Friday. Three days left to leave Delhi. I wake up at seven after three hours of sleep on a friend's sofa in Hauz Khas. Last evening rewinds. I had left people praying in a fourteenth century ruin with cordless microphones to go to an open mic featuring a reggae rapper also known as 'Delhi Sultanate', followed by drinks at a cheap bar with nineteen seventies mirrored glitz, followed by a wild midnight auto ride (by meter, even!) and a night of further drinking and dancing and conversation followed by passing out on the sofa at four in the morning. Guiltily, i feel glad about returning to New York. It will be relaxing.
I have a shoot to reach at eight. It's for an documentary series on Delhi's history. But instead of the usual trite and cliched take on the 'seven cities of Delhi'; the director has got pretty much much everyone working now on various aspects of historical Delhi to talk to her, and get them to them to re-visit the sites of their work on camera, setting up an interesting dialogue between contemporary Delhi and its myriad pasts. This morning I am walking with Sunil Kumar, historian of medieval Delhi, as we follow the path of an important stream/naala which begins from the Hauz-e Shamsi at Mehrauli and finally meets the Yamuna.
Along the way, the stream forms part of the moats of Qila Rai Pithora/Dehli Kohna and Siri; passes through the fourteenth century barrage known as Satpula; and passes by the sufi settlements of Chiragh Dehli and Nizamuddin which came up along its banks. We start at the weed-choked, shrunken Hauz-e Shamsi, which was once the most significant sources of water for the people of Delhi, but around which people now need tankers to bring their water in. It's a depressing place to start, and sort of apt, for the stream we're following on from the Hauz-e Shamsi is for most of its length now the dirtiest of Dilli's ganda naalas. But walking with Sunil Kumar, and his intimate knowledge of the history and geography of Sultanate Delhi, makes the past come alive. It's as if we're walking through two times at once; a stereoscopic photograph, or maybe a double exposure; the thirteenth and twenty first centuries visible simultaneously. Only in Delhi, I think.
And only in Delhi, what happened next. We walked into A Block, Golf View Apartments, Saket, to get a view of the Budayun Gate of the old city wall behind. One of the camera-people, away from the rest of the crew, was pounced on by an old Punjabi couple. They were getting some construction done to their house. His camera was snatched from him, and returned after a few minutes, but now the tape was gone. They denied all knowledge of any tape, of ever having touched the camera, accused us of being thieves and worse. The RWA and the police arrived, and a four hour standoff ensued. Finally, when the couple realized that they'd got into more shit than they could handle, the tape was thrown out of the back door.