DELHI THEN & NOW (Roli, Rs 2,475), with its split down the middle, follows the same pattern as the recently published India Then & Now, and is second in the series. But given the book’s focus on one city, Narayani Gupta and Dilip Bobb have a less difficult job on hand than Rudrangshu Mukherjee and Vir Sanghvi, co-authors of the previous volume. Gupta brings to her essay on the city’s past and its transition to the political capital of post-independent India the full weight of her scholarship. But instead of giving a rambling account of a bygone era, she reconnects the city to its immediate and more distant past with a lot of verve. The three sections of the essay, charmingly named “prastha”, “panah” and “abad”, talk about the city’s geographical extension, syncretic culture and its people.
Dilip Bobb’s essay, introducing readers to Delhi ’s present, is of a different meter. He talks of per capita income, Delhi’s nouveau riche, its yuppy culture, garishness, the healthy influx from other states that has diluted the Punjabi culture, the city’s difficulties in being caught up in the transition to full statehood, the shortsighted development authorities, and Delhi’s great dream of being transformed by 2010 on the occasion of the Commonwealth Games.
Bobb heavily depends on several authors on Delhi like William Dalrymple to convince readers how the “grandest of grand old aristocratic dowagers” had become “a nouveau-riche heiress: all show and vulgarity and conspicuous consumption.” But the photographs in his section tell a kinder story. They are mostly of people going about their daily lives (the photographs in both sections avoid focussing on the political class), except, of course, for the odd model on her flashy convertible in front of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The stills in the “Then” section paint a starker picture in black and white, as Pramod Kapoor, the editor and photo-researcher of this volume, would agree. He might also agree that a public demonstration in the Twenties had more character than the one against the present-day agriculture minister. Some characters are, of course, immutable, as those of cows who are seen walking down the city’s old Sabzi Mandi “with the nonchalance common to all Indian cows at all times.”