By Mitali Chakravarty

 

Delhi was a beautiful town — a lifetime ago, an age ago, an era ago.

Gulmohars and Amaltaz blooms announced the onset of summer and before that a spray of different flowers — verbena, phlox, pansies, sweet peas, calendulas, roses, dahlias, chrysanthemums, gladioli and many more — announced the onset of winters and spring in Delhi. Gardens and roads bloomed with the colours of nature. The residents of Delhi were considered lucky by people from other parts of the country. I remember an uncle from Calcutta saying that Delhi was comparable to London!

Surely, the buildings are still there — but right now one needs to skirt past pan stains, turds and the stench of urine when one explores the lordliest of structures in Delhi — the Connaught Place. Earlier there was a huge fountain in the middle of Connaught Place in a large circular garden. The fountain spewed water the colours of rainbows with lighting at night. To me, it was the most fascinating sight on Earth — watching the water change colours and sometimes even become like a candle flame.

There was no Shaheen Bagh. And roads had cosmopolitan names — Curzon Road, Minto Road, Shah Jahan Road and many more. I remember the name Curzon particularly because I went there to visit my future aunt for the first time. She lived in an apartment in Curzon Road. She eventually became my aunt when my uncle opted to marry her— an aunt whose mother was a Kashmiri and father, a Punjabi. My uncle of course was a Bengali. We grew up in a Delhi where our neighbours came from diverse cultures, where we mingled with people from diverse religions and lived in harmony with differences. Tolerance was not a problem. I remember we had a boy in our school whose father was a Hindu and mother a Christian. We even had family members of mixed heritage. That was in the 1970s and 1980s.

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Billionaire Raj

Author: James Crabtree

Publisher: One World, 2018

Billionaire Raj by the former Financial Times Bureau chief in India, James Crabtree,  is a journalistic assessment of not only how the British Raj in India has been replaced by entrepreneurs and politicians who work symbiotically to create a close nexus of exclusive crony capitalism but also gives an optimistic outlook for the future… with a few strings attached.

The book comes across as a series of clear well-researched articles strung together thematically in logical order. From British Raj, India moved to ‘License Raj’, where a license was needed to start any venture. Once that was lifted, the age of billionaires sets in. He has compared this period to the Gilded Age of American history, an era in the nineteenth century of robber barons and rich bankers, just after the American Civil War.

Crabtree plunges in with stories of people he calls ‘Bollygarchs’, a new term which has evolved to define billionaire-entrepreneurs with Russian oligarchic tendencies like, Vijaya Mallya, Ambani and Adnani and more. The best way to understand the Bollygarchs is perhaps to imagine the flashy Bollywood culture (like that seen in the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) brought to life.