The Indian connection
HIS KEEN memory and love of Indian history strikes you as he reels off the names of people long forgotten in the dusts of time. The hours he spent researching in various archives for his latest historical non-fictional masterpiece, "White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India," has given him an insight into what 18th Century India was like.
William Dalrymple, eminent Scottish writer and historian, says "In the 18th Century, one in three British men in India were leaving all their property to their Indian wives and offspring. This massive crossover between the British and Indians, is a previously unwritten bit of history," that Dalrymple has attempted to reconstruct in his latest work, "White Mughals... ", a 500-page tome, brought out in paperback by Penguin India.
"White Mughals is trying to do two things - on one plane it is a serious historical work - about a pluralistic world in 18th Century India where Hindus and Muslims shared customs and culture, and there was this crossover between the British and Indians. On the other plane, it is an old-fashioned, `choli-ripping' masala romance," he says with evident delight.
"Choli ripping" is Dalrymple's self-translated `desi version' of `bodice ripping', which he gleefully says, denotes "cheap romance".
The book has won the Wolfson Prize for History, 2003, the Scottish Book of the Year Prize and been shortlisted for the PEN History Award. The name "White Mughals" reflects the British imbibing the Moghul culture of those times, shown through 33-year-old James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the Resident of Hyderabad, converting to Islam to marry the beautiful Khair-un-Nissa. Kirkpatrick spoke fluent Persian and smoked the hookah.
There have been 12 offers for filming "White Mughals", including one by Shekhar Kapur and another by Aamir Khan. The film is finally being made by HBO, with the screenplay by Christopher Hampton who has to his credit the screenplay of "Dangerous Liaisons" and "The Quiet American". The stage version is also nearing completion. It is to be staged in the National Theatre, London. While burrowing through old texts during his five years of research for "White Mughals", Dalrymple came across some facets of his own history that he was unaware of - his own "Indian connection". His great, great, great grandmother was a Bengali from Chandranagore, who married a Frenchman and converted to Catholicism. She has been described in documents as "Gentile d'Inde", French for Hindu. "One of the central characters of "White Mughals" is James Dalrymple, the first cousin of my direct ancestor, who married Moti Begum from the lineage of Noor Jehan. Moti Begum's father was the Nawab of Masulipatan. They had four kids, three boys who were fair enough to escape detection (of their coloured lineage) and a girl who was dark. The boys were brought up as asistocratic Scottish Christians, while the girl - Noor Begum- was married to one of her father's Indian sepoy officers," he says. Dalrymple came across letters written by her, (in Persian and translated into "Bazaar Hinglish") to her brothers asking for money in the archives in Edinburgh.
"In this one generation of my family - the three brothers and their sister were of the same parents -- but brought up differently. This was typical of such marriages of that period." During a reading in Chennai of his book, Dalrymple met the modern `Nawab' of Masulipatan or Machilipatam. "We had a family reunion," says Dalrymple who is living in Delhi with his wife and three children. He has already started work on a sequel to "White Mughals", which will be "serious stuff".
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