One question that all of us have asked ourselves about our own lives is the question, what if what if I had done this instead of that? What if I had chosen another career? What if I had lived in a different city or not going on that first date or was just born in a different family? What if there's a universe of possibilities in just those words and our fascination with those words extends beyond our own lives? What if the world was a different place?
We apply this to history sometimes and that can be a mistake. The world is complex, but we tell ourselves simple stories to make sense of it. Similarly, the past has many layers and we build simple histories to make sense of it. For this reason, What-If questions often don't work. Changing one variable in a complex world may not change much at all. But what if that variable is a big variable? What if that variable is a Mughal emperor?
If we're tolerant and intellectually curious, religious scholars had become Mughal emperor instead of an Orthodox bigoted, violent man. Would history have proceeded differently if Dorotea could become emperor instead of his younger brother an ZIB? Would India be a different place today?
Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of. Welcome to the scene and my guest on the show today, the historian Supriya Gandhi, once said that she saw one of her tasks as making history complex again, while the pursuit of history might be driven by the need to build narratives that explain the world. And those narratives are always simpler than the real world. It could be argued that the stories we have of the past today in India are just too damn simple, such as the one I mentioned a few moments ago about Dorotea and Orencia.
We like to think of them in the stock binaries I mentioned. Dota is a tolerant and intellectually curious religious scholar and orangy as a brutal bigot. But these are caricatures and both men were far more complex than these glib descriptions can capture. Under the false binary is the one between tolerance, Sufism and rigid orthodox Islam also a simplistic view that misses the complexities of Islam in India? To better understand those complexities. I recommend you read The Emperor Who Never Was Dorotea in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi.
This is a marvelous human portrait of Dorotea that gives a deep sense of what a complex Vanney was and which also shows us the complex times he lived in. There is a popular narrative today that talks about how India would be so different if DHARA had been improved instead of foreign slave. Ashok Malik even called the murder of Guarisco goat the partition before partition struck. Good Supreme's book gives me the sense that, well, maybe we're overthinking it. Maybe it wouldn't have been that different.
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Pleasure to be here. Before we begin, but, you know, I'd like to know a little bit about your sort of intellectual and academic journey, like how did you get into the field that you are in? You majored in religious studies. You teach religious studies at Yale. What drew you to this field?
And who was sort of your intellectual influences while you were growing as an intellectual through religious studies is a field that is far more commonly encountered in the United States. And it's sometimes confused with theology or divinity studies, religious studies, studying about religion. It isn't comparing religions to see what the best religion is. Neither is it training people to become priests or chaplains or whatever. And I actually haven't really studied religion very much formally. But my interest in this and my whole intellectual trajectory was shaped by growing up in India.
Think schools a number of times. I went to a boarding school and then finally when I turned 17, I landed in Delhi to go to college and interesting students college. And for me, my education experience wasn't just the college and the people I encountered there and my teachers was that they were also very important. It was exploring an Indian city as an adult, especially a city like Delhi, with all the layers of history and histories of people, migrations, etc.
associated with it. So I would enjoy exploring all Delhi. And one day I came across a to did this because it would be Motherson, which seemed to be just a beautiful building. It was utterly quiet, full of the sound of thoughts. And I was there with a couple of friends and we just started wandering around and then we were accosted by somebody and I thought she was going to tell us that he was going to do something, get out of here.
And instead, he said he asked if we had come to see Dr. Joffre. And at that point I wasn't quite sure who he was. And then he introduced himself as Dr Yunus, the person professor. And no doubt he was very used to having all kinds of people making it to CNN. And it turned out he'd been profiled in a William Dalrymple. So Dr Jaffe invited us to his little room, this little fellow, and he served us delicious chai and offered to teach us Persian.
And I was the only one among our friends who took him up on the offer. And I started learning the alphabet and I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to read the poetry of doing so. Dr. Joffre and my explanations of Delhi, I thought my initial introduction into language and history that was very, very much part of the education of most educated people in North India at one point in time, but that had been excised from my own. So it was a fascinating compliment to my studies in philosophy, which I pursued since.
And I had an equal interest in Indian philosophy with philosophy, the expulsion laws and so on. And after this, after my studies, I was going to either spend a year in bananas doing science with or spend a year in Iran doing cuisine and the other Iran worked out. So I ended up there. I wanted to do something different. It was quite common for people from my college to go to the blogs and so on, which is you want to go to Oxford and Cambridge and that I didn't do the attraction.
I wanted to do something that didn't really have so much to do with an education in the West, not so much immediately, so that here in England led to lots of other things. I was immersed in the study of Persian. I got to see the fascinating side of it, one that isn't really coloured in the Western face. Being being Indian is a huge advantage in people, just immense hospitality and warmth that I received over there. And I got to see this amazing, very vibrant intellectual culture, some of it underground, some of it not so much Wall Street of books.
And so one that is probably one of the longest streets of bookshops in the world, students discussing philosophy and ideas and an immense amount of intellectual curiosity. So what I wanted to do then was to take what I had learned in Iran of the Persian language, philosophy, Sufism and so on, and applied that back to India, because then I discovered that all these texts that were wanting to be read, I started hearing about it, although I didn't know that I was going to work on him.
And all the pushing translations of Sanskrit works at first forge and so on. So I thought, wow, I have the skill and I might as well put it to use, but not not just yet. So I continued my studies. I got a master's degree in London and Middle Eastern studies studied Arabic. I spent on senior. I spent a year immersing myself in Arabic in the study of the Islamic sciences through Arabic and that that was very different to Syria, to the war torn, ravaged country that it is now.
So that also was was a wonderful experience. And then I realized that I had to go to the United States, where you have the advantage of being able to fund your studies with people to study and teach you to get information. So that's what I did. And so that's why I've ended up now. So my future was really in area studies, but I ended up working on topics that give me an interest in the religion.
So that's why I think it's fascinating that you often warned against looking at, you know, history in terms of simple narratives. But, you know, while you were telling the story, it almost seemed as if it if it wasn't for that serendipitous meeting with Dr. Joffrin, the ruins and him offering to sort of teach you pushing this whole journey may not have happened. Is that kind of true or did you have a prior interest in all of these areas anyway in terms of history and, you know, languages and so on?
Well, it's it's a little hard to go back and do a counterfactual autobiography to see what might have happened had I monument Dr. Gylfi. But I think my interest in exploring all deleted stemmed from my curiosity about about these aspects that at least one part of my own school curriculum. And that were very much part of exploring the city around me. So it might have happened at that point, did you sort of have a specific vision of yourself in the future that I want to study history or write books of history or so on?
Or will you just sort of going with your passions and going with your interests and letting them lead you where they're good?
I had no specific career plans. My boarding school was founded by Jim Krishnamoorthi in South India and we were encouraged to do things for the sake of it. It wasn't like kind of typical Indian school rankings and like having people willing to do competitive exams once once they were privileged to be to be free of that. But oh, no, I was I was not thinking instrumentally in any way. I was following my interests.
And, you know, it sort of strikes me that, you know, did studying Beaujon and did, for example, spending time in Iran and Syria. And all of that gives you a window into aspects of India and Indian culture, which are otherwise invisible to us. For example, we know that there is a lot of Persian influence in our language, in our culture, in our cooking and all of that, except that is, you know, we've internalized it and we don't think of ourselves in that way.
Many of us don't think of ourselves as the sort of melting pot that we are with. All these influences exist. So did you feel that your understanding of India itself, our culture, our language, all of that deepened because you were going deeper in to see the influences of Persian as a language and then maybe influences from Iran as a culture because those exist as well. Did that make you sort of see the unseen in a sense of which many of us would otherwise miss out on?
I think definitely so. And I consider myself very much still a student of India and the street. And I find it interesting. Fascinating. Yes. My studies of Persian, for instance, helped me see all the Persian words that existed in the in an Indian languages, the influences, whether its cuisine, poetry, language and so on. I grew up in Lucknow, for instance. I might have been more steeped in that, but I spent a lot of my life in South India and in fairly insulated environments.
So absolutely, I got a completely different perspective on India through my studies in Iran. And so.
And is it sort of, you know, when you start studying history, given that especially when you started on Google Street, there are such set narratives about the moguls that are already there. And when you start studying a period in history, how difficult is it to put the hindsight bias away? Because there's no mystery, right? We already know everything that has happened in terms of the events that have taken place and for those specific times that are very few sources, often those sources will tend to be biased.
Sources like the winners will write their own history. And ORENCIA obviously will want to, you know, be interested in whatever way it's convenient to him. So how difficult is it to then be able to say that, you know, regardless of what putative history you are studying, how difficult is it to sort of strip all of that away, the things that, you know, the narratives that are almost reflexive to us and be able to sort of figure out things in a contemporary way?
Like one of the things that struck me while reading a book which was so different from everything that we've sort of learnt about the second, apart from obviously the false boundaries, which we'll discuss later. But one of the things that kind of struck me was that sense throughout the book, that the article is really in training to be an emperor. It's almost, it seems, for the end. And he is behaving as if he is going to be the emperor.
He's almost rolling with his father, in a sense. And then one day it all falls apart and orange is a, you know, a bit blurred. And all of this going off to the deck and going off the going off here. And, you know, when we typically look at history, we think of what we are taught in our textbooks. These are the great emperors, you know, after Shahjahan disorientate. And it's a very different look.
So how do you do that? Is that something you have to consciously tell yourself that, look, I have to avoid these dominant narratives. I have to look at each period and each event as if I don't know what is happening next. Is that a discipline you have to build?
That's an interesting question. And actually, to an extent, that is sort of the methodology that I followed in this book. Initially, I was reluctant to choose that because he's so well known. It's not as well known as I want to see it, but the story of the struggle and it is sort of like a foundational origin story of the subcontinent, explaining how we got where we are today.
So I was a bit hesitant about doing that because there's also a lot of merit in looking at the histories of people who don't have written history. There are many, many ways in which one can look at this, this early modern period, addressing things and processes and so on. And in the end, I found that I couldn't really leave, partly because he's such a prominent figure today, I see in my introduction that these local royals, most of them us, but some some others also still live among us.
We feel we know them. We feel that there's just so familiar. You just need to call someone Lorenzini in India and you know that it's a or something. But you see something really nasty about them. They're that treacherous. They're not loyal to their families and small. But having looked at local primary sources and knew that the story was much more complicated than that. So I think if one dips one one's feet in the water of opposing sources of the time forces in other languages, you do get the sense that that things are very different.
And then there's another kind of principle of methodological principle of operating history that used which was to trying to look at the forces that were contemporaneous with data. Well, that if one looks at Leeta forces to make sure that that you know, that to make sure that you are disclosing that these are these are major sources, these written by people who are not eyewitnesses, who are not contemporaries, and they might have another ax to grind. They might have of this definitely covered by either the sixth or the Eppstein or Neotel with the benefit of hindsight.
So that definitely tells you a lot about the period in which those forces were written. But we want to know how Donna was representing himself again, once being quite careful about avoiding any just any kernel of core historical truth, because what you have is just a way of representations. But if we look at the representations from that period, what are they seeing? What are they telling us? So that's the question that I kept in mind when I was doing my research.
And what drew you to the project to begin with? Like you said, it's a very resonant story that that oversees or exhibits almost a foundational story of Islam in the subcontinent in many senses. So when you're sort of drawn into exploring that further or during your readings, did you find it? Wait a minute. This guy is much more complicated than all of this. And I need to dig into this deeper link which came first. Your choosing the story or the story, choosing you, as it were.
So what came first was what I did during my doctoral studies, my PhD studies at Harvard. I wanted to study some aspect of the sense with Pleasant Encounter, and I found that I couldn't really avoid that. He is such a central figure after a bit. I mean, he is another Voyles producing his own translations with the help of some collaboration. And that I found that people were reading his writings later on. So he had this really long, diachronic influence and he was such a key figure.
So I started just looking at the books that he wrote. I did a translation of the I mean that I'm sitting on the other side of it and I looked at history up there and so on. And then later on, when I wanted to write a book, I realized that I have to place this in its social and political context.
So the book is quite, quite different from what I did during my PhD. But my initial attraction was just to look at that issue. He was he's just this amazingly prolific figure and to sort of just see to look at his intellectual trajectory, to see how he was developing his thought and his ideas.
You know, in a recent interview, which, of course, hailing from the show went on to say something I found very interesting, which is that the narrative task of the historian is to make history complex again, which, of course, speaks to how in trying to make sense of the world, we necessarily have to come up with simple narratives for everything. And very often when we look at history, these simple narratives are convenient, simple narratives in the sense that they bolster whatever vision of the world is.
In fact, you quoted Borz in your book and you said that, you know, you invoke U.S. history backwards and you said that in your words, God might also clades ideological structures in a narrative form stockwood and obviously that a very deeply entrenched narratives that are at play here. So now when you get into it, it's almost as if and you also choose a narrative form, which I suppose in some senses was meant to reach out to a broader than academic readership.
So obviously, you want to also tell a compelling story which you think is different from the simple narratives which previously exist. But where do you maintain that balance of sort of being complex? And being coherent, was that a challenge and was it also a challenge that there is so little material to play with that you're being forced to make choices and those choices, something that you then examining while you're making those choices?
Yes, of course. You there are a lot of choices involved in what's telling of the story, for instance. So this is to this book. It is a narrative. It's a retelling of the simple myth of that issue going on in the evening. As know, as you mentioned, and I'm calling this a myth, not because I'm saying it's not true, but because these are stories that live with us and live with us. They are ciphers and sort of short films for a whole range of ideas and ideological positions.
Without turning this into a story, I am making choices about what to include, what to say. And I think that's something that happens. No matter what kind of book you write, one could write a more conventional academic, sort of both the kind of book that has an introduction with a chapter outline and a conclusion sort of summing up these things and perhaps some thematic chapters. And you're still making choices. You're making choices about what to include, what fits in with your argument, what doesn't necessarily address your argument, what isn't so useful to you.
And in this case, I choose to present my argument in the form of a narrative for doing more showing than telling the truth. There is definitely some telling that goes on. But what this book isn't, it isn't a grab bag of every single fact in the world about that scene. And it's not because no publisher would really want to publish something like that. There are limits. There are all kinds of things that have to be negotiated. If you want to book something between two covers that can reach a fairly wide audience.
And there are always choices that limits.
And what we sort of models in terms of books which attempted a similar thing assured until approach with the decision period of history, a very serious book written with a lot of rigor, but told in a narrative style that can appeal to larger audiences. So who were the sort of writers of history who you admire to learn from that question?
And I didn't have a whole lot of models from this period of South Asian history. You know, loads of historians whom I admire schools. But when I was writing this precise model, it's not as though this is as you know, it so happens that as I was writing the book and as it was in production, there was a whole slew of actual biographies that that came out. Some of my academic colleagues wanted to and a one of them by other writers in South Asia, which I think is is a wonderful trend.
There was a lot you know, I can just think of the top of my head of some some writers and I read that is the American historian Jim McCullough, who writes very prolific essays for The New Yorker and also other books. And again, she has this amazing gift for knowledge of history and prose. So she's she's one of my happy reading. You know, I've also been really impressed by Shamsuddin Mantlepiece sort of look luxury in novels that really bring to life the times that they talk about and they all these intricate narrative threads and characters within them.
So that was another sort of indirect influence. You know, I was drawing inspiration from the novelists as much as some historians, except that I was trying to piece together this narrative after being really steeped in the primary sources. So I had to construct something that I hoped would read a bit like a novel, except that is it was all nonfiction.
In the introduction to your book, you sort of pointed out about how you were at first hesitant about writing it because you wouldn't want to privilege this whole great men sort of overview of history. And there's so much of the narrative around that is actually a great narrative that had to be an emperor instead of Laurenzi of the entire subcontinent would have proceeded in a different direction. And this is something I kind of like to ask the historians who come on the show that, you know, where do you stand in the great man theory of history?
And, you know, I'd be interested in having you elaborate on that. Yes.
So the thing about men is that we tend to really love them in the present moment. That's how we tend to look at history in the popular imagination. And so the issue of history is the succession of either great men or depraved men who had tremendous control over steering its course and so on. So you write about someone, it must mean that you like them. And I do I do have empathy for that issue. I feel that I have tried to understand things from his perspective, and there are lots of things I like about him.
But I would be very hesitant to elevate him or any level, for that matter, to the squidge.
So I'll just talk about my hesitancy for a bit and then I'll go back to why I still think it's important to study these figures because the local empire was about a whole lot more than just the employment report, which was a fairly loose knit empire. It was held together by a state, by a whole array of nobility, chieftains and so on, who were really masters of their own domains. The emperor was still important as as a figurehead and as an.
Lived during the period with the idea of the secret sovereignty was really at its height. So, yes, the idea of this all powerful emperor. Who is responsible for keeping the whole the empire in a state of harmony and balance was very important, and yet our obsession with treatment can obscure us to broader facts of cultural process that exist quite separately, quite independent of the actions of. There are a whole range of environmental changes that are taking place that also have an impact on where people live, what religion they might choose and so on.
Which is even worse on Bingol is a case in point. So there are a whole range of other factors that are far more important than men. And of course, there is the gender dimension that our focus on men has obscured the important role of women and others in history. But still, it's to get away from these figures because I think it's important to study them in their complexity as well, and without his influence ranges far beyond his time in current work, which we can speak about in a bit, partly addresses how people will be reading the much after his death and how his own studies of Indic thought spawned all kinds of other intellectual debates, changes and dialogues that he couldn't even predicted.
So if you're looking at the section of society in in premodern and in colonial India, the whole section that that was literate or a larger section that was kind of literate, where things like that do tend to have an important speech. And they also remind us that what happened to the court wasn't something that was just repeated in that context. What happened at the court was informed by other intellectual conversations, dialogues, cultural processes that are taking place outside the court.
So the issue wasn't alone. It wasn't just that he was he invented interreligious dialogue. He was disobedient in something that that took place in many other venues. No. In fact, one of the things that I have gotten a sense of in the past few months were reading books like yours and, you know, McCarty's book. And she was also on the show a while back and many of the show and so on is that, you know, we think of these as almost caricature figures that a business, evil, bigoted guy in Chicago is just tolerant, secular guy.
But actually, you know, the emperor wasn't the be all and end all of the empire. There was a deep state. There was a political economy in which the women of the Adams were deeply involved. And also, as we discussed shortly, these binaries also don't hold true in the sense that Warrensburg was also, to an extent steeped in culture and engaging with the world and a daughter who had come to power, he would probably have beheaded his brothers as well.
So, you know, it's not that things would have necessarily been as different as we try to make it. I mean, my friend Ashok Malik once wrote a piece where he called, you know, the execution of the partition before partition, which you sort of cited in your book. And I was, you know, which is almost emblematic of these definitions of the simplistic text that one of these and I was also struck by and I'll quote this bit from your book, because it overall seems to sum up how the binaries play out.
When you talk about the trial of the Chicago and you write, quote, The trial is a powerful motif because it transforms a story about 17th century India into a narrative about today. It creates a dialectic between two opposing visions of Islam. Islam is Zellous extremism immediately familiar in the present context and its counterpoint. Islam is Sufi and utopianism. But even without the support, the Brothers Clash is a story that addresses the deepest questions of who we are and how we go to stop God.
And you also relate in your book about how through history we look at these two very divergent views of origins. Even Dorotea cover Muhammad Iqbal introduced Ebiquity, Prizzi's AURIN Zeeb. As you know, that ascetic text would mosta and all of that and a short Moluccas of the partition before partition. But equally on the other side you have, you know, the two 20th century bio's of data that you refer to by charango and because you where both of them praise him and says the world has not become richer in any way by the long reign of automotive, but it would certainly have been poorer without a data.
Chieko Stuccoed and one of course will talk about how these binaries are true. But the question that struck me while I was reading these is that at some point in our history what is happening and I think it happened repeatedly over the late 19th century and the early 20th century, is that these conflicting ideas of Islam are competing with the conflicting ideas of India. You know, as in where does a lot of the debate sort of playing out? Would you know, where does the good.
Muslims stand with relation to his fealty towards India. This was part of the reason why, for example, you know, Gandhi's alliance with the Ali brothers at the time, the classic movement seems so discordant because, you know, well, Gandhi is fighting for the vision of India as a nation state. But see, the brothers are fighting for a larger ummah where your allegiances do somewhere else entirely. So what are sort of your thoughts also on how these competing ideas of Islam has played out against the competing ideas of India?
I mean, I realize this is a sort of a larger question than, you know, what your book is about. But because that's, of course, in those local times. But I'd love to know what thoughts you've had on these. Sure.
Thank you. So, of course, the Salafist movement is very, very modern. And it comes at a time when ideas of Islam are changing. And there is this kind of political Islam that is forming in opposition to colonialism. There is a Muslim public sphere. There is a Hindu republics. So colonialism played an important role in transforming how these communities drew boundaries around their identity, how they saw each other, how they saw their role in the course of that.
Well, yes, it's depending on which side of the border you're on or what ideology you gravitate towards go because either this this terrible heretic, it was like just as well that we got him out of the way. We see this in a lot of narratives from Pakistan, not all not kind of more state sponsored narrative or Dorotea, is this. This wonderful philosopher and gentle mystic who really ought to be, you know, there's always a caveat, there's always a little bit of doubt with that, because even those like his wonderful early 20th century biographers and even those who praise him still feel he was.
Yes, he had these amazing views and he was interested in Sanskrit. And in the fourth thought, he was actually in a way he could really practically he was too weak. He was uninterested in the throne and really needed someone like Lindsay. So it was inevitable that somebody who was more crafty was more capable of being the emperor.
And this, as you've pointed out, is not the truth, obviously. I mean, that whole binary that Thoreau, who had his head in the clouds and he was just doing all these religious studies and reading Sufi science and order, and he was a guy who was going out and conquering territories. And all that isn't true at all. And wash your hands. Chosen successor, in a sense. And they almost ruled for many, many years. So, you know, when people ask that hypothetical question of what would that have been as a ruler, what you've pointed out is that we already kind of know.
One thing we have tried to do is to disturb the idea that that's a very modern idea, that a ruler should not be interested in philosophy, that a ruler is not really the kind of person to have dialogues with ascetics that belongs to a totally different realm of life. And it's not part of an emperor or would be emperor's political relations. And I thought it wasn't an outlier in this regard. He was actually following an established, noble tradition. He was without acknowledging then following in the footsteps of his great grandfather and to an extent as well, his own grandfather, that he complemented his own father, who was often viewed as somebody who was more orthodox.
He was paving the way for a far more ascetic school. But Donna and Chargin together were posting Sanscrit standards at the court who compose forms in praise of them. He was posting all these intellectual and spiritual dialogues and just taking much of what he was doing as well as one. Now, he did have an advantage on one thing the advantage of keeping a lot of military experience on his own, often in the face of the opposition and really irritating micromanaging on the part of what he was able to govern the as well on his own.
So he put a lot of independent experience that served him well in the struggle for the throne. But it doesn't mean that that didn't prove himself as though it was. In fact, you mentioned micromanaging. And there are these very funny bits in your book which are, again, perfect examples of Shortell. And I love the bit about the mango's where, you know, orangeade, I think is an Aurangabad. And he's got to say and his dad is waiting for Mango's because it's Hornsby's duty to send him the mango's as soon as the first good one scums or Shahjahan writes in the letter and says, As people stand below the tree, I can't wait.
As soon as they come, they go to catch them as if all and in Mango's and Shahjahan replies that these are shooting Mango's and have you eaten? My good friend, who is an ordinary investor, replied, I know Your Highness. I would not dare to eat. And of course, there's a more consequential version of this during the Kandahar battle, where you point out about how they're laying siege to Kandahar, which the Soviets have taken over and over, and Zeb, who is on the ground, who can see the conditions, realizes that the artillery is useless and is in line with the suggestion that let's just attack from one point and focus there.
And he tells his dad and Papa Shahjahan doing central planning from hundreds of miles away. He says, no, no, we use those cannons and we will attack from two places. And he seems like such. You must be such an irritating dad to have to deal with for ordinary, you know, and to start talking about sort of Shahjahan. I find it a really interesting character because there are just so many sides to his persona that you can really paint him as anything.
Like you've pointed out, his journey to the throne, of course, is incredibly bloody that he is to get rid of all his brothers and nephews and all of that. At the same time, you have the softer, more sensuous side of him, partly reflected, of course, in his deep love for his wife and you know, the good deeds that he does. Now, you point out an example of what you know today. I'm sure many people would jump.
On wherein 16, 33, he decides to get a bunch of immigrants raised, including 66 under-construction temples and Banaras, but at the same time later in the story, when daughter Chieko is, you know, involving himself conservative philosophy, calling all these scholars for the court to Shahjahan, who is, as you point out, giving them generous gifts and all of that. So, you know, all these figures are so deeply complex and Shahjahan himself is so complex.
This is a dude who, you know, can get away with this whole damn family. And yet you see this side of him as well. And in the end, you almost feel sorry for him because he's sort of imprisoned by Orange Abe. And one story that you pointed out is that, you know, after that Ishikawa's killed, his head is sent to Orton's. They've been there. So and this is another thing. There are so many versions of this story.
One version of the story is that that America is beheaded and the hate is brought to. And he says, I don't want to look at it. And the other version is that he stabs her three times, you know, and sends it to his dad. So when you're reading all this delightfully juicy stuff, you know, and you have no way of knowing which one is true. Right. So how do you navigate that?
So with the head story, some of it you can see if it falls into recognizable motifs and troops that are used elsewhere. So, you know, it's one of the stories we're told by the Italian adventurer Minuti. You see that what he's doing here is really making Dorotea go into a Christ like figure. So whether or not the story is true, the way in which she is recounting it serves a certain narrative and definitely elicits sorrow and sympathy. And these are, of course, things that the European travels to India wanted to elicit in their readers these on all kinds of stories.
And we can't dismiss them completely. But their accounts are colored by the fact that they were transforming their adventures in India into entertainment and for the consumption of European public. They were fitting them into models that were also familiar to their readers.
Right. And let's take a quick commercial break. And after we are done with that, we'll come back from Shahjahan and zoom into his two adult children.
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Welcome back to the CNN, The Unseen, I'm chatting with Supriya about the prosecution, almost all of that. So you know, what I sort of found very interesting about your story also, is that how your narratives, by placing us in that contemporary moment, makes us for the moment, you know, forget what happened later? So I actually, you know, at different points, you find yourself rooting for guys who eventually got beheaded. And I thought it a very interesting choice to sort of start with the story of Kurume, because like you pointed out, when the project was born, that America is basically, you know, the first son of the third son.
You know, he's really you know, there's nothing much happening that an organization is even further down the chain and nothing is ordained. And for large periods of time, quorum is not even his father's choice did. Eventually he ascends and he becomes Shahjahan. And, you know, that is sort of regarded you know, we have the simplistic view to look, he's a person who was into spiritual matters and really got into a sort of Hinduism and the Indian religions and all of that.
But the sense that I got from reading your book is that this stuff happened in stages. And what seemed to me to be the case, and you can correct me, but my feeling was through the book that before his intellectual journey really took off, like the sense that I got initially to the changes. Instead, it was more of a spiritual journey than an intellectual journey. For example, you know, the way that he's he meets me on meet, for example, and almost instinctively, you know, sort of prostrate himself before him and offers himself as a disciple.
And it just seems sort of very impulsive and even irrational because it's not as if he's read, like five books by this guy and he, you know, really believes in his worldview and all that. It's just that he's following some kind of an instinct to attain some kind of spiritual growth. And for much of that early period, like after Mealamu days, we see this you know, you talk about the visions he's having and this seem like very sort of I mean, I didn't know what to make of that because he's having visions where his former teacher comes to him in a dream.
There is one vision with his former teacher, sort of unbuttons his shirt and then grabs him. And this is an nipple contact. And it's almost like his heart is, you know, this whole sort of mystical exchange of the spirit happens that are visions where the Prophet Muhammad comes to him in a vision, you know, and if the sort of stuff was to happen in modern times, you really sort of question whether this person needed help. Right.
And but he's a prince and this stuff is happening. And later, of course, and it seems to me that the whole intellectual exploration where he writes his book about the lives of the four hundred fifty cents and all that, that comes later. So it's sort of a misreading on my part or, you know, the narrative. Give me that impression. And what do you make of that early, young questing daughter who's doing all these things, like literally prostrate themselves first before me?
I mean, and then when he goes to Kashmir, you know, Malaysia, where he's doing things that no prince should really be doing. But and at that point, you know, you just wonder that these are just religious godman at that moment to him. He doesn't know any of them intimately yet. You can develop respect later once you get to know them. But he is just falling at their feet and offering himself as a disciple. So what what do you make of all that?
Well, of course, we live in a time where from a certain rational perspective, all of this seems strange and weird. But if you look at even our own times, we find that there is sufficient to do the political, spiritual, intellectual that actually really deeply enmeshed. And that was the case in the time that it's hard to separate the political from the spiritual of who made these great public shows of piety. He would walk barefoot to the shrine of Chisti to pray for a son who is dying and so on.
So the Ishikawa's displays of piety that he was later telegraphing, not because he wasn't an emperor, he didn't have enough of that, you know, through his own writings. You know, I would say these are much really kind of the rantings of a naive, mystical prince with his head in the clouds. He was always making a particular argument. So, for instance, when he talks about his first meeting with me on Meet and Meet Me, I mean, his father is actually the one who takes in his father.
And then later we learn that he had reverence for an established Sufi figure. You can see that he has influenced the influence themselves are going into effect. So he then shows how.
He had this amazing experience, the pain he gets healed and he shows me I need to reverence and fireteam, and then he makes these kind of little nasty, passive aggressive digs at his own father and his grandfather saying when they went to visit me, they said they wanted to talk about spiritual matters and even confided that we're so sick of rulership. We just want to be like you and be ruthless like you and the shopping. So in this case, sugar is showing himself in a good light, seeing himself as the true celebrity, the use of true crime to follow the path of Sufism, unlike other employees.
And then maybe this means that he has a special spiritual quality that other leaders don't have and that is destined for something really great.
Yeah, I mean, the reason I found is striking because I don't mean this as a criticism of the you to say, oh, look at that. My guy, he was having visions. I'm sorry if it came across that way. That's not what I meant. The way I found these incidents is fascinating is that I was trying to during the book and there are times that I felt I got glimpses of this, but I was trying to get a sense of what is this interior life, you know, that goes what's the stuff that what does he want?
You know? Well, what's the stuff that causes turmoil in him, for example, when he does all of this, like you pointed out, he's trying to portray the side of himself. Is he posturing for those? Is he posturing for himself? Is there sometimes an element of self-delusion to that? And does all of this, even if, let's say, he begins to act in a particular way because he's posturing for others or for himself, does it then shape what he actually becomes?
Because later on, you know, he's written all these phenomenal books of scholarship. There's no question that his intellectual engagement with the, you know, both Sufism and Islam and later on the Indian religions at a much later stage was very deep and genuine. But in this early stage, what I sometimes get a sense of this young person who was floundering around for an identity and to define his place in the in the bigger scheme, is that the sense you got that you've obviously read all his original stuff in the original position?
Right. So, you know, you get a sense of who is this person? What does he want? I mean, strip away all the history and he's an emperor and all of that.
So that raises a lot of interesting questions about how one reads these texts, how one looks at narratives of the self. This is we have we have a very modern forced enlightenment view of the sales and the self is this autonomous being. We have our own narratives of inner transformations, conversions, understandings and so on. We have now that we use the terms of modern psychotherapy, psychoanalysis to talk about the self. And there were other ideas that another concept that people use to understand the self in this time.
So it's hard to make a distinction between public performance and the journey of the self. It's very hard to to make that distinction because it's not one that makes you know, it's not as though we have a private diary which is giving us his private outpourings. And then he has another some of the documents that talk about his public persona. But I think we can definitely see a journey and a trajectory when that plunges into social affairs. Again, it's it's not really kind of cold and instrumental that he's like just going and paying respects to some Sufi because he has to because it's not his duty.
He is actually working on cultivating and transforming himself. And and this has been a preoccupation in India in many, many contexts. Whether one sees this in the concept of the larger sheet, the kind of ruler who is also an ascetic, we have lots of other lots of examples with lots of examples of sages, essentially nonsense from different religious traditions who would work on this. And we have a whole tradition of rulers who either renounce the throne or sit on the throne and engage in asceticism.
So it's not surprising that later on one of the models, Fedora Shickel, is wrong, not the RAM necessarily of the online who is an exile and then becomes the ruler of a utopia. But this is the name of the global system. There is a young prince and his closest to him on the spiritual journey by telling him a whole range of interlocking stories. One story leads to the other story, and one is reaching different levels of social perfection.
Finally, until he reaches even more. And it's this idea of. We'll see one that is to to. You had beautifully, lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the disturbing was one that was translated for after you had a special one translated that was also very interested in this text. And even though all the others have their own versions of what his own version of it and it was a text that in different abridgments circulated all around South Asia. And even today, whether it's the message or whether it's similar to the text of liberation, you find them everywhere.
They're very popular. So they're found in the stations and so on. So it's my idea of enduring satisfaction, because at this point, this was a way in which a king, a ruler could be liberated and then he could still carry out his one task. So what could be better than that? And then later on, these ideas became very important for some merchants, especially for those of the middle class. So they weren't necessarily going and kind of being ascetics.
They were engaged in earning money. They were engaged in the material world. And at the same time, they cultivated a great sense of asceticism. You see that with the conventional business, that there's a great emphasis on personal asceticism as well as amassing a lot of material wealth in the world. And so how do you balance that is a good guide for that. Which donorship also find that useful?
So would it be fair to say I'm just thinking aloud, then there are two sort of dual imperatives that seem to come into play. And one is that you are an emperor and you have conquered all the lands you can conquer, but you cannot conquer that. So what do we do in that sort of leads to this quest for the other side of that is that actually you've conquered nothing because you've got relatives plotting against you and every moment is in some way or the other.
And you go to watch your back and this stuff gives you some relief. So, you know, with both of these things, yes, I definitely agree.
I mean, he certainly was going far deeper down this route than than a lot of other movies. He wasn't unique. You know, his brother Muna's had a centrifuge and he was always in contact with him and the was always giving him guidance, met a whole range of people. It was more savvy in that way. He didn't put all his eggs in one basket, but should also be a reference to Lusia, the sanctity of his household and especially noticeable.
So there were ways in which all all the others were doing this, but not more than the others is really cultivating himself as the quintessential philosopher.
Well, it's also interesting how in the book you talk about the influence on the Mongol kings of the example of Alexander, like you point out, how hand Hungarian one of his books skorts the following line. Good sovereignty, Brooks, no bonds between fathers and sons. An emperor has no relatives. Stockwood, which you point out is from the Iskhandar number in his army, Ganzouri, which is again about Alexander. And there are these two sides to Alexander, both of which seem very relevant to the other.
One is, of course, that you have no friends and you go to watch out for your brothers. And as we've seen in Shahjahan and Jahangiri and earlier that and in, of course, balderdash, it goes on generation that you basically have to get rid of all your brothers and nephews or at the very least blame them. So that's one angle where he's growing up. He is the chosen one of the emperor, but he's got to know he's the eldest son, but there's no progenitor.
So it isn't that, you know, the eldest son automatically becomes skiing. So he's got an eye on the prize. And, you know, you've pointed out how in the book he'll try to influence things his father knows about, you know, sending order and zoop somewhere or, you know, making sure that two of the other brothers don't meet so they can't plot with each other and all of that. So on the one hand, there is that very realpolitik kind of, you know, you on the throne, watch out for everyone and Vivero of your brothers.
And on the other side, that is that intellectual and spiritual quest. And Alexander, of course, also famously was on his own kind of intellectual quest. And you also see that mirroring itself out, you know, very often on a tangent. It's very hard for me to imagine those times because how do people gain the knowledge of the world? There are no books, there's no television, there's no Internet, there's nothing. And yet you have these heroes like Alexander and the mood and all of that.
So, you know, one wonders what is a popular culture of the time and where do you learn your history from? And yet, you know, people like Alexander Antemortem clearly examples how much of this would have sort of played a part in that I was becoming who he was. Like one is he's wrestling with these dual imperatives of very real world and very people. Watch out for your brothers and do what you gotta do to be the next big boy.
And the other one is that whole intellectual endeavor. Richard Quest is on, and some of it comes from phobias like Alexander, like maybe promoting films with the sort of temporary wars or even Egberto, as you say, he doesn't acknowledge but much but even uglier in terms of those syncretism and the way he sort of is open to other cultures. Is it a sense that this made a difference to the prosecutor in shaping him, the person he was and what he went on to become?
So all of these were models for different kings. And, you know, you're right that they weren't printed books the way we have today. So books didn't they were expensive. They didn't circulate in the same way. But also very important, you know, the invention of writing and of the written codex meant that you could you could really have the whole world between two covers in a bundle of peoples and local libraries. And, of course, also famous Dorotea, who had the advantage of several generations of collection.
He also was his own, quite his own manuscripts and fanciful copying of others. So books did simply just not to the extent that they do, but they did socialise. And we can see that ideas circulated and ideas spilled out of books and circulated and permeated the popular imagination. So the idea of Alexander as a powerful conqueror and as a powerful conqueror, he also was successful in India. He overpowered Indians. So there's that. And he also was a philosopher, although he would have dialogues, a kind of durbar, sort of similar to the dialogues that perhaps the philosophers and his about the persona.
So this to these dual roles of Alexander came to be very important. And I think Alexander is one of the overlooked models for the contemporary kings. So these past figures were very, very important for rulers and they were constantly invoked. Definitely time is one of them being somebody who Chaja not very consciously modelled himself on and helps to lead his serious memoirs, but gained a lot of popularity, a lot of vanishes, or it becomes very common for people to talk about the second Segunda, meaning that you might even have heard that one of the bitter ironies of the story and one reason why I bring up Alexander at the beginning in the context of honkey and the dialogues that he didn't play the sport is because, yes, of course, both sides of Alexander to different degrees become important for his sons and for that issue.
And they do know that that, of course, Alexander defeats Dariusz, the emperor who is also named forward. And then finally, after the battle of some of the you know, there's a poet who says now and this is you have the second the second who is defeating Botha. So that becomes there is this bitter irony that we have got Ushakov, who is modeling himself on Alexander, on Alexander as a sort in Persian poetry. And then and then we actually have Hornsey, who truly becomes the second second Bush and his brother.
Let's talk a bit about the religious landscape of the time. Like another sort of binary that seems to have come down is that, you know, issues of orthodox Islam, the Sunnis on the one side, and then you have the Sufis on the other side who don't really believe in all of those conventions and are much more free flowing. So to say, as you point out, this isn't quite true. Like you refer to how the in his first book, Sophina to Lollia assigned himself as Mohammed that Osako Hanafi gordita, and Hanafi, of course, as a nod to the Orthodox elements and Cuddie to use, you know, one of the Sufi strands, therefore sort of point Kadiatou, and therefore sort of pointing out that there's nothing incongruous about those going together.
And you speak of sort of the interplay between. So tell me a little bit about that landscape and how the sort of exploration's that her daughter was making would be as unusual as they are made out to be today, or was it all par for the course in those streams?
So I think both things are true in that, yes, there were sections at the court who might have been disapproving of what the Irish engaged in. It was also hard to see who an olive was, who is a member of the if you look at any kind of modern Bollywood movie on the movies, then you might see these kind of black robed people who are always plucking and tut tutting about things that are going on, often has a wife and she's doing.
And then they get really upset about that, so very easily visible groups who don't stand for pluralism, who are very close minded, and this stems from modern developments. So the idea of Obama as a very closed social group was separate from Sufis is something that happens at a later stage in South Asia. Now, at this stage in the 17th century, a lot of people, an a member of the older ones is a learned person. And among lot things, people had rules at the port city delegate, multiple tasks and responsibilities, and many of them had initiation in different Sufi orders.
So the idea of Sufism that again, is more tolerant, heterodox, and it's totally separate from the more traditional word legalistic world of the Obama is is not something that we see when we look at the, quote, chronicles. And when you look at lists of who an imam is, for instance, you say they might have a list of the AMA and who come out. And because a lot of the people who are considered to be learned and these were these would be physicians, these could be people who are well versed in Islamic law, but they also have an association in a Sufi order.
Some such person could have his main job, could be managing the household as well. So it's not as though that there was a separate room or council of Olimar who didn't have other worldly responsibilities. And the sole job was to police what was acceptable, respectable and what wasn't. At the same time, there were different strands of thought amongst the people. So there were some people leaned towards the more ecstatic sides of the side of things, for instance, those who enjoyed or propagated listening to music, musical traditions.
And then there were Sufis who espoused more sober form of religiosity.
So the different divisions that the divisions did not fall along the lines of, you know, having looked a little awkward or because one of the things you sort of demonstrate in your book as well is that the traditional view of him is this austere religious bigot who did not, you know, who was extremely orthodox, did not have any regard for the arts. And all of that is not quite true either. So tell me a bit about the young audience.
They have, especially again, I was sort of struck trying to buy the glimpses, one God of the human aspects of him, for example, just as you know, that is close to his older sister, Johanna, trying to share so many of the same interests in terms of religion and all of that, we find it almost impossible to close to 100. He's always, you know, going and meeting her. And obviously the guards are very much.
And there's also a sense where you you speak about how, you know, Dodo's sort of in court in Lahore and Orange. Zeb has, you know, you know, is visiting from somewhere else. And he's very upset because that aren't giving him the importance if you feel he deserves. It's almost as if he wants his elder brother to sort of, you know, to love him almost, you know, what's the sense of that you got of oten, Zeeb, as as an individual during these young years who's also growing up and trying to find his identity?
What's his journey like?
So the thing with what I'm saying is because he becomes entra later on. So anything that he wrote is of high value and is preserved and circulated. So we have a whole range of letters that Zeb has written and these letters get convicted and and he did later on. So so we don't have necessarily all of them directly from to see we don't have those original documents. But you have the letters as they are preserved in in later collections, collections that would be during his during his lifetime.
So we do we have that advantage in that we can see his own place. You can feel his own personal voice more clearly than we can. A lot of the other movies and children's letters, you see that there are a number of letters he writes to his eldest sister, Donato. The popular perception is that he was close to the ocean on a ship, was closer to Honiara, and when I was little, so there were these different factions that were formed and we will see as full as family peacemaker.
She maintains a good relationship with all her brothers. She really goes out of the way to do that. She goes out of her way to try to smooth over any difficulties that they might have tried to in meetings between them, for instance, and perhaps chief engineers. Reconciliation tries to between that and or indeed when they are serving as governor of Lahore. And we get glimpses of the sisterly relationship that she has. She's always writing to him more than he writes to her.
She's she's sending him various gifts with bars and various like treats and delicacies. So we get a sense of the human side of him through these affectionate letters that he writes to the system. And we we also get a sense of his grievances that that also has to do with the nature of the forces, because a lot of the argument that is made later on to justify the shackles of murder and all the successor to the throne is that the initial goal was apart from the fact that he was supposed to be an infidel, for that was not really good fun and good thought that he was to go over at the helm of affairs from his father, who was not fair to his father's.
So that puts the kinds of forces that are preserved and circulated that shorthorns leave to be a sensitive at the same time, we do get a sense that he enjoyed listening to music when he was a prince. He he might have know there is this album that's associated with him, supposed to be a stunning album of art. If indeed it is found and found to be authentic. That would give us an amazing picture of his own artistic sponsorship and interests when he was a prince.
So to so in these regards, he was not so different from other officers who were patrons of the arts. And so they cultivated their own aesthetic side is just part of being elite moguls. But he did temper that later on, partly to show himself in contrast to his brother.
So he thought there was a change that was definitely far less sponsorship of cultural activities when he was an. And one of the thoughts that kind of struck me while reading the book was that in one curious aspect, Lorenzi reminded me of Indira Gandhi in the sense that when Indira Gandhi needed to rebrand herself and distinguish yourself from the syndicate in the late 1960s, she took this massive leftward turn to set himself apart because that was the only way to sort of distinguish yourself as a brand.
And it seems to me that in some ways, would it be fair to say that, you know, those could be the imperatives behind Orangeville also moving in that more doctrinaire, a sort of rigid direction to distinguish himself from his main rival for the throne, which was that Asiago and even perhaps to some extent from his father. So would you say that those incentives also kind of came into play? Most definitely.
I think we're in for a little while to fully define himself by abandoning the traditions of his forebears, whether it's the ocean where the emperor kind of sits or has everyone view him at this Taruta, which is an institution that offers, really establish and popularized it, took him what didn't happen overnight. But there was this process by which, you know, even during the struggle for succession, you can see that there are some insinuations about heresy on the bottom that I should go.
And these insinuations get solidified once he becomes inclusive, that he does have a solid case that's built up. And he then has his own very austere model of kingship. That, again, is a departure from his emphasis.
And just thinking aloud, would it be then fair to say that wherever you have to sort of a conflict, it's bound to be a polarizing one and it's bound to drive people towards the extremes? You could argue that, you know, orangeade might have been not as extreme as he was, but he felt the need to define himself similarly in modern times. If you look at Pakistan, would it be fair to say that to some extent they are shaped by their need to define themselves in opposition to what India is, for example?
Yes, I think that's that's really happening on both sides. Just take language, for instance, the way in which the language has developed in Pakistan officially, although it's highly personal, personalized, there a lot of Persian and Arabic neologisms. There are many ways in which there's an attempt to look westwards, to look at West Asia for cultural models, as opposed to dealing with one country totally going to war. They are still lots of commonalities and lots of social interaction.
Similarly with the official Hindi that is used in television and in officialdom in India to do the things that can become two languages that are not so easily mutually intelligible for the languages people speak often in the middle of the spectrum, like I travel to Pakistan while covering a cricket board in 2006 and I spent a month and a half there.
And apart from the Urdu signs, they didn't feel like I was in a foreign country. And the language is exactly the same. And I was sort of aware of, you know, the Hindi nationalism, so to say. And how should Hindi is such an artificial construct and has been modeled out of that. I wasn't aware that there's a similar process happening with although in Pakistan, in fact, just thinking aloud, you know, when I watch Prime Minister Modi's 8pm speeches and all of that, and it strikes me that the kind of Hindi that he uses very deliberately is that kind of short Hindi which people don't speak.
And therefore, I'm sort of kind of baffled by the immense popularity because he's not actually speaking even the language of the Hindi heartland. He's speaking this very should Hindi, which people don't speak in their everyday lives. From my experience, I was. But that's that's an insight into moving on. You know, and again, earlier I spoke about how it seemed to me through the book that you have sort of, Daouda, evolving in stages where, you know, initially it felt like a spiritual journey and then there's an intellectual ballast to it.
And he writes these different books. And then after he comes back from his failed conquest of Kandahar, there is a deeper tone. And this engagement with the Indic philosophy, which was ended earlier, I mean, more specifically, the project of translating the Upanishads into Bush. And in fact, he even had a theory that the Upanishads were the last book mentioned in the Koran, for example. Tell me a little bit about that phase and what do you think drove that phase?
Because it doesn't seem to be, you know, like it's been speculated that part of it was because he was trying to get alliances among the Rajputs and he wanted to portray that image. But this seems a bit too far to go for the sake of posturing. And also the fact of the matter, as you've pointed out, is that, you know, the Rajputs were equally divided in order to Zerbe Skemp, as in Abdul Rashid Dostum. This is simply a post facto binary.
We have kind of. Invented so tell me a little bit about his new deepening interest into sort of the Indic philosophies.
So I think there are a couple of things going on here. One is the deepening and widening of that issue. Suppose also to intellectual interests, which come from a genuine curiosity and also a kind of restlessness. So that is he feels that he has perhaps had a few of Sufism, not not in the sense that he's kind of completed, but he's really ascended these amazing spiritual heights. He's done what he can. He's now speaking not as a disciple, but he's really speaking as a master who is giving instruction on the seeds of his interest in enigmatic thought.
And there's already a basis for this because in some writings and poetry, there is the celebration of what is not Islam. This is the celebration of what is called infidelity. And the celebration is something that's it's really complicated. It doesn't mean that everyone has to go out and just do things that are completely against religion, but the poetry. So if you wait and see the space for this in order to to really ascend highest levels and metaphorically see the countenance of the beloved, which is the divine.
So that was already even before this, he's reaching out to other Sufi masters. You know, he's achieved what he's wanted to do with the of and his sister and his father continue their relationship with him. And so the thought of it that it doesn't stay with that he writes to other people. And what he doesn't want to do is to go into the real nitty gritty of philosophical Sufism, which you can if you want to do this famous and elusive mystic, even Ottavi, who's very, very complex and abstruse Arabic writings.
This been translated into commentaries respond in India, in the Indian subcontinent, one of the most famous interpreters of in Nevada about the correspondence. And there was something that's a little more transgressive and perhaps a little less arduous than kind of sitting and understanding these really difficult texts. So he starts getting interested in Indic thought. It isn't really a tradition of that. And they already have ideas that have been incorporated into just the mysticism. And it could be that the father is also have some association with that goes even deeper.
So it's coming back from the. He makes sure to stop and have dialogues with a vision of a city called Babylon, and he will have the results of those sessions written down. Except that doesn't seem to be the literal transcripts of any of the different versions of this. See that Bush has a different with his translations of the Ramli and so on. If he has questions and I think he finds his dialogues with the father, that it's finding enough that he continues and he goes further and he's already compiled a collection of rather shocking, sort of ecstatic seeing things.
And he's included among Muslims in the. So once he starts branching out and he already has access to a lot of books in the modern library, what he wants to patronise and the more and the other thing that's going on is that this is a time when both he and all the people competing to really jockey for alliances and influence amongst the populace to see this trouble brewing in both of them want to try. They want to be the first ones to go there and to try to solve it.
And they compete by sending their envoys, prominent boys, sensitive choice messengers. And later, on the eve of the battle of succession on Zeeb is also telling brother Raj, think I'm going to be like my let's just for this, I'm going to allow everyone to flourish in peace with their own religions and so on. So this is very, very explicit gesture towards fostering an environment of religious pluralism. And Sugarland's doing this directly. Not that he's not interested.
He is, but we should with this backdrop where we each trying to gain influence.
And I know, you know, all the historians that I've had on my show don't like counterfactuals so much. It's only, you know, known historians who love to speculate about what would have happened if this person did this and blah, blah, blah, but nevertheless, given that there is such a dominant narrative. Around this particular counterfactual, given that Ashoke referred to that as she goes to that, there's the partition before partition. What is your sense of what kind of an emperor he would have been if he had somehow managed to win?
Because really his managing to win is a few lucky events here in the lake. You point out how an audience they've been getting rid of, one of the other brothers pretended he had the century and called them to invite him to drink so he could actually have gotten dysentery and died right in those days. So if that ends up as emperor, what's your brief sense? I mean, you already pointed out that he was like a sort of a guru for a long time by Shahjahan side and wouldn't have been very different from audiences because he would have followed the imperatives of politics and he would have had to kill all his brothers.
Probably. I think in the book you mentioned that when his son Suleiman is choosing his brother Shoujo across the border, he doesn't bring me back. Is there something to that effect? So all of that would have happened. But in terms of the Indian subcontinent, would it have made a difference or would the larger currents of history have continued going more or less the way they did? It's a difficult question.
Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that when the war of succession broke out, Shahjahan was ill. He was possibly severely ill. I actually had like a well known medical specialist from you kind of give me his take on what Chagas illness might have been. But he survived. He survived for many years after that. So that I would not have been official right away, though he would have been a kind of a proxy along with his father.
So I think perhaps that period of time would have also helped him learn the ropes. Better of all, he would have tried to be a sacred ruler in the model again of his forebears, in the model of English, in terms of the broader structural problems of the global empire. What if on Habib term, the agrarian crisis was a very costly Decken expansions, for instance, the other foreign adventures that Shahjahan like to fund? So these were all serious issues and it's hard to see how that might have prevented that, if at all.
I think you've spoken a lot about your book and I'll leave it to readers to read it for themselves. And of course, I highly recommend it. Let's move on to what you're working on now. You know, the book was finished a while back. And of course, it is that whole release cycle and you have to go around promoting it and all of that. But what are you working on now? What preoccupies you?
I'm working on a book that in some indirect ways is a sequel to this, except that it's not about audiences and it's it's more history of ideas than a biography of one particular person. But the reason why it's connected to this book is because the idea starts with seeing what happens to donorship is right. And that's something that I hint in the epilogue. So to do his best to face faces of thought of what? You didn't succeed completely. And Leeta leaders and writers did try to complete the work, but we'll see if we look at the manuscripts and circulation of manuscripts is that there were lots and lots of people copying, making out copies of the writings circulating and reading them.
And a lot of these happened to be Hindu's. After all, they don't even draw and see to see growing numbers of Hindus who were literate in question. So this came to form part of a socially privileged elite administrative class. They were often certain castes, such we see that predominated cutty's certain domains they were using, pushing just like elite Indians with English studied English is seen as the passport to success to sort of a good middle class, upper middle class life, social mobility.
And at the same time, you know, there are certain groups who are learning English. I mean, there's not all that much mobility that you leave for reproducing themselves. And that's sort of what we see in the 17th and 18th centuries. But we see these growing numbers of Hindus who come to be part of the vast local bureaucracy. Again, they've expanded the bureaucracy and these Hindus are looking for ways in which to access their sacred texts and not all of them, I promise.
And many of them don't make any sense that they might be complacent and Hindutva in various forms and so on. And they read in Persian and they write in Persian. And many of them are reading and writing books and they also writing, producing the only looks they produce in their own religious texts in Persian. And these people come to be the intermediaries at the time of British colonialism. So we have the British winning the battle of classI, trying to expand their.
Hold over the subcontinent, and they also want to learn about the peoples over which they rule, they want to divide laws and so on to apply and use in the courts. And they initially reluctant to teach them Sanskrit and they find people to teach them as the first language that they use for governing. So there is this whole class of cheese and translators, literatures who are the tutors to colonial officials or informants to them telling them about Indian customs and Indian religions.
And this is what Hinduism is all about. And part of this is being shaped just by what the colonial sponsors and patrons want to learn. And part of this is being shaped by what these opponents are telling them. There is this collaborative process that is creating a huge, huge body of work in that is about religion in India and what's the impact of this work?
So the impact of this is it's shaping global policy. It's also shaping how Hindus in this case are presenting themselves and thinking about themselves. So it's in dialogue with the broader trends that are taking place that would have taken place in the 18th century regardless of colonialism. And it's also influenced by the kinds of things that colonial officials wanted to learn. And it's creating new centers of patronage, competing centers. So, for instance, in the 18th century, we have Delhi that being sacked, numerous attacks.
And of course, there are very often attacks on Delhi, the Waratahs. And then we have centres that are further east that are really gaining in prominence and in culture. And we will see whether it's further by the look of the population of Banaras becomes double that of Delhi we have of Calcutta and so on. So we have all these centers that have become centres of patronage and these are becoming hubs of pushing literature like bananas, which we associate with Sanskrit.
And sense with learning also becomes a form of collusion, partly because of the East India Company and their interest in the region. And people lose this network of people who are traveling, who are producing knowledge in person, and this is an interesting angle on the free history of later developments. So it's been neglected because it's the historians of the over period of what's called medieval Indian history between what we call the early modern period. We tend to use caution and often historians of the modern period tend to look at sources and other languages.
But these are the trends. So I wanted to see what Hindus for certain elite Hindus are reading and writing because I wanted to look at the history and trajectory of certain ideas, the idea of universalism, for instance, or the idea that there is the kind of core monotheistic essence to religion, no matter what you call it. Some people call it's not time. Some people kind of just hold it religion or the essence of Hinduism. So it's the evolution of Hinduism into something that was stripped down, universal, that had its roots in Dharma.
And it also becomes sort of like seen as the cultural matrix of India. And I find that position of the sources are really interesting.
This through which to me, would it then be the case that this sort of stripping down of Hinduism or, you know, getting to broad core principles and all of that is happening partly because of the language? Is the language shaping the content? Is the fact that this is, you know, a bunch of Drummonds who are speaking and writing in what is essentially till that point to foreign language? Does it change the nature of the content that is being produced?
Is it more universal than so, less insular than the content that might otherwise be produced at that time in Sanskrit or Hindawi or whatever the local languages are?
That's an interesting question, and I find that there are there are ways in which the language definitely shapes what's what's being produced. There are certain texts that are just more receptive to translation, but it doesn't entirely shift that. So we do have a lot of. Adverted texts that are being circulated, but this is not only happening in what's happening in the and also what is happening in the. So we have this whole series of bludge translations of the text that that become really popular.
So we have a kind of nationalization of them and pushiness is contributing to this trend. But all of this is laying the groundwork for Vedanta being seen as the kind of essence of Hinduism later on. So we have the popularisation of the thought that is taking place, and pollution is a major driver for that. And for so and I don't know how to what extent is being seen as a foreign language by some, perhaps by others.
They are very, very comfortable with it. Just like English, for instance.
Yeah, that's what I was going to say, much as English is very much an Indian language today. So no one should complain about words like preborn and questioning us about this project. And I mean, it sounds incredibly fascinating. And I wasn't aware that Bush was so widely used within the subcontinent by people who weren't part of the empire. But what's the broad aha moment? What drove you to the project and what to do about it?
Well, one of the things that drove me to this is when you look at the figures, which seem to be really key to the evolution of modern Hindu thought, Obama, who voiced his initial writings, his initial both the that within Islam with an Arabic introduction, it was initially written implosion. I found that that work is in dialogue with the writings of various other Hindus and Muslims, people who consider themselves kind of free thinkers, but who were very much shaped by the colonial context, who are resident in bananas and supposed to have traveled to bananas.
So I find that it definitely gives an interesting window onto this. One of the ways in which I'm personally interested in the study is that among scholars of the field, there is this perennial debate about Hinduism, and this is something that no doubt would seem really shocking to too many people in India, people who might consider themselves Hindus. And the debate is really about whether Hinduism of the English term and wisdom is something that's pretty modern from the 18th century.
Is that something that was really shaped and formed under colonial rule? Or is this something that existed earlier? There are some studies of colonialism who are using this not as a way to critique and intelligence to see, but as a way of critiquing colonialism, showing how the colonial authorities tried to reshape religions, erect strict boundaries around communities, formed these really as kind of racialized communities and attributed to them in essence. So some of this might have been done in a slightly more admiring fashion.
Other part of this project might have been done in denigrating fashion. We have Orientalists who admired aspects of what they studied. We have others who thought this was terrible. There is one argument that is really strongly in favor of the colonial construction. And those who study the premodern period find that no matter what you study, you can always find some of the antecedents for this. You can find antecedents for a kind of consolidation. If you study in philosophy, for instance, there's a consolidation of the classics against the Gnostics, for instance.
Why did this happen? It's not something that's immediately apparent, but it could be that having some rulers or an Islamic presence or indirectly kind of nudged unification or consolidation of these philosophical schools. So it's a perennial question that the people are debating and the actual links between the precolonial. And we'll put this question because that's a bridge language and kind of view under a cultural world that we find operating seamlessly through the transition from precolonial to.
This is a fascinating book about this called Think the Truth about Tosspot. Sanjay Chakraborty. And I also discussed it with the Monocle in an old episode where, yeah, I mean, the broad sense that I had of this period of time and how well, what we know is Hinduism as a concept came about was that, look, the British lined up in India and they don't understand the language. They don't understand anything. They want to make sense of a complex world.
They need a simple narrative that early, interlocutor's, these uppercuts Brahmins who give them their version of what how society is structured and the warning, no system is very much part of that. And that kind of one sided view, it forms a convenient narrative through which you view this exotic land and begin to navigate, you know, Indian society. And that becomes the narrative. And oddly enough, this mistaken narrative by our colonial rulers becomes the narrative that then seeps into all of our culture and gets widely accepted.
And regardless of what the intent might be of the British, whether this was a deliberately or an it played into the divide and rule or whether it was unwitting individuals trying to make sense of the world, how could to do it, you know, but it strikes me while you were speaking just now, that intellectual history's of a period like that must be very more complex in this period, because there are, again, so many languages in play. And, you know, I had no idea that Bushin was such a big part of all of this.
And it is the literature of the time that also playing a part in narratives like this being built and propagated. Absolutely.
In the 19th century, there was more pressure being produced in India than in Iran. Again, absolutely right. It's hard to do justice to all the different languages. There was again, there was development and innovation in Sanskrit, as well as one narrative that in a sense, that kind of like deisel, there's nothing much new that's done in it. But it's showing that the 18th century, far from being a kind of a period of darkness and dissolution, was really a great cultural vibrancy at the time of political crisis and turmoil.
Also, as a result of that submission is is one aspect of it. And what I find that even after the colonial government abandons it as an official language and abandons some of its earlier interest in Orientalism and producing scholarship on India, the kind of this is like more of the influence that you see popping up. It doesn't have these generations of people who defeated in being one person because they don't want to get jobs in the Clinton administration and then they find it doesn't quite serve them as well.
But they're producing these these folks. And with the tools in the public sphere, you have a lot of informants who are translating these works into Urdu because now is what is more commonly understood in these languages, still don't have the kind of criminal charges that they have to do. So again, although there was the beginnings of the controversy of the 19th century, it doesn't always play out that way. In Punjab, for instance, loads of Hindus were moving to and part of the education policy will continue along.
So we have people who are to the marches to kind of get a lot of groups that the senator used to be with each other and these debates are in English, Knightsbridge and so forth, and then the debating and talking about things that we really get into trouble for the debate to talk about these things to be doing that.
This is a really fascinating literature that will otherwise be ignored and some of these intellectual currents are exploring.
Is it also driven by what is happening in modern times? Because you know what you're talking about now and the whole Poroshenko book is very resonant with the sort of debates that are taking place today are different sort of our ideas of ourselves, so to say. So is all of this driven by that and made more? And is that history of the writings of that time made more vivid for you because of, you know, sort of the world around us?
So I would say that, of course, when I started on this path, we were not in our current political scenario at all. So that wasn't my initial impetus, but definitely how we are shaped by our current times, that affects how we view the past. So I'd say it's very, very difficult to step out of that. You know, there's some more of those profound questions that I have that I didn't have when I initially started on this blog, which is the ecological catastrophe.
And one's thinking of what is really worth studying now with the Anthropocene, with this ecological crisis. What what what should we be doing with our lives? What kinds of history are worth reading into and talking about? But I think it's not a partial from the actual topic. I think just a practice of reading, critically, interrogating, debating, discussing are incredibly important things that we need to just keep doing.
I can agree with you more. Thank you so much for coming on the show. So it's been a pleasure talking to you.
Thank you so much. If you enjoy listening to this episode, head on over to your nearest bookstore, online or offline, probably online, and pick up the emperor who never was Dorotea in India by Supriya Gandhi. Magnificent storytelling. And it'll give you a much better sense of the area that it covers. Doesn't seem to be on social media, but you can follow me on Twitter ectomy at my Amitay around me. You can browse past episodes of the scene in the unseen and seen unseen eye.
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