With William Dalrymple in Jaipur 52

William Dalrymple gave an extremely fulsome introduction to my talk on Sikunder Burnes:

“He defied the British Foreign Office magnificently and we should really be having a session on Craig’s own life where he very honorably exposed nefarious Foreign Office dealings in Central Asia and the willingness of the Blair Bush combo to countenance massive human rights abuses in the name of the War on Terror. He stood down from the Foreign Office, an act of considerable honour rarely seen in civil servants elsewhere in the world.”

“Since that made it impossible for him to continue his career as an Ambassador he has returned to Britain, he is of course a Scot originally, and has just produced an extraordinary book about another mischievious Scot with mixed feelings about the British government, Bokhara Burnes as he is known to Great Game enthusiasts. Bokhara Burnes was a travel writer who was actually a British spy, a player of the Great Game, a key player in the rivalry between Britain and Russia, but who again very honourably opposed the invasion of Afghanistan until he was bought out by a Baronetcy and then lost his life in Kabul. It is an extraordinary story and one that Craig tells with great aplomb in his new biography.”

“We had a lot of fun when I was working on the subject in the National Archives and I would meet Craig there and go for a drink afterwards in the Meridien Hotel next door and exchange notes on secret documents which we discovered there. But I will leave him to tell his own story. Ladies and Gentlemen please give a warm welcome to Craig Murray.”

I very much enjoyed making this particular riff while I was talking, at 27 minutes in on the video:

“Alexander Burnes became famous as a spy and what the British call an explorer. I always find this absolutely a fascinating idea. We call him an explorer because he went and met peoples who had been there for thousands of years and didn’t feel they had any need to be discovered and had a culture which was every bit as developed as his culture, but nonetheless he was an “explorer” for finding these poor benighted people who didn’t previously exist because they hadn’t met a British person, which is a very strange concept. The British idea of what an explorer is I think is quite amusing. He was, let’s say, a pioneer in introducing new cultures to the British who had not met the British before, that might be a fairer way of putting it.”

“And of course first encounters with the British could often turn out to be violent and unpleasant, and many were. That is one of the things with which I struggled in writing the book, I think that struggle is obvious in parts of the book, which is how do you write a book, about somebody who in many ways was a good and admirable person, but served an Imperial project which in itself was not necessarily a good thing. And coming to terms with our Imperial heritage is particularly difficult for Scottish people. I would argue that we were actually the first victims of English imperialism. So for us, it’s a particularly complex question.”

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52 thoughts on “With William Dalrymple in Jaipur

  • Alcyone

    Good talk Craig. Pity it was so marginalised leaving you with a motley audience of unemployed hangers-on.

    Still, I hope your pal Dalrymple has given you a few tips to relay to your publisher on how to tap into, and distribute in, the pretty large Indian market.

    By the way, are you both competing on who can consume more cloth in having their trousers made, or what? Best of Scottish Luck with that, and better luck with the book.

    • Alcyone

      ‘Good talk’ was perhaps a little understated, fascinating more appropriate.

      One question: which is the pronunciation of Kabul used by locals in Afghanistan? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE1JlB4bhoA

      I think I know the answer, and if I’m right, I wonder why you choose to use the other (especially in an Indian setting)?

      • craig Post author

        It is a strange thing that all round the world foreigners can’t pronounce their own names. The French even miss the S off Paris.

        You are right, it was a disastrous missed opportunity. The talk wasn’t in the programme, so the many people who would have been interested in Alexander Burnes didn’t know it was on. Plus it was the last day of the festival, the crowds had thinned very considerably and most of the people who had come especially for the festival had left. Those remaining were, as you suggest, indeed disproportionately the local curious, with little connection with books.

        Which was a shame as it was a much better presentation.

        • Alcyone

          “It is a strange thing that all round the world foreigners can’t pronounce their own names.”

          A laugh is worth a thousand arguments!
          I truly empathise with you Craig on the slot and the trip. I am very tempted to say I told you so, but I won’t. It crossed my mind, does Dalrymple feel threatened by you? He should have advised you not to come, knowing fully better (I hope you are reading William). Or, better still have invited you much more promptly, being aware of the new publication and timed a properly popular slot; also knowing it’s relevance to more contemporary times. I have to voice, highly insensitive of him and very poor form. Jaipur is not exactly down the road from Edinburgh.

          Further, I know he lives like a modern-day Maharaja (probably with an equal ego to boot), and how dare he at the last minute, ask you to come earlier because a slot fell through! Typical Indian organisation and attitudes of convenience. Pitiable country, with a population out of control, too big to be manageable, too corrupt (today including in the mind and culture) making it a very brutal society to live in except for the privileged few. Talk about state-provided education and basic healthcare, it’s practically non-existent.

          Back on topic, (‘Will.I.Am’) Dalrymple you owe it to invite Craig NOW to the Southbank event this summer should there be one.

          • craig Post author

            You did indeed tell me so, but there wasn’t an invite to a better organised next year on offer as an alternative.

            I really don’t think William sees me as a threat – I don’t pretend to be in the same league. In fact I think the opposite is the case. I think William maintained my invitation against the sniffy advice of his establishment friends. It has been hilarious here to witness the snobs in the authors’ room snubbing me and pretending to have no idea who I am. I was in the audience for a declaration by Luke Harding of the Guardian that there are no important British whistleblowers.

            I should note the exception of the wonderful Helena Kennedy who was great as always.

            I can’t speak for William, but surmise that he thinks he has been really radical and good by giving me a platform at all. Plus, I like him. He does indeed have the life of Riley, but I begrudge nobody less.

          • Alcyone

            Craig, when I first looked at the program some months ago, it was not revealed that the Rajasthan Chief Minister was Chief Guest (indians love that sort of thing and it seems so does Dalrymple) or that Zee (whose Chairman also one knows) were the main sponsor. Either of them would’ve stiffened Dalrymple’s spine. In another period successful writers had some character. It’s a sad reflection of the times that people get so enamoured by success, even when the individual in question has so little value to society at large. Indians are particularly good at being sycophantic and easily enamoured by white-skins. They are fast becoming a country of wimps, only better off than Pakistan, a country of pimps.

            Dalrymple has started fancying himself as an artist taking pictures with his mobile phone. For context, rather surprisingly, I consider Bob Dylan to be one of the greatest living writers of our time. Now, he is indeed a true artist, truly creative. So where is Bob Dylan and where is the deep-establishment idol, Dalrymple still milking essentially the same larger subject over decades.

            “We live in a political world
            Where courage is a thing of the past
            Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
            The next day could be your last”

            Not his greatest song, but the lyrics are still highly creative.

            In summary, let’s not dilute the fact that Dalrymple invites you half-way around the world to the dessert of Jaipur where allegedly 300,000 people attend and then shafts you into a corner with 50 pedestrians, all the while knowing that you have a good book and a few good lessons to reveal; stuff that the more discerning attendees would be interested in.

            Let’s not dilute his rather poor judgment and disgraceful actions. And he’s a fellow Scot at that? He should come on here and apologise or at a minimum redeem himself as I first suggested.

            One thing that really gets my goat is to see people grow/age and not gather an ounce of wisdom in their lives. Instead they acquire pot-bellies in the self-same spirit of acquisitive ambition and success. What a world we have created.

          • craig Post author

            I fear the threading is going to go wrong. This is a reply to your post at 23.03.

            I think intention is very important. I don’t think that William intended that I wouldn’t appear in the programme or would have such a thin audience. I think rather he intended to help my new historical career by boosting it before the world. The problem is my book did not appear before November by when the original programme was long set. I don’t think William had a grasp on the logistics of getting a last minute replacement properly publicised and catered for. The event revolves around him and so by the time my arrangements were being put in place he was swamped. In brief, I think his kind intentions didn’t quite work out properly.

      • Alcyone

        I was typing my comment MJ while you were posting, so well said. And Jodhpur is still farther down the road from Jaipur.

  • Sharp Ears

    I enjoyed that greatly. Thanks.

    It was good to have a film with high sound and visual quality. You had a nice introduction too from William Dalrymple.

    My viewing brought the total to 180 which is good going for a day.

    • Alcyone

      It’s 98 views Sharpie; too much time warring at the keyboard? So, you are enamoured by Dalrymple? For what reason?(Anything to do with your favourite hobby-horse? He’s a dwarf in comparison to Craig in the Wisdom or Balls departments, no?

      • Sharp Ears

        Off your trolley as usual Villager.

        #JLF2017: Sikunder Burnes
        ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival

        Your acidic comment is superfluous. As I said, it was a very nice introduction from William Dalrymple.




        Published on 23 Jan 2017

        Craig Murray introduced by William Dalrymple

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        • Alcyone

          Thanks for your quick and half-baked reply Sharpie. To my questions I shall add: Dalrymple, not much of a speaker, is he, especially given his great success as a writer?

          More importantly, nice introduction or not, not a nice man is he, the way he has treated Craig?

          • Ian

            So you have a beef with Dalrymple and come across as embittered and envious. Ok, we get the picture,enough already.

          • Sharp Ears

            Could you please stop dropping your invective and personal remarks on here Villager. People do not want to read such stuff on a political blog.

            Try Twitter.

  • Pól Ó Duibhir

    It was at least good to have a good quality recording of this. Also the presentation appeared more structured than that in Montrose, though I appreciate the context was a bit different.

    I am currently in the middle of reading the book and I find this background piece helpful in keeping a focus.

    I was very interested in your chasing up of sources – what persistence and dedication.

    There is surely another book, or at least a very extended pamphlet, in a chronicle of your pursuit of the project, though it might be fully appreciated by other researchers.

    • craig Post author

      Thank you, to be perfectly honest I watched the Montrose recording and was pretty horrified by how dull and rambling I was! But my “no notes” technique means I have to give a few talks on a topic before it sharpens up. My first talks on Scottish independence were a bit rubbish too.

      • Pól Ó Duibhir

        While Montrose was less structured and more hesitantly delivered, the big problem there was the actual video and audio coverage. In any event I enjoyed both videos but Montrose was harder to watch and keep concentration.

        In my final sentence above, what I meant (and accidentally omitted the word) was that ONLY other researchers would likely fully appreciate your whole research saga.

        I have done some local and family history research, on a relatively small scale, and I am in awe of your persistence.

        I do know, again in a small way, the satisfaction of working to restore someone who has been forgotten to their rightful place in history.


      • Old Mark

        Excellent sound quality and an engrossing talk Craig, which I’ve played back in full at last.

        I hope you were able to shift a few signed copies of the book in Jaipur on the back of this talk!

        Of the several interesting points covered in the talk the following stood out for me-

        1. The fact that during Burnes’ time in India, essentially 1820-41, the old relaxed mores about relationships between ‘John Company’ employees and Indian women prevailed- but that in the decades after his death Victorian prudishness and hypocrisy then took over, to the detriment, in Burnes’ case, of a decent biography being written about the man- until now.

        2. The ‘lost papers’ scenario. As you say, these ‘gaps’ in the public record, whether they be memoirs, diaries or official papers, are the source of much conjecture or, as official apologists sometime argue. ‘conspiracy theorising’. (Next time you are in the Nat Archives ask for details of the records held relating to the ‘palace coup’ we arranged -and got the SAS to execute- in Oman in 1973; you’ll find they are especially sparse!)

        3.Dalrymple’s comment about the English employees of the East India company staying in the metropolitan centres, while the Scots went ‘up country’ rings very true. It is reflected in what happened on the other side of the world in North America, where the English stayed essentially in New England/South Ontario/Maryland & the Carolinas & while the Scots, in the the case of the US, passed thru Cumberland gap and settled the frontier, and in the case of Canada provided over three quarters of the employees and agents of the Hudson’s Bay company.

  • Rose

    I enjoyed your talk Craig. It helped to put into perspective the book which I must admit I am struggling with.Coming from a different background and age,it’s not a natural subject I would have chosen to read about, but your “bigger picture” analysis is useful and rewarding.
    Have you considered bringing this presentation to Norfolk? We’re not all dyed in the wool old dears you know (:-

  • RobG

    Craig, I’ve got to crash out for the night in an hour or so, and I have a whole host of other things to get through, so I’ve only been able to listen to the first fifteen minutes of your speech. I’ll listen to the rest tomorrow, because it will no doubt be quite fascinating.

    In the meantime (here we go), starting from around 6 mins 45 secs, you state that for the last two hundred years governments have made the same mistakes time and time again, and you seem to suggest that this will always be so. My contention here is that we can no longer afford to make mistakes, not only with regard to weapons of mass destruction, but also because of our now highly technological societies. This isn’t 1939 (although at times it highly resembles it), when most countries in the West were still mostly agricultural. We now not only have a huge number of nuclear plants but also oil refineries, chemical plants, etc, all of which if destroyed in another major war will render the West totally poisoned and uninhabitable.

    Putin quite rightly said recently that war between the industrialised nations is now unthinkable (I’m too tired at the moment to give a link, but it’s a well known quote). Perhaps next time you’re stateside you can try and convey this to the batshit crazies in Washington?

    • Kempe

      They may only appear to be mistakes with the massive benefits of hindsight and a modern mind-set. Most people today might regard the whole British empire as one giant mistake but it made perfect sense at the time.

      • RobG

        Fair comment, Kempe, although I disagree with that “modern mind-set”. These last three neo-con decades have taken us back to the Victorian age, as far as society goes, and if the neo-cons aren’t stopped it will go even further back, and most of us will just be serfs.

  • Dave

    Guantanamo Bay, rendition and torture was all for nothing, that is not to secure any vital or even useful information, but simply to provide public relations window dressing for the ‘war on terror’, to make out the war was real, because the terror being fought was an inside job. Hence the rise of the false flags to keep the narrative going.

    When Trump said keep the Muslims out until we figure out what’s going on, this attracted criticism for being ‘anti-Muslim’, but this was a misreading because it meant lets figure out what’s going on. His target was the CIA who can easily defeat IS by no longer backing them.

  • Dave

    Sorry that was in response to the first sentence about Craig resigning over our complicity in torture, which was real (as was Craig’s sacrifice) but involved repeated torture to garner information we didn’t need or already knew, which makes the crime worse.

  • Alcyone

    Craig, yes a very warm introduction by Dalrymple and indeed endorsement by words; though a long way to go just to meet him. Still, what you missed out in person, might still be made up for in the virtual world. Even if I know I just wrote those it is at least a partial fallacy. The Beauty of Technology.

    I still think he owes you though.

    Btw, has your book reached the Indian shelves now? Should be much easier (than in the UK) to have them land on the table and window displays there with the necessary little extra effort. I have no doubt that Dalrymple has used the Indian market springboard very effectively to create influence.

    Finally, in your next print/edition I think you should include in the preface an essay on the parallels with modern times and how history/mistakes have repeated themselves. Should help highlight relevance today. Maybe it’s already there.

  • fwl

    I really enjoyed the talk. Sound quality is good. It’s the sort of talk I enjoy listening to on radio 4. I recommend listening to Craig’s talk before starting the book he not only brings the subject to life, but has countless interesting comments about then an now and Government’s repetitions. I fancy going to have a look around Montrose now.

  • Paul Barbara

    @ Craig:
    ‘…about somebody who in many ways was a good and admirable person, but served an Imperial project which in itself was not necessarily a good thing….’
    A rather weak way of putting the trail of misery and death that came with British Imperialist expansion.
    If a youth mugs an old lady, he is rightly castigated; yet if a country rapes and pillages countries across the world, robbing and killing and destituting not just old ladies but men, women and children, it’s ‘not necessarily a good thing’.

  • Rhisiart Gwilym

    Anglo-Norman kings and their under-thugs were attacking Cymru even before they attacked Scotland, Craig. Eire had some quite early trouble with them too.

    • Ba'al Zevul

      Ho hum. Let’s jump on the victimhood bandwagon and remind the western and northern Celts that (a) the Normans enslaved England first and for a long time remained rather less ‘Anglo’ than they are, (b) Robert the Bruce was Norman and (c) they should have stepped up to the plate while the Iceni were resisting the Romans in England.

      And the Normans built very fine castles. There’d be sod-all to see in Wales without them.


      • fwl


        Mountains, lakes, sea, unspoilt landscapes and unspoilt night light, riotous night life and if you have ears and not only eyes Cymraeg not only the oldest living language, but the post poetic too. In Welsh we don’t have possessions they are with us. We don’t have emotions they are with us. We understand that the subject in a sentence has power to mutate. A grammar that is really grammatical ie magical and reflects the appreciation of the transience.

        We were never colonized. We were marginalized to the hinter and highland.

        The Romans had a hell of a time before subduing Britain. The Normans knew that for they did not intend to colonize Wales, but licensed the Bastard’s cousins as Marcher lords, or door keepers some of whom promptly robbed the valuable lowlands. Not colonised. The Normans are keeping the lost land of England warm for the Welsh.

  • BrianPowell

    william Dalrymple, though he has lived in India for a couple of decades, think Scotland should stay shackled to England. i wonder if he supports Indian independence from colonial UK?

    • Kerch'ee Kerch'ee Coup

      I would say Brit colonialism in India was largely economic in character and primarily with an eye to the main chance in contrast to the settler-colonialism in Algeria or Rhodesia. Indeed the raj actually lasted only some 60 years from Disraeli’s seduction of the Great White Queen.
      The legal and military infrastructure remains in place, as the link below with ArundhatiRoy of the long ignored war in Central India against the Gonds and for the valuable minerals, warns/reminds us.

      • Paul Barbara

        @ Kerch’ee Kerch’ee Coup January 26, 2017 at 03:26
        ‘I would say Brit colonialism in India was largely economic in character….’

        Sure, economic at the point of bayonets and cannon; no less murderous ‘fer all that’.
        Just like the US in Latin America, except they generally worked ‘from a distance’, training the Junta chiefs and their worst murderers and torturers in the ‘School of the Americas’, and supporting ‘their’ puppets with arms and diplomatic support, not so much ‘in spite of’ but largely ‘because of’ their brutality in keeping Latin America safe for Big Business.
        Harvard’s ‘Skull & Bones’ ‘Society’ was funded by profits from the Chinese Opium trade, enforced by force of arms.

        • Kerch'ee Kerch'ee Coup

          I agree with thr gist of your comment but would add that in India as in Latin America , this all would have been impossible without local tyrants and rentiers(zamindars0.
          Secondly , the techniques taught at the now remed School of the Americas and by the Israelis are being actively used in India as the link again makes clear.

          • lysias

            Don’t be pedantic. Harvard’s equivalent of Skull & Bones is the Porcellian Club, founded by a member of the Cabot family (“”Here’s to dear old Boston, The home of the bean and the cod, Where Lowells speak only to Cabots, And Cabots speak only to God.”) , which, like many of the richest American families, was involved in the opium trade.

            Meanwhile, Skull & Bones at Yale was founded by a member of the Russell family, which was involved in the same trade.

  • Winkletoe

    I’ve read and re-read this Dalrymple person’s introduction (as reported above) and I cannot find the least bit “fulsome” about it, far less anything “extremely fulsome” (sic).

    I find tenor of the quoted words positive and generous, allusively drawing a parallel between two men of honour, the biographer Murray and the subject Burnes.

    However, there’s nothing nasty, foul or obsequious about the words of Dalrymple.

    • craig Post author

      Winkletoe thanks. I was surprised by your remarks and looked up the dictionary meaning of fulsome. I have to confess I was not really aware at all of what is given as the modern meaning of EXCESSIVELY flattering and generous. I use it in what the definitions give as its older meaning of simply abundantly generous.

      This happens quite a lot and I think derives from the part that so much of my reading is 19th century.

      • Winkletoe

        Thank you, Craig. The misuse of fulsome as an “elegant variation” of “full” is usually a mark of sloppy tyro journalism and gushing radio hosts, and It was a particular favourite of the disgraced former ChE, Osborne. It’s most startling when encountered in use by those, such as you, who take great care with the way they craft their words.

        If you have an ornithological bent (and I suspect you may), you’ll be aware that the previously abundant cliff-nesting seabird, the fulmar, is undergoing rather an accelerating population decline, caused by over-fishing, dragnet fishing and marine pollution. In the eighteenth century, this species lived only on St Kilda. It spread dramatically around the British Isles through the 20th century before the recent reversals

        In any case, the derivation of the name fulmar is from the same ful- as in fulsome (foul in Old Norse) and -maa or -mar (gull in Old Norse). It’s not actually a member of the seagull order at all, but a sort of large petrel or small albatross of the albatross order. By “ful”, the Old Norse hunter-protobirdwachers were referring to the foul-smelling, oily black stomach juice, which all the petrels and albatrosses regurgitate through their nostrils to ward off any intruder who approaches their nests too closely.

  • Eric Monkman

    The fictitious “Russian troops with snow on their boots” near Aberdeen were not a manifestation of Russophobia. Russia was an ally of the UK at the time, and the troops were supposedly on their way to help defend the Western Front.

    • Kempe

      Quite correct, they were supposed to have landed in Scotland and travelled overnight in special trains to Kent where they were ferried across the Channel to reinforce the British army ready for a big push. A German spy working in the UK at the time heard the rumour, reported it back to Berlin and they were sufficiently convinced to send extra divisions to the Western Front.

  • Bayard

    “I would argue that we were actually the first victims of English imperialism.”
    I would argue that the Welsh have that dubious honour.

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