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White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India (edition 2002)

by William Dalrymple

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Member:Stbalbach
Title:White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India
Authors:William Dalrymple
Info:Harper Collins (2002), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 640 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India by William Dalrymple

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White Mughals by William Darymple

Full confession - I wanted to like this book more than I did. I read Dalrymple's City of the Djinns last year and it was one of my top reads for the year so I made a point of requesting more Dalrymple books for Christmas. White Mughals was by no means a bad book. It just wasn't as enchanting for me as I had hoped.

White Mughals is, in part, the story of the relationship between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a British resident and high official of the British East Indian Company, and Khair-un-Nissa, a muslim noblewoman. The other part of the book is a detailed explanation of the social and political environment at this stage in India. Ultimately, I found this part more engaging that the love story.

White Mughals does a good job of making the point that the division between the English and Indians that characterized late Empire was a product of Victorian sensibilities and that the earlier encounters between the English and Indians were much less separate. Dalrymple's objective here is not to point the sexual contact between the English and Indians (which there was plenty of both before and after the English got a lot more prudish about such things) but rather that genuine love and respect could exist between the two worlds. Kirkpatrick and Khair's relationship is exhibit A to this point.

While serving as the British resident in Hyderbad at a Muslim Mogul court, Kirkpatrick meets and falls for Khair. The two secretly wed and proceed to have two children who are initially raised in Mogul court but are subsequently sent to England for school, never to see their parents again. Dalrymple does a good job of making the point that the marriage between these two people represented a blending of cultures. Kirkpatrick, while undeniably English, took a great interest in Indian culture, especially the Islamic culture of Northern India. He became fluent in the language, arts and courtly culture of where he lived and worked.

Ultimately, White Mughals is written as a tragedy. Kirkpatrick's embrace of the existing culture is juxtaposed with an increasingly puritan and rapacious view of India by the East India Company. Thus, Kirkpatrick is frequently at odds with his superiors over the East India Company's growing territorial expansion and its unfair trade agreements that are pushed on to the Indians at gunpoint. When Kirkpatrick protests, his adversaries use his relationship with Khair and his apparent conversion to Islam as proof that he is a traitor. The reader is left with the sense that Kirkpatrick is being dragged back by a receding tide against which he cannot prevail. There is also a sense that the English relationship with India could have gone in a very different relationship and could have been far more collaborative. Instead, we see the flowering of the idea that India and Indians are lesser people and thus properly subjugated by the English. Kirkpatrick sees the transformation of attitudes and attempts to stop the tide but to no avail.

White Mughals is an interesting book about an important inflection point. However, the grander scope of the issues are occasionally drowned in the minute details of the relationship between Kirkpatrick and Khair, making the narrative harder to follow. ( )
  Oberon | Feb 1, 2017 |
This is a great read - the story of a love affair between an English officer in the East India company and a high born muslim woman in Hyderabad around 1800. The author uses the love story to highlight the broader history of Europeans in India at the time. In particular he makes clear that the Victorian era image that has come down to us (the British in India dressing for dinner in the tropics to eat roast beef) applies to a later era. There was an earlier era where the relationship between the British and the Indian ruling class was more ambiguous, where a number of the British were captivated by the culture and learning (and the women) of the world in which they lived.
While I loved the book, there were minor irritations. The events of the lead characters are interspersed with the broader historical narrative. I got a little annoyed by the overuse of the hanging moment - the main characters would be at a dramatic turning point, and would be left hanging, while the next chapter starts with banal background to the broader history. I can see that the device would be tempting for the author, I found it overused by the end.
Read Dec 2016 ( )
  mbmackay | Dec 10, 2016 |
I'm not sure it holds up as nicely as I remember it, but it's the reason I do what I do for a living. Romantic in the exciting and troubling senses in equal measure; beautifully told. ( )
  benjaminsiegel | Jul 30, 2016 |
Fascinating and important story about the time before high racist imperialism ended the mix of cultures. Pluralism in manners, religion and law were all evident until about 1820, though it ended with Victorian pomposity, formality and righteous self-belief that British was not only best but all.
Too little reflection on these themes, too much a story and too little a history. The book took years to research and the author seemed unable to let go of any tiny fact he managed to uncover. As others have said, the second half dragged. ( )
  elimatta | Sep 16, 2015 |
The June choice for our reading group was The White Mughals by William Dalrymple. The comments from the group were split into essentially three camps, those that loved it, those who read it and persevered and those who hated it.

I fell into the loved it camp and I did love it. The book took the author 5 years to write. It is thoroughly researched and painstakingly written, threading the storyline together with the use of historical documents and probable hypothesis when the documentation can not support the theory.

The book is based upon the surviving papers and diaries from 18th Century British aristocrats who spent many years in India. What is shown is India in context with history; the defeat of Napoleon in Egypt for example. The book explores the culture exchange, where many of the men in the region "go native" with local women and then send the children back to England to be educated. The book explores the Christian/Muslim/Hindu exchange which was perfectly acceptable in the 18th Century, alas when the 19th Century appears that exchange and the "go native" approach is scorned and unaccepted.

The book does cover the romance of James Achilles Kirkpatrick who was a promising British resident in Hyderabad, and a young noblewoman and descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, called Khair-un-Nissa and whilst this romance is essentially the backbone of the book, it in some ways fades into the background amongst the historical aspects of India and the region at this time.

Even so, I loved the book, I loved the provision of sources and notes and the depth of research and for me this has to be the read of the year. ( )
1 vote AnglersRest | Jun 25, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014200412X, Paperback)

White Mughals is the romantic and ultimately tragic tale of a passionate love affair that crossed and transcended all the cultural, religious and political boundaries of its time.

James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad when in 1798 he glimpsed Kahir un-Nissa—'Most excellent among Women'—the great-niece of the Nizam's Prime Minister and a descendant of the Prophet. Kirkpatrick had gone out to India as an ambitious soldier in the army of the East India Company, eager to make his name in the conquest and subjection of the subcontinent. Instead, he fell in love with Khair and overcame many obstacles to marry her—not least of which was the fact that she was locked away in purdah and engaged to a local nobleman. Eventually, while remaining Resident, Kirkpatrick converted to Islam, and according to Indian sources even became a double-agent working for the Hyderabadis against the East India Company.

It is a remarkable story, involving secret assignations, court intrigue, harem politics, religious and family disputes. But such things were not unknown; from the early sixteenth century, when the Inquisition banned the Portuguese in Goa from wearing the dhoti, to the eve of the Indian mutiny, the 'white Mughals' who wore local dress and adopted Indian ways were a source of embarrassments to successive colonial administrations. William Dalrymple unearths such colourful figures as 'Hindoo Stuart', who travelled with his own team of Brahmins to maintain his temple of idols, and who spent many years trying to persuade the memsahibs of Calcutta to adopt the sari; and Sir David Ochterlony, Kirkpatrick's counterpart in Delhi, who took all thirteen of his wives out for evening promenades, each on the back of their own elephant.

In White Mughals, William Dalrymple discovers a world almost entirely unexplored by history, and places at its centre a compelling tale of love, seduction and betrayal. It possesses all the sweep and resonance of a great nineteenth-century novel, set against a background of shifting alliances and the manoeuvring of the great powers, the mercantile ambitions of the British and the imperial dreams of Napoleon. White Mughals, the product of five years' writing and research, triumphantly confirms Dalrymple's reputation as one of the finest writers at work today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:56 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad when in 1798 he glimpsed Khair un-Nissa - 'Most Excellent among Women' - the great niece of the Nizam's Prime Minister, and a direct descendant of the Prophet. Kirkpatrick had gone out to India as an ambitious soldier in the army of the East India Company, eager to make his name in the conquest and subjection of the subcontinent. Instead, he fell in love with Khair, and overcame many obstacles to marry her - not least of which was the fact that she was locked away in purdah and engaged to a local nobleman. Eventually, while remaining Resident, Kirkpatrick converted to Islam, and according to Indian sources even became a double-agent working for the Hyderabadis against the East India Company." "It is a remarkable story, involving secret assignations, court intrigue, harem politics, religious disputes and espionage. But such things were not unknown; from the sixteenth century, when the Inquisition banned the Portuguese in Goa from wearing the dhoti, to the eve of the Indian Mutiny, the 'white Mughals' who wore local dress and adopted Indian ways were a source of difficulty and embarrassment to successive colonial administrations. William Dalrymple unearths such colourful figures as 'Hindoo Stuart', who travelled with his own team of Brahmins to maintain his templeful of idols, and who spent many years trying to persuade the memsahibs of Calcutta to adopt the sari; and Sir David Ochterlony, Kirkpatrick's counterpart in Delhi, who took all thirteen of his Indian wives out for evening promenades, each on the back of her own elephant."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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