New city, old walls

Suraj Rai, a 'self-trained Linux system administrator' in LNJP colony, a settlement near Delhi's Ajmeri Gate that came up in the '60s, knows what demolition squads can do to lives. So far, they have spared his neighbourhood but Rai has always watched, "gathering this experience, becoming informed", as he says, of this city's ways. He has seen homes turn into rubble, their secret corners exposed for all to see, people searching for 'documents' in the hope that the city may identify them, call them its own.

But when the first fleet of bulldozers rumbled into Nangla Macchi, a 150-acre settlement sitting on fly-ash deposits near Pragati Maidan, and Rai sat down to write about the demolition, he realised he had no words to describe what he felt. "The words that make my vocabulary were too weak to express those emotions. I knew what I experienced needed a lexicon different from the one handed down to me by newspapers. But that lexicon has not yet come into being in this city," he writes.

But while writing so, Rai may have unwittingly helped create that lexicon. Trickster City brings together 20 writers, including Rai, to create that new language to describe Delhi. It's a city that has flaunted its layers—its monuments, its flyovers, the malls and the chaat corners—but has quietly tucked away its ugliness.

The 20 authors of this book make no attempt to hide that reality because it's the only one they know. Azra Tabassum, Jaanu Nagar, Lakhmi Chand Kohli, Yashoda Singh, Kiran Verma, Suraj Rai, Neelofar, Kulwinder Kaur, Shamsher Ali, Babli Rai, Ankur Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Love Anand, Nasreen, Rabiya Quraishy, Sunita Nishad, Saifuddin, Arish Qureshi and Tripan Kumar, the authors of this book, are in their twenties and live in colonies such as LNJP in central Delhi, Dakshinpuri in south Delhi and Sawda-Ghevra, a resettlement colony on Delhi's northern fringe. These are writings that came up during discussions on their lives in various Cybermohalla labs set up by Ankur Society and Sarai-CSDS.

The writings are drawn from their experiences, though it's hard to say if they are fictional or documentary. Of urban eviction, love stories gone wrong, the Delhi police's misplaced slogan, and the struggle to rebuild lives. The authors make no attempt to structure the stories, making it a refreshingly new experiment in writing. In 'Rasool bhai, how come you are in Delhi', Shamsher Ali tells the story of Rasool, a ragpicker, who learns the trade from his younger brother but realises his brother may have tricked him about the finer points of the business. The story is told without a narrator and each character gets a para to speak, a soliloquy in print.

Lakhmi Chand Kohli's 'It made news' is a thumbnail sketch—a woman curses and beats up her son as he is being led away by the police. Why? Did the boy kill someone? Nobody knows. But if you were there on that road in Dakshinpuri, you won't either, or you won't have the time to find out.

In her note at the end of the book, Shveta Sarda, who has translated the works of all the writers, writes evocatively of how she worked with all the writers, the struggles of each as they strung together their thoughts at group discussions. She shares a diary entry from one such discussion: "A mother doesn't throw away her grown-up daughter's report card from primary school as it has their address on it and can show how long they have lived at that address…"

But the book needs a few coordinates to place it in context. To start with, the concept of Cybermohallas could have been explained to help understand the idea of the book better. Also, while Sarda speaks of Behrupiya Seher, the note doesn't say that Trickster City is the English version of the book that came out in 2007.

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