History has a lot of grey shades and many nuances are left unsaid, said historian William Dalrymple at the concluding session of The Hindu Lit for Life, while giving an illustrated talk on his book The Company Quartet, a collection of four of his earlier books that chronicle the fascinating story of the rise and fall of the East India Company.
It took him 20 years to write the four books: The Anarchy (which covered the period from 1660 to 1803), White Mughals (1780-1830), Return of a King (the Afghan War, post-1830), and The Last Mughal (culminating with the 1857 War of Independence).
“When I began working, the subject was very upskill. The full implication of what colonialism means and what it did was taken to another level when I reassessed the available facts,” the author said. And the master narrator that he is, Mr. Dalrymple gave history a little makeover in his book to say that it was not the British government that captured parts of India in mid-18th century — the sinister reality was that a corporation owned by stakeholders did so for profit.
Mr. Dalrymple’s meticulous research tells the most bewitching stories from India’s past, and how the East India Company invented a way of business that reflected a symbiosis of governments and corporations. “They can direct and topple each other,” he said.
He narrated the story of how the Mughal empire, which generated half the world’s wealth, disintegrated, and was replaced by the first global corporate power that functioned from a small office with five wide windows in London.
The tumultuous colonial history, covert political machinations, bloody resistance and battles (of Plassey and Buxar) fought were all deals that involved money and loot to shatter the Mughal empire and decentralise states by using Indian men called sepoys as soldiers.
His talk was riveting as it delved into the extraordinary ways the East India Company resorted to take over a country using local money of the Indian bankers called jagat seths to amass wealth and make quadruple profit. It was a hugely successful business model of the times, where a private corporation owned a private army and expanded its operation and network, while the rich Mughal states of Begal, Bihar and Orissa bled. Though the company goes bust, it’s too big to fail as the British government bails it out.