One of the very first words to enter English parlance, no wonder, is the Bengali or Hindustani word for plunder: loot. In the late eighteenth century, this unfamiliar word suddenly started to buzz across Britain. Because the isles of Britain were awash with loots from India, room after room of imperial plunder.
But how did all these artefacts end up in British royal palaces?
For William Dalrymple, the Scottish historian and writer, the mystery was very simple. It is best explained in a miniature painting of the late Mughal era. Painted by miniaturist artist Bichitr, the picture depicts a scene from August 1765, when young Mughal Emperor Shah Alam, exiled from Delhi and defeated by East India Company troops, was forced into involuntary privatisation. The scroll he was handing down was an order to dismiss his own revenue officials in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and replace them by a set of English traders appointed by Robert Clive.
Released on September 10, William Dalrymple's latest book, The Anarchy, is a graphic retelling of the East India Company's rise from a provincial trading company to the pre-eminent military and political power in all of India.
A broadcaster and critic, Dalrymple's interests span from history and art of the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and the Muslim world. His 2002 book White Mughals, which dealt with an early nineteenth century love affair that took place in Hyderabad between an English official and an Indian woman, became hugely popular.
This new narrative of East India Company is, in Dalrymple's own words, "…the history of the whole monstrous institution in one volume."
The 575-page book traces a 200-year offence which was not only aided and enabled by Indian sepoys but even paid for very largely by the loans given by Indian bankers. In 1757, after defeating Siraj-ud-Daula in the Battle of Plassey, the company moved from being a trading organisation to a nascent colonial power.
Dalrymple in a dramatic story-telling mood showcases many dark secrets that people preferred to overlook. He writes: "There's no way a bunch of foreign merchants with no military might could take over India."
The company, the first corporate entity in the world, was facilitated by the Indian financial class, especially the Marwari bankers of Calcutta and Benares.
The book talks about the degree to which the company was helped by the Marwari community of traders and bankers, especially the Jagat Seths who were Oswal Jain bankers from Jodhpur state.
The book also takes an honest look at the communities of traders and bankers who used the hundi system to facilitate the movement of money and revenue.