Salman Khurshid, the active politician, was on a holiday trip to Goa when he decided to pen down this play to ?rethink and resituate? Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor'srole in the great rebellion of 1857 and thus in India'shistory. The play begins with Bahadur Shah Zafar reminiscing in exile in Rangoon and traces history till Emperor Babur lays the seed for rule of Mughal dynasty and ends with Zafar again.
Through his play, Salman Khurshid attempts to map the emotional distance traversed from Babur to Bahadur Shah Zafar through the route of identification?why was it that a young warrior from Farghana, in the country of Uzbekistan, who journeyed across the Hindu Kush mountains to lay the foundation of a vast empire in Hindustan, couldn'tgive up Kabul even in death; yet how his descendants developed such deep feelings for the land that the last amongst them wrote some of his most beautiful poetry in anguish at the loss of that motherland? The following poem by Bahadur Shah Zafar has been recited, sung and written umpteen number of times:
Lagata nahin hai ji mera, ujre
kiski bani hai alam-e-na-
Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar, dafn
do gaz zamin bhi na milee
It is in transformation of feelings for Hindustan that Salman Khurshid finds the historic and emotional explanation for the concept of India.
The play begins with an old and infirm-looking Bahadur Shah Zafar half-reclining on a cot in a small run-down dwelling in Rangoon and complaining against the British, ?They stripped and killed our sons, nay, royal princes; Mughal princes of great Timur'slineage, in cold blood. Emperor Babur'sdescendants?mercilessly slaughtered. Mirza Mughal, Khirz Sultan, even our grandson Abu Bakr; they brought their severed heads to us?to their father?? He is seen adding, ?Our Empire snatched and defiled by goras, pale-faced imposters.?
After a while Zafar continues, ?We begged the rajas and nawabs, the gentry to fight under a united command. But they would have none of it. We called upon our subjects to think of themselves as Hindustanis, not Muslims and Hindus, but no one would listen. It wasn'tour battle alone. It was a battle for Hindustan. The firangis divided us easily and dubbed it a Muslim revolt: a mutiny of soldiers who were mostly Hindus, upper caste Brahmins and common folk!?
Through this monologue the author-cum-playwright traces the history from the time of Babur as told by Bahadur Shah Zafar. Khurshid says that the Hindu-Muslim issue was one that the Mughals struggled with intensely, ?even if it is seldom remembered that Babur (a Mongol) defeated a Muslim (an Afghan) adversary at Panipat.? He continues that the Mughals since the time of Babur were acknowledged as emperors. Even Humayun, after losing the battle of Kannauj and forced to stay away from Hindustan for 13 years, was referred to as the Emperor by Sher Shah Suri. After the latter'sdeath, Humayun came back as the Mughal Emperor.
Salman Khurshid has developed other themes in the play to show generational change, sibling rivalry and ambition; the acceptance of violence and submission to violence as a way of life; the desire among the successful to be rid of the trappings of power (as seen in Humayun, Akbar and to some extent, Jehangir).
Another interesting contemporary theme added is the role of women in administration or governance?here the example of Nurjehan and her dramatic influence during Jehangir'sreign is most vividly described.
The play ends with Bahadur Shah Zafar, ?a hopeless pensioner of the British inside the confines of the Red Fort?, becoming on May 11, 1857 ?the symbolic face of resistance to the British and the natural leader of India'sfirst War of Independence.?
The author says that soldiers of the Bengal army marched from Meerut to Red Fort in Delhi, hoping for support from the last Mughal but ?how difficult that challenge was for Bahadur Shah Zafar? is reflected in this play as also in a series of other books published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of 1857.
Salman Khurshid has presented his own interpretation of history which is quite contrary to what historians have to say.
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