White Mughals Fan and White Mughals Feminist: An Argument about the Position of Women in early 19th Century India

‘An Indian Girl with a Hookah’ by Francesco Renaldi, 1789

Critics wonder whether White Mughals romanticizes the sexual exploitation and objectification of Indian women by European men, in the name of ‘building bridges’. In this post, I try to look at both sides of the argument.


Wuzeerun, bazar woman, Sarahanpoor
Waziran, a Bazar Woman from Saharanpur

Recently I came across a well written and interesting article by Erica Wald  that questioned whether White Mughals presented an “idealised view of the empire in the 18th century” and had a “tendency to gloss over the inherent violence involved in the process of ’empire-building’.”1

The article also cites the historian Indrani Chatterjee:


Indrani Chatterjee has criticised historians for ‘romanticising’ the relationships which existed between European men and their native mistresses as either examples of racial harmony or female agency. In contrast to Oldenburg, who stressed the ‘agency’ possessed by courtesans, Chatterjee has insisted that many of these relationships should be more realistically seen as financial transactions in which the native women involved saw no benefit and instead, were exploited by the colonial state for their sexual and reproductive labour. She warns that the ‘metaphors for domesticity’ assigned to such women were an attempt to mask the violent nature of their entry into the household. Such terms as ‘my girl’, ‘housekeeper’ or ‘female friend’ which appear in the wills made by Europeans in the late 19th century to refer to their female companions were simply euphemisms which obscure the women’s position as household slaves. 2

Photograph of nautch dancers at Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, taken by Hooper and Western in the 1860s, from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections.
 I came across another article on the sexual objectification of  women titled ‘On Colonialism and Sexualities’ by Rishita Nandagiri: 3

“The colonial constructions of Indian women interweave her perceived sensuousness with that of her perceived passive, feminine behaviour. As experienced under most Empires across the world, women were seen as ‘sexed’ subjects: as objects of sexual gratification for their colonial masters or as bodies to bear children to add to the slave labour force. In India, the ‘native’ woman played ‘bibi’ (in this sense, concubine) to the White Sahib, or entertained on the erotic plane as part of cross-cultural social life as ‘nautch girls’ (dancing-girls). The Anglo-Indian gaze damned this ‘erotic dancing’ as typical of the unbridled, institutionalised sensuality indicative of ‘Eastern’ decadence.”

A British cadet watching a nautch during the Puja festival, Calcutta. Painting by Sir Charles D’oyly, c. 1810
A British cadet watching a nautch during the Puja festival, Calcutta. Painting by Sir Charles D’oyly, c. 1810

So, does White Mughals romanticize European colonialism? Does it glorify men who objectified Indian women in the name of “building bridges”?”

It seems unkind to glorify men like David Ochterlony (a man who had no less than thirteen Indian wives) and William Fraser for “their willingness to assimilate” and yet not spare a thought for the loneliness of their many wives and concubines. Surely they must also have had desires, like modern women, to be their husband’s exclusive wife? How much time did each one of them get to spend with her husband? I don’t know how many men would eagerly accept being one among a woman’s thirteen husbands, but here, it goes unquestioned.

Sir David Ochterlony, the British Resident at the Mughal court c. 1815.
Sir David Ochterlony, the British Resident at the Mughal court c. 1815

I sense a kind of fetishism and sexual objectification in Charles “Hindoo” Stuarts’ breathless description of Indian women’s wet saris. For all the Bollywood-style romance between Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-nissa, not all the sexual interactions between European men and Indian women were romantic. How many of the relationships were true love and how many were sexual exploitation?

Nautch Girl Resting - Edwin Lord Weeks
Nautch Girl Resting by Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903) 

Stuart was an enthusiastic devotee of Hindu women and their dress sense. In the early years of the nineteenth century he wrote a series of improbable articles in the Calcutta Telegraph in which he tried to persuade the European women of the city to adopt the sari, on the grounds that it was so much more attractive than contemporary European fashions, and warning that otherwise, Englishwomen had no hope of competing with the beauty of the women of India:

‘The majority of Hindoo women are comparatively small, yet there is much voluptuousness of appearance: – a fullness that delights the eye; a firmness that enchants the senses; a sleekness and purity of skin; an expression of countenance, a grace, and a modesty of demeanour, that renders them universally attractive….The new-mown hay is not sweeter than their breath…I have seen ladies from the Gentoo cast, so exquisitely formed, with limbs so divinely tuned, and such expression in their eyes, that you must acknowledge them not inferior to the most celebrated beauties of Europe. For my own part, I already begin to think the dazzling brightness of a copper coloured face, infinitely preferable to the pallid and sickly hue of the European fair.’ 4



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Mandakini in the famous ‘wet sari’ scene from the Bollywood movie ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’ 

Stuart was also perhaps the first recorded devotee of what the Bollywood film industry now knows as the wet-sari scene:

‘For the information of ladies recently arrived in this country, it may be necessary to state that the Hindoo female, modest as the rosebud, bathes completely dressed….and necessarily rises with wet drapery from the stream. Had I a despotic power, our British fair ones should soon follow the example; being fully persuaded that it would eminently persuade that it could eminently contribute to keep the bridal torch for ever in a blaze.’ 5

Woman’s Bathing Place, Oodeypore, India by Edwin Lord Weeks

Stuart’s articles were anonymously reprinted in A Ladies’ Monitor Being a series of letters first published in Bengal on the subject of female apparel tending to favour a regulated adoption of Indian costume; and a rejection of superfluous vesture by the ladies of this country: with incidental remarks on Hindoo beauty, whalebone stays, iron busks; Indian corsets; man-milliners; idle bachelors; hair powder, side saddles, waiting maids, and footmen. 6

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A nautch girl sings to entertain memsahibs. Painting by Mrs C. Belnos, c. 1820

Unsuccessful members of the fishing fleet who failed to land their fish and had to return to England single were (rather cruelly) described as ‘returned empties’. This seems to have been the fate of many of the fleet of this period: ‘Hindoo Stuart’ in his extraordinary book A Ladies Monitor quotes a conversation he had at a Calcutta dinner party attended by a whole group of ‘returned empties’ who complained that Englishmen in India all preferred Indian women to Europeans, and that few were interested in marrying a white girl, everyone being more than happy with their bibis:

‘One of the ladies observed, that it were better they had stayed at home; that marriages were little in fashion now-a days; and that the bad taste of the men rendered unnecessary the introduction of any more foreign beauty; at least, until that desire for novelty, which scarcity ever produces, should induce gentlemen to incline to their own country-women, as an agreeable change, enhanced by the pleasure of variety.’ 7

“A Nautch Girl or public female singer of India,” by Mrs. Belnos, London, c.1832

Stuart believed that half the problem was the unattractive busks and corsets worn by the English women at the period, and suggested they might have more chance of competing with the bibis if they all adopted the sari, which he clearly regarded as the sexiest garb imaginable, (and to promoting which he dedicates many thousands of words). The change in morality brought about by the rise of the Evangelicals in the 1830s and 1840s seems to have radically improved the fishing fleet’s chances of success, as it became increasingly unacceptable to take an Indian bibi. 8

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-hunting in the Raj

This shows that the power struggle in White Mughals is not just between the Brits & Indians, but also between males & females. It’s not just Indian women. British women who couldn’t “catch” a husband in India were labelled ‘returned empties’. Those British women who weren’t “rich enough” or “pretty enough” to snag a husband were condemned to a life of “spinsterhood”. I agree that it was incredibly unfair that a British man, however old or unattractive, could have his pick of both Indian and British women, while the women themselves had little choice. In British India, your value as a woman, whether you were British or Indian, was determined solely by the man you married.

“A Dancing Woman of Lucknow, Exhibiting Before a European Family.” by Charles Doyley, 1813



However, if you read the book carefully, you’ll realise that sexual exploitation is something Dalrymple himself has written about extensively in White Mughals.  Much to his credit, he does not shy away from this rather difficult subject, which many other authors would have felt uncomfortable writing about. He has not tried to romanticize  the period but is showing the Indo-British interaction in all its aspects, good and bad.

Edwin Lord Weeks, “Two Nautch Girls” (sketch). Follow Arcadia Art on WordPress.
Two Nautch Girls by Edwin Lord Weeks (1849-1903)

Not all the relationships recorded in the wills of the period make for happy reading, and there are many in which Indian bibis are treated with a chilling carelessness:


Alexander Crawford, writing his will in Chittagong 1782, goes into extravagant details as to how he wants his executors to care for his dogs and horses. After several pages of this sort of thing, he adds, almost as an afterthought, ‘To my girl, I desire that two thousand rupees may be given for her care of my children, provided that she places them in your charge with no further trouble.’ Unlike the animals, no name is given for her, and there are certainly no endearments recorded. Judging by the wills they left, many Englishmen were serial monogamists, moving on from one partner to another, sometimes at speed, and a substantial number kept two bibis simultaneously.” 9


“Nautch girls, Bombay,” by Taurines, c.1880’s


Dalrymple is certainly not afraid of pointing out facts that might make his fellow Brits look bad, or of calling a spade a spade, as the following passage illustrates:

“A few indeed had large harems, even by contemporary Indian standards. Thomas Williamson writes of the case of one Company servant who kept no fewer than 16 concubines. When asked what he did with all of them, he merely muttered, “Oh, I just give them a little rice and let them run around.”  10

Venkatchellam – Women in a Golconda Garden c. 1790.
Venkatchellam – Women in a Golconda Garden c. 1790

In White Mughals, Dalrymple also mentions a letter written by Colonel Anthony Pohlmann to his friend, where Pohlmann describes Indian women as ‘acquisitions’ and ‘amusements’:

“I am inclined to volunteer to take service in the Cachmere country, where the best, and the handsomest ladies are….As soon as I get the order for returning, I shall be with you in a jiffy, as the cold nights are setting in and I dare say you will join my opinion that a beautiful Cashmereian woman would not be a bad acquisition. I really think it would be a very agreeable amusement.”’ 11

William Dalrymple tackles several complex and difficult issues in his book, which many other authors would have glossed over or brushed under the carpet.


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Rai Venkatchellam’s Portrait of Henry Russell (1783-1852)


The cold-hearted Henry Russell’s treatment of his old mistress who had borne him two children, as well as his treatment of Khair, was a depiction of the more unpleasant side of Indo-British sexual relations. This extract from White Mughals gives us an idea of how Henry Russell thought of the mother of his children:

‘Charles informed Henry Russell by despatch that Henry’s bibi in Hyderabad had given birth to a baby girl prematurely, and that the child looked unlikely to survive. Russell’s reaction is chilling:

“I am sorry for the account you gave me of the probability of losing my little girl”, he writes “but it would be hypocrisy to pretend that it had afflicted me deeply. Even the loss of an infant that we have seen, we lament only in proportion to the love we bear its mother; and the death therefore of a child, whom not only have we never seen, but whose mother was never an object of attachment, cannot be regarded as a misfortune of very serious magnitude.” 12


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Conquest of Diu by the Portuguese in 1535

Perhaps most horrifying of all is the description in White Mughals of the Portuguese conquest of Goa:

“The Portuguese commander Afonso de Albuquerque made a point of ordering his men to marry the widows of the Muslim defenders they had massacred during the taking of the city. Albuquerque himself presided at the weddings of these ‘fair Mooresses of pleasing appearance’ and provided them with dowries. The fair Mooresses were then forcibly converted to Christianity, and after baptism, many were made to receive the rudiments of the Catholic faith. 13

Besieging the Harem, 1799

White Mughals also has an account of the British siege of Seringapatam, where the Brits allowed their soldiers to rape local women and loot their houses quite freely.

With all these gory details, no one can truly accuse Dalrymple of romanticizing British colonialism in White Mughals. One has to respect him for dealing with this issue in all its complexities, and not reducing it to Far Pavilions style candyfloss.


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‘The Palmer Family’ by Johann Zoffany, 1785


And yet, for all its accounts of the sexual exploitation and objectification of Indian women, White Mughals has some genuinely heart-warming stories of true love between Indian women and British men, many of which lasted throughout their lifetimes. The love and loyalty expressed in many of the wills are palpable. Dalrymple describes wills containing clauses in which the British men ask their close friends and family to care for their Indian partners, referring to them as ‘well beloved’, ‘worthy friend’ or ‘this amiable and distinguished lady.’”

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William Linnæus Gardner (1770-1835)

My favourite love story, apart from James and Khair, is that of William Linnaeus Gardner:

William Linnaeus Gardner was married to Begum Mah Munzel Ul-Nissa, the daughter of the Nawab of Cambay, and Gardner seems to have converted to Islam to marry her. Gardner had glimpsed the princess while he was sitting through the interminable negotiations of a treaty:

During the negotiations, a purda (curtain) was gently moved aside, and I saw (I thought) the most beautiful black eyes in the world. It was impossible to think of the Treaty; those bright and piercing glances, those beautiful black eyes completely bewildered me.

I felt flattered that a creature so lovely as she of those deep, black, loving eyes must be should venture to gaze upon me…at the next Durbar, my agitation and anxiety were extreme again to behold the bright eyes that haunted my dreams by night and my thoughts by day. The parda was again gently moved, and my fate was decided.


Mohman Khaun, Nawab of Cambay & father-in-law of William Gardner


I asked for the Princess in marriage; her relations were at first indignant, and positively refused my proposal….however, on mature deliberation, the hand of the princess was promised. The preparations for the marriage were carried forward. “Remember,” said I, “It will be useless to attempt to deceive me, I shall know those eyes again, nor will I marry any other.”

On the day of the marriage, I raised the veil from the countenance of the bride, and in the mirror that was placed between us, beheld the bright eyes that had bewildered me; I smiled- and the young Begum smiled also.”

It was a happy and long lasting marriage. Years later, Gardner wrote to his cousin Edward, “At Khassgunge I anticipate very great happiness. I am fond of reading and am fond of my garden and have more relish in playing with the little brats than for the First Society in the World. The Begum and I, through 22 years constant contact, have smoothed off each other’s asperities and roll on peaceably and contentedly….Man must have a companion, and the older I get the more I am confirmed in this. An old age without something to love, and nourish and comfort you, must be old and uncomfortable. The house is filled with brats, and the very thinking of them, from blue eyes and fair hair to ebony and wool, makes me quite anxious to get back to them again.

He added, “Few men have more occasion to congratulate themselves on their domestic comfort.” Eight years later, he was able to joke how “My having been married some thirty years and never having taken another wife surprises the Musselmans very much, and the ladies all look upon me as a pattern: they do not admire having a system of three or four rivals, however well pleased the gentlemen may be with the custom.” 14

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Mahadaji Sindhia entertaining a British naval officer and military officer with a nautch

William Dalrymple himself has discussed this issue in an interview:

Interviewer: A friend of mine said feminists in India today would react strongly to the way Indian women are portrayed in “White Mughals”, as falling eagerly into the arms of the Englishmen as wives and concubines…

William Dalrymple: There has been a court tradition in India: in Mughal and Rajput society, women were made available to the rulers and local figures rose to power through marriage. The British were only behaving in accordance with the social mores of the time. Your friend’s is a knee jerk response as this situation may be incorrect in 20th Century eyes. 15



Why I Am So Obsessed With White Mughals


I was eighteen when I first read William Dalrymple’s White Mughals.

Since then, I have read it many times over, and it would not be wrong to say that I am obsessed with it, perhaps unhealthily so.

Our books and movies taught us to think of the colonial British as stuffy, pompous Victorians of the Raj; sipping tea in china tea-cups with their little fingers pointing out. 1
As Dalrymple himself writes,

“The hybrid world of the White Mughals is certainly unfamiliar to anyone who accepts at face value the usual rigid caricature of the Englishman in India, presented over and over again in films and television dramas, of the imperialist incarnate: the narrow-minded sahib in a sola topee, dressing for dinner in the jungle while raising a disdainful nose at both the people and the culture of India.”16


Nizam of Hyderabad, Asaf Jah II, giving audience to the French envoy M Bussy, circa 1768

White Mughals turns everything we Indians thought about colonial Brits on its head. The early East India Company officials were not like the later powerful Victorian Sahibs. In the 17th and 18th centuries, India was one of the wealthiest and most powerful lands in the world. The British arrivals in India were a ragged bunch coming to seek money, and as described as Dalrymple, like modern citizens of developing countries migrating to the US: “scruffy provincial underdogs trying to get a bit of the commercial action”.

The Reception, a caricature of the reception that Lord Macartney received from the Qianlong Emperor by James Gillray, 1792 2
 I grew up with Indian books, movies & TV series that depicted the early East India Company officials as sneaky, cunning little devils, who came to India under the guise of trade, but their real intention all along was to usurp power from Indians and (evil laugh) take over the world!

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I always pictured the early British in India as akin to Disney villains, rubbing their hands together in manic glee while standing behind some gullible puppet king’s throne. 3
 Imagine my astonishment when I learned how the East India Company was established! Pankaj Mishra states it brilliantly in this review of White Mughals in the Guardian:

 “In 1616, when Sir Thomas Roe arrived in Agra, India, as the first accredited English ambassador to the Mughal Empire, he probably did not expect the small humiliations he would face over the next three years.
His ruler in England, King James I, who wanted a formal trade treaty with the Mughal emperor Jahangir, had told him to be “careful of the preservation of our honour and dignity”. But Roe struggled to keep the English flag aloft at the brilliantly adorned Mughal court, where even his only European rival, the Portuguese ambassador, seemed grander than he.
He managed to avoid the bowing and scraping expected of ambassadors, but he felt acutely the shabbiness of the gifts he had brought from England for the aesthete Jahangir, and he could not entirely overcome Jahangir’s scepticism about a supposedly great English king who concerned himself with such petty things as trade.
Perhaps Roe shouldn’t have worried so much. In retrospect, it is Jahangir who seems a victim of imperial hubris while Roe emerges as a far-sighted diplomat of an emerging economic and military power. Roe failed to get a formal treaty out of Jahangir. But he did secure a toehold for the East India Company on the western coast of India. Over the next 150 years, traders from Britain turned into soldiers and steadily overcame their Portuguese, French and Dutch rivals, even as the Mughal Empire, weakened by endless wars and invasions, slowly imploded into independent states.
Loss of territory and influence diminished Mughal emperors in Delhi into pathetic figureheads as early as the mid-18th century. The British gave them generous pensions and allowed them to hold shows of pomp and ceremony periodically – despite their infirmity, they retained, in British eyes, the symbolic value of belonging to India’s oldest and most prestigious ruling dynasty.
Neither Jahangir nor Roe could have foreseen the formal end of the Mughal empire, which finally came during the suppression of the Mutiny in 1858, long after the British conquest of India was complete, when an English soldier executed the sons of the rebellious, and – as it turned out – last Mughal emperor, and left their corpses to rot in the streets of Delhi.”

Sir Thomas Roe at the Court of Ajmer 4

History textbooks and TV series 17. taught me that Tipu Sultan and the Marathas, India’s last great defenders against the British, fought valiantly against the foreign invaders until their tragic defeat.

I used to think, ‘If only Tipu Sultan had vanquished the British – India would never have become a colony!’ 5
 But while reading White Mughals, I almost fell out of my chair when I learned that both Tipu Sultan and the Marathas were allied with the French! It turns out the battle for eighteenth-century India wasn’t just Indians against Europeans: it was also Europeans against Europeans.

French Admiral Suffren meeting with Haider Ali 6
 As Bill Aitken writes in his Outlook review of White Mughals:

“It sounds incredible that when the Nizam fought the forces of Nana Phadnavis, ranged against each other were not just the flags of orthodox Hindus and unorthodox Muslims but those of warring French parties, Bourbon and Revolutionary.”

The Governor General of French India, Marquis Dupleix (1697-1763) meets the Subedar of the Deccan 7
As Sapientia Semita writes rather forcefully in his blog post on White Mughals, if Tipu Sultan had won, India would have become a French colony instead of a British one:

“Tipu Sultan is considered to be a champion of Indian freedom since he fought against the British. Our politically inclined historians, however, have lost sight of Tipu’s real intentions in fighting against the British. He had only one aim in doing so, and that was the continuation of his reign and nothing else. He openly sought help from the French who helped him in increasing his military power and providing him with a mercenary force. How can such a person be the fountainhead of India’s freedom struggle? Dalrymple quotes a letter from Napoleon Bonaparte to Tipu, which was sent from Cairo, annexed by Napoleon. It runs thus, “You have already been informed of my arrival on the borders of the Red Sea, with an innumerable and invincible army, full of the desire of releasing and relieving you from the iron yoke of England. I eagerly embrace this opportunity of testifying to you the desire I have of being informed by you, by way of Muscat and Mocha, as to your political situation. I could even wish you could send some sort of intelligent person to Suez or Cairo, possessing your confidence, with whom I may confer. May the Almighty increase your power, and destroy your enemies!” It is curious to hear Bonaparte talking about the iron yoke of England because if he and Tipu had their ways, India would have been under the iron yoke of France! Some freedom fighter!”

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Louis XVI Receives the Ambassadors of Tipu Sultan in 1788 8
 It all struck me as eerily similar to the Cold War, in which countries sided with either USA or Russia, who proceeded to use them as pawns in their own game; playing one against the other. It also resonates with today’s conflicts in the Middle East, where the USA got involved in what were initially local disputes.

Col J B J Gentil holding discussions with Carnac, the arrival of Nawab Shuju ud-Daula and lines of military cavalry. Faizabad, ca. 1774. 9
 On moving to the USA or UK, many Indians gave up their old Indian customs and adopted a completely Western way of life. Indians back home made fun of them and accused them of feeling ashamed of their Indian identity. And it hurt, too. To their families in India, it felt like a betrayal. It was as if their children were stating the unquestionable superiority of the West over India. That Indian culture wasn’t worth keeping.

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Indian rappers trying to look cool by aping the West. 10
 Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that 300 years ago, Westerners coming to India did the same thing: shedding their Western ways and adopting Indian ways of dressing, eating, living and talking. To fit in, many of them even changed their names and religions. White Mughals illustrates that who apes who depends on who holds the most power & money at the time. Currently, it’s the USA. Should China become the number one world power tomorrow, we might all start speaking, and dressing and acting like the Chinese.

Swiss Colonel Antoine Polier (1741–1795) trying to look cool by wearing Indian clothes & watching Indian song & dance 11
 To the smarting Indian ego, long accustomed to feeling inferior and insecure, this feels good. It assures us that every dog has its day, as we once did. That once upon a time, Indians were masters and Westerners were servants. I know it sounds childish, vindictive and silly, and only shows what a severe inferiority complex we still have. But to the Indian ego wounded by decades of poverty, it gives us some small comfort. It makes our daily small humiliations and tribulations a little easier to bear. It helps us to dream that one day, we can overcome our problems and our poverty, and regain the prosperity and splendour that we once enjoyed.

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Sake Dean Mahomed (1759-1851), who introduced shampoo to Britain 12
 After constantly hearing Westerners call us smelly and dirty, we Indians find the following passage from White Mughals especially gratifying:

“At a time when the British showed no particular enthusiasm for cleanliness, Indian women, for example, introduced British men to the delights of regular bathing. The fact that the word shampoo is derived from the Hindi word for massage (champi), and that it entered the English language at this time, shows the novelty to the eighteenth century British of the Indian idea of cleaning hair with materials other than soap. In fact, shampoo was first introduced in Britain by an entrepreneur from Patna named Dean Mahomet, who was later appointed ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ to Kings George IV and William IV. Those Britons who returned home and continued to bathe and shampoo themselves on a regular basis found themselves scoffed at by their less hygienic compatriots: indeed it was a cliché of the time that the British in Bengal had become ‘effeminate’.”

Indian women introduced British men to the delights of regular bathing 13
 The part that fascinates me the most, and is most relevant to this day and age, is Dalrymple’s analysis of that social phenomenon. What changed? How come the British and Indians who embraced each other whole-heartedly in the eighteenth century, were driven apart in the nineteenth? Dalrymple writes that in the eighteenth century, there was a balance of power between the Indians and British. This equality enabled them to intermarry and exchange cultures and ideas freely. Later, when the British became all-powerful, they considered it beneath themselves to marry Indians, or even to treat them as equals.

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Territorial expansion of the British East India Company in the subcontinent from 1765 to 1857 (EIC territories in pink) 14
 Intriguingly, many Anglo-Indian children of these unions covered up their Indian origins to escape prejudice and assimilate into British society (a trend that, painfully enough, continues to this very day.

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In the past century, Merle Oberon, Cliff Richards, and many others tried to conceal their Anglo-Indian roots 15
Anglo-Indian children fair (and “fortunate”) enough to “pass” for British were shipped off to England to be educated, while the dark-skinned ones remained in India and lost out on the opportunities available to their fairer skinned siblings. Is this the reason behind India’s obsession with fair skin, and its massive consumption of fairness creams and skin bleaching products? After all, in colonial India, the fairer your skin, the greater were your advantages. Sadly, the Indian psyche is still scarred by the racism of the nineteenth century.


Is India’s obsession with fairness & skin bleaching creams a legacy of its colonial past? 

My generation witnessed the rise of multiculturalism in the West: the transformation of a racist and religiously intolerant culture into a free, egalitarian and progressive utopia. Kids like me view the West as a liberal paradise, in which all human beings are treated as equals. And we take it for granted that things will stay that way.

The modern Western world has progressed to a diverse, tolerant and multicultural society 16

But White Mughals shows that just as an intolerant society can progress to a multi-cultural one, so can a multi-cultural society regress to a rigid and intolerant one. It isn’t just a history book on the past; it is a warning for the future. A warning that – in the aftermath of 9/11, the war on terror, and the rise of demagogues and right wing extremism the world over – we cannot possibly afford to ignore. In horror, I watch the steady increase of intolerance in today’s society. With religious fundamentalism on the rise and Islamophobia growing in the West, White Mughals has become more relevant than ever.


White Mughals is a warning that if we are not careful, even a multi-cultural society can regress to a rigid and intolerant one. 17