Tuesday, March 27, 2007

William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal

Only March but it's like beach season in NYC. If I were headed to the beach this weekend I'd be taking William Dalrymples's "The Last Mughal," the ambitious and definitive account of the 1857 uprising in Dehli. Just begun, the writing brilliant, a volume of great heft. Even more appropriate for a beach in Kerala.

A Bengali friend in Delhi writes me about the response there to the book:

"The big deal in India was that he claimed that he was the first person to look at all the material sitting in the delhi archives and really use them properly in a book - he was right and of course lots and lots of prickly Indian historians were up in arms. Their objection was that you shouldn't touch an archive unless you could read the stuff yourself, and who was will, just an upstart English travel writer who had got himself a translator. But as he said, not being able to read urdu and old urdu, shouldn't stop you from using the most amazing archival material. And that the problem with Indian historians is that many of them are caught up in these finer matters and thus miss out on the gems of material all around them. That it took an upstart foreigner to uncover some of them... Its hit a huge nerve but whats interesting is that the change this book has made here...people are actually beginning to talk about writing narrative history now which they would have scorned for not being serious enough in the past."

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