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White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th-century India: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-century India Paperback – 19 Apr 2004
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‘William Dalrymple is that rarity, a scholar of history who can really write. This is a brilliant and compulsively readable book’ Salman Rushdie
‘Destined to become an instant classic’ Amanda Foreman
‘A bravura display of scholarship, writing and insight. Dalrymple manages the incredible feat of outpointing most historians and most novelists in one go. This is quite simply a stunning achievement’ Independent on Sunday
‘Gorgeous, spellbinding and important, [a] tapestry of magnificent set-pieces’ Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times
‘Enthralling … brilliant, as exhaustively researched as it is brilliantly written’ Mail on Sunday
'Dalrymple's India is as vivid as Naipaul's' Simon Jenkins, The TimesWhite Mughals is the romantic and ultimately tragic tale of a passionate love affair that transcended all the cultural, religious and political boundaries of its time. James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at the court of Hyderabad when he met Khair un-Nissa -- 'Most Excellent among Women' -- the great niece of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad. He fell in love with her and overcame many obstacles to marry her, converting to Islam and according to Indian sources becoming a double-agent working against the East India Company. It is a remarkable story, involving secret assignations, court intrigue, harem politics, religious and family disputes. But such things were not unknown; from the early sixteenth century, when the Inquisition banned the Portuguese in Goa from wearing the dhoti, to the eve of the Indian Mutiny, the 'white Mughals' who wore local dress and adopted Indian ways were a source of embarrassment to successive colonial administrations.William Dalrymple unearths such colourful figures as 'Hindoo Stuart', who travelled with his own team of Brahmins to maintain his templeful of idols; and Sir David Auchterlony, who took all thirteen of his Indian wives out for evening promenades, each on the back of their own elephant. In White Mughals, William Dalrymple discovers a world almost entirely unexplored by history, and places at its centre a compelling tale of seduction and betrayal. The product of five years' writing and research, triumphantly confirms Dalrymple's reputation as one of the finest writers at work today. See all Product description
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While the book mainly focuses on the tragic romance between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair Un Nissa, the former being a White Mughal (a European adapted to Indian culture) the book does provide, at least in its opening paragraph, a panorama of Europeans who "went native" and adapted to Indian ways, converting mainly to Islam, though in a few cases, Hinduism.
Through the course of the book, we learn that this was not unusual in the 18th and early 19th centuries, though it became much less prevalent as the arrogance of British colonial rule increased from the mid 19th century onward, culminating in the war of 1857.
While the opening chapter may be a panorama of European-Indian interactions, and the subsequent chapters a retelling of the relationship and fortunes of Kirkpatrick and Khair Un Nissa, Dalrymple is highly descriptive, and the insights (one must read the footnotes for the whole picture) coupled with Dalrymple's prose elegance, help transport the reader back to Georgian era British India, creating a sense of sentimental attachment that is rarely found in non-fiction.
A problem is that the characters do seem somewhat distant to the reader, in a sense that would not be found in a fictional novel, however, this is non-fiction and relies on documentary evidence, in this case letters, of which direct citations are often used.
If one approaches this expecting a Pride & Prejudice like novel, they may be disappointed, however, if one comes to this book with no pre-conceived expectations and simply allows Dalrymple to transport them back to early British India, then they will not be disappointed.
In all a unique work, both a factual work of historical biography, a panorama of 18th Century India, a touching love affair, and ultimately, a plea for understanding between cultures, showing that civilizations do not always clash, rather, they merge.
Is this a good book? Well, it is certainly interesting and colorfully written - albeit too bulky at 500 pages. I think it would have been better had Dalrymple expanded much less on very difficult to follow family backgrounds of the various players (maybe it's just me, but with those names it all got tangled up in my head), and a bit more on great contemporary events such as the wars against Tipu Sultan ('the tiger of Mysore') & against the Marathas. All things considered, this is still a book that many people will greatly enjoy; for me it was just a bit too long-winded.
Within the book is a tragic love story of an Englishman and his young Indian wife and tells of her distress when their two very young children are sent to England to be educated and her early widowhood when James Achilles Kirkpatrick dies without being able to say goodbye to their children.
The book is probably too long and might have benefitted from some judicious editing but it is a wonderful account of the meeting and integration of diferent cultures. I am very glad I read it.
White Mugals is a work of Shakespearian breadth, interesting characters whom you get to know quite well, romance, drama, and--ultimately--tragedy. There is a sequel to this work, called The Last Mughal
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