Chances are, if you Wikipedia or Google ‘Kohinoor’ you download the colourful and fanstastical history richly supplied by the market scandal and city yaks as gleaned by the junior Magistrate Theo Metcalfe, upon Lord Dalhousie’s directive 170 years ago. William Dalrymple who I consider the only last Mughal left (his twitter bio reads Kabutar baaz and Mehrauli Goat herd!) and the effervescent U.K based journalist Anita Anand, combine their research potency to cut through the mythological and fabled legends around the Mountain of Light –The Koh-i-Noor.
Kohinoor- The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond, Juggernaut, travels the reader through ‘centuries of bloody conquests, pillage, looting and seizure’ of this carbon form. The authority lent to this retelling of history by the duo is Dalrymple’s chancing upon previously untranslated records of a Persian historian Muhammad Kazim Marvi which contests the assertions of Metcalfe’s ‘anecdotal’ version and establish unequivocally amongst other claims, the famously claimed ‘Turban exchange’ between Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila and Persian General Nader Shah couldn’t have come to pass. Through the hands that Koh-i-Noor changed with time, the mist around the famed rock grew denser and more fanciful and Dalrymple and Anand take it upon themselves to present an objective analysis of history’s turns and twists involving the possession of the fabulous Kohinoor. Not for them a polemical essay on the entitlement of the contentious diamond- on last count amongst five claimants – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and also the Taliban! The merit of the book should therefore be judged so- as a dispassionate objective account of the celebrated piece of adornment.
The two parts of the book see Dalrymple whisking the reader into the depths and some ‘bloody’ lows of the diamond’s early history. From the Syamantaka gem as mentioned in the Bhagavad Purana manuscript to possible sightings of the gem in Mughal times to its capture by Nader Shah where its history becomes more sure footed. Anand threads the history forward through the warp and weft of royal intrigue, passion, betrayal and finally the most poignant part of how the British took way the diamond from an eight-year-old Prince – albeit not without signing a ‘Treaty’ and not before making up its mind to separate the feisty mother, Maharani Jindan Kaur from the innocent King-in-waiting, for the fear of a rebellion. Thence, the fate of the feted diamond is sealed, locked and shipped to the sovereign of the Great Britain, to be trumpeted and lionized at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London, finally to be housed in – The Tower of London.
The blood-spattered history of the Koh-i-Noor, is a fabulous and disinterested recounting of events as is, devoid of passionate pleas of the rights and wrongs. History is doomed to haunt us, if you’re reading the book and hunting for bits of personal author sightings then you have to suffice with Anand’s apparent love towards the headstrong, Jindan Kaur or the recounting of the rise and fall of the mighty Ahmed Shah Abdali, through Dalrymple’s pen. The imagery of gore egged by greed will make you immune to the stabbings, bludgeoning and slow poisoning of the players in the diamond’s saga! Maggots falling off Ahmed Shah Abdali’s nose afflicted with a tumour, as he descends into death is a visceral recounting of the many tales of, dissipation, greed, deceit, blindings and torture in the book.
Ultimately, the book will leave you wondering about the supposed curse upon the bearer of the gem that gets whispered throughout the text. Is the curse a fiction or a fact is best left to fate! For the moment, the authors succeed in unearthing as many carats of truth as possible, given the paucity of references- since the Kohinoor’s unearthing, from the Godavari riverbed!
Kohinoor- The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond
William Dalrymple Anita Anand