Aamer Hussein–who is, for all his fans, with book again, due to deliver next year–has a lovely review of William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal:
On my shelf is the 13th edition (published in 1942) of Begamat ke Aansu, a collection of chronicles of what befell members of the Mughal court during and after the Indian Uprising of 1857. Unrelenting and spare, the book is all the more compelling for its simplicity. Known to several generations of readers of Urdu, and part of oral lore as well, its plain tales of arbitrary punishment, displacement and uprooted lives record the devastation of a thriving culture. They provide a compelling alternative to the views of official historians of the Raj, whose perspectives on the so-called Mutiny are inevitably those of the victorious.
Hasan Nizami, author of these chronicles, is only one among the many indigenous and vernacular sources referred to, and often echoed or endorsed, by William Dalrymple in his diligently researched and densely informative new book….
Dalrymple does not merely map the Uprising, although its tumultuous events do take up much of his book. By choosing to focus on one, major city and its native and foreign residents, he supports the thesis that, far from being a homogeneous movement against the growing supremacy of the British, the revolt emerged from the multi-faceted grievances of an eclectic group. It encompassed rulers, artisans and peasants, with their varied regional interests.
The New Statesman has an excerpt from The Last Mughal:
[In the aftermath of the Uprising]…Delhi was left an empty ruin. Those city-dwellers who survived were driven out into the countryside to fend for themselves. Though the royal family had surrendered peacefully, most of the emperor’s 16 sons were tried and hanged, while three were shot in cold blood, having first freely given up their arms, then been told to strip naked. “In 24 hours I disposed of the principal members of the house of Timur the Tartar,” Captain William Hodson wrote to his sister the following day. “I am not cruel, but I confess I did enjoy the opportunity of ridding the earth of these wretches.”
More from The Telegraph.co.uk on the writing of the book:
Over the past four years, my colleagues Mahmoud Farooqi and Bruce Wannell and I have been working through many of the 20,000 virtually unexamined Persian and Urdu documents, known as the Mutiny Papers, which we found on the shelves of the National Archives of India. These allow the events of 1857 to be seen for the first time from a proper Indian perspective.
It is a commonplace of books about the Indian Mutiny that they lament the absence of Indian sources and the corresponding need to rely on the huge quantities of British material – memoirs, travelogues, letters, histories – which carry with them only the British version of events. Yet all this time in the National Archives there existed mountains of chits, pleas, orders, petitions, complaints, receipts, rolls of attendance and lists of casualties, predictions of victory and promises of loyalty, notes from spies of dubious reliability and letters from eloping lovers – all neatly bound in string.
Found the link to Indy Hazra’s piece where he discovers the predictable resemblance between Willy D and the Mughals, and a slightly more jarring resemblance to George Nathaniel Curzon. This is from the e-paper version, so if they ask you to register and you hate filling up forms, punch in username: HurreeBabu and password: hateslogins.