All posts by Nilanjana Roy

Writer, reader, curator of interestingness. Author of The Wildings (Aleph, 2012) ; The Hundred Names of Darkness will be out in Dec 2013. Columnist on books (for the Business Standard) and gender.

“Please leave him alone”: reading Perumal Murugan

(Published in the Business Standard, 20 January 2015)

The day before Perumal Murugan declared Perumal Murugan, the author, dead, I had begun reading his novel One Part Woman on my Kindle. The download of the book was prompted by fellow readers of an unpleasant sort – professional offence-takers, who had been harassing Murugan with threats since December.

One Part Woman is about a childless couple whose lives change after they take recourse to an old temple ritual, a day of special licence, so that the wife, Ponna, can have a child. The offence takers had shrunk the intricate world of the novel, narrowing it down to the complaint that Murugan had offended the Gounder community by speaking of the ritual.

Two years before Murugan felt the need to kill off his writer self, I had read his novel Seasons of the Palm with intense interest, spurred by a profile of the author and professor in the Caravan magazine written by N Kalyan Raman in December 2013. Raman, translator and critic, had placed Perumal Murugan’s four novels against the backdrop of the tradition of “vattaara ilakkiyam”, or sub-regional literature, explaining that while these were praised for their mann vaasanai (fragrance of the soil), they were felt to lack the universality of mainstream literature.

But Raman disagreed with this assessment, and in his essay, he unwrapped the riches of Murugan’s Kongunadu novels – making special note of the landscape, both geographical and social, of Thiruchengodu and other places – in such a way that he must have sent many other readers off to the library as well as me.

In his final paragraph, he wrote: “It is a curious paradox that even as progressive Indians would like to abolish the caste system, they have little or no understanding of the lived reality of specific caste groups in their traditional homelands. Even as these communities are stalked and often dispossessed by the forces of modernisation, they remain hostage to the ways of the past that have sustained them for centuries. Will they ever be able to enter a secular future? Perumal Murugan has at least shown us a glimpse of what our collective struggle may be about.”

Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman (Madhorubhagan, 2000) was translated into English in 2013 by Aniruddh Vasudevan. In December 2014, reports came in that the Hindu Munnani and other caste organisations had launched a campaign against the book. They had political support – Tiruchengode town Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh President Mahalingam led “more than 50 cadres” in a march; they burned copies of Murugan’s book in front of the local police station in December 2014.

On January 12, the district administration called the author in for “peace talks”; instead of upholding the author’s rights, officials told him to issue an unconditional apology. Murugan wrote a short, blunt note on his Facebook page: “Author Perumal Murugan has died.” He said he would withdraw all his books and writings, and requested all “caste, religious and political” groups not to engage in protests or create problems. “Please leave him alone,” the note ends.

Like so many others in India and elsewhere, I am tired of writing indignant columns that point out the uses of and defend the need for freedom of expression, or rail against the rising tide of violence that artists, writers and ordinary people not affiliated to political parties or well-organised religious protesters face. Many Indians – lawyers, journalists and writers, yes, but also just aam junta (common man) – are also tired of pointing out that we had predicted that offence laws would have terrible repercussions.

It is not just power-hungry preachers from all faiths, and politicians ditto, who use these laws as bludgeons, but castes and communities. They should really form a giant group of cultural censors, deleting from the official record all viewpoints that have challenged or critiqued caste, communities and religions in India. This would in effect erase most of the gains made by gender, environmental groups and civil rights movements over the last six decades.

Meanwhile, in my small corner of Delhi, I am trying to read the works of Perumal Murugan in peace. Tamil writers had been speaking in his defence in local papers from December onwards; at the Hindu Lit for Life festival in Chennai last week, statements of support for Murugan are made, and at the Kochi Biennale, the assembled artists hold a mass reading from Madhorubhagan.

I would like to believe that these gestures will be enough to keep the books alive, but there have been too many empty chairs in our lives – one for the late MF Husain, one for Salman Rushdie, too many for all the film-makers and playwrights from Deepa Mehta to Habib Tanvir who faced violence and disruptions through their careers, too many for the rationalists exiled, like Sanal Edamaruku, or gunned down, like the late Narendra Dabholkar. In time, unless the offence laws change, this climate where thugs rule and he who has the biggest mob wins will prevail; and bookshops will silently take Perumal Murugan’s books off the shelves.

I turn back to One Part Woman with these thoughts buzzing in my mind, and then, over the next few hours, the voices of the protestors recede, the threats and righteous indignation of offence-takers are muted.

Murugan’s own voice as a writer is quiet, imbued with love for the landscape and for the forgotten bits of land between two villages, for instance – the Narikkaradu, the Fox Land. His novel speaks to (and for) women trapped between the demands of society and the high cost of transgressing social norms, and it unpacks the way caste works in a community as simply and naturally as a gifted child takes apart a clockwork toy, to see how it works. As time passes, I am drawn into the intricate tracery of friendships he weaves, the way in which the village’s history from the times of the British winds itself around the lives of Ponna and Kali.

Perhaps the only free space we have any more, until these times change, is here, in the private compact between writers and their readers that takes place in the wide, broad-bordered lands inside our own heads.

In this land, the offence-takers and the angry protestors have no valid visas and cannot cross the frontiers. In this imaginary world, the author Perumal Murugan has not died, nor have his books; he continues to write, with close, loving attention to the places he knows so intimately, free from the fear of violence. In this country, if nowhere else, all is well.

From France to India, Charlie Hebdo and the promise of free speech

Poster by Sanjay Sipahimalani; from Vikram Seth's speech at the Kolkata Book Fair.
Poster by Sanjay Sipahimalani; from Vikram Seth’s speech at the Kolkata Book Fair.

Wrote this in some sadness for the Huffington Post. It was published on January 10, a few days after the murders of the editorial team and others, including bodyguards and police officers, at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

“Responsibility cuts both ways. It is true that you cannot reason with a fundamentalist, of any religion, that there is no rational argument to be had with armed men bent on murder. But civil society and religious organizations have their responsibilities, too, and one of them is to enable and support those who want the freedom to question, to create, to debunk, and yes, even to mock. It must be kept in mind that what the team at Charlie Hebdo died for was not just the right to offend, but also the right to challenge and question everything — including religion, including Islam.

The promise of free speech goes far beyond the schoolboy thrill of being able to offend; the real promise of free speech is that we all hope to live uncensored lives, free to create in peace, and free to ask questions of or satirize the leaders, and the institutions, that run our everyday lives.”

What to read in…

…2015: http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/what-to-read-in-2015-114122600994_1.html

And the best of the fiction and non-fiction from 2014:

http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/nilanjana-s-roy-the-fiction-round-up-115010500922_1.html

http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/the-best-non-fiction-of-2014-114122201069_1.html

(Despite the Kindle, I still do this the old-fashioned way: pile the books up on the dining table and pick out the favourites. There’s always too many to include, but at least some of the best get through.)

Speaking Volumes: Mr Mistry’s homecoming

(Published in the Business Standard, December 8, 2014)

“Mother said what she liked best was his remembering everything so well, how beautifully he wrote about it all, even the sad things, and though he changed some of it, and used his imagination, there was truth in it.”
– “Swimming Lessons”
, Tales From Firozsha Baag

The group of women queuing for their lattes at the Times of India literary festival at held copies of Rohinton Mistry’s novels aloft with the triumph of successful autograph hunters. None of the books were new; one woman, a nursery schoolteacher in her 20s, had brought her college copy of A Fine Balance, while her friend clutched a second-hand, now 10-year-old copy of that she’d bought from a pavement bookseller on Flora Fountain.

One girl had brought her student copy of Such A Long Journey from her days at University of Bombay. She had graduated in 2009, the year before Mr Mistry’s novel was, memorably and disgracefully, burned by the student wing of the Shiv Sena, and dropped from the syllabus at the university. “It feels good to get his signature on this,” she said. She did not complain directly about the burning or the banning of the book, but she said, “I liked reading it when I was a student. People should be able to read good novels, no?” She traced Mr Mistry’s signature as she was talking, her fingers touching the ink lightly and with love.

When Mr Mistry had read from his works the previous day, she and her friends had been among the group of readers at the back who had been identifying characters and passages, annotating his readings with their whispered sharings as they compared their memories of his novels.

In comparison with many writers, Mr Mistry has a small oeuvre – three collections of short stories, of which Tales From Firozsha Baag is probably the best loved, and three novels, Such A Long Journey, and Family Matters. But the collected works have a power that exceeds those of many longer bibliographies. His novels tend to stay in readers’ memories in a way that many more experimental novels don’t – Mr Mistry said in one of his interviews that he prefers honest books to clever books, which is a succinct description of his own writing.

Mr Mistry came to writing relatively late; he studied mathematics at the University of Bombay and had a job in customer service at a Toronto bank when he took a course in literature along with his wife, Freny. She graduated from the course and became a teacher; he began writing short stories, almost pitch-perfect right from the start, and soon left the dubious pleasures of customer services behind in favour of the writing life.

In one of my favourite stories, “Swimming Lessons”, a man in Canada decides to finally learn how to swim, remembering the sea off Chowpatty (“it seemed that the dirtier it became, the more crowds it attracted”); his memories are punctuated by the exchanges between his father and mother at home in India, sharing the stories their writer son has sent them by parcel post. Their wonder – “our son is a writer and we didn’t even know it, here we are thinking he is still clerking away” – is followed by a set of quiet exchanges between them: does the writer write about India because he is unhappy in his new country, or is he just, as the father argues, using his memory and his experiences to shape his fiction?

They share the stories back and forth, taking it in turns to read each one, and the argument over what fiction is for and what writing should be continues, parallel to the main narrative.

That set of exchanges on the need for stories and the art of storytelling came back to me when Mr Mistry read from his works on the second day of the festival. His voice is resonant and controlled, and he has a flair for timing, honed perhaps from his many years of performances as a folk singer. His friends say he is not so much a recluse as a very private man; even so, set him in front of an audience, and he becomes as eloquent a storyteller off the page as he is on it.

He had – finally, after several years of people trying and failing to persuade him to make a public appearance in India – given in to the persuasion of the organisers. In April, Bachi Karkaria reported that Aditya Thackeray, who had led the protest against Mr Mistry’s novel in 2010, had been asked at a meeting in Dadar’s Parsi Colony if Mr Mistry could revisit the city of his birth without fear; Mr Thackeray had said that the author would be free to come. Mr Mistry mentioned the Shiv Sena in passing: “My first thought [on hearing about the ban on Such A Long Journey] was, did it take them 19 years to come across it? I’ve heard of slow cooking, but slow reading? I heard that the sales of the book went up after that.” The audience roared in appreciative laughter.

He stayed in form when he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday. “A lifetime achievement award is a funny sort of thing, like a death or a funeral,” said Mr Mistry. “When an author gets one, it reminds me of his or her books. It is also the beginning of the end.” And then he took over the mike, singing Don’t Fence Me In and old Bing Crosby numbers, reminiscing about his Bombay childhood and his memories of listening to The Beatles and old Broadway musicals.

Mr Mistry has won many prizes over the years – the Giller Prize, the Neustadt and the Commonwealth among them – but some celebrations are particularly special, and some victories are quiet, not noisy, triumphs. It had been just four years since the city had been told that Mr Mistry was off limits, but now Mumbai gladly rose to celebrate one of its favourite authors and outside Mehboob Studio readers bought his books without fear or fuss.


Murder She Wrote: PD James

(Published in the Business Standard, November 29, 2014, in memory of the late Baroness PD James and her books.)

In the five decades between her first book, Cover Her Face, published when she was 42, and her last, Death Comes to Pemberley, published when she was 91, the Rt Hon Phyllis Dorothy James murdered over a score of characters. She had a knack for it; the reading public thought so too, devouring the 14 Adam Dalgliesh novels and the two Cordelia Gray mysteries.

When she died this week at the age of 94, she had reigned over the world of crime fiction, drawing in both the kind of reader who had a taste of Agatha Christie’s tidy village mysteries and the sort who preferred the new, bloodier school of Nordic-inspired thrillers. Her books may have had old-fashioned settings – from Oxbridge to Jane Austen’s fictional estates—but she had a cold eye; she saw the skull beneath the skin quite clearly.

“I had an interest in death from an early age,” PD James acknowledged in her Paris Review interview. “It fascinated me. When I heard, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, I thought, Did he fall or was he pushed?”

Many reviewers felt there was much of her in Adam Dalgliesh, the Detective Chief-Inspector who rose over the 14 books in which he featured to the heights of Commander. Dalgliesh is sensitive, compassionate, a poet who grew up in a vicarage, but also a quietly relentless tracker of evil, a fullblooded widower who has discreet romances, one of them (mentioned in an aside) with PD James’ other sleuth, Cordelia Gray.

James loved the city of Cambridge, and based some of murders in university towns, but she herself had not attended university; her father felt that women did not need a higher education. She did assorted jobs, taking up full-time employment in hospital administration after her husband came back from the Second World War with a serious psychiatric disorder. PD James cared for him, and for their daughters with the help of their families, until his death in 1964. She had written Cover Her Face and A Mind To Murder by then, and would continue to write at a steady, even pace, producing a book roughly every two-and-a-half years or so.

Her notes for each mystery were kept in carefully organised notebooks, around 7 to 15 for each novel, recording details of landscape, the history of the time, the lives of the characters, the ways in which they were to die or to kill. She had trained herself to rise early and write before the bustle of the household began; this settled into lifelong habit, and she was known for writing between 8 am and 12 noon on most days.

It was the keen edge of her craft that made a PD James novel so satisfying, as much as the human frisson of reading about someone else’s tragedies. Robert J Ray records a lecture by James in a 1987 article in the Orange Coast magazine:

“Remember these four things. First, the body must be discovered by an innocent, a child or an unsuspecting citizen. That increases the shock value for the reader, who sees through innocent eyes. Second, the body should appear early, preferably in line one of chapter one, but no later than chapter two. Third, you cannot as a writer enter the point-of-view of a killer after the body has been discovered, after the reader knows there’s been a crime committed. Otherwise, you give it all away, because the killer, being human, is re-thinking the murder. Fourth, the killer should not be revealed until 60 per cent of the book is done.”

By 1991, she had become a national asset, a position confirmed when she was made Baroness James of Holland Park. James had her critics – many said that her novels were of the old conservative school, that the settings were both tidy and old-fashioned. But as PD James wrote in the introduction to one of her omnibuses, the modern detective story remained, despite some shifts, a reassuring genre. “It distances for us the atavistic fear of death and by fictionalizing it… helps us to come to terms with its inevitability. It affirms the sanctity of the individual human life and confirms our belief that we live in a generally benevolent and rational human universe.”

She had no fear of death, herself; a lifetime of exploring the fragility and precariousness of human life had only strengthened her faith. The pleasure in having lived a rich life came through in many of the interviews she gave after the age of 80. After her death, the first tributes to the Baroness came from Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, the next generation of crime writers paying tribute to the grande dame of their genre. They owed PD James much, and they were proud to acknowledge that debt.

Speaking Volumes: The History House

(Published in the Business Standard, November 24, 2014)

The of is situated in a quiet lane, away from Dhaka’s background traffic-jam roar, in a graceful two-storied whitewashed bungalow. It is a peaceful setting in which to try to understand history and the horrors of 1971.

The museum started only in 1996, with a few hand-curated exhibits. Over time, Mofidul Hoque and the other curators at the museum had put together a small but moving record of the genocide that accompanied Bangladesh’s birth as a nation. Many of us writers, in Dhaka for the Hay Festival, had found time to visit; Salil Tripathi, author of The Colonel Who Would Not Repent, a non-fiction account of 1971 that includes many interviews with survivors, had told me that the museum should not be missed.

A man was thatching the roof of a small sitout in the courtyard, his movements expert and unhurried. As we moved through the house, each room opened up slowly, taking visitors from the history of this part of Bengal to the great protests that brought students and citizens out into the streets of Dhaka into the 1960s. Photographs of the war were in the last room of the ground floor; you ascended up a wooden staircase into the worst of the slaughter of 1971. The Liberation War Museum had collected over 14,000 memorabilia, Mr Hoque had written in a 2010 letter; what was on display was a fraction of the memories they had so painstakingly gathered.

I had just finished reading David Finkel’s moving and disconcerting Thank You For Your Service. Mr Finkel, one of The Washington Post‘s most meticulous reporters, had been embedded in Iraq in 2007, publishing his experiences in (2009). Thank You For Your Service went deep into the trauma and struggles to adapt to life after war of the many United States veterans.

“Every war has its afterwar,” Mr Finkel had written, “and so it was with the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, which have created some 500,000 mentally wounded American veterans. How to grasp the true size of such a number, and all of its implications, especially in a country that paid such scant attention to the wars in the first place? One way would be to imagine the five hundred thousand in total, perhaps as points on a map of America, all suddenly illuminated at once. The sight would be of a country glowing from coast to coast.”

That was one side of it; the other was the constant struggle – consistent for writers, archivists and historians across centuries – to convey what the victims and survivors of war had to grapple with. Despite his years of covering war as a correspondent, Mr Finkel wasn’t prepared for what he would encounter when he tried to track the “afterwar” and the lives of soldiers coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. He told the online magazine Guernica that he had few illusions about the impact of his book – he did not expect to be able to affect war policy, but he hoped to bring the suffering of the afterwar into the light.

In one of the most powerful chapters of The Colonel Who Would Not Repent, Mr Tripathi went to speak to the biranganas, the women who had survived the war despite being raped and often tortured. He went in with many doubts: “Why would women want to open up their lives to me, a foreigner, an outsider, a man who came to visit them and asked questions, asking them to go over some of the most painful moments of their lives … And what would they get out of that exercise?”

His hope was to talk to the women, not as a voyeur, nor as someone promising “justice or an income”, just to listen with sympathy and empathy. He met 28 survivors, eventually, and wrote: “I decided to tell the story of each woman I met, because each experience taught me something new. It is easy to talk of a ‘quarter of a million rapes’ and think that each violent encounter was the same. It never is. I owed them the decency, the courtesy, of recognizing that.”

Ahead of me, two students spoke in Bangla, in low urgent murmurs. One boy was visibly disturbed. Why were they here, he asked repeatedly. The war was history. It was over. Was there any use in seeing these disturbing, shattering images of the dead, the dying, and those about to die? His monologue weaved ahead of me like a guide’s patter, filling the pause between each devastating story and the next – the two babies, turning to each other for comfort moments before their death, the coat taken off the body of a doctor murdered by the razakars, the torture ligatures on a student’s upraised hands. His friend listened, not saying anything, until the boy was finally silent; then he said in Bangla, but if we don’t know what they did, how will we prevent it from happening again?

They left, and I walked into the last room, coming face-to-face with a small collection of skulls and human bones, respectfully collected in a glass case. Nothing about the Liberation Museum was designed to shock, but the unexpectedness of this stopped me cold; perhaps it was also that there were only a few skulls, some bones, not the great charnel houses that pay silent witness to the killing fields of Cambodia. I turned away, held by that instinctive human fear of the dead.

And then something happened that I cannot explain. Perhaps it was the way the exhibits had been collected, the poignancy of the individual enamel tea cups or jackets, the shaving kits or the handwritten notes. The scale of what had happened in that old massacre began to sink into my brain: the immensity of the loss, the vast numbers of those whose lives had been winnowed in the slaughter, the high cost of every human conflict, then and now.

When I looked again at the grey bones, I did not see the anonymous dead; instead, I thought of the people they had once been, students making handwritten signs for the protests, rickshaw-pullers resting in the cool spaces of the evening, professors collecting their notes in preparation for a lecture at Dhaka University. Perhaps it was Mr Finkel’s words and Mr Tripathi’s writings, but the fear of the dead lifted and disappeared. The only thing I wanted to say to them was futile but also heartfelt: how sorry I was, that their lives had been cut short by horror and war, how I wished these evils would never happen again.

Speaking Volumes: “It was Delhi, you know.”

(Published in the Business Standard, November 10, 2014)

Unless you go very early in the morning to Chandni Chowk, before dawn, an hour or so after the flowersellers market has opened, it is hard to see in today’s city of politicians the “Dilhi” where poets once ruled.

That city can be imagined easily enough in the sliver of time between dawn and about 9 a m, as the great ancient markets stir and the lanes – quiet, narrow, not yet crowded with porters, handcarts and Honda sedans – see some of the old havelis open their doors.

It is not difficult then to conjure up this city: “The breezes that blew so pleasantly through the lanes and bazaars of resonated anyway with the poetry of Mirza Bedil, his disciple Achal Das, his friend … The winds wafted away the poetry to far-off places.”

But then the present takes over firmly from the past, and Ghalib’s ghost leaves, ushered out by the raucous bargaining of the traders, the silversmiths in Dariba and the costumesellers in Kinari Bazaar.

- critic, scholar, poet, editor and novelist – published in 2001, completing this translation from the Urdu himself some years later. In the absence of a literary history of the mushairas, poets, teachers, printing presses, historians and writers whose darbars rivalled the official ones over north India from Lucknow to Varanasi to Delhi, these five long stories serve as both literary entertainment and as history.

To read is to be reminded not just of the poets and their passions, but of the many centuries when this part of India took literature as seriously as it did politics. Perhaps more seriously, for rulers came and went, but a good ghazal or dastan would last the ages.

Mr Faruqi translates in harmony with the spirit of the age he is writing about, using a brisk, contemporary English woven through with terms like “The Guide and Mentor, who occupies the station of the Tongue Unseen”.

In “Bright Star, Lone Splendor”, a young Ruswa, Mian Beni Madho Singh, comes to Delhi from an Awadh “in the Firangi’s shackles”. His education has been in Persian, Arabic, English, mathematics, history and “something quite unfamiliar which was called Hindi”, where the language he and his family spoke at home loses some of its dulcet flow when weighted down with “the hard-to-pronounce Sanskrit vocabulary”. (The complaint, only lightly worn by a century’s use, was still a common one in the Walled City a decade ago.)

Mr Faruqi likes a sprawling canvas, filled in with intricate detail, and The Sun That Rose From The Earth unfolds as his novel The Mirror of Beauty did. This is unhurried storytelling, dense rather than meandering, filled with world-building detail. Like the other stories in this collection, “Bright Star, Lone Splendour” takes time to unfold, but that pace has the useful effect of slowing the reader down, removing him or her from this hurried age. For maximum enjoyment, switch your message alerts and Twitter feed off when you’re reading Mr Faruqi.

Ruswa finds the courage to approach Ghalib, and the two poets, the master and his young admirer, settle into a writers’ friendship. In a charming passage, Ruswa daringly decides to ask Ghalib to “autograph” his books of poetry – newly published by the Nizami Press in Chaman Ganj. Ghalib sahib complies, but he also suggests – and this will gladden the hearts of contemporary authors – that showering them with a necklace of 21 gems, or robes of honour, might be a better sign of appreciation than “buying a little book for half a rupee and getting it autographed”. (Modern readers, take note.)

The debates of the day emerge: language and authenticity are large preoccupations, with arguments over those on whom their mother tongues (Hindi, or Bengali, or Bhaka) exert a pull can truly express themselves in Persian. A little further on, in “The Rider” (set around 1764-1769), the argument has changed: “The better poets today were turning to Rekhtah in large numbers. Rekhtah had a brilliancy of wit and a freshness of colour that was lacking in Persian.” Even further on, Hindi begins to show its uses and its dexterity.

Mr Faruqi tries his hand at fable, fairly successfully at an old-school ghost story, and displays sweeping ambition in “Such Meetings and Partings, Ultimately”. This story starts in the house of Zohra the Egyptian in Nakhjavan, shifts to Tabriz, and follows Labiba Khanum as she settles briefly in the gardens of Isfahan, only to travel the high roads down to Delhi, where she is greeted by Mir Taqi Mir’s poetry.

If the details about the poets themselves, from Ghalib and Ruswa to Mir Taqi Mir, Kishan Chand Iklas and others, or a score of beguiling, formidable, unforgettable courtesans, will draw many readers, at least as many will enjoy The Sun That Rose From The Earth for its portrait of Delhi across the centuries.

Mr Faruqi’s love for the city – and for other cultural centres in north India – is as evident as his scholarship. Basant (spring) unites “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain or Nanak Panthi”; all have a taste for the Basant, its mustard flowers and marigolds, when the whole city is “drenched in yellows, saffrons, ochres”.

Nor is his love blinded by nostalgia: in the title story, a courtesan cruelly dismisses a poet who has written a scathing ode about her. “It was Delhi, you know. Scandals, rumours, poems, especially cruel and abusive poems, were enjoyed more than the choicest foods and tobaccos.”

The poets may have yielded place to ambitious longform journalists, and the scent of Jaunpur’s jasmine flowers may have been replaced by the traffic fumes at the ITO crossing; but the Dilliwallah‘s love of beauty, the city’s syncretic culture (beleaguered but not yet dead) and the appetite for good gossip still remain. And perhaps even the poets survived, or so the hipsters of Hauz Khas village would like you to believe.