....the further forward you can see." This is what Sir Winston Churchill said when talking about the relevance of history to one's current circumstance.
I cannot help but recall these words, after reading William Dalrymple's brilliant
"The Last Mughal".
William Dalrymple's latest book uses Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last emperor of the Mughal dynasty, to recreate the vibrant city of Delhi, in the 1850's. A culturally diverse, almost cosmopolitan city, of which Bahadur Shah Zafar, was the mere figurehead. A city which epitomized,the India of the Mughals, where the Hindus and Muslims co-existed peacefully. In fact a rich culture and social fabric existed due to this pluralistic co-existence.
The mutiny of 1857 proved to be the fall of the Mughal Dynasty, and the end of this vibrant way of life.
Dalrymple, researched this book for over 4 years and accessed sources, which were until now, never used to narrate the history of those seminal times. "The Mutiny Papers", which were found on the shelves of National Archives of India, detailed through "great unwieldy mountains of chits, pleas, orders, petitions, complaints, receipts, rolls of attendance and lists of casualties...notes from spies of dubious reliability and letters from eloping lovers...", a very uniquely Indian point of view and perspective. An important voice, which until now has been missing in the retelling of the "Sepoys Mutiny".
For me as an Indian, it is very important to understand this point of view. To know about my true cultural heritage, about strands of my identity which were sundered by the British, along their (in)famous "Divide and Rule" policy.
Consider this, most of the history books, have been written by the British in some form...so the opinions I have formed, and the perspectives I have, have been developed by the "British" outlook and essentially the Victorian take on history.
I think, India as a society is richer due to the Mughals and despite the popular opinion and recorded history (who wrote it, you guessed it right...the British !!), they went out of their way to ensure a secular society and a safe environment, for Hindu religion, culture and arts to flourish. In fact as mentioned in the book, the only thing Zafar was decisive about in those trying times was his "refusal to alienate his Hindu subjects by subscribing to the demands of the jihadis."
Did you know for instance that most of the Indian intellectuals of the late 19th century and the early 20th century, were schooled in madrassas, including people like Raja Rammohan Roy...The madrassas, were considered to provide well rounded education, not just math and science, but also the humanities, eastern philosophy and the arts...it was only due to the rising influence of Christianity in India, in the late 19th century and the drive for conversions, which lead the madrassas to reinforce the study of Islam in their curriculum, and for them to increasingly move along the path of fundamentalism.
It is due to all this and also because of an extremely evocative account of 1857 skirmishes, that this book is a must read.
You owe it yourself, as a citizen of the world, living in a these troubled times terrorized by religious fundamentalism.
As Sir Churchill, prophesied, it will only help us look "further forward."