THE second in the sequence of history-fiction, on the Moghul Empire by Alex Rutherford is on Humayun, the man who inherited Hindustan from his father Babar and lost it to Sher Shah. He recaptured the throne nearly 14 years later, only to die within six months of reaching Delhi.
In history lessons we have been taught that Humayun was a drug addict and drunkard and was very headstrong, he would not listen to anybody.
The novel, Empire of the Moghul: Brothers at War largely built on history, expectedly romanticises Humayun, his many weaknesses and his strength of character. He was put into the habit of opium by the mother of his half brother Kamran, who obviously was working on a plot to weaken Humayun. Kamran was the eldest half-brother and had resented Humayun inheriting the throne. Humayun had two other brothers Askari and Hindal. Humayun gave parts of the kingdom to keep peace in the clan. But the brothers hated him and plotted to get rid of him. Humayun was too slow in taking action. His advisors saw his vacillation and urged him to make a decision.
If Babur had to surrender his sister Khanzada to Shaibani Khan to save his life and that of his followers, Humayun surrendered his infant son Akbar, merely five months old, to Kamran to save his and family’s life. He recovered Akbar nearly a year later.
Humayun was defeated by Sher Shah, who chased him from Delhi and Agra. He moved, literally like a vagabond, to Lahore, Kandahar, Kabul and finally Persia. He was ‘exiled’ to Persia by Kamran, who kept Akbar as the surety. Humayun was forced to give up Koh-i-Noor to the Shah of Persia to earn the goodwill, who also forced him to become a Shia. With his support, Humayun made a comeback, at least half way. Humayun snatched the girl whom Askari had loved all his life. The brothers never reconciled. Hindal was killed by Askari. Humayun sent Askari on pilgrimage to Mecca, where he never reached. It is believed that Humayun killed him. Kamran was blinded in both the eyes by Humayun’s orders and sent to Mecca. The scene is described in detail in the book, quoting diaries. Sher Shah was by then dead. Humayun raised a force and defeated Sikander Shah and reoccupied the throne. He died six months later, falling from the stairs of the library and observatory he was constructing, leaving behind a teenage son, who proved more worthy than him. For, he not only retained the kingdom, but expanded it and laid a strong foundation for Moghul-Muslim rule for two centuries. If Sher Shah had lived a decade longer, the Mughal dynasty would not have taken roots here.
The book has dramatised the major events in Humayun’s life, using primary sources like the diary of Humayun and his half sister Gulbadhan. The narration is racy and interesting, keeping the reader hooked. The author mentions the events and scenes that had been fictionalised. The battle scenes are all elaborate and so are the descriptions on the costumes.
The fight between the four sons of Babur sets the tone for the macabre fratricide that befalls the successive Mughal kings.
Alex Rutherford is the assumed name of the authors of the series. The authors are Diana Preston and her husband Michael.
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