City of Djinns : A Year in Delhi
by William Dalrymple
|Title||City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi|
Travel, Essays & Travelogues, History, Non-Fiction
About the Author
William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He was educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Cambridge where he was first History Exhibitioner then Senior History Scholar.
He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award (1990) 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.
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 also one of the co-founders and co-directors of the most popular annual literature festival of India – Jaipur Literature Festival.
He is married to the artist Olivia Fraser, and they have three children. They now live on a farm outside Delhi.
Delhi has been my home for the last 6 years and I am smitten by it. History, culture, architecture, cuisine, shopping, nightlife – it has something for everyone. But to understand the history of a city which finds its mention from the time of Mahabharata can be a cumbersome task. Delhi has more layers of culture, civilization, and history than any other city in India, arguably in the world. This is the reason why it becomes even more difficult to understand its past that shaped its present.
In this enlightening travelogue, William Dalrymple, whom I consider more Indian than a Scot, has succeeded in unraveling the various facets of the history of the ancient-modern city of Delhi starting from the contemporary Lutyen’s Delhi moving towards Pandava’s Indraprastha. As mentioned earlier, Dalrymple moved to Delhi in 1989 and lived here for six years which resulted in his second book, City of Djinns.
The book opens with the arrival of Dalrymple in Delhi and slowly embarks on the journey of uncovering the history of Delhi in a reverse chronological order. It is written in the form of a novel than a travel book which makes it even more engaging. It describes in detail the encounters that the author and his wife had with various people in their bid to unravel the past of Delhi. They encounter numerous people like their Sikh landlady, taxi drivers, customs officials, and British survivors of the Raj, as well as whirling dervishes and eunuch dancers. The book delicately entwines their conversations leading to stories from the past. Starting with the partition of India, history of New Delhi, moving to Mughals, Lodhis, Sayyids, Tughlaqs, Khiljis, Mamluks, Chauhans, Tomars, and finally Pandavas. It is the first demonstration of Dalrymple’s love affair with India, concentrating on Delhi, a city with ‘a bottomless seam of stories’. Dalrymple describes ancient ruins and the experience of living in the modern city: he goes in search of the history behind the epic stories of the Mahabharata. Still more seriously, he finds evidence of the city’s violent past and present day – the 1857 mutiny against British rule; the Partition massacres in 1947; and the riots after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.
The book followed his established style of historical digressions, tied in with contemporary events and a multitude of anecdotes.
The book was made into a play by Rahul Dasinnur Pulkeshi of Delhi-based Dream Theatre. Dalrymple was played by Bollywood and stage actor Tom Alter, with late Zohra Sehgal playing the role of Nora Nicholson, a British national who prefers to stay in India after it achieves Independence.
- Thomas Cook Travel Book Award (1994)
- Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award (1994)