Snapshots from underbelly of a trickster city

Updated: May 25, 2010, 13:11 PM IST

Like its history, Delhi is a city of layers that tricks the eye into complaisance, tugs at the heart and also rejects at the same time. The bustling facade of the 21st century metropolis camouflages a dark underbelly.

"Trickster City: Writings from the Belly of a Metropolis," is a compendium of unusual snapshots of the capital. It explores the suffering, alienation, angst, surprises and complex relationships behind the cold discipline and the manic sobriety with which the political nerve-centre of the country conducts itself every day.

The collection offers fresh insight into the hidden facets of the capital, drawing from experiences, events and biographies that are part fictive and part documentary.

The strength of the volume lies in its originality of observations contributed by a posse of young writers - many of whom are first-timers - residing in different corners of the capital.

In May 2005, a group of young authors - Azera Tabassum, Lakshmi Kohli, Yashoda Singh, Shamsher Ali, Neelofar, Jaanu, Nagat, Rakesh Khairalia and Suraj Rai - came together to discuss what writing about Delhi could factor in. The euphoria about the Commonwealth Games was just settling in, and the refrain was to realise the imagination of a "world class city".

Plans to beautify the city were suddenly resurrected and the creation of a Thames-like waterfront seemed imminent. The Yamuna Pushta, the shantytown behind the Yamuna river, occupied by thousands of squatters had just been demolished. The contexts and circumstances became the creative force for the writers who fanned out in search of stories.

The volume captures the essence of the city under eight sections - in the style of journalistic reportage that tracks the onlooker`s discovery of the metropolis.

The anthology begins with "Arrival" - a section devoted to the migrant`s landfall in the capital and the teething problems of finding a habitable corner.

The sights and sounds of the city come alive in chronicled descriptions under the heading "En Route". The journey along the streets of unpredictable Delhi makes way for the section "Repartee" - two short takes on the city`s etiquette, superstitions and the resignation of its residents to "what turn life will take now".

The twists of life are aptly captured by author Kulwinder Kaur in her 500-word essay "Daily Hurts".

In her piece, Kaur describes the story of Maitri Devi of south Delhi`s Durga Vihar. Maitri is busy preparing for her daughter Vineeta`s wedding which is a grand affair. But a few days later, the truth of the marriage emerges. Vineeta`s husband is mad. Or, we could say, he is a little weak in the head. The reader then has to wait to see what turn Vineeta`s life will take.

The rather offbeat snippet that is so essentially Delhi in its sudden revelation of domestic horror brings forth the feudal psyche that still keeps the metropolis in a perpetual state of ambivalence.

The segment "Whereabouts" is about addresses - some lost and some unknown that propel the reader into a quest of old cityscapes.

"Encounter" unearths the demons, dread, grief and death in the "trickster city", while "Frontier" is an assortment of voices on Ghevra - an old resettlement colony where life revolves around a crunch for space and the migrants` rush to find a safe patch of land for themselves in the urban cluster that becomes a virtual microcosm of the mercurial capital.