The Delhi Walla Books – An Online Chat with Rediff Readers

The Delhi Walla Books – An Online Chat with Rediff Readers


Chatting on books, blogging and life in Delhi.

[Excerpts from the chat section of]

The Delhi Walla-Portraits is the fourth and final volume in a series of books that brings together the best of writer-photographer Mayank Austen Soofi’s website The Delhi Walla. Since 2007, Soofi’s online musings and pictures have covered the many aspects of life in the capital in a series of rich and myriad offerings. Portraits is a compilation of his various encounters with Delhiites, from eunuchs to models and celebrated authors like Khushwant Singh and Arundhati Roy.

Now, in a chat with rediff readers, The Delhi Walla will discuss his writings, his latest book and his love for the city that is his muse. So tune in for a chat with Mayank Austen Soofi, July 21, between 3 pm and 4 pm IST, right here!

Mayank Austen Soofi says, Hello. This is mayank here. Waiting to take questions.

Mamu asked, Dear Mayank… tell us what inspired you to start blogging and then converting your blogs into a compilation.
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Hello Mamu. I was always a writer. But I was working as a waiter and had no opportunity through which I could have published my pieces. So, that is how blogging happened. I started publishing for myself at no cost. That’s a very simple reply. Actually, I just want to understand the immediate world I live in. And I can crack things only by writing. And once I have written something, I always want to share my understanding or misunderstanding of things with other people.

Ramesh asked, I must confess I haven’t read a lot of your books but I would like to know what’s the story behind your name Mayank Austen Soofi?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Well, I had a Hindu caste name. But I don’t want people to judge me by my last name. So Mayank, which means moon in Sanskrit, was the name my parents gave to me. Austen happened because I’m passionate about the intelligent wit of Jane Austen. And Soofi: because I love Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. His dargah courtyard in central Delhi is my true home.

Arch asked, What is it about Delhi that sets it apart from other Indian cities? What is unique about it?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Delhi is unique. Yes. But Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh too is unique. And so is Kottayam in Kerala. I guess all cities have their own hidden mix of beauty and ugliness that sets them apart from each other. What I love about Delhi is that it is big and you can straddle through many worlds within a few kilometers. Nizamuddin Basti is like Arabian Nights Baghdad. Khan Market is – well – like a great bubble (I love it) and Tilak Nagar is a world completely different from, say, Saket.

Roy asked, I read somewhere that you were disappointed at not being invited to the Jaipur Lit fest last year. Will you be invited this year?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Well, I’m doing a new book. It’s a non-fiction and it’s for Penguin. I think it’s coming out great. So, yes dear friend, I hope I might be invited to Jaipur finally(!) next year. But hey, I might not go. I have a stage fright!

Suniti asked, Delhi isn’t exactly a civilised city. And yet you romanticise it. Why the hell?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Being civilised is too boring. About the romantic part: if you go through my work, you will find that it focuses on people living difficult lives. And I never ever pretend that this is the lovely way.

Dhanya asked, Are you from Delhi? what is the best part of living in Delhi?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, I’m from Delhi because I’m living here. But I was not born and brought up in this city. I cannot tell you a definitive answer about the best part of living in Delhi. It has more than 13 million people and we all have our own Delhis. Some people think Amichi restaurant is the best part of living in Delhi. Some think it is the GB Road red light district. To me, it is the fortune of visiting so many sufi shrines in one single city.

Neha asked, Wow, you said you were working as a waiter! Could you please tell those who are unwilling to take risks for various reasons must do to make their dreams come true.
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Dreams are all right but we need to take care of our bills. My experience is that doing lowly jobs is a great thing. The greater thing is being shouted upon by bosses. It gives a perspective that is very important, especially if you fancy yourself as an artist.

Arco asked, Why write about a metropolitan city always? There is so much that can be written about interesting life and people in the interior parts of the country. Why did you choose a popular subject and city like Delhi?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, You are so right. Delhi is not the world. But I live here, and I feel if I can crack even .0001 per cent of this city, I’ll die a content man.

Traveller asked, Hello Mayank! Why are Dilli cabbies, so fraud? I mean from a 20-year-old cabbie to a 60-year-old, most of them dupe you. It’s as if the legacy has been passed on from one generation to another. Will you be writing about them?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, You are stereotyping people. That’s unimaginative.

Arch asked, One of Delhi’s best places to visit is Humayun’s Tomb but there are other places like Ghalib’s tomb that have never got their dues. You had written about Ghalib’s new tomb complex etc as a revival plan that was to come up last year. Has it happened?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, It did happen but I never see people inside. You must go there. And spend an entire day there, with a poetry book by Ghalib, or Anna Akhmatova, or anybody else you fancy. You will love the experience.

Mumbaimerijaan asked, Your site says you live in a library. Is that true?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Yes.

Traveller asked, Any tips for budding bloggers?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, No tips. But I can share my experience. I write without intending to be provocative. When I blog about something, I make sure that I’m not hurting peoples’ religious feelings. And I don’t like writing bad things about people. No point. I keep faith in my writing. I don’t loose sleep when I don’t receive any comment.

Kirti asked, As a person who writes about the experiences of a city as a living place, what is your usual day like?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Morning. Looking at the Hauz Khas monument. Jogging in Deer Park. Black coffee in Green Park’s Costa Coffee. Noon. Reading a novel in Lodhi Garden. Eating in Old Delhi streets. Hanging out with shadow people. Night. Nizamuddin Dargah.

Kirti asked, But you did say Arundhati Roy is your favouritest Dilliwalah, so she does top the list, doesn’t she?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, She has not compromised her views to flatter the big media. I love her originality of thinking. This is what I got from her: ability to look at things differently, never to simplify complicated things, and never to complicate simple things.

Jeena asked, Hi Mayank, what is that one thing about Delhi that you will not find elsewhere?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Hi, there are many things. Nizamuddin Dargah. Khan Market bookstores. Lodhi Garden. The Jama Masjid built by Shahjahan. Delhi’s foresty ridge. Sunday Book Bazaar in Daryaganj. The experience of eating gobhi manchurian in Lajpat Nagar Central Market… and I can go on and on.

Mumbaikar asked, Hi Mayank, what are some of your favourite books about Delhi? I liked the description of Delhi in ‘The Last Mughal’ very much.
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, It was a good book. I also like Ahmad Ali’s ‘Twilight in Delhi’. Have you read Anita Desai’s ‘In Custody’? Beautiful! Then I liked some Delhi passages in Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight Children’. And I loved the Khan Market’s The Bookshop scene in Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’.

Sulekha asked, Have you been to Mumbai? What sets Delhi apart from Mumbai? Why is it that Mumbaiwallahs hate Delhites and vice versa?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, Bombay people hate Delhi? I don’t think so. Every time I go to Bombay, I feel like a villager. What a great city and what fantastic high rises.

Mumbaikar asked, Was it difficult selling your book ideas to publishers? What is your next book about?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, The publisher came to me! Shh, the new project is a secret. But it will be THE Delhi book. Promise.

Anna asked, What do you prefer: Old Delhi or New Delhi?
Mayank Austen Soofi answers, I love Old Delhi. But I want to have a large bungalow – complete with big cars and uniformed domestics – in Jor Bagh, south Delhi.

Mayank Austen Soofi says, It was good to chat. Thank you.