The famous historian E.H. Carr, in his book What is History?, comes up with the question ‘what is a historical fact?’. He says by quoting the Housman, the philosopher of history, that ‘accuracy is a duty, not a virtue’, draws an idea that the primary concern of a historian must be the selection of facts and arrangement of them, in a way that can influence the public opinion. In his opinion praising the historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using well-seasoned timber or properly mixed concrete in his building. History as raw-material is less important, and only conveys the idea of mere ‘facts’. Why we regard the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 as a major event, is because the historians consider it a major event. And crossing of Rubicon by Caesar is a major historical fact whereas crossing of Rubicon by millions of other people before or after Caesar is only a happening in the past. That it will be probably ignored by historians proves that a historian is necessarily selective.
In E.H. Carr’s own words, “The belief in hardcore of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.” So all the relevance of history rests in the hands of historian, how he selects, how he arranges the historical facts.
By discussing so we must take into consideration the plight of the modern historian, who in many ways has a preselected and predetermined picture about the past. He is well comforted by the concepts of his predecessors. Those ancient and especially medieval people, who were consciously or unconsciously imbued with a particular view, thought the facts which supported that view worth preserving. The dead hand of vanished generations of historians, scribes and chronicles has determined beyond the possibility of appeal the pattern of the past.
The modern historian has the dual task of discovering the few significant facts and turning them into facts of history, and of discarding the many insignificant facts as unhistorical. This heresy during the past hundred years has had such devastating effects on the modern historian, who only made dry as dust factual histories. The modern historian was sunk into the ocean of facts. He approached these facts with bowed head and spoke them in awed tones. This was justified by fetishism of documents. And these documents have told us nothing other than what the author of document thought. What he thought had happened, or what he thought ought to happen or would happen, or perhaps only what he wanted others to think he thought, or even only what he himself thought he thought. This unprocessed fact not only made history dry but even discouraged the professional approach towards the study of history in the modern world.
Here is the relevance of William Dalrymple. He is one of the most successful historians and travel-writers whose highly entertaining books elegantly combine scholarship and storytelling. A historian with the capability of trans-cultural investigations and romance. As said above, he never exhibits the defects of modern historians, who only view history in a limited sense. In spite William Dalrymple is elegant and superb. As a historian, he keeps an eye on historic facts and transforms it into historic lessons. In a world filled with a huge crowd that never reads history, Dalrymple surely believes blunders will preserve.
Dalrymple’s writings on history are fully embodied with interplay between religion, culture and politics. He emphasises the need of a common platform to analyse and to assimilate from the past. He never allows others to read history in a ‘black and white’ manner that the reader could only get ‘right doers’ and ‘wrong doers’. In fact, he strongly believes this type of history reading made the world a battlefield. He traces the root of modern theory of ‘clash of civilizations’ and turns up with the answer that explains the need for co-existence and harmony with the civilizations, the relevance of dialogue between civilizations. He identifies history as a rainbow, in which each sector has got its own identity, colour and beauty. He openly denies the so-called Marxist theory of history and emphasises the importance of the religion in the past.
His first book, however, written at the age of 22, In Xanadu: a Quest , bypassed India, and was based on notes he kept while exploring the root through Asia of Marcopolo to the court of Kublai Khan. He and his companions became the first westerners for over a century to see the ruins of Kublai Khan’s palace. Dalrymple’s commitment to religion of politics advanced greatly from The Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium . This book again travels in the footsteps of monk John Moschos, through Turkey, Egypt, and Palestine around 587 C.E., sketches the very essence of religion and its influence in our past. He is good at conveying the shared early history of religions.
Dalrymple’s love affair with India manifests in City of Djinns , centring in Delhi, a city with a ‘bottomless seam of stories’, shaped more like a novel than a travel book. He describes ancient ruins and the experience of living in the modern city. He goes in search of history behind epic stories of Mahabharata. And especially William Dalrymple, with his most recent books – the best selling White Mughals  and the lavishly praised The Last Mughal  – has become an authoritative historian of the intimate relationship between the British and India.
These books show great empathy with the Mughal culture and prove his literary ability to reconstruct a vanished world from detailed research among fresh archival sources. By doing so, he traces the origins of some of today’s political clashes between west and east. White Mughals, for instance, an inter-racial love story set in Mughal Hyderabad Regency and London, seemed to him raises huge questions about British-ness, the nature of empire, about faith and personal identity. Having divided his time between Delhi and London since 1980, Dalrymple continues to be a well connected commentator on Anglo Indian relations, frequently speaking at literary festivals and conferences.
The Last Mughal is a long scale and mature work of popular historic scholarship, reconstructing Delhi before and after the culture shattering events of 1857. It focuses both the city and the celebrity king Bahadur Shah Zafar – more of poet than politician, who had encouraged an artistic renaissance [including the poet Ghalib]. Dalrymple’s interpretation of un-translated documents in the Indian national archives offers a wealth of new perspectives on the uprising and its aftermath. Dalrymple draws out the problem of evangelical Christianity, western imperialism and religious fundamentalism in a way that The Last Mughal makes its impact as political and cultural arguments. It superbly evokes the lost civilization of old Delhi with the multicultural sympathies of a writer.
Dalrymple’s famous words, “Ayodhya might not have happened if the crowd read history”, reveals the political correctness of the historian. He writes about the mutiny of 1857 failure, “The scale of devastation and defeat, and the depths of humiliation heaped on the vanquished Mughals, profoundly diminished not just the prestige of the old aristocratic order, but also – to at least some extent – the composite Hindu-Muslim, Indo-Islamic civilization of which Zafar’s court had been the flag ship.” He continues by explaining how Indian Muslims became almost subhuman creature, to be classified in un-embarrassedly racist imperial literature alongside such other despised and subject specimens.
To him, the modern middle class of urban India and especially the public conscience of the country, to a very extent, keep nothing for the Mughal dynasty, once the masters of them. He clarifies his idea by stating, “If you visit the old Mughal city of Agra, perhaps to see the Taj Mahal, the supreme architectural achievement of Mughal rule, note how the round abuts are full of statues of the Rani of Jhansi, Shivaji and even Subhash Chandra Bose, but not one image of any Mughal emperor has been erected anywhere in the city since independence.” He attributes and accuses this type of mentality of Indian middle class to “the Mughals are perceived as it suited the British to portray them in imperial propaganda that they taught in Indian schools after 1857.”
Dalrymple traces the root of demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 and places the fact that Indian people are much ignorant about their cultural past, where they enjoyed the harmony and co-existence within various sections of societies and religions. India’s mass approach to history must be also mentioned here. In India people are less interested in reading history so much so that none of the academic circles gives importance to history, as it is done in Oxford University, London. So the people lack awareness about the past. It is this pathetic condition of India that made the film Jodha Akbar a movie based on the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s life, less popular than that of the film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai. And this makes A.K. Ramanujam’s Ramayana untouched or not discussed even in academic circles or intellectual sector of the country.
Dalrymple also finds himself as an advocate of Muslim-Christian co-existence, as he describes and finds India’s tradition of Islamic-Christian relations. By visiting many of Islamic-Christian paintings and architects in India like ‘Islamic nativity scene of Jesus birth [circa 1720, national museum, New Delhi], paintings of Christ and Mary in many Mughal tombs and caravanserais, Jesus’ words adorning the mighty walls of a Muslim emperor’s walled city: the Buland Darwaza or high gate in Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar’s capital from 1571 until 1585.
By commenting on Islamic-Christian relations, Dalrymple says, “It is important to emphasise that Christianity and Islam are not nearly so far apart as both Bin Laden and western culture chauvinists would like us to believe that. This Mughal enthusiasm for Christian devotions is a highly significant moment in the history of Islamic-Christian relations and one which has, of course, largely forgotten today in the pluralised world that has emerged from the attacks on America and the ‘war on terror’ that ensued.”
And of course, William Dalrymple’s latest book Nine Lives reveals Dalrymple to be remarkably warm and open-hearted. This is a travel book, contains a series of biographies which unpick the rich religious heritage of the subcontinent. Across the country he comes across instances of popular religiosity and the stubborn persistence of beliefs and ritual practices amid rapid change. This book is much more truthful about the country’s political remoteness than that of the newspaper reports. Each of nine stories illuminates the pluralistic heritage of India. The book efficiently searches spirituality and the question of identity among Indian people. As Pico Iyer in Time magazine, puts it, “It is a book that never fails to astonish.” Thus vibrant and engaging, with rich scholarship and enthusiasm in history, William Dalrymple is relevant in a world which is fully ignorant about the past. His dedication pays off handsomely in his works as he is a promising historian with superb spirit of commitment to the goodness.