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Trickster City

Sarai - Trickster City - Cover



Trickster City is an extraordinary composite of writings on the city of Delhi. They were written over two years by a group of twenty young people who live in different places in the city of Delhi, and who have, over the last several years, sustained among themselves and with others around them, a relationship of writing and conversing about the city.

This book chronicles the difficult period of loss of home and livelihood in the city through urban eviction, encounters with the agencies of the state, love stories gone awry, the fragility of relationships, and the sustained effort to build life in anticipation of beauty and pleasure.

Trickster City is an aphoristic and playful meander by authors in search of a new language that expresses the profound uncertainties and delicately realised joys of life in the city.

The authors draw from experiences, events, and biographies, part fictive, part documentary, to inscribe an image of the city that is rarely available. There is a yearning in their writings for the expression of the poetic and allegorical alongside the harshness of everyday existence.

All the authors are in their twenties and live in neighborhoods across the city, including the LNJP colony in Central Delhi, Dakshinpuri in South Delhi, and Sawda-Ghevra, a new resettlement colony at the northern frontier of the city. They have been associated for different durations with the Cybermohalla labs set by the Ankur Society for Alternatives in Education and Sarai–CSDS in different neighborhoods in Delhi.


Authors: Azra Tabassum, Jaanu Nagar, Lakhmi Chand Kohli, Rakesh Khairalia, Yashoda Singh, Kiran Verma, Suraj Rai, Neelofar, Kulwinder Kaur, Shamsher Ali, Babli Rai, Ankur Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Love Anand, Nasreen, Rabiya Quraishy, Sunita Nishad, Saifuddin, Arish Qureshi, and Tripan Kumar.

Translator: Shveta Sarda.

Published by Penguin Books India.

Authors’ Presentation at Book Launch

Azra Tabassum — “They say in Delhi, there are no red lights; there are only the hands of strangers. We, along with all our co-writers of Trickster City, who are among the audience, welcome you all. We would like to thank Ankur and Sarai, along with whom we have made, through Cybermohalla, a generative space. A space where we pose and think through our most challenging questions. We thank all our co-travellers, who argued and debated with us, challenged us further as we wrote and questioned…”

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Conversation with Authors

““Our conversations are open to everyone,” stresses Babli Rai, 27, describing the wall magazines she helped create in LNJP Colony. “We try not to stand out as different, as adbhut.” For Lakhmi, writing cannot be about a solitary, personal vision: it must resonate in the spaces it grew out of…”

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Advance Praises

Rana Dasgupta — “Trickster City is a groundbreaking collection of writings about the South Asian city, its authors so free in their intelligence and imagination that they put conventional, pious analysis to shame—and demonstrate, ultimately, that even the most pressing material circumstances can never constrain the kind of intelligence that lives in them.”

Ashis Nandy — “The thumbnail sketches, vignettes, stories and testimonies here invoke an urban landscape that is only partly outside us. The chaos, uncertainties and contradictions are us, as we negotiate the city as an overwhelming, inescapable inner reality in twenty-first century India. The Trickster City may well be a lovable but impossible part of our selves.”

Arundhati Roy — “Trickster City is the gentle, compassionate anti-dote to the mass of mail-fisted representations of the ‘under-class’ that has become so popular these days. The writers that make up this collection are almost amazing in their restraint, their ability to distil that perfect moment that conjures up the times they live in. Story after story evokes the ways in which people keep love alive while a kind of terror, the terror of being poor in a cruel city, lurks offstage, just a midnight knock away. If you put your ear to this book you will be able to hear people breathing, if you touch it, you will be able to feel their fragile, but furious pulse. If you read this book, you will be greatly rewarded.”

Krishna Sobti — “This book is a reflection of the experiences, thoughts, ideas and aspirations of the underbelly of the metropolis. These writings have precision of thought and an optimistic determination, which looks at the future with hope, courage and patience. The portrayal of modest experience is matter of fact and the insights have a wisdom that only experience can bring and no amount of education or knowledge can impart.”


Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times — “Trickster City is part reportage, part travelogue and all heart. Written with a robustness that can come only from direct experience, this collection of tales, of lives lived is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand Delhi fully…”

Uma Vishnu in Indian Express — “The writings are drawn from their experiences, though it’s hard to say if they are fictional or documentary. Of urban eviction, love stories gone wrong, the Delhi police’s misplaced slogan, and the struggle to rebuild lives. The authors make no attempt to structure the stories, making it a refreshingly new experiment in writing…”

Malini Sood in DNA — “Trickster City is… a compassionate, sensitive, sometimes funny, often optimistic portrayal of the little incidents that make up our daily lives…”

Srinath Perur in Deccan Herald — “The following piece of virtuoso writing does not say a word about policemen, but ends up saying reams by describing the effect of a few policemen walking down a lane: “Young men retreated into their houses. Men covered their card games with bedsheets. Autorickshaw drivers moved their three-wheelers to the side. Everything abated.” All this is not to imply that the book works only at the level of detail. There are stories here that Chekov would have been happy to write…”