Heart Like a Fakir is a history of the final forty years of British East India Company rule in India as witnessedby General Sir James Abbott (1807–1896), the man for whom the Pakistani town of Abbottabad is named. Based on extensive research intoprimary source documents, the book uses the life of General Sir James Abbott as a narrative thread to explore the troubled period between William Dalrymple’s White Moghuls and the Indian Rebellion of 1857. General Sir James Abbott was one of the most remarkable characters in British colonial history, becoming Great Britain’s first guerilla leader, the first Briton to reach the fabled Central Asian city of Khiva, and a British Deputy Commissioner who became the King of Hazara. He may have also been the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King and the character of Mr. Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.
This book chronicles the remarkable collapse of the social contract between Britons and the peoples of India in the first half of the nineteenth century, taking a fresh look at British perceptions of race, gender, and the nature of social and sexual relationships between them, leading up to the Great Rebellion of 1857— the cataclysmthat ended British East India Companyrule.
Chris Mason is professor of national security affairs and the director of the Study of Internal Conflict (SOIC) at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he researches, writes, and teaches on civil wars, insurgencies, and modern and historical India. He has published extensively on South Asia, focusing on Afghanistan, India, and the nineteenth and twentieth century borderlands between them. Dr. Mason is a retired Foreign Service Officer with a PhD in imperial and colonial history from the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
In Heart Like a Fakir, Chris Mason uses the voluminous papers of General Sir James Abbott— explorer, soldier, and district officer who lived as a ‘native’ amongst the peoples of the Hazara district—to explore how relations, social and sexual, between Britons and Indians broke down in the last decades of British East India Company rule. This breakdown—which contributed to the mutiny uprising—is usually attributed to the arrival of Christian missionaries and British women in significant numbers in the early years of the nineteenth century. Mason’s work suggests that historians need to look much more closely at the twenty-five years before the mutiny uprising. This is essential reading for all those interested in the last years of East India Company rule.
Chris Mason has rescued from obscurity one of the most remarkable agents of British imperial rule in nineteenth-century India. James Abbott was an army officer, district commissioner, Central Asian explorer, and irrepressible romantic. This engaging and insightful study is at once an intimate portrait of the man himself and an illuminating examination of the social and cultural changes that led to the erosion of East India Company rule in India and the outbreak of the 1857 Indian Rebellion/Mutiny.