Impressions – White Mughals by William Dalrymple

My bright, young friend Imaduddin has written this excellent, terse review of the engaging book White Mughals.

Yesterday when he emailed me this text, I was intrigued by his views as well as envious of his ability to say a lot in so few words. I enjoyed the book for the era it evoked with such craftsmanship and tenderness. However, Imaduddin says it all:

Quick and dirty impressions of White Mughals by William Dalrymple

Beautiful prose with a significant point brought out: that the British DID integrate in India prior to their discriminatory laws against mixed race progeny of the 1780s, the policy that East India Company servants would be older when they arrived in India, the arrival of white memsahibs and the arrival of condescending, colonial attitudes. Dalrymple finds that a third of Company servant wills bequeathed property to native wives, concubines and children until the afore mentioned advents, after which wills including native family dropped to almost none.

Vivid depictions of the court life and society of perhaps India’s most cultured city, Hyderabad, are brought out in this book, as are the enlightened, seeking attitudes of early British Company servants who integrated beautifully into Mughal society, as had the Portugese into Indian society earlier – as had every other foreigner invader into India, an India which had turned rugged Mughal warriors into artsy Rennaisance men.

The love story of Khair un Nissa, cousin to an ambitious minister in the Nizam’s court, and James Kirkpatrick, the Company’s Resident in Hyderabad, is the thread that brings all these themes together, but is unnecessarily long. If I were Dalyrymple’s editor, I’d have cut this 500 page book by a fifth – there is much repitition.

If you don’t have time to read love stories and are interested in historical commentary on India, read the first 57 pages. That will be enough.

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