The Tomb Raiders
If cities are like languages, ‘new New Delhi’ is a pidgin. Not a classical language, nor even a modern one, but an offspring of haphazard post-liberalisation encounters, yet to develop its own grammar of interactions. Nobody’s mother tongue, it only has a series of fathers….
But why are cities like languages? Because they have structure, they evolve, they have morphology—they change form, they are an accumulation of inflections. The other day, a Tughlaq-era tomb turned into a temple deep within the catacombs of Humayunpur. Locals moved in, painted the structure a bright white-and-saffron, planted idols, adorned it with a swastika. BMKJ. As simple as that.
Humayunpur, one of Delhi’s urban villages, forms a curious triad with Safdarjung Enclave and Arjun Nagar. The latter two are mostly Punjabi refugee by ethnography, the differentiator between them being only class. Safdarjung is upper-middle-posh. Outlook sits in one of its messiest corners. A desultory flaneur walk from my office can be like walking through many civilisational layers: an urban palimpsest. Everywhere you see traces of something older, something lost. Once I caught two Sikh shopkeepers chatting in a language that was not Punjabi. “Pashto,” they said, smiling. “We are Kabuli Sikhs.”
And within ten minutes, you are in a Jat village, walking through stricken alleys bullied by vertiginous buildings. You see a lot of Phogat nameplates. Electricity cables make a variety of avant-garde knots and tangles overhead.