Tag Archive for 'Babur'

Is it ever right to ban art?

India’s tendency for self-censorship is saddening, writes Jeet Thayil. But is any book (or opera) worth dying for? From The Guardian’s Comment is Free

Like everyone else, I’ve heard of the Christian right, though mostly in connection with the US. In India, Christians are painfully aware of their minority status and, as a result, they are low-key, if not subterranean, at least when compared to other religious groups. The idea of militant Christianity here is as odd as the idea of militant Buddhism, or militant Zoroastrianism, or militant Animism, though why this should be the case I have no idea. Historically, Christians and Buddhists have been as enamoured of bloodshed as anyone else.

I was reminded of all this in January, when a group calling itself the Catholic-Christian Secular Forum threatened to take to court the makers of the Hindi movie, Ekk Deewana Tha [working translation: There Was This Crazy Dude]. The group objected to a single word used in the movie: hosanna. According to the Forum’s general secretary, the use of the word had hurt the religious sentiments of Christians and Jews around the world. Never mind that it had occurred in a song that was a hit in India and nowhere else. Credited to the composer AR Rahman, it was part of a song and dance sequence that was innocuous and forgettable – but clearly romantic. That was enough for the Catholic-Christians. According to the Forum’s general secretary, if you would not use Islamic or Hindu prayer words in popular music, why use the word hosanna “in a carnal love song”? In other words, if the Muslims and Hindus will object to perceived offences against their religious sentiments, as they frequently do, why couldn’t the Christians? more

Wine and tulips in Kabul

Foreign invaders have always had a difficult relationship with Afghanistan. The diary of Babur, the first Moghul emperor, offers some lessons in how to manage—and to enjoy—the place. From The Economist Christmas edition:

ON A bright winter’s morning lines of plane trees and immaculately tended rose bushes fall away down terraces where men crash out on carpets and sheepish young couples sit as close together as they dare. The plants are fed by a central water channel, the signature feature of a Moghul garden. Below is the brown smog of Kabul; beyond, snowy mountains.

The tomb of Babur, the first Moghul emperor, blasted and pock marked during the civil war of the 1990s, has been lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Some visitors come because it is now Kabul’s most tranquil public space; some because Babur is emerging as an unlikely national hero in a country short of leaders worth admiring. People pray at the foot of his low, simple grave. One enthusiast sacrifices a buffalo to him every year, and distributes the meat to the gardeners who tend the place.

Born far to the north of modern Afghanistan, Babur went to Kabul only because he had failed in Central Asia. It was Samarkand he dreamed of capturing. Yet when the demands of building an empire drove him south, he yearned to return to Kabul.

For a man who achieved so much, he is strangely unknown outside Afghanistan. Not only did he create a dynasty whose empire stretched from Afghanistan to southern India and which gave the world some of its greatest cultural riches, but he also wrote an autobiography which, though half a millennium old, is a far better read than most of the political and business memoirs churned out today. The Baburnama recounts the barbarity and hardship of a princeling’s life in a chaotic world; but it is also full of delight and humanity. Sometimes self-aggrandising, sometimes self-critical, Babur emerges from his autobiography as a real person, in a way no other great leader except Churchill does. And because the author is so open, and the style so clear, the book offers an intimate view of a world the reader would otherwise struggle to imagine. “Rarely can such a sophisticated mind”, says Bamber Gascoigne in “The Great Moghuls”, “have recorded so wild an existence which combined to an extraordinary degree the romantic and the sordid.” It was first translated into English in 1922 by Annette Beveridge, mother of William Beveridge, architect of Britain’s welfare state; “The Garden of the Eight Paradises”, a recent biography of Babur by Stephen Dale, has done it more than justice; yet it still lacks the fame it deserves. More:

The composite artist

Salman Rushdie explores the myth and magic of the illustrated manuscript The Adventures of Hamza. In Lapham’s Quarterly:

India, in the mid-sixteenth century. Just thirty-one years have passed since a fierce Timurid warlord, Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane and possessor of a surprising literary gift, was unhoused from his native land, and swept down to establish, by force of arms, a new kingdom in Delhi. Just sixteen years have passed since that warlord’s less puissant son Humayun was deposed and fled into ignominious Persian exile, abandoning his infant son to be raised by an Afghan uncle. Just one year has elapsed since the fugitive’s victorious return and the reestablishment of his dynasty, and just one month since the returned monarch fell down a flight of steps and died in a moment of bathetic slapstick, leaving his thirteen-year-old son, the son who barely knew him, to ascend his father’s precarious throne. What follows this period of near-perpetual upheaval, almost impossibly, is a time of political stability, economic prosperity, religious tolerance, cultural openness, the rule of law, and an artistic renaissance: the half-century-long reign of one of the most remarkable rulers the world has ever known, Jalal al-Din Muhammad, known as “Akbar,” the Grand Mughal, called jahanpanah, the wonder of the world. More: