'I am full of Mughal ideas'
William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal can't have enough of India. Catch him in a chat with Mita Kapur.
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.
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.