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Black Nothing

What were these writers trying to do? Write third-rate whodunits? Or evoke the spirit of a city?

Black Nothing
Delhi Noir

Edited By Hirsh Sawhney
HarperCollins | 292 pages | Rs 399

The term “noir” conjures up images of life lived in teeming bylanes: pre-Id Jama Masjid, transsexuals loitering below the Jangpura flyover, eunuchs cruising Connaught Circus at night, sleazy godmen jamboorees in trans-Yamuna and Gurgaon, romances/rape on the Ridge, paranthawala jaunts, the ganja/brown sugar freaks at the Lajpat Nagar rail lines, love/lust/fornication among socialites, politicians, and corporate and auntyji types. The heady smell of power, sex, opportunity; grasping, clawing ambition; the juxtaposition of immense riches and grinding poverty, the dazzling multi-cultural mix that is Delhi which you smell/taste/eat at the INA market.

None of that obtains here. Sure, Ruchir Joshi’s story stars the policemen-who-scratch-their-balls, Siddharth Chowdhury makes a game try at recreating the coarse, hormonally overdriven Haryanvi, Palash Krishna Mehrotra takes a weak jab at servants-that-murder-old-harridan-employees, Nalinaksha Bhattacharya tries hard enough to tell us a juicy “manohar kahaniyan” episode. Hartosh Singh Bal even writes with transparent sincerity and sans affectation. But for the most part this sorry collection does not rise above being the literary equivalent of the low-brow Sansani or Vaardaat.

What were these writers trying to do? Write third-rate whodunits? Or evoke the spirit of a city?

A city’s spirit is evoked by doing much, much more than mentioning Green Park, RK Puram, Lodi Garden, Nizamuddin West. I hear the names, not their spirit. An opportunity lost, a mandate frivolously misspent.

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