Saturday, June 2, 2007

the last mughal

Every time I finish a book, I am left with this feeling of emptiness I am unable to explain. So right now I am comfortably ensconced in my beanbag and looking up aimlessly at the ceiling as if soaking in the book. But I'm sure it's nothing quite as fanciful as that.

Today I finished The Last Mughal. It is a large book and I have taken some time to finish it. This is the second of William Dalrymple's books I have read (the other one being the City Of Djinns) and I've quite liked both. In fact, I think I must plan a trip to Delhi and see it as the books show it - walk through Purani Dilli and imagine the sights and sounds of a splendour long forgotten. And I think I will do it later this year when the summer begins to give way to more comfortable days.

I have recently developed a fondness for history - something I could never have imagined when during my struggle to stay awake while reading history textbooks. And as Dalrymple takes us through the first and most harsh awakening of a new identity for the subcontinent, he brings to light many interesting things.

Indians, by and large, have a complicated conservative orthodoxy that we jealously regard as an age old heritage that seems to me to be only a couple of hundred years old. I think we were a very liberal people.

To quote from this book, "The profoundly sophisticated, liberal and plural civilazation championed by Akbar, Dara Shukoh or the later Mughal Emperors has only a limited resonance for the urban middle class in modern India."

Looking into the period before the Mutiny, there are many aspects that make me more and more inclined to believe what I am saying now: Muslim and Hindu festivals were celebrated by people of both the religions with equal joy and excitement; even the East India Company officers mingled and assimilated into the culture of the sub-continent, learning their languages and taking interest in its literature, inter-marrying, even living in the same fashion. It would be unimaginable now for rebelling hindus to flock to a court as symbolic of Islam as the Mughal court to ask for patronage if only in name so they could have a common cause to fight for. But they did in 1857.

The British probably succeeded to rule India wholly in body because they were able to rule in spirit - by forcing Indian outlook into narrowness. And that still lives on, misunderstood to be a golden heritage, in our minds. As an instance of what I'm saying, their policies of divide and rule sowed the seeds of fundamentalism that is the plague of today. Infact the Taliban, and thence the al-Qaeda, is said to have emerged from fundamentalist madrasas risen in an effort to eschew everything that was alien after total demolition by the British.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

man you can really write out of your rear, can't you? :-) No prizes for guessing who I am