Book Review: Delhi by Khushwant Singh

January 29, 2010
Anuradha Goyal

I picked up Delhi by Khushwant Singh in my quest to read about Delhi, and I knew the author is someone who has spent his life in Delhi and hence expected it be a good read.

After reading the book, I am ANGRY.

Depending on how you like extensive erotica, you may love or hate this book, but that is not what makes me angry though I do not really enjoy reading 300+ pages of nothing but sleaze. I hate it because of the double standards that the author follows. I can ignore the sleaze as that is his world view may be, or that may be the lens through which he sees everything or more appropriately everyone. All through the book, he talks in first person through some historical figures, through common men from a certain periods, interspersed with his own encounters with a whore from Lal kuan and several other females. Each character is described from his bedside and no matter what their relevance in the world today is or the world then was, all he focuses on his their sexual behaviors. At the cost of repeating this can be Mr Singh's specialty or his world view but it makes me angry is when he does not go near his all time favorite topic in two chapters. And guess what these chapters are focused on - His father and grandfather. He never talks about how his father or grandfather treated their wives and never explicitly describes their intimate relationships. Surprisingly in the whole book they are the only characters who are pious, show no infidelity and only events that mark their lives are that they get married and then one after the other they have children. This is given the fact that his father became one of the richest persons in Delhi during the time when Lutyen's Delhi was being built, in a very short duration of time. If you have the guts to write dirty about every other female on this earth, dead or alive, please start with your own family, a family that produced a son with a head full of nothing but sleaze. Another way to look at it can be that he is at least being a bit courteous to his family, but then you feel it is so damn unfair.

If you can ignore what I write above, by putting the history in first person, with people like Mir, Aurangzeb, Nadir Shah and a Kayastha in the times of Nizammudin, it makes an interesting reading for people who may find text books very boring to read. He has written about Delhi from the times of Lodhis to the 1984 when the anti-sikh riots took place. There is nothing new that you may come to know about Delhi from this book, but the first person accounts makes it easier for you to visualize things as they might have happened. I do not see the need of interspersing chapters where he goes on and on about his encounters with Bhagmati, the female eunuch and various other females, some of whom he plays tour guide to and some walk up to him only to sleep with him. There is a whole chapter on farts, now what has that to do with Delhi.

This book is supposed to have been sold out even before it hit the bookstores with a third reprint within 15 days of release, I am sure there must have been a huge audience for the book. I could be biased in this review because of my anger. I waited to write the review after I had read the book, so that I write in a more neutral mode, but as soon as I started writing the anger re-surfaced.

Nevertheless, I did get a small list of places that I want to go to from this book which I had nor heard of earlier or at least did not have the context to go to. So to that extent, I am happy to have read this book. The format is interesting, probably should be used to make history more interesting.

I am not recommending this book, unless like me you are trying to read about Delhi and you feel compelled to read it.

Anuradha is an independent Innovation Consultant based out of Gurgaon. You can see her profile at
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