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Rhapsody in Stone

B.G. Verghese

By Malvika Singh and Rudrangshu Mukherjee
Concept and Visual Research: Pramod Kapur
Roli Books, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 239, Rs.1975.00


Edifices and monuments are built. Cities grow and evolve over time. There have, however, been exceptions. Mohammad bin Tughlak's Daulatabad was one. The mad emperor, as some thought of him, ordered that his capital in Delhi be abandoned and the Court be established hundreds of miles south in the Deccan. Akbar's Fatehpur Sikri was another. Both were short lived. Both had underlying visions of empire and new begin-nings. The making of New Delhi too was underlined by historical and imperial consi-derations. The new city was grafted on to its many progenitors, giving it an architectural and archaeological splendour and dimension that few cities can boast of. And it has survived to become the great capital of an ancient nation reborn, linking many pasts to a vibrant present and heralding no less a future despite some creeping ugliness. For those living here today, New Delhi is an established fact. For them, New Delhi lies in the burgeoning suburbs, malls and flyovers. But these are mere adjuncts to the making of a capital, the romance of which is unveiled in the fine narrative, spectacular documentation and pictorial representation of the unfolding of a great idea, a magnificent obsession of those who made a dream come true. This splendid volume enables the reader not just to understand but to witness almost the transition of a hot, dusty plain, through the vicissitudes of concepts, drawings, timetables, clearances and construction embellished into a majestic living reality. The Great Uprising marked the last hurrah, involuntary though it was, of the Mughal Empire centred on Delhi. India was formally brought under the Crown, with its seat of governance in Calcutta. Curzon had partitioned Bengal in 1905 both for administrative reasons as much as to mute growing nationalist voices led by the Congress, through a policy of divide and rule. The ploy aroused nationalist indignation. To assuage hurt feelings and reverse what had come to be seen as a false move, King George V announced a visit to India in 1911. The Coronation Durbar was symbolically held in Delhi where he proclaimed not just annulment of the partition of Bengal but the carving out of it of Bihar, Orissa and Assam, under a Lt-Governor and Chief Commissioner respectively. However, the big surprise lay in the announcement that the capital would move to Delhi. Rudrangshu Mukherjee tells the Calcutta story. Calcutta's gentry and box-wallahs were not just shocked but mad. How ...

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