Charles Allen

What Did the Mughals Ever Do For Us?

A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal

By

Doubleday 354pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Inevitably we judge the past by the present, and the more recent the past the more harshly we judge. Britain’s Indian empire is a case in point. An institution that was wound up over half a century ago continues to be an object of vituperation in many quarters, not because it was high on the scale of misgovernment or displaced better local government but because it is still remembered at first- and second-generation level as an essentially racist institution that sought to impose its own culture on others. It helps, of course, when an empire keeps records, and in the case of the British empire these records are extensive, accessible and often self-critical. They allow historians to draw conclusions that approach objectivity and, in the case of British India, to conclude that its greatest crime was not being beastly to the natives but economic despoliation: Britain’s systematic dismantling of the local economy to benefit its own. 

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