Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Last Mughal - Story of a People's First Freedom Struggle

I am reading William Dalrymple’s “The Last Mughal” and couldn’t help wondering how our past has been so full of bloody conflicts, wars, riots, crimes against humanity, barbarism, rape, looting, and such like.

Dalrymple (despite my earlier reservations about his books) is a wonderful chronicler of history, and has gone really deep into the first war of independence of 1857 to record the fall of an empire under the somewhat ineffective emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. The book is full of man’s cruelty and greed against man.

A fellow passenger, a total stranger (who saw me read the book), remarked to me in the train how Delhi was built on the blood of so many people, how on its roads blood once flowed. It’s true. And Dalrymple’s words make it come alive. I couldn’t but wonder as I read the book, how I had travelled on the streets of Chandni Chowk, the Kashmiri Gate, Red Fort, Ajmeri Gate, Darya Ganj, the Hauz Khas, etc. without realizing that blood had flowed here once, blood of both the white British and Indians alike.

Bombay hasn’t seen any blood, nor has blood been spilled on its streets. But Delhi seems to have had a bloody past, one I couldn’t even imagine in my wildest and restless imaginings. I wrote this poem about Delhi and feel that it may be way off when the bloody history of the city is concerned.

This passage is about how the British forgot their spies and collaborators when they entered as the victorious army into Delhi:

“None of the inhabitants of Delhi had expected a general plunder still less a mass slaughter. But once within the walls, the British conveniently forgot all their allies and supporters. Even their most devoted spies were not safe as Maulvi Muhammad Baqar discovered on or around 15 September when, without explanation, he was picked up and arrested.”

Baqar, the editor of Delhi Urdu Akhbar, had sided with the British and supported their return to Delhi. He was later killed. Only Ghalib (the poet) survived the mass murder and massacre, under very tenuous circumstances and lived to tell his tale.

It was systematic genocide, and it’s regrettable how it hasn’t received much attention in the history books of the sub-continent. I remember my history textbooks mentioning it as “Sepoy Mutiny” while it was actually not a mutiny but a legitimate government of the people of India rising up against a few traders who abrogated the power to govern over them.


@lankr1ta said...

So you give it a "do read" sign. I like Darlymple from a few excerpts I have read .

John said...


yes. do read it. it explains a lot of unresolved issues in the mind. I am left wondering why I didn't read the book earlier.

Just finished it and am writing a review.

Keep it coming,