The First Mughal
Eat your heart out, William ‘Bahadur S. Zafar’ Dalrymple. I write this from under the shade of a Panja Chenar tree in Kabul a few metres away from the tomb of Babur, that ambitious chap from a spot in modern Uzbekistan who, in the early 16th century, expanded the family business started by his grand-dad Timur, Indrajit Hazra writes.india Updated: Aug 23, 2009 00:15 IST
Eat your heart out, William ‘Bahadur S. Zafar’ Dalrymple. I write this from under the shade of a Panja Chenar tree in Kabul a few metres away from the tomb of Babur, that ambitious chap from a spot in modern Uzbekistan who, in the early 16th century, expanded the family business started by his grand-dad Timur. Dalrymple just confirmed that he’s never visited Babur’s grave. So, ha!
Thankfully, singing hosannas to the founder of the Mughal dynasty won’t get me expelled from any party. If anything, I hanker for an honorary membership to the Babar ki Aulad Club. I really do admire the Old Turk, trudging all the way from his pocket borough of Farghana and building an empire that remains the most visible symbol of the Indian Nation-State’s sense of history. After all, the Prime Minister doesn’t address his August 15 speech from any building in Lutyen’s Delhi, but from the ramparts of a fort built by Babur’s great-great grandson who also built India’s most famous brand ambassador, the Taj Mahal.
Well, sitting here at the Bagh-e Babur (The Garden of Babur) in Kabul, where the Mughal emperor’s body was put to rest in 1540 after first being buried in Agra (he had wished to be buried in the Afghan city among the trees and waterways he had built in the late 1520s before coming to Hindustan), I can’t help but feel what no Saarc summit or nostalgic Punjabi can make me feel: (now don’t laugh) the subcontinent. Sitting here in the Babur Gardens, the standard image of Afghanistan so loved by international news agencies vanishes: a huddle of women with their faces shining all a-giggle, men playing cards, slowly walking lovebirds, picnicking families — all having a fun Friday (the Afghan Sunday) afternoon.
As I sprawl on the grass devouring the rollicking novel, Empire of the Moghul: Raiders From The North, by Alex Rutherford (the first in the ‘Empire of the Moghul’ quintet) dealing with the swashbuckling adventures of the padawan-to-Jedi knight Babur, I feel the physical nudge-nudge of history. (I don’t think I would have felt quite the pop cultural pop if I was reading the more canonical Baburnama.)
But there’s another reason why I’m lightheaded here in Babur’s favourite place. This garden has been painstakingly restored by an Indian, the conservation architect and Project Director, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Delhi, Ratish Nanda. I asked him from his ‘re-creation’ how the place was when he first saw it. “It was on the frontlines of a 20-year civil war, all trees chopped for firewood or to provide a clear line of fire — depending on which story you believe. When I first got to Bagh-e Babur in 2002, Babur was under a concrete pavilion, there was not a blade of grass and rockets were sticking out of the mud walls,” he tells me. “And there was a 1980s swimming pool in the middle of the garden. I could have cried for Babur.” Kar Sevaks on top of the Babri Masjid were only marginally better than the Afghans.
Ratish headed the conservation work with Delhi’s Mohammad Shaheer as the landscape architect. Indian craftsmen built the marble tomb enclosure in Delhi using stone from Makrana, Rajasthan, and the tomb was made by Indian craftsmen working with Afghans.
Muhammad Umar, the Afghan ‘keeper’ of Babur’s tomb, provides a running commentary as he shows me around the enclosure. Then he asks whether I know the “very good engineer” who saved this place. I tell Umar that I’ll pass on his regards to the man who rescued the first Mughal emperor from oblivion.