City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi; William Dalrymple

Somewhere deep down, I feel sure of one thing: I am far from being the only one who picked up this book to know more about Delhi. The title is catchy; and it does draw you in.

9780143031062Having a bit of interest in history, I knew the broad strokes of the city’s history. I was hoping there would be more, in the book. I was mistaken. Apart from a couple of historical trivialities, it wasn’t very helpful, from a historical standpoint.

But I got to know the author, very well. Since it is categorised as a “travel book” the lack of a story of Delhi, is easily cast aside. Nothing to begrudge there. Somewhere after fifty pages or so, I didn’t expect to find any history in the rest of the book, but I continued, now, with a renewed interest in what Mr. Dalrymple thought and saw, of Delhi. The rest of the book is all about selective appreciation and a sense of wonderment. Very skilfully, the author picks up personal characteristics of a few people and paints a story of an entire community. In spite of the over-brush of humour, shades of disgust are visible. The shield of objectivity is broad and strong, and useless if someone’s standing beside you.

The story, and I don’t mean the history, is scattered carelessly, and that one trip to Scotland, while in Delhi, is long drawn, draggy, and dreary. Somewhere towards the end of the book, it’s almost as if, the author was reminded by the editor, to write something about Delhi.

Suddenly, we travel in light-speed through prehistoric and mythological times, from the pre-Islamic era. For that part, the author does not find any resources. For everything else, he always finds someone who has a friend who has a friend who provides the best documentary evidence. The last few pages were finished in such haste, you end up dizzy, when the book is done.

Apart from knowing the loosely linked experiences of man’s year in Delhi, there’s nothing worth, in this book. Unless, of course, you are interested in understanding how adjectives and other devices can be used to make a statement, without ever saying it. That is the only reason, perhaps, I give it an extra star.


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