By Fanny Parkes,William Dalrymple
Fanny Parkes lived in India among 1822 and 1846 and was once the fitting shuttle author brave, indefatigably curious and determinedly self sustaining. Her journals hint her transformation from prim memsahib to eccentric, sitar-playing Indophile, fluent in Urdu, serious of British rule and passionate in her appreciation of Indian tradition. Fanny is excited about the trial of thugs, the decorating of a Hindu bride and swears through the efficacy of opium on complications. To learn her is to get as shut as you possibly can to a real photo of early colonial India the sacred and the profane, the violent and the gorgeous, the straight-laced sahibs and the White Mughals’ who fell in love with India, married Indian better halves and equipped bridges among the 2 cultures.
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Additional resources for Begums, Thugs and White Mughals. The Journals of Fanny Parkes
The eighteenth and early nineteenth century had produced many ‘White Mughals’ – characters like the British Resident at the Mughal court, Sir David Ochterlony. When in the Indian capital, Ochterlony liked to be addressed by his full Mughal title, Nasir-ud-Daula (Defender of the State) and to live the life of a Mughal gentleman: every evening all thirteen of Ochterlony’s consorts used to process around Delhi behind their husband, each on the back of her own elephant. With his fondness for hookahs and nautch girls and Indian costumes, Ochterlony amazed Bishop Reginald Heber, the Anglican Primate of Calcutta, by receiving him sitting on a divan wearing a ‘choga and pagri’ while being fanned by servants holding peacock-feather punkhas.
It is this sheer joy, excitement and even liberation in travel that Fanny Parkes manages so well to communicate. In the same way, it is her wild, devil-may-care enthusiasm, insatiable curiosity and love of the country that immediately engages the reader and carries him or her with Fanny as she bumbles her way across India on her own, wilfully dismissive of the dangers of dacoits or thugs or tigers, learning the sitar, enquiring about the intricacies of Hindu mythology, trying opium, taking down recipes for scented tobacco, talking her way into harems, befriending Maratha princesses and collecting Hindu statuary, fossils, butterflies, zoological specimens preserved in spirits, Indian aphorisms and Persian proverbs – all with an unstoppable, gleeful excitement.
As Colin Thubron has pointed out, ‘To define the genre [of travel writing] as an act of domination – rather than of understanding, respect or even catharsis – is simplistic. ’ The point is well made, and the attacks made on Fanny highlight the problem with so much that has been written about eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century India: the temptation felt by so many critics to project back onto it the stereotypes of Victorian and Edwardian behaviour and attitudes with which we are so familiar.
Begums, Thugs and White Mughals. The Journals of Fanny Parkes by Fanny Parkes,William Dalrymple