Robert Kaplan, the author of the best-selling travelogue Balkan Ghosts, carried just one book, Rebecca West’s classic Black Lamb and Grey Falcon-A Journey Through Yugoslavia, in his shoulder bag while travelling through the Balkan region. I walk in Delhi with an author whose name I will keep a secret. In fact, I will muddle her identity and change some facts so that you cannot make even a wild guess about whom I’m talking about.
The woman is the author of a book that has gone unnoticed. It presents Delhi in a simple language that speaks straight to the heart. In the book she wrote: “I never researched about this city in its libraries. I walked everywhere, knocked on the doors of strangers, talked to them, took down notes, wrote their stories and moved on.” This is what I dream to be. I recently met the woman and was shocked. While other Delhi writers (think William Dalrymple, Khushwant Singh etc.) live in fancy apartments and farmhouses, she lives in a two-room house in Narayana. She commutes in DTC buses.
I’m told that in her young days, she was a society favourite. She would initiate people into the art of lovemaking. She guided them to the best courtesans in town, taught the correct way of eating paan, explained how to tie a gajra, and how to talk of love to the beloved. She knew all the Delhi secrets: the sexually-charged ghost of Kishenganj, the mute crow of Kashmere Gate and the haunted bungalow of Patparganj. She had many VIP friends.
That was yesterday. Today she is bogged down by life. Her husband has grown bitter. She wants a job for her son but she no longer knows any important person who can help her. She has been particularly unlucky as a mother. The first page of her book has this dedication: To Nooni, my daughter, a sunbeam lent to me too briefly.