Mughals have been ours, weren’t the opposite

Keki daruwalla

Museums can wait. They have waited centuries to become museums, sculptures waiting for noses to be chopped off by Asiatic hordes on horseback. If buildings can be credited with patience, they are museums. They can wait till Hindutva historians from the Indo-Gangetic plains or Western Ghats can pull out something from a hat and credit Shivaji Maharaj with something he did for Agra, for that’s where the Mughal museum was coming up, till with a praiseworthy fiat from the Chief Minister, the name has been changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum.

But first let’s be done with the Narcotics Control Bureau, interrogating an actress for 80 hours, and damning her with justifiable leaks. I would like to relate my one and only ‘encounter’ with the NCB. I was chairman, JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee), which in a way acted as the only think tank for the government those days in the 1990s. There was no NSA then. The JIC was trying to make a holistic study of North-eastern states. Narcotics was like a sub-surface pest subverting our security concerns. What better than accost the Narcotics Bureau chief? Though I was a good many years senior, I sought an appointment and was ushered into his room, where he was lounging on a sofa and a mess havildar, standing with an open notebook, I presumed, was taking orders for lunch and dinner, fish mayonnaise or perhaps matar-paneer, topped by gajar ka halwa. Now I am a reasonably intelligent man, an assertion disputed vehemently by friends who know me. After overhearing five minutes of the conversation, I jumped to the conclusion that it was the Bureau Inspector General on ‘stand to’ in front of the Director General! Such flashes of insight, I must admit, are few and far between. To cut a long story short, I told him how critical was the DG’s input to our paper (it turned out to be a 60-page booklet). It was well known that drugs came both through the Afghanistan-Pakistan route and Myanmar. We were looking for deep insights.

A week later, the DG handed me a half page, written in red ink by hand, on the narcotic problem confronting Bharat Varsh. If brevity was the soul of wit, this was it. Stunned as I was, I thanked him profusely. I am certain things must have improved since we get news of the 80-hour talkathon with the poor lady. But to continue with my paper, as I was walking through North Block, an MoS called out, “Daruwalla Sahab, very fine paper. Woh Chief Minister badmash hai.” We hadn’t mentioned a word against any Chief Minister. How dare we? But within a fortnight, a CM was sacked.

Back to the Mughals, who ruled India from 1526 to 1857, over 300 years. The glorious chapter of Mughal painting cannot be glossed over. Have we anything comparable to the miniatures? Babur, despite his sophistication (he would write poetry on horseback), didn’t have a big hand in developing it. It was Humayun who developed it, driven out though he was in 1540, after having spent five years wandering in Rajasthan and Sindh. Meanwhile, in half a decade, Sher Shah Suri had transformed the administration, set up what was later known as GT road, put up trees and drinking water facilities on the roads — something our great administrative geniuses could not do to save the migrants in 2020.

In his Kabul court during exile, Humayun befriended Abdus Samad, known calligraphist and painter, and Mir Musawir. Samad was made ateliq, honorary guardian of Prince Jalaluddin, later Akbar, and given the title of ‘Shirin Qalam’. He has been mentioned by both Abul Fazl and Badayuni. Humayun himself took lessons in art and calligraphy, and while wandering in Rajasthan asked an artist to paint a bird. Mughal painting was the result of very accurate observation of nature and life. There is both opulence and variety in each painting. If Sufis are depicted, each one will have a different garb and beard. Pigeons on a balcony will be distinct. A hunt scene will have the King with a weapon, beaters in the reeds and deer stampeding.

The man behind the brush was eclectic, not sectarian. A painting on the Third Battle of Panipat (1761) has a small square at the bottom showing Abdali’s soldiers attacking/m-olesting the women in the fort. A luminous central page from the Koran, showing the Surat Marium (chapter on Mary), is painted beautifully in a carpet design. Salim Jehangir’s attention strayed towards engravings showing his interest in Christian theology. Father Jerome Xavier has been quoted in a letter of August 20, 1595 …“he (Jehangir) was seriously angry with our Muhammadan guide for bringing him no image of the mother of God”. In 1597, Xavier wrote to his superior that Jehangir especially wanted the “pictures of our Saviour and the Blessed Virgin”.

The anti-Mughal bias comes from wrong beliefs. Mughals were ours, they were not the other.

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