Thursday, November 21, 2013

City Of Djinns, A Year in Dehi - William Dalrymple

It may soon happen that William Dalrymple may creep up into the top 10 authors I have read. I picked up 'City of Djinns' more because I have always been fascinated by Delhi, a place where I have spent less than five days in all my life. But of what I saw, I know that it will take me a week, nay a fortnight or more, to even see perfunctorily all that I wish to see. Reading about the history of Delhi and all that happened there, I am still waiting for that big touristy trip.

William Dalrymple chose a Memento kind of a structure, starting with the present day Delhi and going right back to the Dwaparayuga, touching upon all that transpired in between - the Rajupts, the Tughluqs, the Mughals, the British and the current day occupants. Of course he takes us to meet the wonderful Dr. Jaffrey, the eunuchs Vimla and company, the Sufi shrines at Nizamuddin and Ajmer, the dancing dervishes, the unani hakims, the many palaces and havelis, to Pakistan to meet the author of a fine book on Delhi, the many gardens, to an old Princess directly related to the Mughals and her daughter who works at the library, to Jama Masjid, to Dr. Lal who is an archeologist and who does believe that there is evidence of the Mahabharata  though to some extent only - and many more people and places that no Indian author writes about. During the course of the year's stay with his landlords the Puris, he meets Sufi saints who have the power to capture a djinn and of course it is someplace that he quotes a source as saying that Delhi is full of djinns.

Its a different India William Dalrymple sees and explores, one that is alien to me who is an Indian too, one that I am too scared to touch . I might not hop on with the same ease and felicity that William does as he goes into Jama Masjid and perches up on it somewhere, or rush off into a Sufi shrine (I did go to Ajmer but had nothing to ask for though I met the most delightful young child which was as divine an experience as it could have been). The eunuchs and their lives, the calligraphers, the historians, the malis - it is an India I will probably never have the courage to flip a cover and delve into and I am grateful to Dalrymple for doing it so lightly, so nonjudgmentally, so like a seeker trying to uncover what went on, what is. The blood and gore of the 1984 riots, the India we know and have seen, is no worse than the violence and cruelty of the Tughluqs or the Mughals. That part was depressing and so was the many thousands of killings over the years for Delhi but Dalrymple sticks to his job and tells the tale well. Most amusing were the tragi-comic tales of the Anglo Indians left behind in India. Its a fine read and takes you through Delhi and its history in a most intriguing and engaging manner. Lovely sketches by Olivia, William's wife. Highly recommend this book.

1 comment:

Neha Sharma said...

Trust this Scot-man describe and co-relate the past and present in a refreshingly straight-forward , lucid and intelligent literary feat, that I think, no Indian writer can achieve..For all his research and his intuitive ear & eyes for details, possible only by grace of the God, I hope his services should be used by the authorities in restoring/re-telling/publicizing the forgotten monuments and places for benefit of not-only history-buffs and foreigners, but also to our own countrymen, school-children, and future generations..