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White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India

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White Mughals is the romantic and ultimately tragic tale of a passionate love affair that crossed and transcended all the cultural, religious and political boundaries of its time. James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad when in 1798 he glimpsed Kahir un-Nissa—'Most excellent among Women'—the great-niece of the Nizam's Prime Minister and a descendant of the Prophet. Kirkpatrick had gone out to India as an ambitious soldier in the army of the East India Company, eager to make his name in the conquest and subjection of the subcontinent. Instead, he fell in love with Khair and overcame many obstacles to marry her—not least of which was the fact that she was locked away in purdah and engaged to a local nobleman. Eventually, while remaining Resident, Kirkpatrick converted to Islam, and according to Indian sources even became a double-agent working for the Hyderabadis against the East India Company.

It is a remarkable story, involving secret assignations, court intrigue, harem politics, religious and family disputes. But such things were not unknown; from the early sixteenth century, when the Inquisition banned the Portuguese in Goa from wearing the dhoti, to the eve of the Indian mutiny, the 'white Mughals' who wore local dress and adopted Indian ways were a source of embarrassments to successive colonial administrations. William Dalrymple unearths such colourful figures as 'Hindoo Stuart', who travelled with his own team of Brahmins to maintain his temple of idols, and who spent many years trying to persuade the memsahibs of Calcutta to adopt the sari; and Sir David Ochterlony, Kirkpatrick's counterpart in Delhi, who took all thirteen of his wives out for evening promenades, each on the back of their own elephant.

In White Mughals, William Dalrymple discovers a world almost entirely unexplored by history, and places at its centre a compelling tale of love, seduction and betrayal. It possesses all the sweep and resonance of a great nineteenth-century novel, set against a background of shifting alliances and the manoeuvring of the great powers, the mercantile ambitions of the British and the imperial dreams of Napoleon. White Mughals, the product of five years' writing and research, triumphantly confirms Dalrymple's reputation as one of the finest writers at work today.

580 pages, Paperback

First published March 29, 2002

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About the author

William Dalrymple

49 books2,613 followers
William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize.

In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six years researching his second book, City of Djinns, which won the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. From the Holy Mountain, his acclaimed study of the demise of Christianity in its Middle Eastern homeland, was awarded the Scottish Arts Council Autumn Book Award for 1997; it was also shortlisted for the 1998 Thomas Cook Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. A collection of his writings about India, The Age of Kali, won the French Prix D’Astrolabe in 2005.

White Mughals was published in 2003, the book won the Wolfson Prize for History 2003, the Scottish Book of the Year Prize, and was shortlisted for the PEN History Award, the Kiryama Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

William Dalrymple is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Asiatic Society, and is the founder and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

In 2002 he was awarded the Mungo Park Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for his ‘outstanding contribution to travel literature’. He wrote and presented the television series Stones of the Raj and Indian Journeys, which won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary Series at BAFTA in 2002. His Radio 4 series on the history of British spirituality and mysticism, The Long Search, won the 2002 Sandford St Martin Prize for Religious Broadcasting and was described by the judges as ‘thrilling in its brilliance... near perfect radio’. In December 2005 his article on the madrasas of Pakistan was awarded the prize for Best Print Article of the Year at the 2005 FPA Media Awards. In June 2006 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa by the University of St Andrews “for his services to literature and international relations, to broadcasting and understanding”. In 2007, The Last Moghal won the prestigous Duff Cooper Prize for History and Biography. In November 2007, William received an Honourary Doctorate of Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Lucknow University “for his outstanding contribution in literature and history”, and in March 2008 won the James Todd Memorial Prize from the Maharana of Udaipur.

William is married to the artist Olivia Fraser, and they have three children. They now live on a farm outside Delhi.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 400 reviews
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews288 followers
March 10, 2015
White Mughals is the story of a romance but really it is the story of a moment in time when England and India explored each others' worlds and cultures with great delight and mutual admiration. And sadly, it is also the story of how everything changed in less than a generation.



This is the sort of book that demolishes all of your old notions of 'how it happened'. I read into the wee hours of the night and as I finished the book this morning I instantly went back to the beginning to work my way through the copious (and fascinating) footnotes.

Anyone with a serious interest in the history of the Indian subcontinent, or the British empire, or colonial history in general should read this book.

I was struck by how much damage one man--the Marquess of Wellesley, governor general of India and brother of the Duke of Wellington--managed to do. What a different course history might have taken had men like General William Palmer or William Kirkpatrick held the highest post. But, alas, Wellesley was merely in the vanguard of a new generation whose interest lay not in exploration and trade, but rather in establishing Britain as the dominant world power at the center of a vast empire.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,108 reviews1,168 followers
August 1, 2022
I have a lot of admiration for this author’s Nine Lives, and The Anarchy is highly informative. But this book is supposedly a love story, which isn't actually all that well-documented and for which the author puts on heavily rose-tinted glasses to ignore the fact that the participants were aged 35 and 13 and that we know almost nothing about her life, thoughts, or feelings. In reality, the book is in part a biography of East India Company official James Achilles Kirkpatrick, and in part a very detailed and heavily footnoted account of the British presence in India from about 1798-1806.

So. Kirkpatrick was a Resident of the East India Company in Hyderabad, essentially an ambassador to the princely court there, a position from which he built himself a monumental residence and negotiated treaties that strengthened the British and weakened the Hyderabadis (at times he felt bad about this but not bad enough to resign). He wrote a bunch of letters which from a modern point-of-view look awfully patronizing (referring to the Nizam, or local ruler, as “old Nizzy,” or giving himself credit for “convincing” the Indian authorities to do any useful thing they did); it’s hard to parse this stuff because the author never addresses it.

Kirkpatrick also, at the age of 35, slept with a 13-year-old girl from an aristocratic Muslim family, whom he got pregnant and then married. Now, I know that conventions about age and sex were different in many historical time periods, but that doesn't mean many of the resulting relationships were healthy enough that we should romanticize them today (and it's worth pointing out that in Kirkpatrick's home country at the time, child marriage was decidedly not the norm. Girls from the most privileged families sometimes married in their mid teens and very often by their late teens, but 13 would have been extremely young even for them, while most of the populace waited until their 20s). But rather than unpacking the issue at all, Dalrymple seems to hope readers won't notice. In fact his description of the early years of this “romance” entirely obscures the age issue by stating vaguely that Khair un-Nissa was “probably in her early teens” when they met and then quickly moving on. That uncertainty was apparently cleared up in Dalrymple’s own mind by the later chapters, at which point he states without ambiguity that she was 19 when their oldest child was 5. Dalrymple further tries to paper over the consent issue by emphasizing the fact that Khair un-Nissa’s male relatives, and Kirkpatrick himself—when accused of rape by a third party for what Dalrymple insists were purely specious and political reasons, to drive a wedge between her male relatives and the British—portrayed her as the initiator. Which in my mind just makes it worse (most of us would be pretty disgusted by a 35-year-old man excusing himself with “but the 13-year-old totally initiated!” regardless of whether it was true, in part because this is such a common line in the sex offender playbook), especially since Khair un-Nissa’s own voice is entirely absent from the book. None of her letters survived, and she’s viewed almost entirely through male eyes.

The couple go on to get married and have a couple of kids whom he insists on shipping off to his relatives in England at the tender ages of 5 and 3, at which point they’re forbidden from corresponding with their mother or her relatives. We don’t actually know much about their marriage because Kirkpatrick didn’t write much about it, but the author infers a lot. Both parties then die young. Dalrymple insists on viewing Khair un-Nissa as a tragic heroine throughout, based on what seems to be pretty scanty evidence. In a place and time when medical knowledge was still quite basic and a doctor even feeling a woman’s pulse was reserved for serious circumstances, I wouldn’t infer that she died of a broken heart from the simple fact that the doctor couldn’t pinpoint the cause.

At any rate, Dalrymple never reckons with the fact that his supposedly beautiful true love story involves a middle-aged man and an adolescent girl, and has little to say about the fact that we don’t hear her voice at all. But then, the relationship is only a focal point of a book that is largely comprised of the author squeezing in whatever bits of history seem to have caught his fancy. Someone goes to a festival, and we get a 6-page history of the festival and description of relevant buildings. Someone visits Calcutta, and we get 6 pages describing its society. Someone remodels a building and we get endless discussion of architecture and the hiring of workmen. It can be pretty interesting, but it also makes the book quite dense, especially with all the tiny footnotes, which I think are overkill for a non-academic work. The publishers could have made the book much more readable by actually naming the chapters and sections (and making sure to space out section breaks more evenly) to make it easier for readers to find what interests them. Instead it’s a wall of text full of tangents and extraneous details; no wonder many readers were frustrated. I nearly gave up on it myself.

Despite all its flaws, though, I did find the book interesting, and in the end did read it all. I do appreciate details and specifics and this book has them in abundance. It seems well-researched and the author’s basic thesis, that in the 18th century the British in India did far more to assimilate than their hoity-toity 19th century successors, is also quite interesting. Those looking for a detailed picture of an era would be well-advised to pick this up, though those expecting a love story might do better to avoid it.
Profile Image for Kay.
1,004 reviews168 followers
October 23, 2017

A grand, slow-moving procession through 18th-century India

Stately processions are a leit motif in William Dalrymple's epic account of a doomed love affair between James Kirkpatrick, a British East India Company resident, and Khair un-Nissa, great-niece of Hyderabad’s chief minister. Midway through the book, for example, he quotes a source describing the massive pilgrimage for the annual festival of Mawlah Ali:

“Some 3,000 elephants, as well as some 50,000 horses and load-bearing camels, with stalls selling fresh and dried fruit, clothes and fine woolen pashmina shawls: as far as the eye can see, immense crowds appear, of buyers and sellers, riders and dancers, glorious tents and mountainous elephants, and with tall buildings erected continuously on either side from the Musi River to the foot of Koh-e Sharif…”

Elsewhere he describes the departure of William and Fyze Palmer, an East India Company official and his Muslim wife:

“Their convoy moved slowly down through the then thickly wooded foothills of the Western Ghats… even by the standards of the time the Palmers traveled heavily, and James was astonished by the sheer number of bullock carts, transport cattle, elephants, baggage camels, syces, sepoys, bearers and Fyze’s ‘dozen females’ (presumably her attendants)…”

In many ways, this book is just such an unwieldy procession. Encompassing a vast sweep of cultures and events, the book plods forward at an even, unhurried pace. This allows the reader to take in all the sights en route, but at times, I confess, I hankered for a swifter means of transportation through a terrain that became almost monotonous in its splendor.

Dalrymple’s account is ostensibly a story of the love affair between James and Khair, but their relationship unfolds before the great tapestry of politics and intrigue that was late 18th-century India. As such, there are dozens of major and minor personages to keep track of. Even with the help of an introductory eleven-page list of dramatis personae and two complete family trees, one for the Kirkpatrick’s and the other for Khair’s Shustari family, the reader may find keeping all the names and alliances straight to be a daunting task.

My chief complaint, however, is that Dalrymple seems to have been unable or unwilling to sufficiently distill four years of research to make his book more accessible. Almost every page is festooned with references (nearly a thousand all told) and copious footnotes. He introduces a subject, any subject, regardless of how trifling, and then rather than concisely summing up what the reader needs to know or skipping it altogether if it has no direct bearing on the tale, he hares off whatever line he was originally taking and expounds at length upon a new topic. Pages later, he returns to his original theme, but by that time the reader has forgotten what it was.

Thus the reader is treated to sometimes fascinating but often tedious treatises on the major Mughal festivals, methods of abortion in 18th-century India, Mughal gardening methods, rites of passage for Mughal children, pigeon-keeping, British colonial architecture, Islamic astronomy, and dozens of other topics of peripheral importance to the tale. Likewise, with the introduction of each new East India Company or Mughal court official, the author digresses to give a full account of that person’s life and character up to that point.

Dalrymple obviously loved researching the book, and as he makes it clear in his introduction, he was most fortunate to unearth previously unknown sources and in particular to find the key to deciphering encoded letters between James Kirkpatrick and his brother William. However, in his zeal for the chase, he too often makes his quest for the story part of the central narrative. It’s intrusive. He’s also much given to quoting at great length from his sources. Almost every other page seems to have a great chunk of correspondence inserted into it. I couldn’t help but wish a firmer editorial hand had been applied.

With all its faults, however, this is a beguiling book in many ways. Dalrymple’s central thesis is that before the 19th century, British and Indian cultures were more closely interwoven and more hybridized than previously thought. James Kirkpatrick was one of a number of notable “White Mughals,” British East India officials so sympathetic to local customs and Indian cultures that often they converted to Islam or Hinduism, usually before wedding Indian women. However, James and Khair were ultimately victims of a growing hardening stance of the British, who came to look upon India less in terms of a rich culture met on equal footing and more from the vantage point of an imperial power greedily exploiting a resource. As Dalrymple makes abundantly clear, the personalities and failings of certain East India Company officials, most notably Lord Wellesley, the Governor General from 1798-1803, were responsible for this hardening stance. In many ways the exploration of the complex workings of the British East India Company’s policies, military campaigns, and economics is just as central to the book as the similarly complex fate of James and Khair, the star-crossed lovers.

Profile Image for Simran Khurana.
59 reviews44 followers
February 21, 2013
Finally, I have finished reading this 500 page long, historical romance. I had tried to read it once, but I admit that I abandoned it midway because I was apprehensive that I will ever finish reading the book. But the book haunted me enough to make me pick it up again, and I gave it another shot. So here is my review of the book:

1) As always, my recommendation is that ONLY if you are a history buff, pick it up. It is a detailed documentation of Mughal, Hyderabadi, and English era, and you don't want to be embroiled in a story that takes you deep recesses of unchartered territories of history, especially if you are not fond of it.

2) You need some patience and focus to read this one. Unlike Dalrymple's The Last Mughal, this book weaves in and out of the principal story. Because it is not just a romantic novel, it is a factual repository of historical events of the 1800s. You can't blame the author for not 'spicing it up'. Because there is no physical evidences that vocalize the turbulence of the times. However, Dalrymple has done enough justice to piece together scraps of information from various parts of the world to make it a veritable story.

3) The book reveals the other side of English connection with India. We Indians have been brought up with the staple diet of poker faced Britishers who spoke Hindi, as if they were abusing someone. I had always felt that something was amiss. It is nice to know that India impacted the British in unimaginable ways and the cross-pollination of cultures did happen. As Dalrymple puts it, "India has always had a strange way with her conquerors. In defeat, she beckons them in, then slowly reduces, assimilates, and transforms them."

4) There were some sections that tested my tenacity. I must say that the book left me enriched and educated; because I no longer feel that history is what you read in textbooks. History is what you perceive based on your own intelligence. I never take history at face value again. To me, this book opened doors to a forgotten era, and shattered existing myths. Once again, Dalrymple, you enchanted me!
Profile Image for Mansoor Azam.
116 reviews61 followers
July 7, 2012
Its only because of the name of Willam Dalrymple that i picked this one. But, by God, what a book. hats off to the writer. It builds on interestingly and like one of those Sydney Sheldon novels you just don't want to put it back. Always intriguing and woven in the mysteries of the oriental East.

The book sheds a light on late eighteenth and nineteenth century life and politics of princely state of Hyderabad. From the Nizam to the power brokering imperialist British to a commoner in the street, one gets an overview of every thread of life.

The plot of the book is woven around a love tale of a British Colonel and a high born local Muslim lady.. its charming as well as tragic. But the way the writer builds it is charming .. he leaves enough in a chapter to make you want more ..

Simply in love with this one ... A pure classic piece of historiography interestingly put on the table to devour.
Profile Image for Frank O'donnell.
36 reviews6 followers
March 13, 2014
The book's premise as a historically accurate romance between an Indian noblewoman, Khair un-Nissa, and a British East India Company ambassador, James Kirkpatrick, is difficult to sustain when the availability of records preclude the reader knowing the woman's personality and even true degree of affiliation. Also, it is true that Kirkpatrick, a vocal proponent of British assimilation to Hyderabadi culture, differed in his approach to Indian societies to his segregating superiors in Calcutta, Cornwallis and Wellesley. However, Dalrymple's obvious sympathy with Kirkpatrick's views obscures the fact that Kirkpatrick and Wellesley merely represented different tactical approaches to the same goal of colonial penetration and exploitation.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
November 14, 2015
Description: Conjuring all the sweep of a great nineteenth-century novel, acclaimed author William Dalrymple unearths the fascinating story of the British Resident at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, James Kirkpatrick, who in 1798 fell in love with the great-niece of the Hyderabadi prime minister. To marry her, Kirkpatrick converted to Islam and even became a double agent working against the East India Company. Shedding light on the many eccentric Westerners during this period who "turned Turk," adopting Indian customs, dress, and religions, Darymple brings to life a compelling and largely unwritten story of Britain's rule over India.

Opening: On 7 November 1801, under conditions of the greatest secrecy, two figures were discreetly admitted to the gardens of Government House in Madras.

501 pages; withdrawn from Hampshire County Libraries. Maps, and photos galore; of wrist-breaking proportions.

5* City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
4* Nine Lives
5* In Xanadu: A Quest
6* From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East
5* The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters
5* Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
3.5* White Mughals: Love And Betrayal In Eighteenth Century India


Profile Image for Caroline.
718 reviews120 followers
June 13, 2018
Oh, I loved this book. I could hardly put it down. I confess I know very little about the years before the Raj, before the British Crown took over India from the East India Company, so this book came as a delightful, entrancing revelation. During the years of the British Raj, the lines - social, political, religious, caste and class - dividing British from Indian were very clearly defined and adhered to, but this was not the case in the early years of the East India Company. Many officials had bibis, Indian courtesans or mistresses; many kept a zenana, a harem of sorts; and some, fewer it is true, married Indian wives and raised Anglo-Indian children.

This book is the story of those years when it was not deemed entirely unacceptable to embrace Indian culture - most particularly the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the Company Resident in Hyderabad, and Khair un-Nissa, a relative of the Prime Minister of Hyderabad. Their love affair was quite scandalous - there were no fewer than four enquiries into James' conduct by the Company, and he was more than prepared to resign his position and career to be with Khair, although it seems from the evidence that it was she who initially pursued him, and not the other way around!

Dalrymple's own summary serves quite well - "in a time, and a society, when women had few options and choices, and little control over their lives, Khair had defied convention, threatened suicide and risked everything to be with the man she had eventually succeeded in marrying, even though he was from a different culture, a different race, and, initially, from a different religion."

James Kirkpatrick represented the last gasp of the 'white mughals', the British officers and officials who whole-heartedly embraced the syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture of the Deccan of the time, performing and respecting the religious ceremonies, wearing the native costumes, falling in love with the women, often converting to Islam, and raising their Anglo-Indian children with feet in both worlds. Shortly after James' death, the world changed, not just with the Mutiny, and embracing the native culture was to become anathema - British ideals and mores were imposed from the top down, and the British hierarchy would no more associate with the Indian populations than the Hindu brahmins would with the untouchables. One cannot help feeling that something indescribably unique was lost; as Dalrymple argues, the years of the white mughals demonstrates there is nothing inevitable about the 'collision' between East and West, that these cultures are not irreconcilable, and that only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear hold them apart.
Profile Image for Adam.
Author 21 books89 followers
November 25, 2012
The White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India by William Dalrymple is a tour-de-force of historical writing. Packed with the results of an unbelievably enormous amount of research and detective work, it is highly detailed, yet it flows like a good novel.

It gave me great pleasure reading it.

Until the first decade of the 19th century, Europeans living in India had no difficulties with cohabiting and having sexual relations with the local Indians, whom they encountered. Many of them often abandoned their European habits and adopted the oriental lifestyle of the people with whom they were living. This interracial mixing and cultural interchange is the subject of Dalrymple’s masterpiece.

The author centres his study on the life and loves of James Kirkpatrick (1764-1805), who became the British Resident at the Nizam’s court in Hyderabad. Having already had one child by the mysterious ‘Dark Girl’, Kirkpatrick was clearly attracted to the Indian female. One of these females of aristocratic descent became attracted to the young Resident. Kirkpatrick reciprocated Khair un Nissa’s amorous interest in him, and by 1801 not only had they married, but also he had become a Muslim. They had a son and a daughter.

Kirkpatrick’s marriage to an Indian and his ‘going native’ was not an isolated incident. Many of his peers in the East India Company started multi-racial families, as well as adopting wholly or partially the Indian ways of life. At first, this was not much frowned upon by the Company officials in their headquarters in Calcutta, but with the arrival of Richard Wellesley in Calcutta as Governor General at the very end of the 18th century things began to change. He was concerned that Kirkpatrick’s amorous liaison with someone so closely connected to the Nizam’s court in Hyderabad might damage the Resident’s loyalty to the Company, especially at a time when the Company was struggling to gain control of the Deccan, the part of southern India in which Hyderabad is located.

James Kirkpatrick’s life ended soon after his happy marriage to Khair un Nissa began. He lived long enough to oversee the construction of his magnificent Palladian Residency* in Hyderabad and its zenana in which his Moslem wife could live separated from men as her religion dictated.

Dalrymple traces the tragic life of Kirkpatrick’s widow, who lived in exile in a coastal port on the east coast of India with her mother but bereft of her two children. They had been sent to England to live with Kirkpatrick’s father, and later his brother. Their fate during a period when the British began to develop their prejudice against their Indian subjects is also described in the book.

This review only touches a tiny part of the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to this encyclopaedic book that only by reading it can one truly appreciate its greatness. Some have criticised the excessive use of footnotes, claiming that they distract the reader from the flow of the book. Far from it: not only is each and every footnote fascinating on its own, but also they enhance what is already an excellent account of the history of the relationships between two dramatically contrasting cultures.

* See http://yameyamey.blogspot.co.uk/2012/... for pictures of this wonderful building.

PS: I can fully understand Kirkpatrick’s attraction to Indian women, having married one myself!
Profile Image for Veronica.
758 reviews109 followers
November 9, 2010
Without having any specific interest in India, I seem to have read quite a few books about India over the last couple of years, and William Dalrymple has a lot to do with it. I really liked his City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, and I’d heard many good things about White Mughals – all justified. This book is remarkable. Yes, it’s a history book, but you can read it like a novel. Think of it as a kind of Indian War and Peace – the cast of characters is even larger, and it does indeed address war and peace, private concerns and national politics. Dalrymple did an impressive amount of research, and his knowledge of India enabled him to discover some incredible primary sources that had never been translated.

The central love story of this book is fascinating, and sheds a completely different light on the British in India. Gone are the stereotypes of Victorian gentlemen in stiff suits, eating roast beef for Sunday lunch and viewing “the natives” as barely human. Kirkpatrick and others like him integrated completely, learning the local languages, wearing Indian dress, and marrying or at least living with Indian women (plural in some cases – Sir David Ochterlony had 13 wives, each with her own elephant!). Dalrymple captures the moment when this open exchange of cultures began to change, with India and its people becoming just resources to exploit. It also brings home just how much British imperialism was responsible for creating a gulf between Indian cultures – Hindu and Muslim – which did not exist before.

The book is full of fascinating details – rather too many sometimes. Dalrymple obviously loved doing the research and will rush off at a tangent at the slightest provocation, discussing Mughal architecture, gardening practices, festivals and the like, sometimes at too great a length. Equally, if some minor character turns out to have an interesting background, we will get a quick potted biography. And there are lots of footnotes, but you don’t have to read them all.

Such is the detail gleaned from letters and a contemporary Persian autobiography that you feel as if you know these people, except for Khair un-Nissa, who perhaps inevitably is a shadowy figure behind the screens of her zenana, seen only through others’ eyes. So vivid is the characterisation that despite the huge cast, I never found it necessary to consult the list at the front to remember who was who.

Saddest is the fate of so many Anglo-Indian children, born of English fathers and Indian mothers, who, in order to safeguard their future prospects in an increasingly racist imperial culture, are sent to school in England at the age of four or so, and most likely never see their mothers or grandparents again. Amazingly, in one final twist, Dalrymple manages to track down a last, touching correspondence between Kirkpatrick’s daughter, now a mother herself, and her Indian grandmother, last seen when she was four.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,850 reviews554 followers
August 26, 2012
Just arrived from Australia through BM.

This is the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa who converted to Islam and married her despite the opposition from both cultural sides.

Even being the British representative at the court of Nizam of Hyderabad, he also became a double agent, working for the Nizam against the East India Company.

Page 4:
Clive needed to know the truth about the East India Company's Resident at the court of Hyderabad, James Achilles Kirkpatrick.

Page 11:
India has always had a strange way with her conquerors. In defeat, she beckons them in, then slowly seduces, assimilates and transforms then.

Page 54 - India has perceived as a suitable venue for ruthless and profitable European expansion, where glory and fortunes could be acquired to the benefit of all concerned. It was a place to be changed and conquered, not a place to be changed or conquered by.

Some pictures of the British Residency at Hyderabad:

Original steel engraving drawn by Capt Grindlay, engraved by W. Miller. 1844:

Photograph of the British Residency in Hyderabad, taken by Deen Dayal in the 1880s, from the Curzon Collection, 1892:

7 reviews
November 25, 2014
So disappointed with this book. It's a rambling long-winded history lecture. The footnotes and references are hugely distracting. I'm more than a quarter into the book and am still waiting to find the characters. It does have pockets of beautiful historical excerpts but I'm not sure I have the patience to skim (yes I'm skimming) through pages of detailed historical data to get to the core of the story, if there is one. Maybe I shouldn't give up on it yet...(less)
354 reviews169 followers
October 14, 2021
Blockbuster Dalrymple. If anyone ever doubted that he was a history writer par excellence, this is his answer.

One of my favourite writers at the top of his game. This is how narrative non-fiction is done. Period.
Profile Image for Shadin Pranto.
1,114 reviews216 followers
September 29, 2020
প্রেমকাহিনির আদলে ইতিহাস চর্চার একটি নিদর্শন "দ্য হোয়াইট মোগলস"। হায়দারাবাদের ব্রিটিশ প্রতিনিধি জেমস কার্কপ্যাট্রিক ও সম্ভ্রান্ত মুসলিম পরিবারের কন্যা খায়রুন্নেসার প্রণয় কাহিনির ছদ্মবেশে অবিভক্ত ভারতের প্রথমদিকের ইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া কোম্পানির কর্মকর্তাদের এদেশিয় সংস্কৃতির সাথে একাত্ম হওয়ার এক অজানা ইতিহাসের অধ্যায় উন্মোচন করেছেন উইলিয়াম ড্যালরিম্পেল।

কোম্পানির চাকরি নিয়ে যারা আসতেন, তারা সকলেই শতভাগ ব্রিটিশ ভাবধারা বজায় রাখতে পারতেন না। স্থানীয় সমাজের নানান রীতিনীতি তাদেরকে স্পর্শ করতো। অনেকেই তৎকালীন অভিজাতদের ন্যায় পোশাক পরিধান করতেন। মূলত স্থানীয় নারীদের বিবাহ করে অনেকেই স্বদেশি বনে যেতেন। এদেশের সম্ভ্রান্ত পরিবারগুলোর প্রথা অনুসরণ করতে চাইছেন। কেউ কেউ ভারতীয় রক্ষিতাদের কারণেও এদেশি সংস্কৃতি গ্রহণ করতেন। অনেকে মুসলমান ধর্ম গ্রহণ করতেন, কেউ-বা হতেন হিন্দু। একটা উদাহরণ দেওয়া যাক- একজন জেনারেল ছিলেন যিনি হিন্দুধর্মের প্রথাগত সমস্ত আচার মেনে চলতেন। পরতেন পৈতা ও ধুতি। শাস্ত্র পাঠ করার পাশাপাশি গঙ্গাজলে স্নান ও জাতপাত মেনে চলতেন প্রবলভাবে। এই জেনারেলকে অনেকেই "পণ্ডিত জেনারেল" হিসেবেই চিনতেন। আবার শতভাগ মুসলিম তাহজিব-তমুদ্দন মেনে চলা ব্রিটিশ অফিসারের সংখ্যাও কম ছিল না। এমনই একটি আবহে হায়দারাবাদে কোম্পানির প্রতিনিধি হয়ে আগমন করেন কর্নেল জেমস কার্কপ্যাট্রিক।

কর্নেল জেমস কার্কপ্যাট্রিক তার পিতার বৈধ সন্তান নন। তবে অন্য অনেকের মতো কার্কপ্যাট্রিকের পিতা সন্তানকে ব্রিটিনে পড়িয়েছেন ও কোম্পানির চাকরির বন্দোবস্ত করে ভারতে পাঠিয়েছেন। জেমসের সৎ ভাই উইলিয়াম কার্কপ্যাট্রিক জেমসের আগে হায়দারাবাদের রেসিডেন্ট ছিল। মূলত তার লবিংয়ের জোরেই জেমসকে হায়দারাবাদের রেসিডেন্ট নিযুক্ত করা হয়।

কার্কপ্যাট্রিকের ভালোবাসার গল্প ভালোমতো বুঝতে হলে তৎকালীন হায়দারাবাদের রাজনীতি বোঝার আবশ্যকতা রয়েছে। হায়দারাবাদের প্রতিবেশী দুইটি রাজ্যের সাথেই সম্পর্ক সাপে-নেউলে। মহীশূরের অধিপতি টিপু সুলতানের বিরুদ্ধে কমপক্ষে তিনটি যুদ্ধে ইংরেজরা পরাজিত হয়েছে। টিপু সুলতানের বাহিনীতে ফরাসি সেনাদের আলাদা দল ছিল এবং তাদের অনুরূপ প্রশিক্ষণ দেওয়া হতো টিপুর বাহিনীকে। উপরন্তু নেপোলিয়ন তখন বিশ্বজয়ে বেরিয়েছেন। ব্রিটেনের সাথে ফ্রান্সের সংঘাত অবশ্যম্ভাবী। টিপু নিয়মিত যোগাযোগ রাখছেন নেপোলিয়নের সাথে। মোটকথা এদেশে কোম্পানির শাসনের সবচেয়ে বড়ো প্রতিবন্ধক ছিল টিপু ও ফরাসিরা। এই দুই শত্রুকে দমন করতে হায়দারাবাদের মতো ধনী দেশিয় রাজ্যগুলোর সহযোগিতা কোম্পানির একান্ত প্রয়োজন ছিল। এদিকে হায়দারাবাদেও ইংরেজরা কন্টকমুক্ত নয়। ফরাসি সেনানায়ক রেমন্ডের অধীনে দশ হাজারের মতো সুপ্রশিক্ষিত ফরাসি সেনা নিজামের ছিল। এই ফরাসি কর্মকর্তা রেমন্ডকে নিজাম আলি খান ভীষণ পছন্দ করতেন। হায়দারাবাদকে কোম্পানির পদতলে আনতে গেলে অবশ্যই রেমন্ডের মোকাবিলা করতে হতো। ম���টকথা একটি জটিল ঐতিহাসিক পরিস্থিতিতে জেমস কার্কপ্যাট্রিককে রেসিডেন্ট করে হায়দারাবাদে পাঠানো হয়।

কোম্পানির কর্মকর্তাদের নেটিভ সংস্কৃতিতে বিলীন হওয়াকে রুদ্ধ করতে সবচেয়ে কঠিন পদক্ষেপ নেন কর্নওয়ালিশ। তিনি মোট দু'বার এখানকার গর্ভনর জেনারেল ছিলেন। প্রথমবার এসেই ১৭৮৬ ও ১৭৯১ সালে আইন জারি করেন যে, আ্যংলো-ইন্ডিয়ান কেউ ব্রিটেনে পড়াশোনা করতে যেতে পারবে না, কোম্পানির সবাইকে ব্রিটেনের ভাবধারা ও রুচি মোতাবেক চলতে হবে এবং  আংলো-ইন্ডিয়ান কেউ কোম্পানির কোনো চাকরি পাবে না। এককথায়, কোম্পানির কর্মকর্তাদের "নেটিভ বনে যাওয়া" থেকে রক্ষা করতে এমনই কঠোর পদক্ষেপ নেন কর্নওয়ালিশ।

কর্নওয়ালিশের উত্তরসূরী জন শোর যুদ্ধের পক্ষে ছিলেন না৷ তিনি ইংরেজদের নিরপেক্ষতা নীতি অনুসরণ করতে চাইতেন। দেশিয় কোনো রাজ্য সামরিক হস্তক্ষেপের বিরোধিতার কারণে হায়দারাবাদ ও মারাঠাদের যুদ্ধে নিজামের শোচনীয় পরাজয় ঘটে। অপমানমূলক সন্ধি করতে নিজাম বাধ্য হয়। এই ঘটনার পর নিজাম ইংরেজদের থেকে দূরে সরে যান ও ফরাসি রেমন্ডের প্রতি আরও নির্ভরতা তৈরি হয়। এমন পরিস্থিতিতে বিপদে পড়েন কোম্পানির প্রতিনিধি কার্কপ্যাট্রিক। তিনি জন শোরকে বারবার নিজামকে সাহায্যের জন্য অনুরোধ করেন। কিন্তু শোর তার নীতির কারণে প্রত্যক্ষ সহায়তা দিতে রাজি ছিলেন না। এই নীতি চলতে থাকলে হায়দারাবাদ ইংরেজদের নাগালের বাইরে চলে যেতে পারত। কিন্তু তখনই মঞ্চে আবির্ভূত হন আর্থার ওয়েলেসলি।

ওদিকে হায়দারাবাদে এসেই সম্ভ্রান্ত বকর আলি খানের নাতনি খায়রুন্নেসাকে ভালোবেসে ফেলেন জেমস। তখনকার সময়ে এই ভালোবাসার কোনো ভবিষ্যৎ ছিল না। কেননা কোনো সম্ভ্রান্ত মুসলমান কন্যার সাথে খ্রিষ্টান কারো বিবাহ হওয়ার সুযোগ ছিল না। খায়রুন্নেসা তখন ছিলেন আরেকজনের বাগদত্তা। তবু নিজামের ইংরেজভক্ত প্রধানমন্ত্রী আরিস্ত জাহের সহায়তায় এই সম্পর্ক পরিণতি লাভ করে। দরবারে আরিস্ত জাহের প্রধান প্রতিপক্ষ ছিল নিজামের আইনজীবী মির আলম। এই মির আলম নিজামের পক্ষ থেকে কলকাতায় হায়দারাবাদের প্রতিনিধির ভূমিকা পালন করতেন। কোম্পানির সাথে সুসম্পর্কের সুবাদে মির আলম নিজেকে প্রধানমন্ত্রী হওয়ার যোগ্য মনে করতেন যা আরিস্ত জাহের কাছে গোপন ছিল না। তাই মির আলমকে কোণঠাসা করতে আরিস্ত জাহ কার্কপ্যার্ট্রিককে ব্যবহার করেন। ততদিনে জেমস কার্কপ্যাট্রিক খায়রুন্নেসাকে বিয়ে করেছেন। মোগলদের মতোই পোশাক ও রুচির অনুসারী ছিল জেমস। এদিকে মুসলমানের কন্যাকে বিয়ের বিরোধী ছিল কতিপয় ইংরেজ ও মির আলম। মির আলমসহ অনেকে গভর্নর জেনারল ওয়েলেসলির কাছে কার্কপ্যাট্রিকের বিরুদ্ধে ধর্ষণ ও জোর করে বিয়ের অভিযোগ করেন। কার্কপ্যাট্রিকের বিরুদ্ধে তদন্তের ভার পড়েছিল রবার্ট ক্লাইভের পুত্র লর্ড ক্লাইভের ওপর। কার্কপ্যাট্রিক ওয়েলেসলির যুদ্ধবাজ মনোভাবকে পছন্দ করতেন না। তা ওয়েলেসলির কাছে গোপন ছিল না। তিনিও চাইছিলেন কার্কপ্যাট্রিককে রেসিডেন্ট হিসেবে সরিয়ে দিয়ে নিয়ে নিজের সামরিক সচিবকে রেসিডেন্ট বানাতে।

এমন জটিল অবস্থায় জেমসকে একটি প্রস্তাব দেন নিজামের প্রধান উজির আরিস্ত জাহ। তিনি জেমসের পক্ষে তদবির করে সমস্যার সমাধান করে দেবেন। বিনিময়ে জেমস মির আলমকে হায়দারাবাদ থেকে দূরে সরিয়ে রাখতে সহায়তা করবে। আরিস্ত জাহের মাধ্যমে সাময়িক সমাধান হলো। কিন্তু মির আলমকে শত্রু বানিয়ে আখেরে জেমস কার্কপ্যাট্রিকের লাভ হয়নি। ক্ষতি হয়েছিল ঐতিহাসিক।

জেমস কার্কপ্যাট্রিক ও খায়রুন্নেসা দম্পতির এক মেয়ে ও এক ছেলে ছিল। সুখের সংসার। কিন্তু ওয়েলেসলি ও মির আলমকে শত্রু বানিয়ে জেমসের জী�����ের আনন্দ মাটি হবার পথে। চাকরি ঝুলন্ত অবস্থায়। দুই সন্তানকে ব্রিটেনে পাঠিয়ে দিয়েছিলেন পড়াশোনার জন্য। নিজে গিয়েছিলেন কলকাতায়। এক সপ্তাহের জ্বরে ভুগে নিজের প্রিয় শহর হায়দারাবাদ ও প্রিয়তমার থেকে হাজার মাইল দূরে মারা যান হাশমত জং ওরফে জেমস উইলিয়াম কার্কপ্যাট্রিক।

জেমসের মৃত্যুতেই এই প্রেমকথা শেষ হতে পারতো। কিন্তু হয়নি। মাত্র উনিশ বছর বয়সে বৈধ্যব্যকে বরণ করতে হয়েছিল রূপবতী খায়রুন্নেসাকে। স্বামীকে হারাবার পর দুই সন্তানকে কাছে পাওয়ার কোনো সুযোগ তার ছিল না। ইতোমধ্যে মির আলম প্রধানমন্ত্রী হয়েছেন। সুতরাং হায়দারাবাদও তার জন্য অনিরাপদ। এই কাহিনির পরের অংশেই মোটামুটি চমক রয়েছে।

হায়দারাবাদের তৎকালীন সংস্কৃতি, রাজনীতি নিয়ে জানতে বইটি চমৎকার। কোম্পানির সাদা মোগলদের নিয়ে অজানা অনেক কিছুই জানতে পেরেছি। কিন্তু প্রায় ছ'শ পাতার ঢাউস কেতাব পড়ে প্রেমকথার ফাঁকেফাঁকে ইতিহাস জানা খুব বেশি লাভজনক প্রকল্প মনে হয়নি। ড্যালরিম্পলের লেখার হাত অবশ্যই প্রশংসনীয়। কিন্তু পড়ে তেমন সুখ পাই না। মোটকথা, ড্যালরিম্পলের বহুল প্রশংসিত "দ্য হোয়াইট মোগলস" আমার প্রত্যাশা পূরণ করতে পারেনি।
Profile Image for Ghadeer.
102 reviews31 followers
June 11, 2011
Only for somebody with an eye for detail. And I mean ALOT of detail. I have to give credit to the author for clearly spending so much time and effort researching, and for transforming random bits of letters and pieces of history into an almost novel-like story.
Profile Image for Pamela.
17 reviews5 followers
October 5, 2018
I read this book as part of a book club and it made me feel like I was back at school being forced to read a book for my grades. I've given it one star but I normally wouldn't have chosen it to read but really didn't enjoy any part of it. Sorry.
92 reviews8 followers
February 7, 2009
Hated it- such a conglomeration of small details and no convincing theme that I could discern. So boring to read from page to page...even skipping large sections didn't help. I don't recommend it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for russell barnes.
464 reviews18 followers
July 2, 2019
I've learned babies, late nights and cycling into work make reading much harder than it used to be. This was probably quite a good book - and it's one I've been waiting to read for aaaages, but a combination of the above kept interrupting my flow.

Possibly a shame because it is a sad story. The background research is obviously impeccable and for once William Dalrymple is a background figure, yet yet yet... A good third of the book is taken up with scene-setting which made going even slower, and over-detailing every incident only confused matters.

However this amazing source stands out:
A LADIES MONITOR Being a series of letters first published in Bengal on the subject of FEMALE APPAREL. Tending to favour a regulated adoption of Indian Costume; and a rejection of SUPERFLUOUS VESTURE by the ladies of this country: with Incidental remarks on Hindoo beauty; whale bone stays; iron busks; Indian corsets; man-milliners; idle bachelors, hair powder, side saddles, waiting-maids; and footmen. By the author of A VINDICATION OF THE HINDOOS

I'm still looking on Amazon.
22 reviews4 followers
April 14, 2010
Interesting story-line and history of a "Hindoo Princess" and her affair with a British soldier. Continues on with her entire family history and all the sordid details. Written in a very dry manner.
Profile Image for Batool.
30 reviews
July 9, 2013
If you like to go through a historical novel at snail-pace then this is the kind of book for you. It made me rush through it because of the nitty-gritty of irrelevant details that the writer has gone into. Overall, it a good read
Profile Image for Angie.
24 reviews9 followers
January 16, 2016
An interesting story of love and politics, but far too much unnecessary information for my liking. It reads more like an essay than a novel and being in the third person I found it difficult to relate to the characters.
421 reviews3 followers
September 20, 2018
An interesting time period early in the British domination of India when British officers married Indian women without social prejudice. Could have done with less historic minutia. I gave up half way.
188 reviews2 followers
March 30, 2013
More like a thesis than an entertaining read - very heavy going
February 11, 2014
It is a pretty slow book & more of a documentary than a story. Guess I'm not interested in documentaries.
1 review
June 5, 2015
The story was interesting, but it was much more laden with history that I thought. I was really looking for something more 80% novel and 20% history. This was the other way around.
Profile Image for Pat.
819 reviews32 followers
June 25, 2017
Couldn''t finish..too tedious and detailed.
6 reviews1 follower
August 23, 2020
A racist masquerading as intellectual. Pathetic writing too.
Profile Image for Raghu.
385 reviews77 followers
May 18, 2015
This is a scholarly work of Indian history, extensively researched and written with a passion and a nostalgia for a not so distant past when there was wholesale interracial sexual exploration and substantial cultural assimilation between Indians and the British in India. Author Dalrymple says that till the early years of the 19th century, there was an Indian conquest of the European imagination when one in three British residents in India acquired Indian women as wives or mistresses and maintained substantial harems. They adopted Indian dresses as conventional wear, smoked the hookah and children born to them often spoke Hindustani or Persian or even Tamil as their first language. Even though some British Generals did the puja and participated in the Kumbh Mela, it was essentially a fusion of Britain and Indian Islamic culture. So, how did we get from the days of these 'White Mughals' to the violent Mutiny in 1857 and the bitter struggle for Independence over the next 100 years? This book provides the historical background for the final days of this cultural mix through the love story of General James Kirkpatrick, a British Resident in Hyderabad, and Khair-un-Nissa, a Sayyid Shia of Indo-Persian aristocratic upbringing and said to be a descendant of the Holy Prophet himself.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the Mughal empire in India was plagued by endless skirmishes, wars and invasions and gradually broke up into smaller kingdoms ruled by regional leaders. As the diminished Mughal emperors in Delhi became just figureheads, there arose three indigenous power centers in India, namely the Maratha confederate of the Peshwas in Western India piloted by the brilliant minister Nana Fadnavis, Tipu Sultan of Mysore and the Nizam of Hyderabad in the south. At this juncture, the East India Company sent Richard Wellesley as Governor-General to Calcutta even as the French were also casting their eye on the 'jewel of India'. Lord Wellesley, while not an Indophile like Warren Hastings who preceded him as the first G-G of India, believed that India was no longer a place to embrace and be transformed by; instead it was a place to conquer and transform. He embraced the European view at the end of the 18th century that the 'undaunted spirit and irresistible ardour' of the West will bring blessings to India, which was sapped of its strength by its 'effeminate rulers and luxurious tyrants'.

In such a volatile context, we come across the love story that is set in the state of Hyderabad. James Kirkpatrick, a 'White Mughal' and the British Resident of Hyderabad, falls in love with Khair-un-Nissa, who at age 14, was engaged to be married to a Hyderabadi Muslim. Khair also was quite smitten by James and with the help of her mother and grandmother, they get married against all odds in a society where it was unthinkable for such a cross cultural marriage among the high society. They have two children over the next few years but the tumultuous situation in India at that time is not conducive to an Indophile like James. He manages to get into the good books of the imperial Wellesley by helping in the defeat of Tipu Sultan of Mysore but eventually comes under great pressure to abandon Khair, which he steadfastly refuses to do. Sadly, not only does James send both his Anglo-Indian children away to England but dies soon after at age 41, when Khair was still only 19. In widowhood, as if the tragedy of her children and husband being snatched away from her is not enough, Khair is further disgraced, then banished and finally rejected. When she dies at age 27, this fiery, passionate, beautiful woman dies as much from a broken heart, from neglect and sorrow as from any apparent physical cause.

Apart from the love story, there are other interesting details in the book about life in India those days. Apparently, young British women used to sail to India on the look-out for an eligible husband among the British officers living there. Unfortunately for them, most Englishmen in India preferred Indian women to Europeans. Part of the problem was said to be the 'unattractive' busks and corsets worn by English women which failed in competing with the Indian bibis wearing the sari, which was described by General 'Hindoo' Stuart as the sexiest garb imaginable. It is also equally likely that the Englishmen preferred Indians for the opportunity of having multiple women as companions instead of being married to one Englishwoman. This resulted in many women returning to England without a husband and were cruelly termed 'returned empties'.
The book also chronicles the sad situation of Anglo-Indian children born out of this union. They suffered racism both in India and England - oddly more from the British in India. The White Mughal parents generally sent these children away - from their moorings in India and from their own parents - to England to be educated, often to be converted from Islam to Christianity and renamed with Christian names. The other surprising detail in the book is about how Britons died in droves in India while still rather young, possibly due to ill health, disease etc brought on partially by not adapting to the necessary changes required to live in a tropical country.

This is a poignant and compassionate book about life in India when it was at a crossroads where the British decided to transform themselves from traders to imperial rulers. It is an authoritative and seminal contribution to Indian history. School Text books in India simply repeat the colonial view of 'the Twain shall never meet' when it comes to the Indo-British colonial engagement. It is time to rewrite our textbooks and say that it wasn't necessarily always so. The author ends the book by denouncing the post 9/11 penchant for the 'clash of civilizations' with the following words:"As the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa shows, East and West are not irreconcilable, and never have been. Only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear drive them apart. But they have met and mingled in the past and they will do so again."
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