Delhi: 14 Historic Walks -- Swapna Liddle

Delhi: 14 Historic Walks — Swapna Liddle

In my last visit to London I came face to face with the best moments of my life when my son gave me a bunch of print-outs of the Jubilee Walkway. These come under the ‘Walk London’ program and encourage the locals as well as the tourists to discover this wonderful historic city by walking through its heart, liver, brain, kidney and all the other parts, euphemistically speaking. The print-outs were in great detail and had everything any stranger would look for, including the distance for a particular section. They had known as well as comparatively unknown details of the city, its architecture, its culture, its people, its history, and its savoury as well as unsavoury vistas.

The walks were enthralling, engaging, enticing and worth every huff and puff of my ageing lungs. I loved every moment of those walks. As much as I cherish the memories of the actual walk, I also keep with me the printed details that still take me back to each moment spent.

It is with kind of respect for walks that I began reading Swapna Liddle’s ‘Delhi: 14 Historic Walks’ and was in no time disillusioned, completely rattled. Later on I realised that I was actually slowly falling in love with the book and… wait, this part comes later. Let me first talk about why I felt I was rattled.

Yes, there was history sneering at me through the pages, facts and little anecdotes waiting to be read… and surely there is no harm in that. However, these history lessons could easily be had from a judicious mix of official pamphlets and other literature and any conventional book on the history of Delhi or even some travel websites and travel blog posts that are so well strewn all over the information highway.

Two questions bugged me:

One. Where are the walks?

Most of the walks mentioned just took you around one of the monuments, gave a nice warm history lecture and left you feeling cold and unloved. I strongly feel that the author should have included the areas surrounding the monument and included the monument as a value addition and not as the main dish. Take, for instance, the ninth walk: Red Fort. We are plunged into the Fort without taking us for a little walk around Chandni Chowk and all the old world charms of the area. We are simply taken for a graphic walk-through of this heritage site and that’s it… nothing more. Despite all the wonderful stories retold here, one feels any old pamphlet would’ve done the same job equally effectively. A more enterprising tourist could’ve gone a step further and talked to a few strolling old-timers there inside the Red Fort, spent a few minutes with a few of the pretentious guides, exchanged insights with some discerning tourists who were equally inclined… and emerged happier and more fulfilled.

Two. Where are the people?

The pictures included in the book are made to look as if they were taken at moments when the country was either asleep or away on a holiday. For instance, have you ever seen Humayun’s Tomb without the proverbial lovers astutely guarding their own tree and not allowing anyone to even come nearer? Have you passed in front of Red Fort and not seen the hulla-gulla there? Have you been to Purana Qila and not noticed the open lottery being played next to the lake? Have you walked the ‘Central Vista’ or been in and out of the Kashmiri Gate zone and not noticed all the commotion that is so powerfully present at all times?

Pictures need to say much more than what the old and crumbling walls are craving to whisper. Yes, history is necessary, but so are the moments that are consistently creating what is soon going to be a part of history. Therefore, pictures that don’t depict people have a strange habit of alienating themselves from whatever they are actually trying to say.

Would I want to buy this book?

Yes. Let me tell you that despite what I feel are the limitations of the book, it is actually charmingly done.

The monochromatic colour scheme chosen for the pictures is just right for the theme of the book. It is consistent and every picture is relevant and laid out well. The design and structure of the book is not just a visual delight but also makes reading and comprehension easy. The choice of text colour, the font, the font size and quality of paper chosen are all in line with what the book aims at.

The history included cuts out all text-book rubbish and focuses on the aspects any discerning tourist would want to know. The author has a doctorate on nineteenth century Delhi and has her facts and stories all correctly laid out. He language is indeed simple and avoids all non-essential rhetoric and college book jargon. We read and we love what we read – is the funda followed by the author.

The details preceding every walk mentioned in the book and the maps that accompany are all precise and error-free. I actually completed two of the walks before I sat down to write this review and found that the book did help me find my way around to the best features by helping me choose the most appropriate pathway.

Would I actually want more vibrant pictures that depict what modern India looks like and behaves like, in this book? No. Thus we have pictures that direct our attention to what we have come to get… the charming history of the place. The lovers, the local cricket team, the gamblers, the chaos, the litter, the garbage is all better left to another book that wants to talk about a ‘walk through the reality of Delhi’. This book doesn’t need any of that, and mercifully, plucks all of it and keeps the book focused.

I hope I complete all the walks with this book in my hands… and let me this book isn’t about just historic walks, it takes us for a walk through history lessons too!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Arvind Passey
04 February 2012