A Critique of Delhi

Delhi OMG! is a drain inspector’s report on Delhi.  The author, Vinod Nair, is “heading the Human Resources function in a US multinational company based out of (sic) Gurgaon.”  He was born and brought up in Delhi and knows the ins and outs of the city.  His first book, Delhi OMG!, describes all the sleaze one will normally encounter in the social and moral milieu of the city.  The bulk of the sleaze is such that it takes all of 300 pages!

Is the book a novel?  Neither the author nor the publisher describes it as a novel anywhere in the book.  But it is written in the form of a novel.  The book “traces the journey of Dinesh, a middle-class offspring as he meanders through life and the city of Dilli in his struggle for survival,” according to the introduction on the opening page.  The fact, however, is that Dinesh never struggles for survival at any period of his life as described in the book (which I refuse to call a novel).  His childhood is spent in a Type IV (“a four-room unit”) government flat in Netaji Nagar.  His father was a top-level bureaucrat.  He was educated in Mount St Mary’s School.  He goes on to do MBA and pocket plush jobs all through until he is successfully ensconced in an MNC.  I don’t understand why he is described as a person struggling for survival.

The author implies that contentment in life does not come from mere material successes.  And Delhi is only interested in material successes.  The author takes us through the various lanes and by-lanes of Delhi and every possible vice they offer unfailingly.  The pornography on sale in Palika Bazar, the pirated CDs in Nehru Place, prostitutes of all varieties in GB Road, landlords who display a stunning variety of cunning and greed, the utterly corrupt world of the real estate mafia and the land/building registration babus…  theft, rape, and crimes of every hue and colour.  And for a change, there are the hollow women of the show-off and gossiping variety.

That’s Delhi, asserts every page of the book.

That’s also Delhi, I would say.  That’s much of Delhi, I grant.  I remember my own first encounter with Delhi as I landed in New Delhi Railway Station as a job-seeker.  The railway clerk simply refused to let me get out of the Station before he fleeced Rs500 out of me for carrying luggage beyond the permitted amount.  My ignorance of Hindi and the clerk’s refusal to comprehend English got me into a neat trap.  The very first job that was offered to me by a reputed publishing concern put a question to me: “Can you really do it?  It’s a cut-throat business.”  It was actually a company that published textbooks and guidebooks for students.  I wondered why one should slit people’s throats in such a business.  I didn’t think slitting throats would be an attractive occupation and hence went back to my original profession of teaching, though the latter offered me half the salary of what the throat-slitter did.

Delhi would teach me soon that there indeed is a lot of throat-slitting whatever your profession may be.

But I have also come across many good people in Delhi.  They may be few in number and may be confined to very private existences.  But they do exist in Delhi.  Vinod Nair has refused to look at that part altogether.  That’s why his book remains a drain inspector’s report.  That’s why the book leaves a bad taste all over your body and mind much before you finish reading it.  In fact, many may not even manage to finish reading it.

Delhi indeed is an Eliotean Waste Land.  Hypocrisy is its hallmark.  But a good book will discover not merely the filth beneath the glossy surface.  Nair does try to enlighten us occasionally by describing the history of certain places mentioned in the book.  All the good things needn’t be stories from the past, however.


About matheikal

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6 Responses to A Critique of Delhi

  1. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    You went looking for balance in all the wrong places, it appears Matheikal. Better luck next time!


  2. Britul says:

    Quote :
    “His life as described in the book (which I refuse to call a novel). His childhood is spent in a Type IV (“a four-room unit”) government flat in Netaji Nagar. His father was a top-level bureaucrat. He was educated in Mount St Mary’s School. He goes on to do MBA and pocket plush jobs all through until he is successfully ensconced in an MNC”
    ….. this is not called the struggle for existence .. moreover there must be some story in it to be a novel. If its not a novel and also if it is written as a novel having characters in it, then what is it exactly ?

    • matheikal says:

      It’s a warning to anyone who dares to enter Delhi! Yes, I think that’s what it is. The rich corporate people don’t want poor people in Delhi. See how they got rid of all the poor using various techniques. This book is one such technique. Even the pity that the protagonist (let me call Dinesh so for want of a better word) feels for the little girl who is sold into prostitution is mere sham, the rich man’s religion.

  3. Does he not show the human side of Delhi? Does he bother to look into the cause as to why Delhi is materialistic? Delhi is a city of refugees,People seeking refuge from poverty or compelled by aspirations to find a better life in Delhi.The greedy cunning landlords are the same people who once had to abandon their own homes due to partition.Delhi is a city of ideas,spark,talent and jugaad!If not in Delhi, this guy must have ended up as an IAS officer or maybe just as an aspirant.MBA is the hottest degree and inspiration to do it comes from?? Delhi!

    • matheikal says:

      The book is certainly one-sided. it refuses to look at the complexity of Delhi with all the variety of populations and the underlying problems as you’ve pointed out.

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