William Dalrymple visits the San Francisco Bay Area soon to engage in a converation with Lakshmi Pratury, host of Lakshmi’s Lounge. Dalrymple has achieved unparalleled success in documenting centuries of colonial and Mughal history. Amartya Sen’s comment encapsulates Dalrymple’s brilliance evident to many readers. “It is rare indeed that a work of such consummate scholarship and insight could also be so accessible and such fun to read.”
In a phone conversation, Dalrymple confesses that his now 25 year tryst with India started quite accidentally when he accompanied a friend to Dehradun in 1984, without any prior knowledge of India. That first trip led to many more, where he immersed himself in archives and libraries unravelling the mysteries of the Mughal court, capturing its eventual demise under the reign of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
With the war in Iraq grabbing inernational headlines today, he says, “there are always lessons that history can teach us. Perceptions of Islam in the Western world today represent only the illiberal, radical form of Islam, far removed from the Islam as practiced in the Mughal court—a brand of Islam marked by Sufi principles, a philosophical, mystical, and accomodating form of Islam. The book, White Mughals, he says, “is an optimistic account capturing the relationship between East and West, serving as a hopeful reminder of all that is possible when civilizations come together to live in harmony.” The second part of the story is told in the book, The Last Mughal, where the process of hard-nosed imperialism as adopted by Lord Wellesley reaches its zenith with the fall of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
When I question him about the difficulties of doing research in India, he says that many of the primary sources that he used for his books on Mughal history have never been requested from the shelves of the national archives since 1947. Since Urdu is not widely spoken by the average student of history in India today, he says that he is on equal footing with other history writers when he looks at primary sources from Urdu or Persian, court languages from the Mughal era.
Many a history book can leave the reader convinced about the author’s knowledge of the subject, but they rarely connect at the human, emotional level. This is where Dalrymple’s writing stands a class apart. He reveals sholarship and an uncanny ability to stand back and look at the key players’ decisions and troubles, building within the reader clarity of thnking and uncommon sympathy with humans long dead and gone.
To meet the author in person within the setting of an informal conversation is definitely a must-attend event in April.
Friday, April 4, 6-8:30 p.m. Presented by Lakshmi’s Lounge in association with TiE Salon. TiE Silicon Valley, 2903 Bunker Hill Ln., Ste. 108, Santa Clara. Admission includes dinner: $75. [email protected]www.lakshmislounge.com