Imperial powers have risen and fallen to ambition. The mighty Mughal empire, built over two centuries, ruled from Delhi. At its peak, the Imperial Mughal rule extended across South Asia, covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. It fell to the British empire in 1857 in the reign of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II (1775-1862). This incredible story, powerfully written by William Dalrymple, is thoroughly researched, superbly crafted and compellingly told.
It will transpose you to the era and stir your emotions. The details of Dalrymple’s magnificent work, using ground breaking research, is a treasure for anyone who has visited Delhi or connected to it in anyway. The underlying message of William Dalrymple’s work undeniably has ‘contemporary echoes’ in our world today.
The Rise and Fall of an Empire
In the re-telling of this history, The Last Mughal brings to life the brilliant and culturally-rich court of Zafar. He is said to have presided over the great renaissance of Indian history, himself an accomplished mystic poet. However by the time of his capture on May 11, 1857, his political powers were limited by the East India Company.
Preceding the capture, Zinat Mahal Begum, Zafar‘s senior wife and aristocratic consort – 45 years younger than him, is dogged in her determination to have her son, Mirza Jawan Bakht, the fifteenth of Zafar’s sixteen sons, declared as heir apparent to the throne. The Rebellion of 1857, which Zafar blessed, unfolds both as background and as fodder for the events that transpired, giving the British their toughest uprising, yet – and fatefully impacting Zafar’s family and his court – on both sides, the anti and pro British factions. The book takes us through the Delhi of the day, the trial by the British of the broken-spirited Zafar and his eventual exile and imprisonment in Rangoon, with some surviving members of his family.
Revisiting Our South Asian Histories
In 1879, Henry James wrote in Hawthorne, “It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.”
The Last Mughal captures a great deal of history in powerful literature that reaches well into our contemporary time, as we try to grapple the issues of the “intertwining” of Islamic fundamentalism and “Western intrusion, interference” and imperialism of various degrees in the East. A must-read. Lest we forget – the values of pluralism and tolerance.