I always love a book about Delhi – and the market is abuzz with them. I picked up Delirious Delhi solely because the author was co-blogger at a wonderful blog called Our Delhi Struggle. ‘Our Delhi Struggle’ was unique in the sense that it was collection of short, witty, first-hand experience of a couple who had moved from New York to Delhi. Their keenness to have ‘an authentic Dilli experience’ would often lead them to treasure troves and interesting revelations. For example, Dave and Jenny also found an old-style Hindi movie poster painter and had their own Bollywood poster painted that also adorns the book cover of Delirious Delhi. (The painter had his share of limelight in press thanks to Dave and Jenny.)
And they did manage to have that ‘authentic’ experience. Dave, an advertising agency executive in Gurgaon lived in Hauz Khas. He did what millions of Delhites do everyday – travel to work. For more than a decade in Delhi, I too have travelled on an average 3-4 hours to and fro college or work. They zipped around the city in autos, learned various tricks/tips to bargain. Again, this is something I had to do every day (tough job at times) for 2 years when I worked in GK-2 – right in that square that has Nathu’s where Dave had his first meal in India.
The couple went all round Delhi for the Indian food they would come to love – imagine my surprise when I read in the book ‘best South Indian food in Delhi can be eaten at Saravanna Bhawan’. I thought, how did he know! Since I keep finding people in north who are not so aware about it. Mystery soon unravelled – Dave and Jenny were part of Eating Out in Delhi group – and sample food from all over Delhi, including gastronomic delights of Old Delhi. I smiled when Dave was unimpressed with over-hyped Khan Market – I agreed.
Most of book is based on similar first-hand experience, and any facts that are included have been supported with references included in the footnotes.
Dave does his best to distinguish the book from other expat books – in that, I believe, he was not so successful. Despite his fairness and love for Delhi, there are things that almost every expat complains/writes about – confusion with Indian way of saying yes, corruption, beggars, guilt at beggars, surprise at peons, pollution, hygiene, Indian idea (or lack of ) personal space, culture of working late, jugaad and so on. Book goes on to explain economy – markets, cheap labour, circle of recycle and repair something so alien in New York. These are the things almost every expat writes about India. However, one thing that Dave wouldn’t perhaps know that the customer service he was so impressed in Delhi isn’t so great in every other Indian city. Chennai, Pune, Bangalore – they taught me not to take so many things granted as a customer – it was always easy in Dilli. Gone are the ironwallah who would pick up and deliver from my house, grocer who would always sell less than MRP (and we can still bargain), Punjabi food that always has onion would still be customised for me at most places, taxi/cabwallah/service providers who would always bargain and scramble to provide services at best prices. In Pune/Bangalore, mostly attitude is take it or leave it.
Dave has written the book with a sense of humour something that helped them to deal with various contradictions of the city. They soon came up with their tricks/tips – their own bargaining tactics with autowallahs, evading pestering autos with excuse ‘we are walking to get exercise’. There is one chapter where Dave has to take his wife Jenny to hospital at night. When colleagues learn of it later, one of them says, horrified: ‘You call to ask us how to say ‘cauliflower’ in Hindi, but not when your wife goes to hospital!’
One grouse that I have with Delirious Delhi is that at 387 pages it is tad too long for what it wants to say. I wish book was a 100-150 pages shorter, that would make it bit less sluggish in the later part of the book. For example, a chapter called ‘Working Late (Again)’ begins with long crib about commute (again). It then talks about existence of a peon owing to cheap labour, which is something dealt with again in a separate chapter. Then, there are long descriptions of ride back with various Indian folks who take an unplanned stopover to either have a pan/pickup booze to the consternation of glum author who is eager to reach home to his wife. Reading something as such in long-winding detail felt like listening to a boring account similar to an irritating colleague detailing every nitty-gritty of how they spent the whole day. Then, there were parts that felt familiar – bargaining tactic where their colleague asked for discount, ICICI bank waking up (another section that was too long), their cook Ganga, recycling etc –I read it on their blog. However, as Dave replies to my tweet, 90% of content in book is new, I believe him!
I will go for 3 out of 5 for this book, solely because of it’s honestly and genuine zeal to know a city they came to love.