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A book that defines Delhi’s contours from 1800 to the 2021 master plan

Italian architect Pilar Maria Guerrieri’s book Maps of Delhi, has 61 maps that get the readers’ curiosity kicking to browse further and know the history of the Capital of India.

books Updated: May 11, 2017 17:23 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
Maps of Delhi,Pilar Maria Guerrieri,Maps
Pilar Maria Guerrieri, author of the book, Maps of Delhi, says that the book is for not just scholars but even academics who want to know the city’s history.

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.

She studied architecture in Italy, and when it came to selecting a topic for her thesis, she zeroed in on Delhi. “My curiosity brought me here… I thought of picking up a developing country, where the problem of tradition and contemporary is prominent. India seemed like the best option, also because I wanted to choose an English-speaking country. My thesis was on Delhi, how it was pre and post independence and how cultural exchanges have differently affected architecture and planning,” says Guerrieri, who dedicated more than five years to this project.

“When I finished my thesis and looked at the maps that I collected over five years, I thought it would’ve been so helpful if I had the book with me before starting my thesis. When I came here, I didn’t know anything and the amount of time it took me to understand the city was huge,” she says.

Cover of the book, Maps of Delhi.

Guerrieri is in love with the city and says, “It has so many layers of history and is incredible. The more I study, the more I like it. I even started collecting books on Delhi and have already bought around 600 to 700 books.”

Talk about the maps that have defined this city and the author 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.”

Pilar Maria Guerrieri on an exploration of India.

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.”

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First Published: Apr 14, 2017 17:58 IST