Love in the time of the monumental

‘The black, pensive, dense/domes of the mausoleums/suddenly shot birds/into the unanimous blue.’ —‘In the Lodi Gardens’, Octavio Paz ‘Yeh kahan aa gaye hum, yunhi saath chalte chalte...’ —Silsila (1981) As an anthropologist of space, place and architecture, I have always wondered about the monument. Moving back to Delhi, the city of monuments, a cryptographic ensemble of… Continue reading Love in the time of the monumental


City on the move, in fragments

Paintings by Ritika Sharma from the series Journey in Chaos. ‘Out of the way It’s a busy day I’ve got things on my mind’—Us and Them, Pink Floyd Prologue A long serpentine queue at the metro security check. The baggage machine is ‘out of order’, a cardboard notice informs passengers. Bodies nudging, fidgeting, sighing, muttering.… Continue reading City on the move, in fragments

A topography of survival: mnemonics and the making of a street in Delhi

This piece was originally published in The Funambulist 12 (July–August 2017) Racialized Incarcerations as part of the ‘Political Walks’. ‘Never forget 1984.’ —Poster in Bhogal Chowk, Delhi, 2017 ‘Story telling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it’ —Hannah Arendt, 1962 The idea behind this essay goes back to a conversation in a classroom… Continue reading A topography of survival: mnemonics and the making of a street in Delhi

Of my shahar and its stories, or how to love an ‘unloved’ city

‘When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city? / Do you huddle close together because you love each other?” / What will you answer? “We all dwell together / To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?’ — T.S. Eliot Recently, while travelling in a DTC bus in the… Continue reading Of my shahar and its stories, or how to love an ‘unloved’ city

Making horizons, making cities: reading a moment through three languages

Buildings are languages spoken at the intersections of space and time in the making of the city. Weathering languages, stealth blue concrete high-rises, sometimes speaking in Russian in the NDMC rashtra bhasha corridors. There is babble on the street, incremental refugee colonies, with Punjabi baroque and Arya Samaj façades, Bengali Victorian art deco balconies and… Continue reading Making horizons, making cities: reading a moment through three languages

One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go

Imagine yourself in the lanes of 18th-century Delhi, playing a pipe as you are walking along and getting invited to a popular coffee haunt in the city. This is the arrival scene of James Allen (b. 1734), a ‘celebrated’ Northumberland piper, as described in an 1828 book on his travels and adventures (A New, Improved,… Continue reading One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go

To walk or not to walk

‘Walking shares with making and working that crucial element of engagement of the body and the mind with the world, of knowing the world through the body and the body through the world.’—Rebecca Solnit I keep hearing many people in Delhi grumble that the city is not meant to be walked in—pavements are perpetually ‘in-repair’… Continue reading To walk or not to walk

Seeing the city, one mug at a time

‘Have you seen this ethnography on the erstwhile Volga restaurant of Connaught Place?’ I asked someone during a conversation. ‘Is it a movie, since you are asking about seeing it?’ was the immediate response. Somewhere in the last few decades, we have started using ‘seeing’ with reference to text, meaning anything from ‘coming across’ something… Continue reading Seeing the city, one mug at a time

It’s not about birds

birdwatcher a person who watches and identifies wild birds (Merriam-Webster) a person who watches birds in their natural environment and identifies different breeds, as a hobby (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary) I am not sure if I qualify as a birdwatcher according to the above dictionary meanings—I love watching birds and observing their antics but struggle with… Continue reading It’s not about birds

How many houses can you count in Jhabvala’s portrayal of this Old Delhi lane?

The buildings are tall. They are densely packed together. Some go really high, adding yet another half-floor, covered by a slanted tin-shade. Others fall short in claiming their position in the skyline, only because they are next to tall ones. Yet, two-thirds of this watercolour is devoted to depiction of the sky, covered in dark… Continue reading How many houses can you count in Jhabvala’s portrayal of this Old Delhi lane?

Dilli ke Dukaan

Delhi, like all cities, is animated by its large numbers and diverse kinds of vendors who populate its streets, alleys, pavements and bazaars. These vendors provide cheap (or not so cheap) goods and services and make for convenient shopping across classes, but more importantly, they enliven and embellish the otherwise plain streets, creating their raunaq.… Continue reading Dilli ke Dukaan

Becoming of and in Jantar Mantar

For all my years in Delhi, my encounter with Jantar Mantar has been as a landmark to guide autowallas, a road where protests take place in Delhi or as a locality to have a cheap snack at the South Indian Snack Centre aka Kutty’s, popularly identified as the Jantar Mantar South Indian joint. I had… Continue reading Becoming of and in Jantar Mantar