Chandigarh Literature Festival: India has been good to me: William Dalrymple
“Imagine yourself back in time, not in the early winter of Chandigarh, but in Afghanistan, in 1839…There are places you don’t want to be, or on roads where you can get lost.” William Dalrymple took the audience at the Chandigarh Literature Festival on a unique journey, as he presented the many facets of his book, ‘Return of a King: The Battlefor Afghanistan’.chandigarh Updated: Nov 01, 2014 11:02 IST
“Imagine yourself back in time, not in the early winter of Chandigarh, but in Afghanistan, in 1839…There are places you don’t want to be, or on roads where you can get lost.”
William Dalrymple took the audience at the Chandigarh Literature Festival on a unique journey, as he presented the many facets of his book, ‘Return of a King: The Battlefor Afghanistan’. The Scottish historian detailed the events of the Anglo-Afghan War from 1839 to 1842 during the period of the British Raj.
Dalrymple has been known to describe a midlife crisis element to ‘Return of a King’. “As a young correspondent dodging bullets in Jaffna during the ethnic riots is one thing but covering Kabul at this age when I have children to think of now is another,” says Dalrymple.
Dalrymple was invited back to Kabul by Hamid Karzai after the book was published. “He spent three hours questioning me,” he laughs. Dalrymple has drawn a comparison between the First Anglo-Afghan War and the war on terror now.
“The point of ‘Return of a King’ is for the West to learn from history and the mistakes they’ve made but I don’t see that happening,” he says.
In another session post-lunch at the festival, William Dalrymple was in conversation with critic Anjum Hasan on his book, ‘White Mughals’. This book, commented Dalrymple, grew out of an earlier book, ‘City of Djinns’, and two characters were most intriguing, as they broke stereotypes.
Set in and around Hyderabad at the beginning of the19th century, ‘White Mughals’ tells the story of the improbable love affair and marriage between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a rising star in the East India Company, and Khair-un-Nisa, a Hyderabadi princess.
The story strives to understand the complex relationships, social contexts, political aspects of the British Empire in India, different relationships crossing cultures. “This was in the 1780s, by1840 no Indian women were registered in the Company records. When you have political equality, there is social equality. The book sheds light on a world no one was aware of,’’ smiles Dalrymple, who emphasises that it is a book of history and not fiction.
And to top it all off, Dalrymple revealed a highly interesting fact that the makers of Game of Thrones, the highly successful American television series, are looking to adapt the ‘White Mughals’ into a movie most likely to be directed by Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes.
Dalrymple’s Mughal trilogy- ‘White Mughals’, ‘The Last Mughal’ and the ‘Return of a King’- have been in the making for over 10 years, and he says ‘White Mughals’ was the hardest to write as the most amount of research went into that.
Sharing another interesting fact, Dalrymple says that Elveden Estate, the final home of Duleep Singh (Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s son) was in possesion of Dalrymple’s family on his mother’s side.
“The original house was torn down by Duleep Singh though” he says. Dalrymple’s enduring love affair with India started when he arrived in India 30 years back. “I was backpacking and had a budget of Rs 35 a day but it was the trip that changed my life,” he reminisces. India has been good for him he says and also good to him. “As my interests have changed, India has accommodated them,” he smiles fondly.
His next book will be on the East India Company and how they went from traders to a military power that eventually came to rule over India.