The Delhi Walla Books – Novelist Anuja Chauhan’s Review
A bestselling author’s verdict.
[By Anuja Chauhan]
They say one of the greatest simple joys you can experience is to become a tourist in your own city. Just two books have actually made me do that – the first is William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns – and the second is Mayank Austen Soofi’s The Delhi Walla series. As winter creeps in, and the urge to bunk work and wander through the city in the winter sun kicks in, you can have no better companion than these slim, extremely well researched and evocatively written volumes. They’re light enough for you to carry a pattal of hot, smoky, masala and nimbu sprinkled shakkarkandi in your other hand, and they don’t look at all guide-booky, which is good news because then auto-wallahs don’t instantly hike their rates as soon as they spot the book in your hands.
The three books talk about 1) food 2) hangouts 3) monuments – the classification sounds dry, but the prose is lovingly, almost poetically written – specially when it describes Delhi street food. You can feel it when the crisp wafery fen is dipped into the piping hot tea, when the golguppa explodes like a fiery liquid bomb, when the jalebi is crunched into, releasing sinful rivulets of chaashni into the mouth.
Here is somebody who has obviously gotten off the busy main roads and spent many blissful hours exploring the winding gallis and secret bastis of our city. All the popular monuments are meticulously covered too, but you can tell that when he describes little known monuments like the Agrasen ki Baoli, the Hijron ka Khanqah or the Chausath Khamba in Nizamuddin Basti, Mayank is really writing from the heart. He’s spent a lot of time trawling through the markets, parks and bookstores too – as I flip through the books now, I can see atleast five places I’ve never heard off and am dying to explore – and I’ve lived in Delhi all my life!
The photographs in the books are very nuanced, very natural – and the texture is grainy – so they give a wonderfully underground, ‘in-the-know’ feeling to the books. Tourists will feel (and rightly!) that they’ve got access to stuff they won’t find in the Lonely Planet. Locals will feel the urge to bunk and wander through their glorious, underrated city, The Delhi Walla in hand, eating and drinking and marveling. As for me, I plan to pack up my laptop, take an auto to Majnu ka Teela and spend the day tucking into steamed chicken momos and strawberry lassi…
[The reviewer is the author of the bestselling novel The Zoya Factor. Her second novel, Battle For Bittora, was published in October 2010.]
Buy them, man!