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Book Name: City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi

Author: William Dalrymple

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Overall Rating: (4.75/5) View all reviews (total 8 reviews)
Description

Delhi has a richly layered past, and Dalrymple (In Xanadu, McKay, 1990) deftly peels away each layer to reveal how the city came to be what it is today. Djinns are spirits said to be seen only after prolonged fasting and prayer; they too are integral to understanding the city. The author, a young Scot carrying on the fine British tradition of travel writing, has a knack for meeting fascinating people and capturing their most revealing remarks. He introduces us to dervishes, eunuchs, partridge fighting, weddings, and expatriates. His wife contributes sketches that nicely complement his text. Considering the importance of Delhi, the capital of the world's second most populous nation, this book deserves to be in most public and academic libraries.Harold M. Otness, Southern Oregon State Coll. Lib., AshlandCopyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Reviews

Outstanding

by A. Ross
(5/5)

A really wonderful book about the city of Delhi. Dalrymple and his wife go to spend a year living in Delhi (how did they afford this?), and he uses this arrangement as a way of chronicling the present day status of the city and delving deep into its history. He's done a very nice job of moving back and forth between present and past, managing to keep all his meetings and interviews with various experts quite interesting. The only part which lost my interest was an extended look into Sufi mysticism, but I just skimmed it and moved along. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in India, and especially to anyone planning a trip to Delhi.


Interesting read

by ChristophFischerBooks "Chris"
(5/5)

A great book about the history of India as told by a British man who resides in the city for a year. Well researched and with a lot of great eye witness reports the author illustrates various view points and various eras of the city, very skilfully and interestingly.


Saved me a trip.

by Dick Johnson
(5/5)

I know I will never be able to visit India, so my "trip" comes from books. Dalrymple is a great tour guide. He took me places that I wouldn't have been able to visit even if I flew to Delhi today.The people he met and described were as fascinating as the places he explored. This book is a combination of history, tourism, mini-biography, human interest, archeology and anthropology. The mix was well balanced and Dalrymple's writing ability made the entire book entertaining as well as educational.Please do not let the age of this book dissuade you from reading it. Dalrymple's take on Delhi will still be worth the read for as long as people read.My only gripe (worth a tenth of a star) was with the only map. Though nicely drawn by his wife, it was nearly useless. A more inclusive map would have added a tremendous amount to my enjoyment.


twilight in Delhi

by Doug Anderson
(5/5)

William Dalrymple is a historian and brings considerable authority to the field of architecture as well and architecture in Delhi is the chronicle in stone from which the cities long and turbulent history can be read.Djinns are ghosts and there are those that believe there are many in Delhi, Dalrymple gets the ghosts of the city to speak of the past by going through endless archives. One of the richest archives it turns out was nearer to him than he thought. His wife Olivia Fraser is a descendant of William Fraser who was a legendary figure in early nineteenth century Delhi at a time when Delhi was a place of perpetual conflict at the outermost edges of the empire. Fraser raised his own army made up of the strongest warriors from each successive tribe that he conquered and he ruled Delhi in a way not incomparible to Conrad's Kurtz(Dalrymple makes the comparison). William and Olivia stayed in the Fraser residence in Inverness, Scotland before leaving for Delhi only to find that one room away from where they were sleeping were stacks and stacks of William Fraser's old letters.Dalrymple discusses at length the many great figures of Delhis past including James Forbes, Fraser, Sir David Ochterlony and James Skinner and after investigating them in books he then ventures out to find what remains of the forts and palaces they resided in.Also there is much from Delhis more recent past. Dalrymple interviews many still living Djinns who remember the great atrocities that followed the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan where vast numbers of people migrating in opposite directions(Hindus into India, Muslims to Pakistan)began killing each other. Virtually all of old Delhi, once famous for its high degree of Urdu culture was displaced by a largely peasant population of Punjabi immigrants which completely changed every aspect of the city, including the language. A fascinating colony of the old Delhi-wallahs lives on in exile in Karachi and Dalrymple heads there to hear stories from the exiled Djinns, the last remaining voices of a once great city.Making his way further into the past through the travel narratives of the Italian Niccolao Manucci, the Frenchmen Francois Bernier and the Moroccan Ibn Battuta, Dalrymple brings to life the 17th century Delhi of Shah Jehan and the 14th century Delhi of Tughluk then explores what remains of the great cities that Delhi was(Delhi was rebuilt time and again, at least eight different cities one on top of the other)and finds sometimes tucked away beneath or within one of the modern structures of this much more utilitarian and mundane age, evidence of a once magnificent Mogul palace or courtyard or zenana.


A brilliant and funny book

by Frikle
(4/5)

After Dalrymple's amazing first book "In Xanadu", "City of Djinns" is a very worthy follow-up. It deals not with a journey but with the author living in Delhi for and extended period of time. William and his wife Olivia live in an apartment in Delhi with a Sikh lady and her crazy husband. Together and separately, they explore the various strands of the city.Like "In Xanadu", Dalrymple combines erudite historical investigation with a humorous account of life today. The historical aspect of the book is very complicated. Delhi has an ancient Hindu history, a Muslim Mughal one, a Punjabi/Urdu one, the Partition phase and its modern story. In this book, Dalrymple tries his hand at digging through a bit of them all. From the violence of the Gandhi assasination riots to the extravagances of the Mughal court, he leaves nothing unturned.His warm and clever perspective shines light on a city where so many cultures and ways of life come side by side, from the modern secularised Sikhs (like Balvinder, their taxi driver) to the huge hermaphrodite community in the city. A highly informative and entertaining book.


Enthusiastically Recommend

by James Hamill "book maven"
(5/5)

Dalrymple does an amazing job of describing India and the Delhi in particular - it's somewhat difficult to describe what goes on in India without sounding like a bit of a buffoon or ugly Westerner but Dalrymple paints a pretty accurate picture without sounding condescending. I liked this enough to read other books on India he has written.


A delightful insight into Indian history

by Spider Monkey
(4/5)

`City of Djinns' offers us a history of Delhi that gradually draws us back in time as the book progresses, interspersed with an account of the authors own time living there. There are beautiful watercolour illustrations throughout that were painted by the authors wife and which are reproduced in black and white. These really add an extra dimension to the book and I enjoyed coming across a new painting every ten pages or so. Dalrymple's descriptions really conjure up life in the Delhi of the past, as well as making you envisage modern day life based on his own events and experiences. You can almost taste, smell, see and hear the Delhi he so richly paints for us and some of the Islamic poetic phrases he stumbles across are at times simply breathtaking. Delhi is portrayed as a mix of Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and British in one bubbling pot, with the creativity and conflicts this diversity engenders. The friendships Dalrymple strikes up are a pleasure to read and add some humour and insight to the overall book. All in all, this was a delightful read that captures the essence of Delhi in just over 300 pages. It is easy to read and offers an accessible introduction to the various stages of Indian history from the perspective of one town. This is well worth checking out if your interest was piqued enough to have searched for this book or even if you have stumbled across the product page by accident.Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.


Excellent portrait of a fascinating city

by Tim F. Martin
(5/5)

_City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi_ by William Dalrymple is an excellent portrait of a fascinating city. I have to admit, having read a few travel essay books on India that the image I had of the city was of a fairly uninteresting place, a "city of gray bureaucracy" as the author put it. Dalrymple showed me just how wrong I was in this intimate depiction of Delhi, past and present.One of the first things the reader learns in this book is that there is more than one Delhi. The two main Delhis are Mughal Old Delhi and Punjabi New Delhi, each keeping largely to itself, each "absolutely certain of its superiority over the other." Old Delhi has been inhabited for thousands of years, its Urdu-speaking elite (both Hindu and Muslim) having lived in the city for many centuries, the city an ancient one of sophistication and culture, though also a city in severe decline, with many of its once magnificent palaces, gardens, tombs, and mosques, once examples of the "silky refinement" of Mughal architecture now crumbling into ruin, decaying into "something approaching seediness." Many of its citizens are among the last to practice trades dating back to Mughal times, and a large number of them live in exile in Pakistan. In contrast, New Delhi is a growing, booming, bustling city of hard-working nouveau-riche entrepreneurs, largely comprised of people whose roots only go back to the catastrophic days of Partition in 1947, when hundreds of thousands of Punjabi Sikh and Hindu refugees poured into the city. Though I did not get a sense of great conflict between the two Delhis, there was some tension; there are those Old Delhi elites who regard the Punjabi colonizers as unrefined, unsophisticated, vulgar, and even boorish, while there are Punjabis who despise the residents of Old Delhi as "effeminate, slothful, and degenerate."There are however really more than just two Delhis; some count seven Delhis (the current New Delhi being the eighth), while others count 15, 20, or even more. Even New Delhi is he wrote in 1989 not that new; it is a "groaning necropolis, a "graveyard of dynasties." Many different centuries exist side by side, making it a city "disjointed in time," a city of nouveau-riche Punjabi immigrants of the latter part of the 20th century co-existing with Anglo-Indians from the days of the Raj and fakirs, sadhus, and even eunuchs (which really surprised me) that would have been at home during the days of the Mughals.Dalrymple takes the reader to the many amazing sights and experiences of all the Delhis. He visited a Sufi enclave, positively medieval in character, home to mystic dervishes sought by all manner of pilgrims for enlightenment, for prayer, for salvation from djinns, which many - even Sikhs and Hindus - believed in. Dalrymple spent time and effort trying to penetrate the enigmatic society of eunuchs; no longer guarding Mughal harems, they have a complex and hidden society, complete with territories, India and Pakistan-wide council of eunuchs, and a Central School of Dance, where eunuchs learn folk, traditional, and modern dance, performing at households that have had weddings or births (informed of such by their network of informants), their presence seen as both a blessing and a curse. He visited festival celebrations such as Dusshera, the Hindu feast celebrating the victory of Lord Ram over the demon Ravanna, Dilwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and al-vida, "the goodbye," the last Friday of the fast of Ramadan, a major event in the Old City. He journeyed to see pigeon fanciers (a passion of the long gone Mughal court), partridge fights (another Mughal tradition), old Anglo-Indian families (who came to suffer the worst racial prejudice of both Indians and British, most having emigrated to America, Canada, and Australia, the few that remained were as he wrote "the optimistic, the old, or the nostalgic", staying on despite some remaining Indian resentment as well as increasing poverty), and a hakim clinic (hakims being Muslim doctors practicing ancient Greek and Unani medicine, the latter of which was derived from heretical Nestorian Christians, fleeing to Sassanid Persia to avoid Byzantine Empire persecution, passing on their knowledge to the Persians, who in turn passed those skills to early Arab conquerors of Islam, who brought their skills to Central Asia and then eventually to India when refugees fleeing Genghis Khan arrived in the subcontinent in the 13th century).In addition to a tour of places in Delhi, as one might gather the author covered a great deal of history, interweaving it in a skillful manner as it related to his various travels and encounters. Much of the history covered Mughal times though he also covered at length the Raj, Partition, and even as far back as the incredibly ancient times of the great Hindu epic _Mahabharata_, an ancient epic much like the Greek _Iliad_, which like the _Iliad_ has some basis in fact, though it became a story that imposed much later and more elaborate material culture (among others things) from the 4th century AD on what were events that originally transpired in the 9th century BC.The author provided detailed profiles of many residents of Delhi, past and present. Mr. Balvinder Singh, was a notable figure, an "individualist who believes in the importance of asserting himself," a taxi driver who befriended William and his wife Olivia, a hilarious character to read about at times. Also important were Mr. and Mrs. Puri, the Sikh couple that was their landlords and who also became friends, and Dr. Yunus Jaffrey, a gentle scholar of classic Persian, an expert on Mughal times. Notable past figures included the murderous tyrant Sultan Tughluk, the 14th century Moroccan adventurer Ibn Battuta, the highly artistic but brutally cold-blooded Shah Jehan (he constructed the Taj Mahal), William Fraser (an early 19th century Scot who styled himself a local ruler; Dalrymple compared him to Mr. Kurtz from _Heart of Darkness_), and Sir Edwin Lutyens (a fabulous architect who was regrettably quite racist).


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