Winner of the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. “Surely one of the funniest books about India” TLS The memoir of a year spent in Delhi by the finest young travel writer of his generation
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“Delightful… Surely one of the funniest books about India”
“Now read by Tim Pigott-Smith, City of Djinns gets a wonderful new lease of life. Dalrymple has a rare gift for historical narrative and catches the engaging, Anglo-Indian speech of his cast with telling accuracy.”
Certainly, said the Sufi mystic, he could show William Dalrymple a djinn: but he would run away. With his wife Olivia, William stayed for a year in Delhi. Lodging with the beady-eyed Mrs Puri and her eccentric husband, rushing around in the International Backside taxi of Balvinder Singh, the sights and sensations of the city and the Delhi-wallahs closed in around him. Through the narrow alleys of the Old City, along the broad boulevard of the New City of the Raj, he pursued the spirit of the people and their living history through the burning heat and bitter cold of Delhi weather, finally to discover, in the crashing rains of the monsoon, his own and eternal City of Djinns.
A very elderly Englishwoman, relic of the Raj, now shares a tin hut with a cobra and a posse of peacocks. ("I do hate waking up in the middle of the night to find a peacock in bed with me.") An astute Muslim scholar devotes himself to prayer and study, educating Dalrymple in the ways of Islam. An Indian gardener invents an Urdu-esque English dialect (flowerpots become fell-i-puts and hollyhocks are holi-ul-haqs) and the whole team is overseen by 'the Essex Man of the East', Balvinder Singh. His taxi always at your service.
At once humorous and poignant, "City of Djinns" is a testimony to a lifestyle that has now vanished for good. It made me wish I had been born thirty years earlier so I could have snatched a glimpse of it before it perished. In the words of one of Dalrymple's Anglo-Indian interviewees: "...in the end you can only go away and die in Cheltenham. And that,' Iris said with a sigh, 'is exactly what we did."