someday ill be in company of all....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

City of Djinns by William Darymple

Book Title:City of Djinns
Author:William Darymple
Published By:Penguin books India
Date Published:  2004 
Price: Rs 250 (got it for 150 from
Pages: 350
Genre: Non-fiction, Travel
ISBN : 9780143417972
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Source: Personal copy

This is Darymple's one year stay and experience in the Delhi with his wife.This book is a memoir and a travelogue.His everyday life through the city's alley, ride in taxi, his acquaintance with people such as survivors of British empire,anti Sikh riots, last of direct descendants of Mughal dynasty.His search takes him to some dead cities and current (say some nineteen years ago)  life.

India with its great historic backdrop , cultural heritage is becoming every author's delight for a travelogue. How different and engaging the history and travel makes all difference...I am a great fan of Darymple reading his work starting from "Age of Kali"  this book was long pending ..I decided to give it a shot before my visit to  Delhi....

Djins(pronounced as gins) are genie that are believed to perform magical task, though its existence is still a myth.... In an effort to know the city better Darymple goes to the old city discovering the history long forgotten ..
The city once so splendid with its rich architecture lavish gardens, palaces, courtroom and bungalow many of them as I visited were in ruins, looted by many past kings, then British yet manages to stand tall with dignity...The book has a mix of history and myth...History when it comes to bygone days of city and its people, myth ,existence of of djinns.. That is the engaging part of the book.. The book was  published in 1993 and  many aspects of the city has changed drastically..His love for the city is quite apparent and unlike others he hasn't pulled up the grayer side of the city too much...Though this book offers nothing to rediscover the city it unveils all the past with its splendid glory...His experience starting with Mr and Mrs Puri their landlord  and landlady who are survivors of  anti Sikh riot ..Amusing tale of Mrs Puri who shuts off the water supply after counting their tenant's flushing, Mr Jeffery who is battling all alone for the likes of Presian and urdu poetry...With much ease Darymple takes us back in time showing us the majestic history of the city and in a blink shows us the current state with startling speed...At the age of 25 he was in a foreign land exploring the city's historic heritage, culture and people, I wonder  how many of us can do that this beautifully...Unlike other books of Darymple this hasn't aged well, in that aspect the book disappointed me..Otherwise the book is a great read even for a person who is less interested in a historic travelogue..Every corner right from the sultanate to mughals to partition post British era then onto the anti sigh riot is put in a breezy flow ..Chandini Chowk, the moonlight bazar is indeed its congested state through its a great place for shopping, I kept wondering how alluring it would have been in its good old days..His acquaintance in Karachi with Delhi exiles and with Ahmed Ali author of "Twilight in Delhi" who describes pre- partition city of Delhi (Iam looking forward to read it) with great passion are Darymple's trademark of work that sets him apart from other authors..Balvinder Singh his friendly taxi driver makes us flint a smile across our face more than once with his getting mixed up with words like Handicraft for handicap, smell for smile...

He explores through the dead city and comes alive with the now Delhi (the dead city is well described the now part is bit out dated because the city has grown in plentitude for the past 15 years) ...Spirit of Delhi is so lively all through...New Delhi designed by Lutyen who hated the traditional Indian architecture created marvels like that of Rashtrapathi Bhavan (then Viceroy's house), the majestic Rajpath also known as the King's road , my favourite Janpath marg which connects Connaught place in the heart of the city, all of these are beautifully detailed with Darymple's scoop many often.....In Trilokpuri were the worst massacare of anti sikh riot killing many sikh families took place, the family of Sohan Singh Sandhu who lost his two sons leaving is only son with some mental instability are unable to live the place not only moves Darymple but moved me where his family feels their children still alive around....He gives a whiff of fresh air into the giant structure that we stand and marvel..In search of British survivors he travels to Simla I couldn't smile reading his experience with the sisters..Through all his experiences with many people Chaman Guru chief of Eunuchs, his words "we were called Khawah sarah and not Hijarah " was special ..Reading about Jahanara Begum sister of Aurungazeb made my utter ignorance in history..Though British built masterpiece in the city they also did their part in destroying heritage work such Mughal garden..

Reading this respect for the much neglected ASI(Archeaologucal survey of India) who have done a wonderful job in resurrecting everything destroyed, there by restoring many ruins to their level best..
Though this book is not my favourite of Darymple's work I loved the book especially as it helped me a lot in understanding the history and marvel at the wonder city called Dilli....
I have always admired the way he has been able blend in with the country to get the maximum out of it portraying it very beautifully..I must say Darymple has been able to paint a fine picture of city with its grand past ..How many of us know our city and  its history?? When I get to see so many people from north India coming to Tiruchirapally (or just Trichy for me) (this is the city , I still call home rather than Kerala) I  used to wonder what's big deal about it.. That's how i guess most of Dilli-wala feel about their city as well , at least thats what according to the few I met ..But if we take sometime to look beyond just the usual irritation of pollution, crowd, we would realise what great history one's city holds in its labyrinth ... I am glad I read it before I left for the city of Djinns..

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