an unembarrassed steamroller of multiculturalism


The writer William Dalrymple lives in a farmhouse on the outskirts of New Delhi with his wife, their three children, four incestuous goats, a cockatoo, and the usual entourage of servants that attends any successful man in India’s capital city. The previous resident of the house, a British journalist, was driven from the country by death threats after he published an article in Time magazine outing the previous Indian prime minister’s bladder problems and habit of nodding off during meetings. Dalrymple is also British—Scottish, to be exact—but his controversial statements are more likely to concern the country’s Mughal or British past. He is today India’s most famous narrative historian. A number of modern British writers—including Geoff Dyer, Patrick French, and the late Bruce Chatwin—have been fascinated by the land that their ancestors once ruled, but Dalrymple is unique, in the past twenty years, for how rigorously he has pursued that fascination, writing one brilliant travel book (City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi), two vivid histories (White Mughals and The Last Mughal), and one anthology of acute journalism (The Age of Kali) about South Asia. He came to India before it had achieved its status as a frontier boomland for computer programmers and writers alike, and he has lived there, on and off, since 1989. As a result, at the age of forty-five, he has become something of a godfather to a generation of writers who are producing nonfiction about the country. The fact that Dalrymple looks like a sunnier version of the actor James Gandolfini and loves to party no doubt helps with this reputation.

more from Karan Mahajan at Bookforum here.