Swapna Liddle works to raise awareness about the architectural and cultural history of Delhi, and is the author of books, including Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi and Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of New Delhi. Shahjahanabad: Mapping a Mughal City is her latest book that reproduces the large-scale, beautifully drawn and coloured map, and considers the city as it had stood prior to its mid nineteenth-century changes. It also examines the city, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and explores its diverse communities and important landmarks.
We recently did a candid interview with her.
1. What is the last book you read?
Richard Eaton’s India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765. Most of the books I read tend to be history books.
2. A guilty pleasure?
Buying antiquarian/first edition books. My dearest possession is a book by the nineteenth century Delhi figure, Master Ramchander. This particular copy was once owned by Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.
3. Where do you write? Do you have a favourite spot?
My favourite spot is a sofa in the living room, but I write wherever I happen to be – it might be at the dining table, or even propped up in bed.
4. What is a book that has stayed with you?
The Great Hedge of India by Roy Moxham. It opened my eyes to the fact that serious historical research, uncovering new aspects of the past, can be written in a completely unpretentious, engaging way.
5. Your mornings are incomplete without…
Playing Scrabble on my phone!
6. What apart from what you do today do you wish you could do or pursue as a career?
Once upon a time I wanted to be a teacher, but today I am happy to be writing and volunteering in the cause of heritage preservation. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
7. Your greatest fear?
The destruction of my beloved historic city, Shahjahanabad. I can see the old havelis disappearing at a rapid rate, and fear there won’t be much left very soon.
8. A trait you admire in yourself?
The ability to be engaged in a particular subject for a very long time. My love affair with the history and heritage of Delhi has lasted almost all my adult life!
9. Who would be the guests at your perfect dinner party?
Close friends and family. I am very introverted, so don’t interact very much even with people I admire, for instance my favourite authors.
10. A book you’d recommend to someone to get them out of a reading slump?
Nayanjot Lahiri’s Time Pieces: A Whistlestop Tour of Ancient India.