BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Still skipping ahead ...

Again, apologies to those (assuming that there might be some) who expect these reviews to follow along with my "collection order" from LibraryThing ... I still haven't gotten around to doing a review of a book I finished a couple of weeks back, but hope to get to it this weekend!

The current read is an odd little book ... I picked it up at the famed Newberry Library Book Fair a year or so back, and for some reason it wanted to get read this month. Delhi and its Neighbourhood is a publication of the Archaeological Survey of India, authored by a Y.D. Sharma back in 1964. The copy I have is a 1982 re-print of the 1974 second edition (which, judging from page count, was a significant expansion on the initial publication).

Although this went to press in 1982, it has that "antique" feel of many books coming out of South Asia ... as the pages are "hand set" (you can see where blocks of type had been swapped out for edits) and the photos are that particular high-contrast B&W which recalls thick metal plates set in wood frames.

It's an odd feeling reading a book like this, both from the noted physical aspects, and the fact that it is, essentially, a tourist guide of various historical and archaeological sites in and around Delhi. The book consists of about 1/3 brief historical over-view of the region, and 2/3 descriptions of locations and features of various sites. Since I am not in Delhi (although I did visit a number of place listed in here when I was in India back in the early 80's), I am left to having the book "paint word pictures for me" mostly, as there are only about 30 photos to cover 150 or so mentioned places. This, of course, would be far less likely were they to do a Third edition on modern computer equipment, where the cost of adding photos is simply that of sending somebody out to shoot the images!

As I mentioned, I have a passing familiarity with a dozen or so of the things described here, so it was a bit of a "trip down memory lane" for me in reading it, enough so that I wasn't totally frustrated with entries like: "About 400m south-east of the Flagstaff Tower lies the Chauburji-Masjid, a double-storeyed structure with a central chamber surrounded by a small chamber on each side." followed by suggestions of what might have been there if the whole thing wasn't all in ruins. Needless to say, pictures of each site would have helped a whole lot!

This is not to say that there aren't fascinating bits and pieces through the book (such as archaeological traces of cultures in the Delhi area going back to at least 1,000bce, and pretty good indications that Indraprastha, capital of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata, was a historical place in the Delhi region. Of course, "archaeological traces" are what you get a lot of in India as the Muslims did a pretty bang-up job of destroying everything that they could of the previous Hindu culture, something that I certainly saw in India (mosques built on the foundations of ancient temples), and that is repeatedly referred to in the descriptions here (where materials looted from Hindu structures were re-used in Islamic architecture). Another notable "theme" is that in a lot of cases there are tombs, but no clear idea (aside from fanciful local namings) of whose tombs these were. I guess the Islamic culture's phobias for "representations" must have extended into "iffy" record keeping (or inscriptions ... needless to say, the ancient Egyptians, death cultists extraordinares, would be mystified at building a tomb that didn't preserve the deceased's name for all eternity!). Despite this, familiar names do crop up (to those with some background in Indian history), lending a bit of familiarity with some of the text.

The book also comes with two fold-out maps, one being an over-view of the region with the various "cities" (each new conqueror seemed to start their own in the area), and one a detailed plan of the famed Red Fort.

Obviously, I think that Delhi and its Neighbourhood would be greatly improved by having a new edition with lots of pictures ... that would be an interesting "armchair traveler" read for anybody. As it currently stands, however, I think it would be somewhat impenetrable for somebody without at least a moderate knowledge of the area. Not that getting a copy is a high likelihood at this point, with only two copies in play with the Amazon new/used vendors (I guess I was lucky to stumble over one). It is, however, out there if this sounds like something that you need to add to your library!

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Tags: book review
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