THIS collection of essays by the author, who began writing under the guidance of his well-known journalist-father, Thomas Smith, revives some very pleasant memories of the Delhi of yesteryears when many of its landmarks, like the rabab-maker, or the lantern man, or the dastan-goh are nowhere to be seen today. The author has been successful in capturing the charm of the imperial capital and its magical hues, not through the eyes of a scholar, but of someone who fell in love with Delhi when he first set foot in it long ago. However, there has been a sea-change in Delhi’s ambience since then.
One of the best stories of the collection is ‘The Story-teller’ which describes how the professional storyteller or the dastan-goh, Mir Baqar Ali, some 890 years ago, would cycle along, selling his stories for a few paise and in the evening, after the Isha prayers, stand on the terrace of his house and relate never-ending stories to a large number of people gathered below. When the time came for them to disperse, they would collect a few rupees from among themselves and hand them over to the dastan-goh for his labours.
A very interesting tale narrated is about a prince who, before leaving his palace, becomes a victim of the machinations of his stepmother, who gives him three bags, each containing 3,000 asharfis or gold coins. Outside the city gates he meets an old man who announces 1,000 asharfis for one reply. One by one the prince gives him all the three bags and in return gets three replies – leave everything else and eat your food first; if you see anyone’s bad deed, keep it a secret and when a menial comes into good fortune, do not resent it or you would come to grief. After many days, when the prince returns to the palace, he sees his father’s slave riding in royal style as he has become the king. The prince keeps quiet but the slave recognises the prince and makes the former an honoured courtier. In course of time, the prince gets to test the other two pieces of advice and after the death of the upstart becomes the king himself.
This book is to be read by those who want to revisit the Delhi of the old. It makes for very pleasant reading.
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