- Paperback: 350 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 25, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0142001007
- ISBN-13: 978-0142001004
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 136 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi Paperback – March 25, 2003
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About the Author
William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six years researching his second book, City of Djinns, which won the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. From the Holy Mountain, his acclaimed study of the demise of Christianity in its Middle Eastern homeland, was awarded the Scottish Arts Council Autumn Book Award for 1997; it was also shortlisted for the 1998 Thomas Cook Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. A collection of his writings about India, The Age of Kali, was published in 1998.
William Dalrymple is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Asiatic Society, and in 2002 was awarded the Mungo Park Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for his ‘outstanding contribution to travel literature’. He wrote and presented the British television series Stones of the Raj and Indian Journeys, which won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary Series at BAFTA in 2002. His Radio 4 series on the history of British spirituality and mysticism, The Long Search, recent won the 2002 Sandford St Martin Prize for Religious Broadcasting and was described by the judges as 'thrilling in its brilliance... near perfect radio.'He is married to the artist Olivia Fraser, and they have three children. They now divide their time between London and Delhi.
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I agree with another reviewer that Dalrymple says relatively little about Hindu Delhi, but I think Delhi is one of the most historically cosmopolitan of cities in a subcontinent that is often painted as Hindu in broad strokes. I hope no reader takes as disrespect when I say that Hindu India gets plenty of attention; I am glad that Dalrymple focused on what cultural roads are less traveled. He does tell, and beautifully so, the story of the role of Delhi's ancestral settlement in the Mahabharata.
What I loved most about the book was its portrayal of the vibrant Sufi community in India; the life of a Sufi dargah; the Qawwali singers. Learning about Sufi Delhi was a great and valuable revelation to me.
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.
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.