Travel Books - Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity
My memories of Delhi are somewhat vague. I remember snake charmers at the Red Fort and a ordering a hamburger at a Wimpy’s restaurant in Connaught Place that tasted odd, until I realized that my hamburger was actually a “Lambburger.” But otherwise I remember Delhi as a transit point on my road to other places in India. This is apparently a familiar trope with travelers. When Sam Miller first arrived in Delhi in the early 1990s, he disliked it. He felt that most of its residents were there on sufferance, “just passing through, camping in Delhi for a few years, or a few decades” until they could move on to someplace else, someplace better, like Mumbai. And when he returned in 2003 as a correspondent for the BBC, he only planned to stay a short time–six months–before he returned to London. But six months became nine months, and nine months became twelve, and he found that Delhi was growing on him. In the end, he and his family decided to stay. The city had seduced him, and he became a “warts-and-all devotee” of India’s rapidly growing capital city.
In Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity, Miller gives us a picture of his new home that travelers rarely see. He sets out on foot, starting at the city’s centre, in the British-designed and once-fashionable Connaught Place, and walks in a growing spiral around and around the city, unspooling until he reaches the outer suburbs. Along the way he visits mosques, Sufi shrines, schools, hospitals, crematoriums, factories, prisons, slums, offices, museums, garbage dumps, Baha’i temples, shopping malls, amusement parks, metro stations, blood donor clinics, porn movie houses, and anywhere else his peregrinations take him. Miller has many candid conversations with Delhi-ites from all walks of life. He captures the city’s energy, its corruption, its optimism, its cruelty, and its hospitality. His walk is not without its dangers. He falls down an open manhole and is chased by man-eating pigs. But he also meets with great good humor, often in the most desolate circumstances.
We hear a great deal about the Asian economic miracle these days, and how the twenty-first century belongs to India, but Miller’s book, while not dismissing those claims, shows that they come at a cost. Not everyone is being swept along by the booming economy, many are being left behind, and the price of unbridled growth is often severe environmental degradation. Still, even the poorest rag picker on the city’s mountain-like garbage dump has the dream of a better life. And I suppose that is something.
If you are going to Delhi, or have been, you will find Miller’s account of one of the world’s fastest growing cities fascinating.