Must read new book: The Last Mughal

Discussion in 'Bibliophile's Corner' started by naqshbandijamaati, Aug 16, 2007.

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  1. jazak Allah khayran for that review. I look forward to finishing it and then I shall post my own.
  2. abu Hasan

    abu Hasan Administrator

    i read the book a few months ago and wrote a review which is still incomplete. overall it is a good book. dalrymple's style is admirable in that he keeps interspersing anecdotes in the historical narrative which makes an interesting read, like the many amusing stories of ghalib and his wit.

    this style is familiar to readers of his earlier books: city of djinns and the white mughals; also this article on hyderabad.

    the book has a few usual problems orientalists suffer [and common to dalrymple's other books as well] - they miss the elephant when it comes to islam or indian culture. they studiously overlook the nuances and generalize their observations. it is like a person studying forensics disregarding the importance of the ridges and grooves in a fingerprint. 'after all, except for the size and shape, all fingerprints are the same'.

    somewhere in the early 100 pages you can read his comments on shah waliyullah portrayed as an anti-sufi and a forerunner/partner of wahabism. the same when he talks about mufti azurdah as the opposite. the author also writes history with a retrofit - comparing [in an undertone] the unrest of delhi, the subsequent massacres, the revolutionaries and the british to that of iraq, american occupation and other contemporary issues.

    it is fascinating but on closer examination seems to suffer a bout of generumisius hypothesia (a hypothesis by generalization and surmising.)

    there are also a decent number of typos [or was it specific to my hardbound indian edition?] the delhi akhbar is routinely typeset as delhi akbhar. and in the second set of inserts, mirza ghalib's portrait is labeled as 'mirza ahsanullah khan'. [it is not known whether the intention was to indicate the painter; but the confusion is there]

    the most important feature of the book is the new data available - actually old data categorized and filed in the indian archives reopened and used for the first time by dalrymple for his book. memos and memoirs from the period give it a distinct flavor unlike other accounts which are mostly hearsay and speculation.

    a letter/memo of the colonel/hakim reproduced from that period verbatim is closer to the truth than to any assertion of a historian hundred years later about life in 1850s; even though the opinion of the colonel itself might be biased, but at least another iteration is avoided.

    the book also disagrees with the romantic account of zafar in captivity - tragic as it were, the end was rather very cynical; the days of zafar were pitifully commonplace what with the constant nagging of his wife and the remonstrations of a beaten and senile man.

    it even questions whether the famous lines attributed to zafar are really his:

    na kisi ki aankh ka nuur huN; na kisi ke dil ka qaraar huN
    jo kisi ke kaam na aa saka, maiN woh eyk musht ghubaar huN

    if you read it as a muslim/sufi, you will marvel at how the grandeur and splendor of a kingdom is eventually reduced to rubble and reflect on the impermenance of power, glory and the fleeting nature of worldly pleasures. the description of the last days of zafar is moving and pitiful; and a great admonition for a muslim.

    laayi hayat aaye qazaa le chali chaley
    apni khushi sey aaye na apni khushi chaley
    ho umr e khizr bhi to kaheN ge ba waqt e marg
    hum kya rahe yahaN abhi aaye abhi chaley.
    dunya ne kis ka raah e fanaa meiN diya hai saath
    tum bhi chaley chalo yuN hi jab tak chali chaley

    tafanu jami'an fa ma mukhbirun
    wa matu jami'an wa mata'l khabar
    a ya saa'yili an unasin maDu
    a ma laka fima tara mu'tabar?

    The lands were made desolate in a stroke.
    Now the halls and remnants are silent.
    Stonework empty, wealth dissipated:
    Everywhere the same thing meets the eye.

    Horse, rider, ring-giver, chalice,
    High seats, hall-sounds -- where are they?
    So asks my dark mind, full of grief.
    Gone, as if never having been.

    The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
    And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
    Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
    The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

    one is mildly surprised at the similarity of the then mughal empire and today's middle-eastern regimes in their decadence and delusions. the western powers interfere in local politics and force their proteges into power so that they are more conducive to their policies and their interest.

    Last edited: Aug 16, 2007
  3. Though I bought this book a while back I have only now started reading it; it is based on newly discovered archive material called The Mutiny Papers which are comprised of 20 000 pages of Urdu and Farsi primary evidence of the events of 1857 from the Muslim (and Indian) perspective.

    I have only a small number of pages so far and already my heart is bleeding at British atrocities and a sense of 'if only' since the Mughal uprisers and ghazis were oh-so close to overthrowing the British in Delhi and restoring the Mughal Dynasty.

    One must thank William Dalrymple, the British author, for his efforts and for telling the truth at last about the greatest 'mutiny' in history.

    The Last Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar alayhirahmat, met a tragic end.

    inna lillaha wa inna ilayhi rajiuun.
  4. The Last Mughal

    a new biography of Sultan Bahadur Shah 'Zafar' -- Emperor and Sufi poet.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2006

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