OF THE LAST MUGHAL AND GREATNESS

There are times when you encounter art, artisans, arti-ness and a subjugating feeling of acute dwarfness overpowers you?
Like when you are sitting a bloating, gloating Indian for all purposes on paper, and along comes a William Dalrymple, a Scottish enamoured by the great city of Delhi (he compares the history, the culture and the aura with that of Constantinople and Cairo) and more so, by the little remembered (No, the Taj Mahal doesn't count as Mughal-only memory) House of Timur and it's descendants.

The Last Mughal who Suraj thought was Aurangzeb, who you might not remember either, who my grandmum remembered as 'The Great Bahadur Shah'. Bahadur Shah Zafar - The Last Mughal. Great? As the ripe and feeble octagenerian, greatness of strategy and strenght of conviction and mind was the last thing that could be attributed to the old and fragile man. He remains buried with a less-than-monumental architectural excuse remembering his death and inhaling his forgotten, decaying life in Burma.

Of the greatness of the 1857 Mutiny that many remember as the first armed assault against the East India Company for freedom from colonisation and an implicit incarceration. But which for all its misconstrued greatness remained a religious revolt. An initial pre-dominant Hindu army making its way to the great city of Delhi, seeking the hollow blessings of a puppet Mohameddan king (Bahadur Shah Zafar), and rising in revolt to protest against the cartridges rubbed with cow and pig fat. The revolution that killed every British man, woman and child in sight, that resisted the British army for 4 months, that starved and strived and put up a worthy fight, that plundered the city of its riches and its dignity, that disrespected the very idea of a great Mughal king. The revolution that started swaying dangerously towards becoming an out-and-out Jihadi revolution.

But the one thing that was great about the Last Mughal was his ability to recognise and regard the Hindu-Muslim unity, and to persevere to retain that very unity to stand up against the kafirs - the British. An eighty year old man lost in the chaos about him, increasingly aware of the dying line of Timur, seeking solace in his poetry, his beautiful verse, struggling but only so feebly to restore the dynasty that ruled Hindoostan for more than three centuries.

But he failed. He could not stem the depradation, the plundering, the carnage about him. Great then? Broken and weak when the British finally conquered the city and reversed the tables. The depradation, plundering and carnage continued. But under a different army, a different colour. No, there was nothing great about the Last Mughal, the 1857 Mutiny or its rapacious and rambunctious armies.

The only greatness is displayed by Dalrymple himself. For falling in love with the city of Delhi, the story of the Mughals and their white counterparts. For investing time and effort, blood and sweat to go through dying accounts of the 1857 Mutiny and to reconstruct the horrors, the helplessness and the history. For being not an Indian and feeling like one, for being but a Scottish and proud as one, for being a true Sufi artist and only loving. Greatness? That is William Dalrymple.

8 comments:

Szerelem said...

I haven't read the book and I wish I could leave a reasonably intelligent comment but I doubt it. I like whatever of Dalrymple I have read...he writes extremely well and really makes the past come alive doesn't he? (and I heartily support him when he takes issue with V.S. Naipaul!)

Actually I don't think its surprising for anyone to be in love with cities like Delhi, Cairo and Constantinople....they have been casting their magic on people for eons. In Istanbul there are scores of tales of "orientalists" who visited and were so enchanted they could never leave...Pierre Loti, one of the most famous has a whole area of town named in his honor.

As someone who is so totally besotted with a city that is not my own, that I have visited only one, that I long to go back to, that made me weep when I left and has pretty much made me decide on what I want to study further I totally identify with Dalrymple.

TLM is definitely on my read list - a friend of mine has been on my case to read it for eons now...but I have too many books that I lugged back from India to finish first. By the way I would also totally reccomend Abraham Eraly's The Mughal Throne (which, btw, recieved a glowing review from Dalrymple).
And I would also point you to one of my favourite blogs for a more sublte criticism of TLM here.

aandthirtyeights said...

Hmmm. Just read about 100 pages of this one - currently reading (very slowly). Somehow, so far, I think City of Djinns is a better tribute to Delhi - if you are looking at it from merely the standpoint of a person falling in love with a city.

But compelling as always. Greatness, definitely.

Suraj Sharma said...

I suck at history and now the whole world, including half of delhi knows it. WAY TO GO!

Joy said...

@Suraj: You seem to be wiser than the proverbial Kartikeyan who went around the Earth to circle 'the world.'
But *this* is a rather small world, no?

@Pixie sparkles: This Dalrymple dunpling's White Mughals, I thought, was a much better and compelling read.

MISSquoted** said...

szerelem: Oh but I wsn't trying to review the book :)

aandthirtyeights: Of course! again The Last Mughal is well about the last mughal. It is the focus in an all-encompassing story telling that makes this book special :)

suraj: :)

joy: The White Mughal was more a personalised history, you know take the story of 3-4 individuals and reproduce within the relevance of a rich and thriving culture. The Last Mughal was more broad. The style had to vary accordingly. I liked both tremendously by the way :)

shadkam77 said...

WOW!!!
Got this link thru ur msg posted in orkut. Kyaa likhti hain madam aap ... great :)
When r u writing a book and gettin it published .. or, have u already done so :)

jassi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jassi said...

More then just a Mugal King, I have been in fact fascinated by his poetry. His weakness could very be attributed to the fact that his Father had notoriously fought battles from many fronts (The Sikhs and The Marrathas).

That been said, he was in love with Delhi and with poetry. His kingdom saw rise of probably the greatest poet every (or at least greatest Urdu poet) Mirza Ghalib.

He himself was an amazing poet and if you are even a tiny bit into Urdu poetry, I highly recommend you read some of his.

Just to give you an example of simplicity and depth.


hamane duniyaa me.n aake kyaa dekhaa
(We came to this world and what do we see)

dekhaa jo kuchh so Khvaab-saa dekhaa

(Whatever I have seen, seems more like a dream)

hai to insaan Khaak kaa putalaa
(Man(or Woman) is but a puppet to be destroyed)

lek paanii kaa bul-bulaa dekhaa
(But looked more like watter bubble)