Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

White Mughals and Others

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Today I’m not well – a bad cold that doesn’t want to go. So despite the ten thousand things I need to do by the end of the month, I’ll write this post and then curl up under a thick blanket with a good book.

white_mughalsI am currently reading a great book by William Dalrymple, called White Mughals. The tag-line Love and betrayal in eighteenth century India might sound like this is some kind of bodice-ripper, but Dalrymple is a solid writer about Asia, and his is a very interesting study of British-Indian relationships in the 218th and early 19th century.

Focusing on the life of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the man representing the East India Company in the Mughal court of Hydebarad, Dalrymple traces the evolution – or rather, the involution – of the relationship between two peoples, as the British shift from a general acceptance and integration of Indian attitudes and beliefs to an increasingly aloof and basically racist attitude.

I am particularly intrigued by this change, that sort of sets-in in the first decades of the 19th century.
What caused it?
M.M. Kaye attributed the shift to the memsahibs – the British ladies in India being a lot less open towards Indian attitudes (and people) than their male counterparts had been in the previous decades.
According to Kaye, the presence of British women in India caused a radical change in relationships.
Dalrymple, on the other hand, seems to point his finger at Christian missionaries, and Evangelical Christians in particular, and at those British officers that, defeated by the American rebels, recycled themselves as officers for the Company, and had to prove their worth and their mettle.

2963142All of which is quite interesting, even if it is forcing me to keep a few books for support and cross reference. Two of these I read already, being Coralie Younger’s Wicked Women of the Raj (about women that married Indian princes – basically a female counterpart of Dalrymple’s subjects), and the old reliable The Honourable Company by John Keay, about the East India Company.
To these, I am adding a book acquired during one of my last rampages through Amazon, armed with a gift card: Below the Peacock Fan, that focuses on the wives and sisters of the four British Governors/Viceroys of India, and was written by Marian Fowler, showing a sympathetic attitude towards the memsahibs and their worries about India as a place of sensual temptations.

So here’s my plan for the afternoon.
I’m off to bed.

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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “White Mughals and Others

  1. My dear friend, get well soon! The combination of missionaries and unsatisfied officers is an alliance made in Hell.

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  2. Mr. Mana, there’s another book from Dalrymple that maybe of interest for you, The Last Mughal, about the indian mutiny and the terrible fate of the old city of Delhi amb the last moghul emperor, a very sad puppett-figure.

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