Sheila Dhar’s autobiographical stories, essays, and memoirs are classics of modern Indian prose. An accomplished singer, the world she inhabited included renowned north Indian classical musicians such as Begum Akhtar, Siddheshwari Bai, Fayyaz and Niaz Ahmed Khan, Kesar Bai Kerkar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and Bhimsen Joshi. No writer has ever conveyed the ethos of this world and the quirks of its denizens with such wit, irreverence, perceptiveness and empathy.
Sheila Dhar’s writing straddles many worlds. Once a part of Delhi’s political elite, she is inimitably observant about celebrities as diverse as Indira Gandhi, Joan Robinson, Richard Attenborough, and the Queen of Tonga. In other parts of this book she returns to the Old Delhi she grew up in—its sprawling bungalows, its labyrinthine households with their complicated domestic politics, its bygone musical ambience.
Incisive intelligence, comic effervescence, self-deprecating humour, and a fascinating ability to manipulate the English language for Indian contexts—all combine to make this book an absolute delight.
Many of these writings have been unavailable or out of print for some time. The present book provides, for the first time within the covers of a single volume, Sheila Dhar’s collected shorter writings, including all her memorable stories and essays.
Sheila Dhar (1929–2001) studied at Hindu College, Delhi, and obtained her MA in English (with the highest distinction: summa cum laude) from Boston University. Though she wrote essays and stories with a skill possessed only by the rarest of raconteurs, the passion of her life was Hindustani classical music, which she performed, studied, and wrote about with profound insight and an uncommon wit. She served on the board of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and was advisor for music to the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.
Married to the economist P.N. Dhar (who was for many years Indira Gandhi’s closest advisor), she also had occasion to observe the workings of India’s bureaucracy and political elites. She turned her pen on them with equal facility, summing up the pomposity and stupidity of babudom through incomparable real-life stories that are unlike anything written in modern Indian English.
Sheila Dhar’s books include Children’s History of India (1961); This India (1973); and Here’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet (1995).