We might immediately associate the great emperor Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, for constructing the Babri Masjid, but there is much to this <g data-gr-id="71">warrior-poet’s</g> persona which Royina Grewal portrays in her book Babur - Conqueror of Hindustan. Proficient in recreating the magnificent aura of the initiation of the Mughal era in India, Grewal in the book traces some thrilling events in the life of the first Mughal emperor who ruled India. Focusing on the grand conquests, exquisite (literally king-size) lifestyle, royal intrigues, expansive battles and varied significant majestic moments, the author chronologically sketches Babur’s entry into Hindustan through historical facts dappling with fiction.
Babur – Conqueror of Hindustan begins with his invasion into Hindustan and builds up to Babur and his men preparing for the epic battle with Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi. As a warrior, Babur is depicted to be a true leader exemplifying traits of courage and valour. “Padshah Babur is ruthless – but always with deliberation and with a cool head .... The Padshah truly cares about his soldiers; whatever they suffer he also endures,” writes Grewal. Meanwhile, the book also manages to unravel the richer-inner side to the majestic king, apart from his courageous <g data-gr-id="110">sheen</g> as a warrior and master strategist, he is depicted as a keen observer and connoisseur of fine arts, also a deep lover of calligraphy and poetry. His interests are varied ranging from love for nature, as he spent a lot of time in his magnificent garden, and also being an avid huntsman. There are passages which beautifully highlight him reciting poetry, spending peaceful moments in his garden and also voraciously hunting along with his men. One such passage describes his usual “peaceful” day when there wasn’t a war in the offing: “Days slip by in the garden, wonderful leisure-filled days such as Babur has not experienced for many years. He walks in his garden in the early mornings and late evenings but for the rest of the day he loiters in his <g data-gr-id="111">hamam</g>, which is so cool now that it is almost chilly. He writes, reads voraciously from his immense libraries, tutors Suleiman in the complex affairs of Hindustan, consults with his ministers, meets officials, <g data-gr-id="112">discuses</g> affairs of the state and <g data-gr-id="113">roisters</g> with friends..” In <g data-gr-id="117">fact</g> the book states that he established “Bagh-e-<g data-gr-id="114">Gulafsan</g>” which became a part of the imperial court.
Introducing the emperor, the author illustrates Babur, Badshah of Kabul as a man “of medium height with a body honed in battle and years on horseback”. Perfectly a combine of austere techniques to rule and a loving desire for cultural delicacies the emperor is described as, “A famous warrior descended from both Temur Lang and Genghis Khan, Babur is ruthless and inclined to use terror to subdue his adversaries. Yet he is also an urbane man of letters, master of prose and a skilled poet.” His character is one laced with varied facets which include wit, humour, anger, wisdom, humility, noble, kind-hearted, sharpness, fascination for nature and beauty apart from the obsession to rule India. Each of these aspects comes across through several incidents narrated in the book. Babur’s powerful personality is reflected in the book which the author manages to build <g data-gr-id="69">over </g>the 432 pages.
One of the most pertinent and strongest line’s which resonates in my mind from this book is during an interaction between Babur and his oldest son, Humayun, “Shahzada of all Hindustan”. Soon after Babur’s aide Mirza Khan’s victory at Sambhal, he is in a celebratory mood in discussing the future plans with his son regarding “bloodless” conquests. He advises the <g data-gr-id="107">17 year-old</g> Humayun, “My son, always remember that nothing is forever… Remember, my son never consider loyalty to be absolute, this is a lesson I have learnt <g data-gr-id="98">though</g> my life and to my great sorrow. I have been betrayed, abandoned and disappointed by people I loved and trusted, men who owed me everything, even those who were close relatives, my brothers as well as my uncles all worked against me.” Babur’s foresight, worldly wisdom and insight into the future is reflected here, which he hopes to pass on to his son.
This book has been conceived as the first book of a trilogy on Mughal fathers and sons. It begins in the battlefields of Panipat where the forces of Babur are waiting to fight the troops of Ibrahim Lodi. Analysing <g data-gr-id="91">and in fact</g> discovering various contours of Babur’s life, the book delves into his life and reign, <g data-gr-id="90">journey</g> into India and the wars he faced before he conquered ‘Hindustan’, embarking the beginning of the Mughal era here. Babur’s annexation plans and glimpses of past remembrances are juxtaposed with Humayun’s coming-of-age story during the course of the book. How the young <g data-gr-id="79">shahzada</g> deals with war strategy and women in his life is unravelled gradually as well. Humayun’s love for the beautiful and mesmerising concubine <g data-gr-id="86">Sona,</g> is a constant parallel sub-plot which develops in the background gradually.
During a council meeting after dismissing Mirza Khan for making a dreadful and politically incorrect statement, Babur tells his men that India is as much their land as the people who lived here. When one of the voices in the council hints to simply loot, plunder and keep the spoils after the battle. Babur’s immediate response is “Absolutely Not”. Grewal writes, “Babur roars, ‘No lands that will become mine shall be <g data-gr-id="96">terrorized</g> by my men. Our distinguished ancestors, on <g data-gr-id="94">whom</g> be peace, conducted raids in order to enrich the people of their kingdom. I am endeavouring to establish an empire here. The people of Hindustan are my people.”
The book reads like a thriller, constantly packed with action, as once a war settles, there a sudden intrigue which crops up which is eventually followed by a crisis in the regime, or a conspiracy to kill the Emperor or his son. The sequence of adventurous events <g data-gr-id="102">are</g> intricately woven by Grewal into the historical context. In fact in some subliminal way, the book reminded me of a Mughal or desi version of Game of Thrones, without the complex sub-plots and endless Machiavellian manoeuvres. Even structural narrative of the eventful day when Babur goes hunting keeps on hooked. Grewal has also created characters which surround the Emperor, as his close aides and advisors which include -Mirza Khan, Ali Quli Khan, Muhammad Ismail and Mustafa Rumi. Tales of plots to subvert the Mughal Court and jeopardise the position and life of the emperor are constantly hatched throughout the course of the book.
Post his successful entry into the terrain, Babur is shown to have fallen in love with the land, its people and the obsession to rule Hindustan. After his successful invasion and settlement in Hindustan, the people too gradually start changing their views on him. The man wasn’t there to only kill, plunder, loot and leave. He was there to stay and be a part of Hindustan. “At first they thought [people of Hindustan] that he [Babur] was just another invader motivated by plunder. But when they discovered his firm intention to stay and live among them, they began to see the Padshah in a different light... a master strategist and brave in battle, he was also generous.”
In one event in the book, during a council meeting, after winning a recent battle, Babur is exhilarated and announces rewards for his men as well as his son, but when Humayun asks him after giving away all of it, nothing would be left for him. “Babur laughs heartily. Riches and treasuries, they are nothing. When you have Hindustan, the very source of riches, you have everything.”