"Maps Of Delhi" by Pilar Maria Guerrieri
It’s not every day that a part of your doctorate research work results in a book. Pilar Maria Guerrieri’s Maps Of Delhi, published by Niyogi Books, was launched on Thursday in the presence of historian Narayani Gupta and author-historian William Dalrymple.
This book published Guerrieri, a student of architecture from the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, who is currently an assistant professor at the GD Goenka University, in Gurugram, adjacent to Delhi, gives context, stories and detailed narratives of maps from the early 19th century up to the latest master plan for 2021.
Going through the book with Guerrieri feels a little like short doses of time travel. For example, it was while studying some of the maps that she learned that Connaught Place, which is now a prime commercial space, was initially imagined by the British as a railway station. Pointing to a later map, she traces how the railway line was actually laid out in her book—snaking around one side of the location, as a boundary between Shahjahanabad and New Delhi. “This was posted the 1857 revolt, so they just kept the railways as a sort of boundary between the old town and New Delhi, and also as a way for the army to reach the city very quickly in case of any revolt,” she says.
Historical and nostalgic value aside, the hand-drawn maps “train your eyes differently”, sated Guerrieri. “That you have a human being behind the drawn map is the most interesting part. You see what the city was like before, and (in some cases) even find unrealized visions that the city’s architects had for it,” she says, adding that the aesthetic value of such maps to is undeniable. “They are very effective ways of telling the story of a city.”
Some maps in the book carry curious little notes—memorably, one reads “where Nicholson fell”. This, Guerrieri explains, alludes to how and where East India Company officer John Nicholson had succumbed to his wounds, soon after leading the “Storming of Delhi”, the British siege of the city.
“I’m not a cartographer or a historian, and the book is open to various interpretations. Everybody can read their own stories within it,” Guerrieri says. Who knows, maybe a few years down the line an enlarged copy of the book can be reprinted, she thinks out loud, with 50 more maps that will add to Delhi’s ongoing story.