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‘Delirious Delhi’: An expat’s 18-month journey

February 24
21:48 2012

NEW DELHI: Expats often face challenges in Delhi but for US-based adman Dave Prager, the joy of living here far outweighed these challenges so much so that he tries to demystify the city by chronicling how he and his wife experienced: isolated, overwhelmed, and loving every minute of their nearly two-year-long stay.
“Every expat has different challenges. Some expats have a lot of trouble adjusting to having maids at home and peons in the office. Others have trouble with the pollution, or the heat. For me, my biggest challenge was the traffic, because I commuted from Delhi to Gurgaon every day. But for us, the joys of living in Delhi far outweighed the challenges,” he says.
Dave was a copywriter working at a Madison Avenue advertising agency until fate offered him the opportunity to spend a year-and-a-half working at the agency’s office in Gurgaon. He and his wife Jenny Steeves leaped to spend the next 18 months “immersed in the cuisine of their dreams”.
And then “Delirious Delhi” was born – a 392 pages book offering hilarious anecdotes, astute observations, and attempted comprehension about what the couple encountered, ate, and stared at while stuck in traffic in Delhi.
“Delhi’s only going to get more influential in the world economy. That’s one reason I wrote the book: as more foreigners come to visit it, whether for business or for pleasure, it’s increasingly important to know what makes the city tick,” Dave told PTI. . He feels most books about India written by Westerners document an obligatory personal journey.
“At first they hate India, but then they learn to love it. At first they’re overwhelmed by the chaos, but then the soul of the people shines through. At first they’re horrified by the poverty, but then they find spirituality in every speck of dirt.
“Many people have talked about Delhi’s problems. I like to focus on the positive side of things: the fact that Delhi, in the face of all its challenges, is still essentially peaceful and prosperous. If you look at history, you find that all of the world’s big cities had periods of great problems — including New York, London, and Singapore. They’ve all overcome those problems, and I know that Delhi will, too.”
According to Prager, every traveler should know three Hindi words – ‘chalo’, ‘theek hai’ and ‘bhaiya’.
The couple’s trajectory in Delhi was different.
“We loved it instantly and intensively, every bit of it, as frightening and overwhelming and incomprehensible as it was.”
Expats, according to him, seek “adventure” in India. “But the adventure we seek is not mountain climbing or jungle safari — It’s things like riding in an auto rickshaw or shopping in a spice market. In other words, we fly 20 hours and pay thousands of dollars to do what everyday Indians would consider chores. That’s just the expat mindset.”
Ask about incidents which he and his wife can never forget and he quips, “I can recall 392 pages worth of them. That’s why I wrote the book! But when I think back, I remember our Holi celebration and our walks through the Old City. Most of all, though, I think about all the great food we ate. More than anything, our memories of Delhi revolve around food.”
And his take on Delhi’s food and hygiene, “You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge a restaurant by its tablecloth. In Delhi, every reward has an equal and opposite challenge necessary to redeem it: which means that sometimes the best food can be found in the not-so-best places.”
Organized into 12 thematic chapters (like worklife, transportation, and food), “Delirious Delhi”, published by HarperCollins, is perfect for expats and locals alike: it helps newcomers orient themselves to this intense and amazing city, and it lets veterans see it through eyes that have never seen anything like it before.

-PTI

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It’s a lovely book. It feels energetically clear and light. It’s easy to read, dip in and out and most importantly it offers information without fluff! Blessings on this project.

Jac O’Keeffe
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