Journal of Babur

The journal kept by Babur is the earliest example of autobiographical writing in world literature.
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Published on Mar 14, 2006 06:04 PM IST
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None | ByHT Correspondent, New Delhi

Babur Nama: Journal of Emperor Babur
Translated by A.S. Beveridge
Abridged, edited and with an introduction by Dilip Hiro
Penguin Books India
Pages: 385
Price: Rs 395.00
ISBN: 0-14-400149-7

'The facts are as stated here . . . I have set down of good and bad whatever is known.'

The Babur Nama, a journal kept by Zahir Uddin Muhammad Babur (1483-1530 AD), the founder of the Mughal Empire, is the earliest example of autobiographical writing in world literature, and one of the finest. Against the turbulent backdrop of medieval history, it paints a precise and vivid picture of life in Central Asia and Afghanistan - where Babur ruled in Samarkand and Kabul - and in the Indian subcontinent, where his dazzling military career culminated in the founding of a dynasty that lasted three centuries.

Babur was far more than a skilled, often ruthless, warrior and master strategist. In this abridged and edited version of a 1921 English translation of his memoirs, he also emerges as a sensitive aesthete, naturalist, poet and lover. Writer, journalist and internationally acclaimed Middle-Eastern and Central-Asian expert, Dilip Hiro breathes new life into a unique historical document that is at once objective and intensely personal-for, in Babur's words, 'the truth should be reached in every matter'.

Here is an excerpt:

My first marriage
Ayisha Sultan Begun whom my father and hers [i.e. my uncle Sultan Ahmad Mirza] had betrothed to me, came to Khojand in Shaaban [March AD 1500], and I took her. I was not ill-disposed towards her. But, this being my first marriage, out of modesty and bashfulness, I used to see her only once in fifteen days or so.

My infatuation and some of my verses
In those days I discovered in myself a strange inclination - no, a mad infatuation - for a boy in the camp's bazaar, his name Baburi being apposite. Until then, I had no inclination of love and desire for anyone, by hearsay or experience. At that time I composed for Persian couplets, one or two at a time. This is one of them:

May non be as I, humbled and wretched and lovelorn;
Not beloved as you are to me, you cruel being, full of scorn.

From time to time Baburi appeared before me. But out of modesty and bashfulness, I could never look directly at him. How then could I make conversation with him in my joy and agitation I could not even thank him for coming. How was it possible for me to reproach him for going away from me? What power had I to command him to be of service to me?

One day, during that period of desire and passion, when I was walking with companions along a lane and suddenly saw him face to face, I got into such a state of confusion that I almost lost my senses. To look straight at him or string words together was impossible. With a hundred torments and shames, I moved on. A [Persoan] couplet of Muhammad Salih [author of Shaibani Nama] came to my mind:

When I see my friend I am abashed with shame;
My companions look at me, I look away sans aim.

That couplet suited my state of mind perfectly. In that maelstrom of desire and passion, and under the stress of youthful folly, I used to wander, bareheaded and barefoot, through streets and lanes, orchards and vineyards. I showed civility neither to friends nor to strangers, took no care of myself or others.

(Turkish) Desire overwhelmed me, made me reel,
what every lover of a comely face does feel.

Sometimes, like mad men, I used to wander alone over hill and plain; sometimes I wandered in gardens and suburbs, lane after lane. My roaming was not of my choice; nor could I decide whether to go or stay.

(Turkish) Nor power to stay was mine, nor strength to part;
I became what you made of me, of thief of my heart.

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