William Dalrymple (historian)

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William Dalrymple in 2014

William Dalrymple (born March 20, 1965) is a Scottish historian, and writer, art historian and curator, as well as a prominent broadcaster and critic. His interests include the history and art of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Muslim world, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jains and early Eastern Christianity.

Quotes[edit]

  • I am writing definitely primarily for an audience who don’t know India.
    • In Amrita Ghosh, "Author in Focus: An Interview with Dalrymple".
  • Actually, when you have been in the country for a long time... whether it’s an Indian kid going to live in California working in a software company or whether its me coming to live here as historian and writer; to a certain extent you become a part of the country, and to a certain extent you remain always the person you were with the set of circumstances, history or personal history. So, I don’t think I can ever totally become Indian, but after twenty years I have certainly taken many of the Indian elements. In fact I am sitting talking to you right now in my cotton pajamas and at lunch time I will probably have dal and rice. In various ways I have taken on the life of Delhi; I think I am in the lucky position, in that I can talk to both worlds.
    • In Amrita Ghosh, "Author in Focus: An Interview with Dalrymple".
  • Everybody has their own India and I think it’s a nonsense construction, “a real India”. The real India might be the India of the villages and certainly there’s a lot to be said of the fact that India’s heart lies in its villages. But I live 5 miles down the road from Gurgaon with kyscrapers and software companies and backoffice projects and call-centers. And that’s a very real India too, so I think “real India” doesn’t make much sense-- anymore than the real US with apple pie and Thanksgiving and family around campfires; is that anymore real than Manhattan?
    • In Amrita Ghosh, "Author in Focus: An Interview with Dalrymple".
  • It is true that the early Nehruvian textbooks were written by Romila Thapar and so on, many of whom were Marxists. Sometimes, those textbooks did sort of emphasise a slightly rose-tinted vision of Hindu-Muslim unity running through the whole of the Delhi Sultanate right through the Mughals, which left room for the right wing to say this isn’t history. But the reality was that all those Nehruvian historians were great historians which the right wing successors were not.

The Last Mughal (2006)[edit]

The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857.
  • The outbreak revealed the surprising degree to which the Mughal court was still regarded across northern India not as some sort of foreign Muslim imposition – as some, especially on the Hindu right wing, look upon the Mughals today – but instead as the principal source of political legitimacy, and therefore the natural centre of resistance against British colonial rule.
    • p. 439
  • For the British after 1857, the Indian Muslim became an almost subhuman creature, to be classified in unembarrassedly racist imperial literature alongside such other despised and subject specimens, such as Irish Catholics or ‘the Wandering Jew’.
    • p. 440
  • Although a Bahadur Shah Zafar road still survives in Delhi, as indeed do roads named after all the other Great Mughals, for many Indians today, rightly or wrongly, the Mughals are still perceived as it suited the British to portray them in the imperial propaganda that they taught in Indian schools after 1857: as sensual, decadent, temple-destroying invaders – something that was forcefully and depressingly demonstrated by the whole episode of the demoliton of the Baburi Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992.
    • p. 442.
  • Zafar always put huge emphasis on his role as a protector of the Hindus and the moderator of Muslim demands. He never forgot the central importance of preserving the bond between his Hindu and Muslim subjects, which he always recognised was the central stitching that held his capital city together.
    • p. 446

About William Dalrymple[edit]

  • ...what is of interest in this context is not Dalrymple the man, but Dalrymple the phenomenon. How did a White man, young, irreverent and likeable in his first and by far most readable India book, The City of Djinns, become the pompous arbiter of literary merit in India?
    • The Literary Raj: Hartosh Singh Bal, 1 January 2011: Open Magazine. S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism. 2018.
  • His fluent and moving presentations of big subjects—India's first war of independence in "The Last Mughal (2006)", for example — sometimes irritate native historians who feel they have been scooped by a powerful foreign interest, but this is a little unfair:..Dalrymple's success has shown that there is a market for well-written history in India. This is itself an achievement.
  • And who was this speaker, anyway? I waited to the end, enduring the nonsense of it all just to find out. It turned out to be William Dalrymple. Ah, of course. William Dalrymple, described here long ago, quite accurately, as an up-market Barbara Cartland, whose tales of trans-racial passion at the Mughal Court, or at this or that princely court in the time of the Mughals, has it all: star-crossed lovers, and of course the Splendor That Was India, or rather the India of the Muslim rulers who lived off of their Hindu subjects, the subjects who were killed by the Muslims in numbers without any historical parallel. (The historian K. S. Lal and others estimate that 60-70 million Hindus were killed by the Muslim conquerors and masters). Now a love of luxe, and of luxe combined with heaving breasts, is the kind of thing that the Barbara-Cartlands of this world love, including even the plausible sort who put in a bit more history and a little less of the Romance-novelette lord or duke or Arab prince (see “The Sheik”), who picks up the girl in her swoon at the very end (the promise of sex has always been just beyond what Nabokov calls “the skyline of the page”) — that is, William Dalrymple. He’s as vulgar and stupid as they come, behind the plummy voice and the pretense of being a historian.
    • Hugh Fitzgerald: A tribute to William Dalrymple [2] 2006.
  • The motives of people like Dalrymple, those who wilfully set out to deny the facts of the destruction of the Hindu civilisation of India, are the opposite. Their denial of the large-scale destruction and denigration of Hindu religion and culture by the Muslim raiders, invaders and conquerors of India is motivated by the deep-seated political aim of the Independence movement to brook no divide between Hindu and Muslim.It was for its time and for all time a noble aim. That was one of the things V.S. Naipaul said to the BJP gathering--that the project of Nehru and Gandhi to avoid going into the import of that history was in itself positively motivated. There is never any justification for one community in India to conduct a pogrom against another. Not then, not now. But surely the construction of history should be truthful. Suppression can only exacerbate the anger.

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