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By Amar Farooqui
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 219, price not stated.


The life and times of Bahadur Shah Zafar II have generally been examined from the perspective of the 1857 uprising and the exile of this ‘tragic’ emperor who experienced the collapse of the vestiges of Mughal power. The book under review, however, strikes a different note. The very title of the book successfully conveys that the endeavour of the author is to carefully integrate the story of the life of Zafar with the growth of colonial presence in the city of Delhi. Besides, it is refreshing to note that throughout the book the ‘native’ is not set against alien rule but alongside it.   The three sections and nine chapters in this work are set against the backdrop of happenings in the heart of the city of Delhi, mostly the Red Fort. Sources varying from archival records to published works of literature mainly in Urdu and English, historical testimonies and biographies, have been consulted to construct a narrative that flows uninterruptedly from the 1770s to the 1850s. The shrinking of political and military power of the Mughal Emperor to Delhi and its neighbourhood in late eighteenth century is vividly captured along with the growing interest of the English East India Company in the affairs of northern India. It is significant that from the beginning the format is ready to engage the reader in developments which most often had their epicentre in Delhi.   Even after the losses borne at Baksar (1764) and for the next nearly four decades till 1803, the emperor’s authority was acknowledged and valued as necessary for legitimizing British rule in India. Thus, the negotiations between the Maratha leader Mahadji Sindia and the officials of Shah Alam II gave anxious moments to the English East India Company. Recounting the circumstances under which the Battle of Patparganj was fought and won by the company in 1803 as part of the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1802-5), Amar Farooqui brings to the fore aspects of the losses borne by the Indian side which have barely merited attention in the fleeting accounts of this battle. The slaughter of civilians including the violence perpetrated against non-combatants many of them women and children was deplored in accounts such as Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register published from London in the early nineteenth century. However, such voices were quickly stifled and thus, as the author says, ‘we shall never know anything about the suffering that ordinary villagers of Patparganj had to ...

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