the city of djinns – a book that takes you on a lovely journey unraveling delhi!

i owned the book for a good 4 years before i read it… i usually buy books on impulse and that’s in the middle of another book, though with online shopping these days i think the impulse purchase is just killed, i never discover a book, but know the title and then hunt… ok digressing….

so 4 years ago, the city of djinns made me curious. multiple reasons… djinns was a word that i didn’t think i could pronounce, so said it multiple times in my head, but not aloud… called it the book that william dalrymple book about delhi…  did one say the D or was it just jinns? jinns sounded like a word i had used and i was familiar with but i had never seen it written – so wasn’t sure what the spelling was! and to add to that, he wrote his first book at 22. TWENTY TWO!

courtesy google images
courtesy google images

i was hooked from the first page. i have never read a travel book (yes, shockers of all shockers… and yes again i do aspire to be a travel writer, but that’s because i like traveling more than reading travel writing! i do want you to read my writing… )

city of djinns creeps up on you, from a very innocuous starting point it makes you question so many assumptions about delhi, and also answers them…

i always thought delhites were so showy… he explains that with the punjabi farmers / country folk moving from pakistan to india and the need, desire to show that you had arrived, and you were fine… the inter-weaving of the old-delhi and its urdu speaking elite and the new delhi and today’s hindi… having interacted with ‘delhi’ only in the last 10 years or so, my version of delhi is the punjabi delhi… its showy, its false, its ruthless and that part of delhi has an explanation now…

the monuments from the mughal era to the british era… the origins of ‘new delhi’ and the discarded tombs that lie around like ill-fitting gloves to a past the city no longer knows… it all makes me curious about delhi, and makes me want to walk around with the city of djinns in my hand and map his journey of discovery. it opens up the city to a 20th century person to stand for way more than what meets me at first glance… and the book does so in an easy, simplistic manner, though am sure it was far from that!

the numerous people he has come across cannot have been by chance but a studied pursuit of answers with great determination. and the quest for to questions you have had all your life is one thing, but to come to another country, another culture and search for answers about another country’s past and present is something else.

and all the while, as he unravels and fits in this entire jigsaw puzzle of the city before your eyes, as he lets it grow from a tiny seedling to a big well-defined tree with numerous branches and hidden roots, he never judges, either the city or its people, but just tells… the story… it’s an wide open view of the city; the width is restricted by his perspective, though the actions are not.

a definite must-read. it makes me dream of writing something so monumental about my journey of discovery and self-discovery in mumbai…

12 thoughts on “the city of djinns – a book that takes you on a lovely journey unraveling delhi!

  1. no i havent. read train to pakistan by him, liked it, but didn’t love it. so didn’t read anything else by him! is it good? different from william dalrymple’s delhi?


  2. It includes Delhi’s history and present Delhi running in alternate chapters, his best work so far. The history part has been described in greater detail by Khushwant Singh.
    The connection he generates between the present and the past is nuanced and substantial, no wonder it to him 25 years to write it. I would get a high while encountering some of the small and powerful poetic pieces.


  3. I’ve never really read a travel book, and I am an avid traveller too! I just think a travel book that I would want to read would have to have a particular philosophy, character subculture or a SUPER relatable character for me to enjoy it. I also really liked your musings on buying books, and you are totally right – although I *do* discover books online, it’s still not as random and adventuresome as it used to be in a bookstore. So.

    I really, really love your blog too! You got yourself a new follower. 🙂


  4. thanks nikola, thats very sweet of you to say!

    yeah, i do think online shopping kills that thrill of discovering an author… but also given the number of books that get released these days (and many authors of popular fiction in india now) its hard to ever discover, i am always catching up with books i should have read years ago!


  5. Must read for all those who love the city. Incredibly detail account of the city’s past and its connections with the present. Had been in the city while reading the book, and was amazed at the detail in which dalrymple has covered the city. Lots and lots of amazing incidents also covered throughout the book. !


  6. hi neha… it is definitely a great account. been catching up on conversations about different cities with the new aleph series… “short biographies”. read the ones of bombay and chennai. delhi and kolkata next. have you read the one on delhi? like it?


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