Book Review “Delhi: Adventures In a Megacity”

Book: Delhi: Adventures In a Megacity

Author: Sam Miller

Publishers: Viking/Penguin

Pages: Rs.291

Price: Rs.499

Book Review by Poornima Sardana, Young India Fellowship Program 2012-2013

A pleasant green cover, a hand drawn spiral map with slightly unconventional yet real landmarks, Sam Miller’s “Delhi: Adventures In a Megacity”, tickles, and captures attention from the first glimpse itself. Not to discount Khushwant Singh’s remark, who accurately informs anyone who picks the book that, “No other book on Delhi is quite as readable as Sam Miller’s…” Turn to the back and Mark Tully exclaims at having found a book that “encompasses the whole of my city.”

Thriving on the sightings of a curious journalist in his adopted city, this book is a refreshing and empathetic non-fiction account of our rapidly growing capital city, humorous, gripping and self-reflective. The Table of Contents is a witty teaser which informs the reader of the collage inside, but little is one prepared for the inspiring and meticulous curiosity with which the author takes us on the unfolding discoveries and adventures through Delhi and its multiplicity. “It has everything that is old and everything that is modern.” says Miller of the city whose first impressions on him had been anything but memorable.

Having drawn a spiral on the city’s map to demarcate the path he would cover on foot, Sam Miller succeeds in making the reader traverse along with him through the juxtapositions and paradoxes which coexist and come together in providing a panoramic view of the city, unbiased and inclusive in approach. The spirit of this approach and the book itself is well captured in Sam Miller’s statement, “A spiral is special because it can be endless, but still under control.”

Written in first person, it is a non-intimidating and non-academic description which under the facade of an entertaining narrative brings forth many facets of “…one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the world”, which could be either ignored or taken for granted by us in daily narrower entrapments. An easy read, it is explorative, nostalgic and subtly sarcastic at the same time. Instead of looking at any particularity of Delhi in isolation or in enlarged proportions such as the romanticized heritage, the world class urban dreams, expanding middle class or critical theory on the state of migrants, minorities and slums, it is a simple yet holistic depiction of Delhi and its surrounding regions of Gurgaon and NCR, when seen as a physical, cultural, sociological, economical, political and religious whole.

What plays a crucial role therefore is the choice of landmarks or events with which he chooses to punctuate his journey so as to depict the interconnectedness of puzzle pieces (such as economy, religion, practices, development, migration, dislocation, minority rights, education, resources, history, and heritage with politics, administration, urbanization and globalization) seamlessly woven together with the spontaneity and continuity so inherent a trait of the city and its inhabitants. Though it is a personal account, anyone who wants to truly experience life in Delhi, pause and observe, would find resonance in the book.

To make it even more interesting is the comparative approach and uninterrupted intertwining of inputs from different sources, which when placed next to each other can lead to laughter fits as well as reveal glaring cleavages between image and reality. Virtual and real, different point of views clubbed together, this account is interspersed with personal encounters and meditations, dialogues with people concerned and at times eccentric trans-media observations, which though apparently hilarious or at times extremist, depict the extent to which we might be immersed in a certain phenomenon through history, current trends, future plans and hence changing technology. Sam Miller exemplifies with ease how the Delhi of past and future come together in the present. His personal reflections are indeed thought provoking and also allow the reader space to conjure his/her opinions on the same. For instance having shared the views of an unauthorized Dhabha owner, and a professor at the college of architecture on migrants and land allocations, he then shares his own queries: “But is it realistic, let alone fair, to enforce the law against those millions of poor people who have no title to the land on which they live? Shouldn’t they be given the right to own the land they occupy.” The author expresses no qualms in confessing about his own (at times) preconceptions or dilemmas, but at the same time, his effort is a reminder to understand an appearance than just treat it as a mere spectacle.

His transitions between history, present state and the preparation for future are further enhanced by his persistence in establishing contexts, tracing origins as well as reasoning behind a certain observable fact, behind constructs and visual existence etc. For instance his questioning of the reason behind a school’s name which the principal wasn’t aware of, or his surprise at realizing the hybridizations in signs and symbols, as well as grassroots innovations or re-use in technology and consequences, force one to look beyond the surface. It is a rich blend indeed with different windows being opened to look at life in Delhi.

Sam Miller’s understanding and mentioning of the nuances and intricacies of Indian society make the account even more palatable. Such as drawing the analogy of the role of wells in Indian society from the public space around Mother Dairy Kiosks, reflects his intuitive and conceptual approach as well. He draws interesting parallels, which also make it easier to understand his take on what is happening around us. For instance his parallel on risk taking between unauthorized shop owner and “suicidal pedestrians” on the road, is not just a witty remark or observation, but also throws light upon underlying risk-taking which could have resulted from similar experiences or inherited attitudes in past.

The book leaves a lasting impression for the fact that it is so humane and easily relatable. This account is by an experienced journalist who has migrated to Delhi, but it is not an alienated vantage point. There are moments when he reacts followed by an investigative or more reflective or even detached approach, fluctuations which are not stark and are what most readers can probably identify with. If one traces the development of the plot through development of the many Meta narratives, one can see how he moves from surprise/ amusement to reflection/probe and then either a comment of apprehension or hope. While walking in Rajouri Garden he chances upon a mall and expresses his resentment that “Delhi was beginning to be just like anywhere else. Were all big cities destined to resemble each other? …This could be Singapore, Dubai or New York.” Our familiarity with such a stream of thoughts and expressions in our context cannot be doubted. This was followed by a period of reflection and observation, which resulted in the following consolation: “This was recognizably Mc Donalds…but it could also be nowhere else but India. There were no Big Macs here; beef is not on Indian menus. Instead there’s Chicken McCurry, Paneer Salsa Wrap and Mc Aloo Tikki.” It is an important commentary on the apparently feared and homogenising global patterns, which have to alter to cater to local tastes and demands and it is this ease of expression that would ensure it being understood by the reader.

Such tension and harmony between the micro and macro is one of the many themes that recur throughout the book including organized vs. unorganized sectors, spatial segregation vs. Inclusive urban planning, public transport vs. traffic, power play, exclusivity vs. Enclaves, unity vs. Communal issues and modernization vs. myths  etc. Amongst these was the theme of real vs. Virtual and the author chose to explore it in various examples, one of those being the comparison between the real Delhi and Delhi in Sim City, an online game version. It beautifully illustrates the problems as well as the power of humanity that underlies, sustains and propels its growth.

Even though this book is non-academic, Sam Miller’s extensive awareness, inquisitiveness and research make it a good source of knowledge and a credible medium to begin one’s personal journey. Mentioning an explorative project in computer education for slum children or noticing the trickle down of desires created by brands, are important trends for us to know.

The book however would have been incomplete without the supporting photographs, which serve as either complements or evidences while generating deeper interest.

This book is definitely a great beginning for anyone who has the slightest of relation with Delhi or any other city for that matter because it teaches how to see beyond just looking. To have noticed such details and pluralities of the cityscape and surrounding regions is commendable and very readable.

“If you don’t walk in Delhi, large parts of the city will be invisible to you.”

– Sam Miller


Fun on the streets

My roommate and I sat on the wayside platform, swinging our legs in the shared joy of eating momos, when two little boys climbed the stairs stealthily, looked around furtively and made a dash for the bushes. We suddenly realized, much to our amusement though, that they had dropped a plastic snake on the staircase, and were now waiting eagerly to see the reaction aroused by their prank.

Assuming to be hidden (which they weren’t), they could barely control their giggles, let alone laughing out loud, while people exclaimed with fear, curiosity or a mixture pf astonishment and sheepish grins.

I know I would have been taken aback myself, but those few moments brought a smile on everyone’s face.

This did not last for too long though, for their last victim turned out to be their own elder brother, who in his embarrassment picked up the snake and threw it into the bushes after his naughty siblings.

So much for  a fun evening, but it did remind me of how much I miss this humor in daily life. It does not have to be at the cost of someone else’s feelings, but a light hearted , free spirited self is what I do miss. I was glad I saw them today, they reminded me of what I am not to lose or what I have perhaps begun to lose, the joy of being a child, of laughing out loud with friends and enjoying every bit of it; The joy of living, the joy of savoring moments, the thrill that could be there in the present, which might be blurred behind the burdens of planning too much for tomorrow.

Once my “relive childhood” sermon was over, I realized that in a way thsoe children had made such an important comment on us. We were scared by the snake, because we did not expect to see it there, similarly we are heard shrieking our lungs out if we suddenly come across a dog, a cat, a cow or a lizard, as if we are the only living thing that should be seen around. I agree that fear of snakes comes from the fear of danger to life, but to what extent can we be scared of fellow beings?

Anyhow, we returned but not without our take-away, the role of humor, emotions and art in public spaces, in making people stop, look, feel and react, in bringing them together, even if just in reaction, and if nothing else, for sheer fun, for fun in itself is goal enough…




A review of an Mp3 Player

For my days were incomplete without a personalized source of music.

For bus trips seemed longer and washing utensils a wastage of time.

For I am clumsier than most people I know.

For I prefer to have my own space by putting the headphones on.

A few weeks ago I purchased an Mp3 Player. I wanted something within my budget, and something that would solve my biggest problem, I keep dropping gadgets and end up breaking them. Only recently did I get my Laptop repaired and was hence in no mood to invest a lot in a fancy gadget. Also I use Metro quite often and let alone gadgets, I broke my shoes while being pushed around by the MILD crowd.

I travel a lot and without music, I am unable to enjoy the imagery. I like to create my own   comfort zone by withdrawing myself from the many sounds when they turn into noise. Now my mother would definitely argue that the headphones themselves are noise and might have disastrous effects for my ears, but some habits are hard to let go of.

In fact I find it difficult to work, or draw, or write without it. I often manage by keeping my laptop on, serving merely as a gigantic Mp3 Player.

Another problem that I would often face is in charging gadgets or the many wires to be taken care of. I would forget to carry those around.

My demands therefore were simple: Robust, Not very expensive, Easy to use/connect, Not too ugly to look at.

And then I found this:

Image Courtesy ebay.in

It cost me Rs.1600, which was within the budget I had set aside for the same. It connects to the USB port and I don’t need extra wires for charging.

It is easy to use. One can move to next or last by pressing on the respective sides identified by a single dot for going back and two dots for moving ahead on theother side, which being raised can be felt during darkness.

The lower portion of the two sides are used for volume.

The white round button in the center is used for on/off, pause as well as shuffle by varying the number of as well as duration of click.

Yes you cannot see what song is going to play, but I enjoy the uncertainty.

But now the best part, it is indeed made for clumsy people like me:

Image Courtesy ebay.in

It can be easily attached and hence your hands are free! This eliminates chances of it falling repeatedly as well as allows you to travel comfortably, especially in Metro. I like to keep the headphones on and in case I need to speak to anyone I can conveniently pause and resume from the same song without having had to put in much effort. This is massive relief for me.

However one thing that does bother me is the fact that low battery indication comes at the end moment (green light changes) and I am not prepared. By now I have figured out the approximate time for which it works after full charging and therefore recharge the same in time. But a better indicator would have made me even more pleased.


A visit to the “Indian Stamp Company”, Philately delight in Meerut

In our module of Arts Appreciation at the Young India Fellowship, we were to carry out research (in groups of 6) on a particular form of art, or artist. Our group chose “Postage Stamps” as our area of research and decided to focus not just on the utilitarian aspect but also the aesthetics and process of making a Stamp.

During research I came across an article in Business Standard (http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/the-ticket-collector/445757/) which spoke of the “Indian Stamp Company”, a shop owned by Mr. Rakesh Kumar Gupta, stamp-collector and owner of some of the rarest and oldest stamps. Confirming the address from good ol’ Justdial, I was simply ecstatic! I had not even heard of this shop in my own home town, I immediately decided to visit the shop and meet Mr. Rakesh. It was indeed a memorable visit.

There is this certain feeling of being a tourist in my own land, which often hits me  in times like these. Overwhelmed with the idea of having such a shop in a place that was Home for 24 years, I impatiently searched for “Indian Stamp Company” at Chippi Tank, Meerut. And there it was, a humble existence on Begum Bridge:

                            (it says from Age groups 7 to 77)

A well organized tiny space, maintained with utmost care and love.

Mr. Rakesh Gupta, the owner who has been collecting stamps since childhood, is a gem of a person, who was kind enough to share with me his knowledge as well as glimpses of his collection.

Some highlights from the interview (paraphrasing):

Q. Where do you procure your stamps from?

A. From Post-Office, Importers and Old Collectors who sell their stamps.

Q. Where are Indian Stamps generally Printed?

A. The first press was Security Press at Nasik. The designing, printing and quantity of these stamps has always been regulated by the Government, like a currency. Even if the printing is done in Private Printing Press the same rules and regulations are applicable.

Q. What are the general materials in which Stamps are made?

A. Indian stamps are printed on paper, however there have been many innovations in stamps from other countries. Such as , Wooden and Three Dimensional Stamps from Finland, Gold Foil Embossed and Plastic Stamps from Bhutan. Following are some photographs of the variety, though their true glory is in the tangible form.

Some of these stamps:

This one is a CD stamp from Bhutan. Earlier they had also come up with Record Stamps!

A Blog post about the Bhutanese Record Stamps :http://creativeroots.org/2009/08/1973-record-stamps-of-bhutan/

These are Gold Foil Embossed Stamps from Bhutan. They look Stunning.

                       These are Metal Stamps from Bhutan.

                                    3D Stamps from Bhutan.

This one was an absolute delight. This a plastic-moulded stamp from Bhutan. These came out in 1972, known as the Famous Men’s Series and covered 6 personalities including John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill. 

These Bhutanese stamps were manufactured between 1966-1976 approximately. The CD Stamps came during 2010-2011.

Though he has a huge collection from all around the world, the focus on Bhutanese Stamps is also due to my own bias. The wide variety can be seen in the “Exotica” section of his website. Also according to Mr. Rakesh, Stamps from African countries such as Sierra Leone are also very interesting to look at.

Q. The Indian Stamps that I saw were rectangular only. However there are many stamps from other countries that were in different shapes. Is the reason ease of printing?

A. Yes, it must be printing.

He immediately asked one of his two employees to take out a box and displayed the following:

Notice: The ones from New Zealand are “Self-Adhesive” stamps that are in the shape of the mugs. 

             This one too comes off in the shape of the image.

Mr. Rakesh also made me look and smell  “Scented Stamps”.

You can look at more odd shaped stamps here: (http://www.stampboards.com/viewtopic.php?t=19158)

Q. I saw that stamps come in a sheet and at times they are part of a narrative.

A. Yes, they are called “Souvenir Sheets” :

A “Sheetlet” is the sheet with stamps having same design and a “Miniature Sheet” has 4 different stamps with border:

Q. So what is the price range of the Stamps you collect and sell?

A. It varies from stamp to stamp. I sell them on Market price. From minimum Rs. 10 it can go up to Rs. 1000.

Q. What is your opinion on the spread of this hobby and demand?

A. Though it is present in different parts of India, it has always been maximum in South India.

Q. Stamps are like visual fragments from different contexts, what is your opinion on the content in Indian stamps?

A. The maximum of these are based on Political Leaders, Freedom Fighters, Heritage, Flora and Fauna.

Q. Are contemporary images covered? Such as Metro?

A. No, Railways is there, Aircraft has started coming since last year, but not yet Metro.

Q. How did you gain so much knowledge about Stamps? Are there any books or courses on the same?

A. I was interested since childhood. No there are no courses. There are volumes published annually by Stanley Gibbons in England, which is the world’s oldest firm publishing manuals about Stamps.

It must have required immense passion as well as courage to take up an off beat profession as this. The shop which was established in 1980, and functions for the “sale and purchase” of Stamps has now also expanded to a website called http://www.stampexindia.com/ wherein collectors can place their orders online. The range of his vast collection can be viewed on this website. Being the only shop of this kind in Uttar Pradesh and among the rare ones dedicated solely to Philately, Mr. Rakesh has received customers from different parts of India. He says the work keeps him occupied enough to be wanting to expand anymore.

Q. Any plans for further expansion?

A. No, though demand in Meerut has reduced, It is because of networks outside Meerut that we function more.

Mr. Rakesh also told me about Dr. S.P. Gupta from Meerut who is among India’s most avid stamp collectors!

This visit was heart warming and very informative.

As I was about to leave, I recalled my brother’s childhood collection  and procured from him the following sheet of  3D Stamps (Finland). They are brilliant!


ALong with these I got the Tutankhamun and Kennedy’s Plastic Mould Stamps as well, perhaps more to initiate my own journey into Philately than anything else.

Mr. Rakesh, an extremely humble and gentle person, had been kind enough to give me his time and offered to share more on future visits (which are sure to happen). As if I wasn’t already indebted, with an innocent smile he added into my envelope a sweet gift. Two Korean 3D Stamps…

p.s. Mr. Rakesh also shared that during the Second World War due to shortage of paper, there were stamps out of Bank Notes, Maps etc.


What next

So, now we need Vaginal creams and gels, as if the plasticity of the face and the anorexic figures weren’t enough.  First we were blessed with a cream that would make your Vagina fair! wow, lovely! and now there is a gel that would tighten it to give you the experience of being “18 again”. How juvenile!

Umm honestly, who would want that experience again? Men!!! you are supposed to entice men, who would otherwise lose interest in you, go philandering around and hunt for other women once bored of you! It is your duty to tighten the grip, hence tighten the Vagina, hold on to the animalistic instinct!

Arrey bas bhi karo yaar…

I admire our openness to accepting sexuality (finally) as human (applause), but that does not mean that we create unnecessary myths around it. Their facebook page says “18 Again is a product that addresses intimate feminine concerns of women.” I have concerns, I am forced to keep them intimate, the fairness and grip of my vagina are definitely not among those.

They also give you tips:

“Happy Monday, Ladies!

Follow our quick tip for today as we continue speaking about how to keep your vagina healthy this week –

‘Minimize your sugar intake and maximize your yogurt intake.'”

And to be honest, many insecure women will actually believe a lot of trash they have to offer, most of them would want to buy it as well, ab bech rahe hain to kucch to fayeda hota hi hoga and so on. Yaar fir to sath mein issko bhi becho:

Ek ke sath ek free kar do.

This seems like a slightly more liberal branching out of the mystery surrounding sexuality:

Condom ke advertisement mein to tota ayega aur tightening gel ke liye stereotypical khoobsurat ambassadors :

I think high time we get over all this nonsense!

A few useful steps (I hope) :




Ek aur bus ka safar (read suffer)

Dilli se apne ghar aane ke liye mujhe  bus ka safar/mein suffer karna padhta hai. aksar bus mein safar karte hue, samay jaldi beet jata hai. Bus ki khidki se bahar ka nazara, sundar na sahi, ek screen samaan to hota hi hai.

Yeh bada zaroori samay hota hai, bahoton ke beech hote hue bhi aap akele hote hain aur chain se apne saare khyaal bator kar unpar dhyaan kar sakte hein. Kabhi kabhi ek aadh jhapki bhi li ja sakti hai magar mere hisaab se agar aapka dimaag upjau ho to iski zarurat kam hi padhti hai.

Waise ek bus mein kis variety ke kirdaar aapko milenge, yeh har baar ek unsolved mystery hoti hai. Mere manpasand hain chalte firte salesman. Achanak hi weh aap ke upar apni peculiar awaaz mein, oral storytelling ka dhava bolte hue ek interactive sales sesssion rachenge.

Haath mein pakadne ka sahuliat bhara pankha, ya 10 rupees mein 3 gel pens, ya fir har marz ki ek dawa!

Kafi mehnet lagti hai convincing mein, zyadatar unhein bina kisi sale ke agle stop par utarna padhta hai.

Kabhi kabhar kuch jhagdalu kism ke log bhi milte hain, aur kai baar conductor se change ke liye musladhar yuddh bhi karte hain. Aise mein baki sabhi log, apni garrdan par jor dete hue, aur uncomfortable positions mein mud kar, us dilchasp vartalaap ko sunte evam unke chehron ke haseen haavbhaav ko taakte rehte hain, mano koi pikchar chaloo ho. Yeh maamla agar jaldi na sulajh paye, to koi socially responsible agent apni buland awaaz mein unhein unki tarr tarr band karne ko kehta hai, jispar ya to sudden pin drop silence hoti hai, ya phir do ke bajaye teen log jhagadne lagte hain. Har baar ek alag tarah se sulah ki jaati hai.

Mujhe hamesha hi humare desh je naujavanon ki creativity par bada naaz hota hai. Jaise hi bus mein koi yuvati kadam rakhti hai, to unhein kaise taaka jaye, har naujavan bade hi anokhe dhang se is kala ko darshata hai.

Bus ke stand pahunchne ke 10 minute pehle se hi khalbali mach jati hai, mano ki bus stand par rukegi hi nahin, aur unhein pahle hi koodna padega. Kafi log to dar ke maare sach mein pehle hi kood padhte hain, akhir dar ke aage jeet hai. Par aksar aisa koi “kool” naujawan aapko milega jo unko dekh ek condescending muskaan dega aur araam se, kanon mein ear plugs lagaye baitha rahega, aur jab bus ruk jayegi, sab utar jayenge aur dilli jaane wale chadhne lageinge, tab shaan se bahar uttrega, akhir har hindustani ladke mein kahin na kahin thoda 90’s ka Hero chhipa hi hai.

Khair ab mujhe chai banani hai, baki phir kabhi.