I have been, reading a book which I am not sure what to call. A history book? travel book ? memoirs? or may be all of these and some more.
Its an entertaining book by William Dalrymple and the title of the book is City Of Djinns. Its about Delhi and its past. History tells us that Delhi was ruined and plundered by invaders many times and rebuilt again as many times. This book is about the present day Delhi and the Delhi under British Rule.
At times the vagaries of time are so pointless, so cruel, I just put the book down, take a deep breath and try to make something out of those incidents that contribute towards the making of a nation and breaking of the other. At the same time something just spurts out of the pages that is so funny that again I have to put the book aside to have a hearty laugh. I would like to share some of these moments with you as I progress but first; let me astray a little. I will be back, don’t worry.
The man in the East is generally a polite, kind and hospitable human being. When it comes to welcoming a guest he will go all out to make his guest feel it is his house more than the host’s. I have heard the stories of such hospitality where, there in the middle of the night, a lone traveler, tired and weary with hunger and thirst, knocked at the door of the first house he saw during his long drawn travels.
“I need a night’s rest and something to eat and drink”
It so happened that the people living in that house were not so rich either and there was nothing in the house worth a decent meal to serve to the guest except a camel which was used for going about. The man of the house decided to slaughter it and prepare a hearty meal for the traveler and take care of tomorrow when tomorrow would come.
Now you would expect the traveler to thank his host and after a night’s rest, go on his way, and this is what usually happens. You don’t hear or read that the traveler didn’t leave the next morning but stayed on for one more day and then one more to the point where he not only took control of the house but also the wife, children and all. This is what happened when East India Company started arriving in India during the later years of the Mughal Rule. These British traders were welcomed with open arms by the king and its subjects. But the British, with their one foot in the door, soon pried open the whole door and strode right in.
This is what British East India Company did to India, its rulers, its people. For two hundred years they looted, they plundered, they mistreated the local population, dethroned the King, murdered his family and reigned in the whole of the sub continent of Asia. Those who welcomed them with open arms, provided them safe passage were now apartheid in their own lands. I don’t want to stray too far. The rest is history and I believe every body once in a while, reads history books.
But I would be fair and say that what happened had something to do with the fightings among local Rajahs and Maharajahs too. Some of them were greedy and power hungry and always fighting with each other. They didn’t see the danger that had come ashore in trade ships. Its a different subject and there will be times to discuss it too.
Having said that, I will now come back to pick up the thread where I left it.
The book, City Of Djinns.
And the author is talking about Delhi – old and new – showing the city that is now and the city chronicled by the people, serving in the British Raj. One such family was Fraser family from Scotland. Five brothers from this family worked in the subcontinent. William, the first one to arrive in India, “had become completely hypnotized by the great capitol.” But I would write about another lovable soul first. He was equally captivated by the charms of the city. He was Sir David Ochterlony. He was fond of “hookahs, nautch girls and Indian costumes.”
” Although known to the common people as ‘ Loony Akhtar (or crazy star), when in the capitol he liked to be addressed by his proper Mughal title Nasirud daula (defender of the state) and to live the life of a Mughal gentleman. Every evening all thirteen of his wives used to process around Delhi behind their husband, each on the back of her own elephant.”
Very interesting – it’s a piece of history that’s repeated itself over and over, eh?