Old wine in new bottle

Old wine in new bottle

You could call it jumping on the Commonwealth Games bandwagon or smart packaging. But you could also call it presenting a mostly first-rate selection of fiction and non-fiction books that have the Capital city as their focus.

The big daddy of English publishing in India, Penguin Books, has unveiled the Delhi Bookshelf, a set of 21 titles, 20 of which have been published previously. Three-four books each have been slotted in different categories—anthologies, biographies, histories, stories and food. Two titles each come under journeys and “others". And one of the two in this last hold-all category is the gem Trees of Delhi, by the film-maker-turned-self-taught naturalist Pradeep Kishen. A delightful compendium of the trees that can be found in Delhi—non-native species planted along its boulevards and in its many gardens, as well as those found in the wild in the Ridge area—it has bite-size nuggets of historical and general anecdotes, photos and diagrams, all presented with a simple and straightforward elegance.

“The last Englishman will be an Indian"—maybe so, but many Dilliwalas are coming around to the view that the last of their ilk will turn out to be a Scotsman. We are talking, of course, about William Dalrymple, author of another classic in this list, City of Djinns. His more recent offering, a biography of Bahadur Shah Zafar, titled The Last Mughal, makes the cut too, as does his essay in the excellent anthology, Celebrating Delhi, edited by Mala Dayal and released just a couple of months ago. The other personage in this collection is the redoubtable and irrepressible Khushwant Singh, as a novelist (Delhi) and as an editor of an anthology (City Improbable: Writings on Delhi). Singh has also contributed a memorable piece on his father Sir Sobha Singh, who built and owned large chunks of New Delhi, to Celebrating Delhi.

“This is the right time to showcase Penguin’s very rich list of Delhi books," says Himali Sodhi, head of marketing for Penguin India. She had in mind two titles with instant currency—Road to Commonwealth Games 2010 by Sunil Yash Kalra, and Eyewitness Travel: Top 10 Delhi, published under the Dorling Kindersley imprint, for all the visitors expected in the city for the Games.

Among other titles is Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridor, the first graphic novel to depict Delhi; Delhi: Adventures in Megacity by journalist Sam Miller; and the food book Flavours of Delhi by Charmaine O’Brien.

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