Tuesday, June 10, 2014

City of Djins

The book that changed the face of travel writing in India, and spawned a large number of similar books on Delhi…

I was avoiding reading the book for a long time, because I knew I would have problems with it; the basic problem being the issue of the point of view, how an expatriate sees India. I was also apprehensive because the book was so well received.

Finally, after moving to Delhi, at the insistence of a friend, a picked up the book, and for most part I liked the book. I especially liked when the Dalrymple talks about his wife’s ancestors, and about the arrival of the British to Delhi after the ‘Mutiny’. There is real scholarship in these sections.

What I had problems with are the current description of Delhi, and the author’s own experiences. For one thing, the Delhi I know today and the Delhi Dalrymple paints is the book is very different. The city has changed considerably since the book was written. That’s one part of the problem. The second is the ‘fictionalisation’ of the accounts. I couldn’t, to save my life, believe the interactions the author describes in the book. I don’t have problems with fiction, but I have problems with fiction being presented as fact.

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