The megacity that istoday’s Delhi is built upon thick layers of history. For a millennium, Delhihas been at the crossroads of trade, culture and politics. The stories of itsbuildings and great historical personalities have been told many times but thisbook approaches the past of India’s capital through its literary culture. Byfocusing on writers and thinkers, we meet a colourful cast of characters onlyglancingly mentioned in political histories.
Many Delhiites are surprised to learn that thelanguage of their city’s cultural heyday was Persian. Despite first beingbrought to India by invaders, it eventually became an authentically Indianlanguage used in both administration and literature. Although it was cultivatedby an elite, it was also a widely available language of aspiration andopportunity, like English today. It connected India to the wider world and theIndian Subcontinent, particularly Delhi, was once a place where talented poetsand scholars from the whole Persian cultural world – from Turkey to easternChina came to make their fortunes. Its traces remain everywhere but Persian iseffectively a dead language in India today.