Edited excerpts and an interview with Antara Raghavan
Excerpt: The city's most prestigious architectural practice is that of Raj Rewal. One of his best known early projects is the Asian Games Village (1982) inside Siri Fort.
The yellow reconstituted stone cladding, the complex rectilinear geometry and the closeknit, pedestrianized planning all consciously evoke the pattern of traditional Rajasthani towns like Jaisalmer. Of course it is partly a matter of perception.
A decade after the Asian Games Village was completed, its residents were interviewed and asked for their views on its use of traditional Indian planning principles.
'Nonsense,' they retorted, 'it's not Indian, it's modern. For one thing, it's tidy. If you want to see what a traditional Indian town is like you have to go to Old Delhi.' You can't please everyone. But the historians and critics were persuaded that this project heralded a genuine Indian revival.
One of the major elements you use to trace the history of Delhi in the book is through its architecture. Can you explain how architecture illuminates the past?
Speaking as an architectural historian, for me, what holds Delhi together is its landscape, buildings, and spaces. Delhi is a heterogeneous place, and isn't united by language or culture. For instance it was dictated by Mughal culture before the British, but that time is past. One cannot even say it is dictated by Punjabi culture, as after Partition a host of Punjabi refugees have been settled here for generations. The Punjabi culture is only a major component of Delhi, as it flourishes alongside Bengali, and other such cultures.
In the first chapter, you've spoken of the constant intersection of the past and present in Delhi, such as how structures like India Gate are seen more as symbols of Delhi's present than its history. Can you elaborate on this?
I'm trained as an architectural historian to look at buildings as sites with careers of their own. Most people don't look at buildings in terms of architectural history. The characters and perceptions of buildings change, and they mean different things to different people at different times.