Britain ruled India as the British Raj from 1858 to 1947. Before that, the East India Company — an English trading corporation — operated and functioned as de facto government in India – from 1757 to 1858. England wasn’t the only European country operating trading enterprises in India. The history of India’s quest for freedom arises from nearly 200 years of English governance of an ancient country and its peoples.
White Mughals delves into the lives of individual European commercial and military officers with vivid portraits of their careers, families and relationships with Indian people–lords and ladies, local servants and British staff. During such a long occupation, many English mated and married Hindi women. Their children became part of another layer of dynastic control or rebellion.
One such affair of the heart took place in early 1800s in Hyderabad between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-Nissa Begum. Kirkpatrick had previously served in Carolina and owned a plantation there, plus an estate Hollidale near Bromley in Kent. The descriptions of daily life in the couple’s household in India are sensuously memorable.
The history may leave a sour taste for Indians and English alike. An illustrative aspect of the era demonstrates cultural sharing and learning among the cultures. The exhibition at the Asia Society Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi 1707-1857 includes works by Mughal court painters and a few paintings produced for Delhi-based Raj figures such as William Fraser, James Skinner and Thomas Metcalfe.
A traveler may acquire insight into the emotions and endurance of people on all sides of this historical era.
White Mughals, Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India
Penguin Books, 2004, 544 pages.