Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Saga of Warrior

Short Story
When they killed my husband, it was the spirit of undaunted daring and unfailing love that was murdered.
You romanticise the love that Shahjahan bore for Mumtaz because he erected that mausoleum called Taj Mahal in memory of his supposedly unfailing love for Mumtaz.  But Mumtaz was just one among the many wives and concubines on whose bosoms Shah Jahan expended his lust night after night.  Your historians will romanticise the heroism of many a ruler just because they went far and wide marauding and massacring.
My husband may find no place in such histories.  But he was a genuine hero and romantic lover, a rare combination.  He fought the battles of life more bravely than any conqueror.  He loved me passionately, more than any Mughal emperor loved any of his women.
Yet the universe conspired against him just as mediocrity conspires against the genius.  He was subjected to so many deaths.  Deaths in life. 
Khusru, my beloved, was also the beloved of the greatest Mughal emperor, Akbar.  The strong love the strong.  The genius loves geniuses.  Akbar loved his grandson, Khusru, more than he could ever love his own son, Salim.  But Salim succeeded his father to the throne through a heinous conspiracy against my husband. That was the first assassination of my husband by the universe.
Murad and Daniyal, Akbar’s younger sons, had killed themselves at tender ages with their addiction to opium.  Salim too was an addict and remained one till the end of his wretched life.  But the opium did not kill him.  You could see death in his eyes.  There was weakness in his eyes.  And the weak are cruel.  Salim was cruel beyond imagination.  The weak are manipulative too.  Cunningly manipulative. 
Salim’s weakness craved for power.  The weak love political power.  He led many a revolt against his own father, only to realise bitterly that he was no match for the great Akbar.  His mother, Man Bai, a shrewd woman who wanted to rule the empire through her only surviving son, killed herself when the court had become a snake pit of conspiracies.  She chose her younger sons’ way to death: opium.  She had learnt the bitter truth that her elder son was no better than the younger ones.
But she was wrong.  Salim did become the emperor.  Ironies accompany the royal life just like the plague accompanies filth.
It was not Salim who manipulated the events at the time of Akbar’s death, however.  After Man Bai’s death, Akbar’s senior wives wriggled in the pit like snakes in the mating season.
They mated with the ministers and commanders.  Intrigues flourished in their wombs. 
Akbar was in his death bed like a new born infant.  Where did his glory go?  Where did the power vanish?  Oh, Akbar the Great, where did your greatness disappear?
The women came impregnated with schemes to Akbar’s death chamber.  They whispered in his ears.  Their words were poison.  The poison transformed Salim into Jahangir. 
One of the first things that Salim did after becoming Jahangir was to order the imprisonment of Khusru.
Salim imprisoned his own blood.  Opium flowed in his veins.  Khusru was confined to a gloomy chamber in the palace, with me as his only companion.  The weak and cruel Salim ruled the country, while the real hero walked restlessly in a little chamber with only his wife to utter words of consolation.
And then began the next assassination of Khusru. Jahangir’s sycophants started rewriting history.  They wrote the most vile things about Khusru.  Khusru became a characterless man in their chronicles.  They wrote that Khusru had inherited the deficiency from his mother.  Hadn’t she committed suicide?  Hadn’t his two brothers killed themselves with opium?  
History is replete with blunders written by sycophants.
Khusru stopped calling Jahangir ‘father’ and started addressing him as ‘bhai’, brother. 
One day Khusru requested Jahangir bhai to let him visit his grandfather’s tomb in Sikander near Delhi.  Jahangir was never intelligent enough to understand Khusru and so the permission was granted.  Soon Khusru reached Lahore along with his supporters.  Many leaders of the Chugati and Rajput clans extended their support to Khusru.  They knew that Khusru was worth a thousand Jahangirs. 
But Jahangir acted with a swiftness that could not have been expected of an opium addict.  Dilawar Khan was sent to Lahore to deal with Khusru.  Dilawar reached Lahore from Agra in just eleven days; no mean feat, it should be said.  A 50,000-strong army was deployed in Agra to encounter Khusru and his supporters.
Finally the battle took place on the bank of Ravi.  It was raining cats and dogs and the soldiers fought in a soup of mud. 
Khusru was defeated. His soldiers and commanders were impaled alive on stakes erected on either side of the streets.  Hundreds of brave men writhed in agony on the stakes.  Their blood made a pool in the streets.  Khusru was led along that pool of blood, forced to see his men dying in worm-like wriggles.  Even the Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev, was executed just because he had blessed Khusru while he was on his way to Lahore.  Poor Arjan Dev, he was just fulfilling a courtesy. 
Your cruelty is directly proportional to the weakness of your character.
Jahangir was not satiated with all that cruelty.  He asked a soldier to pierce Khusru’s eyes with a metal wire. 
Khusru did not utter a sound as the metal wire nicked his vision like an ant eating into a piece of cake.  Bit by bit.  Slowly. 
Khusru was then thrown into a dungeon.  With me as his only companion.
Jahangir soon felt remorse.  Or was he trying to gain some popularity among the people?  He knew how much the people admired and loved Khusru.  He asked the royal physician to restore Khusru’s vision.  The physician tried his best.  Khusru did not regain his vision, but he could just see shadows.  I was his abiding shadow.  The other shadows that came and went could not be trusted.
Khurram was one such shadow.  He was Jahangir’s son too.  Unlike his father, Khurram was brilliant as a general of the army and very ambitious.  When Jahangir asked the royal physician to restore Khusru’s vision, Khurram knew that the old man’s heart was too weak for an emperor.  What if he handed down the empire to Khusru? 
The empress Nur-Jahan was another shadow in Khusru’s derelict world. There was no love lost between her and Khurram.  She was both suspicious and afraid of him. In order to keep Khurram far from the throne, Nur-Jahan hatched a plan.
“Marry my daughter from my first marriage,” she told Khusru.  “She is still beautiful like the melons in our garden.  She sparkles like the waters of the Yamuna.  In return for this marriage, I’ll give you freedom.  Nay, I’ll give you power.  Yes, you will succeed to the throne after His Majesty’s reign comes to an end.  Who can offer you a better deal than this?”
Khusru knew that the promises were not hollow.  Nur-Jahan had the sagacity to carry out the necessary manipulations in the court.
“Why don’t you speak?” asked Nur-Jahan.  “Say something.”
“You may leave us,” was Khusru’s answer.
“I want an answer immediately,” said Nur-Jahan imperiously.
“I refuse to have any woman other than this in my life,” said Khusru hugging me close to him. 
“Is that your final decision?” asked Nur-Jahan rising imperiously.
“Final and irrevocable,” said Khusru imperially. 
Nur-Jahan did not waste time.  She plotted and manipulated.  She conjured and contrived.  Finally Khusru was handed over to Khurram. 
Khurram became Shahjahan.
Shahjahan ordered Khusru to be transferred to Burhanpur in the Deccan.  And there, far away from the people who adored Khusru as a hero, they killed him.  They attacked him in the middle of the night.  Khusru drew his sword and fought like a warrior unto the last.
My warrior is dead.  My hero is dead.  Let Shahjahan live and rule to his heart’s content.
And erect mausoleums to perpetuate the memories of his banality.
Now I am an old woman.  Every wrinkle in my skin carries the memory of Khusru, still afresh. 
History in brief:
1600 – 1605    : Salim (Jahangir) led many revolts against Akbar
May 1605        : Man Bai commits suicide
28 Aug 1605   : Akbar dies – Khusru is 18 years old
2 Nov 1605     : Salim anointed emperor, assumes the name Jahangir
15 Apr 1606    : Khusru escapes to Lahore
27 Apr 1606    : Battle between Khusru and Jahangir
1616                : Nur-Jahan’s conspiracies and Khurram’s ascent
Jan 1622          : Khusru is killed
The citizens were appalled to hear about Khusru’s murder and there were loud cries for vengeance.  Jahangir was more angry with Khurram for concealing the murder from him than for the murder itself.  In order to placate the people, Jahangir ordered Khusru’s body to be exhumed and brought to Allahabad where a magnificent mausoleum was erected next to his mother’s.  The place has since come to be called Khusraubagh.  In the story, I have telescoped the time between Khurram’s struggle for power and his becoming the emperor Shahjahan.

A personal note:  I wrote this story 3 years ago when I read an article in The Hindu Sunday Supplement.  I'm posting it again because I feel this story has become more relevant in my personal life.


  1. Thanks for posting it again otherwise i would have missed such a wonderful story .. !

    1. My pleasure, Ankur.

      You are a wonderful source of encouragement, I should aver.

  2. This is so sad and beautiful.
    A tragedy to compare with the greatest.

    1. Brendan, I must admire your patience in reading through such a long story.

      Sad and Beautiful, You put it so lovelyyyy.

    2. well- written and I liked the way u hv presented the history in a form of story .. bt for few things m nt sure .. being a history student, I hv read a lot bt nothing like shrewd man bai, nur jahaan's such plans fr khusru and a few more things. cud u plz provide the onln links fr the information u hv used in this story?

    3. Well, Bhavana, I got all this info from The Hindu of Feb 28, 2010, Sunday Magazine. It was a rather lengthy article. I don't know if it is available online. You may check the Hindu website:

  3. Interesting. I did not know this.

    1. History has many twists and turns that we are normally not told about in classes.

  4. Wow This write up is Amazing . Thank you so much sir for sharing it :)

    1. I loved writing it too, Rain. Political intrigues in history never cease to fascinate me.

  5. Even before reading the footnote, I understood the parallelism, Khusru. Marvellous rendering of the historical facts (lies). I regard the scholar in you. Once again a sumptuous treat!

    1. Thanks, wings. Nice to know you are able to steal time to read my blogs.

  6. I confess sir, I never knew about this side of the coin although for me Salim was never a mark of love or his Taj Mahal .. I recall your last posting .. which included the reference of Taj Mahal as to who made it .
    So nicely you portrayed the true lover .. the true warrior is beyond praises !!
    I think this is by far relevant to current day politics .. of the Gandhi Dynasty ,should I say .. yes .. no more can one plot murders of the ones who dared to stand as rebels !
    May be 300 years from now the Gandhi dynasty would be analyzed by someone keen enough.. to be fascinated by political history of the land we call India !!

  7. Of course, Jack, there are far too many skeletons in the Gandhi cupboard. Maybe, time will reveal some of them.

    I'm not interested in raking up skeletons, anyway. I love to probe how power affects and changes people. I also love to look at why people like me find power over others disgusting. These stories of mine are attempts in that vein.

  8. Brilliant narration ...from slave dynasty to the end of the Mughal rule, India was host to blood-thirsty schemers whose pains gave the country innumerable cuts on which the British clearly thrived.

    1. My point is that the rule of schemers is still continuing. It never ends. Look at our present political leaders who have stashed away billions in foreign accounts. Look at our religious leaders who only exploit believers. Look at our employers who swindle the staff. The human civilisation never grows. It always belongs to the Primary School!

  9. I take your word for it ... things happening in your life now make the story more relevant. But, that leads me to the question, how did the post come about three years ago? You said, something in the paper triggered it. That gets me curious about that piece in the newspaper. I can only hope this curiosity dpes not kill this cat :)

    While I enjoyed this one immensely, it also made me remember a series of posts retelling the stories of Pandavs by a friend of mine a few years ago.


    1. You can read the newspaper article if you have a copy of The Hindu of Feb 28, 2010, Sunday Magazine. Probably you'll get it in their website. It was a splendid article with a lot of details and I got 90% of the material for my story from it.

      How this becomes relevant in my present situation, I cannot make it clear here. Not as long as I'm still fighting the situation. Maybe a time will come when too many cats will jump out of the same bag!

  10. A beautiful, tragic and romantic one. So nicely presented.

    1. Thanks. History can be more entertaining than fiction!

  11. Beautifully told history. I have always found history boring but I couldn't stop reading this. I wish I had such history teachers in school. :)

    1. That's a very welcome compliment, Pankti. Actually I'm a teacher of English language and literature. But I have been entrusted with teaching of history this year due to certain reasons at school. I enjoy teaching it. But my students don't seem to enjoy is as much :)

    2. Lol...if you are teaching like this, they will definitely appreciate it when they get mature. Believe me, at that time they will miss you. Usually we don't appreciate our present advantages. You only start valuing them when you have already lost them. Sad but somewhat true!


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