“For all its faults we love this city”- William Dalrymple,
I have lived in Delhi for 3 years. Despite, the city being harsh in many a ways, there is something in this city that has won over my heart. The weekend was spent reading William Dalrymple’s “City of Djinns – A year in Delhi”. The book kindled a nostalgic feeling within me, of the days I spent there, my trips to the old city, the cycle rickshaw rides and the people so very unique to this place.
Heard of Tughlakabad? Or want to know about the house built by William Fraser which is never on any itinerary of the city? Do you want to feel the life of famous structures such as the Parliament House, the Red Fort, or the old Delhi town square?
William Dalrymple takes us across the layers of Delhi and its history. Take a peek, back in time, at Indraprastha, then the city of the Pandavas, and feel the pain deep within as you read about the 1984 riots that shook Delhi. William’s book may well read like a sort of travelogue, but trust me, hidden within these very pages, is a candid and beautifully woven narration of a city and that has survived centuries of conquests, riots and battles.
William delves deep into stories of kings and rulers, Havelis to humble homes, stories of everyday people such as the landlady Mrs. Puri, the taxi driver Balvinder Singh, a mali, a sweeper and a cook. A writing style dominated with a harmless jest, the characters amuse you, yet you feel connected in some sort of uncanny way. With vivid descriptions, the book touches upon life in the old walled city, the narrow lanes amidst royalties and social pariahs. They are descriptions that give you a whiff of the charm of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, where every street is a page from history. It’s a discovery of the unknown facets of the city of Delhi. It is about unearthing and opening up of ancient documents, of undiscovered pathways in an entertaining way, in an attempt to understand the cities glorious history.
Spanning across periods of time, a writing that stimulates instead of a monotonous tone that most history books and travelogues have, City of Djinns is gratifying. For those who are nostalgic about the old city of Delhi, this is a journey you must take.
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