City of Djinns: A Year In Delhi by William Dalrymple
The foppish, snobbish Indian Muslim nobility were no different from the French and English aristocrats. They were as cultured, sophisticated and sensual. Eighteenth century Indian Muslim aristocrats visiting each other exchanged poems like the Restoration wits — with one difference: the poems were not self-composed but written by popular contemporary poets and copied beautifully in the finest calligraphy.
Sex was the ruling passion. Elephants would be seen standing outside courtesans’ houses in old Delhi in the evenings while the noblemen were entertained inside. A famous courtesan used to appear in society completely nude — decorated only in body paint. The paint was ingeniously applied, however, to create the illusion she was fully dressed.
These and other vignettes enliven City of Djinns, William Dalrymple’s wonderful book on Delhi. He has a hundred tales to tell, about present-day Delhi and the past. But most fascinating are the ones about Mughal India.
Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the famous Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, was highly sexed. He had innumerable affairs; there was even gossip about his relationship with his favourite daughter, Jahanara. Manucci, the Italian traveller, alluded to him “harvesting his own fruit” without sounding the least bit shocked. The noblemen and generals, however, did not like their wives’ affairs with the emperor — and he had to pay for it in the end. His son, Aurangzeb, seized the throne, throwing him into prison and killing his other sons.
Aurangzeb was the most religious of the Mughal emperors — and the most bloodthirsty. He persecuted Hindus and Sikhs and destroyed temples, sparking rebellions across the country. Had it not been for him, her family would still be ruling India, said a woman who claimed to be descended from the Mughals when Dalrymple met her in Delhi.