Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Emperor's Tale

History text books rarely chronicle history. They are as selectively factual as government press releases. To develop an objective view of the past, one has to first unlearn all the ‘facts’ that were handed out at school.

The Mughals, for example, were not Islamic conquerors. ‘Mughals’ is the Persian way of saying ‘Mongols’ which is an allusion to how the dynasty perceived itself as descendants of Tamerlane, the warlord from Central Asia.

Babar, the founder of the Mughal Empire, was in fact an Uzbeki who fancied Kabul a lot more than Delhi. He made his way to Punjab on an invitation from Daulat Khan Lodi and on realising the weakness of the Ibrahim Lodi Empire, demolished them in less than half a day in the much touted First Battle of Panipat. BTW, Babar was born as Zahiruddin Mohammad and his name literally means ‘Tiger’.

Babar’s son Humayun (meaning: ‘the fortunate one’) was not a patch on his dad when it came to military tactics. Driven out of India by Shershah Suri, he wormed his way back after Shershah’s demise and is best remembered as the bloke who died in a library accident after tripping over his skirt.

Akbar (‘The Great’), born as Abu’l Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad, was rightly renowned for his tolerance and empire building. But he had a more colourful streak. Apart from the syncretic way of living he put together, he was also a prolific inventor. Among his creations included a method to fire seventeen guns simultaneously and a machine to clean sixteen barrels at once!

Jehangir (‘World Conqueror’) was a total dopey and a sucker for booze in addition to being a pious Muslim. He stole Nur Jehan from one of his subordinates, got his first son blinded for rebelling against him and was gullible enough to let the Brits into our country.

Shahjahan (‘King of the world’), the eternal romantic who built the Taj Mahal was a ruthless brother killer famous for staging a coup to oust his dad. But his karma had a funny way of boomeranging on him when his much loved son Dara Shukoh was beheaded by his other son Aurangzeb (‘honour to the throne’).

Aurangzeb, the much reviled humourless bigot, is often portrayed as a hater of music. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was an accomplished player of the rudra veena and he never forbade artists from performing for his wives and daughters. One more interesting truth that is rarely publicised is the birthplace of Aurangzeb. Like our Prime Minister, he was born in Gujarat. Wonder what the saffronwalas have to say about this.