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White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India Paperback – April 27, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dalrymple, author of the bestselling In Xanadu, now anchors himself in India around the turn of the 19th century to focus on James Kirkpatrick, an officer for the East India Company and the British Resident, representing the British government, in the Indian city-state of Hyderabad. Kirkpatrick, who converted to Islam and, after a celebrated and notorious romance, married Khair un-Nissa, the teenage great-niece of the region's prime minister, exemplifies the "White Mughals," British colonialists who "went native." One of the book's strengths is its stunningly detailed depiction of day-to-day life-gardens, food, sexual mores, modes of travel and architecture-and portraits of British governors-general, Indian politicians, their wives and families, and adventurers. It is also an astute study of the political complications Kirkpatrick faced because of his conversion and cross-cultural marriage, and the difficulties his divided loyalties caused him in his role as agent of the increasingly imperialistic British. But most suspenseful is the fate of Kirkpatrick's willful and charismatic wife, just 19 when he died in 1805, and the fate of their children. The twists and turns in the life of their daughter-sent to England when she was five, never to return to India or see her mother again-are fascinating. Dalrymple makes note of the present schism, which some believe unbridgeable, between Western and Eastern civilizations and Kirkpatrick's tale as a counterexample that the two can meet. Illus., maps.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

At the end of the eighteenth century, James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the promising young British Resident at the Shia court of Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair un-Nissa, an adolescent noblewoman and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. The story of their romance and semi-secret marriage endured in local legend and family lore but was otherwise forgotten. After five years' work with a trove of documents in several languages, Dalrymple has emerged not only with a gripping tale of politics and power but also with evidence of the surprising extent of cultural exchange in pre-Victorian India, before the arrogance of empire set in. His book, ambitious in scope and rich in detail, demonstrates that a century before Kipling's "never the twain"—and two centuries before neocons and radical Islamists trumpeted the clash of civilizations—the story of the Westerner in Muslim India was one not of conquest but of appreciation, adaptation, and seduction.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014200412X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004128
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sandya Narayanswami on September 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
White Mughals is a must for anyone interested in Indian history, particularly the early history of the British Raj. It turns everything one assumes about the exclusive, closed, late Raj Period on its head because it deals with a time when the British were open to Indian civilization, a period that extended from their arrival in India to roughly the late 18th century.

The book starts off with a brief history of the early encounters of Europeans with India, between the 16th and 18th centuries, which included fascination with and acceptance of Indian culture as much as anything else. We remember Warren Hastings today for his impeachment for corruption. What we forget is that he was probably the most enlightened Governor General of India and had a deep respect for Hinduism and India. Certainly more fun to think about than Lord Curzon.... William Dalrymple touches on all sorts of interesting characters of the time, who assimilated into the culture to a degree unimaginable later on. These range from Irishmen who became sadhus to gunners who became local princes, as well as the fascinating Hindoo Stuart, whose singleminded crusade to get Englishwomen in India to adopt the sari deserves remembrance today.... Hindoo Stuart's quotes alone make the book worthwhile!

One interesting thing is the number of Englishmen born in America, who backed the 'wrong' side in the War of Independence, left the US, and ended up in India, adapting to local customs and marrying Indian women. As history is written by the winning side, these are people one doesnt get to hear much about......

One of these, the Handsome Colonel, born in Georgia, was the father of James Kirkpatrick, Resident at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
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Format: Hardcover
"White Mughals" is a fascinating picture of the British in India at the turn of the 19th century, before the British notions of Empire were fully formed. The author focuses on the life of James Kirkpatrick, a representative of the "Company," to explore the evolution of the British presence in India. Using the story of Kirkpatrick's marriage to a Mughal aristocrat as a touchstone, Dalrymple explores a different model for colonization. Kirkpatrick was the company's chief representative in Hyderabad, a Mughal kingdom. He admired and appreciated India's culture, customs and ancient learning, and quickly adapted to the Indian way of life. He was a gifted linguist and skilled diplomat, who successfully negotiated many thorny issues on behalf of the British with the rulers of Hyderabad. Kirkpatrick exemplified a European who believed that East and West could work together for the benefit of both, that the rulers at the time and the British could co-exist, that customs and culture could blend together.
Dalrymple has assembled a huge amount of information, much of which is primary source material never before examined, to support the fact that this blending of cultures was common at the time. As might be expected, many British had Indian mistresses, but more surprisingly, intermarriage was not uncommon, and for a Muslim woman, marriage to a Non-Muslim could only occur if the man converted to Islam, which some did, including Kirkpatrick. At the time the Indian rulers were Muslim, but they did not attempt the impossible task of converting the Hindu population, and as a result, the same blending of culture that was occuring between east and west occurred to some extent between Hindu and Muslim.
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Format: Hardcover
It seems that every generation the British are vouchsafed a truly remarkable travel writer. These are writers who do not just travel and write about it but combine their insatiable curiosity about places and people with often profound knowledge of history and languages: Arabic, Urdu, Chinese (all varieties), eighteenth-century Persian among many. The honour-roll is long and distinguished from Burton and Doughty to Freya Stark, Thesiger and Leigh Fermor. Now comes the latest prodigy, William Dalrymple. He began auspiciously with In Xanadu (1989) a prize-winning account of an expedition across Asia to Kublai Khan's `pleasure dome'. It was mature, informed, witty and exhilarating. At the time he was a twenty-two-year old Cambridge undergraduate. Five years later appeared his rich, densely packed account of a year in Delhi, which caused the Sunday Times to declare him "British Young Writer of the Year". In 1997 appeared his masterpiece, From the Holy Mountain in which he traces the footsteps of two monks who trudged across the entire Byzantine world, from the Bosphorus to Egypt, in 587A.D. It combined a detailed knowledge of mediaeval sources, a compassionate eye for the slow decline of Middle East Christianity, a grasp of modern politics and his characteristic black humour. It too proved a prize winner. In 1998 came a collection of superb articles and essays on India, The Age of Kali. Unsurprisingly Dalrymple was the youngest person to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Asiatic Society. Now he offers us White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India.
If you seek magnificent holiday reading here it is. It is not a book to read at a sitting - or three sittings. Dalrymple is not afraid to write a long book and this is the longest of all.
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