Why did William Dalrymple call Delhi ‘The City of Djinns?’

By Sunil Kumar

You must be referring to one of his early books on Delhi- The City of Djinns.

In fact, this was the first book of his I had read, although subsequently I managed to run through many of his works.

Dalrymple is more focused on the Mughals and the Sultanate period of Indian history, as well as the colonial British and their escapades or adventures in the subcontinent.

Ruskin Bond, for example is an Englishman who writes a lot about the late colonial period and his favourite place in the world, Landour and Mussoorie. Dalrymple is a Scotsman who grew up in rural Yorkshire(England) and has attained his current fame due to his stay, Indian readership and rising star as a member of the Lutyens literati. When I lived in Britain, hardly anybody had heard of him. He alternates between a farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi and the U.K.

In Islamic belief, before God created man(Adam) and the angels, he created the djinns. Although the angels were created out of noor(light), the jinns(Anglicized to djinns) were created out of fire without smoke. They can be good or evil, and generally live in places not inhabited by man, deserts, wastelands, dirty places, cemeteries and ruins.

If you’ve read the book, it’s a narrative of his experience interspersed with history mostly from the Muslim period that has led to a lot of dargahs, pirs, cemeteries and ruins in the capital.

Dalrymple has also mentioned a quasi-mystical place where some crank or fakir sees and talks to the djinns. On a writer and creative level, he is attempting to imbue a tinge of melancholy and mystery with the name.

Although it’s been many years since I read his book, I still have somewhat fond memories of this different romp through the national capital via newly landed ‘phoren’ eyes. as the beginning of the narrative is set initially in the mid 1980s.

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