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Book description

The Mughals in their heyday were rulers to look up to in terms of their accomplishments and skills at administration. While Babur was focused on gaining a foothold in India and Humayun was engaged in clinging on to it, the empire effectively shifted gears into efficient administration by the time of Akbar. The empire expanded in scope, size and complexity during Akbar’s reign and this was balanced by an efficiency at how things were managed . It was such a well-oiled administrative machine that Jahangir inherited and set to work on. He contributed immensely to the growth and further strengthening of the empire and probably for the first time, the Mughals had a comparatively stable political tenure. This was also the time when a British emissary (Sir Thomas Roe) spent time in the Mughal court and documented India’s atmosphere and environments extensively through his book. The juicier part is also that all the elements at play during this period resembled a Shakespearean drama : a rebelling young son, a scheming Queen, a King in the throes of wine and opium and an empire who were not really privy to all that was boiling at the royal house. Alex Rutherford focusses extensively on Jahangir’s life and times in the fourth volume of his Mughal series.Until the time of Jahangir, women were hazy figures forever committed to the background never to be heard of much at the Mughal court. This changed twice during the life of the emperor. The first was when he fell in love with Anarkali who was a concubine of his father ( then emperor Akbar) and as a punishment for this travesty, Jahangir (then known as Salim) was banished to the hinterlands of the empire and Anarkali was bricked up alive. While being heralded as one of the greatest love stories, it goes without saying that the incident might have been pretty embarrassing for both father and son. The second was Jahangir’s marriage to Mehr-Un-Nisa who as the empress came to be known as Nur Jahan and who in subsequent years was the de facto ruler of India while the emperor squandered away his days in wine and opium. Never before had the reins of the empire passed on to a woman and Nur Jahan proved an equal to Jahangir in administrative capabilities while being hidden behind the veils of the court. There was also a trend that Jahangir started in his youth that came to haunt every other Mughal ruler for two generations down the line – rebellion against the emperor (who incidentally was his father). This was continued by his son Shah Jahan and then by his grandson Aurangzeb. Rutherford continues his streak at writing highly readable historic fiction and since the material is the stuff of soap operas, he relishes the subject. Another trend that I am seeing for the past two books is that the books are now divided between the current ruler and the heir. Which means that book #3 was half about Akbar and the half about Jahangir and here book #4 is divided between Jahangir and his son Khurram (later Shah Jahan). While there was a lot of focus on Khurram, I found that the latter part of the book did not focus much on the emperor. Nur Jahan is also fleshed out relatively well as an individual who is in pursuit of power that only the throne of the empire could bestow upon her and not as a cliché antagonist.A relatively well written book on the Mughals and one of their most dramatic timelines.

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