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50 Essential Delhi Books

City Library
City Library
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FICTION

  • Above Average (2006)
    Amitabha Bagchi
    A touching coming-of-age story that moves between the IIT Campus and Mayur Vihar--with some surprisingly good descriptions of the latter.
  • The Bride’s Mirror (2004)
    Nazir Ahmad
    First published in 1869 as Mirat-ul-Urus, and arguably the first novel written in Urdu, this tale of family life in the walled city was certainly a bestseller. First translated into English in 1903 it’s still in print.
  • Corridor (2004)
    Sarnath Banerjee
    CP looms large in ‘the first Indian graphic novel’.
  • Delhi: A Novel (1990)
    Khushwant Singh
    A sprawling, erotic novel that moves between the modern and the ancient city.
  • East into Upper East (1998)
    Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
    Twelve short stories tackle the human condition in New Delhi and New York.
  • The Gin Drinkers (1998)
    Sagarika Ghose
    A comedy of manners set in Delhi’s high society.
  • The Heart Has its Reasons (2005)
    Krishna Sobti
    Family life and a love triangle in a 1920s Chandni Chowk setting.
  • In Custody (1984)
    Anita Desai
    A small-town professor tries to interview a once-great Urdu poet; marvellous descriptions of a decrepit Chandni Chowk, populated by ghosts from the past.
  • The Life and Times of Altu Faltu (2001)
    Ranjit Lal
    An allegory about social alliances and political skullduggery, with monkeys as the principal characters.
  • Looking Through Glass (1996)
    Mukul Kesavan
    A richly imagined novel of time travel back to the Delhi (and Lucknow and Banaras) of the tumultuous 1940s.
  • The Peacock Throne (2007)
    Sujit Saraf
    A giant of a novel, set almost entirely in Chandni Chowk between the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the present day.
  • A Rag Called Happiness (1993)
    Nirmal Verma
    Delhi is the stage for this novel of theatrewallas in search of real life.
  • Rich Like Us (1985)
    Nayantara Sahgal
    A clear-eyed look at the ongoing drama of power and powerlessness in New Delhi from the freedom struggle to the Emergency.
  • Twilight in Delhi (1940)
    Ahmed Ali
    A depiction of an entire culture and a way of life in the years leading up to Partition.
  • We Weren’t Lovers Like That (2003)
    Navtej Sarna
    Midlife crisis strikes a South Delhi middleman.

NON-FICTION
Histories

  • Ancient Delhi (1999)
    Upinder Singh
    Back to the beginning. A fine scholarly study of our past from the stone age to the Rajputs.
  • The Delhi Omnibus (2002)
    This omnibus edition puts together four classic works on the history of Delhi through the ages-- Percival Spear’s Delhi: A Historical Sketch and Twilight of the Mughuls: Studies in Late Mughal Delhi, Narayani Gupta’s Delhi between Two Empires 1803-1931 and the R.E. Frykenburg-edited anthology Delhi Through the Ages: Selected Essays in Urban History, Culture and Society.
  • Historic Delhi: An Anthology (1997)
    H.K. Kaul (ed.)
    Vivid accounts of Delhi from ancient times to the early 20th century, taken from hundreds of books and documents, some long out of print.
  • The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 (2006)
    William Dalrymple
    Wonderfully researched account of the Indian Mutiny, and life in Delhi during the end of one empire and the birth of another.
  • The Seven Cities of Delhi (2005)
    Gordon Risley Hearn
    Originally published in 1906, long out of print but recently reissued; an excellent account of the history and architecture of Delhi.
  • Shahjahanabad: A City of Delhi 1638-1857 (1998)
    Shama Mitra Chenoy
    The urban fabric of the Old City in its heyday.
  • Zaka Ullah of Delhi (2003)
    C.F. Andrews (edited by Mushirul Hasan and Margrit Pernau)
    Originally published in 1929 as a personal tribute to a 19th-century scholar and citizen of the city, this little-known book offers a fascinating insight into the intellectual life of Delhi in the Mughal twilight.

Memoirs

  • City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1993)
    William Dalrymple
    The title everyone knows. In which a still anonymous young Scotsman, recently moved to Delhi with his wife, becomes fascinated by and explores the city’s centuries-old history.
  • Delhi: Light, Shades, Shadows (2005)
    D.N. Chaudhuri
    A charming memoir of a lifetime in the city by Nirad C. Chaudhuri’s son, illustrated with a treasury of photographs by the author.
  • The Delhi That No One Knows (2005)
    R.V. Smith
    A collection of writings about the legends and myths surrounding the city’s monuments, by a journalist who came to Delhi in the 1950s and became one of the city’s most intrepid explorers.
  • Muraqqa’-e-Dehli: The Mughal Capital in Muhammad Shah’s Time (1989)
    Dargah Quli Khan (translated by Chander Shekhar and Shama Mitra Chenoy)
    A colourful diary of Delhi in Muhammad Shah Rangila’s days.
  • Nizam Ad-Din Awliya: Morals for the Heart (Fawa’id al-Fu’ad of Amir Hasan) (1992)
    Bruce B. Lawrence (trans. and ed.)
    A 14th-century account of daily life with Delhi’s patron saint.
  • Zikr-i- Mir: The Autobiography of the Eighteenth Century Mughal Poet: Mir Muhammad Taqi ‘Mir’ (2002)
    C.M. Naim (trans.)
    Rich with sarcasm, risque detail and the perils of Delhi in interesting times.

Guides

  • Birds of Delhi (2004)
    Ranjit Lal
    An introduction to over 150 species of Delhi’s birds as well as birding areas in and around the city.
  • Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building (2005)
    Lucy Peck
    An accessible guide to Delhi’s rich architectural heritage, with photographs, line drawings and maps of all areas covered.
  • Delhi: Its Monuments and History (1997)
    Percival Spear
    A comprehensive guidebook to Delhi’s many scattered monuments by the Grand Old Man and sometime Stephen’s don. First published in 1949; recently updated by Narayani Gupta and Laura Sykes.
  • Delhi: The Built Heritage--A Listing (1999)
    Ratish Nanda, Narayani Gupta, O.P. Jain
    The Bible. INTACH’s unwieldy but comprehensive listing of over 1,200 buildings of archaeological, historical and architectural importance.
  • Eicher City Map Delhi (2005)
    S.M. Chadha
    Here’s a book that changed our lives when it first appeared in 1996. Still the Delhi A-Z. Don’t leave home without it.
  • A Guide to the Birds of the Delhi Area (1975)
    Usha Ganguli
    A comprehensive nature study, now sadly out of print, that lists over 400 avian species which can be seen in Delhi.
  • Lost Monuments of Delhi (1997)
    Sarah Sainty
    A fine guide for the adventurous tourist who likes to do a lot of walking around.
  • Old Delhi: 10 Easy Walks (2006)
    Gaynor Barton and Laurraine Malone
    Exactly what the title says. Written by two British ladies living in India. First published in 1988, still walking.
  • Rediscovering Delhi (1975)
    Maheshwar Dayal
    A classic heritage guidebook. Everyone had it in the 1970s. Today you’ll have to steal it.
  • Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide (2007)
    Pradip Krishen
    A beautifully illustrated, very user-friendly guide for tree-lovers.

Pictorial

  • Delhi, A Portrait (1983)
    Raghu Rai
    A photographic testimony to a city at the crossroads between old and new.
  • Delhi, Stones and Streets (1990)
    C.S.H. Jhabvala
    Fifty gorgeous pencil sketches of the city by the architect husband of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
  • The Golden Calm: An English Lady’s Life in Moghul Delhi: Reminiscences by Emily, Lady Clive Bayley, and by her father Sir Thomas Metcalfe (1980)
    M.M. Kaye (ed.)
    M.M. Kaye milking Raj nostalgia on the back of The Far Pavilions but the ‘company school’ illustrations of early 19th century Delhi are irresistible.
  • Mehrauli: A View from the Qutb (2002)
    Charles Lewis. Photographs by Karoki Lewis
    A flavour of Mehrauli’s historic past and modern character, with photographs, interviews with residents and archival records.

Architecture/Urban Planning

  • Delhi: The Deepening Urban Crisis (1989)
    Patwant Singh
    Essays and editorials (from Design magazine) about aspects of the city’s development--and mismanagement.
  • Delhi: Urban Space and Human Destinies (2000)
    Veronique Dupont, Emma Tarlo, Denis Vidal (eds)
    Contemporary Delhi gets the PoMo treatment in this eclectic collection.
  • Dome Over India: Rashtrapati Bhavan (2002)
    Aman Nath
    A fresh interpretation of the controversies that surround the legacy of Edwin Lutyens, the principal designer of New Delhi.
  • Havelis of Old Delhi (1992)
    Pavan K Varma and Sondeep Shankar
    An enduring document of a lost era, about mansions built in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • Imperial Delhi: The British Capital of the Indian Empire (2002)
    Andreas Volwahsen
    An expensive book but worth it for the gorgeous archival photographs and maps alone.
  • Indian Summer: Lutyens, Baker and Imperial Delhi (1981)
    Robert Grant Irving
    A superbly illustrated description of the building of Lutyens’ Delhi.
  • New Delhi (1931)
    Robert Byron
    Lutyens’ biggest fan celebrated his work in progress in a special number of the Architectural Review. It’s still in print in a fine facsimile edition.
  • Punjabi Baroque (1994)
    Gautam Bhatia
    A practicing architect’s response to the primary building style, post-independence, of Delhi and other metros.
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