Return of a King, is the story of British misadventure in Afghanistan circa 1839 when the British East India Company waddled in to the country with some 20,000 men with the aim of installing Shah Shuja (grandson of Ahmed Shah Abdali) on the throne. It was the time when the term, “The Great Game” was devised between two leading powers of the world, The British Empire and Russia. What followed after that was a series of events more or less like a chain reaction which resulted in the uprising of Afghan people against the British, resulting in their disgraceful ouster. Not many of the 20,000 strong survived as they were targeted in the narrow valleys and passes on their flight form Kabul. Many were killed, some taken prisoners for ransom and others sold in the slave trade market. The book is well researched as always by Dalrymple, and covers the events based on authentic sources, both Afghan and British. It also looks at the reasons for the uprising against the British. Also discussed is the role of Ranjit Singh, Shah Shuja, Dost Muhammad, Akbar Khan, the rivalry between Sadozia and Barakzais, Monstuart Elphinstone, Alecander Burnes, Willaim Macnaghten, George Pollock, Nicholson, Lord Auckland as some of the important figures in this theater.
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”.