The tome Empire of The Moghul authored by Alex Rutherford gives a vivid description of the period reigned in the 16th and 17th century by the Muslim rulers. The read talks a great deal about the Mughal’s sultanate encompassing ambition, power and death piece by piece. The era seems to be flushing back with the sepia history of the lives of those Mughal monarchs. The book focuses on Jahangir who is hot on the trail of his rebel son Khusrau, who has declared himself emperor. But Khusrau’s forces go weak at the knees before his father. The battle resulted in capturing Khusrau. Jahangir typed as a ruthless ruler orders that Khusrau’s soldiers be impaled on wooden stakes and Khusrau is made to walk through the rows of stakes as his men cry out in agony. Khusrau’s life is spared, but he is thrown in the dungeon, to top it all, when he conspires the second time, his eyelids are sewn.
The best read on life of Moghul also deals with the relationship between emperor and crown prince, who in this case is Khurram (the future Shah Jahan). However, Akbar was almost eclipsed by Jahangir. Mehrunissa, better known as Nur Jahan, is fascinating. Alex Rutherford has deftly imagined how she and Jahangir got married. Veering from history, Jahangir orders the assassination of Mehrunissa’s first husband, Sher Afghan, a Moghul commander in Bengal. He is slain in bed with Mehrunissa, who has the presence of mind to allow the assassin to escape even though her husband’s blood is all over her naked body her loveless marriage comes to an end. The scene may sound fictional, but it establishes a historically-recorded aspect of Mehrunissa’s character her ability to turn situations to her advantage.
The Tainted Throne revolves around how Mehrunissa ended up dominating the Mughal court by encouraging Jahangir’s fondness for wine and opium. She also created a rift between him and Khurram in order to maintain her power intact. Her machinations against Khurram keep the book ticking. Also, the many wars, particularly Khurram’s campaigns in the Deccan and Jahangir’s kidnapping by one of his own commanders, are riveting. The book further pitches a small battle, Khurram’s confrontation with Khusrau is more engaging which is the only disappointing part of the novel. Alex’s in-depth insight into historical personalities salvages the weak parts. Even in her defeat, Mehrunissa manages to plant doubt in Khurram’s mind about a possible rebellion by his two brothers. As a result, Khurram orders their death. The book delivers a moral when Shah Jahan orders the execution of his two brothers, especially Aurangzeb who are responsible for the blood and gore spilled on the turf.
The more interesting part of the must-pick is the quick wrap up of the moghul dynasty’s rise and fall. The writing is as compelling as the events described in the book that depicts the Empire’s self-destruction; a dazzling and riveting story of paternal control, filial betrayal, envy, doubt and conspiracy rose out of ambition, power and death.
Jahangir, the triumphant ruler of most of the Indian subcontinent, is doomed. No amount of wealth and ruthlessness and as the Moghul Emperor he has plenty of both can protect him from his sons’ desire for power. The glorious Moghul throne, its unimaginable wealth and millions of subjects, is worth any amount of bloodshed and betrayal; it drives a son against his father and a brother against a brother and the fiercest battle with Khurram, the ablest of his warring sons.
Worse is to come. Just as the heirs of Timur the Great share intelligence, physical strength and utter ruthlessness, they also have a great weakness for wine and opium. Once Jahangir is tempted, his talented wife, Mehrunissa, is only too willing to take up the reins of empire. And with Khurram and his half-brothers each still determined to be their father’s heir, the savage battle for the Moghul throne will be more ferocious than even Timur could have imagined.
By Syed Wazid Ali