Friday, June 29, 2018

The Last Mughal: Book Club Discussion Questions! {India}

[We had this book chosen at our book club and since I couldn't find a ready list of book club questions for this book, nor did general questions apply, I made a list myself. Posting this, hoping it could be useful to someone, someday!]

William Dalrymple & his colleagues thoroughly researched as many as 20,000 virtually unused Urdu and Persian documents known as Mutiny Papers. The Last Mughal is a revelatory work- and allow 1857 in Delhi to be seen for the first time from a properly Indian perspective, and not just from the British sources through which to date it has usually been viewed. 
- Does the book read like a collection of facts or more like a well-written, engaging narrative?

The Last Mughal: Exploring India through Books, Book club Discussion Questions, Globetrotting Mom

The author says “Of the great cities of the world, only Rome, Istanbul and Cairo can even begins to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of historic remains”
- What is your impression of pre-1857 Delhi?

During the early 1850s, it seemed as if the British & the Mughals lived not only in different mental worlds but almost in different time zones. The victorian lunches (Irish stew, mutton hashes, rissoles), Mughal food (venison, fish kebabs, stew, yakhni kababs) the Azans (call to prayer), mangoes, the poetry sessions 
  • Did the British and Mughal lifestyles make an impression on you?

If Zafar’s decision to bless the uprising on 11th May was a crucial turning point that transformed an army mutiny into the largest rebellion against the British empire in the 19th century, then Zafar’s  catastrophic failure of nerve on 16th Sep was the decisive moment that marked the beginning of the end of that rebellion.
  • How much of the fall of the Mughal empire do you attribute to Zafar?

Other than the targeting of Christians, there was surprisingly little patriotic or nationalistic spirit visible in the violence. It opened a pandora’s box of differences and grievances and the worse affected were the ordinary people: who were being looted, starving with all factories and shops closed, and no work. 
- Is this an obvious effect of anarchy and lawlessness?

Delhi’s most magnificent palaces were destroyed, princes hanged, intellectual population wiped out, thousands had to flee the city leaving everything behind, allies were forgotten, and dead bodies were strewn in all directions. 

For some Britishers, it was “God’s justice on men who were not only men but devils”
- Did you find this imperial arrogance and British war crimes shocking?

After September 1957, Mughals were perceived as it suited the British: as sensual, decadent, temple-destroying invaders (e.g.- especially Aurangzeb, who was the most hated). The profound contempt that the British so openly expressed proved contagious - particularly to ascendant Hindus, who quickly hardened their attitudes to all things Islam
- What do you think of this, and how does this reflect on the present day attitude towards Muslims?

There was an incident where Hindus slit the throats of butchers accused of cow killing and Zafar subsequently banned beef and cow killing. This was taken very seriously and the Police even arrested a Kebab wala who was found grilling beef kebabs. Also prior to this, the British abolished Sati, introduced widow remarriage. 
- Given that there’s very little description of Hinduism in the book, what is your impression of Hinduism?

Zafar’s verses says explicitly that Hinduism and Islam ‘share the same essence’ and his court embodied this indo-islamic civilisation. But by the 1850s, the hybrid lifestyle came to look as old-fashioned and outdated. The stage was being set for a clash of rival fundamentalisms. Eventually Indian history will have been bloodied with communal tension, violence and riots. 
- What is your understanding of the communal tension and violence? 

Zafar once said “I was always a beggar. a sufi sitting in a corner in search of God. I was helpless and constrained by my fears, I did what the rebellious army required, otherwise they would have immediately killed me”

Then in the words of Henry Layard “I saw a broken-down old man-  he showed me his arms which were eaten into by disease and flies -partly for want of water. and he said in a lamentable voice, that he had not had enough to eat”
- Did you feel empathy for Zafar?

Mirza Jawan Bhakt, Mirza Mughal, Zinat Mahal, Theo Metcalfe, William Hodson, Harriet Tytle, Brigadier General John Nicholson

- Did any of these characters make a mark on you

More Books Exploring Countries & Cultures:
Globetrotting with Books: The Series & Link Up
 Dominican Republic |   Bulgaria  |  Pakistan  | Turkey  |  Iran  |  

Stay Connected Subscribe  |  Twitter  |  Pinterest 

1 comment: