Monday, May 25, 2009

Rise And Fall of The Mughals

Reading ‘The Last Mughal’ by William Dalrymple was a moving experience. The book is extraordinary in many ways. Written lucidly, it highlights things not highlighted before, and he blames gradual hardening of the British attitude and interference in religious matters as the prime cause of mutiny of 1857. He writes- 'By 1852, although the British and the Mughals inhabited the same city and sometimes lived in close physical proximity to each other, the peoples were growing farther and farther apart'.
Nirad C. Chaudhury had blamed the Indian climate for the same in his book ‘The Continent of Cerci’. Dalrymple has done extensive and exhaustive (I must say) research to come out with the tome. It took him almost five years to complete the book. Despite accusing British for provoking Indians, he does come up with a balanced view of the things.

Centred around the rule of the last Mughal king-Bahadur Shah Zafar, the book describes the events of his time. Zafar, despite being a weak king, emerges as a very reasonable man, who could have done little at the age of eighty. The mutineers also called contemptuously ‘pandies’ by the British, had committed excesses against the British officials and civilians, the British showed no clemency or humanity in crushing them. They suppressed it with even greater cruelty. At the end of the book when the region of old Delhi was captured by the British and rebels crushed, the British soldiers took to raping ladies from the noble families. ‘As many as three hundred begums of the royal house- not including former concubines in the palace were taken away by our troups after the fall of Delhi' he quotes a British writer. The British suspected that the mutineers had raped English ladies, which was proved to be false after an investigation was carried out. The British indulged in looting houses after houses. They shot or hanged its occupants. The anarchy and all-round violence was akin to ‘The French Revolution’, Dalrymple writes.

The great Urdu poet who survived the British onslaught by a quirk twist of fate was aghast at the hell like situation in Delhi. He saw a great civilization dying. He writes in a letter to a friend, 'The light has gone out of India. Would it be surprising if I should lose my mind from this onslaught of grief?' Ghalib laments ‘had you been here you would have seen the ladies of the Fort moving about the city, their faces as fair as moon and their clothes dirty, their paijama legs torn, and their slippers falling to pieces. This is no exaggeration..'

The Last Mughal makes reading history a pleasure like a thriller. The book ends with a warning by Edmund Burke that those who fail to learn from history are always destined to repeat it.

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