Looking at Connaught Place, can you believe that the heart of Delhi would’ve been a railway station had a proposed plan of 1912 come into effect? “In the beginning, the British decided to keep the railway line between New Delhi and Old Delhi. But they later made it a place of trade, that it today is,” reveals Pilar Maria Guerrieri. The Italian, through 61 elaborate maps in her book, Maps of Delhi, shares many more anecdotes and lesser-known facts about the Capital of India.
Talk about the maps that have defined this city and the author1 quips, “Everyone thinks maps are objective documents but that’s not the case. They are merely interpretations given by different people, who have been drawing the maps. Hence there’s so much confusion on topics such as how many cities of Delhi were there?”
Besides the confusion in facts that these maps state, there’s plenty of stories that can be unveiled by just carefully looking at the enlarged pictures of maps. “A lot of little stories are hidden in the maps. For example: In one map you can see a sentence stating ‘Place where Nicholson fell’ this was the Delhi of 1857 where the city and it’s immediate surroundings.”
The Italian highlights that it was India’s partition which had a major impact on Delhi’s map. “The biggest shift is the pre and post independence time. When the partition happened, and all the refugees came in, a lot of colonies start growing to host the refugees. That was the point when the contemporary city began to develop.”
Encapsulating all this in one book, however, wasn’t easy for a foreigner accessing Indian libraries. In a candid confession, and trying to hold her laughter, Guerrieri shares: “In a British library you can check the catalogue and ask for books but in Delhi’s libraries, you discover that the books are in no particular order. Every time I went to the library, it was changed. First it drove me mad because I couldn’t understand what’s the order… then I asked somebody and got to know that because people don’t know if they will get the book again, they hide the book. So the whole library was done by the hiding of everybody. And then I ended up hiding the books myself because I couldn’t work otherwise.”
"Maps of Delhi" (Niyogi Books/Rs 4,500/392 pages), it is authored by Pilar Maria Guerrieri, who has conducted extensive research into European and Indian cultures, the development of megacities, and the effects of cultural exchanges, with a primary focus on pre- and post-Independence Delhi.
On arriving here, she soon came to realise that there was much confusion on the subject in academia and elsewhere and thus began looking for primary sosurces to fill this gap.
"While I was searching specifically for the pre and post independence maps in several Indian archives and institutions, I slowly found and collected all the other documents. At the end of my PhD I realised that if I had the complete collection of maps at the beginning of my studies, my research would have been much more easier and smoother. I decided to publish the whole collection with the aim that it will turn to be useful for scholars interested in understanding the capital of India," Guerrieri told IANS in an interview.
Visually stunning and equally informative, it is the first organised collection of Delhi's maps, containing a chronology of magnificent ancient and modern hand-drawings as well as digital maps of the city.
"The process of finding the maps has been an incredible life experience. Took a very long time to collect, select and put in order all the maps scattered in several Indian archives. Dealing with chaotic and diverse archives, handle bureaucracy, time spent getting the right information and patience used to keep going, have been the main challenges of the research process," recalled Guerrieri, who holds a PhD in Architectural Design, Architectural Composition, Criticism and Theory.