Be it the tale of the Jain Nuns in the ancient pilgrimage town of Sravanabelagola, or exploring the murderous rage of the Mutiny of 1857, acclaimed author and historian William Dalrymple has never failed to enchant his readers with his research of the unknown.
“We know about the Guptas from Ancient India, we know about Akbar, and then we jump to the freedom struggle. What about the years in between? It was quite a sexy period,” the Scottish writer, who lives in Delhi with his family, says with a laugh.
He recreated the magic of 1800’s Delhi in his 2006 book — The Last Mughal, which has now been translated in Urdu and Hindi or Hindustani by Zakia Zaheer. Not just reconstructing the crumbling years of the Mughal reign, he focused on carefully detailing history and brought yesteryear’s Delhi to life in the book.
Although, presenting history could be sensitive at times when people readily take offence at anything, writing the book was not a challenge. “Not many had taken an interest in this area of history, so I had a free reign. I faced remarkably little criticism with this work. I didn’t want to write this as a historian. I wanted the individual characters to take the narrative forward, and keep myself out of the story,” says Dalrymple, who launched Shazia Omar’s Dark Diamond recently.
Unlike many, Dalrymple examined history through the eyes of common people and also gathered information from the Mutiny Papers of the National Archives.
While much is discussed about the glorious reigns of Akbar and Shah Jahan, Dalrymple feels “the years between Aurangzeb and the last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar have been largely ignored”, and his book The Last Mughal explores those years of Indian history.
Apart from the two-hundred year difference between the Delhi he reads about in the sources, and the Delhi he lives in today. He feels “It was a magical time for Delhi — the beginning of the end. Now, people associate Delhi to be a brutal and an uncouth place.”
There is a lot he loves about Delhi, a city he made home about 30 years ago. “I don’t want to be boring, but really, I love walking through Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk, Chawri Bazaar. It’s a wonderful feeling. There’s always so many wonderful things to eat; from Shahi Tukra to delicious kebabs.”