The Place of Place
ach book, like a place on a map joined by roads and rivers to
places, is always connected to other books. That is cer-
tainly true for this book about my hometown, Patna. There is an-
other facet to this argument: places seemingly unconnected might
well be very near each other in terms of literary representation. In
my book, New York is closer to Patna than is usually imagined.
When a publisher in Delhi asked me to write about Patna, he
mentioned as a possible model E. B. White’s classic essay Here Is
New York.1 I bought a used copy from a bookstore. The little book
had an inscription in blue ink: “Nancy, You may be leaving New
York but hopefully New York will never leave you. It has been a
pleasure and a delight. Best always, Robert. 06.08.2001.” Was
he saying that he wished and hoped that she would never forget
him? Was the city a giant stand- in for his presence in her life? And
what was one to make of the fact that the book had been sold to a
second- hand bookstore? I wondered whether the owner, or some-
one else, had sold it after the September 11 attacks. White’s essay
had been given a prophetic tone during the aftermath because of
the following lines near the end: “The city, for the first time in
its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger
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