The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Set, song and dance bring to life Chandni

New Delhi, Sept. 30: As book releases go, this one was without parallel: it had sobriety courtesy the presence of the publishing industry, power thanks to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, and the stolidity of establishment represented by the bureaucrats and ex-bureaucrats.

The scent of ruralia rose from the contingent of caste-based leaders while Page 3 value was added by power couples like Dilip and Devi Cherian and Ajatshatru and Ritu Singh.

The icing was the cultural extravaganza purveyed by well-known theatre director Aamir Raza, closely aligned with the BJP. After all, the occasion was the release of Vijay Goel’s opus, The Emperor’s City: Rediscovering Chandni Chowk and its Environs, published by Roli Books, in Hotel Ashok’s Convention Hall.

The otherwise staid venue was transformed and, should one say transported back in time, with pillars, balustrades, sculpted out of plaster of Paris, placed across the hall.

The stage, where slices of history were played out through dance and song, had a mobile backdrop of the havelis, temples, mosques and churches etched on Chandni Chowk’s landscape.

The Kathak dance sequence by danseuse-bureaucrat Shovna Narayan and the Sufi renditions by Satish Babar apart, the piece de resistance was the book release itself. Vajpayee and Advani were escorted by the author behind a drape on a podium tucked away in a corner of the hall. A few seconds later, it was drawn to reveal a street-corner scene.

Three men were seated on a raised platform and as Goel represents Chandni Chowk, which symbolises India’s plurality with its Muslim, Sikh and Christian residents, they wore a skullcap, a turban and a pagdi, appropriately enough. But Goel couldn’t leave his political training behind. Speaking about why he was initially reluctant to contest from Chandni Chowk, he said one-third of the voters were Muslims who “in any case don’t vote the BJP”. Still he won as, he added in a lighter vein, he soon perfected the art of doing the adaab as well as the namaste.

The Prime Minister congratulated Goel for the dexterity with which he managed to wrap up the history of several centuries in words and pictures.

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