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'White Mughals': An unspoken history


William Dalrymple's White Mughals describes the British in India in a way which is different from anything most of us have grown up learning about. These were the 'foreigners' as we now call them, who neither our parents nor our grandparents today can recall. White Mughals speaks of the era in which some Britishers were so impressed by the Indian culture, they adopted it wholeheartedly.

Of course, this was not taken well by those who had come to the country with the intention of colonising it, or at least plundering its rich resources. yet, from what the book suggests, Indians welcomed the 'dissenters' into their lives and their hearts. I believe Dalrymple researched the book for five years and that shows in his details. It is a critically-acclaimed book but what I liked most was the message of tolerance it presents. The most significant lines in the book in this regard are these:



As the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa shows, East and West are not irreconcilable, and never have been. Only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear drive them apart. But they have met and mingled in the past; and they will do so again.


My sincere wish is that this hope of Dalrymple comes true. We desperately need this kind of tolerance in people today. An East India Company servant, James is the perfect example of this reconciliation - he stayed loyal to the Company while winning the hearts of Indians, by adopting their lifestyle and even their religion (he converted to Islam) - especially of one young girl with a respected lineage.

Why don't we see sentiments like this today? I know inter-cultural marriages do take place, probably more often than they did in the 18th century. But where's the interest in other cultures? Instead of looking for differences, why are we not interested in studying the beliefs and values of other communities? We don't necessarily have to practise them, but at least it will teach us to be more tolerant. Many communal riots today occur because people often misinterpret the actions of other communities because they have no knowledge of its nuances. Very often the defenders of a community hardly know anything about it themselves.

The problem is that there are fewer people like James Kirkpatrick in this world and more like Lord Wellesley - the Governer General who disregarded the beauty of India, while trampling its people underfoot. Many avatars of Wellesley exist even today, putting their prejudices and greed between the efforts at peace.

This may appear to be a rather far-fetched interpretation of White Mughals, but a lot has already been spoken about it as a history. I want to interpret it in the light of today. More than ever, today we need messengers of peace like James who set foot in foreign land and died a revered and loved man. We need people like Khair un-Nissa who embraced James as a good human being, rather than a 'foreigner'.

No wonder, people like James, who were many in number at the time, have been erased from history books. The English were embarrassed by it, and the Indians could not justify it after the Freedom Struggle. Maybe if we added historical accounts of situations where people from different nationalities cooperated with each other, we could teach the future generation more of tolerance than they will from stories of bloody wars.
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2 comments

atifdear2001 said...

It's an excellant piece of writing with very good photographs. i think there were many more Khairunnissa.

atifdear2001 said...

It's an excellant piece of writing with very good photographs. i think there were many more Khairunnissa.

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