December 01, 2007

Book Review: The last Mughal

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Come summer and most of us rush to book stores buying pirated copies of various novels; revelling in fiction, drama, romance and detection. However, this summer, I had a better idea and took up the mission of reading some non fiction. The book I am going to recommend to readers is ‘The Last Mughal’ by William Dalrymple. Most of us have suffered the torture of rote learning the history of our subcontinent in O levels. We read about the War of Independence or Indian Mutiny, saw Mangal Pandey and forgot the whole affair. ‘The Last Mughal’ brings back the Uprising in a surprisingly interesting manner. Fore first time, the 1857 war has been written from the point of view of the long suffering King Bahadur Shah Zaffar. It narrates the story from within the walls of Delhi, the capital of the Mughal Empire and the centre of art, architecture, culture, poetry and cuisine. The book has simple language and no lengthy descriptions. It has excerpts from the diaries of Mirza Ghalib, Emperor Zaffar, Zahir Dehalvi etc .The writer narrates the true story from the point of view of both sides. The reader therefore, sympathizes with the harrowing tales of murdered British women and also feels wrathful when British soldiers mercilessly hang the Delhiwalas regardless of their innocence and levy the entire blame on only Muslims. In my opinion the writer has done a superb job, ignoring bigotry or partisanship. The book also reveals some interesting facts, such as the Akbar-like attempts of Bahadur Shah Zaffar to maintain interfaith harmony; the doubt over his most famous poem ‘naa kissi ki ankh ka nuur hun’ as being his own work; the highly Indianized British families or the ‘White Mughals’ and the relationship of Ghalib and Zauq with the Emperor. The climax of the book is indeed sad. The scene of Zaffar’s death is heart rending- his helplessness is terrible to read. In short, this book will take you back to the Delhi of 1857 while you witness the tragic destruction and ruin of a great city, its people and its once powerful rulers. As Zaffar put it in his own words:

“Delhi was once a paradise,

Where love held sway and reigned;

But its charm lies ravished now

And only ruins remain.”

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