FEARLESS, yet tactful warrior, a father willing to give his life to save his son, a loving husband, considerate king and to top it all a tolerant Muslim ruler – that’s Babur, as fictionalised by Alex Rutherford. We have known Babur for centuries as the barbaric raider from Central Asia who found this bountiful land of Bharat ‘barren.’ “Hindustan is a land of few charms. Its people are not handsome…there are no good horses or dogs, meat, grapes, fragrant melons or other excellent fruit. There is no ice, cold water or good provisions in the bazaars…” he said. But he found immense treasures in the vaults of the kings he defeated. So much so that he said he would send a gift to every citizen in Kabul and would still be left with a lot. India had already been under Islamic rule for 300 years and the people were being squeezed of their riches to swell the coffers of the rulers.
Rutherford’s book romanticises Babur. Using the references from Baburnama, the irregular dairy maintained by Babur, the author has spun the novel, entirely from Babur’s angle. And hence everyone, except his grandmother, looks small in front of him.
In the novel, till his confrontation with Rana Sangha, Babur has not been portrayed as a religious fanatic. He gave the battle cry ‘Allaho Akbar’ first time as a reply to the battle cries of the Rana’s army. Babur’s men were getting weary of the attacks of Rana, who did not engage in a direct battle because of Babur’s powerful canons. To enthuse the sagging morale of the army Babur gives the fight the name jehad, the holy war against the non-believer.
There is the story of how the word Moghul came. Babur received a letter from the Shah of Persia, calling him a ‘Moghul’ as an abuse, which in Persian means Mongol. Babur decided to adopt this as his dynastic name.
There is also the account of how Koh-i-nur came into the hands of Babur. According to the novel, the king of Gwalior, who fought under Ibrahim Lodi, was killed in the battle with Babur’s army. The king’s mother who was in the camp with her daughter-in-law and six year old son sought from Humayun the protection of their honour and the right to cremate her son’s body. When Humayun assured her these, she offered the diamond in gratitude. This he offered to Babur.
Babur’s account of the attempt at poisoning him by the mother of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, after he was killed has been dramatised. This poisoning probably is what claimed his life years later.
For all the courage of Babur, he stood and watched helplessly when the Uzbek warlord and his sworn enemy Shaibani Khan carried away his sister Khanzada. Babur did not win any major victories till he came across the cannon. In fact his half brother Jehangir who dethroned him from Ferghana and Shaibani Khan were killed by others and not him. It is only after he got the canon from the Turks that his victories began. Till then he was only a bush raider, by no means a war strategist.
To make the narrative interesting, Rutherford has invented a few characters, like Baburi, a street boy who becomes his close friend, so much so that they could even discuss Babur’s women.
The author says he travlled to almost all the places connected with Babur. Ferghana is now in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. He followed the trail of Babur to Kabul, Samarkhand, the mountain passes in the Himalayas through which he entered Hindustan and then on to Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan.
Babur, when he died, wanted to be buried in Kabul, and not in Hindustan, which he said ‘could never be his home.’ Babur’s tomb in Kabul was not kept and had fallen into the dusty alleys of history, till recently when it was restored with funds from UNESCO. This book too is part of that restoration of Babur. The novel gives an interesting reading, with the right mixture of history and drama. This is the first of the quintet (five) on the Empire of the Moghul. One cannot help but wonder why our heroes are not written about who definitely are better candidates for romanticising valour.
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