When Delhi was the city of the future

01 January 2014

AT THE DAWN OF THE PRESENT CENTURY I was working for a marketing consultancy firm in New York. The job was becoming a burden: I was increasingly consumed by the novel I was trying to write in the evenings and, moreover, I was in love with a woman who lived on the other side of the world—in Delhi. And so, at the end of 2000, I emulated, contrariwise, my father’s journey.

I arrived with one suitcase and a box of notes and articles I had collected for my writing. Everything else I owned I stored with an uncle in New Jersey. I didn’t think it would be long before I was back. I didn’t know how long it took to write a novel, but it surely couldn’t take more than six months. I had no intention of staying in Delhi: I had passed through it a few times during childhood visits to Calcutta, and remembered it as a polluted, charmless sprawl. I had no doubt I could convince my beloved to forsake it for sparkling Manhattan.

But such attitudes quickly fell away when I arrived in Delhi. It would be too simple to say that I fell in love with the city—it is just as true that I fell in hate—but there was certainly an all-consuming plunge. A drawing-in, as if Delhi’s attractive power exceeded mere like or dislike—for, in 2000, all that was comfortable and settled in the places I had lived before was here in turbulent preparation, and the city was a vortex of prophecy and possibility. I had fallen, by pure chance, into one of the great churns of the age and, without ever planning to do so, I stayed.

From Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-first Century Delhi by Rana Dasgupta, published this month by HarperCollins India. To read this excerpt in full, pick up a copy of the January 2014 edition of The Caravan. To subscribe to the magazine in print, click here. For digital subscriptions, go here.

Rana Dasgupta is the author of two novels, Tokyo Cancelled and Solo. His latest book, Capital, a non-fiction portrait of Delhi in the 21st century, is out on 15 January 2014.

Keywords: Delhi book excerpt migration cities Rana Dasgupta