Name: White Mughals : Love and betrayal in eighteenth century India.
Author: William Dalrymple
Book Post No. 40
What is it about? : ‘White Mughals’ is about the love story of a British officer posted in Hyderabad, India with a local Hyderabadi noblewoman during the late 18th century. While that is the main subject the book also talks a lot about the relationship between Indians and the British in India at that time.
How I came to read it? : Earlier this year I visited the British Residency in Hyderabad, after I heard it was open to visitors after a 20 year restoration work was completed this year. This visit rekindled my curiosity about the famous love story of the British resident James Kirkpatrick and a Hyderabadi noblewoman Khairunnisa. They used to live in the British Residency back in the 1800s. I knew about the book ‘White Mughals’ for a long time but always put it off for later but after this visit I was determined to read it so I picked it up from a local book store.
Did I like it? : Absolutely loved it. In typical Dalrymple way of writing, this book is a fascinating account of the late 18th and early 19th century Hyderabad. For history lovers like me this book is a gold mine. Like a master at work, Dalrymple takes his time in setting up the stage for the actual story by describing the political conditions and laying out the perceptions and thinking of the times. This helps the reader in inferencing the main characters’ intentions and thought process. While reading history we tend to judge the events of those times while putting on the lens of our times, which is unfair. Things that were normal at that time might look unusual to us now. Dalrymple assists the readers in this process by carefully describing the relations between the Indians and the British in the early 18th century before he begins the actual story. The description of the ‘White Mughals’ that is the early British officers in India who had a mostly favorable view of India and mixed and married freely with local Indians, is hugely enjoyable. A couple of other books on this which I enjoyed were Khushwant Singh’s’ ‘Sahibs who loved India’ and ‘Begums, Thugs and Englishmen’ by Fanny Parkes.
Positives: Breezy writing and very detailed descriptions of the era it is set in. Dalrymple caters to those kinds of readers who love going on digressions about other interesting topics in the book. For example, if there is a mention of a person who plays a minor part in the current subject but has his/her own interesting history, Dalrymple makes it a point to mention that in the main body itself or does so at the bottom of the page. I love this!
Negatives: This point is not for me but for someone who picks up the book purely for knowing the story of James Kirkpatrick and Khairunnisa. The book takes a long time in coming to the actual story of James and Khair. I feel if it was trimmed and simplified it would have been better. There is already a dearth of good books about Hyderabad’s history. Having a breezy concise book about one of the most famous love stories of Hyderabad would have been nice. Another point is I feel the title of the book should not have been ‘White Mughals’. These days the word Mughal is carrying a bit of a negative feeling in the general public. And it mostly tends to create an image of the Mughals of north India. Having a book about Hyderabad with the title containing the word Mughal in it seems a bit, how do I say it, unfair maybe.
Any other personal notes, observations, fun facts etc.: William Dalrymple played a significant role in helping in the restoration of the British Residency in Hyderabad. This book also helped popularize the story and the building.