Aurangzeb: zealot or strategist?
the Moghul: Traitors in the Shadows by Alex Rutherford
This is the
sixth in the Empire of the Moghul series by Alex Rutherford (the pen name of
Diana and Michael Preston) , and for a reviewer newly come to the series, that could have been a disadvantage. However,
it is not, simply because Traitors in the
Shadows stands alone as an adventure story set at a scorching pace, full of
wars/ battles/ conflicts, political skullduggery, some intrigue, then more wars/
battles/ conflicts. And it just so happens that the protagonists are the sixth
Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, his bête noire Shivaji, then Shivaji`s son and heir Sambhaji,
and last but certainly not the least, the Mughal emperor`s own ambitious sons.
everything we learned in our history classes, with much flesh, blood and fire breathed into
it. Aurangzeb is Emperor of India, and has seated himself confidently on the
fabled Peacock Throne, but the crown
sits uneasily on his head as he aspires to win back the affections of his
beloved sister Jahanara, who chose to
stay with Shah Jahan, the father Aurangzeb has imprisoned in Agra. Shivaji is a
very real thorn in his flesh; soon, Aurangzeb`s growing sons all display the kind of ambition
that one fosters in oneself but does not like to see in one`s sons! Adding to
his frustrations is the onerous task of ruling a country of unbelievers who
refuse to see the light and convert to Islam. And as he ages, the fact that he
hunted down and killed his brothers, imprisoned his siblings, sons and
daughters, all begins to gnaw at his
conscience. Indeed, it seems to be a hard life, the emperor`s life.
story gets off to a dramatic start, with Shivaji`s famous escape in a basket from under the eagle eye of the Emperor. Shivaji plays a brief role in
this book but leaves a clear impression of a man of much brain and some brawn,
and the ability to use both to his advantage.
One of Shivaji`s men remarks, ``He (Aurangzeb) calls us mountain rats
but he`s the vermin. Rats or not, we`ve already bitten his hand and will do so
again and again till we rid ourselves of him.``
are savage carnages and Rutherford goes into excruciating detail. In fact, Traitors in the Shadows is basically
just one account of battle after another. This can get a bit tiresome if the
reader is looking for a more reflective peek into this particular emperor`s psyche. The
details of the Mughal court are set out in exacting detail and Aurangzeb’s relationship with Jahanara is
interesting, as indeed its fallout on his other loyal sibling, Roshanara.
Rutherford stumbles is in trying to give an emotional back-story to the emperor.
We read of the father who never really loved him, preferring Dara Shikoh to
Aurangzeb; Mumtaz Mahal, the mother he adored but lost early in life; his
inability to understand that his rigid moral viewpoints are not ones that
eneadear him to his family, courtiers or his people, but it all really doesn`t
seem too convincing. At the end, the
author has the emperor repenting some of his more fell deeds and the reader
wonders if that is a bit of history faithfully reported or if it is artistic
license taken by the author.
The prose is
workman prose, no frills, no flourishes and indeed, some readers may well feel,
no magic too. The pace is brisk, and never flags for a minute; indeed, here
too, sometimes one wishes it would slacken a bit. The major detailing, the
filling of characters is all adept, and in direct counterpoint to the
passionless style, the war reports are quite florid! Some of the torture scenes
are hard to read (at least they were for this reviewer), particularly Sambhaji`s harrowing ordeal
before his drawn-out death. By the end
of the book, John Company has made its debut and is looking to grow in
prominence through the emperor has not really got its full measure as yet.
Aurangzeb, the man who views everything through the trellis of Islam, (`as
always, communion with his god, to him the one certainty in an uncertain world,
brought solace.`) , the first Mughal emperor to apply his religion in his rule,
the man who imposed the jizya or
religious tax on his non-Muslim subjects, emerges as a ruthless, not very likeable but
definitely interesting man. I particularly liked this bit of information: he
drank ice-cooled water from the Jumna poured into the drinking cup he carried
with him everywhere. It was carved into a lotus flower from a piece of
translucent white jade which would supposedly discolour instantly if poison
Even as the reader acknowledges and appreciates his political
astuteness, this cold, aloof, distant man does not instill much awe or respect.
We watch as he grows more and more isolated and we feel he deserves it, as he
is reaping the harvest of a man who has killed and imprisoned most of his
family. A master strategist at times,
Aurangzeb is nothing less than a zealot at other times.
notice, this reviewer deliberately uses` Mughal` for the `Moghul` used in the book. While fully
sympathetic to the fact that Rutherford is writing for a Western audience, I
think as Indians we might as well stick to the right word. So, Mughal it is.
of historical fiction will lap this up. Maybe.
copywriter turned journalist turned writer Sheila
Kumar is the author of a
collection of short stories titled Kith
and Kin (Rupa Publications).
Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies. She edits copy for a
brace of technical magazines, writes a whole lot of travel articles, and reviews books for a couple of national
Labels: Alex Rutherford, Aurangzeb, Book Review, Earthen Lamp Journal, Empire Of The Moghul, historical thriller, Traitors In The Shadows