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I am a layman and find the book very absorbing. It is a most detailed account of 1857 India. It can be used as a reference book as well. Undoubtedly the author is a very learned person and a master story teller.
The book is perfect example of an exhaustive research based historical review of an event that changed the nation and probably brought in sense of nationalism for the first time ever in people of this land. Its a sheer emotionally charged masterpiece which lets you actually visualize the life and events in Delhi in 1857. You just can't stop empathizing with the "last Mughal". Had this book been not there I would have had the conventional schema about this period based on my crude knowledge gained via school history. A must read for history lovers !
The book gives you insight not only about the last Mughal ruler but also reasons as to why the 1857 revolt failed.
Even though the book is verbose and might seem unattractive for people averse to history, this actually is a good read and definitely deserves a place in your library.
I read a few of the reviews of this marvellous book and found all of them very tempting and forcing me very strongly to buy the book. Most probably I'll buy it next month as my this month's budget for buying books is over. Next month I have to jump the list of books which I want to buy and have to give priority to this book.
Even before reading the book, I'm giving it a rating of '5 Star'.
I got this book during a heavy discount time for Rs.193..!!!. Very happy to have got hold of this. As a person who is so interested in collecting books on history, autobiographies & biographies, this is a very good addition to my collection. It's a must read for anyone who wishes to take a glimpse of the period just before Mughal empire's demise.
Also i was dying to read one of William Dalrymple's work. No regrets. Haven't completed reading the book though. But worth a buy def.
The story of slow but sure dissipation of the last mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II, is an eye opening narrative brought forth by long and painful work of translation of native Urdu manuscripts, newspapers, national archive records that are not yet digitalised and never before brought to life ..Forming the bedrock of this fact filled book where Dalrymple moves ahead emphathetically in a centre-of- road approach, with bias neither to A nor to B... Which is a strange liberating experience for the reader who has long been shown the over simplified story in typical history books.. My sincere gratitude to Dalrymple..
As the British destruction of the walled city's finest mosques, great Sufi shrines, magnificent palaces, caravanserais and havelis, almost all of the red fort palace except The outer wall, the Queen's bath, harem courts, beautiful lattice faced zenanas, the famous bazaars..in order to completely level the city of Delhi to avenge the mutiny against the British.. depress us; as the mass slaughter and hunting, killing, hanging and driving out one and all male Delhiwallahs, in an war of extermination and ethnic cleansing of Muslims by the British .. To make Delhi a city of the dead bodies..all strewn about in all directions and in all states of decomposition lying in eerie angles ..some with their arms uplifted as if beckoning .. Makes us sick,that even makes the invasion by Nadir Shah in 1739 look mild and which after all stopped when one petitioner came in front of Nadir Shah to recite
None is left now for you to kill with your coquettish sword,
Unless you bring them back to life and then kill again.
So are the depressing the records of hunting down Christians in Dehli, Cawnpore, Lucknow and evrywhere else in Hindustan, burning of Churches, houses and murdering innocent British children and women in the most ghastly manner..by the very sepoys who came rushing into Delhi to kill the British and restore the Emperor , but also ended up becoming the lot looting the Delhiwallahs day in and day out, and even forgot all the etiquette to the Emperor and courtesy and treated Zafar sometimes as an equal ..as by Bakht singh's stride into Deewan-I-Khaas, and even sometimes forcing the Emperor to stand like dumb puppet when the sepoys rounded up 52 Britishers kept in the safe custody by the Emperor inside the fort palace, and killed them all including the women and children, silencing the Emperor with words such as:
We will kill them and in your place, so that whatever the result you and we shall be considered one in this business, and you will thought equally guilty by the British.
All this is a far cry from the most beautiful city of Hindustan, ruled by the Mughals..and even talking of Zafar, who was a sort of renaissance man, fluent in Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Braj Bhasha, Punjabi, a noted calligrapher, Sufi, theologian, patron of painters of miniatures, creators of gardens, a mystical poet..and taking great pains to achieve amity amongst Hindu and Muslim subjects. Flashback to the magnificent powerhouse of a city of intellectual refinement, where young students were taught Greek and Latin, young mohummadens of Shahajahanabad talking fluently of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, and Hippocrates,..the celebrated intellectual center and cultural vitality..having at least six famous madrasas, nine newspapers in Urdu and Persian.. and Chandni Chowk which used to come alive after the sunsets.. With story tellers on the steps of Jama Masjid regaling tales of dastan-I-amid hamza, sellers selling kebabs in pots of hot chilli, dancers and singers behind the illuminated lattices of the upper floors, the company of poets of the royal house like Glalib, Zauq, ..and the scene inside the palace remained active till around 3am every night......with a profusion of of chandeliers, hanging lamps and lanterns on the wooden planks spread with rugs, row upon row of jasmine garlands, the whole air fragrant with musk, amber and aloes, and the night progressing with poets half singing, half reciting till the climax brought forth by Zauq and Glalib..
Now looking all these in perspective, what caused the bitter enmity between the Britishers who once were so enamoroured with the Hindustani way of life, that they began turning into White Mughals..Was it really rebel by the Indian Emeperor' subjects against the British, but if you see the thing from the Emperor's perspective, was it not the East India Company that was just a servant of the King..and therefore was it not a rebel, an unfaithful and trust less act by the Britishers against the Emperor..under whose license and permission they were operating.. After all the Britishers had entered as traders and not with the accompanying rights of a victorious troops like the Mughals who entered India by defeating the rules and hence had a right to rule..In the great chess board of history, there is no correct answer, but, Dalrymple, as always, opens one's eyes to both sides of the story..
This book contains a logical and lucid flow of the subject regarding the 'Last Mogul', at least a careful and voracious reader will not loose interest.
One of the best features about the book is that while writing it a thorough research has been done, relying not only prejudiced and biased Anglo-British sources but also Arab o-Persian-Urdu-Hindi reference materials, retrieved from varied venues like Hyderabad, Lahore, New Delhi.
Mr. Dalrymple had tried to maintain an impartial and neutral scholarly approach, which is usually not found amongst Anglo-Western writers and is an exceptional quality.
However the writers views about the Indian National Army soldiers under leader Subhas Chandra Bose praying for blessings at the grave of the last Mogul at Yangon, do smell of an Imperial-Western-Colonial bias against an oppressed and colonised people's armed insurrection, but that can be justified and pardoned under artistic and aesthetic freedom.
Mr. Dalrymple keep on the good work
The best part of the book is its impassivity.. The writer does not write with either a western or with a Mughal sympathiser's bias. It is engaging, almost lyrical, like telling an interesting story of olden times, critiquing aspects of both the cultures. What is impressive is the extent to which the man has gone to establish credibility and remove traces of bias which might creep in a story like this. The choice of adjectives, poetry add colour to avoid it from the shackles of documentation. And yet despite all this, there is no absence of "feeling" which makes the great distinction between an interesting and a boring read. A must read.
This was the first book that I had read which was written by William Dalrymple and I understood why he is such a revered author. The book is the outcome of extensive research carried by him. The political and socio-economic life of Delhi prevalent at those times was covered vividly and in detail. Some interesting facts that emerged from this books are
a) Bahadur Shah Zafar never had any battle experience
b) Bahadur Singh Zafar became leader of the uprising by circumstances rather than choice
c) There were British Sepoys among those who revolted
d) Offspring of some Britishers who mingled with the Indian society could not speak English
e) The battle of 1857 took mostly in streets
f) There were complete mayhem in Delhi due to looting, plundering, murder and rape both during and after revolt
g) Out of 31,29 sons of Bahadur Shah Zafar were prosecuted by British
h) Two sons who survived lived the life of penury in Rangoon after Bahadur Shah Zafar died
There are many facts that are mentioned that you may have not come across in earlier books on such subject. Even if you do not love history, this book is worth reading. Definitely, I would recommend this book.