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Jalal-ud-Din Mohammad Akbar was the grandson of Babar, the founder of the Mughal Empire, whose dynasty lasted for over three centuries in the Indian subcontinent. Out of all the descendants of Babar,  Akbar is considered to be the most successful emperor. There are many stories and legends about Akbar’s sense of justice which kept the multicultural Mughal Empire united during his reign which lasted for fifty long years (1556-1605). With the passage of time these stories must have changed and branched in several versions, this blog is just about one version of a story.

One day a group of Hindus came to the palace of Akbar with a complaint against a few Muslims.   They demanded justice as the Muslims had beaten up one of their masons. Akbar summoned the Muslim group and soon the Muslims and the Hindus stood in front of him in two separate groups.

Akbar ordered to begin the hearing. First to speak was a man from the Muslim group, he accused the Hindus of taking the bricks from his masjid to build their mandir. To this, a Hindu responded “My King, those were the leftover bricks of their newly built masjid, they were thrown aside so we took them with the permission of the mullah”.  Another man from the Muslim group interrupted, “My King, we cannot allow the bricks of our masjid to go in the building of a mandir”.  A third man from the Muslim group, who looked composed, stepped forward and asked him, “My brother, what difference does it make, they too were using the bricks for building the house of their God.” The first Muslim who had opened the dialogue could not bear all this and addressed the King, “My King, there is difference, we offer Namaz, they worship idols”. On this the Hindu responded, “My King, the masjid and the mandir both house God, we call him Rama, they call him Raheem”.

Akbar had been listening patiently to both the groups and finely gave his verdict. Looking at the Hindu man he began, “Young man, I will not betray your trust in my justice. I am proud you did not take law in your hands and those who do so deserve to be punished”.  He then turned towards the Muslim group and continued, “On the pretext of bricks I will not allow violence. In the name of religion I will not allow the fire of hatred to spread in my kingdom. The culprits will be duly punished”. Akbar concluded by repeating Babar’s advice to his descendants, “Love the masjids and respect the mandirs.”

In his later years Akbar allowed the Jesuit priests to build their churches in his empire. Today some of the mullahs refer to him as a non-believer and a heretic while history records him as Akbar the Great.

OWOS Talpur Cover

Ode to a Desert Woman

I remember, within the loose circle of a veil

A face-strong, striking, ancient and pale

Sphinx-like riddle its features bore

An expression so stoic, hard to explore

Chiseled sharply by piercing winds

Tanned copper by the blazing sun

It called for a scribe to write its story

To seek its history encrypted around

In the massive murky past, in the dunes that abound

In such enormity she stood; in distance she was lost

An eternal imprint on my memory she left

Aspiring life in the desert dead

A rare ore amidst the grains of sand

Unread, unnoticed, unnamed

How do I bring you toOzymandias’ fame?

A version of this Ode was first published inFootnotes,my  book of verse.  Later  it  appeared in the Purani Kahani, the ‘Old Story’ of the Desert Woman I published in A Pakistani Trilogy.

Ever since the publication of my book ‘Indus Seals (2600-1900 BCE)Beyond Geometry: A New Approach to Break an Old Code’ I am often asked about the nature of the hurdles in the Indus seal research and about what has been my approach to decipherment of the enigmatic signs and symbols engraved on these seals. The answer is long and I have attempted to cover it in my book, however, for those who want a shorter version please read this blog.

Most cited difficulties in deciphering the seals are the brevity of the inscriptions and the absence of a bilingual dictionary such as the Rosetta Stone which helped in deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs. An average Indus seal has only 5 signs while the longest Indus text is composed of 26 signs. However, we cannot wait for the discovery of large volumes of textual material. Bearing in mind that the brevity of text might be a unique feature which cannot be judged by the yardstick used for ancient writing systems discovered elsewhere, we must continue to reconstruct the other aspects of Indus civilization which will eventually provide a larger socio-cultural and ideological context to examine and understand the seals.

 

According to Asko Parpola, methodological weaknesses have been a cause of failure in deciphering the script. “The most common approach has been this: Indus signs are equated with similar-looking signs of other, readable ancient scripts and the phonetic values of the latter are transferred to the Indus signs. However, this method works only when the two scripts being compared are closely related … In contrast, the Indus script has no obvious genetic affinity with any other known script.”

N.A. Baloch classifies the method of decipherment used by the researchers into two groups. “The first method has been of concentration entirely on the internal structure of the Indus script which has reduced the entire corpus of the signs, marks, and pictorial representations into writing and enumerating so much so that each and every sign has an identification number now. The second method has directed the research towards proving some sort of relationship between the Indus script and other scripts and languages of the contemporary civilizations.”

Apart from these reasons, I strongly feel that there have been a few detours in the long journey of decipherment which has derailed the Indus seal research. These detours have proved futile as they have misled the scholars to seek clues in distant cultures and languages. Perhaps, for a better understanding of the Indus seals and their languages, I would like to draw the attention to the route suggested by Baloch. According to him, “For the language of the (Indus) script, the scholars will have to abandon their wild-goose chase of looking for the proto-type in Turan and South India and look for the evidence within the land where the seals were made and discovered… this lock of the Indus script had apparently been prepared by the great smiths of yore that is not likely to yield to such foreign-made keys so easily.” Baloch further suggests that, “In order to resolve this problem on a rather firm rational ground, a third hypothesis can be presented based on the assumption that the key to the decipherment of the Indus script may be found right in the land where it had been lost— Indus Valley. The decipherment could, perhaps, be worked out looking into the words and phrases of the language of the Indus Valley, the language of the land itself, Sindhi of the peasants, as it has remained unaffected throughout the centuries.”

And yet Sindhi is not the only language to be considered for Indus seal research. I have used the Sindhi model in my book because of my familiarity with that language and because it has retained a larger percentage of the ancient words. However, there are other languages spoken in the Indus region which can be explored for ancient words, adages and legends that can be identified on the seals. It must be emphasized that seals are not only engraved with rows of signs and symbols but they are also imbued with images of animals, humans, deities, trees and unidentifiable objects. Hence beyond the calligraphic, geometrical and linguistic facets of ancient writing , the Indus seals also depict an assortment of social, cultural and ideological content which requires a holistic approach for its interpretation. This approach will certainly extend the seal research and help in a better understanding of the Civilization in general.

Indus Civilization is recognized as the fourth ancient civilization of the World, the other three were discovered in China, Egypt and Iraq; the fifth was discovered in Central America after the discovery of Indus. Indus is also the largest ancient civilization but it remains to be the least understood.  It must be emphasized that the failure to decipher Indus symbols and signs has contributed a lot to this lack of understanding.

Taj Mahal is the symbol of the great love story of Prince Shah Jehan (1592-1666) and Arjumand Bano. He was the grandson of Akbar the Great Moghul King; she the fourteen year old daughter of Asaf Khan, a highly influential official in the Moghul court. Arjumand was also the niece of Queen Noor Jehan, the most renowned wife of emperor Jehangir, the father of Shah Jehan.

Shah Jehan fell in love with Arjumand on the first sight. He saw her at a Meena Bazaar ( a marketplace run by ladies) when she was only fourteen years old. In five years time they got married and Arjumand Bano came to be known as Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jehan had other wives also but she became his favorite. She was beautiful, intelligent and a good chess player who dared to accompany her husband even on his military campaigns and eventually died in one of those in Burhanpur in Central India.

Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 while giving birth to Shah Jehan’s fourteenth child, a girl. It is said that on her deathbed she asked Shah Jehan for two things, first that he will not marry again and second that he will build a grand mausoleum in her memory. Her death devastated Shah Jehan it is said the grief had grayed his hair soon after.  He ordered to exhume the body of his beloved wife from Burhanpur and bring it in a gold coffin to Agra. Shah Jehan may have eventually found some consolation in devoting about two decades and 20, 000 workers for the construction of the promised mausoleum on the banks of River Jamuna. In the last years of his life fate deprived him of all the splendor. His son, the austere emperor Aurangzeb, imprisoned him in the Fort of Agra, allowing him a window to watch the Taj and finally getting him buried under its dome next to his beloved wife.

Much has been written on Taj Mahal, poems and plays even movies have been made in India and Pakistan. Here is a documentary , here is a song from an old movie and here are a few glimpses from the last movie (2005) made on Taj Mahal.

 

 

There was a preacher who, whenever he mounted a pulpit, forthwith would offer up a prayer for highwaymen.

“Lord,” he would cry, lifting up his hands, “visit with compassion the wicked, those who do corruption, the insolent sinners, all who make mock of the righteous, all who are infidels at heart, all who dwell in convents.”

Not one prayer he would say for the pure; his prayers were only for the depraved. Such conduct is certainly unusual, people protested. “It is hardly generous to pray for erring men.”

“Such are the sorts of men from whom I have derived most good,” he answered. “That is why I have singled them out for my prayers. They have wrought such depravity, oppression, injustice that they have violently flung me out of evil into good. Every time I turned my face towards this lower world, they would receive me with cuffs and blows; so I would take refuge from their buffering in the other side. It was wolves who brought me back always to the right road. Since they contrived the means of my salvation, it is incumbent on me, my clever friends, to pray for them.”

Every enemy you have is in reality your cure, your sovereign alchemy, your benefactor, your well-wisher.

(Jalal-ud-Din Rumi . A thirteenth century mystic poet and a great storyteller)

It is a historic day.

United States of America gets a new President, Donald Trump.

So much is being flashed on the media.

Here is a glimpse.

 

On the last day of a year we tend to look ahead and I am struggling to put my thoughts together to write a blog. 2016 had been a hectic year of writing, editing and finally publishing my book .

Perhaps, that overdoing is causing a strong writer’s block so I look for the easy way out. Why not make the blog from a collage of the news from around the world describing the passing of 2016 and the coming of 2017.  I look at the list of the New York Times ‘Most Read’ articles of 2016 and this is the one that captures my attention. Published in June 2016 it describes one of Donald Trump’s failures: “At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago.” It takes me a quarter-century back in time for that was the first time I heard about Donald Trump, a graduate of Wharton’s Business school and a business tycoon who was building golf courses and casinos. Later on I came to know more about him through his TV show an excellent job in self-publicity.  I find the article on his lost battle in New Jersey irrelevant as he wins a war on the Presidential campaign front. I do not want to write about his future political empire? As many blogs will be written on it. My wandering mind is already taking me to another Taj Mahal, the symbol of a once mighty empire. Who can write better on it than the poets? How Shakeel Badayuni praised it, how Muhammad Rafi sang it and how beautifully it was picturized on Dilip Kumar and Vyjayanthimala

But then Sahir Ludhianvi’s poem Taj Mahal far surpasses Shakeel’s and  all the other lofty eulogies.  The way he narrates the reality of the Taj to his beloved can convince anyone. I just discovered on Youtube that Sahir’s Taj Mahal was also used as a movie song, sung by  Rafi and filmed on Sunil Dutt and Meena Kumari . As I am floating with the flow of my thoughts I look for my response to Shakeel and Sahir in my book of poems. Please forgive me for I am not going to edit what I have written above. But I do owe a footnote and here it is:

And lo! When the Mahal was made

And the masons and the master builder lavishly paid

The Emperor in his whim severed the very pair

Of hands that had granted life to his dream

“The World should not see another wonder such as thee”

Shah Jahan is said to have wished

A legend immersed in brutality

Hard to believe, but not many deny

For it blends so well with the injustices of imperial history

Shah Jahan’s will! Did it prevail?

Taj stands, its story told and retold

Crossing the oceans it reaches the New World

A neo Mogul here creates his own Taj

With the might of the dollar

He puts to shame his forebear

Cash flows here faster than the waters of the Jamuna

Opulence exists here eternally

The New Taj stands exalted in the richest of the countries

And makes the rich around it thrive

As for the Old, its glory has not gone

The multitudes around it multiply and starve

Between the hubbub of the Old

And the growing din of the New

Sahir’s song fades away even further

He and his beloved long lost in the time, in the multitudes

What is the love of a poet against the lure of dollar?

It is the ancient story of the power of fortune against the twists of fate

Parveen Talpur

(An excerpt from the Footnotes)