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
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
But she was wrong. Salim did become the
emperor. Ironies accompany the royal life just like the plague
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
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
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
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
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
Khusru did not utter a sound as the metal wire
nicked his vision like an ant eating into a piece of cake. Bit by
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.
“You may leave us,” was Khusru’s answer.
“I want an answer immediately,” said Nur-Jahan
“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
“Final and irrevocable,” said Khusru
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
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
27 Apr 1606 : Battle between
Khusru and Jahangir
: Nur-Jahan’s conspiracies and Khurram’s ascent
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.