City of Djinns: Book Review by Asha Seth

Author: William Dalrymple | Genre: Non-fiction, Travel | Pages: 360

Delhi is a city like no other, one which, in spite of being as old as time, is culturally dominated by relatively new dwellers. Interspersed with accounts of meeting assorted Delhiwallahs including Sufis, eunuchs, Persian scholars and an Englishwoman who stays behind after the Raj’s hasty exit, City of Djinns seeks out the essence of this ancient town in a travelogue like no other.

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Part history, part travelogue, Dalrymple’s ‘City of Djinns’ handholds you while revealing both, existing and lost historical masterpieces that Delhi was revered for, for centuries. Meticulously researched and passionately written, this book narrates to you tales from yesteryears starting from the period of the Mughals traveling down to the gory Indian partition, and the very many changes of landscapes Delhi has witnessed through the ages.

Whoever has built a new city in Delhi has always lost it: the Pandava brethren, Prithviraj Chauhan, Feroz Shah Tughluk, Shah Jehan … They all built new cities and they all lost them. We were no exception.

This book is the encyclopedia on Delhi. Everything you ever need to know about the capital city is narrated here in great depth and detail. The author; who is not just a celebrated historian, but also a passionate traveler takes the reader down the historical landmarks; now just leftovers, that were once the very pride of this city.

When a dust storm blows it means the djinns are going to celebrate a marriage …

His charming wit, his eternal love for the city, his suave writing style, his obsession with perfection, his eagerness to segregate facts from fiction, his attention to detail, all blended in one, give an exceptional account of a city, that’s most-loved yet most-exploited in the whole world. Here come alive – the Pandavas, the Hindu kings, the Mughals, the British, and present-day inhabitants, in an orderly fashion, making and breaking the city to what it is today.

Partition was a total catastrophe for Delhi,’ she said. ‘Those who were left behind are in misery. Those who were uprooted are in misery. The Peace of Delhi is gone. Now it is all gone.

In an extraordinary amalgamation of the elementary and extraordinary draped with pathos, Dalrymple reveals, that which is the very fabric of this city that has remained in his heart since his first steps in the capital. And he’s accomplished a prodigal job at exhibiting exactly what he feels – mirths clouded by miseries.

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Emotional yet entertaining, informative yet overwhelming, this book will tug at your heart, and you’ll fall in love with Delhi harder than you could love any place before. The best there ever is to read about this city; one of the oldest in the world, you’ll find it all here.

Happy reading till we meet next. Until then, carpe diem! 

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