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Book Review: Empire of the Moghul, Empire of the Moghul Brothers at War


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Noida, February 18, 2011 20:42
Tags : Empire of the Moghul Brothers at War | Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North | book review | moghul | babur |


Name:Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North
Author(s):Alex Rutherford 
Publisher: Hachette India
Name:Empire of the Moghul Brothers at War
Author(s):Alex Rutherford
ISBN : 0755347544
Publisher: Hachette India
Historical fiction is an art that has hitherto few purveyors in India. No, let me correct it. Let me be fair with the Indian writers. The fact is, there has been extremely few writers of Historical fiction in the last few decades. You can count obvious names on fingers: Philippa Gregory, Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Mary Renault and Anthony Sattin. Manfredi and Renault gave us an opportunity to peep into the life of Alexander The Great. But what next. Why this drought for more than a decade. Sattin, with respect to all his talent, has decided to delve more into journey writing and less into the labyrinth of history. In that case, isn't the mere publication of Alex Rutherford's Moghul Quintet a celebration in itself? It indeed is.
Alex Rutherford is a pseudonym of the husband-wife team of Michael and Diana Preston who seem to seek pleasure in withholding any information about themselves. But fortunately, when it comes to writing, they have let their imagination soar high. As of now the first two books of the quintet-- Raiders from the North and Brothers at War-- are out. The rest will follow in years to come.
The story starts in 1494 AD when 12-year-old Prince Babur is left fatherless following a freak accident. What starts is the endless troubles for Babur. The royal court, a snake-pit personified, becomes the chess-board as Babur has none but the women of his family, his mother Kutlugh Nigar, the intense and astute grandmother Esan Dawlat and young sister Khanzada, to look up to. Of course, there are a few loyal courtiers too, for example his father's bodyguard and son of his wet-nurse Wazir Khan. In the melee that ensues, somebody tries to assassinate Babur, who is quickly coronated and the Khutba is read on his name pronouncing him the ruler of Ferghana. Babur assumes his new role by executing his treacherous vizier, clearly telling everybody willing to listen that he is the legitimatedescendant of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan.
What follows is the endless (but not boring) cycle of triumphs and defeats for the young Babur. Somewhere in mid teens, Babur makes a daring attempt to take Samarkand, and even takes it briefly but goes on to loose it as well as Ferghana. Then three years later, he recaptures Samarkand but again looses it to Uzbek chief and his bete noire Shaibani Khan. A few years later, he captures Kabul and follow it by capturing Herat and Bukhara. Meanwhile he once again conquers and looses Samarkand to Shaibani Khan who keeps appearing as a nightmare in his life. At last, after vanquishing Shaibani Khan with the help of the Persian Shah, he decided to turn his attention to India. By the time the first volume closes, he had defeated Lodis and Rana Sanga and had consolidated his reign on North India. Symbolisms are hard to miss. Take for example the scene of Babur's coronation. While the boy holds the iconic sword Alamgir in his steady hands, he chooses not to wear the coat chain-mail of the emperor as he is too small to fit in. What can be a better imagery to suggest that how destiny thrust young and inexperienced Babur to take the responsibility of his kingdom and his house in a hostile environment. 
The second volume similarly takes us through the ups and downs in the life of his favourite son Humayun. His coronation, his frequent defeats from the hands of Sher Shah Suri, his exile and subsequent triumph—once again with the help of a Persian Shah—makes for an interesting read.
Rutherford has used a rainbow of characters to bring out the turmoil and emotions in the life of both Babur and his son Humayun. There is a mix of real and imaginary figures and figureheads who carry the story to a logical end. The character of Shaibani Khan, Kutlugh Nigar, Baburi etc appears so essential to the narrative that one can easily guess the labour and research that has gone into the writing of this book. The authors have taken the pain topersonally visit and trace the places through which Babur and subsequently his son Humayun takes up their various journeys.
In most of the cases, the authors have remained committed to the original storyline of Baburnama, and have in fact taken the pain to list out the divergences at the end of the book. That these divergences merely run in two pages tells us that the authors have tried to take as less a liberty as possible to make this series an interesting read. After going through the boring history textbooks that have made Babur and his descendent cardboard characters, the readers will be delighted to see, feel and experience them in flesh and blood. Their multiple emotions, their triumphs, their Nadirs, all make for an interesting read. After initial few pages, the readers will feel as if they too are the part of the big game being played in Central Asia. It is almost certain that readers will come to like Babur and Humayun and will sympathise with their ordeals. And that is a big deal considering how Babur has been maligned and mutilated by the religious Right in this country.
The only dampener appears to be the absence of layer in the character of major players. The characters are either too white or too black. A shade of grey would definitely had given the characters more legitimacy, as I expect would be the case in reality. Also, Babur's transformation from a vulnerable experienced boy to a ferocious and shrewd warrior appears rushed up. These minor dampeners apart, the series is a triumph.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017