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!Download Book ♺ City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi ⚔ As The Author Of The Best Travel Book Of Recent Years At The Intensely Irritating Age Of Twenty Two, William Dalrymple Has Now Shown That In Xanadu Was No Fluke City Of Djinns Is An Entertaining Mix Of History And Diary Informed By A Deep Curiosity About The Ways In Which The Ghosts Of Even The Most Distant Past Still Walk In The Twentieth Century On One Level There Are The Amusing Rites Of Passage, The Struggles With Bureaucracy, The Eccentricity Of Author S Landlord, All Entertainingly Related He Has A Way Of Letting You Smell And Feel The City There Are Beautifully Chiselled Descriptions Of A Grand Capital, But Much Of The Book S Strength Lies In His Skill In Peeling The Historical Onion And Showing How New Delhi Resonates With The Old A Splendid Tapestry
Some said there were seven dead cities of Delhi and that the current one was the eighth others counted fifteen or twenty one All agreed that the crumbling ruins of these towns were without number But where Delhi was unique was that, scattered all around the city, there were human ruins too All the different ages of man were represented in the people of the city Different millennia co existed side by side Minds set in different ages walked the same pavements, drank the same water, returned to the same dust A mystic explains to William Dalrymple that Delhi is a city of djinns Delhi was destined to appear in a new incarnation century after century because the djinns loved Delhi so much they could never bear to see it empty or deserted Delhi is a city haunted by djinns You could not see them, said Sadr ud Din, but if you concentrated you would be able to feel them to hear their whisperings, or even, if you were lucky, to sense their warm breath on your face Newly married, William Dalrymple and his wife, the artist Olivia Fraser, move to the Sufi neighborhood of Nizamuddin in New Delhi and set out to explore their adopted city They arrive in the City of Djinns in September of 1989 Their landlady, the formidable Mrs Puri and her husband are, like so many others in Delhi, refugees of the Partition, Sikhs expelled from their home in Lahore during the upheavals of 1947 The terrors of those times have left Mr Puri flitting in and out of madness, but Mrs Puri has rebuilt the family s life and fortune with discipline and iron determination The Puris are the first of many vividly drawn characters who inhabit this city of djinns The first veils of history that Dalrymple must part to understand the city and hear the whispers of the past are the veils hiding memories of the Great Partition that tore India apart at the very moment of her birth as an independent nation In layer after ancient layer story after story, Dalrymple lets us hear the murmuring of the djinns and the voices of Delhi s many peoples Roughly organized by season, we live through the Delhi calendar, celebrating Diwali and Ramadan We freeze in the grey cold of the winter, delight in Delhi s brief glorious spring and endure the scorching heat of summer Dalrymple s stories carry us slowly back through time Sometimes prompted by a conversation, at other times by the discovery of yet another ancient building crumbling into dust, we journey to the British Imperial India of Lutyens to the early days of the East India Company to the waning decades and tragic end of the Mughal Empire in 1857 to the Golden Age of Shah Jahan and far, far back to the Tughluk dynasty that ruled nearly all of India from Delhi in the 14th century In the final chapter, Dalrymple explores the historical roots of the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, and speculates on its links to the most ancient excavations in the Punjab.But this is no dry, depressing history Dalryple s stories are enlivened by his wife Olivia s watercolors and by Dalrymple s ear for language, his keen, appreciative sense of humor and his deep fondness for humans with all their foibles He salutes his driver, Mr Balvinder Singh from International Backside Taxi as son of Punjab Singh, Prince of Taxi Drivers A warrior by cast and inclination, Mr Balvinder Singh disdains such cowardly acts as looking in wing mirrors or using his indicators His Ambassador is his chariot, his klaxon his sword Weaving into the oncoming traffic, playing chicken with the other taxis, Balvinder Singh is a Raja of the Road One month after Dalrymple s arrival in Delhi, Mr Singh careened his Ambassador into the back of a Maruti van which bled Mango Frooty Drink all over Mr Singh s bonnet No one was hurt, and Mr Singh strangely elated by his kill took it stoically Mr William, he said In my life six times have I crashed And on not one occasion have I ever been killed City of Djinns is only Dalrymple s second book He had not fully mastered his art and the book at times feels disorganized and unbalanced I longed for a chronology of Indian history and the many Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Hindi terms are sometimes translated and sometimes left for us to Google or guess Dalrymple s later outings, including the superb White Mughals Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India and The Last Mughal The Fall of a Dynasty Delhi, 1857, explore India s history with greater depth and scholarly assurance Those who love fine travel writing and appreciate religious studies should sample From the Holy Mountain A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East, which has a special poignancy now that world of Dalrymple s pilgrimage has been destroyed Still, Dalrymple s many fans as well as lovers of all things Indian should not miss City of Djinns it is an atmospheric classic and almost as wondrous as being in Delhi yourself Three and a half stars.Content rating PG for occasional gruesome, gritty details, comments on Delhi s red light districts and a section on the hijra transgender community. This is the perfect read when visiting Delhi.Written by a Brit, this book is the result of a one year stay in Delhi It reads as a mixture of memoir, travelogue, history, religion, and myth book.Its nicest charm is that it conveys, sweetly, the author s absolute love for the country The understanding with which he presents his stories becomes contagious and after this relatively short read one feels immersed into the magic and mysteries of India.I read it while visiting a friend who was also spending one year in India as a Fulbright scholar She was sharing an apartment in South of Delhi with other Fulbrighters, and that apartment had become as a kind of warm and welcoming consulate refugee camp for any friend or friend of friends going through India I was one of those migrants.In that apartment Dalrymple s book figured prominently It was the companion and welcoming read for anybody knocking at the door. At the still wet behind the ears age of twenty five, Dalrymple and his wife went to live in Delhi, and this amazing book is the result of his first year in the city.It is an utter delight from beginning to end A smorgasbord of historical people and places, myths and facts, festivals and parties, pilgrimages and ancient texts It is also full of touching examples of everyday life as Dalrymple explores with a kindly eye, the nooks and crannies of Delhi and its people.The scope of the book is incredible, but his skills as a writer are so brilliant that you just float effortlessly from theme to theme, carried on a cloud of warmth and humour The book covers an amazing spectrum though, and of course different bits of it will appeal or less to different people Even so, it is all hugely readable.Herewith just a few of the things that I found particularly interesting, or which gave me great pleasure A taster of just a few of the book s delights.1 His interactions with his eccentric and very funny landlady, Mrs Puri view spoiler At one point , when the Dalyrmples have visitors staying, she counts how often the loo is flushed during the night One night there are seven flushes, and she cuts off the water in protest.The doorbell to their apartment played both Land of Hope and Glory, and the Indian national anthemMr William, Mrs Puri said one morning in her customary forthright manner You are going bald Only a little bit, Mrs Puri, I said defensively, knowing she was speaking the truth The humiliating retreat of my hairline has been going on for five or six years now and was beginning to turn into a rout Mr William, said Mrs Puri, her brow furrowing You should not be going bald at your age In my country it s quite common, I said, searching for excuses I m twenty five now It s not unusual for the Scots to begin to thin out a bit at that age Well, said my landlady Your people should be putting on turbans Then this would not happenhide spoiler I m not sure if I can call myself a Delhi walla after reading City of Djinns Despite living in Delhi for the past 17 years, I had not known most of the sites mentioned, except on a superficial level Delhi today is completely unrecognizable from the beautiful city that it once was Dalrymple successfully manages to bring to life that old Delhi with all its charms and customs He employs a rather unusual method, that of going through the history in a reverse chronological order Thus we start in Indira Gandhi s Delhi, taking part in the riots of 1984, and move back to the Partition in 1947, the birth of Lutyens Delhi, the Siege of 1857, construction of Shahjehanabad and all the way back to the defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan at the hands of Muhammahad of Ghor before ending at the ancient epic of Mahabharata.The author adds another dimension to these stories and makes them much interesting by introducing some modern day aspect, say an existing but long forgotten ruin or a living person who is directly related We get to meet Dr Jaffrey who serves as an expert on Purani Dilli, the Haxby sisters who tell us about the unfortunate Anglo Indians, and a visit to an Office of the Railways Board reveals a tykhana built for William Fraser.One thing that I loved about this book is how Dalrymple interspersed the story with his daily life experiences How he deals with the shrewd Punjabi landlady Mrs Puri, or the refreshingly funny stories with his cab driver Balvinder Singh, amidst the noisy, heavily populated, sweltering hot Delhi, turn this into a book a reader can relate to, rather than just another bland volume of history To a reader, a travel enthusiast and a history buff, I highly recommend City of Djinns for the delightful book that it is, and to a Delhi walla, for getting to know his Dilli better. William Dalrymple embarks upon a journey to unravel the history of Delhi, thus providing the reader with historical perspectives behind various parts of the city a city which,as a Persian proverb goes, is destined to be lost by whoever who builds it. Set upon a period of a year of his stay in the capital, the narration opens up beautiful aspects of Delhi, including architectures erected in the Mughal phase Humayun Fort, the Red Fort , the Tughlaq phase, the British Raj even dating back to the times of the epic poem Mahabharata which has helped to bear testimony to the existence of this city even thousands of years before Christ He has extensively studied the accounts of various travelers who wrote about the then society, the state of music and art, the clandestine diplomacy inside the courtrooms, etc etc Based upon the letters that they wrote back home, various British civil servants like Metcalf, Lutyens, Fraser, have been pictured and their distinct approaches towards India and Indians has been well illustrated At one point, he beautifully concludes a discussion on how the architecturally exquisite constructions of British time, are also tragic reminders of Lutyen s condescension and his broad dislike for everything IndianAuthoritarian regimes tend to leave the most solid souvenirs art has a strange way of thriving under autocracy Only the vanity of an Empire an Empire emancipated from democratic constraints, totally self confident in its own judgement and still, despite everything, assured of its own superiority could have produced Lutyens s Delhi And about Fraser, who acquired the Indian traditions customs and mixed enthusiastically with the common gentry, Dalrymple quotes Jacquemont s memoirs He is a thinker who finds nothing but solitude in that exchange of words without ideas, which is dignified by the name of conversation in the society of this land Throughout the book, he has had a parallel attention towards the people of DelhiThe I read, the it becomes clear that the events of 1947 referring to partition were the key to understanding modern Delhi The reports highlighted the city s central paradox that Delhi, one of the oldest towns in the world, was inhabited by a population most of whose roots in the ancient city soil stretched back only forty years This explained why Delhi, the grandest of grand old aristocratic dowagers, tended to behave today like a nouveau riche heiress all show and vulgarity and conspicuous consumption It was a style most unbecoming for a lady of her age and lineage over it jarred with everything one knew about her sophistication and culture In an attempt to excavate the background of Delhi, beginning from the modern history and receding behind till as far as 2000 BC, he has composed a great mix of travel writing and history. Despite William Dalrymple s deeply upsetting background of being posh, and having wealthy relatives allowing him to potter around ancient castles in Scotland and seemingly taking random years off without having to work, it s a pretty inspiring read There s to Dehli than curry and he picks it apart to reveal the fascinating, multi layered history beneath the stereotypical surface.It made me want to seek out the two Eighteenth Century books he used as a guide to learn And not only that, who knew Cliff Richard was an Anglo Indian Miss Lucy Ferguson, a top recommendation I salute you I first heard about this book as a result of searching eBay for the works of the Scottish writer and poet George Mackay Brown, whose works I collect I kept running into William Dalrymple s City of Djinns, which Brown is quoted in the accompanying squibs as saying it was his favorite travel book.Brown was only half right It is both a travel book and a history at the same time Under the guise of describing a year in Delhi, Dalrymple also goes back into the history of Delhi, ranging from even before the days of the Mahabharata, India s great national epic which is about as old as Homer s Iliad and Odyssey, all the way to the present day Included are several fascinating chapters about the Mughal rulers, including Tunghkul, Shah Jehan, and Aurangzeb As well, there are fascinating stories of British rule and the Partition that marked the birth of a free India and Pakistan.This is a marvelous work to luxuriate over and enjoy at a slow pace Also, I suspect that even as Brown s quote led me here, Dalrymple will lead me to fascinating books Life is a knowledge quest. City of Djinns The Reader s Journey I started reading The White Mughals sometime in an auto in Lucknow, in 2011 I still remember reading enchantedly of Old Delhi while sitting stuffed inside a crammed share auto , dodging the remains of an equally old Lucknow and close to the pre Shah Jahani capital, of Agra I remember missing my stop I don t remember when I left off reading it.Then, recently, I had an argument with a friend about that fiendishly invented TV series Soap Opera Jodhaa Akbar and realized how little I knew about Mughal rule and also remembered that I never got around to even properly beginning The White Mughals.I then picked up White Mughals again, flipped it around and got the mistaken impression that it must have been set after The Last Mughal I have no way of explaining how that logic worked, but, it probably went something like this only after the Last Mughal could White Mughals come into the story Right Brilliant as usual, of course.Anyway, I started The Last Mughal and Dalrymple kept talking to me as if we were in the middle of a conversation This disconcerted me until he let slip that he had been talking to me of this subject since The White Mughal So I immediately went back to that.Where he informed me that he had initiated the conversation way back in The City of Djinns This book was the least alluring ancient Delhi was fascinating to me than contemporary travel writing.But I decided to humor Dalrymple and started with CoD, if for nothing else but to trace the evolution of an obsession that gave us such great works later Not a bad decision But I am sure the next two in his tetralogy are much greater delights I should know, I have read than a bit of both City of Djinns The Writer s Journey Dalrymple plots his own journey from childhood almost of sifting through the endless layers of Delhi s historical stratigraphy and historiography As he sifts, we discover that in the everyday structures lies dormant splendid stories and great figures.The reader should keep in mind that this is early in Dalrymple s own love affair with Medieval India What it lacks in insight, it makes up for in enthusiasm A brisk and breezy Dalrymple is on display instead of the magisterial one we have come to expect Also, the spirit of imperial fascination and the tendency to view the fall of Delhi as due to decay exists in these pages Need to see if Dalrymple moves beyond that impression of decay in his later mature works.Dalrymple still paints quite a wonderful portrait of a city disjointed in time, a city whose different ages lay suspended side by side, a city of djinns The story behind the title would be a spoiler Two recurring themes 1 A simple technique of transposition of place and time Dalrymple first talks of a place that he himself is visiting and then effortlessly takes us back centuries to show what momentous events were transpiring in that same now innocuous piece of land exposing the grand history in which daily life of great cities are lived.2 Great Beauty and grandeur hidden amidst everyday squalor a city that is as fine as the very greatest cities, yet living in the most prosaic manner, with hardly a nod to its own history A closer look is all it takes in Delhi to be transported back into a distant century It took a Dalrymple to take that look And it transformed both the city and the author Refer Footnote 1 Step 1 Independence Partition The easiest reference point for any historian of India Dalrymple does not duck this one either The Quest to understand delhi convinces D again and again that he has found the key only to be shown each time that the inner doors keep stretching into the distance A sort of chinese doll palace entrance, with entrances nested inside the other.Living with a Punjabi family and mixing with Muslim families throws D on an early scent He follows this contradistinction between the communities and arrives at the answer that partition is what made today s delhi a city of contradictions.He asserts early in the book The I read, the it became clear that the events of 1947 were the key to understanding modern Delhi The reports highlighted the city s central paradox that Delhi, one of the oldest towns in the world, was inhabited by a population most of whose roots in the ancient city soil stretched back only forty years This explained why Delhi, the grandest of grand old aristocratic dowagers, tended to behave today like a nouveau riche heiress all show and vulgarity and conspicuous consumption It was a style most unbecoming for a lady of her age and lineage over it jarred with everything one knew about her sophistication and culture.This thread of enquiry leads to an engrossing paean on Old delhi of the muslim delhi, of a british delhi of the high class Old Delhi Set off in stark contrast from the bureaucratic, boring and boorish Delhi of today.In pursuit of the Old Muslim glory of the city D reaches Karachi and is thus introduced to even stronger nostalgia for the lost Delhi of before partition, a bi imperial city.Soon however, D abandons the idea that this story explains Delhi.Thus, he discovers that New Delhi was not new at all Its broad avenues encompassed a groaning necropolis, a graveyard of dynasties Some said there were seven dead cities of Delhi, and that the current one was the eighth others counted fifteen or twenty one All agreed that the crumbling ruins of these towns were without number.The next step was to go even further back.Peel back one layer Step 2 The Imperial Past The Raj Digging up The Elephant in the CityMultiple strands the vast Lutyens architecture the inhuman scale the adaptations from Mughals ferreting out of anglo indians a favorite method of D to recapture the flavor of living in that layer of Delhi employed throughout the book until the layers get too ancient for the method the exploration of the sub delhis , the imperial summer outposts of Kashmir and Shimla.Excerpt Considering that Lutyens managed to fuse Eastern and Western aesthetics successfully than any other artist since the anonymous sculptors of Gandhara who produced their Indo Hellenic Buddhas in the wake of Alexander the Great , his dislike of Indian art and architecture is particularly surprising Moghul architecture is cumbrous ill constructed building, he writes in one letter It is essentially the building style of children and very tiresome to the Western intelligence At one stage, after visiting Agra, he is grudgingly forced to admit that some of the work is lovely , but he attributes these qualities to an imaginary Italian influence. In the end one is left with the same paradox confronted by lovers of Wagner how could someone with such objectionable views and so insular a vision have managed to produce such breathtaking works of art Here was a man capable of building some of the most beautiful structures created in the modern world, but whose prejudices blinded him to the beauty of the Taj Mahal a man who could fuse the best of East and West while denying that the Eastern elements in his own buildings were beautiful. Authoritarian regimes tend to leave the most solid souvenirs art has a strange way of thriving under autocracy Only the vanity of an Empire an Empire emancipated from democratic constraints, totally self confident in its own judgement and still, despite everything, assured of its own superiority could have produced Lutyens s Delhi.By now the pattern should be apparent to the reader It even appears doubtful if the story of the gradual discovery of delhi s antique mysteries is authentic In any case, D follows the charade of another surprise discovery that Delhi is much older and needs to be peeled back even Moreover the city so I soon discovered possessed a bottomless seam of stories tales receding far beyond history, deep into the cavernous chambers of myth and legend Time for another peel, obviously Step 3 The Long Twilight Thus, D soon comes up with another key to Delhi the Twilight This time he is closer to the mark much of modern Delhi is an outgrowth or a reaction to this period s history and architecture First by the Britishers and then by the Leaders of Independent India.The Twilight, as defined by D, is bounded by two of the greatest disasters in Delhi s history the Persian massacres of 1739 and the equally vicious hangings and killings which followed the British recapture of Delhi after the 1857 Indian Mutiny.If we extend this and add the next great disaster, modern Delhi would appear to take shape, even though D does this in reverse, it is easy for the reader to do the mental jugglery.But having come this far, D could not stop He had to dig deeper How could a history of Delhi be complete without talking of Mahabharata Especially when every section is marked by an elephant a tribute to Hastinapura of old Step 4 The Epic Past Unfortunately, Delhi s history fades away quickly into legend past the twilight Except for eulogies, not much is known of the leaders such as Prithviraj Chauhan It soon became clear that trying to disentangle the history of pre Muslim Delhi was like penetrating deeper and deeper into a midsummer dust storm the larger landmarks stood out, but the details were all obliterated. And then, quite suddenly, on the very edge of the dark abyss of prehistory, ancient Delhi is dramatically spotlit, as if by the last rays of a dying sun The light is shed by the text of the greatest piece of literature ever to have come out of the Indian subcontinent the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic.D then embarks on an archeological survey into ancient Delhi of lore to the Mahabharatha and beyond, right to the Vedic origins of the civilization on the banks of the Yamuna that is interesting by itself but adds precious little to the illumination of present Delhi But it still shows how continuing traditions lie at the core of such cities After all, there are only a handful of truly epic and truly modern cities Step 0 Tracing a City The PresentSo, how does all this come together Is D a travel writer or a new breed altogether I wonder how the readers at the time greeted this book that makes not much of an effort towards being a travel chronicle and is quite blatantly an exercise in curiosity.To D, Delhi is unique This is why the historical, architectural and archeological approach was inevitable For, this uniqueness is due to the fact that, scattered all around the city, there were human ruins too Somehow different areas of Delhi seemed to have preserved intact different centuries, even different millennia The Punjabi immigrants were a touchstone to the present day with their nippy Maruti cars and fascination with all things new, they formed a lifeline to the 1980s The old majors you would meet strolling in the Lodhi Gardens were pickled perhaps half a century earlier Their walrus moustaches and Ealing comedy accents hinted that they had somehow got stuck in about 1946 The eunuchs in the Old City, some speaking courtly Urdu, might not have looked so out of place under the dais of the Great Mogul The sadhus at Nigambodh Ghat I imagined as stranded citizens of Indraprastha, the legendary first Delhi of the Mahabharata, the great Indian epic.As they drove up the Ring Road, the motorway which for much of its length follows the old course of the Jumna Driving up the dry riverbed was like looking at a section of Professor Lal s stratigraphy on the way we drove through millennia of Delhi s history, the detritus of city after city spaced out on the old river bank Leaving Lutyens s broad twentieth century avenues we passed by the Purana Qila, the early Mughal addition to Delhi s bastions after that we passed the shattered domes of Feroz Shah Kotla then the magnificent walls of the Red Fort with their great ribbed chattris and finally we drove under the walls of Salimgarh, the old Bastille of Delhi Passing beyond all of these, we headed up towards the site of William Fraser s first house. And then on to the Sufi mystic villages on the outskirts A journey into the past The book s final message There is still continuity here, a few surviving traditions, some lingering beauty, but you have to look quite hard to find it A Necessary Footnote 1On the complete neglect of the mighty past, of the structures, of traditions, etc Also a major face slap for ASI as D traces out one major monument after another in complete disrepair and neglect Indeed, even of a nation that is too busy to look back on past glories and s busy building a shiny, plasticky future Today the passages are only blocked with a small plug of concrete it should not be difficult to remove that plug and investigate what lies beyond The problem would be to motivate India s impoverished and bureaucratic Archaeological Survey to take an interest in the matter As Mr Prashad explained when we were leaving You see actually in India today no one is thinking too much about these old historical places India is a developing country Our people are looking to the future onlyThe streets here are narrow and full of goats being fattened for Bakri Id Pack donkeys trot past carrying saddlebags full of rubble As you pass into the Sita Ram bazaar and take in the grand old gateways tumbling down on either side of you, you begin to realize what has happened here The same walls that now form the rickety paan shops and dirty godowns once supported sprawling mansions and the lovely Delhi courtyard houses known as havelis You can see it for yourself the slum was once a city of palaces. In Shahjehanabad the town houses were so planned that a plain fa ade, decorated only with an elaborate gatehouse, would pass into a courtyard off this courtyard would lead small pleasure gardens, the zenanas harems , a guardhouse or a miniature mosque, the haveli library and the customary shish mahal or glass palace The haveli was a world within a world, self contained and totally hidden from the view of the casual passer by Now, however, while many of the great gatehouses survive, they are hollow fanfares announcing nothing You pass through a great arch and find yourself in a rubble filled car park where once irrigation runnels bubbled The shish mahals are unrecognizable, partitioned up into small factories and workshops metal shutters turn zenana screens into locked store rooms the gardens have disappeared under concrete Only the odd arcade of pillars or a half buried fragment of finely carved late Mughal ornament indicates what once existed here. I d love to live in Delhi I d eat a chicken vindaloo every fucking day, smoke it up with the Sadhus, and see about these ethereal Djinns that rule over the cities unconsciousness.