Dalrymple’s The Anarchy: a review

‘History is boring’ is a common refrain from students in schools. And one obvious reason is the history books have generally been written by the historians who are skilled in historiography but are unable to connect with the common reader. Very few historians have the ability to build engaging narratives in their books. And William Dalrymple is one of them.

Dalrymple is known today as a leading expert of Indian colonialism in the world. As a historian he knows his job well and he does it too; diligently, effectively. Before taking up the task of writing Dalrymple carries out extensive research analysing diverse sources. Then he weaves the stories of history in such a way that you find his books unputdownable. With every new book that he writes, his canvas widens and the skill of writing matures.

Dalrymple’s The Anarchy is the latest in a series of three books that he has written on the history of the transition of the Mughal rule to the British in India. The other two are The White Mughal and The Last Mughal.

 In The While Mughal Dalrymple focuses on the influence of the Mughal culture on the British officers in the initial period of the British Raj. He has presented the case of an officer posted at Hyderabad to reveal this. The Last Mughal is the story of the 1857 revolt in India with Bahadur Shah Zaffar as a key character. These two books seek to portray the political, cultural and societal aspects of colonial India. 

 The Anarchy, however, is the most prophetic of all. It relates the story of how a trading company, that is East India Company, started ruling over India in 18th century. How it first captured a rich state like Bengal and then consolidated and spread its rule through the whole of the country. 
The book reveals the manner in which EIC used all the means at its command to carry out ‘loot’ in India. The company had been authorised by the British government to have a private army and to wage a war if it was required to fulfil its aim. ‘Its lawyers and MP shareholders slowly and subtly worked to influence and subvert the legislation of Parliament’ through what is known today as corporate lobbying. 

In the Epilogue Dalrymple makes an interesting comparison between the nature of EIC with that of giant companies in the world today. He also uses this comparison to reveal the sinister policies of these companies — साम, दाम, दंड, भेद — which they employ to maintain their monopoly in the markets.


Language is a skill

A language is a skill based subject. It is not like Science or Social Sciences for which understanding of concepts is more important. It is more like swimming, cycling or flying for which mere knowledge and understanding are not enough. The more you use them, the more proficient you become.

It is very important, therefore, that the learners are provided enough opportunities to practice the sub-skills like Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing of the language. But the question is what is Reading and how is it different from the other sub-skills?

If we don’t understand the differences between these sub-skills, then the danger is the learning outcomes might get mixed up. We may assume we are teaching Reading or Listening but in reality we might be teaching Writing and vice versa.


Facts are elusive

The evolution of internet came with the promise of making facts available at the click of a button. But day by day facts are becoming elusive, available only to those who have the skill to trace them.

A fact can be verified by anyone. That Ashok was an Indian king in the ancient period is a known fact supported by evidences and accepted by all. But the moment we say that he was a great king, we are moving away from the fact to an opinion.

A fact speaks for itself. The same may not be true for an opinion. It may be based on facts. It may not be. The fact based opinions can prove to be helpful for a society, while the hollow, unsubstantiated ones can be very harmful.

In today’s world it is pivotal that we foster critical thinking, research skills in young minds by which they are able to distinguish between facts and opinions. To help them understand which opinions are based on facts and which facts are based on opinions so they can make informed decisions.

D C Kala’s book on Jim Corbett

Everybody knows Jim Corbett as a hunter, wildlife expert and as an established writer. But I was more interested to discover the life that he lived at Mokama Ghat, a small village on the bank of Ganga in Bihar. He had spent about 20 years of his life there with the Railways. I wanted to understand his character as a professional and as a human being.

And I was not disappointed. I got one full chapter on that in the book. I did have some knowledge about that though. Corbett himself has described it in the last chapter of his My India. But this book has brought to light several other aspects of his character.

If you want to be a successful human resource manager, you need to take good care of human resource under your command. This book reveals how Corbett used to take care of the needs of the people working under him. He made them work hard, 16 hours a day, and get tons and tons of goods loaded on the ships/rail at Mokama Ghat.

Corbett used to be very compassionate and concerned about the daily needs such as food, income and education of his workers. He was instrumental in opening the first high school in that area with the help of a local person named Ram Sharan who had been closely associated with Corbett.

D C Kala has been able to reveal several of these attributes of Jim Corbett in the book.