Sam Miller – “Delhi – Adventures in a Megacity”

by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

August 17th, 2009

Sam Miller is the Delhi correspondent for the BBC, and has lived in Delhi on and off for close to 20 years. Confessing to having hated the city when he first arrived, Miller now regards it as his home from home. I was fortunate enough to catch up with him at his recent book launch in Mumbai, and as a self confessed “Delhi-ite” myself (as opposed to being a “Mumbiker”) it was fun to catch up and share stories. And what stories they are that Miller brings to life in his observations about the city. Delhi is of course split into two – New Delhi, designed by Edward Lutyens to show off the glory of the British Raj (which is does with considerable style) and Old Delhi, sadly reduced to teeming streets and slums opposite the imposing Red Fort, but previously itself the life and soul of the city. Much to my delight, Miller retells the sordid activities of the Connaught Place Shit Squirter – a scam which has befallen me on more than one occasion. Connaught Place, a circular park (now a roundabout with subterranean walkways) is home, high above, to Jacaranda trees, and the occasional Rhesus Macque – large aggressive monkeys that are better left alone. Below, hawkers ply their wares, including the local shoe shine man. Yet ignore him at your peril, because, walking past and down to the subway, someone will occasionally point out a large lump of what looks like monkey shit on your shoe. The phantom shit squirter has struck again. The shoe shining scam has apparently been going on for 25 years – yet the squirting is crafty, unspotted, and deadly accurate. Miller even took a team of undercover BBBC cameramen down to see if they could catch the squirter in action, but all to no avail.

Blaming it on the monkeys, the second time I was targeted I gingerly examined the mess. I suspect it’s a foul concoction of rancid mango pulp and decayed sediment from a local disused sewer, but I’m not going to send it off for analysis. Miller’s chapter on the subject then brings real Delhi just that extra bit into focus as he tramps the streets, finds ancient temples, discusses philosophy with beggars and eats the street food. In all, it’s a great read, both as an introduction too, and a loving memoir of Delhi, and I cannot recommend it highly enough if you are to spend any time in the city. But if you do – just keep an eye when walking Connaught Place.