White Mughals is the romantic and ultimately tragic tale of a passionate love affair that crossed and transcended all the cultural, religious and political boundaries of its time. James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad when in 1798 he glimpsed Khair un-Nissa - "Most Excellent among Women" - the great niece of Nizam's Prime Minister, and a direct descendant of the Prophet. Kirkpatrick had gone out to India as an ambitious soldier in the army of the East India Company, eager to make his name in the conquest and subjection of the subcontinent. Instead, he fell in love with Khair, and overcame many obstacles to marry her - not least of which was the fact that she was locked away in purdah and engaged to a local nobleman. Eventually, while remaining Resident, Kirkpatrick converted to Islam, and according to Indian sources even became a double-agent working for the Hyderabadis against the East India Company.
It is a remarkable story, involving secret assignations, court intrigue, harem politics, religious disputes and espionage. But such things were not unknown; from the sixteenth century, when the Inquisition banned the Portuguese in Goa from wearing the dhoti, to the eve of the Indian Mutiny, the "white Mughals" who wore local dress and adopted Indian ways were a source of difficulty and embarrassment to successive colonial administrations. William Dalrymple unearths such colourful figures as "Hindoo Stuart", who travelled with his own team of Brahmins to maintain his templeful of idols, and who spent many years trying to persuade the memsahibs of Calcutta to adopt the sari; and Sir David Ochterlony, Kirkpatrick's counterpart in Delhi, who took all thirteen of his Indian wives out for evening promenades, each on the back of her own elephant.
In White Mughals, William Dalrymple discovers a world almost entirely unexplored by history, and places at its centre a compelling tale of love, seduction and betrayal. It possesses all the sweep and resonance of a great nineteenth-century novel, set against a background of shifting alliances and the manoeuvring of the great powers, the mercantile ambitions of the British and the imperial dreams of Napoleon. White Mughals, the product of five years' writing and research from a variety of previously unused Indian and British primary sources, has already come to be regarded as Dalrymple's masterpiece.
The book won the Wolfson Prize for History 2003 and the Scottish Book of the Year Prize, and was shortlisted for the PEN History Award, the Kiryama Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. A stage version by Christopher Hampton has just been co-commissioned by the National Theatre and the Tamasha Theatre Company, and BBC Films have bought the film rights.
William also writes for the Guardian and New Statesman and is happy to answer your questions on a wide range of topics.
White Mughals will be sold at a 33% discount for £6.