The world of the British in 18th century India and more importantly the Indo-British relations that existed in the 18th century is the backdrop of this beautifully narrated, extensively researched story of a British Resident James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa, a Nizam princess. This book by William Dalrymple tells the stories of the ‘White’ Mughals who lived, learned and loved in India, who knew India better than their country of origin. It is a rare account of the English who were transformed by India.
In 18th century India the British were as much (or more) influenced by Indian culture and traditions as the Indians were by the British way of living. The admiration, the attachment and the respect that some British officers had for the Mughal and Hindu culture and people was extraordinary. They loved, married and even converted to Islam and (as much as possible in practice) to Hinduism giving up their ways of living, eating, dressing and praying and adapting completely to the soil of India to which they dedicated their lives.
This book is an ode to those British who struggled to preserve the Indian culture and traditions and the rights and dignity of the Indian people who became a part of themselves. The anxiety of the more powerful British following these incidents, of being conquered by Indian culture as opposed to the conquering they intended brought about the oppressive rule of the British rule in 19th century India and the death of the Anglo-Mughal/Anglo-Hindu culture.
An eye opener on Indo-British relations and a book that anyone who loves Hyderabad and its multicultural but predominantly Islamic history should absolutely read. A romantic, heart breaking historical book that will transport you to the world of the Nizams, their powerful queens, their harems, their politics.
To conclude, I quote William Dalrymple’s own conclusion: “Even today despite all the progress that has been made we still have rhetoric about ‘clashing civilisations’, and almost daily generalisations in the press about East and West, Islam and Christianity, and the vast differences and fundamental gulfs that are said to separate the two. The white Mughals with their unexpected minglings and fusions, their hybridity and above all their efforts at promoting tolerance and understanding – attempted to bridge these two worlds, and to some extent were successful in doing so.
As the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa shows, East and West are not irreconcilable, and never have been. Only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear drive them apart. But they have met and mingled in the past and they will again.”
Curtain falls on the incredible experience that the book was!