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Penguin India Book Launch: Three Essential Elements to seduce all Book Lovers


When I received the invite to attend the book launch of “Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857”, edited by William Dalyrmple and Yuthika Sharma, I was over the moon. I have been an ardent fan of  William Dalyrmple’s books.
Let me begin with a note of appreciation with regard to the book launch that was organized by Penguin Books India with Shangri La’s Eros Hotel at Café Uno lawns, 19 Ashoka Road, New Delhi.  It was almost a fairy tale book launch because there was flawless perfection in all the arrangements that were made. Congrats to the teams of both Penguin Books India and Shangri La’s Eros Hotel that made this book launch almost unforgettable.

Make it special
Having attended several book launches in New Delhi, I liked the attention to detail that was a real treat for the guests. There was a stamp of personalized service. Each guest was individually greeted by a small team of enthusiastic staff from Shangri La’s Eros Hotel and gifted an envelope that offers a ______ sshh! I am not about 'to reveal what’s in it here. It’s a secret surprise that’s an absolute delight for all the ladies out there. It’s  a master stroke at winning ladies’ hearts, that I can vouch for. You can see that my two colleagues are having a great time too.


And yep, that's me looking grey.


As you can see, we were having a great time. 
The bonus was that the food was out of this world. Every time I have eaten prawns dishes in any hotel, it has made me feel sick afterward. The absolutely mouth watering delicious prawns dish that was generously served by the folks at Shangri La’s Eros Hotel melted my defences, got me on a self indulgent prawn eating spreen and I honestly did expect to feel sick later. Nothing happened. I can’t believe this but I was floored by this. The food was truly out of this world. And nope, they didn’t pay me to write this. When I love something, I don’t need to be bribed. I just go and write about the experience. Period. 
Intelligent conversations around the Book
Coming back to the book “Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857,” it explores the art forms during the reign of the Mughal Empire and points towards the changes that occurred in the art scenario with the rise of British rule in India. Many beautiful pictures portray the Mughal period through vivid imagery depicting emperors and their royal courts,  entourages and courtesans, and so on. The interiors of royal courts, the hierarchical positioning of various dignitaries are also detailed well in these intricate images.
The focus of book “Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857” is on the period after the “Great Mughals” and it goes on to prove that it is not true that all cultural renaissance came to a standstill or decline after them.
For instance: What comes as a surprise for most is the revelation that Muhammad Shah II was a great art patron. In Indian history, this discovery would perhaps breathe in a new lease of life in pointing towards the fact that the reign of Muhammad Shah II invites a little more curiosity than before. Depictions of his reign are intricately recorded in images such as those that show him watching an elephant fight or in celebrating Holi, which is actually a Hindu festival.  Another painting that catches one’s interest is “Muhammad Shah in a Garden.” It offers a detailed landscape painting from around 1735, features the emperor on horseback on the imperial grounds.
But in 1739, Nadir Shah attacked Delhi. History lessons have told us how thousands of citizens were massacred and this Persian ruler took away the prized Peacock Throne of Shahjahan. When the British arrived in India, they came for expansion of their commercial and business interests and not as conquerors.
The book “Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857” zooms in on David Ochterlony, the British ambassador at the Mughal court in Delhi.
A painting of the court of “Darbar of Akbar II” (dated 1820) is depitcted in the which Ochterlony. The haughty looking British resident is depicted standing among the Mughals in the royal court and he is formally dressed in his British red coat. You will be fascinated to see his aggressive body stance in the royal court where he was supposed to show respect towards the Mughal Emperor. Instead you will see him looking arrogant.
It makes you wonder: was that a sign of things to come? Was it an indication that the British commercial interests were changing into a more political nature or a need to capture positions of political power and sovereign authority? We will never really know. But these paintings offer us hidden stories to interpret. 
The book further shows us yet another interesting painting. No, don’t yawn. This painting will interest you. It shows a different side to David Ochterlony. In this watercolour painting, David Ochterlony is no longer appearing formal and ‘British’ but almost going ‘native’ by wearing Indian clothes and keeping the company of many women. He looks relaxed and is smoking a hookah and watching female dancers. The secret buzz is that Ochterlony had 13 Indian wives with whom he would parade near the imperial Red Fort. Each of his wives were on her own elephant. Now, didn’t that wake you up and make you curious about this book?
The book moves on to another British colonial patron, William Fraser who lived in Delhi for three decades. Fraser was Scottish but he had an Indian family. As a patron of art, he commissioned artists for the Fraser Album. This album is a comprehensive compendium of portraits of soldiers, villagers, dancing women, Indian nobles. The photographic detailing in this album is vivid and a remarkable one, most definitely every Book Collector’s delight.
A Dramatic Ending
The book signals the end of the golden period of ‘paintings’ with the work of Ghulam Ali Khan. He was said to be the last royal Mughal painter. 
Towards the end, we are shown a depressing photograph of  Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal emperor of Delhi,  taken in May 1858. It shows the emperor reclining as though helpless on pillows, and gazing in the direction of the camera. What strikes you from this photograph is the hard hitting truth, that moment, when you experience his shame of being  a defeated man, the worst fate for an Emperor.  The picture is completed by a wall text that reads like this:
Delhi was once a paradise,
Where love held sway and reigned;
But its charm lies ravished now
And only ruins remain.”
This book is a Collector’s item and a must-have classic for all art and history buffs. I can’t tell you how richly layered it is. To find out, you have to go grab a copy for yourself. Penguin India, thank you and the amazing team of editors for bringing out a masterpiece like this. 

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