An ancient, crumbling city Delhi and City of Djinns by William Dalrymple


William Darlymle is a very famous Scottish writer, critic and historian.  His travelogues and books won many awards. The City of Djinns  is such an attractive narration. It is all about the historical capital of India Delhi and New-Delhi. In the book he narrates real tales of his stay in Delhi and explores the history, geography, sociology, politics, administration, corruption, perversion, eunuchs, ancient ruins of temples, partition violence by Pakistanis, etc in Delhi. The book follows his grand and established style with real historical digressions, connected magnificently with real contemporary event and other any tales.

it has never been told before, unfolding a timely cautionary tale of the KEYWORDS:

1- glitzy, 2- juggis, 3- Mughals, 4- nawabs, 5- encroachments, 6-  traffic jams, 7- medresses, 8- drainage, 9- millennia, 10- Exxex Man, 11- namaste, 12- Corruptions.


In most of his writings, fascinating books to date, William Dalrymple narrates the story of invasing  Moguls, East India Company and crumbling of ancient Indian cities and cultures in a very fascinating manner done never before, telling a timely advisory tales of the deadliest invaders and  first and the strongest global business power. In the City of Djinns he has described the fall of Delhi. He is very apt and relevant in describing the various facets  of Delhi. Till date nothing has changed and Delhi is crumbling.

Notwithstanding with all the ruling party leaders’  tall claims about the glitzy and high-ranked metropolitan city, Delhi is, but still, the city is without an efficient link of drains, it is always on knees during every change of season.

Delhi, usually calls to mind images of Islamic invaders, nawabs, and Britishers on one the hand and juggis, slums, unauthorized construction, illegal colonies and information technology aptitude on the other hand.

“It was precisely this gift for judgment that makes City of Djinns such a mournful, witty treat. When Dalrymple came to Delhi in 1989 at the age of twenty-four, he found a city full of people mourning their pasts—albeit very different pasts. He wrote movingly about the Punjabis, who had been dispossessed by a partition; the Anglo-Indians, still aggrieved by the loss of the empire; and the Muslims, who felt their once-proud culture had entered irreversible decline. He was also quick to show that these people hated one another to death. At a remove from these factions, who were busy bickering over the ugly corpse of modern Delhi, lay India’s peace-loving Sufis and the figures of the British Raj who had gone native in the eighteenth century, adopting Indian costumes, languages, religions, and wives—men like Kirkpatrick, the subject of White Mughals, who had briefly brought everything together before it fell apart again. It was in these figures, seeking a multicultural ideal, that Dalrymple found a reflection of himself.”

(BOOKFORUM, Karan Mahajan, FEB/MAR 2011. (Google)).

But for the last many years, the metropolitan city, notorious for its traffic jams, has made it to the international news for all the wrong reasons. Pollution, encroachments, traffic jams and road accidents have FEB/led to the loss of many lives besides causing immense miseries to the citizens. Nothing has changed. William Dalrymple, noted historian and travel writer, has witnessed the same almost three decades back. Nothing has changed.

” In both Delhi, it was the ruins that fascinated me. However hard the lanners tried to create new colonies of gleaming concrete, crumbling tomb towers, old mosques or old Islamic colleges—–medresses– would intrude, appearing suddenly on roundabouts or in municipal gardens, curving the road network and obscuring the fairways of the golf course. 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; other counted fifteen or twenty-one. All agreed that the crumbling ruins of these towns were without numbers.”

(City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi, pp-2-3. )

Delhi has always been a big attraction to Islamic invader as well as a vibrant city for big industrial houses and multinational corporations as well. All alike want to set up afoot.  This is due to rich surroundings, easy access to other parts of the country, and good systems created by the people that attracted all including foreigners and their plunder and investments. Plus, being the de-facto centre of power, wealth and knowledge of the country, the city has a plentiful supply of manpower, talent, and wealth. These features are serving the city high points over other established choices like Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and  Bengaluru.

Not only invaders, traders,  migrants, families, politicians and individuals, corporations too, are more and more preferring to settle in the city their home. However, Delhi has been rated among the poor Indian cities according to various surveys including one by the Mercer’s Quality of Living Ranking survey. Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are ahead to capture the label. Almost the same results were supported by other surveys of 34 cities including done by that put is behind other big cities to live in. The survey tinted the pollution, traffic jams, encroachments, slums and juggis, crime although the charm of a metropolis steeped in rich past diminished all the attractions and facilities of world-class new development like the Financial and political power city and NCR HITEC Cities.

The other changes in the city were less promising. The roads were becoming clogged, pollution was terrible. Every day the sluggish waters of the Jumna were spiced with some 350 millions of raw sewage.

“…there was also a great increase in poverty. Every week. it was said, six thousand penniless migrants poured into Delhi, looking for work. You could see them at traffic lights along Lodhi Road, hand outreached for alms. The juggis – the vast black cloth cities in which these people lived – had quadrupled in size since 1984. New juggi outposts were spreading along the dry drainage ditches, …”

(City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi, p-22.)

Moreover, the old part of the city, popularly known Old Delhi, that is whirling now and the root cause of the ills in the city which was the otherwise a splendid city during British rule. The new residential, industrial and commercial areas of Delhi have for all time designed better civic infrastructure but all have been ruined by the corruption and encroachments. The civic infrastructure, electricity and water supply, drainage and sewage system all have been crumbled. In papers and files, all made tall claims of improved layout plans and civic facilities like the hollow claims made by the NGO those are in millions in India but nothing been done.  Now, Delhi has low-lying colonies, encroached river beds and water bodies, green belts full of illegal colonies and unauthorized construction. As a result of this during the rainy season, water enters colonies.  The old city areas are worst maintained and the water, drainage and sewage infrastructure is still unchanged which was built by the Britishers. It seems citizens are also not bothered and they are satisfied on the relics of the British Empire era which has now completely crumbled.

The situation has gone from bad to worse which William Dalrymple described in the City of Djinns three decades back: “Delhi, it seemed at first, was full of riches and horrors: it was a labyrinth, a city of palaces, an open gutter, filtered through a filigree lattice, a landscape of domes, an anarchy, a press of people, a choke of fumes, a whiff of spices.” (City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi, p-2.)

The New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) has relatively done a slightly better job of managing the civic infrastructure of New Delhi areas.  But the unauthorized and unplanned colonies, illegal construction, encroachments, slums and juggis has come to stay and haunt the entire metropolitan city today. There was free-for-all encroachments on the river Jumna, constructions in the lake beds and other old water bodies those must have otherwise been free of encroachments, slums and juggis.

The river Jumna, it’s catchment areas, the other water bodies, wetland, green areas those works as the margin spaces of a city and absorbs the surplus or excessive rain waters. They also protect the biodiversity and ecosystem of the city by spreading the green cover and control the road dust.

“The reason for the structure was that the central idea is that Delhi does seem to act as a sort of flypaper on time. Time doesn’t seem to have its destructive power in Delhi in the way it does in some other places. …What was lovely was that you could—and this is what travel books often do—tell the story of the past through bits that are still alive but do it in reverse chronological order. You can go backwards and see living fragments of each, not just that there was an old building here which was from the fourteenth century, but there living nearby or reflecting some aspect of that was a guy who in some ways related to that fourteenth-century building. There is a lot of this sort of play of time in Djinns, but while it contained 5 years of research,…”

(Journeying and Journaling, (Ed.)  Giselle Bastin, Et-, p-5.))

However, all these bodies have been encroached by slums juggis, illegal colonies, traffic jams, pollution and urban floods are the apparent outcome. Over the last few decades, these big metros and national capital has experienced the painful reality of environmental degradation, pollution, traffic jams, slums, juggis and urban flooding. This is the story of every year.  The reality that the city observed such huge paces of unplanned and chaotic development has not solved its problems of encroachments, pollution and floods.

“Delhi was unique and it still holds that uniqueness, this quality is 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, lived in the same surroundings and returned to the same dust. ”

( IMPACT: Harshita Rathee, pp-189-92.)

Another side that is making situation unbearable for the disciplined and civilised citizens is the lawlessness and anarchist nature of people of Delhi that is accepted wave that proliferates. These disturbing and assorted levels in the city’s speak volumes about city’s social life and behaviour of the people resulting in the law and order problem on the one hand and sense of insecurity in the mind of the people on the other side. The women feel highly insecure due to this attitude of the people. The New and Old twin cities need to quickly shun this anarchist tendency and knock out this tag to handle the high expectation of the masses. Since Delhi is the capital of the nation, so people have high expectations.

…, he has never seen the necessity of giving way to the tiny new Maruti vans which, though taller than his Ambassador, are not so heavily built…, a warrior, and lie his ancestors e is keen to show that he is afraid of nothing. He disdains such cowardly acts as looking in wing mirrors or using his indicators.

,…Olivia is quick to point out that Mr Singh is in many ways an unattractive character. A Punjabi Sikh, he is the Exxex Man of the East. He chews paan and spits the betel juice out of the window, leaving a red ‘go-fast’ stripe along the car’s right flank…He leaps out of his taxi to urinate at traffic lights and scratches his groin as he talks. Like Essex Man, he is a lecher. His eyes follow the saris up and down the Delhi avenues; plump Sih girls riding side-saddle on motorbikes are a particular distraction. Twice a week, when Olivia is not in the care, he offers me to drive me to G.B.Road, the Delhi red light district: Just looking, ‘ he suggests.’ ‘Delhi ladies very good. Having breast like mangoes.’

((City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi, p-12)

Corruptions, inefficiency, irresponsibility and unaccountability are big issues those not only affects the image of the country but the economy of the nation. It is a big hindrance for the economy and the nation reaching new heights, but rampant incompetency and corruption have eroded and the reputation of the country.

The government of India needs to resuscitate the image of the nation and the government by eradicating the inefficiency and corruption. Additionally, all the government departments and system must be interlinked with the other departments so that all the work is seamlessly channelised and customers are not harassed and cheated by the employees, agents and middlemen. This will save the resources, time and money of the government and the customers as well. This enhance capacity can afterwards be utilised in nation-building and people will be more positive for the nation-building and society.

The government will do well to take lessons from other developed countries that faced and handled similar problems but not almost wiped out corruption and inefficiency. Many western countries and including America have now almost completely overhauled the system and the governance of corruption and inefficiency.  This has also strengthened the democracy and the patriotism of the people without any undue stress. No matter how glitzy or well-ranked a nation is, without an efficient and honest network of governance and the system, it can be brought to its knees by it’s corrupt and inefficient bureaucrats. That is what is happening to India. has happened in Hyderabad.

Surprisingly, this issue was raised very forcefully by William Dalrymple in his travelogue the  City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi. The description is very honest and firsthand experience.

“More depressing even than Shastri Bhavan is the headquarters of Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited…, and around this certainty has been built and empire dedicated to bureaucratic obfuscation; the collection of bribes and, perhaps more than anything else, the sinning of great glistening cocoons of red tape.”

“As if in deliberate subversion of Mahatma’s message, Mr Lal held in his hands ‘The Times of India,’ open at its sorts page. The paper formed a barrier between Mr Lal and the asylum of supplicants who were bobbing up and down in front of him, holding out chits of paper, arching their hands in a gesture of namaste or wobbling their turbans from side to side in mute frustration. A Punjabi lady sat weeping in a corner, repeating over and over again… but I have a letter from the Minister of State for Communication…”

(City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi, p-17)

Nothing has changed, even after three decades of the visit of the writer of the City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi. The situation has gone from bad to worse. It is also the failure of the system and governance. Such stories of harassment by the government machinery are not new. The biggest epic of the world can be written on the corruption in India. This malaise is very deeply rooted in the system.  In every elect, zero tolerance to corruption is a big issue but after the election, again all indulge in the corruption. Many action plans are prepared but nothing is achieved.

The issue of unlimited rights and benefits for the employees are underlying the good and honest governance. Moreover, there are no incentives for honest and sincere bureaucrats. The bureaucrats are so powerful that they are almost law to themselves. The system has rotten so much that nobody is afraid of law or high powered enquiry. Even the much-hyped reforms initiated by foreign-educated economist and reformist and his team, fail to check the corruption and inefficiency. His initiatives like outsourcing, disinvestment, Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model also failed.

Corruption in India is an issue which affects the economy of central, state and local government agencies in many ways. Not only has it held the economy back from reaching new heights, but rampant corruption has stunted the country’s development.[1] A study conducted by Transparency International in 2005 recorded that more than 62% of Indians had at some point or another paid a bribe to a public official to get a job done.[2][3] In 2008, another report showed that about 50% of Indians had first-hand experience of paying bribes or using contacts to get services performed by public offices, however, in 2019 their Corruption Perceptions Index ranked the country 80th place out of 180, reflecting the steady decline in the perception of corruption among people.[4][5]


The causes of corruption in India include excessive regulations, complicated tax and licensing systems, numerous government departments with opaque bureaucracy and discretionary powers, monopoly of government-controlled institutions on certain goods and services delivery, and the lack of transparent laws and processes.[11][12] There are significant variations in the level of corruption and in the government’s efforts to reduce corruption across different areas of India.


1-William Dalrymple, City of Djinns, A Year in Delhi, Penguin Books, 1993.

2– IMPACT: International Journal of Research in Humanities, Arts and Literature (IMPACT: IJRHAL) ISSN (P): 2347-4564; ISSN (E): 2321-8878 Vol. 6, Issue 1, Jan 2018, 189-192, EXPLORING HISTORY AND CULTURE: A STUDY OF WILLIAM DALRYMPLE’ S CITY OF DJINNS Harshita Rathee, Sonipat, Haryana, India, 27 Jan 2018.


4- BOOKFORUM, Karan Mahajan, FEB/MAR 2011, Hauser & Wirth Publishers. (Google).

5- Journeying and Journaling, (Ed.)  Giselle Bastin, Kate Douglas, Michele McCrea and Michael X. Savvas,  Wakefield Press, 1 The Parade West Kent Town South Australia 5067, 2010.)

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