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The Unattainable City

By Nirmala Jain
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 188, Rs.250.00


The fourteen chapters of Nirmala Jain's Dilli Sheher Dar Sheher (Delhi: Between Many Cities), were serialized in Jansatta and Hans. They are part-autobio-graphical, part-commentary on Delhi since the 1940s. The book opens with stories, anecdotes, sketches of spaces, corners and lanes, intimate accounts of locales, languages, tastes and smells of the Old City. Through them an active sense of the city of Nirmala Jain's childhood emerges. You walk through the city with her, moving through its streets and bazaars. This sensorial city is filled with stories; it is intimate, known and stable. Her beautiful deployment of the words utsav-premi, lovers of festivity, captures the hold this city has on her being. Alongside, she introduces us to an account of the making of New Delhi, or Lutyen's Delhi, a city that to its makers, as she tells us, was to last 300 years. Here the grandiosity of power, spaciousness and elegance become the terms through which she makes sense of the coming of the new city as well as its attempt to displace the older form of urban life of Delhi. As she puts it, this was a city intended as an imprint of the power to rule. An image of a city that emerges is a collage of a city: between the old and the new, a hybrid that brings together the closeness of the Old City and the capacity for grandeur and elegance of the new city. This is the composite that forms the imaginary of the city that is carried through the book. Writing about Delhi also invites writing through multiple jolts, fractures and inchoate dynamism. Even as accounts of disruptions, for example the Partition, can be part of the narrative of the making of a city, a question could be posed: Where will the contemporary city stand in relation to the idea of this imagined city? It is here that Nirmala Jain's book provides us some lines of enquiry. Nirmala Jain finished her graduation in Hindi literature from Delhi University in 1950, and returned there to do her M.A. in 1954. The 50s and 60s are decades of the making of the Hindi literary public-the expansion of the university, the arrival in Delhi of writers and poets from other parts of the country in the role of teachers, editors and journalists, the starting of many periodicals and journals of repute, the frequent formal and informal gatherings for discussion and ...

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