Delhi at 100

There’s a rather charming slideshow on the BBC here on the changing face of Delhi by one of its elderly residents. A shame that the city authorities haven’t made more of this to be honest. Delhi remains an enigmatic and petulant youth amongst other capitals: certainly for me infuriating and engaging at the same time.


Of course, as Kanika Singh, Convener of Delhi Heritage Walks told Tehelka magazine, not everyone shares that view, “Only last year, we evicted all street hawkers while preparing for the Commonwealth Games—and now we are celebrating their contributed (sic.) to our ‘heritage’. I don’t feel like celebrating this occasion. Whose Delhi are we celebrating?”.

The point is surely that cities only belong to their inhabitants when they feel they have some stake in them. I agree that most of Delhi is too busy trying to earn a crust to survive to be bothered about the anniversary but surely (and, if you’ve read this blog before you will know that I am the very last person to romanticise or excuse the Raj) the city is the sum of it’s parts: Hindu, Muslim and the British all have legacies that has made Delhi what it is and decrying any of those for some neo-nationalist point is surely counter-productive. Delhi is what it is and pretending that the city – or indeed much of India for that matter, doesn’t have some English blood is as pointless and saying it isn’t a melting pot of past empires. Selective cultural memory is a very dangerous thing for all societies (remember Ayodya?) and only by melding the various strains in a city (certainly one as large and anarchic as Delhi) can you hope to create a genuinely inclusive society…

Anyway, lecture over. Here’s one I made earlier…

India - Gurgaon - Bricklayers constructing a house in the shadow of an exclusive new development


Digging for a Dollar a day

Amidst all the hullaballoo about building the Commonwealth Games venues in Delhi, there has been much talk of corruption, mismanagement and chaos. All true I’m sure but I just read an interesting article by Amanda Hodge in the Australian who makes a very good point when she says:

“But those who come to Delhi must also remember that a vast number of people in this host city live on less than $2 a day. Dirty toilets, poorly fitted doors, faulty electricity and taps are not an issue for people who have no bathroom, running water or power”.

I couldn’t agree more. Whatever the logic of the Commonwealth Games (a pointless colonial anachronism if ever there was one) you can’t blame the poor who have actually borne the brunt of the construction (in terms of both building and eviction) for not making a job worthy of ‘star athletes’. In that sense (and that sense only) I agree with Lalit Bhanot who said that the unfinished state of some of the flats at the athletes’ village was simply a matter of “differing perceptions”.

I couldn’t care less for the Commonwealth Games (nor for the Olympics coming to the UK for that matter) – all corporate machination as far as I am concerned – but I do hope that people coming to Delhi get to see beyond the show and the cracks and the security. If they got to meet the people on a dollar a day – most of the people of Delhi – that would be a cultural exchange more valuable than any sporting event.

India - New Delhi - Day labourers take a tea break in a trench during construction works for the Commonwealth Games