The Literary Guide to Delhi


A metropolis that is credited with having found the balance between modernity and carefully preserved antiquity, India’s capital is surely a city that one simply cannot ignore. A city filled with paradoxes, Delhi is truly a city where an attempt to live to in harmony with the two extremes exists. The narrow galis of Old Delhi with the broad city roads that New Delhi boasts of. Victorian architecture coupled so easily with the city’s high rise buildings. The enthusiastic middle-class Delhiite mixed with the upper-class posh strata. Delhi is a city that is a little bit of everything for everyone.
Delhi stands tall as a symbol of the old and the new. As ancient legend goes “he who rules Delhi, rules India” and truly Delhi has been testimony to being the supreme seat of power since the era of the Mahabharata. From Indraprastha of Mahabharat to the present New Delhi, it has grown into a mega metropolis. From the Dilli of Raja Dillu to the New Delhi, it has always commanded power. But if you were to describe this bustling metropolis, how would you? One word will not suffice. This multi-dimensional city has been the subject and the muse for so many authors across ages, all trying to put into words what Delhi is to them. All attempting to describe this city in the confines of their pages.
Delhi has been beautifully sketched through the words of different authors through the years. Readers somehow always see themselves turning to literature to guide them through the mystics of everything and in this case, the mystics and wonders of the capital. The different sketches uncovering the different layers of Delhi have been explored by many a writer. Given below is the literature’s guide to discovering Delhi like never before.

1) City Of Djinns – William Dalrymple

“It was so totally unlike anything I had seen before. Delhi, it seemed at first, was full of riches and horror, it was a labyrinth, a city of palaces, an open gutter…Moreover – I soon discovered – possessed a bottomless seam of stories, tales receding far beyond history, deep into the cavernous chambers of myth and legend”– Dalrymple’s introduction to the ‘City of Djinns‘.

William Dalrymple’s love affair with the city began with his book ‘City of Djinnsand since then there has been no looking back. Dalrymple had visited Delhi when he was all of seventeen and was instantly under its spell. Seldom critical to the obvious flaws of the city, Dalrymple summons up tremendous patience to get to the bottom of the city’s historical treasures. As Dalrymple peels off the different layers that constitute Delhi, the reader is forced to come under the magical spell of this wondrous city.

Image Source – Penguin Books


You can buy ‘City Of Djinns’ by William Dalrymple here-

2) Fire Under Ash – Saskya Jain

‘Fire Under Ash’ dramatizes the frenetic energy of the new India. The novel thrives on its attempt to bridge the gap between the upcoming new India and the rooted old one. The intricate details of upper-class Delhi life and the realistic presentation of the diverse lives in Delhi sets the novel apart and makes the reader reflect on the city as it is today. The book truly lives up to the spirit of new India and leaves us to ponder on the pervasive theme of both the book and the city as a whole– no matter how much we aspire to the rich, upper class, we can never fully ignore the consequences of poverty.

Image Source – Saskya Jain


Get ‘Fire Under Ash’ by Saskya Jain here-

3) Delhi – Khushwant Singh

“I return to Delhi as I return to my mistress Bhagmati when I have had my fill of whoring in foreign lands.”
Thus begins Singh’s magnum opus on Delhi. Singh does a splendid job in showing Delhi in the most brutal light. The novel that spans the grandeur of Delhi attempts to both delight and nauseate in equal measure. A city that has witnessed at least seven rounds of complete destruction and reconstruction, the city for Khuswant Singh is one that is gifted with culture, calamity, conceit and capability. A novel that has given us memorable characters in the form of the eunuch whore Bhagmati, the book is an ode by a Delhi boy to the raw, brutal soul of the city.

Image Source – Goodreads


Buy Khushwant Singh’s ‘Delhi’ here-

4) Delhi Mostly Harmless- Elizabeth Chatterjee

An unabashed report on the experiences of a PhD student from Oxford who comes to Delhi, ‘Delhi Mostly Harmless is what happens when you put a first-world foreigner into the chaos that is Delhi. Her narration of her first had experiences both amuse and disturb. Yes, her brutal statements of all that is wrong with Delhi are hurtful but not wrong. One must credit her astute observations -“It is a both a city of past and get-quick-rich newcomers, big spending populists and big spending corporates, incredible wealth and even more incredible corruption.” Uncomfortable? Yes. True? Indubitably. With an Indian surname and Indian genes, Elizabeth Chatterjee describes Delhi not as a third party foreigner, but as one who belongs to this almost anarchic state.

Image Source – Amazon


Get Elizabeth Chatterjee’s ‘Delhi Mostly Harmless’ here-

5) Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity- Sam Miller

Sam Miller in his book on the metropolis captures the essence of the city like no other. The soul of the city lies within its people and Sam Miller brings to light just these people to able to understand what it is that makes up Delhi. His encounters range from rag pickers to professors to the members of the Police Brass Band, each adding to the strokes that ultimately make up the masterpiece that is Delhi. An entertaining portrait of what this megacity means to its residents, Miller depicts modern day Delhi in all its humor and humanity.

Image Source – Penguin


Buy Sam Miller’s ‘Delhi: Adventures In A Megacity’ here –


The Penguin India Blog

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