City of Djinns and Neither Here Nor There

Been recovering from the consequences of a dentist poking around in my mouth. In addition to all the pain killers (and ice cream) I finished reading two travelogues – the first City of Djinns: A year in Delhi (William Dalrymple) and the other Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (Bill Bryson)

Notwithstanding my bias towards corny humour, Neither Here Nor definitely caused more pain because I couldn’t stop laughing out loud at places which didn’t help the stitches. But how can one not laugh when Bryson’s incorrigible friend Katz tells him ‘…You were a fuck-head in the womb Bryson, You got three kinds of chromosomes: X, Y and fuck-head’. A breezy read punctuated by unstoppable laughter as Bryson starts off in Hammerfest (yes, I too hadn’t heard of the place, most people wouldn’t) to catch the Northern Lights and then traverses through France, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland (there is lot of back and forth between the last two – literally at one point when he steps over the border line a few times just for the fun of it), Austria, Yugoslavia and finally Istanbul.

And after that roller coaster ride through Europe, you can’t but help wish that it never stops. But end it does, and in the most poignant way when in Istanbul – the last leg of the journey – he says ‘…There is something about the momentum of travelling that makes you want to just keep moving’ At this point I actually said out loud ‘Yes! Keep going’ knowing fully well that the last para was going to follow when I turn the page.’ But he doesn’t keep moving. ‘That’s Asia over there…’ he writes ‘I still had money left with me. An untouched continent lay before me. But I didn’t go.’ One of the best books I read in some time.

And it’s very much in Asia that Dalrymple is in – Delhi – and one year at that. While Bryson took me on a journey through a continent, City of Djinns is a journey through time. An interesting blend of the glorious history of the City, its present, the grand havelis, the squalor, the heat, the smell of rain. The descriptions of how the grand buildings are now crumbling from neglect makes you want to jump up and do something about it. Classic Dalrymple.

The problem (if you can call it that) with reading too many well written travelogues in a short period of time, is that you feel like giving it all up and just going away on a long trip. Come to think of it, there is an added advantage of getting away from dentists too in the bargain – maybe that’s exactly what I should do. After all the City of Djinns is just a short flight away.

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