After much difficulty, and intense workouts for my arm, I have finished reading White Mughals by William Darlymple! Let me warn you that this is the last book you want to pick up for bed time reading – you will be left struggling to find a way to hold the book while still lying down comfortably.
White Mughals combines literary sources from the period in question (the years that the colonizers were seduced by India) with the author’s own analysis of how the events came to pass. It is mostly the story of James Kirkpatrick, who was taken by the opulent life style of the ruling class, that he remained British only in his appearance; and Khair-un-Nissa, the young princess who is said to have fallen in love with him. Though this tragic love story remains the heart of the book, it is also equally a commentary on the situation in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The sheer range of topics the author has touched upon is staggering.
It is interesting to note that several Europeans found the Indian subcontinent to be a land of many freedoms – religious, cultural, spiritual; and this was a far cry from the restrictions posed by a duller Victorian society. It talks of how many such men (the White Mughals that the title refers to) found happiness in their lives as part of the Indian way of life, and how they had to keep secret their love for the colony so as to prevent being treated unfavourably by the East India Company. The book leaves one with a different image of men such as these, for we are used to white men with bristling moustaches who cruelly tripled the taxes laid on poor farmers.
White Mughals also talks about the change in attitudes that came about later, when instead of living together in a semblance of harmony; it became acceptable to discriminate against Indians, and arrogantly declare the superiority of the rulers. It allows us to learn how we have become victims of the very same Victorian way of thinking that the White Mughals sought escape from.
Fact, fiction, poetry, prose, imagination, candour; but always engaging – White Mughals is a good read, but demands more of your time and attention than you may be willing to give.