Saturday, December 15, 2007

Aasamaan dekhi Dilli/Delhi seen from the sky

People do strange things when they miss cities. Kalidasa's Yaksha, exiled from fair Alkapuri and his love who lives there, asks a cloud to take his message to her. And perhaps to make the prospect attractive to the cloud, he tells him of diversions, fair cities to float over along the way. Go West over Ujjain, the yaksha tells the cloud, even though it's not quite on the way. It is a strange and lovely whimsy – though the yaksha is surely eager to get his message to his beloved, he does not want the cloud to miss the sight of the palace roofs of Ujjain.

Like the cloud messenger, I soar and swoop over Delhi, and look down at its rooftops and markets, its parks and gardens. I have Wikimapia, which makes my computer screen the window to home, while snow is falling outside my 'real' window here. How can I send these strange cold clouds over Delhi? But I can participate in another magic, no less wonderful – the transformation of surveillance technology into people's complex, multi-layered maps of home and longing.

Delhi on Wikimapia, seen by satellite, is sometimes strange. I never realized Delhi had so many swimming pools, reflecting blue back to the sky. I never realized Delhi had so many graveyards. Like the one at ITO, behind the Sales Tax office building. It's hard to make out even from top. A green space covered with trees, I would have thought it was a park, if Mohd Rashid hadn't marked it. Clicking on the bounded box with which he has marked the kabristan, you get to this poignant note, 'My all expired relatives are here. One day I will be also here... Rashid'. There are other graveyards too, that you may not see even when you pass them everyday, because they are hidden away behind modern buildings, with narrow, ill-marked paths leading to them. Like the Kabristan Kalu Sarai, behind Azad Apartments and Mother's International School. Or the one in Civil Lines, between Rajpur Road and Underhill Road. Wikimapia makes me ask, why is Delhi a city of reticent graveyards, keeping its dead hidden away?

But in Wikimapia's Delhi, the dead find their place in the city, along with the 'Patli Gali' in Begampur marked by Naresh and Atal; The 'Walia's (Canada, USA) Haweli' in Jangpura Extension and its wonderful K Block which 'is encircles a beautiful park where children and elgery have great fun'(this is true); and 'Rama Madam Office' in Chandni Chowk where 'U FIND THE WILLIAM HANDLER ACCOUNTS AND RUNING SCHOOL MAN IS SUPERCOMPUTER'. Delhi seen from Wikimapia, this Delhi of overlapping, intersecting boundaries of home and intimacy, seen from the sky, makes me smile, and makes me ache.

The most striking sight of Delhi I've seen on Wikimapia, is undoubtedly the Khirki Masjid,in Khirki Village off Press Enclave Road. Seen from the sky, this large fourteenth century mosque still has exquisitely perfect symmetry, its square courtyards and clusters of domes comparable to nothing else, really, except maybe a Pachisi board. Across the road rises the gigantic mall cluster of the Saket District Centre, ugly as only a group of malls can be. In Delhi seen from the sky, the irony is even starker.

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