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Friday, December 7, 2012

Return of A King: The Battle For Afghanistan, 1839-1842 by William Dalrymple: Live Chat with William Dalrymple on IBNLive.Com

Aah, so I got a chance to participate in the live chat with world-renowned historian and author William Dalrymple on the release of his latest historical masterpiece Return of A King: The Battle For Afghanistan, 1839-1842.

The book has just been launched in India, with the book launch happening in New Delhi on the 6th of Dec 2012 and scheduled for Mumbai on the 8th of Dec 2012. Of course Im going, meeting him, getting my collection of his books signed and picking up his new book that he will be signing...yipppeeee!!!! Super happy!!!!!

Here's the transcript of the chat, which turned out to be super interesting and quite informative.


Was the threat of Russian outreach to afghanistan exaggerated or was it real Asked by: chinmayThere was an effort to open diplomatic relations between Russia and Afghanistan. But this was manipulated by British hawks into a much bigger threat than it really was. By 1839 the British had persuaded themselves that the Russians were about to charge down the Khyber Pass and seize British India.
 
Describe your book in one word! Asked by: Supam
Fireworks!

What is the most photogenic spot/monument you noticed in Delhi during your fact finding mission while writing "The Last Mughal"? Asked by: Vikram Gupta
In Delhi I love the Zeenat ul-Masajid in Daryaganj which originally stood above the Yamuna waterfront. In Afghanistan for this new book it was the great Timurid madrasa of Gauhar Shah in Herat.

Hi William..This is Tim from Nottingham, UK..I have read so many of your books and they all have been excellent..My compliments to you..My question is will the taliban take back Afghanistan in your opinion? Asked by: Tim, Nottingham(UK)
The Taliban already control 70% of Southern Afghanistan. They are likely to be a major force in whatever government or governments come to power after the Americans leave... 


(This is me!!! :)))) Do readers get a chance in future to have similar phenomenal books that give us a glimpse of the history of your birthplace, Scotland? Any plans? Asked by: Debolina Raja Gupta 
I have all sorts of ideas for Scottish books, especially one on the Massacre of Glencoe, in which my ancestors played a lead role. But my life is currently in India and I'm not sure if or when I'll ever return to my roots...



How difficult it is to come up with original historical research in this era of internet and wikipedia? Asked by: Rajnish
In South and Central Asian history there are still huge opportunities to discover major caches of new documentation. Delhi, Lahore and Kabul all contain remarkable archives whose depths have not even begun to be plumbed...

Considering that you cater to an audience with a slightly intellectual bent of mind, what is your next book about? Have you started writing it yet? Asked by: Jaya
I'm not sure yet, but I'm currently reading Orlando Figes wonderful book, Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia. It would be wonderful to try and write an Indian equivalent, for while I can't conceive on how you would begin to write a political history of India, it might be possible to write a cultural one, given the underlying cultural unity that exists in sub-Himalayan south asia. I have a vague impression of the landscape I would like to explore, but no map through it as yet. Lets see... 

Do you take critics seriously? Asked by: Suhas
India has a very mixed bunch of critics. Some-- Pankaj Mishra, Chandrahas Chadhury, Supriya Nair, Mihir Sharma Samant Subramaniam- are fantastically bright and literate. But the second division contains some real duds. So while I take all intelligent criticism seriously, you can get some really silly stuff too that is best ignored...


What do you attribute your success as an author to? Asked by: Jason
Haha.. my books, I presume! 

Which is your favourite book? Asked by: Monisha 
My favourite novel? War and Peace. Favourite travel book? Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana. My favourite books of short stories, Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. My favourite hisory book- Steven Runciman's Fall of Constantinople, 1453. Or are you asking me my own books? Well I always love my most recent baby, in this case Return of a King. I think its much the best of my three history books, and much more tightly written than either White Mughals or Last Mughal. 

What can I do to get an autographed copy of the book? Asked by: Sailee 
Flipkart are offering signed books for all pre-orders.

Could you elaborate on the research you did for this book? Asked by: Rasika 
My main research effort was concentrated on finding Afghan sources to compliment the already voluminous British accounts of the war. So I made extensive visits to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 and came home with nine previously unused Persian-language accounts, including two wonderful epic poems and the autobiography of Shah Shuja. Many of these Afghan accounts were orignally printed on the Persian presses of India in the run up to the 1857 uprising. I also accessed the archives of the Russian and British spymasters of the incipient Great Game in Lahore and in Moscow. Then there was the fabulously detailed records of the Calcutta government and military high command in Bengal, now filed in the Indian National Archives in Delhi. It was a massive project that took nearly seven years from first idea to completion.  

What are your words of advice to budding writers? Asked by: Rhea 
Keep writing, clear space to write properly and don't give up: your early drafts will always always depressingly bad, even for established writers. And always remember: re-writing is every bit as important as the writing. Read widely. Strive for perfection. 

Ive hear Maharaja Ranjit Singh did not allow the British to use his territory for the Afghan expedition. What was the reason for that. Was it a wise decision Asked by: akshay 
It was a very wise decision. The British Army of the Indus laid Sindh and Baluchistan waste as they passed by. Ranjit was a class act. The British wanted the Sikhs to fight a British war for them. In the end Ranjit Singh got the British to fight his war for them, and take out his mortal enemy Dost Mohammad. 

Thats me again!!! :)))))  How long did you have the idea for this book in your head? And how long did it actually take for you to research on and finish the entire draft? Asked by: Debolina Raja Gupta 
From start to finish about seven years: quite a lengthy affair, even by Dalrymple standards. But of that the first two were given over to preliminary reading while I was writing Nine Lives, and three for serious archive research. I only started writing in May 2011 and finished the first draft in April 2012. I was still making majir changes to the second proofs six weeks ago. 

Again its me :))))  Almost all your historic works have been centered on and around India. Is your long-term love affair with India a reason for this, or is it vice versa? Asked by: Debolina Raja Gupta 
Yes, India is now my home and the centre of my life. I love it here and don't imagine I will ever leave for good. Most of my ideas for future books have Indian subjects, though there are books I would love to write about Scotland and the Middle East. At some point I would love to revisit the subject matter of From the Holy Mountain and write about the Ottomans. 

Again :)))))) You've re-created so many stories behind so many historical monuments. Have you ever thought of coming out with a book of photographs, depicting these monuments through a new eye and angle? Asked by: Debolina Raja Gupta 
Not a bad idea, Debolina!

And again!!!! :)))))  So much about India, especially Delhi (The Last Mughal & White Mughals) and now straight to Afghanistan? Was this pre-planned, as in a way to plan out your future historic books, or did something specific steer you towards it? Asked by: Debolina Raja Gupta
This is partly a book set in India too. Its as much a book about the East India Company as White Mughals and the Last Mughal. 

Would you classify 'Return of a King' as fiction or non-fiction? Asked by: Sandhya 
I only write non-fiction. My one effort at fiction-- a terrible short story commissioned by the Spectator -- was enough to convince me that fiction was never going to be my strong card...

Is it difficult to find a market for non-fiction books that chronicle history? Asked by: Ankita
No- there is a huge demand for well written history that is barely being met at the moment, at least in India. Everywhere else in the world biography and narrative non-fiction are major genres, but they hardly exist in India as yet. Only Ram Guha is excavating the same seam, and he is at work on a very different subject: 20th C Indian political history. 
 
If you were to describe one defining moment you experienced while researching / writing this book, what would it be? Asked by: Priya 
Getting a sniper shot through the back window of my car at Kandahar airport! 

Sir did the afghans succeed because the british were unaccustomed to the inhospitable and rugged climate Asked by: chinmay 
That was one factor. Economics was a major factor as well. It almost bankrupt the East India Company to occupy Afghanistan as Afghanistan could not be taxed into paying the cost of its own occupation in the way India could. The same factor was very important in causing the Soviets and the Americans to wish to withdraw their troops. Their defeats were as much economic as military.

Does the ongoing Nato war confirm that afghans are a diffuclt country to win against something that first anglo indian war proved Asked by: subbalakhsmi
Its hard to disagree with that!
 
What is the area of this book and which company has published it Asked by: nagendra
The book is the first to be published by the new imprint Bloomsbury India. 

You are seen by some as revisionist historian.Do you agree Asked by: nagendra 
I'm never quite sure what that means. All historians should attempt to rewrite history as they see it. There is no point just repeating what earlier generations of historians thought. 

Sir you are first rate historian.Please elaborate how the first anglo indian war affected Indian historical course Asked by: chinmay 
The First Afghan War was hugely important as a precursor to the 1857 Uprising. Accounts of British defeats in Afghanistan electrified the elites of north India. There was a huge demand for accounts of how it happened and it was in sepoy regiments which were deserted by their officers that the Mutiny began, led by veterans of the Afghan war like Subedar Bakht Khan. 

Mr. Dalrymple what is the most special thing about this book, & what made your mind to write a complete book about only one war? Asked by: Bhushan Sharma 
The two things I am most proud of in this book are the prose and the research, especially finding the fabulous Afghan sources. 

What could India stand to gain from a war torn and a dilapidated economy?Defense or Natural resources? Asked by: Honestraj 
Very little, except that it matters so much to Pakistan. If the Indians were clever they could maybe reach a deal whereby they agreed not to interfere in Afghanistan in return for a Pak promise not to interfere in Kashmir. 

What happened to the families of british soldiers were they killed or did they too flee Asked by: chinmay 
Many were killed, some were captured and the rest enslaved. I met several Afghans who claimed their great grandmothers were British memsahibs captured on the Retreat from Kabul. Thats all folks! Go buy the book! xx 


- Debolina Raja Gupta