I read City of Djinns for the second time; both the times, I felt that it is a marvellous travelogue. Researched, crafted and narrated by William Dalrymple, this book is about Delhi: mythology, archaeology, architecture, history and stories all woven as one tale. It is a well-researched book that narrates tales from the days when a lot of happenings went undocumented. Further, the book starts from Dalrymple’s first time in Delhi to his spending a year there with his wife.
From the stories on djinns, to the reign of the Mughals and their downfall, the contemporary Mughals and Delhi wallahs, the Delhi sultanate, the rule of the Chauhans and the Tomars and the days of the epic to the mutiny of 1857, the twilight in Delhi, the early days of the Raj, Lutyens’ Delhi, Independence and Partition, the Delhi riots in 1984 to the current day. Needless to say, it is a spectacular book because Dalrymple painstakingly documented the various and varied scenes, ethos and history of Delhi from various angles and references from the past. He brings his conversations and characterization to life with various people: interactions with Balvinder Singh and the Puris, the Anglo-Indians, the British who stayed on in India post-independence, the present-day Mughals and other Delhi wallahs, the eunuchs and the practitioners of unani medicine among many others. Modern-day idiosyncrasies are juxtaposed with what the city was like over thousands of years ago. He also highlights statecraft, gossip and the debauchery during the reigns of various monarchs that finally did them in.
Another thing that is worth noting in this book is Dalrymple’s references to various other authors, poets and writings. To name a few: Ibn Battuta, Ghalib, Niccolao Manucci, Francois Bernier and Isami among others. City of Djinns feels like a painting of Delhi among the ruins, grandeur and opulence, a modern milieu that has been marked by violence and a city with several cities in it. If you are one with a penchant for travel, vivid descriptions on travel, history and heritage, this book is certainly a must-read.
(Article by Kabita Sonowal)