Saturday, October 20, 2012

Babur Ki Aulad in London

I had always wanted to watch Babur Ki Aulad. So, when a mail arrived from The Nehru Centre, London informing that Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan will play host (Oct 10, 2012) I marked it on my calendar. As the name suggests it provides a glimpse into the lives of Mughal emperors. 

The narrative revolves around the imprisoned last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar and his interaction with a history scholar from the current time who gets transported back to Zafar's cell in Rangoon. The sad, lonely and forlorn emperor gets candid talking about his ancestors, correcting the youngster's Urdu in between.

In a moment of heat, Zafar reminds his 'friend' that while a father's blood can be disputed there can be no ambiguity regarding the mother's identity. This was in response to questions about the Indianness of the Mughals. Bahadur Shah Zafar's mother was a Hindu. Without doubt, Tom Alter excelled in his role as the weak and ailing Zafar. His voice had the depth and pain of an exiled king who was only too eager to share slice of Mughal history.

It starts from Babur and reflects upon the emotional struggle he faced between choosing to live in India or returning to Afghanistan. The king who loved a good glass, established the Mughal kingdom, but longed for Kabul. Babur's dialogues reminded me of Baburnama that I read couple of years ago. The frailties and courage of a king really strikes you. Sayeed Alam the director of the play played the role of Babur with finesse. "It was after defeating Ibrahim Lodhi and not Rana Sanga that the Mughal found their foot in India," informs Zafar to his wide eyed friend.

The play brings out the power struggle for the Mughal throne between heirs down the generation. Most of the emperors witnessed ugly power struggles with the accompanying palace intrigue and battles between brothers. Akbar's confrontation with Bairam Khan, Nur Jahan's wish to see Prince Shahryar on the throne instead of Prince Khurram (Shahjahan) who himself saw enough misery in his last days were well captured.

When Aurangzeb appeared on stage the youngster remarked that he doesn't look like even Aurangzeb's servant. The king who imposed jaziya and expanded Mughal rule lived on earnings made by copying the Quran and stitching caps. Right from Babur, Humayun to the 'benovelent' Akbar, the 'womaniser' Jehangir, the 'magnificent' Shah Jahan, the 'mighty' Aurangzeb to Bahadur Shah Zafar - none of them went for Haj - despite their wealth and power and capability.

The last Nizam, touted as the richest man of his time, did not go to Haj even though he made arrangements for pilgrims in Mecca at his expense Faith aside, being in constant command was perhaps a prerequisite to safeguard the kingdom and maintain ones hold. A trip to Mecca meant being away from the throne for few months, at a time when a few days would turn the tide. However, they never shied away from sending unwanted and troublesome relatives, generals to Haj to have their paths clear.

The title Babur Ki Aulad is apt as the play is indeed about the sons of Babur. It does touch upon the attempt to use Babur Ki Aulad to label a community as alien to India. As the narrative flows it reveals why the Mughals acted the way they did. Some of the more popular Mughals were born of Hindu mother - Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan Bahadur Shah Zafar.

It is an irony that the principal language used in Babur's time disappeared from the Mughal court quite soon. Chaghatay, the language in which Babur wrote his Baburnama, which was his first language gave way to Persian. While Akbar could converse in it, his son Jehangir could only understand it. Babur's alienation had started much earlier.

The play originally written by Salman Khurshid in English was translated in Urdu by Ather Farouqui. "We thought it fit that the play be in Urdu in London and for the English version you have to come down to India," Khurshid said. Also present was the Indian High Commissioner to UK Dr Jaimini Bhagwati with his wife.

When the play ended it was a relief to see Tom Alter stand erect. During the whole play all he had was a bed, one-fourth his size, which made me sitting in the audience constantly uncomfortable. Tom was not very happy with the cameras flashing all along during the performance and spelled out his displeasure. 

"Hindustan mein inse zyaada gora aur inse achhi Urdu bolne waala koi nahin hain," said Sayeed Alam at the end.

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