This was his segue to our next stop, the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, whose white marble walls, glistening gold dome and enormous rectangular pool are modeled on the Golden Temple, the Sikhs' holiest site in the city of Amritsar.
"By Indian standards, Sikhism is a very modern religion," Nigel said, clearly enamored. He chatted in Hindi with a temple representative as we tied orange cotton triangles over our heads. Out of the satchel he retrieved his own head covering, a frumpy jersey turban that Norma Desmond might have worn if it weren't so, well, cheap.
Inside the temple were a holy book and a shrine to a talismanic saber. Drums, wheezing hand organs and plaintive chanting reverberated through the enormous hall.
Outside was an open-air cafeteria that serves up to 10,000 people a day for free. "Feeding the community without discrimination breaks up the caste system," Nigel remarked, as I stood mesmerized by assembly lines of volunteers making flat, bread-like discs of chapati. A man wearing a turban approached, asking whether I would like to join the line.
But there was no time for chapati-making. Soon we were speeding by India Gate, Delhi's Arc de Triomphe, and up the Rajpath, a stately avenue, flanked by green lawns, that rises to grand colonnaded ministries and dead-ends at Rashtrapati Bhavan, now the presidential palace.
From the satchel came newspaper accounts of Sir Edwin Lutyens and his assistant Herbert Baker, the two Brits charged in the 1920s with building the dream city of New Delhi. When a ferocious feud ensued, Lutyens took over the town planning, designing French-style boulevards and statue-studded roundabouts. Baker got the twin buildings of the Secretariat.
The palace, originally the viceroy's, was completed in 1931 and was Lutyens' crowning achievement. Its 15 acres of gardens are laid out with formal squares and watercourses.
From the glory of the British Raj we turned north, driving past the burial ground of Mahatma Gandhi, the 17th century Red Fort and a Tibetan settlement with prayer flags flapping on rooftop terraces. As I stared out at the disheveled edge of Delhi, it dawned on me that Nigel, a proud relic of the Raj, was a kind of reverse image of the city that had turned out the colonists. He was a crusty Brit with a deep sympathy for Indian life in a raucous place with stubborn traces of English protocol.
"Now we have a bit of sociology," Nigel said as our car pulled into an alley jammed with kindling stalls. Saffron-robed sadhus, or ascetics, squatted beside the road. Nigel led us through a grove of neem trees and into a Hindu cremation ground filled with tin-roofed pavilions.
"There is no mortician trade here," Nigel said, striding along a pathway. "The family brings the body, builds a fire, lights it." He added, "It's a municipal service — anyone can use it. No fee. All very casual. It makes sense — at least to me."
We stepped in behind a line of men carrying a bier with a body swaddled in brown cotton, shaded by a canopy of bright streamers. Nigel noted the paper decorations and mused that the deceased must have been an older person: "It's a cheerful send-off, really, for the person has lived a full life," he said.
The body was taken to the edge of a clear, turquoise pool poised above the sloping banks of the sludgy Yamuna River. Brown cotton billowed in the wind, then clung after the body was dunked. The bier was carried down to where the family had prepared a pyre.
Smoke lingering in our clothes, we ducked back into our little car and drove farther north to a vast, desiccated flood plain on the outskirts of Delhi. Parking under a grove of thorn trees, we squeezed through a locked, rusted gate. Walking around an imposing statue, Nigel settled himself on the stoop of a concrete shed, his scrapbook in his lap.
"Well, here's George," he said with a sigh, leaning into the shade.
Pasted onto pages of an old ledger book were photocopies of newspaper articles of the Grand Durbar, or court of the Mughals, as well as portraits of King George V, and Queen Mary. Nigel's blue eyes, behind bottle-thick glasses, started to dance.
In 1911, Nigel told us, the new King George V came here to meet his subjects. "He needed something important to say," Nigel noted. So George gathered maharajahs and nabobs and armies of the Raj and announced that he was moving the Indian capital back to Delhi from Calcutta.
"It's a pity they set him facing north, because his face is always in the shade," Nigel continued, gazing at the rear of King George's statue. "He's got a wonderful backside, though. An ermine cloak." It hardly seemed to matter to him that horizontal cracks disturbed the carved folds of the cape.
After independence in 1947, India's new government decided that colonial statues were untoward in Indian capitals, so it moved George from his original position just behind India Gate to this outpost and encircled him with red sandstone plinths. But some states balked at relinquishing their statues.