Memories of another day

This fortnight, we bring you two books written in very different styles and in different eras but which deal with ancient cities and talk about a time gone by.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay        Print Edition: May 4, 2008

In the land of Mussolini

Our journey from Brindisi to Naples was very instructive. As we mentioned, it totally destroyed the high opinion we held about European countries in general. The roads were bad, the houses awful and the people dirty. Little urchins ran about streets as if they were nobody’s children. They wore tattered clothes that bore blots and patches of grease, dirt. Soot, mud and everything, and wherefrom a stench of the most unbearable type ensued... …The Coliseum or the Flavian Amphitheatre attracted us like a lodestone.

We knew it was of a large size, very large, but till our eyes dwelt upon it, we never could conceive how enormous it was. Every time we tried to form an estimate of its size with mind’s eye, we conceived it even smaller. The theatre is 615 ft long and 510 ft broad. The rich dark warm colour of the walls, which rise to a height of 164 ft are softened with age.

The wonderful internal arrangement permits seating for 80,000 spectators and a labyrinth of gangways and passages enables each of them to go directly to his seat. There are 80 exits, which could empty that big audience in less time than is required for a modern theatre to clear a thousand people.

Excerpted from With Cyclists Around the World by Adi B. Hakim, Jal P. Bapasola and Rustom B. Bhumgara.
Rs 350
Pp – 376

Life in Delhi in an era gone by

Delhi before 1947 was another country. Open fields, mango groves and graveyards existed where south Delhi stands today. Across the river in east Delhi, Shahdara was a small settlement in the middle of fields and scattered villages. New Delhi was occupied, but had great swathes of empty spaces; it was bare and dusty; today’s stately spreading trees were still frail, young saplings. To the north, the old city was a significant centre of gravity, and the neighbourhoods of Civil Lines, Alipur and what is now the university area, were hubs of middle class activity. Among the first stirrings of the form that urban Indian middle-class living was to take began to the north and west of the old city.

The first modern “suburb” in Delhi was Travelyan-pur or Trevelyangunj, north of Paharganj—one of the four estates belonging to Englishmen in the early decades of the nineteenth century… …Settlements exclusively for Indians were started a hundred years later in Karol Bagh, Western Extension Area (WEA) and Paharganj. These areas were originally orchards (hence the ‘bagh’ in Karol Bagh which was, along with Jorbagh, possibly planted during the reign of Ferozeshah Tughlaq in the mid-fourteenth century.

Excerpted from Delhi Metropolitan: The Making of an Unlikely City by Ranjana Sengupta
Rs 250

Pp – 241
(With permission from Penguin Books India)

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