By Vaidehi Nathan
We have been taught only the glorious and rosy side of the Islamic invasion of India. Taste, for sample, the way Aurangzeb treated his elder brother and Crown Prince Dara Shukoh.
Delhi is a city built on ruins. Every time it was razed to the ground it rose again like a Phoenix. It is this endless chain of stories that fascinates the author the most about the city. From the firm foundations of the present, he makes forays into the past, walking over the monuments and rebuilding the images of the past.
A travelogue that also takes one through the pages of history-that is William Dalrymple'sCity of Djinns. Dalrymple, who lived in Delhi and researched for writing books on India also gives us a peep into the corridors of the government offices, where ?babus? are the current Sultans.
The Mughal rulers come alive through the narration. Quoting eyewitness accounts of the palaces, their intrigues, the rulers? cruelties, the book gives stunning accounts. Even to a fairly serious history student, the cruel behaviour of the Mughal rulers comes as a shock and surprise, because these have never found place in our text-books. Francois Bernier, who was a traveller and lived in Delhi for over six years witnessed Dara'shumiliation, as he was brought manacled and dragged through the streets of the capital, with his son in front of him. Describing the scene in his Travels in the Mogul Empire he says by the time Dara was brought to Delhi, he looked like a ?miserable and worn out animal, covered with filth.? He had been given the sack cloth to wear. A fakir shouted out to Dara asking him as to what he had to offer now, because as a prince he was generous and free with gifts. Dara tore his sack cloth and was about to throw it, when he was stopped by Aurangzeb'smen who told him that he had no right to give as nothing was his. Dara was then kept in a small open garden.
Bernier in his narration says that Jahanara Begum, one of the two daughters of Shah Jahan had several secret lovers, one of whom was boiled in a cauldron by the King.
A few days later, a few noblemen visited Dara to taunt him. Dara tried to kill himself with a kitchen knife. But was overpowered and beheaded, in front of his son.
The ?nobles? cleaned the head, wrapped it in a new turban and presented it to Aurangzeb on a gold plate. The ?pleased? emperor ordered it to be sent in a gift box to his father and dethroned Emperor Shah Jahan, who was in confinement in Agra.
The narration here is picked up from Niccolao Manucci, an Italian, who authored Mogul India. Manucci was employed in the artillery of Dara Shukoh. He says Aurangzeb'schief eunuch, I?tibar Khan, waited for Shah Jahan to begin eating. With a flourish he produced the ?gift? from his son, Emperor Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan thanked Allah that his son had indeed remembered him. With eagerness he opened the box. Seeing the face of Dara, ?horrified, he uttered a cry and fell on his hands and face upon the table and striking against the golden vessels, broke some of his teeth.? When the eunuch reported back to Aurangzeb, he and his sister Roshanara took much delight in it.
Bernier in his narration says that Jahanara Begum, one of the two daughters of Shah Jahan had several secret lovers, one of whom was boiled in a cauldron by the King. There were also bazaar rumours that there was incestuous relations between the father and the daughter. The other daughter of Shah Jahan, Roshanara Begum met a tragic end at the hands of Aurangzeb, whom she had helped all her life, against their father. When Aurangzeb came to know that she was plotting to rule by proxy, appointing his nine-year-old son as the king (Aurangzeb was very ill, and rumours were that he would die), he arranged her to be poisoned. She was ?caught red-handed in an orgy with nine lovers.? She died in great pain. Dalrymple'sbook also has accounts of the various atrocities perpetrated on non-Muslims by the Mughal rulers.
Dara tore his sack cloth and was about to throw it, when he was stopped by Aurangzeb'smen who told him that he had no right to give as nothing was his. Dara was then kept in a small open garden.
The eyewitness account of the court, the Islamic governance and the city by foreign travellers and other records clearly reveal that the Hindus were on the receiving end. The administra-tion was corrupt and the common man'ssuffering was unimagin-able. A Moroccan, shortly called Ibn Battuta arrived in Hindustan during Mohammad bin Tughlak'stime as part of his world tour. At the east bank of Indus, he had to part with a quarter of all that belonged to him. He was then grilled by the corrupt officials. He was again asked to pay seven dinars for every horse. Tughlak was already notorious for his cruelty. Battuta was afraid of entering the kingdom as the blood thirst and tyranny of Tughlak was common story across Asia. However, he came and presented himself to the Sultan with many gifts. The Sultan gave him a position. He describes the court thus: ?When all are assembled, fifty elephants are brought in. each is adorned with silken cloths and has its tusks shod with iron for the greater efficacy of killing criminals?? The proceedings begin with musicians and dancers. ?The first to enter are the daughters of the infidel Indian kings who have been taken captive during the year. After they have sung and danced, the Sultan presents them to the Amirs and the distinguished foreigners.?
According to Battuta, Tughlak was ?far too free in shedding blood? of others, of course. He says every day, hundreds of people were brought before him, chained, pinioned and fettered. Those who had to be tortured were tortured, those given beating were beaten and those to lose their lives were executed, all in the second part of the court. There was hardly one day when the court was not littered with corpse, he says. One day, Battuta'shorse shied at the sight of some white fragment. Upon enquiring it was revealed that it was the torso of a man, who had been cut into three pieces earlier in the morning. Such was his cruelty.
According to Dalrymple, quoting Battuta, Tughlak ordered the shifting of capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, 700 miles away because he was angered by the appearance of some anonymous letters against him (Tughlak) in public places. He decided to ?punish? the people and ?ruin? the city. Only one-tenth of the Delhi population reached Daulatabad. Our history books make only a joke out of Tughlak.
There is never ever any mention of his cruelties, especially against the Hindus. Battuta also says that he distrusted Indians and preferred foreigners, especially those with Arab blood.
Yet another interesting aspect about the book is the comment the author makes about the Archaeological Survey of India. He is surprised to find that the ASI has taken little interest in a secret passage that runs under some offices of the railway officials. The author himself tracked the passage quite far, but it was blocked by concrete. He discovered an underground chamber, which was described in the dairies of early Britishers, William and Aleck Fraser. In fact, the building was to have been demolished to make way for a multi-storey structure. Dalrymple is equally astonished to find that very little has been done in terms of digging for evidence of Indraprastha, the city built by the Pandavas.
?The first to enter are the daughters of the infidel Indian kings who have been taken captive during the year. After they have sung and danced, the Sultan presents them to the Amirs and the distinguished foreigners.?
Dalrymple is from Scotland. He has written many books on India and presented television series. He and his artist wife Olivia now spend their considerable time in our country. This book was first published in 1993 in Great Britain. In India it was published this year.
The book on the whole, takes one through Delhi'shistory. His narrative style and eye for details and elaborate descriptions transports one to the action scene. His technique of switching of time sequences from past to present and vice versa has added crispness. It is an engaging travelogue.
City of Djinns by William Dalrymple, Rs 295, pp 350, Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.