Saturday, January 21, 2012

Raiders from the North

In a country that thrives on dynasties - political, business, films and general life - the Moghul dynasty was arguably the first of its kind. From Babur to Aurangazeb, the Moghul dynasty impacted the culture, politics, religion, art and way of life in India. As students we learnt about their reign in our history lessons gleaning tidbits of who they were or rather what they had done in and for the country. But who were these people? Where did they come from? How did they manage to rule over a vast country like India? And why did the Indian population accept their rule? Or did they have a choice at all?

If, like me, some of these questions bother you then Alex Rutherford's 5-part series might be the answer. I like historicals but when written in a fictional novel format. It makes for easy reading and sparks interest in the reader rather than the drab original history format. Of course, historians will vehemently disagree since the historical fiction format takes creative liberty with the actual story introducing new characters where none existed, giving interpretation to the main character's psyche where none is needed. But that's what makes it fun, doesn't it?

Alex Rutherford's 'Raiders from the North' introduces us to Babur, the first Moghul. Spanning Babur's life from a tender age of 13 when he becomes the King of Ferghana due to his father's untimely death to a ripe old age of 36 as a ruler of India with dreams to establish the Moghul dynasty; Babur's life is filled with constant struggle to establish his identity. Living from one battle to the next, Babur rarely experiences a period of tranquility and peace other than towards the end. With a lineage of Genghis Khan and Timurid, Babur believes that he is destined for greatness and strives to achieve it. In his drive for greatness, however, he goes from being a king to a brigand with no kingdom, to a vassal of a lord until he finally finds his path to India.

Supported by a stellar support system of his fiery grandmother, Esan Dawlat - on whom he banks for advice; his loyal commanders Wazir Khan and Baisanghar and his close friend Baburi, he manages to overcome every defeat and hurdle on his way to greatness. Alex Rutherford beautifully captures the emotional journey of Babur from a naive 13 year old to a mature leader who enters India with an open mind and a clear vision to establish his dynasty.

It is interesting to note that Babur was almost a failure as a monarch in his home base of Afghanistan losing his kingdoms within the first 100 days and being reduced to guerrilla warfare. He was constantly hounded by his arch rival Shaibani Khan, the Uzbek and lived under the knowledge that one of them had to die for the other to survive. He lost his beloved sister - Khanzada - to Shaibani Khan and strived the early part of his life to get her back. For a brief moment, Babur lost sight of his destiny when he became a vassal to the powerful Shah of Persia and regained Samarkand although losing his closest companion, Baburi, in the bargain. Rutherford captures Babur's emotional growth as he goes through the rollercoster of experiences in gaining kingdoms but losing the battle for the hearts of his people.

Things only come around for Babur when he understands that he can be the master of his own destiny and when his friend returns to him with weapons - cannons and muskets - which give him the confidence that he can capture Hindustan. As you walk with Rutherford and Babur; you celebrate his victories, feel sad for his defeats, feel dejection for his dire situations, feel the frustration when he realizes his arch rival was killed by someone else, get angry when he loses sight of his destiny, feel happiness when Baburi comes back to him, feel alarmed when he realizes that he can motivate his army through the concept of jihad on India and appreciate his open mind to assimilate the culture in India and establish a good dynasty. In essence the book takes you through a rollercoster of emotions as well.

I learnt new things about the start of the key part of Indian history through the book. Mogul was meant to be an insult to Babur by the Persian king but Babur adopted it as a compliment and decided to call his dynasty The Moghul Dynasty. The 'army' of moguls was in essence a coming together of different tribes and fiefdoms paid for to fight and motivated by the lure of a good loot and winnings at the end of the battle. I wonder if the root of Indian corruption started from there!

Although part fictional in nature he book is based on Baburnama written by Babur himself. While Rutherford does bring out key aspects of Babur, I feel he lost out on the military strategy of the battles to some extent. Also Babur's relationships are to some extent glossed over. Was Baburi a close friend or a gay companion? Inspite of all this the one thing you take away from the book is to believe in your destiny and strive towards it even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I would suggest you read it to know more and would rate it 3/5 !

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