Amongst more the more illustrious members of the expats-in-India blogosphere is Dave Prager. Those who spend a lot of time reading blogs will likely already be familiar with Dave and wife Jenny's 'Our Delhi Struggle', a funny and perceptive look at their life in Delhi between 2007- 2009. However, as Dave wrote on the blog, the couple's Delhi stories did not run out the moment they left in 2009. 'Our Delhi Struggle' continued, with tale after fascinating tale of people, places and experiences in Delhi. And now, finally, a long-promised book has been published based on the blog's success. It's called 'Delirious Delhi'. It's an enthralling read, packed with Dave's distinctive matter-of-fact evocations of strange and intense emotional experiences. The book's appeal, meanwhile, is certainly not limited to expats nodding in agreement. While the reader clearly sees Delhi through Dave's (and to an extent Jenny's) eyes, 'Delirious Delhi' offers a far-reaching overview of a teeming, contradictory metropolis that is as impossible to define as any other Indian city, including the more-frequently-examined Mumbai. Dave was kind enough to answer a few questions for The NRI about 'Delirious Delhi', 'Our Delhi Struggle' and his and Jenny's experience in India.
Why did you decide to start the 'Our Delhi Struggle' blog in the first place?
My wife Jenny started the blog. I went straight to work in Gurgaon as soon as I reached India, so it was up to her to buy all the household necessities. She had a tough time figuring out very simple things (like where do you buy superglue?), so she started the blog to share what she learned with future expats moving here. By the time life became less of a struggle, it was too late to change the name of the blog.
Regular readers of 'Our Delhi Struggle' will no doubt be eagerly awaiting 'Delirious Delhi', but newcomers might wonder what to expect when there is so much writing already on your site. How is the book different from the blog?
The blog was a collection of 500-word essays on particular subjects. The book is a single, holistic, 100,000 word narrative in twelve chapters. Many of the essays from the blog were worked into the narrative of the book, but 90% of it is never-before-read content. Delirious Delhi provides a complete snapshot of Delhi as we came to know it. It's designed to help expats demystify Delhi, and to help Delhiites understand the motivations of expats.
What's your most positive memory of Delhi?
Mostly it's the food. Man, that food. But beyond that, my mind keeps returning to the sight of the Metro being constructed along MG Road as I'd pass it at 7:00 AM on weekday mornings. (I'd get up early to beat traffic.) It would look so beautiful disappearing overhead into the morning fog.
How about your most negative memory?
The so-called domestic single-malt scotch I bought in the GK II market -- it gave me three days of food poisoning.
Apart from being a handy piece of alliteration, what makes Delhi 'delirious'?
Delirious is a perfect word because it has so many appropriate definitions. Delhi is hallucinatory, it's feverish, it's overjoyed, it's energizing -- all at the same time. The psyche of the city is all these things at once.
The phrase ‘the real India’ is often used by foreigners to make a distinction between how they used to perceive India and how they perceive it, or something about it, after going and spending time there. Of all the experiences you’ve had in India, which one, by your estimation, felt most like that so-called ‘real India’?
I don't think it's for foreigners to decide what the 'real India' is. It's all real. What we call 'real' is what we imagine it to be -- which means it's an idealized India. Is it any less real if you go into a village and they're all using mobile phones? It's not how you may have imagined it from reading the guidebooks, but that's how it is. That's real. The malls are real. Cafe Coffee Day is real. Old Delhi is real. It's all part of what is driving India today.
Your post 'friends' beautifully articulates that necessity to trust your instincts and just go along with things in India. How much of a challenge was that for you?
Our attitude in India was to say "yes" to everything, no matter how much it flew against our instincts. So if the taxi stand boss offers us whiskey, we say "yes". If he calls up a client in the US and hands us the phone, we say "yes". It's hard to ignore your instincts like that (and it leads to awkward conversations with confused people in Washington DC), but it's worth it.
Between when you left the States and when you returned, do you feel that Americans' understanding of India has changed?
I think India is on the cusp of being huge in America. The food is already wildly popular, and I think there is more and more awareness of the culture coming to America. I think the tourism numbers will skyrocket as well.
Do you and Jenny have any intention to live in India again?
We'd love to. Except my mom has two grandchildren now, and one of them already lives in Australia. If we moved the other one to India, my mom would murder me.
Where should people go if they want to find out more about 'Delirious Delhi'?