William Dalrymple writes evocatively and his research is immaculate as much as it's painstaking. He pieces together a story of love between a British resident and a Persian muslim from mere letters and few documents, and this is highly commendable.
While he takes lot of pain to explain the prevalence of inter-marriages between the Brits and the Indians even before the 17th century, he gets a little carried away with the magnitude of the task in hand. I really thought the book could be about 100 pages shorter. There's a fairly long rant about gardens and the kind of plants the Brits longed for. A dozen other irrelevant characters creep in and out of the book without adding value to the story.
While I appreciate the bulid-up to the central tale, the narration gets a tad winded while portraying the sincerity of the love between Kirkpatrick and Khar-ul-Nissa. While a lot may particularly enjoy the description of the events leading to the story, I found it a bit boring and out of place.
Nevertheless, this a towering piece of non-fiction and much credit must be given to Dalrymple for unearthing important source documents and recreating a fascinating and binding love story in the 18th century. It's an intriguing tale of how the Brits went from India's neigbourly friends to bitter enemies. James Kirkpatrick did preside over the devastation of relations between the British and the Indian kings. He went so far as to openly contradict the then Governor-General Lord Wellesley by writing about the ruthless policies which would lead to an open rebellion between the British and the natives. His position of course, was not one of great moral authority after he had 'debauched' himself by converting into a Muslim and marrying Khair.
Dalrymple gives much to ponder, had Kirkpatrick and gentlemen of his refined generation survived, would've the British lasted longer? Would’ve the Brits changed the framework of their treaties, which merely intended to bankrupt the existing rulers and bring discord? James Kirkpatrick did have the power to shape policy of British India in the latter years had he survived.
As a rule, historians don't speculate and form opinions, but this story is as much about the affair, as the subsequent events which led to shaping India in the 18th and 19th century.
Read it if you absolutely must, else pick up a comprehensive review detailing the important points and historical significance of the times.
* Beauty is subjective and all that jazz. In my mind she was, to use the worst possible word and one that needs to be banished forever, AWESOME.