Notes from a small room – Delightful anecdotes on life by Ruskin Bond

‘I have made a small bench in the middle of this civilized wilderness…this is my favorite place. No one can find me here. Unless I call out and make my presence known’ – excerpt from the book.

The above lines reflect the emotions of person content in the secluded space he has made for himself. No matter how much crowded his social life may be, he craves for his personal space. In his latest compilations of essays – Notes from a small room, Ruskin Bond makes such observations on human nature and writes anecdotes on life, philosophy, birds, monsoon showers, wild life, books, loneliness and contentment. Today where net-savvy people search for free Wi-Fi zones, Ruskin Bond emphasizes on the importance of a window in a room. A window is a gateway to the outer world, a glimpse of the palpitating life full of energy. As a child, I used to peep out of my window to feel the rain droplets on my hands. The article on window refreshed my childhood fascination to glimpse at the outer sceneries. What would life be without a window?

Ruskin Bond recounts his childhood memories he spent with his father during his days in Delhi and Shimla boarding house. The article ‘Remember this day’ is a nostalgic glance at Ruskin Bond’s tragic moment when he lost his father at age of 10. In one of his articles, he recounts his struggling days as a writer and how he couldn’t afford to buy a typewriter. An office colleague’s monetary contribution helped Ruskin to buy a new typewriter. It was this typewriter that enabled him to write memorable books and several short stories. Though his typewriter has become too old to work, he still relishes the experience of working on his writing device. For a writer, a typewriter is really an inspiring writing device. In this book, he has emphasized on the difference between staying alone and remaining lonely. In real sense, we are all alone but the cold nature of people makes us lonely. Human being is a social animal and always craves for company of friends. He becomes aloof when he is not accepted by people in the group due to various factors – nature, religion, status etc. The article on loneliness by Ruskin Bond will change your conception towards life and enable you to accept solitude with a refreshing change.

What personally captivated me to read the book was getting familiar about the different types of birds in mountain side and city. The birds from the city are different from the birds staying in jungle.

‘It’s is the simple things that keeps us from going crazy’ – Ruskin Bond

Though we capture so many things on our smartphones, we fail to notice the beautiful things in the surroundings. The dew drops on the grass, the smell of earth after the first rain and the refreshing view of mountains from window are beautiful views of nature that we miss every day. Shut off your mobile for a while to discover the true beauty of Mother Nature that brings you closer to a life full of happiness. Travel, give a surprise visit to your friends, eat on the local food-stalls and watch a movie in a single screen cinema hall. These are things that keep you alive. We have become so much absorbed in our mobile and tablet screens that we have forgot to live our life to the fullest. ‘Notes from a small room’ is the book for those who want to embrace happiness with their open arms.

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The legend of forgotten empress: Razia Sultan (1205-1240)

If any woman could equal Queen Elizabeth; it could be India’s young empress Razia Sultan who ruled Delhi for four years (10 November 1236 – 14 October 1240). Razia was the only woman in India’s history to rule Delhi. She broke the norms of stereotypical thinking of male dominated society by administering the Delhi Sultanate with leadership. It is very sad to know that today’s western thinking youngsters hardly know about Razia Sultana. The current teen generation is fascinated by Roman history, Greek warriors and fictional characters from fantasy TV series like Game of thrones.

The courageous feats of brave female monarchs like Rani Durgavati, Rani Abbakka and Razia Sultan are lost in pages of history. Should we blame it on history textbooks or the growing influence of American pop culture that we are forgetting our Indian heritage and backstories of forgotten bravehearts. The tomb of Razia Sultana lies neglected, abandoned and forgotten in old city of Delhi. No one knows about the exact landmark of Razia Sultana’s tomb. While researching on the topic of Razia on Google, I came across an article published in Tripoto website where a travel blogger had mentioned about the neglected state of Razia Sultana’s tomb where Razia lies buried beside her sister Shazia. After reading the article, I was deeply touched about the poor state of historical tombs. I am really keen to visit not only Razia Sultana’s tomb, but also pay respect to the forgotten queen who dared to change the society’s orthodox thinking with her forward minded approach.

Razia Sultan was the daughter of Shams-Ud-din Illtumish, a slave who rose to become the Sultan of Delhi after the death of Qutb-Ud-din-Aibak. This Sultan dynasty came to be known as slave dynasty. After the death of his son Nasir Ud Din Mahmud, there was no heir capable to rule Delhi except his daughter Razia. Razia had all the qualities required in a king to rule the kingdom bravely. Her only fault was that she was a female and this aroused a spark of jealousy, hatred among her half-brothers. In her four years rule, Razia took care of her subjects with efficiency. Despite being an able ruler, she was severely criticized by her opponents. In her short reign, Razia had become a favorite empress of her subjects. She not only conquered various territories with her dare-devilry, but also brought reformation by starting schools, academic centers and libraries.

‘She was a great monarch, wise, just, generous, benefactor to her realm, dispenser of justice, protector of her people and leader of her armies; and endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualifications necessary for a king’ – A praise written by Persian historian Miraj-I-Siraj

The legend says that Razia was a victim of conspiracy and betrayal. Razia and her husband Altunia were robbed and killed by Jats on October 14th 1240. It is been said that it was the mastermind of her half-brother Muizuddin Bahram Shah. Razia was been wrongly accused of being in a romantic relationship with one of her slaves – Yaqut.

Razia Sultan’s life was made into a Bollywood biopic in 80’s featuring actress Hema Malini in the titular role. Unfortunately the movie wasn’t up to the mark and couldn’t capture the history of Razia Sultan with epic scale. Recently a TV series was made on life of Razia Sultan and was telecasted on ‘&’ channel featuring actress Pankhury Awasthy in role of Razia. An epic biopic needs to be made in Bollywood soon with a powerful contemporary actress in role of Razia Sultan.

In a short life span, she left her mark on the pages of history. She was no less than Queen Elizabeth or Victoria. The sad irony is that we know about the history of foreign monarchs but are clueless about the legend of Razia Sultan.

Dara Shukoh – The ill-fated prince of Mughal Empire (20 March 1615-30 August 1659)

‘The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves’ – Shakespeare

The Shakespeare quote bears a coincidence with the ill-fated life span of the forgotten Mughal Prince Dara Shukoh who would have changed the course of Mughal empire had he been not killed by his own brother Aurangzeb. Despite born in a royal family, Dara Shukoh was too unlucky to rule the peacock throne. Unlike his ancestors, Dara was secular, highly learned and kind-hearted prince who lacked the tactical cunningness needed to rule the peacock throne. The death of his mother Mumtaz Mahal was a tragic setback in life of Dara. Emperor Shahjahan was so emotionally disturbed by his wife’s untimely demise that he devoted his attention to building a monument in memory of his beloved Mumtaz. Had Shahjahan focused his attention towards upbringing his children, his children wouldn’t have rebelled against him.

Dara Shukoh (20 March 1615 – 30 August 1659)

From the very beginning, Dara was hated by his brothers – Aurangzeb and Murad. An internal civil war was brewing within the family. Shahjahan’s affection towards Dara was the crucial factor that created a rift within the siblings. When Shahjahan became sick, Dara ruled the empire on his behalf, acting as a regent. Though Dara led many war campaigns, he lacked the leadership and ruthlessness of a soldier to drive away the invaders. Despite failing in war campaigns, Shahjahan still had hopes in Dara that he would take Mughal Empire to new heights. In this midst, Aurangzeb’s crafty mind was working to overthrow his father from the throne.

Dara’s lenient nature was one weaker factor that gave his opponents an upper hand over him. The internal moles of Aurangzeb were already keeping an eye on every movement of Dara’s actions. Had Dara been more aggressive and vigilante in his strategies, he would have definitely overthrew his crafty brothers.

Battle of Samugarh & Dara’s execution – The Battle of Samugarh in 1658 was a turning point in history of Mughal Empire, thus weakening the hold of Shahjahan towards his throne. Dara was severely defeated by the powerful army of Aurangzeb and Murad. Thus began the fall of Dara Shukoh who was the rightful heir to the throne. Aurangzeb not only defeated Dara, but also deposed his father Shahjahan from the throne. Apart from the defeat in Samugarh battle, Dara was losing everything on personal front too. The demise of his wife Nadira was one more tragedy that struck him on emotional front. Dara had plans to claim back his throne that was rightfully his. He marched to Sindh with hopes to seek the help of his friend Malik Jiwan whose life he had once saved. Little did Dara realize that Malik Jiwan was a betrayer in disguise. Malik Jiwan cunningly got Dara arrested and handed him over to Aurangzeb’s soldiers. Dara was paraded in chains on elephant by Aurangzeb’s soldiers, thus publicly humiliating him in eyes of the public. On advice of courtiers, Aurangzeb finally got Dara slain in the prison. His remains were buried in an unknown grave in Humayun’s tomb.

The slaying of Dara is darkest chapter in history of Mughal legacy and the beginning of decline of its supremacy. The fortune was not in the favor of the ill-fated prince Dara who was too good to be a Mughal emperor. The tragic story of Dara was featured in Amar Chitra Katha comics – Dara Shukoh & Aurangzeb. I had read about the story of Dara in my school days and somewhere in my mind I held great respect for this tragic Mughal prince. Sadly there is no biopic based on Dara Shukoh. This article is a small tribute to the forgotten Mughal prince Dara whose accomplishments are blurred in the pages of history. Dara Shukoh’s life will be brought to screen by Bollywood director Karan Johar in his upcoming movie – Takht which will feature actor Ranveer Singh as Dara Shukoh while actor Vicky Kaushal will portray Aurangzeb.

Recommended literature – I highly recommend Alex Rutherford’s book – The Serpent’s tooth and author Murad Ali Baig’s historical novel ‘Ocean of Cobras’ based on the sibling rivalry between Dara and Aurangzeb.

Jahanara: The tragic story of the forgotten Mughal princess

A lot is written in history on Mughal Princess Jahanara but very less is known about her. Call it a tragic irony that various foreign historians have researched on life of this princess, but her story is yet to come in full light to our Indian history readers. We know about Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Mary Antoinette, Elizabeth, Victoria and Anne Boleyn (mother of Queen Elizabeth) but heard hardly about Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

A picture of Jahanara

While I started reading Alex Rutherford’s book on Mughal Emperors, a six book series on rise and fall of Mughal Empire, it suddenly struck to me that there was a Mughal princess named Jahanara. The curiosity compelled me to research on the daughters of Shah Jahan and here I became familiar with Jahanara Begum (23 March 1614 – 16 September 1681).

What inspired and compelled me to write on Jahanara was that she sacrificed her personal love life to look after her devastated father Shah Jahan whose kingdom was on the verge of decline.

It is said that every royal family carries a curse with it. Be it Macedonian Emperor Alexander or the royal ministers of Maratha – the Peshwas, every heir has to pay a price for being in the royal lineage. The Mughals were not exception to it. The Mughal princess Jahanara was a victim of the royal curse.

The death of Mumtaz Mahal badly affected Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to such an extent that he deviated away from his kingdom matters to build a love memorial in remembrance of his deceased wife. He was so engrossed behind the making of Taj Mahal that he neglected his children which later resulted in war between Dara Shukoh and Aurangzeb. After the death of Mumtaz Mahal, it was Jahanara who took the responsibility of taking care of her siblings.

Aurangzeb not only grabbed the Mughal throne, but also got his brother Dara slain to death. Even Shah Jahan and Jahanara were confined to imprisonment. The last days of Shah Jahan were spent in melancholy, suffering, tragedy and sickness. It was in these tough times that Jahanara looked after her ailing father till his last breath. Though Jahanara lived a royal life, she was deprived of the freedom to live an independent life as common girls live. Since she was a princess, she was not allowed to communicate with people outside the kingdom. Very less is known about her love life. Jahanara had been in love with a commoner named Mirza Najabat Khan and had confided her feelings towards her mother Mumtaz Mahal. Unfortunately Mumtaz Mahal died before she could plan for her daughter’s marriage. Her father’s melancholy and the internal sibling war within the family took a toll on Jahanara’s happiness. If Jahanara favored her brother Dara, the other sister Roshanara sided with Aurangzeb. Jahanara and Roshanara were rival sisters, diversified in their nature. If Jahanara was kind hearted, Roshanara was crafty. It was the internal feud among siblings that was the start of decline of Mughal Empire.

Though Jahanara’s life may be not as eventful as other royal princess and queens in history, one cannot deny that Jahanara sidelined her personal life to look after her family. Surrounded by controversy, conspiracies and tragic loneliness, Jahanara made her mark in Mughal history, remembered as the doomed princess.

This article is a secondary source and a rough sketch on events happened in life of Jahanara. To know more about her, I highly recommend Jahanara: Princess of Princess by Kathryn Lasky and Shadow Princess (Taj Mahal Trilogy) by Indu Sundarasen. I also suggest checking out Alex Rutherford’s book – Serpent’s tooth (Empire of the Mughal Part 5th in the series).