Same old love
R.V. Smith on his new book on Old Delhi
Photo: R.V. Moorthy
A perspective R.V. Smith imagines life around monuments
Carefree banter over sips of tea at the “chai ki dukan”, sitting cross-legged on a charpoy playing a game of cards, little boys taking their goats out to graze, and qawwalis till long past midnight. That’s the kind of life that auth
or and journalist R.V. Smith cherishes and loves to write about. He has an air of the old world about him, and a chat with him means a leisurely stroll down memory lane.
There is no dearth of stories that he can tell you about life in Old Delhi, inside the Walled City. And these are the stories that find their way into his books, the latest one being “Capital Vignettes – A Peep into Delhi’s Ethos”. The wafting smell of pulao zarda, the flickering light of the night chowkidar’s old lantern and the Urdu Bazaar or Old Delhi’s Ink Street are all there for the reader to immerse himself in.
Smith, who began his journalistic career as a reporter-sub-editor with the PTI, still writes columns for two national dailies, including his “Down Memory Lane” column for The Hindu. All his books and columns are a tour of Delhi’s monuments and a toast to the now fading style of life.
“I view historical monuments not from the perspective of history textbooks, but from a subjective viewpoint. I imagine the people who must have been living in and moving around these palaces,” he tells you with a faraway look in his eyes. Smith, who hails from Agra, had history as one of his subjects during graduation. When he came to Delhi and joined the PTI, the night duties enabled him to roam around during daytime.
“I used to tour the city on my bicycle, looking at the monuments,” he recounts. “I liked the Walled City. To me it was just like Agra.” The Walled City is still the place he lives in, at least metaphorically. The old sabeel or water hut in Ballimaran, Mirza Ghalib’s own haveli, the Paranthewali gali in Chandni Chowk, and the dargah at Kalimullah — every one of them is mentioned with equal fondness. “History is peeping out at you from every street and corner there,” he smiles.
The pace of life
There are certain incidents that are narrated with a special vigour — like the story of the “ghore wala badshah”. A statue of King Edward VII on his horse in Old Delhi used to be loved by the residents and revered as a protecting force. There was much resistance when the statue was replaced by that of Subhash Chandra Bose, and though the ‘ghore wala badshah’ is now in Toronto, Canada, the people still remember it. “They don’t relate as much to the statue of Bose as they did to the earlier one,” laughs Smith. “People there cling to their old lives and ways.”
Delhi, however, has moved on. The pace of life has gone from slow canter to gallop. How does Smith view this new world?
“I feel lost here,” he says simply. “The Metro has changed the entire landscape of Delhi…places that were open to the sky are now so congested…sometimes it is difficult to recognise them,” he sighs. The people, too he feels, are more superficial here, though they may be polite.
“Purani Dilli has people who speak and listen from the heart, crude as their language might be,” he remarks. The old world charm, he believes, should not be allowed to perish.
“That’s the thing which tourists want to see, not malls that they already have in their countries. It should be preserved as part of our heritage.”
His next book, scheduled to be out by this Dussehra, is a romance wreathed in history.
“It contains many a part of my life,” he confides. Titled “Jasmine Nights and The Taj”, it also describes many of the entanglements of his heart.
That, too, partially explains his fondness for Delhi! “I love Delhi, and can sit and write about it any moment,” he declares with finality.
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