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Understanding Aurangzeb

Vikrant Pande. (Right) The cover of the translated novel.  

Here is Aurangzeb as you have never seen him before. Acclaimed Marathi author N.S. Inamdar’s book, portrays a man he feels is much misunderstood, the Mughal emperor who ruled India for almost 50 years.Inamdar, a novelist hugely popular with his Marathi readers, took up the task of bringing forth the other side of Aurangzeb.

And Vikrant Pande’s brilliant translation brings the work to a new readership.

“Aurangzeb is regarded by most as a tyrant, a zealot, and someone who killed his brothers to take over the empire,” says Pande. “But most people reading Mughal history do not know that Aurangzeb’s act was just one in the long list of atrocities committed by each of the Mughal emperors since Akbar.”

The translator says that Shahenshah – The Life Of Aurangzeb is close to facts with little fiction. “[Inamdar] mentions in his three-volume autobiography the detailed research he undertook to write his novels.” Inamdar had heard of a novel on Aurangzeb by a Hindi author, Acharya Chatursen Shastri. Inamdar wrote, “But that seemed to focus on him as a Shahzada [prince] and not as a Shahenshah [emperor]. During my travel to the interiors of Maharashtra, I wondered how the Mughal emperor could spend 25 years of his life in tents and live a life of hardship along with thousands of soldiers. Some of them were, in fact, born in the Deccan and had never seen the splendour and riches of the capital city of Delhi. The officials, despite being eager to go back to their life of luxury, had no option but to follow Aurangzeb’s call of jihad against the Marathas. It triggered in me a sense of curiosity to explore the subject further.”

Shahenshah is the story of Aurangzeb, who died at 89, after having ruled for 50 years. His first 40 years were spent as a prince; for the next 23 years, he ruled his empire from Delhi; and the last 26 years of his life was spent fighting in Central and South India.

Pande says, “Most people consider him to be a cruel emperor who killed his brothers and threw his father into prison. [In fact] Shah Jahan’s four sons rebelled against him and it was Aurangzeb who managed to win. Aurangzeb, having proclaimed himself emperor, was following the Mughal tradition and may have justified his act on the grounds that he was merely treating his father Shah Jahan as [Shah Jahan] had treated Jahangir and Jahangir had treated Akbar! It becomes evident that to label Aurangzeb alone a murderer would be incorrect, when generations before had committed similar acts of brutality.”

When it came to translating the book, Pande’s effort ahs been to stay very close to the original. “The art of translation is the ability to recreate the original story for an English reader, without losing its identity. My idea of translation is to be loyal in the first draft, wherein I stay very close to the text. The second draft is the toughest, where I have to reword paragraphs and, at times, pages to get the essence into English without diluting the original thought.”

Pande says, “At the core of it, Shahenshah is the tragic story of a human being.” Despite achieving all the greatness which made Aurangzeb the single biggest ruler of Hindustan, he died a heartbroken man. He was an intelligent emperor with no vices, and worked hard like no one did. “He did not hesitate to pick up his sword and lead the army at the age of 82! His attention to public affairs was remarkable. His disciplined life was an example which few could follow. The paradox of Aurangzeb’s long reign was that it left an empire in tatters.”

The translation took Pande a year to complete, at the end of which he looks at Aurangzeb differently, and hopes that readers will too. “I knew Aurangzeb as a tyrant, a zealot, someone who destroyed temples, and was a fanatic. But the novel made me read about his love affairs, his angst at his father’s peccadilloes, his devout study of the Quran and his uncompromising zeal for jihad. It is for us to decide whether the jihad was right or wrong but as an emperor, he saw the Marathas as his enemies and was keen to destroy them. The fact that he tortured Sambhaji pricked my Marathi pride but then I reminded myself that I was reading history and not judging it!”

So is there scope for historical fiction to capture this generation’s imagination?

“I strongly believe that today’s generation needs to read historical fiction to understand history better,” Pande says. “There is a difference between fictional history and historical fiction. Fictional history is where an author extrapolates the historical events by creating his own themes. Historical fiction is history retold as a story which makes it interesting to read and enjoy.”

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 11:16:59 PM |

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