A view of the Sanjay Van forest reserve, in New Delhi, that is part of the south central area of the greater Delhi Ridge. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
A view of the Sanjay Van forest reserve, in New Delhi, that is part of the south central area of the greater Delhi Ridge. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Review: Fractured Forest, Quartzite City by Thomas Crowley

Presenting Delhi’s Ridge, that is spread over 80 square km of reserved forest, as a living entity
By Sudhirendar Sharma
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 04:02 PM IST

Delhi may have been slowly forgetting its past but the Ridge, the green lungs of the sprawling megapolis, remain living fossils in the history of its making. Between its stones and soil are held the political, economic, and ecological tensions between the rulers and rebels, the orthodox and the liberated, and the civilised and the wild. Spread over 80 square kilometers of reserved forest in the city, it is as much a place for lovers, joggers and stoners as for landlords, administrators and politicians. All said, it is a blissful reality in an otherwise polluted city.

350pp, Rs795; Sage
350pp, Rs795; Sage

While there is little denying that mystics, monkeys and murders have come to be identified with parts of the Ridge over the decades, such contradictory impulses nonetheless harbour crucial vantage points for understanding the interconnectedness that can help in healing its ecological scars. Thomas Crowley views the sacred and the profane with empathy to create a new vision for the Ridge, one that has something for everyone with its riches redistributed and enjoyed by all. Till it remains a contested territory with rights and obligations skewed in favour of the powerful, the future of this green zone will remain vulnerable to both man-made and cosmic challenges.

Fractured Forest Quartzite City is an absorbing and engaging read on the subject of urban development. In the quest for international investments, most cities go for style over substance and keep a shiny surface atop a chaotic subsurface. A city as big as Delhi has slowly turned into a shadow of its glorious past. The foundations of this degeneration were laid in 1911 during the establishment of the capital by the British. Later, not only were the quartzite structures inherited, the many British laws and attitudes too became part of the legacy. The Ridge was to become its intended victim, supporting both production and consumption to sustain the city’s economic transformation.

Like a curious child exploring the inner functioning of a mechanical toy, Crowley has not left out any detail in his investigative narrative on the Ridge. If the Tughlaqs, the Khiljis, and the British appear as part of its bloodied history; the Rajputs, the Gujjars, and migrants contribute a socio-cultural narrative; and the likes of Jagmohan, Ponty Chaddha and the monkey man fill the political-economic perspective. It seems, the Ridge has never existed in a vacuum and many aspects of its economic, social, cultural, and political history remain entangled in its geological existence. Peeling the layers exposes the realities which have been erased from public memory. This book is a plea to reconnect with the Ridge’s past to build a common heritage of shared responsibilities.

Lucid and well-researched, Fractured Forest Quartzite City presents the Ridge as a living entity. The Ridge is to Delhi what lungs are to the body, pumping oxygen into its air for its inhabitants to realize their dreams, their fantasies, and their unspoken desires. Without the story of the Ridge, the history of Delhi too would be incomplete. Crowley’s painstaking efforts in recreating the legacy of the Ridge is a tribute to its geology and ecology that made many cities rise and fall around it. However, it is now up to the contemporary city to ensure that its lungs stay healthy for a vibrant engagement with its populace.

The book helps readers discover how the Ridge and the city have shaped each other, and will continue to co-evolve. Crowley’s aim has been to broaden the scope of thinking about Delhi’s environment by reconnecting its past with the present, and exposing how consumption effects the immediate environment. Fractured Forest Quartzite City provides a comprehensive account on the evolution of the megapolis and leads the reader to understand that growth cannot be at the cost of ignoring the Ridge.

Sudhirendar Sharma is an independent writer, researcher and academic.

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