ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Creation of an Imperial City

From Ghalib's Dilli to Lutyens' New Delhi:A Documentary Record edited by Mushirul Hasan and Dinyar Patel (New Delhi: Oxford University Press/ National Archives of India), 2014; pp xliii + 296, Rs 1,395.

Among the postcards being sold to tourists who visited Delhi in the 1920s were ones that depicted building sites. New Delhi, arising to the south of Shahjahanabad (the latter soon to be irrevocably dubbed Old Delhi), was at this point still dotted with scaffolding and sandstone in aspects complete and incomplete. The emblematic status of this imperial city seemed to bathe even its construction sites in a picturesque late-evening glow. The collection under review, however, approaches Raisina at noon – under far less glamorous, and at times more clarifying, light. The symbolic significance accorded to the architecture of the city is undercut here by presenting the government deliberations – over the mundanities of expense, jurisdiction and personnel – that led to its erection.

The book spans a brief three years, from the 1911 announcement of Delhi as the new capital of British India until (for no explicitly supplied reason) 1914. Apart from a useful introduction, it consists entirely of reproductions of correspondence held at the National Archives of India. These are organised into seven thematic sections, four of which deal with different facets of planning for the building and running of the capital, while the other three concern issues of land acquisition, health and environment, and the protests lodged against the project. A CD is also included which has seven maps of Delhi ranging from 1903-34.

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