Book Review: Empire Of The Moghul - Ruler Of The World
The last few chapters of the book are exclusively about Prince Salim - his frustrations, his wayward tendencies, his passions, his hobbies and his mistakes. This seeming divergence from the main theme is actually a central aspect of the story itself, as I shall cover below. Akbar, in this phase, is a grandfather, and concentrates on his grandchildren - which, in due course of time, causes worry and jealousy in Salim - and this very materially impacts the story and the resultant events later on in life. The slowly growing rivalry between Khusrau and Salim has been superbly brought out, and makes for enthralling reading.
It has to be remembered that this is historical fiction, and not history. So, first of all, let us clear one aspect- the missing Birbal, The name Jalaluddin, the 9 Gems and so on and so forth. One has to remember that this book deals with a ruler who, alongwith Ashok The Great, is considered to be one of the 2 greatest rulers of Indian History, and one of the most celebrated Emperors of World History of all time. Quite obviously, in order to create a story with flow and pace, one would have to pick and choose what to focus on and what to ignore., This is not a history lesson - but rather a story based on Akbar. It is true to history and is accurate in the depiction of the various historical figures and events. But Akbar would have had a very rich and detailed life - one that is also well documented, and filled with quite a few achievements and happenings. The Authors have chosen a story line and an objective - and stuck to it right till the end.
The chosen storyline is the personal life of Akbar the man, and his growth into one of the most celebrated Emperors of documented history, his governance style and tolerance, and his rule. It is not about the Mughal Empire - it is about The Ruler Of The World - as the title quite clearly states. It chooses to focus on Akbar the man rather than his empire. This is indeed a great choice - for from a fiction story-tellers point of view, Akbar had a singularly mundane life. King at 14,steady growth into a celebrated ruler, 3 children, 3 grandchildren, numerous victories and then... oblivion in the form of death. How do you create a winning fiction story out of that? In order that the story does not lose reader interest and appeals to a large cross-section of the audience, you would but-naturally have to have a focal point and direction. Any events that do not lie along the focal point and the chosen direction will have to be ignored. The main question is, - have the Authors' succeeded in portraying that era and the story powerfully enough so as to keep the interest throughout? Answer: Undoubtedly, yes. It is a superb enthralling book with a great story, superb characterization, nice pace, lovely, controlled but explicit emotions and great narrative.
We have been brought up on a staple diet of Akbar- tolerant, humane, far-sighted. This is also a historical fact. Then we had Mughal-e-Azam and Jodhaa-Akbar, with especially Jodhaa Akbar potraying him as sugary-sweet and gentle - a characterization that does not quite gel with the overall times he lived in. The Akbar in this book is, by contrast, far more believable especially in the context of the Mughal Era. He is tolerant, a liberal in terms of religion, far-sighted, humane, a great administrator and ruler, well loved by the people- but at the same time he is also authoritative, firm, absolutely in control, cruel at times, egocentric in some ways, undecisive in personal matters... this is not too far from our image of Akbar. Further, it helps to develop a better understanding of the man behind the Emperor.
Jahangir is a study in contrast. Because of Akbar having been betrayed by just about everybody except Bairam Khan and his mother, he (Akbar) grows up not trusting anybody, and in full control at all times. Salim is the son of the Powerful Akbar - always under his shadow. This is reflected in Salim' character.. indecisive, unsure, under-confident, always proving himself - both to his father as well as to himself! This also gels perfectly with our knowledge of Salim, hence it sounds logical and is easy to digest. Further, this also develops the central character, since we now connect Akbar's early experiences with his behaviour, and relate to his central worry - who will carry the legacy forward?
Hirabai (The Rajput first wife) is hateful, negative and completely out-of-character. This portion of the story is perhaps the only place where the authors' have not been fully convincing - especially their personal moments, the unconvincing surrender has not been handled too well; her character has also been left under-developed. This is the only jarring note in an otherwise superb novel, especially as it goes completely against our general understanding of that character. Hamida Begum - the mother - is a very astute, shrewd and balanced person, and has been well developed in the story.
As a history book - superb insofar as it takes you into that era, helps you to visualise that era and understand it. You begin to get an appreciation of the administration in those days, the inevitability of conflict, the roots of the desires etc. As a novel - in a class of its own. A racy page turner... a must read!