Love and Betrayal in India: The White Mughal
By Marina VaizeyFriday
04 September 2015
William Dalrymple finds in an Anglo-Indian marriage that crossed cultural boundaries hope for today.
William Dalrymple has discovered a fascinating true romance from history in this story of the relationship of Indian-born British diplomat James Achilles Kirkpatrick and the Muslim princess Khair-un-Nissa in Hyderabad at the turn of the 19th century. His remarkable programme not only captivated in itself but threw a fascinating light on layers of cultural differences, adaptations and understanding. Individual tolerance and even delight in varying views was threatened then, as now, by societal pressures and fear of the unfamiliar.
Dalrymple uncovered the profound involvement of Europeans with the culture of the subcontinent in the 18th century, before Victorian moralities stifled such engagement. More than a third of westerners had liaisons and marriages with Indian women, including Kirkpatrick’s great friend, General Palmer of Poona.
Kirkpatrick, born in India, educated in England, had Tamil as his first language, wrote poetry in Urdu, and added Persian and Hindustani to his linguistic armoury. Hyderabad was a very rich city, its Mughal ruler Nizam Ali Khan successfully ruling a Hindu population; it was home to the largest diamond mines in the world, with its prosperity further enhanced by international trade in silk, spices and perhaps other darker cargoes.