Thursday 18 July 2013

Book Review: The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple

The Last Mughal contains the historical events happened during the era of 1852-1862, specifically, focusing on the 1857-59 Indian Mutiny also known as Sepoy Mutiny.
William Dalrymple has done in-depth research and went through around 20,000 Urdu and Persian documents, known as the Mutiny Papers, to produce such a masterpiece. These documents relate to Delhi in 1857 and are present on the shelves of the National Archives of India. This detailed research allows, for the first time to see 1857 Delhi from an Indian perspective and not from British viewpoint as it is usually done.
The book title refers to King Bahadur Shah Zafar, who has not been recognized much by the West. He is just known as the Last Mughal Emperor of India and as a descendent of Genghis Khan and Timur (Tamerlane). Dalrymple has broken this tradition through his book and has written the Last King’s biography with focus on the old Mughal Capital, Delhi, the Indian Sepoy mutiny and his fall. The writer has provided the profile of all the notable characters including Mughals, British and Delhi Noblemen in the start of the book. This helps a lot for referencing and reminding the persona during the depth of the story. Furthermore, the narrative is so well planned and organized that a person can easily understand the map of Delhi just by reading the accounts and without even looking at the diagram.
The account of Indian Mutiny described by Dalrymple in this book is very different and close as depicted by other historians, especially because of the addition of detailed events that led up after this mutiny and its impact on the Last Emperor. Dalrymple has not only described the end of the Mughal Era but also connects the reader with prosperous, intellectual and poetic history of Mughal Empire prior to the catastrophe took place in 1857 to the deprived and underprivileged conditions at the end.
After having practical control over much of the Delhi, the British went for the traditional political tactic “divide and rule” in India and started giving favours and privileges to Hindus over the already destabilized and disheartened Muslims. This approach remained effective for ninety years but later, found to be main source of bitterness, hatred and anger and still ramifies throughout the subcontinent and the world today.
He writes his view that “as Muslim prestige and learning sank, and Hindu confidence, wealth, education and power increased, Hindus and Muslims would grow gradually apart, as British policies of divide and rule found willing collaborators among the chauvinists of both faiths. The rip in the closely woven fabric of Delhi’s composite culture, opened in 1857, slowly widened into a great gash, and at Partition in 1947 finally broke in two.”
Besides this, Dalrymple also successfully tried to touch some other crucial subjects, such as Zafar’s relations with his youngest and dearest wife, different controversial personnel of the East India Company, which many of the previous historians have missed intentionally or unintentionally.
Dalrymple has not only given a detailed end-notes list but also supplied some most informative and explaining footnotes to assist the reader in understanding and relating situation or character to the background story.
Dalrymple’s love for Delhi, its history and landscape provided much motivation to him that he lived there for many years. Besides the National Archives of India and Pakistan, he even researched and went through Burma’s national archive and Zafar’s prison record etc, stored in a very organized way in Acrobat PDF files, which British Library has failed to achieve yet.
The book keeps the readers captivated and would not allow putting it aside without finishing.
The Last Mughal has won the Vodafone Crossword Book Award, and the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize for History and Biography.  

The King of Delhi Bahadur Shah in exile, 1860 (c) National Army Museum, London


  1. Excellent boy! Keep it up!!

  2. Nice review. Very tempting for history lovers.
    All Dalrymple books are awesome. Please review some more of his books.