The Anarchy

William Dalrymple is one of my favorite writers of non-fiction. He burst upon the scene in 1989 as a precocious, if occasionally a bit snotty travel writer, with In Xanadu in which he traced the path of Marco Polo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to Xanadu in Inner Mongolia. He really hit stride, however, with City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, an essentially perfect example of the “Year in” genre that combines humor, history and analysis and remains to this day an excellent guide to historical Delhi. In From the Holy Mountain Dalrymple traveled from Greece to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt to understand the ancient roots of the Christian populations in these countries. Sadly, Dalrymple’s trip has become in some respects a last document of cultures now disappearing under the stress of war, revolution and suppression. As Dalrymple aged he turned more and more to pure history. In The Last Mughal and Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, Dalyrmple gives what I think are the definitive accounts of the Indian mutiny of 1857 and the British invasion of Afghanistan of 1839-1842. Especially notable in both of these books is that Dalyrmple draws on previous ignored or underused Indian and Afghani accounts. There are other books, collections of journalistic essays, photographs and more but I will mention just one more, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, a beautiful and unforgettable account of nine people in modern India each walking a unique religious path.

In his latest book, The Anarchy, Dalrymple recounts the remarkable history of the East India Company from its founding in 1599 to 1803 when it commanded an army twice the size of the British Army and ruled over the Indian subcontinent. I review The Anarchy at Here’s one bit from my review:

The Mughal emperor Shah Alam, for example, had been forced to flee Delhi leaving it to be ruled by a succession of Persian, Afghani and Maratha warlords. But after wandering across eastern India for many years, he regathered his army, retook Delhi and almost restored Mughal power. At a key moment, however, he invited into the Red Fort with open arms his “adopted” son, Ghulam Qadir. Ghulam was the actual son of Zabita Khan who had been defeated by Shah Alam sixteen years earlier. Ghulam, at that time a young boy, had been taken hostage by Shah Alam and raised like a son, albeit a son whom Alam probably used as a catamite. Expecting gratitude, Shah Alam instead found Ghulam driven mad. Ghulam took over the Red Fort and cut out the eyes of the Mughal emperor, immediately calling for a painter to immortalize the event.

Read the whole review and buy the book. It’s a hell of a story.


A catamite! Any wonder Ghulam was driven mad. It's a wonder he didn't cut off a different body part. As for Dalrymple's book Nine Lives, one might recall the book by Paul Varjak of the same title . Well, there's now another book titled Nine Lives by Paul Varjak by Dave Dumanis (stories of "racism, sexism and sexuality, planetwide nuclear and environmental disaster—in a Twilight Zone-meets-J.D. Salinger format true to both the era and Varjak's description"). Not sure if the new Nine Lives has any catamites, but the original by Varjak was "sensitive, angry, tensely felt, and dirty, but only incidentally".

There's also an Ariana Grande song called Seven Rings. I smell conspiracy.

I am embarrassed to say I had to look up "catamite!" How did I not know this?

Anyway, reminds me to load up The Last Mughul for my trip next week.

One resists disclosing that one even knows the word. I came across it recently in the first sentence of Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess (author of, among others, A Clockwork Orange): "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite, when Ali announced that the Archbishop had come to see me." Now that's an opening sentence. Not an opening sentence ,but this one from A River Runs Through It impressed me: "The Burns family ran a general store in a one store town and still managed to do badly. They were Methodist, a denomination my father [he was a Presbyterian minister] always referred to as Baptists who could read". Insulting Methodists and Baptists in one sentence, not bad. At least Maclean didn't say they kept catamites.

I don't remember ever seeing or hearing the word, until I came across it in of all places Cormac McCarthy's _The Road_, and had to look it up.

I first encountered it in a medievalist fantasy novel when I was a teenager . Some arrogant nobleman was keeping a catamite and the Inquisition analogue wanted to have a talk with him. I had to look the word up.

Resist the temptation to look back at ancient pederasty with a modern lens. Recall that man-boy relations were respectable, while man-man relations were laughable or an insult (see below and also some works by historian Peter Gay (sic))

Internet: In ancient Greece and Rome, a catamite was a pubescent boy who was the intimate companion of a young man, usually in a pederastic relationship. It was generally a term of affection and literally means "Ganymede" in Latin, but it was also used as a term of insult when directed toward a grown man.

Peter Gay was born as Peter Fröhlich. He changed his name to Gay after escaping the Nazis to America. The word didn't have a sexual connotation back then, or at least it wasn't widely known.

I read Mr. Dalrymple's "Last Moghul." Highly recommended. Most Sepoy Mutiny histories are overly broad.

Especially interesting is his biographic sketch of John Nicholson, "the very incarnation of violence [...] energetic, ruthless, confident." Toxic masculinity incarnate.

Hey Dick the B*, off-topic, I think I'm going to buy my first firearm, in of all places Greece, which has very strict gun laws. Long story short, it's the weirdest rifle, looks like a shotgun, double barreled, but the barrels are stacked vertically, it shoot a 45 cal. bullet (not a slug I am told), also called a "11 mm" in Europe, and it store exactly two slugs (no chamber, just fold the stock and insert the bullets), which I am told, for wild boar hunting popular here, is obsolete since they like to buy such 'shotgun rifles' that store bullets in the stock (magazine), modify the 5 bullet magazine (legal) into a 12+ magazine (remove some blocking tab) and make it so this "shotgun" rifle fires as many bullets as is in the chamber (i.e., semi-automatic). But these rifles look like a shotguns! Unless there's a mistake in translation (and I think there is, I was trying to tell them this is a shotgun that fires 'slugs' not bullets, but they insisted it's not a shotgun), it's strange to me. Wooden stock (my 'rifle'/shotgun) and silver engraving, beautiful, I've not yet fired it, it was actually slightly rusty and we're de-rusting it with WD-40. Keep in mind I'm in favor of strict gun control too! Bye.


Shotguns shoot either shells filled with pellets, like bb's of various sizes depending on purpose, or shells with lead slugs/some are rifled - deer hunting in places that don't allow rifle. Also, shotgun barrels come in different "chokes." If shooting slugs, make sure the barrels are wide or open chokes. Some fowl hunters use barrels with tight chokes/muzzles somewhat narrow/tight, to keep the pellet pattern tight at distance. Shooting a slug through that could be a problem.

Sounds like you have an over/under shotgun. I think .45 ACP pistol ammunition is similar in size to .410 ga. (smallest/lightest) shotgun shells in US firearms. If the barrels are not rifled/grooved to make the bullet spin, shooting pistol ammunition could be inaccurate/tumbling.

Is there rifling in the barrels or are they smooth-bore like shotguns?

How old is the weapon and how rusty? Be very careful. Maybe ask a gunsmith to look at it. Wear ear and eye protection if you shoot it.

I have seen men at ranges firing double-barreled rifles getting ready for Africa big game hunts. These are fine, expensive rifles with heavy caliber rifle cartridges. The practice is to make two accurate, quick shots - they kick like mules - so as to put the cape buffalo or lion down without endangering the others in the hunt, or requiring the professional hunter to make the kill, or far worse to track a wounded, dangerous animal.

An over-under is potentially a beautiful piece of art. It can be a combination too (of course): rifle and shotgun. That is has engravings is possibly an indication of quality.

At least for entertainment purposes, it would hard to beat the Flashman novels about the first Afghan war and the Sepoy Rebellion.

"Delhi in 1737 had around 2 million inhabitants. Larger than London and Paris combined"

I am skeptical of this estimate. I tried to look for Dalrymple's source for the claim, but it didn't seem very credible. According to the first (?) British census, Delhi's population was 405,000 in 1901, and it reached 2 million only some time between 1951-1961. While it's plausible that Delhi's population declined a lot when the Mughal empire collapsed, 2 million in 1734 still seems rather implausible.

Generally, numbers--not only population numbers but what year (or even century) something happened and so on--in Indian historiography before British rule appear to be somewhere between guesstimates and outright fiction.

Also, it threatens London's dick size.

If you look at pictures of Delhi in the 1860s it's far too small to have had 2 Million Inhabitants.

Alex's point about Dalrymple's bias in favor of Indian rulers versus the EIC is well taken. Given the low quality of the local rulers Dalrymple describes, it's not clear why the average Indian should have preferred them to the EIC. Perhaps you could make some kind of trickle-down effect argument, given that the EIC, unlike local rulers, shipped Indian wealth back to Europe. But Dalrymple doesn't make that argument.

From reading Dalrymple, my impression is that he is much taken with the luxurious lifestyle of Oriental despots, with their palaces and harems and festivals, and hates the EIC for putting a stop to it. He is remarkably unconcerned about the average Indian, preferring to spend pages upon pages describing the ostentatious lifestyles of emperors and princes.

APL forever.

I think the APL Party is best hope the world has ever sern

I think the APL Party is best hope the world has ever seen for peace.

Did you know that the flag of the USA is heavily influenced by the flag of the East India Company? Look it up. Truly one of the most interesting and ambitious entities of the last 1000 years.

"... 1803 when it commanded an army twice the size of the British Army": in normal times quite a small army could be "twice the size of the British Army". WKPD: "in 1793, the army was a small, awkwardly administered force of barely 40,000 men."

1803, was hardly normal though - how big was the British Army at the time? Britannica reports "... the regular army. The strength of the latter was reduced to 95,800 after the Peace of Amiens [1802]."

Brazilian patriotic forces have seized the Venezuelan embassy. The Venezuelan totalitarian nightmare is nearing the end.

"The situation of India was such that scarcely any aggression could be without a pretext, either in old laws or in recent practice. All rights were in a state of utter uncertainty; and the Europeans who took part in the disputes of the natives confounded the confusion, by applying to Asiatic politics the public law of the West, and analogies drawn from the feudal system. If it was convenient to treat a Nabob as an independent prince, there was an excellent plea for doing so. He was independent, in fact. If it was convenient to treat him as a mere deputy of the Court of Delhi, there was no difficulty; for he was so in theory. If it was convenient to consider his office as an hereditary dignity, or as a dignity held during life only, or as a dignity held only during the good pleasure of the Mogul, arguments and precedents might be found for every one of those views. The party who had the heir of Baber in their hands, represented him as the undoubted, the legitimate, the absolute sovereign, whom all subordinate authorities were bound to obey. The party against whom his name was used did not want plausible pretexts for maintaining that the empire was in fact dissolved, and that though it might be decent to treat the Mogul with respect, as a venerable relic of an order of things which had passed away, it was absurd to regard him as the real master of Hindostan." -- Macaulay, in his essay on Clive

Sadly, Dalrymple’s trip has become in some respects a last document of cultures now disappearing under the stress of war, revolution and suppression. Find the Orwellian euphemism in this sentence.

Another good book on colonialism in India is The Theft of India by Roy Moxham. Covers moves to colonize India during the 15-18th centuries by the Portuguese, the Brits, the French and the Dutch.

An era of darkness and Inglorious empire by Shashi Tharoor. Very well researched but focus exclusively on the Brits in India.

Another good book on colonialism in India is The Theft of India by Roy Moxham. Covers moves to colonize India during the 15-18th centuries by the Portuguese, the Brits, the French and the Dutch.

An era of darkness and Inglorious empire by Shashi Tharoor. Very well researched but focus exclusively on the Brits in India.

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