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The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple

A very famous proverb in English cites, “The dawn shows the day”. The adage in simple words mean that, when the beginning is great, the end will be perfect and when things spawn an erroneous outset, the end will be infernal. However there are always exceptions to everything. One of the most discerned exceptions to this famous proverb was the time line of the Mughals. With Babar at its helm, when it started bestrewing its tentacles over India, the posterity of the empire exuded a sheen which was unparalleled by any other empire at that point of time. Gradually with Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb, the kingdom thrived and kissed its zenith.  Then came the time, when the empire was all set to embark upon an odyssey to its nadir. Not an insidious and tardy declivity was bating in the offing but a precipitous and a very strong plummet was on the horizon. The Mughals were last to offer tad resistance to the East India Company, before it disseminated its venomous vice across the entire nation. This article will however be dedicated to the last in the line of the Mughals, Bahadur Shah II. William Dalrymple, one of the most illustrious travel and history writers of all time, decided to pen down about the last Mughal in his book called The Last Mughal : Fall Of A Dynasty,  Delhi 1857.

Britons have been very skeptical when it boils down to penning down about Bahadur Shah II. However, William Dalrymple decided to break all the odds and salvage him from the rust and dust of the one liner of our history books. William has penned down a very delved and researched work about the last Mughal emperor. Starting from the meaning of his moniker to his achievements and to the events that acted as a watershed to propel his ebbing away to dust were stowed in the most spick and span way ever possible in the book.

Bahadur Shah Zafar II was one of the most adept poets and an equally adroit calligrapher. Zafar was the pen name which he used while scribing poetry. The name ‘Zafar’ meant victory. Haplessly, history was extremely ironic to him. It was hell-bent on validating the fact that the pseudonym which he used was nothing more than a misnomer. Very agonizingly, Dalrymple had juxtaposed this artistic finesse of his to the gruesome comeuppance which he met when he was in exile.

Apart from this contrast, the author had very neatly placed the tragic events that unfolded in Delhi before and after the sepoy mutiny in 1857. Despite it may sound extremely mordant to the readers, who were in for paeans about the Mughal emperor, a few sooths were more than enough to throw them off guard.

In a very sagacious and dicey contrast, Dalrymple has cited that the Sepoy mutiny was the battle of Stalingrad for the East India Company. After the mutiny broke out, women and children of the British Empire were ravaged. In reprisal to what transpired to the dames and the kids of the Britons, the incumbents who were shouldered with the onus of quelching  the Uprising, implemented the most inhuman ways to silence the insurrection once and for all.

In a part of the book, to explicate the reality of that time, Dalrymple very dourly indites, that the anathema which the people of Britain had for Indians then is now tantamount to the one that the concourse of the Occident holds for the Islamic societies. Dalrymple also denotes the fact that how the rebellion could have been averted in the first place had Jennings and other governors, would have implemented such decrees where goat or mutton fat could have been used in stead of cow or pork fat. The era was flagged as a crescendo of pandemonium. Given the fact that the soldiers were already on the brink of an uprising, this decision of the regime was enough to instigate the war.

Dalrymple had also lambasted Zafar for his indecisiveness. He very lucidly imputes the dithering of Bahadur Shah Zafar II in the area of politics to his own decadence. He also cites that Bahadur Shah Zafar II protected 40 odd of them who were the ones to ravage and defile the modesty of British women and children. Given his magnanimity, it is still hard to dechiper the fact that whether he did it just for the sake of the protection of the offenders or he did it deliberately to augment fuel to the fire. To add to his woes, he was elected as the vanguard of the Sepoy Mutiny or the Uprising.

The pandemonium reached such heights wherein people in Britain wanted Delhi obliterated from the map of India, which later was actually in perdition after the sedition was silenced. This book has also given accounts of John Nicholson, who was deemed as the incarnate of Vishnu amongst his fellow indigenous people. He decided to avenge every single homicide in the most infernal way possible, which he did.

Dalrymple, has very clearly and lucidly divulged every single detail in the right place and in the right time. His concinnity and his elegance in writing the book, kept every single reader gripped to the last page. History is surmised to be listless. However, when the accounts of the most gruesome atrocities resonates every single shriek of a woman, every single yelp of a child who was butchered, every single man’s silent tears that rolled down in reprisal to the inequity that waged across the entire nation, history comes alive. That is exactly what William Dalrymple has done in this epic book of his. Dalrymple has unfolded very minute details about the emperor’s life which has invoked not only pity about him but awe in respect of his creative and artistic prowess. His opus has also amplified the ecstasy which a historian finds in unveiling a truth. This book is a must read. Dalrymple has emulated himself and surpassed his previous works.

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