Book Review: The Anarchy

My foray in to Mughal history started with Baburnama, a firsthand account of Padshah Babur. A little later it was followed by “The great Mughals and their India” (Dirk Collier), the nasha was spreading and I found myself buying Humayun-nama, Tuzk I Janhangiri ,Ain I Akbari (some still to be read). Then came “The Last Mughal” and “The Anarchy” by William Dalrymple.

The Anarchy is a well-researched book in to the Rise of East India Complany (EIC), and how a private trading company expanded its business through corruption, power politics and intrigues not to mention use of military force to overthrow perhaps the greatest and richest monarchy of the world , hence bringing the Mughal dynasty to an end. Neatly organized in to chapters this book begins with Capt Hawkins landing at the court of Padshah Jahangir and then covers the EICs history, its formation and the Royal Charter it received. It was much later that the Mughals finally allowed them to begin trading in Hindustan. Auranzeb’s death resulted in discontent and chaos for the Mughals and that is where the real story of EIC begins with Lord Clive making it big. The book is more or less chronological in describing events happening at various places in Hindustan as well as England. The roles of Portugese and French are discussed in quite detail. Also the Mughal court after Aurangzeb, the Marathas, Tipu Sultan, Nawab of Hyderabad and off course the famous episode of Bengal its famine, the Siraj ud Daula, Mir Jaffar’s treachery and the various battles fought during this era Plassy, Buxr and Pollilor etc starting 1703 till 1806. It is interesting to note how the English worked and improved their warfare by using muskets and Artillery and thus defeating large armies of over 15000 troops with just 2000 plus soldiers and off course by use of superior tactics and discipline. The limited role of Napoleon is discussed in the Tipu Sultan chapter. Throughout this period the English were at war with the French and so French soldiers and military experts worked as mercenaries in Hindustan. One can find, throughout the book, alliances being made and broken, and the never ending wars between various small states which ultimately helped the English in overcoming them one by one. In the words of the author, “This book has attempted to study the relationship between commercial and imperial power”.

Book Review. The Last Mughal

The Last Mughal is actually the story of Delhi and its inhabitants including the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. It is a well-researched and unbiased account of the events leading to the War of Independence (The 1857 mutiny), the war itself and the events leading to the dissolution of the East India Company. It is a heart wrenching tale of greed, intrigues, lust for power and money, of treachery, religious ideals and morals. The story starts with Bahadur Shah Zafar’s time, describing Delhi, its inhabitants, the British, Royals and important people including the likes of Zauq and Ghalib. The book cover in great detail the events leading to the siege of Delhi and the last battle fought between the British (East India Company) and the rebelling soldiers and men and finally in the massacre of Delhi residents (which today can be rightly construed as war crimes). There was not a single dull moment in this treatise, not for me at least. Dalrymple describes the events as they happened in a chronological fashion; it is almost as it is happening live. One moment the East India Company seems to be winning and the next it is the revolting soldiers. Split second decisions, not taken, or actions abandoned that might have altered the course of history, make this nail biting record and must read for history buffs. I must confess for a certain period of time after reading it I felt sad. Sad, for the 333 years of glory coming to an end in a very bloody and gruesome manner. While at the same time perhaps it was a much needed change, for out of the ashes of the great Mughal Empire, was born the animosity between Hindus and Muslims of that time (which sadly continues to this day), that resulted in reformation of political ideas and hence a change leading to the independence and the ouster of the British exactly 90 years after the events of 1857 war of Independence.

Baburnama, Journal of Emperor Babur

Baburnama: Journal of Emperor Babur

Translated by Annette Susannah Beveridge, (from Chaghtai Turkish)

Abrdiged/Edited by Dilip Hero

Penguin Books

Review: You actually cannot review a treatise written by a King of the likes of Zaheer ud din Baber 🙂 You can just scribble a little about it. The original document translated by Annette Susannah is over 1000 pages with various foot notes in almost microscopic form. So Dilip Hero has done a fine job of condensing it into 350 plus pages.

The book itself is neatly organized in three parts covering his life in Farghana (Babur’s birthplace), Kabul (his conquered territory, and Hindustan (the final dominion). Written in first person (we, in order convey the meaning “hum” in Urdu) it makes an interesting read from the beginning till end. It was surprising to note that the king mantained his journal from an early age 10 years!!! till his final years. Records of a few years are destroyed and that is where the editor has made use of historical narratives and other documents to reconstruct history.

It is interesting to note that Babur makes mention of all territories of Hindustan that he attacked and conquered at various times (total five time, fifth being his final foray into Hindustan), starting from Kabul, the infamous Khyber Pass, Ali Masjid, Bajaur, Bannu, Kohat (my native town 🙂 ) , Peshawar, Hasht nagri, Jhelum, Sialkot, Depalpur, Lahore etc etc. The description of countryside is detailed and he makes mention of the flora and fauna at various places. It was surprising to note that there exsited Rhinos and tigers near Peshawar (Hasht nagri to be exact) in those times.

The King spent most of his life on horseback, a few times coming close to death, almost captured but always surviving, it could make a block buster movie anyday.

His royal higness married 7 times (once to a Yousafzai woman!!) , and had two Circasian girls gifted to him. The Padshah started drinking much later in life, but was fond of Majun. His lineage is traced to Changis Khan on his mother’s side and subsequently to Timur Beg.

A most interesting account being the mention of time and its division in Hindustan.

The various cmapaigns are covered in vivid details , the most interseting ones being his final showdown with Ibrahim Lodhi, and with Marathas. Don’t be shocked to read the making of “tower of heads” by his forces.

The book makes a fine read any day, specially for history buffs. I got it through Liberty Books , in fact I had ot preoder it, and it was delivered in about 6 weeks time.

Highly addictive stuff!