When they killed my husband, it was the spirit of undaunted daring and unfailing love that was murdered.
You romanticise the love that Shahjahan bore for Mumtaz because he erected that mausoleum called Taj Mahal in memory of his supposedly unfailing love for Mumtaz. But Mumtaz was just one among the many wives and concubines on whose bosoms Shah Jahan expended his lust night after night. Your historians will romanticise the heroism of many a ruler just because they went far and wide marauding and massacring.
My husband may find no place in such histories. But he was a genuine hero and romantic lover, a rare combination. He fought the battles of life more bravely than any conqueror. He loved me passionately, more than any Mughal emperor loved any of his women.
Yet the universe conspired against him just as mediocrity conspires against the genius. He was subjected to so many deaths. Deaths in life.
Khusru, my beloved, was also the beloved of the greatest Mughal emperor, Akbar. The strong love the strong. The genius loves geniuses. Akbar loved his grandson, Khusru, more than he could ever love his own son, Salim. But Salim succeeded his father to the throne through a heinous conspiracy against my husband. That was the first assassination of my husband by the universe.
Murad and Daniyal, Akbar’s younger sons, had killed themselves at tender ages with their addiction to opium. Salim too was an addict and remained one till the end of his wretched life. But the opium did not kill him. You could see death in his eyes. There was weakness in his eyes. And the weak are cruel. Salim was cruel beyond imagination. The weak are manipulative too. Cunningly manipulative.
Salim’s weakness craved for power. The weak love political power. He led many a revolt against his own father, only to realise bitterly that he was no match for the great Akbar. His mother, Man Bai, a shrewd woman who wanted to rule the empire through her only surviving son, killed herself when the court had become a snake pit of conspiracies. She chose her younger sons’ way to death: opium. She had learnt the bitter truth that her elder son was no better than the younger ones.
But she was wrong. Salim did become the emperor. Ironies accompany the royal life just like the plague accompanies filth.
It was not Salim who manipulated the events at the time of Akbar’s death, however. After Man Bai’s death, Akbar’s senior wives wriggled in the pit like snakes in the mating season.
They mated with the ministers and commanders. Intrigues flourished in their wombs.
Akbar was in his death bed like a new born infant. Where did his glory go? Where did the power vanish? Oh, Akbar the Great, where did your greatness disappear?
The women came impregnated with schemes to Akbar’s death chamber. They whispered in his ears. Their words were poison. The poison transformed Salim into Jahangir.
One of the first things that Salim did after becoming Jahangir was to order the imprisonment of Khusru.
Salim imprisoned his own blood. Opium flowed in his veins. Khusru was confined to a gloomy chamber in the palace, with me as his only companion. The weak and cruel Salim ruled the country, while the real hero walked restlessly in a little chamber with only his wife to utter words of consolation.
And then began the next assassination of Khusru. Jahangir’s sycophants started rewriting history. They wrote the most vile things about Khusru. Khusru became a characterless man in their chronicles. They wrote that Khusru had inherited the deficiency from his mother. Hadn’t she committed suicide? Hadn’t his two brothers killed themselves with opium?
History is replete with blunders written by sycophants.
Khusru stopped calling Jahangir ‘father’ and started addressing him as ‘bhai’, brother.
One day Khusru requested Jahangir bhai to let him visit his grandfather’s tomb in Sikander near Delhi. Jahangir was never intelligent enough to understand Khusru and so the permission was granted. Soon Khusru reached Lahore along with his supporters. Many leaders of the Chugati and Rajput clans extended their support to Khusru. They knew that Khusru was worth a thousand Jahangirs.
But Jahangir acted with a swiftness that could not have been expected of an opium addict. Dilawar Khan was sent to Lahore to deal with Khusru. Dilawar reached Lahore from Agra in just eleven days; no mean feat, it should be said. A 50,000-strong army was deployed in Agra to encounter Khusru and his supporters.
Finally the battle took place on the bank of Ravi. It was raining cats and dogs and the soldiers fought in a soup of mud.
Khusru was defeated. His soldiers and commanders were impaled alive on stakes erected on either side of the streets. Hundreds of brave men writhed in agony on the stakes. Their blood made a pool in the streets. Khusru was led along that pool of blood, forced to see his men dying in worm-like wriggles. Even the Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev, was executed just because he had blessed Khusru while he was on his way to Lahore. Poor Arjan Dev, he was just fulfilling a courtesy.
Your cruelty is directly proportional to the weakness of your character.
Jahangir was not satiated with all that cruelty. He asked a soldier to pierce Khusru’s eyes with a metal wire.
Khusru did not utter a sound as the metal wire nicked his vision like an ant eating into a piece of cake. Bit by bit. Slowly.
Khusru was then thrown into a dungeon. With me as his only companion.
Jahangir soon felt remorse. Or was he trying to gain some popularity among the people? He knew how much the people admired and loved Khusru. He asked the royal physician to restore Khusru’s vision. The physician tried his best. Khusru did not regain his vision, but he could just see shadows. I was his abiding shadow. The other shadows that came and went could not be trusted.
Khurram was one such shadow. He was Jahangir’s son too. Unlike his father, Khurram was brilliant as a general of the army and very ambitious. When Jahangir asked the royal physician to restore Khusru’s vision, Khurram knew that the old man’s heart was too weak for an emperor. What if he handed down the empire to Khusru?
The empress Nur-Jahan was another shadow in Khusru’s derelict world. There was no love lost between her and Khurram. She was both suspicious and afraid of him. In order to keep Khurram far from the throne, Nur-Jahan hatched a plan.
“Marry my daughter from my first marriage,” she told Khusru. “She is still beautiful like the melons in our garden. She sparkles like the waters of the Yamuna. In return for this marriage, I’ll give you freedom. Nay, I’ll give you power. Yes, you will succeed to the throne after His Majesty’s reign comes to an end. Who can offer you a better deal than this?”
Khusru knew that the promises were not hollow. Nur-Jahan had the sagacity to carry out the necessary manipulations in the court.
“Why don’t you speak?” asked Nur-Jahan. “Say something.”
“You may leave us,” was Khusru’s answer.
“I want an answer immediately,” said Nur-Jahan imperiously.
“I refuse to have any woman other than this in my life,” said Khusru hugging me close to him.
“Is that your final decision?” asked Nur-Jahan rising imperiously.
“Final and irrevocable,” said Khusru imperially.
Nur-Jahan did not waste time. She plotted and manipulated. She conjured and contrived. Finally Khusru was handed over to Khurram.
Khurram became Shahjahan.
Shahjahan ordered Khusru to be transferred to Burhanpur in the Deccan. And there, far away from the people who adored Khusru as a hero, they killed him. They attacked him in the middle of the night. Khusru drew his sword and fought like a warrior unto the last.
My warrior is dead. My hero is dead. Let Shahjahan live and rule to his heart’s content.
And erect mausoleums to perpetuate the memories of his banality.
Now I am an old woman. Every wrinkle in my skin carries the memory of Khusru, still afresh.
History in brief:
1600 – 1605 : Salim (Jahangir) led many revolts against Akbar
May 1605 : Man Bai commits suicide
28 Aug 1605 : Akbar dies – Khusru is 18 years old
2 Nov 1605 : Salim anointed emperor, assumes the name Jahangir
15 Apr 1606 : Khusru escapes to Lahore
27 Apr 1606 : Battle between Khusru and Jahangir
1616 : Nur-Jahan’s conspiracies and Khurram’s ascent
Jan 1622 : Khusru is killed
The citizens were appalled to hear about Khusru’s murder and there were loud cries for vengeance. Jahangir was more angry with Khurram for concealing the murder from him than for the murder itself. In order to placate the people, Jahangir ordered Khusru’s body to be exhumed and brought to Allahabad where a magnificent mausoleum was erected next to his mother’s. The place has since come to be called Khusraubagh. In the story, I have telescoped the time between Khurram’s struggle for power and his becoming the emperor Shahjahan.