On April 7, I flew to Delhi. I gave a talk on public spaces on the morning of the 8th, and then, at a loose end, visited places I’d either discovered this century or had last been to with my parents in 1970. As I reviewed the photos I’d taken of the visit, they looked to me like a disjunctive record of some kind. They form a narrative, a fragment of autobiography, I think – but not quite. Since it’s difficult for me to pinpoint what makes the pictures adhere to one another, I’m seized by an urge to share them.
On my way to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport, my car stops at a light by the Big Ben.
In the plane, I study the card carefully.
I’m tempted in the evening to slip across to Lodi Gardens.
Once I’ve given the talk on public spaces on Saturday morning, I have lunch and then hire a taxi and decide to have a cup of coffee at the Imperial. Here, I discover, in a heritage print, a detail of the interior of the Taj Mahal, seen in a way I’ve never seen it before. It reminds me of the obvious – that a monument is far more strange from within than it is from the outside.
While having coffee, I notice a stained-glass art deco façade to a doorway to the bar. It’s like something that has survived a war.
I make a de rigueur excursion to the toilet. I’m struck by a small muscular figure, transfixed between the hand towels and tissues.
The passage to the toilet is a kind of hub.
I find that some of these watercolours prefigure William Gedney and Raghubir Singh in their indifference to local colour and their eye for space. They reject the “abject” in the same way that Singh decided he must when he was photographing this country.
I ask the driver, Rakesh, to take me to Qutb Minar, where I last ate chicken sandwiches when I was eight years old. He thinks this is not a good idea. In the rear-view mirror, I see he has eyes that look both before and behind him.
He parks the car at Jor Bagh, and tells me he has another job; a different driver will take his place. When I sound fractionally concerned, he reassures me that the new driver’s name too is Rakesh. While waiting, I notice that the faces of two terrorists have begun to fray.
At the Qutb Minar, Indians are required to declare their nationality.
Before the Minar, I encounter an aura of repose.
Amit Chaudhuri is a novelist, essayist and musician. His new novel, Friend Of My Youth, is out in April.
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