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City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi

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4.11  ·  Rating details ·  10,572 ratings  ·  837 reviews
Sparkling with irrepressible wit, City of Djinns peels back the layers of Delhi's centuries-old history, revealing an extraordinary array of characters along the way-from eunuchs to descendants of great Moguls. With refreshingly open-minded curiosity, William Dalrymple explores the seven "dead" cities of Delhi as well as the eighth city-today's Delhi. Underlying his quest ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 25th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 1993)
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Mark he has lived and worked in Delhi for the past thirty years.
Laksh Verma Delhi came to prominence in history since the 12th century when the last important hindu dynasty of chauhans had built their first fort in delhi-quila…moreDelhi came to prominence in history since the 12th century when the last important hindu dynasty of chauhans had built their first fort in delhi-quila rai pithora. since then, islamic invasion from central asia and afghanistan by muslim invaders came wave after wave, one dynasty after the other and each dynasty built their own new fort , by not expanding on the previous dynasty, but rather building a new delhi everytime. delhi sultanate had siri, tughlaqabad,jahapanah, firozobad. then came mughals and shah jahan built shahjahanabad(old delhi today) and now new delhi built by british. most of the people are unaware of these other cities before the mughal period.(less)

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Warwick
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delhi is lucky to have William Dalrymple as a chronicler – not many cities get such exemplary treatment as this. I think I even preferred it to Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography, just because Ackroyd presents himself as an expert dispensing knowledge, whereas Dalrymple is pure ingénu: curious, open-minded, he allows us to accompany him on his own journey of exploration and discovery which dovetails with the social and historical narratives he uncovers.

For Dalrymple, Delhi is a city of accumu
...more
Riku Sayuj
Nov 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sandeepan Mondal

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
...more
Kalliope
Nov 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia, travel, india
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 sp
...more
Caroline
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Caroline by: Kalliope
Shelves: 5-star-books, world
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 in
...more
Hana
“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 ...more
Sudhakar Gupta
Aug 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 i
...more
Siddharth Sharma
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 ...more
Jim
Mar 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 be
...more
Vikas Lather
Jun 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
William Dalrymple is the best travel writer(only exception is V.S.Naipaul)

"In Delhi, right of way belongs to the driver of the largest vehicle", shows he wrote the book with exceptional observation.

Teeth-grinding horror episodes of 84 Sikh riots and his conviction to discovery truth behind the story of Mahabharata capture imagination to seemingly endless degree.

"Delhi ladies very good. Having breasts like mangoes", Second rate filthy expression of Mr Singh(his driver), reflects his playfulnes
...more
russell barnes
Jun 08, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommended to russell by: Lucy
Shelves: india, biog
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 more 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 more. And not only tha
...more
Sashwati Sanyal
Sep 12, 2007 rated it did not like it
This is the first of William Dalrymple that i am reading. Having being pushed into it via heavy recommendations, must say that WD fails to inspire.

The book starts with a lot of promise but takes a meandering tone halfway through the narration. Delhi's intriguing past is a delicious topic that more than simply nudges your curiosity but WD is yet to bite a fulsome piece into it.

Here's hoping that the latter half would live upto expectations!
...more
Zaki
Aug 15, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
...more
Vishnu
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Let's begin with disclaimers, they seem to do good. Here it goes: I found a lot of merits within the book to write home about, as I proceed to do below. It's just that I didn't enjoy it a whole lot nonetheless, due to reasons again enlisted below. As always, the rating, that superficial device, reflects how much I enjoyed the work rather than being any attempt to judge intrinsic value for that'd be plainly wrong and extremely misguided.

Things the book does well deserve initial mention. Obviously
...more
Nishu Thakur
Jan 14, 2021 rated it did not like it
Dalrymple, in his book “Delhi: City of Djinns” made his predilections very clear. He believed that Delhi’s glory days were when it was allegedly a centre of Muslim culture (and, in his view, its essence was still best preserved in that culture) while the “Punjabi refugees” (Hindus) had debased Delhi through their allegedly loud and money-minded attitudes. These biases are evident in this book.
Travelin
Nov 27, 2016 rated it liked it
I FINALLY finished this, just so I wouldn't have to carry it to another strange Balkan country. Such high hopes dashed again. I really feel like Dalrymple is some kind of hermaphrodite, who can't decide if he's proudly English or proudly Scottish/English, but he does spend the first part of the book ridiculing Indians who still think they're English, then 10 full days more trying to meet the city's eunuchs, so I guess that excuses his broad apologia for a Scottish governor and empire builder who ...more
Abhishek
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an encyclopaedia for all common Dilliwalas and any Indian even slightly interested in knowing about Delhi and ancient India. This is what you can call ‘The Discovery of Delhi.’ Partly a travelogue, partly a history book and overall a pleasurable book. Dalrymple provides information not usually found in school history. He starts describing Delhi right from her very birth and the saga continues till the modern times. It is most fascinating when Dalrymple describes an ancient monument ...more
Udit
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first experience of reading a William Dalrymple was with White Mughals when I was in class nine. Until then, although I had always enjoyed reading History as part of the school curriculum, I hadn’t cared to venture into it any further outside of my textbooks. White Mughals turned out to be sad, breathtaking, challenging (I was a kid) and extremely memorable. I finally started to look for books which fell outside the broader fiction genre.

City of Djinns was written almost a decade before White
...more
Pramod Nair
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was hooked to the works of William Dalrymple from the moment I started reading City Of Djinns. It was in 2004 while browsing through a bookshop that I came across three of the 2004 penguin published Indian editions from the author – ‘City Of Djinns’, ‘The Age of Kali’ and ‘In Xanadu’ and I bought them all. The authors name was slightly familiar from a newspaper article, which I have read a year before about his documentary titled ‘Indian Journeys’ and the news about his then published ‘White M ...more
Zain Hashmy
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the second time I've read this book. The first was when I was 15, and even then, I found it to be an interesting book.

Today, it does a lot more than that.
The book talks about the soul of Delhi, in a mesmerising, heart rending way, in a manner so poignant that I can smell the Delhi smoke and walk among the streets and alleys again. More importantly, it talks about the spirit of Delhi, which I must say, has been lost today.
To quote Ahmed Ali
" The civilisation that I belong to - the civili
...more
Ishi Bhanot
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ishi by: Sourabh Bhati
When I was first told of this book, I was skeptical about reading it, as nonfiction is a genre which I had a completely irrational dislike for. I'm glad to say that all my doubts vanished as soon as I read the first page of this book. This made me know the city I've been in forever even better. The many traditions, the ever-changing rulers, the rich history, it all had me awestruck. I was pulled into this book instantly and abandoned all my other "current-reads" for the time being. The picture W ...more
Soumen Daschoudhury
William Dalrymple, in one of his interviews says, “If I had five more lives, I would have lived all of them in India.”


I have travelled to Delhi many a times. If you ask a non-Delhiite about the city, though they would awe at the roads and structures, complain about the filth and crowd in some parts of the city, one common thing that they would say is ‘it’s a city of snobs’ and so would I.


Delhi – a city like any other city in the world; what’s the fascination attached to it? History, I would say
...more
Raghu
Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing

'City of Djinns: a year in Delhi" is probably the finest book on the city of Delhi covering mostly its recent history of 400 years. It is lovingly and passionately researched and is embellished with endearing encounters. The author spends a whole year in Delhi in 1989 and researches for four more years to produce this gem of a book. It was of particular interest to me as I lived in Delhi for five years in the mid- 1970s. This book teaches me how little I knew of the city and its history. The aut
...more
Sean
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
“City of Djinns” by William Dalrymple was one of my first introduction to Delhi. It gives you a portrait of a city with layers upon layers of history with hidden pockets of a past much more interesting than its present. Sadly, the city of Delhi that Dalrymple experience in the early 1990s no longer exists except in pockets. The city has grown exponentially and become much more polluted. It sprawls and does not feel like it has a center. But the book is useful as a portrait of a Westerner who cam ...more
Laura
Oct 17, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people not visiting delhi
Shelves: non-fiction
This was the wrong book to read prior to my trip to India. All of the fantastic stories that the author relates seem to end with, "these wonderful sights/monuments/environments/people have all been completely destroyed, and nothing is left except worthless ruins". He makes Delhi seem like a wasteland, all the more disgusting and pathetic in light of its former splendor. The only positive of this book is that the stories he relates are interesting. In short, this book was a major downer. ...more
Krutika
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Would have made a better read back in the 90's. An amateurish attempt at demystifying Delhi. A blah-tale of what makes Delhi what it is today from Dalrymple's perspective, narrative is at best tugging along as he explores one fort/tomb on to the next. A very superficial treatment of the subject at hand and somehow Dalrymple wants to squeeze in everything that objectively partakes in Delhi's history. If D is the word then Disappointed is what it is for. ...more
Parinita
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a spectacular book! My first Dalrymple and definitely not my last. I've fallen in love with Delhi all over again (which is supposed to be odd behaviour for a true-blue Mumbai girl) and can't wait to visit the city for a longer, more illuminating stay. I'm going to keep an eye out for all his other books. ...more
Indrani Sen
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india
I had moved away from this book a few times. It took me a long time getting around to finishing it. I loved it. Loved the way Delhi has been depicted through it's long history backwards. A very very good and interesting read. ...more
Neil
Mar 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
Sorry, but unfocused, and terrible 'ard work, in my view. ...more
Kerstin
Apr 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
Awful. A meandering tale that spans time and place with no real point. The saddest part is I think that is what the author intended.
Chaitanya Sethi
Right of way belongs to the driver of the largest vehicle. Buses give way to heavy trucks, Ambassadors give way to buses, and bicyclists give way to everything except pedestrians. On the road, as in many other aspects of Indian life, Might is Right.

'City of Djinns' has been one of the finest books I've had the privilege of reading.

Having liked Delhi in one of his travels during the 80s, William decides to move with his wife during the early 90s. In the next 12 months, we follow his life here
...more
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William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award 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
...more

News & Interviews

Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
33 likes · 6 comments
“Partition was a total catastrophe for Delhi,’ she said. ‘Those who were left behind are in misery. Those who were uprooted are in misery. The Peace of Delhi is gone. Now it is all gone.” 22 likes
“On the road, as in many other aspects of Indian life, Might is Right.” 11 likes
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