'By the grace of God my beloved son [. .. J we are now masters of Hindustan. A great empire, rich and populous.'
On the eve of the battle of Panipat, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur gathers his forces to fight the formidable Lodhi Sultan and regain Hindustan, the land of riches that his ancestor Temur once ruled. His confidence is boosted by his pride in the martial skills of his beloved son and heir, Humayun. But little do the father and son know that their biggest threat lies not in the fields of war, but within the intricate web of relationships they have woven around themselves -Babur with his wives, who are absorbed in games of one- upmanship, and Humayun with the alluring concubine Sona. Can Babur really trust anyone, even those who are closest to him? Will he be able to defeat his enemies, both outside and within?
Babur: Conqueror of Hindustan narrates the story of the first Mughal emperor, Babur-poet, warrior, writer, lover, aesthete and inspiring general-and the gentle yet valiant prince, Humayun. An evocative narrative laced with searing passion and intriguing politics, this book brings to life the era of the mighty Mughals.
Royina Grewal has written Sacred Virgin: Travels along the Narmada, In Rajasthan: A Travelogue, The Book of Ganesha and In the Shadow of the Taj. Besides her books, her interest in history has been expressed through the six Son et Lumiere productions she has conceived, scripted and directed. Royina is also an organic farmer and spends time between Delhi and her farm in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. This is her first work of fiction.
The setting moon skims the perpetual snow of the high mountains in the west. Dawn is yet a faint thread of light in the eastern sky. It is that in-between time, poised between night and day, when the silence is absolute. The birds are asleep, so are the inhabitants of the small town, as well as the more distinguished occupants of the great fortress. The citadel of Akshi, still huddled in deep shadow, crowns a high cliff surrounded by steep ravines with the river on one side. It is the biggest fortress in Fargana and capital city of Umar Sheikh Mirza's small kingdom. Its excellent defences made it home to his family for at least seven generations. But the revenues are meagre and repairs not sufficiently regular.
As the mountains flush with the first rays of the rising sun, the rumble of falling masonry shatters the early morning stillness as a small avalanche careens off the walls of the citadel, crashing hundreds of feet to the precipice far below. Umar Sheikh's beloved doves, kept in a cote on a bastion, flutter in alarm. But the inhabitants are not disturbed-the fortress is old and ill-maintained and such eruptions of sound are common. A small figure clambers over the parapet wall and darts into the shadows, panting with exertion. His expression is set and hard, but there is a sense of satisfaction and eager expectation as he settles down to wait. It had been difficult to dislodge the big stones in the wall and dangerous too, but the effort was worth it. The rockfall has critically weakened the parapet wall.
Far below, Umar Sheikh Mirza stumbles out of the bed of his favourite concubine, feeling the after-effects of the previous night's indulgences. He stretches mightily, the ties of his shirt straining across his great belly, scratches his clipped brown beard and carelessly winds his turban. He is short and portly but strong as a bull and well known for his powerful fist, with which he has floored many a man when his hasty temper has flared. His wrath has got him into trouble on many occasions, causing him to make enemies of friends and to exchange peace for war. But he is usually genial and a generous host, eloquent in conversation and able to turn a fine quatrain. Umar Sheikh looks down at the lady in his bed and considers waking her for some frolic, but she is sleeping deeply and he regretfully decides to postpone his pleasure.
Umar Sheikh shakes his head to clear the fog of wine. He had consumed copious amounts the previous evening. It is then that the persistent sounds of unease from his dovecote high above begin to penetrate his consciousness. He decides to investigate. But as he staggers up the steep staircase to the uppermost bastion of his citadel, his mind wanders. His kingdom, though rich in fruit and grain, is small, able to support only three thousand fighting men, which is why his dreams of conquest have so often been thwarted. Why, only a few months ago his attempt to seize Osman Khan's territories almost failed. It was only his own strength that enabled him to kill Osman during their combat. A pity Osman resisted; he was once a friend, but then kingship does not foster friendship. Well, at least Umar has done well by Osman's son, adopting him and treating him like his own.
At the top of the staircase, Umar Sheikh breathes in the fresh morning air. His doves coo and flutter with pleasure at his approach. The chieftain of Fargana takes a handful of grain from the bin near their cote and tosses it to the birds. He dotes on them and will fly them now. He leans against the parapet wall watching them tumble in the blue sky, just as he had taught them. Suddenly, he feels the wall crumble, he cries out, tries to leap aside but it's too late, the liquor has slowed his reflexes and he plummets downwards, arms still flailing. It is divine retribution, he thinks fleetingly, for drinking forbidden wine and for quoting tales of ualour from the Shah Namah in preference to couplets of the holy Koran. He collides against the wall and cartwheels over and over again, his doves flying around him like a retinue till he smashes onto the floor of the ravine with their cote.
The boy crouched in the shadows smiles as the thin scream echoes off the mountains. 'Umar Sheikh,' he hisses. You spawn of Satan! I swore to my father that I shall be the instrument t of your perdition.'
They ride out of a cloud of dust, trailing a plume that coils across the plain like a great serpent. The horsemen ride on at an undemanding canter, sitting easily in their saddles, bodies relaxed, reins held loosely in the manner of men accustomed to journeying long distances. Their Beg rides slightly ahead, his distinction sparing him the dust. He would have stood out anywhere for the arrogance in his bearing and the hauteur in his eyes, even more than for his tooled saddle, hung with the yak tails of high rank. Beg Mirza Khan, chieftain of Mahar high up in the mountains, close to Babur's ancestral kingdom, glances back at his five hundred liegemen.
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