24 September, 2020

Happy Under The Padishah

Tipu’s horrific despotism is whitewashed in a biography of fulsome praise

Happy Under The Padishah

It’s a measure of Tipu Sultan’s charisma that, two centuries on, an Australian histo­rian has spent most of her academic life studying the man and his reign. But this skimpy book (131 pages of text) does justice to neither her complex subject nor her own presumably extensive research.

Brittlebank warns that “we cannot underst­and the past by viewing it through the prism of the present”, but she falls into precisely that trap by portraying Tipu as a patriotic hero fighting an imperialist British conspiracy, forgetting that neither the concept of Indian nationhood nor that of a British Raj had yet taken shape in the 18th century. It’s also frustrating that Brittlebank offers no source references in support of her string of speculations about the motives of Tipu and of his opponents, prefaced by the constant refrain, “It is likely that....”

What emerges is the author’s personal devotion to her subject, at the cost of historical sch­olarship or balance. The East India Company is demonised as the spearhead of a...



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