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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Great Moghuls (History And Politics)The Great Moghuls by Bamber Gascoigne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book gives a brief history and the politics of the first six emperors of the Moghul Empire namely Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. My initial interest is to read Babur, Akbar and Aurangzeb.

1. Babur (1483-1530)

I thought it would be an easy read but I was wrong. How could you fit all of Babur in 37 pages when the stage is huge? I actually ended up with a quick revision of Temur and then the history of the Delhi Sultanate.

Babur is 5 generations after Temur ( 1336-1405 ) which makes him Temur's great-great-great-grandson...the bloodline being Temur, Miranshah (4th son), Sultan Mohammed, Abu Said and Omar Shaykh. The book take pains in picturing life and the politics in the steppes during the period. Temur was of Barlas Turk tribe thought to have been originally Mongol who had adopted the Turki language. Indeed it was the language spoken and written by Babur. Barlas Turk was also a subdivision of Chaghatai Turks. Temur had wanted to be thought of closely connected with the Mongols. When Husayn, a friend turned foe was assassinated, Temur married his widow. She was a princess descended from Genghis. Hence his children would now be a direct descendant of the Great Khan.

After the break up of the Mongol Empire some Turks have moved west and become civilised early. 10 years after the death of Temur, folks preferred to be known as Turks. Mongols to the north and east of Transoxiana have become synonymous with barbarism compared to the highly cultured courts created by Temur's descendants in areas now known as Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It would take another 100 years for Moghul to become fashionable again.

Umar Shaikh was ruler of Fergana, east of Samarkand. He was short , stout and portly. He fell while attending to his pigeons and died hence making Babur (born 14/2/1483) the new ruler at the age of 11. He found himself among many petty rulers of a conglomerate of provices governed by his uncles and cousins, all descendants of Temur . He had always wanted Samarkand though and waited his time. He was to gain and lost both Samarkand and Fergana in the process while he was still a teenager.

Throneless life as a freebooter followed. He regained Fergana from his younger brother at the age of 16. A wife was arranged. By the age of 18 Babur had lost Samarkand twice whence he decided to leave it to Shahbani Khan, the Uzbek and find his fortune elsewhere. His leadership style won him many men. When Kabul became available for his picking, a more stable life ensued.

Babur was a naturalist. He built gardens , cultivated fruits, encouraged learning, craftsmanship, arts, poetry etc. In fact, Herat, which was ruled by his son, Shah Rukh, was even better than Kabul in terms of the arts. Unfortunately, it too fell to Shaibani, the Uzbek in 1507.

The story of Babur and Humayun would not be complete without the episodes of the Safavid's assistance in the recapture of Samarkand and at both times, with the condition that the Temurids embrace Shiaism. Both leaders did convert but not for long.

Shaibani met the wrath of the Safavid Emperor of Persia, Shah Ismail who defeated him and had his body dismembered and sent to various parts of Persia. Babur's sister, Khanzada now a widow, was saved and returned to Babur. I recall Khanzada the pillar of strength during Humayun's dark days.

After losing Samarkand for the 4th and final time, Babur returned to Kabul to plan his territorial expansion into Hindustan laying claim of Temur's conquest of 1399.

Delhi was then ruled by the 5th Sultanate of the Lodi Dynasty ( 1451-1526) of Afghan (Pashtun) origin. The first 4 had been of Turkic origin. Babur, together with his 17 years old son Humayun made 5 expeditions into Hindustan when it had become fragile. Sultan Ibrahim Lodi was defeated at Panipat. Some of the war tactics used have been subjects of study.

Alas, Babur had fallen ill very often, more so when in Hindustan.....a result of alcohol and drug ediction. This seemed to run in the family...... I recall that it is said that life of a leader may be lonely and decision making may take its toll. Leaders often take refuge and comfort in alcohol, opium. and their harem. Opium, afterall was grown in plentiful in that part of the world.

Much of his memoirs were lost but I know, Humayun had referred to them and just as well he shared an almost similar life to that of his father ... territories lost and territories gained....

2. Akbar (1542-1605)

Akbar was born when Humayun and his followers were in flight from Sher Shah, a Pashtun from Bengal. No thanks to Humayun’s half brothers Kamran and Askari who simply added to his miseries. Hindal had instead, run away when Humayun had fallen for Hamida, later to become Akbar’s mum. Sher Shah had then established the Suri Dynasty which ruled Hindustan for 15 years.

Baby Akbar, his wet nurse/foster mother Maham Anga and foster brother, Adham Khan, were at one time held hostages by Akbar’s uncle, Kamran. They were later saved and returned to Humayun by Hindal. Perhaps it was more for Hamida’s sake ………… Hindal left again only to return dead, killed by his own brother, Askari.  Askari claimed it was  by mistake.

It took Humayun 9 years to prepare for his return to Hindustan. During that time he had eliminated the problems of his half brothers. After the death of Sher Shah’s son, Islam Shah, the Suri Dynasty became weaken by rival princes Adil Shah and Sikandar. Delhi became an easy picking for Humayun.

Young Akbar had accompanied his father to battles since an early age of 10. He loved sports and physical activities. Marvelled at polo. However, his unsettled childhood - a life frequently on the move - took him away from books and as such, he did not learn to read.

Humayun tripped and fell from his steep observatory/library stairs in Delhi palace when. Akbar was then at a campaign in Punjab against Sikandar. He was only 14. He had a guardian and mentor, Bairam Beg, who had been in Babur’s service since the age of 16. Bairam and Tardi Beg were the last of Humayun’s companions during his throneless days in the wilderness . They later became Khans. However, the true danger to the Moghuls was in fact a Hindu Chief Minister of Adil Shah. He had captured Delhi with 300 elephants in a surprise tactic that caused panic to Tardi Beg ‘s forces. Then, he decided that he wanted to be king – Raja Hemu Vikramadthtya.

Bairam was appointed regent over the young monach and he continued to expand the Moghul Empire. The 2nd Battle of Panipat (1556) was perhaps one of the earliest significant battle fought during Akbar’s monarchy. The battle between his forces and Hemu’s. The Moghuls won when Hemu was struck in the eye by a chance arrow. Delhi was again recaptured by the Moghuls and Tardi Beg was executed for cowardice.

Maham Anga, Akbar’s foster mother became shrewd and ambitious for her son, Adham who was fierce and cruel. They became greedy and jealous of Bairam Khan and plotted his dismissal. When Bairam was on his way to the port for a trip to Mecca, he was killed. Adham was later dealt with after a failed assassination attempt on Akbar. He faced the Moghul retribution - thrown over the parapet twice till he died. Anga died soon after. Babur was then 19 and finally he was finally “free”.

The book extols Akbar’s policies of religious tolerance and reforms. He banned the suttee and introduced many tax reforms. Akbar, himself married a Rajput Hindu princess (later became mother of Jahangir), encouraged pluralism. His Hindu wives were allowed to retain their religion and were allowed to practice it within the walls of the royal harem. Rajput was reknown for its warriors for they went into war drugged with opium! For a minority to be ruling the majority of Hindus, Akbar found these decisions pragmatic. However, his religious attitude did not go down well with the conservatives.

Akbar was always troubled in the east (Bihar and Bengal) and in the west (Kabul). While he may be having just one possible pretender to the throne i.e. half brother Hakim, his cousins Suleiman amd Shahrukh were also troubling him. He tried giving his sons responsibilities at an early age. Two of them, Murad and Danyal died of alcohol. His oldest son Salim (Jahangir) was always rebelling. A reconciliation was reached in 1603 and two years later Akbar died of an illness.

The book did well to explain Akbar’s failure with his sons and provide a positive prospect that Jahangir would not end up too badly after all.

3. Aurangzeb (1618 - 1707)

Shah Jahan had mourned for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal for two years before he became active again in the business of the Empire. Meanwhile, the Empire had stagnated and sectarian hostilities had been on the rise. Western power viz the Portuguese had begun to trouble. While Shah Jahan had sent his sons to lead many campaigns, Dara, his eldest, had remained beside him. This had caused rivalry between Dara and his three other siblings, Shah Suja, Aurangzeb and Murad.

The book dwells on how better leaders could be honed – they need to be out on the fields. Aurangzeb appeared to be getting better results but Shah Jahan appeared to be giving more favour to Dara. Wars of succession ensued.

Aurangzeb succeeded in keeping Shah Jahan to his quarters in his harem. He also tricked and triumphed over Murad when he was drunk with alcohol and sent him into confinement on an island. That done, Aurangzeb proclaimed himself Emperor (1658) in a brief ceremony. He was soon back on the road in pursuit of Dara and Shah Suja, Dara first as he was the more dangerous of the two. Dara’s flight was reminiscent of Humayun’s. Aurangzeb was master of deceptions and underarm politics. (Fake news/emails of today would seem pale beside them).

History be told that it would take another Akbar to hold the empire but Aurangzeb was no Akbar. His strict religious conviction once again released hostilities between the different sects. Arts and culture were ignored and music was banned. Painting was allowed, strange as it may seem. He had little interest beyond the sacred texts. Nevertheless, many court artists left and sought patronage elsewhwre.

While alliance with the Rajputs have been maintained since the time of Akbar and many Rajputs have entered the services of the Moghul, Aurangzeb chose to pick a quarrel with Rajasthan and invaded it in 1676. This became disastrous to Aurangzeb.

There were problems in the Deccan too. The Maratha chieftain, Shivaji , was able to unite the various clans into a political and military unit. It was able to create perpetual turmoil amongst three powerful neighbours - Bijapur, Golconda and Mogul- through guerilla tactics and shifting alliances.

A state of never ending issues in the empire. I became so tired even reading about them but Aurangzeb soldiered on until he was in his 80s. He went through appalling hardship due to the Deccan landscape. His long absence from Hindustan slackened authority in the north …. So too at the centre of the empire at Agra. Corruption increased, Moghul caravans plundered and even Akbar’s tomb was ransacked for it’s gold and silver plates and splendid carpets. By the end of his reign, large portions of the treasures of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan had been brought south to sink without trace!

Aurangzeb lamented on the frailty of human affairs – for the lack of friends and shortage of good officers -. However, his failures were perceived as being his own fault – an obsessive mistrust and refusal to delegate. In comparison, during the times of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, even women made their achievements in the history of the empire. Whereas Aurangzeb treated his children like naughty children well into their 50s and 60s. Midway through Aurangzeb’s reign, only he stood out.

Aurangzeb fell ill in 1705. Unlike most fathers who would call their children to their deathbed, Aurangzeb sent his away. All knew there would be chaos after his death. He died on 20 Feb 1707 after Friday prayer as he had hoped for. His grave, a simplest sort … a reflection of the legacy he left of his Empire.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Dear Diary : Sunday 04-11-2007

DESIRE is prayer. So, be careful with what you desire.

The master secret of the aged is not the atomic energy or black holes, not interplanetary travel ............ but the marvelous miracle - working power found in our own subconscious mind as this is the last place one would look for it, very few find it.

After breakfast thought:

What is the measure of a man (or woman) ? Does it lie in the worldly things he posesses or collects or the companions he keeps or those/that he keeps for the rainy days .... or the values he lives by or the faith and trust others hold of him?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Shadow Princess (Taj Mahal Trilogy, #3)

Although the book is third in the series of three, I have no problem in the reading.

It begins with the death of Mumtaz upon the birth of her 14th child in 19 years of marriage. Even opium could not alleviate the struggle she was under. Her husband, the Emperor of all Hindustan, mourned her passing culminating in a most splendid mausoleum for his beloved.

Not all the children survived. Not all the sons became the men they could have been ....... the bane of alcohol and opium. Shah Jahan found solace in his eldest daughter, Jahanara who found herself undertaking the running of her father's zenana (harem) and having to mature fast. Like most royal princesses of the realm, she and her sisters Roshanara and Gobarara were doomed to never marry, unless ofcourse ordered to by the emperor.

Yes, Sundaresan has a unique way of storytelling. Some of the pages picture like scenes from the Bollywood movies .........

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Of Peacock Throne And Peacock Angel

I had always thought that the Peacock Throne was the seat of the Persian King, the one that Reza Shah Pahlavi had pride over when he was King. I was in school then but imagine my surprise to know  later that the Peacock Throne was originally the seat of the Mughal Emperors of India. It was first commissioned by Shah Jahan in early 17th century not only to display the royal gold and jewels accumulated since the time of Tamerlene, but also to underscore his position........of floating above the ground closer to heaven. It took 7 years to build and cost twice as much as the Taj Mahal. At the top were two peacocks. Both the Taj Mahal and the Peacock Throne were designed by Austin de Bordeaux

The Peacock Throne

History tells that 7 Mughal Emperors later i.e. in 1739, during the rule of Muhammad Shah, the Peacock Throne  was captured by the Persian King Nader Shah as a war trophy. Other riches of the Mughals were looted . It is believed that Nader Shah captured several other thrones as well and upon his return to Persia, built other replicas with the looted jewels and gems. Unfortunately, 8 years later Nader Shah was assassinated by his officers and the Peacock Throne and others disappeared, probably dismantled and the encrusted jewels taken apart.

The Sun Throne, was built in the early 19th century for the Persian King Fath-Ali Shah of the Qajar Dynasty. His consort's name in English translates as Lady Peacock which is how this throne later got to be referred to as, The Peacock Throne.

The Sun (Peacock) Throne

Some claimed that parts from the original Peacock Throne have been used.

Peacock exists in Greek mythology as the bird Hera made. The tail was made from the 100 eyes of Argus. During biblical times it is regarded as a treasure and King Solomon brought many back to his Kingdom. To the Romans, practical as they were, regarded it as a delicacy. In Babylon and Persia, it is the guardian to royalty. Early Christians regarded it as a religious symbol, the all-seeing eyes, while the Indians, sacred and associate it with the deity, Lakshmi. It is also India's national bird. Yet, in some cultures and societies it is regarded as evil. It's tail is equivalent to evil eyes and is therefore bad luck to be inside homes.

An Indian Peacock
So, what is with Peacock Angel? 

An ancient faith believes that the Peacock Angel (Tausi Melek) was created by the Supreme God on a Sunday and on each of the other days six other Great Angels were created to help administer the universe. He was sent down to the young Earth  to calm the quakings ......this he did in the form of the peacock  and he was said to have  landed in Lalish in Iraq. He was sacredly regarded by the Yazidis.

Lalish, Iraq

Next when Adam was created each of the angels endowed him with a physical sense to experience life. It is said that Peacock Angel breath life into Adam.

Peacock Angel is manifested in various faiths,/religions and cultures and is regarded with respect. However, those who thought it's similarity to the story of Satan is uncanny and as such might have distant themselves.

Tausi Melek

Friday, May 24, 2013

This Flawless Place Between

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this book amongst a few others, I must say this has my vote as it is so readable....a quick read. I have no idea of it's plot and it is nothing like the Lobsang Rampa stuff as earlier envisaged. Deep in meaning  and yet so engaging.

Anne and Even were on a dream trip to the Himalayas when an accident occurred. The rest is another kind of journey through the "Flawless" place between death and rebirth.I do not know how much of it is real Buddhism and how much is fiction but it does make me think and reflect upon my own perceptions and understanding of the ethereal world.

The incantations of Psepel, the old Tebetian, assists in our understanding of the goings on. I thought the author's use of the "projections" as an effective playback on Anne's life is excellent. Again I wonder how much of it is the actual "projection" and how much the author's narratives.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013


If I were to write an epitaph for my late brother, it would be :

    ".......If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
            And treat those two imposters just the same......."

Aptly, the above lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" appears in the tunnel leading to Wimbledon's Centre Court.

So Kind And Jovial........

On the evening of 20th January, 2013, I was reminded by my late brother's children that he would have been 64 on that day. Suddenly, I felt a sense of solitude. I was awaiting my turn to bless his daughter and husband as newly weds, this time at a "bertandang" reception on the groom's side.

Ham and I spent more time together during our childhood days before I left for boarding school in 1961. Apart from some years he'd stayed with the grandparents when dad got posted to Padang Besar (he was just a toddler then), I don't remember us not being together. Mum had told me that grandparents thought that it was no place to be bringing up little kids. It was also my mum's first move out of the family home and she was to have the two older kids to mind. At the family home in Alor Gajah, there were the uncles and aunties on hand. However, I am more inclined to believe that  the grandparents who may have not been ready to part company. For that reason too I believe Ham had indeed over time become grandpa's favourite. My aunties told me that grandpa was very strict with them. They would get it from grandpa whenever Ham let out  as much as a cry!

As a school kid he was amicable. He made friends easily and with whoever, whatsoever. He would lend his comic books to friends. Once he was reprimanded by dad for lending some volumes of the junior encyclopaedia to a friend. Dad remarked that he had bought the books for his own children to read! When we were all grown dad gave them away to his sister's family for her children to read. I am not too sure whether it was fully utilised. In those days, reading habit was generally a bit of a challenge for village children. 

Ham was very interested in sports and would make early preparations before every sports day. Once he even sleepwalked after an early bedtime. The rest of us were in the sitting room when he came anxiously asking why the taxi had left without him. We said "What taxi?" and he returned to bed. Of course he did not remember any of it! He grew up to become a school 400m runner and footballer as related by my parents.

When my granddaughter sleepwalk after an excitable evening, I  wonder if she is taking after her granduncle!

When we were growing up we played marbles, tops, other toys and even dolls I'd made from cloth remnants. We collected cigarette boxes and rubber bands and invented games where we can gain more collections from the losers. When we were older we played  cards and monopoly. Ham never liked losing. He would have an extra card up his sleeve if needed be! Once dad organised a monopoly challenge with prizes for the winners. Ham had then focussed on becoming the first prize winner. When he didn't win it, it made the situation a little difficult for the rest of us! For the record, I had won the challenge.

Dad had always been interested in sports too. There is the ever present badminton/tennis rackets, hockey sticks, cricket bats and other paraphernalia. We tried them all. Once we were short of a hockey stick and found the answer in a tapioca stem with an about 5 inches root! Some passengers in a bus that passed by must have been entertained by us as we could hear them!

During those days fathers were usually concerned about sons growing up to be boys. Dad had bought two sets of boxing gloves for the boys to slug one another. When I was nurturing my own son, the same thought came to mind. Bringing up kids in an urban environment is quite different. They do not get to climb trees like we did in the village nor play the traditional games outdoors. I have discussed this several times with the hubby. We fear that boys would grow up physically awkward in many ways. In the end we sent our son to  swimming and tennis classes. House chores were not spared . Other skills, he picked up on his own.

Ham's constant companions were his cat, radio transistor and a cousin who had come to stay a couple of years earlier before I left for boarding school . I think his cat(s) must have died a thousand deaths if he were not around. Ham would cry whenever any died. I only keep cats at an arm's length. Till today I have to explain that I am a little ticklish of it's fur and that I would not be able to take any death if I were very close with them.

He developed a very good knowledge of contemporary music and songs. Mum once told me he had won a competition organized by the Radio Station. I don't remember what he'd received though.

Ham went on to join the Royal Malaysian Navy. He received his early training at the Royal Military College, Sg Besi and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth twice. He had the privilege of meeting HRH Prince Charles there during his Midshipman training. As you know, the British royal family is traditionally very close with the Navy. Research tells me that HRH Prince Charles was in RNC for a 6-week course before moving on to serve on the guided missile destroyer HMS Norfolk.

Ham's second sojourn at Dartmouth was for a hydrography training. I was a student in London at the time. Although I was late for his passing out parade, I  managed to attend the ball later in the evening. The guys were real gentlemen. I understand the Malaysian Navy do not send their people there anymore.

The Royal Naval College, Dartmouth

He sailed many seas and was a very good story teller of his adventure in new places. A magnanimous man. I still keep in our PJ home the classical record album he had bought for me during his stay in Japan. I can't quite remember if it is Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. As we no longer have a functioning record player it is hardly touched now. That probably was more than sufficient payback for my stamp collection sale money (for Bridgnorth Stamp Club) that he had taken liberty on. I had been a member of the Club in the 50s and I understand the club still exists. 

At the auspicious event of the marriage of his two younger children I cannot help but remember him. When it was all over, he appeared in my dream seated at a dining table gesturing me to the seat next to him. I suppose he must be pleased ..........Sleep well, my dear brother. Al-fatiha.

Here We Are In Our Golden Years

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Coming of Age: The Updated Story of Britain's New Tennis PhenomenonComing of Age: The Updated Story of Britain's New Tennis Phenomenon by Andy   Murray

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