William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal can't have enough of India, he tells Mita Kapur this and more.
Are you happy or suspicious about being considered an ‘Indian writer'?
I think the Scots consider me a Scottish writer and of course, ethnically they are right. But I am very proud to be adopted by you guys.
Tell us what you feel about travel writing as a genre and its possibilities?
I've always thought that the travel book is a vessel into which a wonderfully varied cocktail of ingredients can be poured: politics, archaeology, history, philosophy, art, magic: whatever. You can cross-fertilise the genre with several other literary forms.
What makes for a good travel writer?
I think it's also fair to say that to be a really interesting travel writer you've got to have some burning obsession: Ryzard Capuschinzki loves revolutions and watching dictators and empires fall; Redmond O'Hanlon likes birds, beasts and exotic diseases; Bruce Chatwin was on the look out for ideas and for nomads. <b1>
Where does your wanderlust come from? Is it the influence of earlier writers?
My desire to write travel books certainly came from a love of books like The Road To Oxiana or Eric Newby's A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush.
But the wanderlust only took root when I spent nine months backpacking around India in 1984 before going up to Cambridge.
It was a trip that quite literally changed my life. I never looked back, and am still writing about India 23 years later. But for that trip I would probably be a dentist or a banker or a chartered accountant or something like that now..
When will your ‘Mughal mania' end?
Not yet. I am full of Mughal ideas: Akbar, Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb are all fascinating figures in their very different ways. At the moment I am especially intrigued by the latter two and I am considering doing a double biography . But who knows?
What got you interested in Sufi mysticism?
I think it started with the music, and developed thereon. I did a documentary on Sufi music and had a ball visiting Morocco, Syria, Turkey as well as India and Pakistan.