Friday, November 29, 2013

#BookReview: Delhi Mostly Harmless : One Womans Vision of the City by Elizabeth Chatterjee

On the jacket:

... Nobody who lives there, nobody at all, has much good to say about Delhi. Along with Milton Keynes, Detroit and Purgatory, Delhi is one of the worlds great unloved destinations.

So when Elizabeth Chatterjee makes her way from the cool hum of Oxford to the demented June heat of heat of Delhi to research her PhD, she find herself both baffled and curious about the je ne sais quoi of this city of graveyards and tombstones.

As flanur and sagacious resident, Liz takes us through the serpentine power structures, the idyll, the bullshit peeling layer after layer of the city's skin to reveal its aspirations, its insecurity, its charm and finally its urban dissonance.

Uncannily perceptive, predictive and hysterical, Delhi Mostly Harmless puts a firm finger on the electric pulse of Delhi


I am not sure where to begin from, if I am to review this book. The book is about a young girl, part Indian, but never lived in India, who comes to live in India. Delhi, to be more specific. She is here to research for her PhD. Now, to an average Indian, this is not very appealing. Foreigners come to India, visit the dirtiest and most shady parts of cities and take back those memories. India might now be Europe, but it definitely is not all sewage and creepy people.

In Delhi Mostly Harmless, Chatterjee initially describes a city (Delhi) which I fail to connect with. There is a section towards the beginning of the book, where the author states that Delhi doesn't hold on to the world map like New York, Paris and London; in fact the city has no dominance with in the country also. Umm ... I disagree. Delhi is pretty dominant within the country, and as much outside the country as India is; it's the capital of the country after all! Though yes, Delhi is one the most unloved destinations of the world.

Moving on with the book, Chatterjee has spoken about her family, it's mixed heritage and how life is for them back home. Rest of the book is about a young girl with an Indian surname, but a face of a foreigner, trying to live in Delhi while she works on her PhD. Now, if we, as Indians would move to Delhi to study, however meager our resources, we would pick areas different from what Chatterjee chose. Why? Simply because our priorities differ, we are not used to roughing it up, however less our means are. So, Chatterjee's experiences are what we would never face, or even heard of.

As of today, Delhi is the most maligned city in the country. Morally, more. Chatterjee's better judgement too warns her against setting foot here, but she does. And then begins a journey, part humorous, of her finding a place to stay and so on.

From an agonizing search for a place to stay, Chatterjee has spoken about it all - from traffic, to weather, to politics, sanitation or lack of it, gender issues, social discrimination, the nation's economy, the good - everything. Oh, and the Indian men. And their stalker tendencies. There are parts where I wished there were more dialogues than a plain report like pattern, but the book builds momentum and becomes interesting.

The sad part was, while she has an Indian surname and part India in her genes, the average Indian will always see her skin colour and think of the dollars and ways to fleece her off them.

Rating: ****/5

[This review is for Random House India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]


  1. Dear Samarpita,
    Thank you for linking this to DIWM - R3 but not sure if the author is of Indian origin. Have written to her; awaiting confirmation.Taking the link off temporarily.

    Same case with IQRC too. If her origin isn't Indian then the review will be included in the database under 'Indian Based Books' but regretfully will not add to your IQRCscore. Best!

    p.s. if you have more info about the author please let me know.

    1. She was not born in India, but she is part Indian. Also, the book is about India, wouldn't that do? In fact, Vinay asked me the same question last night and I said, "Reshmy is reading it, so I am 'assuming without asking' that this book will do." :P
      Eitherways, I am good as long as it's going to the database. Your call :-)

    2. If she is part Indian, it will do. 'Indian Origin' :) Father's side?


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