"Maps of Delhi" | Here’s what’s in store in ‘Maps of Delhi’
Maps, like books, should be freely accessible to the public because they contribute to the understanding of geography, the physical space we inhabit. Maps are therefore essential tools for city planning and also important for scholars and researchers in many disciplines. But in India, accurate and detailed survey plans are difficult to find. Even original architectural drawings and plans of historic buildings, which are already in the public domain either as publications or in foreign libraries and archives, are subject to limited access as they are kept under lock and key with their respective custodians in India. Thus, researchers working on colonial buildings or cities in India are handicapped and invariably find it easier to get the drawings they need in the British Library or the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, for example, than in Indian repositories. This impacts the scope and quality of their research because they try and avoid confronting the hurdles such research entails when they have to search for them in India. Not surprisingly, some of the best research on Indian cities and its historic architecture is done by scholars outside of India.
It is in this context that one needs to laud the initiative of Pilar Maria Guerrieri for making available the maps she had painstakingly collected during the course of her research on Delhi and publishing them in the form of this book.
Most of the maps are from publicly accessible sources and archives in India, which have been carefully identified, and the material has been organised in a manner that it would be much easier for future scholars to locate them. The maps have also been copiously annotated to understand their respective contexts and, thus, facilitate the search for research material.
In the past, historical maps have been published, but this initiative can be distinguished from the earlier publications from the disciplinary perspective of urban planning. Guerrieri has used these maps to analyse the evolution of the city rather than merely illustrate it. She has used the maps to understand the evolution of the city in the manner that a historian would use written archival records to understand the narrative of historical events. On the basis of her analysis, for instance, she compellingly demonstrates that Delhi is a composite city of singular parts collectively forming an intricate whole: ‘Delhi, a city of cities’.
The genealogy of her research method could perhaps be traced to her Italian architectural education and its deeply rooted academic tradition of understanding a city by studying its maps and drawings. Such an analysis reveals the meaning and significance of the structure and elements of its parts in order to engage with the city more productively, either as scholars or as professionals.
For example, Giancarlo de Carlo established the International Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Design (ILAUD), an extra-curricular academic research entity, that conducted intensive summer camps in various Italian cities for several decades, in which participants not only from Italy but all over the world would engage with specific issues of the selected city being studied through mapping its attributes in order to understand it and make proposals to deal with and resolve its contingent urban problems. These pioneering initiatives established the Italian academic culture of physical planning, which becomes evident in the manner Guerrieri studied Delhi. With great commitment and dedication she collected the maps and drawings from the various archives, which she used to construct her research narrative. The detailed annotations she provides to each map further emphasises and accentuates her method of analysis, which is characteristically Italian in nature.
The present book can also be appreciated at other registers: maps narrate, for example, the many purposes of map-making. Some were made for military purposes, others to facilitate travel and tourism, while many for the more ubiquitous representational purposes urban planners are familiar with, to delineate and record land parcels for habitation and different land uses for the planned development of the city. For whatever purpose they were made at different times, compiled together they become valuable historic information, which can help us understand the evolution of the urban form of Delhi and appreciate the design and typological changes that were introduced over time. The maps that have been selected for this publication, besides being useful as relevant reference tools, can also be appreciated purely for their aesthetics.
Today, when digital Google maps and satellite photographs are easily available and have transformed our visual imagination of the geography of a city, we begin to realise through publications such as this one, how the beauty of printed maps and the many forms of pleasures and insights they offer when they are physically handled have been elided in public consciousness, thus diminishing an important attribute of the city they represent.