An Ode to Your ‘Dilli’: This Book Traces the City in Good Old Maps
To the uninitiated Delhi/Dilli/Delhy enthusiast, it brings alive the fluid identity of the city you know and love.
Author: Pilar Maria Guerrieri
Niyogi Books, Rs. 4500
If you have lived in Delhi, or been interested in its history, or ever spouted/been at the receiving end of the millions of cliches about the city, you would probably like the big, fat tome that Pilar Maria Guerrieri’s Maps of Delhi is.
A carefully curated collection of maps of the city, published in varied formats and from a range of sources between 1803 and 1962, the book makes a chronological study of the evolution of Delhi from pre-colonial, largely isolated settlements into the dynamic, pastiche-personalitied urban centre that it today is.
It makes for an important academic resource, of course, but also provides crucial insights into changing patterns of settlement, modes of transport, economic activity, and urban planning in the barely contained chaos that all residents of Delhi will recognise as their own.
It is interesting to note that the first maps available to the writer are dated after 1803 – right after the Battle of Delhi, that was fought between the British troops led by General Lake and the Maratha army at Patparganj – current middle-class, upwardly mobile pocket of east Delhi. It is identified in a map used in the book as the area “to the right of the Putpurgunge Fort”.
Cartography and cartographic chronicling, therefore, seem to have become a function of the colonial enterprise, instead of having organically evolved as a form of indigenous historicisation.
The map referred to, a “Trigonometrical Survey of the Environs of Delhy”, appears more like an artistic sketch than an exact representation, but makes a mention of several settlements and structures – Cashmeer, Gate, Jumma Masjid, Raj Ghaut Gate, Chandi Chok & Canal – that have retained their identity, if not the same spelling, in contemporary Delhi.
Maps for the post-Mutiny decade of 1857-67 stand witness to the process of colonisation. Usually commissioned for military or administrative purposes, they show the stationing of troops, mark out battle areas, and later, indicate a nascent sort of surveillance of areas under control, carried out by the British imperial machinery.
Titled “The Seven Cities”, a map drawn in 1967 takes cognisance of the 7 primary settlements that came to define this newly emerging urban space. In a significant development, urban markers like temples, mosques, tombs, marketplaces, railway lines, even mohallas, begin to emerge – indicating, already, the melting pot status that gives most metropolises their distinctive identity.
The book also introduces the reader to the meticulous plans for Lutyen’s Delhi.
With the inauguration of New Delhi as the capital of India in 1931 by Lord Irwin – the then Viceroy – the city was now a key administrative centre, and contemporary maps show the segregation of races rather pointedly. The City Beautiful Movement that emerged in America in the early years of the 20th century and the Garden City Movement of the United Kingdom in the 1890s, both influenced the planning and layout of New Delhi, visualising it as a product of perfect planning. Perhaps not what the writer is drawing attention to, but the colonised nature of the urban space becomes impossible to ignore in all documentation post the Durbar of 1911.
The ambitiousness of the project stands in stark contrast to the post-1947 emergence of refugee colonies. The maps depict the city expanding, bifurcating clearly into the planned and unplanned, juxtaposing chaos and order.
Maps of Delhi serves as an excellent introduction to the cartographic history of the city, while being an aesthetic treat.
The maps are represented true to the originals, colour schemes retained, stains and markers of age not glossed away. Its merit lies not in nostalgia, however, but in its being a visual representation of the changes the city has undergone.
To the uninitiated Delhi/Dilli/Delhy enthusiast, it brings alive the fluid identity of the city. The book might have benefitted from detailed commentaries on the maps and from, if at all possible, cartographic attempts outside of the imperial domain – but the curation itself is a delight.
(Saloni Sharma reads an absurd number of books each year and is hopeful it’ll become a paying profession some day. Meanwhile, she teaches Literatures in English at Kirori Mal College, DU.)
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