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February 23, 2011

Book review - 9 : Delhi Noir

Delhi Noir (2009)

Publisher: Harper Collins (in India)
Editor: Hirsh Sawhney

Delhi Noir is a world of sex in parks, dirty cops, and vigilante rickshaw drivers. It is one plagued by soulless corporate dons, jaded journalists and murderous servants. These are 14 tales of darkness and despair, each one set in the distinct part of the city, a metropolis where opulence and poverty are constantly clashing, where old-world values and the information age wage a constant battle. It uses the device of crime fiction and film noir to provide riveting, incisive perspectives on this ever changing city.

Delhi Noir is definitely the best book i have read this year. It provides a murky, detestable side of the city and is extremely engrossing and enjoyable. There is so much happening in each of the story that you have to pause before moving on to the next one because the excitement in your stomach hasn't subsided from the last one. The book is divided into three parts - each having a common theme which deals with police, youth and middle class.

Part 1 - With you, For you, Always

"Yesterday Man" written by Omair Ahmad take us into the lives of detectives and solving of a peculiar case whose motive lies in the cover up of an important file dealing with 1984 massacre of innocent Sikhs in the wake of Prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. Based in and around Ashram, it is dark and humorous in equal proportions and there is an uneasy mix of rawness with brutality in the narrative. A great start to the book !!

"How I lost my clothes" written by Radhika Jha is arguably the weakest story in the book. It has an interesting premise and provides a stark naked opinion about the divide of rich and poor in the city. Based around Lodhi Gardens, the story falls apart in its last act because it's trying to be too cool, philosophical and mystical, all at the same time ultimately making a mess of a decent story. But there are some real chilling moments to be explored here and it makes a specious argument about the effects of inequality among the people.

"Last in, First Out" penned by Irwin Allan Sealy is my personal favourite in the book. Situated in the youth centric, yet dangerous terrains of Delhi Ridge; it brings home a valid issue about the numerous, yet unreported cases of sexual assault on couples visiting this area in late evening for some clandestine romantic moments. Told from an auto-rickshaw driver point of view, it punches you in the gut when he try to prevent a couple from the hands of a bunch of rapists. You can't help feeling the irony of the situation...because believe it or not, it could be you as well.

"Parking" by Ruchir Joshi is based in Nizamuddin West Area. It is a powerful revenge story by the brutal and corrupt policemen lurking near the parking areas in the hope of a quick bribe. The narrative is brisk and one tone but at the same time it also highlights how the misuse of power ultimately backfires and then, unfortunately for the power holders there is no looking back but a dark and dangerous situation to deal with. This story has some of the best one-liners in the whole book.

"Hissing Cobras" by Nalinaksha Bhattacharya is a female retribution story located in posh R.K. Puram area of south Delhi. Mukta, the central protagonist is sexually exploited by the police officer who is working on the case involving the death of her own mother in law. Even though predictable in parts, it still has a raw energy floating in the narrative because the writer never shy away in showing the 'cheaper' and 'slutty' ways of Mukta's grey personality to get her work done. And yes, there is a great pun intended on the regressive saas-bahu serials.

Part 2 - Youngistan

"The Railway Aunty" by Mohan Sikka exposes a gigolo rung run by a seemingly simple house-wife living in the obnoxious by-lanes of Paharganj. It exposes the fragility of the youth which can go to any distance for earning some quick buck. There is a hefty mix of desire and danger mushrooming among all the characters. So even if you cringe in embarrassment by their sexual innuendos, you can't move an inch while the story unfolds in front of your eyes.

"Hostel" by Siddharth Chowdhary is set in the North campus of Delhi university, where a group of students are voyeuristically engrossed in the sexual escapades of their landlord, who incidentally is a notorious gangster. It is sensual, gory and gritty at several points in the narrative, never letting go of the stark realism it has set itself. This short story also forms the first chapter of the novel, Day Scholar written by the same author.

"Small Fry" by Meera Nair takes you along the ISBT of Kashmiri Gate, where an innocent kid working for a bus driver gets involved in adult crime to earn some quick buck, only to realise the fatal consequences later on. Watch out how he gets sucked into the whole drama, even when he is half-willingly to immerse himself into it. In a city where the haves are constantly clashing with have-nots; this is a dark, almost disturbing story to read.

"Fit of rage" by Palash Krishan Mehrotra pans out in Defence Colony. It covers an important issue regarding safety of senior citizens/old people in the city. I personally believe the development of any city is dependent on how these people feel while living here. Unfortunately, Delhi falls behind big time in ensuring their well being. The story is an exhilarating account of how the servants working for years in a home turns evil to kill their old employers to earn some easy money.

"Just another death" by Hartosh Singh Bal opens up the other side of the Yamuna and set his story in Gyan Kunj. It recounts the story of a young reporter surviving in a newspaper industry on the brink of a massive change. There is a distant disaffection with all the characters here, not because everyone is so mean but all provides a stark realism of the kind of manipulative world we live in these days.

Part 3 - Walled City, World City

"Gautam under a tree" written by Hirsh Sawhney himself traces the lanes of Green Park, a location where people from various strata of society meets, interacts and forget about each other in a matter of moments. It traces life of an ex-journalist looking for affection and coming into terms with his own past in one way or another. It does get too preachy at times, but don't judge by its appearance because it has lot of heart and some genuine lump-in-the-throat moments.

"The Scam" by Tabish Khair is set around Jantar Mantar and focuses on the numerous migrants from different parts of India who have shifted here in the hope of a better living but ultimately leading a hand-to-mouth existence by cooking, cleaning and shining shoes. The tale is a nice mixture of following your instinct or giving up cynicism while coping up with all the struggles to live every day in this cosmopolitan city.

"The walls of Delhi" by Uday Prakash has been translated from Hindi and is located in Rohini. The protagonist Ramniwas has stumbled upon a lot of 'black money', surreptitiously shoved in a wall in the house of his employer. This begins an enthralling journey where he starts spending the money to improve life style of his own family and the related complications thereafter. The psychological and sociological aspects of the whole journey provides a chilling adrenalin pumping experience of reading which is truly memorable.

"Cull" by Manjula Padmanabhan, set in Bhalswa is a fitting end to the book. It is in a sci-fiction mode and delivers a futuristic tale of caste divide in this "walled city" of Delhi. It has inherent sincerity attached to it and remains true to the spirit of the city, not for a moment compromising on the violent and almost cynical side of Delhi.

I am going with 4/5 for Delhi Noir, an anthology edited by Hirsh Sawhney. Almost all the stories are riveting tales of sexual voraciousness, corruption, hatred, greed, vengeance and above all, dark underbelly life of this urban city. All the character are flesh and blood, and even though you may hate a lot of them, you can't ignore reading their fascinating trials and tribulations. Don't miss out on this one, Strongly recommended!!


Smita said...

I am getting this book, like NOW!

Amit Gupta said...


Great, i hope you will enjoy it as much as i did. It is totally worth it.

sanjeev said...

Hi Amit
I will definietly pick this one next. I like the clarity and seeemigly honest way of presenting your take. I find this great to have been in touch with you on 50bookchallenge and happy to note that we currently not have much of Book list overlap. That gives me enough fair share of warning or encouragement to try.
Like your post
Great - enjoy