White Mughals-love and betrayal in eighteenth century India
by William Dalrymple
580pp, Penguin India
If you ever had the (mis)conception that British east India company officers always looked down upon us-both Hindus and Muslims-it’s high time you started thinking otherwise. British, contrary to the widely held belief that they hated one and all in India, actually fancied the culture and traditions of the Mughals and then the 18th century India. Not only this but they also got betrothed to Muslim girls after undergoing the conversion. And that’s what William Dalrymple has opened layer by layer in his book The White Mughals.
James Achilles Kirkpatrick was a British resident in the palace of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Nizam Ali Khan and Khair-un-Nissa was the cousin of Mir Ali, disciple of Aristu Jah who was the prime minister of the Nizam and also a close associate of the Nizam.
It was late 18th century when Kirkpatrick met Khair and after much commotion in the in the company as well as in the palace of the Nizam, they married at last but that was not the happy ending that they had expected. With Kirkpatrick’s sudden demise, Khair became a stranger in her own regal home. She left for Kolkata where lay the tomb of her beloved husband. Khair had no one for emotional support except for her mother, as her children were already sent to England to their grandfather. At this phase of her life when she was most helpless and vulnerable, Henry Russell came close to her and they became lovers in a very short span of time. But it was not love from his side and the worst came to her when Russell left her and married another girl.
Khair was a strong lady and lived with this betrayal inflicted by Russell. She never met her children once they left for England. She was not allowed to enter Hyderabad because Mir Ali whose career was ruined by Khair and James’s marriage was instated as the prime minister to the new Nizam of Hyderabad-Nizam Sikander Jah and it was extremely menacing for her to re enter the city. She however breathed her last in the residency at Hyderabad where she had once lived with her husband and children in full glory.
White Mughals is not just the story of Kirkpatrick and Khair; it is the show of orientalism combined with the cultural as well as religious pluralism that was pervasive in the Hyderabad and whole India pre 1857 mutiny. The way so many men from west married Muslim girls of India after conversion and Muslim women converted to marry Christian men in the 18th century has been so perfectly shown by The Last Mughal writer in this book that it makes it one of its own kind. No other book in my knowledge has given such a vivid description of history of the people called The White Mughals. Dalrymple has used the letters from the British library as well as national archives, New Delhi as he did in his book The Last Mughal which came much later.
White Mughals is a story or history of people who were much tolerant in acceptance of the cultures poles apart from their own. It is about people who encouraged the confluence of cultures and lived happily with people those of other cultures. But it all ended once some despotic British officials took over the government. And till 1857 it was all finished for ever.
So if you fancy the exploration of the unexplored pages of the history, then White Mughals is one book that you need to have. Apart from that it is a wonderful gem from the treasure chest of the man named William Dalrymple which offers all the book readers a perfect book to get indulged in.