City Monument – James Joyce Tower, Ansari Road
Landmark of literature.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
8am, Thursday, 16 June, 1904. Place is Martello Tower. City is Dublin, in Ireland.
This is the opening scene of James Joyce’s Ulysses. This year the modernist novel is celebrating its 100th anniversary since publication. Though only about a single day, the novel is notorious for being extremely difficult (sample a random line: “Listen: a fourworded wavespeech: seeesoo, hrss, rsseeiss, ooos.”). Most readers are said to give up by the third chapter (called the “episode” by snobbish Joyceans).
But you can cheat your way to celebrate this book, widely acknowledged the greatest novel of the 20th century. Whether you live in Delhi, or Gurgaon, or Ghaziabad, simply head to Martello Tower. Not the one in Dublin, but the one closer home, on Ansari Road.
Delhi and Dublin share this same piece of relic due to a common misfortune—both lands were colonised by the British. The two towers take their name and design from a 16th century fortress in the Mediterranean island of Corsica. The Brits raised these Mortellos across their empire. In Dublin, they built the aforementioned tower in 1804, on a coastline gnawed by the Irish Sea, to preempt invasion by Napoleonic forces. In Delhi, they built these same towers along the demolished wall of Shahjahanabad, after crushing the Uprising of 1857, to preempt further uprisings.
The Ansari Road Martello is connected to the remains of the Old Delhi wall by a narrow stone bridge, which lies broken exactly where it should have touched the tower. A drain flows underneath. This afternoon, white cranes are perched by the dirty water. The place is eerily quiet. Standing beside the tower, a Joycean adventurer ought to launch into the formidable novel by reading its first page aloud, the events of which unfold inside another similar tower. This has to be the only way for Ulysses readers in Delhi to get physically close to the novel’s Dublin.
Joyce once said he wants to give a picture of his Dublin so complete that “if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” One day if some ambitious writer aims to do that to Delhi, they might consider starting their book’s first “episode” set at this spot on Ansari Road.
PS: The tower in Dublin is now known as James Joyce Tower & Museum.
To the Ulysses