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In times of acute crisis, as in in India, private papers and public documents tend, at best, to be bundled up at the last minute and dumped as soon as possible in a reasonably safe place. In Lahore, Delhi, Calcutta, and Rangoon, Dalrymple has mined such collections, many of them unexamined since They contain, as he describes them,. This is exclusive content for subscribers only. If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.

Over the past four years, my colleagues Mahmoud Farooqi and Bruce Wannell and I have been working through many of the 20, 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 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.

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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.

The papers overflow with glimpses of real life: we meet people like Hansi the dancer, who uses a British attack on the Idgah to escape from her husband and run off with her lover. Or Hafiz Abdurrahman, caught grilling beef kebabs during a ban on cow slaughter and who comes to beg the mercy of Zafar. Or Chandan, sister of the courtesan Manglu, who rushed before the emperor as Manglu was seized and raped by the cavalryman Rustam Khan.

Cumulatively, the stories in the collection allow the uprising to be seen not in terms of nationalism, imperialism, orientalism or other such abstractions, but as a human event of extraordinary, tragic and often capricious outcomes. As it became obvious that most of the material had not been accessed since it was gathered in , or at least since it was discovered stored in a series of trunks in Calcutta in , the question that became increasingly hard to answer was why no one had properly used this wonderful mass of material before.

For at a time when 10, dissertations have carefully theorised about orientalism and colonialism and the imagining of the Other all given titles like 'Gendering the Colonial Paradigm', 'Constructing the Imagined Other', 'Othering the Imagined Construction', and so on , not one PhD has ever been written from the Mutiny Papers. Certainly, the shikastah literally 'broken writing' script of the manuscripts is difficult to read, written as it is in an obscure form of late Mughal scribal notation with many of the diacritical marks missing.

Moreover, many of the fragments — especially the spies' reports — are written in microscopic script on pieces of paper designed to be sewn into clothing. Yet the collection was scarcely hidden — the National Archives of India lies in a magnificent Lutyens-period building bang in the centre of India's capital city. Often, on winter afternoon walks while putting the book together last year, I would find myself wandering through the ruins of Zafar Mahal.

The Last Mughal: The Fall of Delhi, William Dalrymple: Bloomsbury Publishing

As I looked out from its great gateway, I wondered what Zafar would have made of what happened to Delhi. I suspect he would somehow have managed to make his peace with the new cyber-India of call centres, software parks and back-office processing units that are now overpowering the last remnants of his world. After all, realism and acceptance were always qualities Zafar excelled in. For all the tragedy of his life, he was able to see that the world continued to turn, and that, however much the dogs might bark, the great caravan of life moves on.

As he wrote in a poem shortly after his imprisonment, and as Mughal Delhi lay in ruins around him:. 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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But things cannot remain, O Zafar, Thus for who can tell? Through God's great mercy and the Prophet All may yet be well.

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Terms and Conditions. Style Book. Weather Forecast. Accessibility links Skip to article Skip to navigation. Thursday 26 September A dynasty crushed by hatred. William Dalrymple: 'Crumbling tomb towers, old mosques or ancient colleges intrude in the most unlikely places'. Delhi in Zafar, in the top left-hand turret, peers through a spyglass at a procession of visitors. Despite this he created around him in Delhi a court of great brilliance. He was one of the most talented, tolerant and likeable of his dynasty: a skilled calligrapher, a profound writer on Sufism and an inspired creator of gardens.

He was also a serious mystical poet, and through his patronage there took place one of the greatest literary renaissances in Indian history. Then, on a May morning in , mutinous sepoys from Meerut rode into Delhi, massacred every Christian man, woman and child they could find, and declared Zafar to be their emperor.

Zafar was no friend of the British; but he was not a natural insurgent, either. He suspected from the start that the uprising - a chaotic and officerless army of unpaid peasant soldiers set against the forces of the world's greatest military power - was doomed. The great Mughal capital, in the middle of a remarkable cultural flowering, was turned overnight into a battleground.

The Siege of Delhi was a fight to the death between two powers, neither of whom could retreat. Finally, on 14 September , the British assaulted and took the city, sacking the Mughal capital and massacring swathes of the population. The women were all spared but their screams, on seeing their husbands and sons butchered, were most painful.

I feel no pity, but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot before your very eyes, hard must be that man's heart I think who can look on with indifference.


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. Cumulatively, the stories contained in these Mutiny papers allowed the great uprising of to be seen not in terms of nationalism, imperialism, orientalism or other such abstractions, but as a tragic human event for ordinary individuals whose fate it was to be caught up accidentally in one of the great upheavals of history.

Public, political and national disasters, after all, consist of a multitude of private, domestic and individual tragedies. The Last Mughal , published this month, continues the story I began in White Mughals - the story of the fast-changing relationship between the British and the Indians, and especially Muslim Indians - in the late 18th and the midth century.

During the 18th century it was almost as common for westerners to take on the customs, and even the religions, of India, as the reverse. These white Mughals had responded to their travels in India by shedding their Britishness like an unwanted skin, adopting Indian dress, studying Indian philo sophy, taking harems and copying the ways of the Mughal governing class they came to replace - what Salman Rushdie, talking of modern multiculturalism, has called "chutnification".

By the end of the 18th century one-third of the British men in India were leaving their possessions to Indian wives. In Delhi, the period was symbolised by Sir David Ochterlony, the British Resident, who arrived in the city in every evening, all 13 of his Indian wives went around Delhi in a procession behind their husband, each on the back of her own elephant.

For all the humour of this image, in such mixed households, Islamic customs and sensitivities were clearly understood and respected. One letter, for example, recorded that "Lady Ochterlony has applied for leave to make the Hadge to Mecca". Indeed, Ochterlony strongly considered bringing up his children as Muslims, and when his children by his chief wife, Mubarak Begum, had grown up, he adopted a child from one of the leading Delhi Muslim families.

The Last Mughal in Words and Music

This was not an era when notions of clashing civilisations would have made sense. The world that Ochterlony inhabited was more hybrid, and had far less clearly defined ethnic, national and religious borders, than we have been conditioned to expect. It is certainly unfamiliar to anyone who accepts the usual caricature of the Englishman in India, presented repeatedly in films and television dramas, of the narrow-minded sahib dressing for dinner in the jungle.

Some years before Zadie Smith, Monica Ali and Hari Kunzru all made it into the bestseller lists, and multiculturalism became a buzzword capable of waking Norman Tebbit and the Tory undead from their coffins at party conferences, the India of the East India Company was an infinitely more culturally, racially and religiously chutnified place than the most mixed areas of London today. Imperial arrogance Why did the relatively easy interracial and inter-religious relationships so evident during the time of Ochterlony give way to the hatred and racism of the 19th-century Raj?

How did the close clasp of two civilisations turn into a bitter clash? Two things put paid to the easy coexistence.