindu-majority city.

    Lahore city in 1947 had a slim non-Muslim majority, but unfortunately the Lahore district as a whole had a Muslim majority and thus went to Pakistan.

    As for Amritsar, it probably does have a Hindu majority; urban Indian Punjab in general is majority Hindu whereas rural Indian Punjab is overwhelmingly Sikh majority.

  39. Before Partition, Amritsar had a huge Muslim population, not sure if it was a majority but probably close.

  40. Any suggestions on what to visit in Delhi itself? Any shopping suggestions for Indian clothes: male/female/kids and especially custom tailors. We are also on the lookout for live music/vocal venues at restaurants and bars in the SouthEx/Gurgaon areas. Bangalore was filled with such sites/malls where the IT-folks used to congregate and were great mingling places.

    In Agra, does anyone have recommendations for stores for the requisite marble inlay crafts? On our last visit to Agra (10+ years ago) we saw a disturbing scene: a painfully muzzled black bear being forced to dance for tourists. This poor beast subsisted on a milk diet according to the handler.

  41. We are also on the lookout for live music/vocal venues at restaurants and bars in the SouthEx/Gurgaon areas. Bangalore was filled with such sites/malls where the IT-folks used to congregate and were great mingling places.

    Check out the museum and art gallery around india gate. this is a full day for you. you can also trundle up janpath and check out various emporia. the traffic is horrible though. even to go 400 meters one recommends a vehicle though thankfully the immediate vicinity of india gate can only be accessed on foot. see also this for red fort, jantar mantar, the delhi forest, hotels, a disco etc.
    there are some watering holes in gurgaon like bangalore but access is a big problem. by the time one gets anywhere one is too pooped to enjoy anything. but then again, if you’re with some moneyed folks, they’ll probably have some flunky chauffeur you around so your mileage may vary.
    if you want the ‘requisite’ marble inlay work, and you are willing to pay a little extra – your best bet is to go to handicrafts emporium on janpath – i believe that’s fairtrade and authentic ishtuff. enjoy agra and watch out for the touts.

  42. boston_mahesh, that absolutely does not rhyme! South and lout? Please!

    Here are examples of what rhymes: East, West, North, South, Shocking words come from your mouth! South, North, West, East, My hathi-cousin is a beast. West, East, South, North, Please always use Vet Vipes henceforth

  43. Not a very Christmassy message above, sorry folks, found it languishing on my laptop which was asleep, not off, and hit send.

    Merry Christmas, everyone who celebrates!

    (blockquote)Are the claimed Indraprastha and like (pre-Muslim) connections from memory or only from excavations? Are they meaningful to the city’s current culture, or only of historical note?(/blockquote)

    Jef, I suspect that after 700 odd years, people stop talking about what went before, and it seems the population has always been volatile there, so that traditions of oral history would be compromised. It’s a strategic spot, though, so it must have been fortified much earlier, and it was Prithviraj Chauhan’s capital before it/he was conquered by Mohammed Gauri. Apparently, there have been excavations earlier at Purana Qila.

    Dalrymple has Desi Muslim ancestors himself, so he is understandably focused on late Muslim history in Delhi, and does wonderful work, but that focus is rather narrow in terms of what you are asking on the scale of Indian history.