Begums, Thugs and White Mughals. The Journals of Fanny by Fanny Parkes,William Dalrymple

By Fanny Parkes,William Dalrymple

Fanny Parkes lived in India among 1822 and 1846 and used to be the correct trip author – brave, indefatigably curious and determinedly autonomous. Her journals hint her transformation from prim memsahib to eccentric, sitar-playing Indophile, fluent in Urdu, serious of British rule and passionate in her appreciation of Indian tradition. Fanny is fascinated with the trial of thugs, the decorating of a Hindu bride and swears via the efficacy of opium on complications. To learn her is to get as shut as you'll be able to to a real photograph of early colonial India – the sacred and the profane, the violent and the gorgeous, the straight-laced sahibs and the ‘White Mughals’ who fell in love with India, married Indian better halves and equipped bridges among the 2 cultures.

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Extra resources for Begums, Thugs and White Mughals. The Journals of Fanny Parkes

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Between 1805–10, bibis appear in only one in every four wills; by 1830 it is one in six; by the middle of the century they have all but disappeared. Englishmen who had taken on Indian customs began to be objects of surprise even, on occasions, of derision in Calcutta. In the early years of the nineteenth century there was growing ‘ridicule’ of men ‘who allow whiskers to grow and who wear turbans &c in imitation of the Musulmans’. Curries were no longer acceptable dishes for parties, and pyjamas – common dress in eighteenth-century Calcutta and Madras – for the first time became something that an Englishman slept in rather than something he wore during the day.

There is a standoff, and eventually the Edens do turn down the gifts so giving huge offence to their host. Already Fanny Parkes is instinctively embracing Indian custom and trying to adapt herself to the Indian scene, trying to avoid rudeness and unpleasantness. The Eden sisters are more worried about what others will think: instinctively they want to play by the imperial rules, to keep within the accepted boundaries. Parkes’ slow ‘chutnification’ (to use Salman Rushdie’s excellent term) continued long after Parkes left the Eden’s camp.

Everyone, however, was saying it would be very different when the ship was at sea; of which, indeed, there was little doubt, for to go on as we were would have been impossible. Off the Isle of Wight the pilot left us to our captain’s guidance; the breeze was favourable; we were sailing so smoothly, there was scarcely any motion. The last farewell tears dropped as I passed the Needles and the coast of Hampshire, whilst memory recalled the happy days I had spent there, and in the Forest, the beautiful Forest!

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Begums, Thugs and White Mughals. The Journals of Fanny by Fanny Parkes,William Dalrymple
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