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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.

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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.

 

 

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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)

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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.

 

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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)

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Antiquity had always fascinated me, whether through archaeology or paleoanthropology. Mary Leakey was one of my first heroes, though her quest was to trace human origins and mine turned out to be the exploration of ancient civilizations. Going further back in time, even as a child I was intrigued by the rustic world that lay beyond the lofty walls fortifying my village house. My father had led me to that world.  A man born much ahead of his times, he had resolved to rid his daughters from the curse of purdah and educate them in an English school, hence us three sisters were allowed to explore anything we wanted. For me, almost everything around seemed to hold some secret. Ancient ruins, an abandoned river bed, impoverished shrines and isolated samadhis, aging trees with their massive trunks and the equally old peasants relaxing under their shade were all mysterious.  At my school when I learnt that only an archaeologist could hold the keys to such secrets, I decided to become one.  I never lost hope even when I was enrolling for my Master’s degree in the subject and discovered, at the last moment, that there was no department of archaeology at Karachi University.

I remember walking into the office of the Vice-Chancellor of the university with the request to establish one.  The Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ehsan Rashid, responded with an Urdu verse that I do not remember but its gist was that I had the audacity to jump all the relevant authorities below and approach the highest with a trivial request. Nonetheless, he took my request seriously and assigned one of his staff members to help me.

The University could not open a department overnight, but on my suggestion Syed Muhammad Ashfaque from the Federal Department of Archaeology and Museums was hired to offer courses in archaeology.  This arrangement enabled me and my five colleagues, and many more after us, to study archaeology at one of the largest universities of Pakistan.

In 1979, I was given my first chance to read a paper at the International Symposium on Indus Civilization, sponsored jointly by UNESCO and the Government of Pakistan to help the “Save Moen jo Daro” campaign.  I was the only Pakistani woman who read a paper at that symposium and I was also the youngest speaker. Bridgett Allchin from Cambridge University, England was another woman who along with her archaeologist husband Raymond Allchin presented the paper on their joint research.

An excerpt from my book on Moen jo Daro

https://www.amazon.com/Moen-Daro-Metropolis-Civilization-2600-1900/dp/1631921649/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1482162604&sr=1-2&keywords=indus+seals+parveen+talpur

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“Prince Mikasa, an imperial Army Veteran who turned pacifist…died in Tokyo on Thursday. He was 100.” On October 27th I came across this obituary in the New York Times. Until then all I knew of Prince Takahito Mikasa was that he had once visited Pakistan to participate in an International Symposium on Moen jo Daro and that he was a brother of Emperor Hirohito of Japan. However, now I am curious to see what bought him to Moen jo Daro.

I looked at his picture printed with the obituary, attired and armed in the traditional way, he looked boyish. “Prince Mikasa around 1930” the year printed in the label confirmed my guess.  It also revealed that he was the first Japanese royal to become a professor, and to get a driver’s license. I quickly glanced through the news: born on December 2nd, 1915, he was the fifth in line to the throne and was the uncle of present emperor, Akihito. The obituary any way was short and even looked shorter considering the stature of the late Prince.  I searched more about him on the internet. As expected, many pictures appeared;  in one, the young prince was dancing with his wife Princess Yuriko at a party,  in another both were riding on elephants in Sri Lanka. Fast forward, the couple grew old, the first picture to draw my attention showed them sitting on a bench sharing an album; in another both were standing and viewing the imperial costumes at a Museum, and finally the one from the last years of Prince’s life- he seated in a wheel chair, she holding on to her walker.

Prince Mikasa, served as a junior officer in the imperial army during its notorious invasion of Nanking, but he came to be more known for his views against the war.  He was a strong critic of Japanese aggression in China and after the World War Two had asked his brother to abdicate the throne.  In his Asokan moment he even thought of giving up his own title to live an ordinary life. He did not succeed in achieving the status of a commoner but he had the freedom to immerse in the vast ocean of knowledge to understand human history. He was tempted to reach the remnants of ancient past  for a glimpse of the beginnings of the modern world.

In 1954, Prince Mikasa established the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan. He taught at the Tokyo University, learnt Hebrew and  translated “a handbook of biblical archaeology.” Prince Mikasa’s major interest was the East and  in 1968 he also  became an honorary visiting professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.  In one of his interviews he explained what attracted him to ancient  East, “The reason I studied Oriental archaeology was to seek out from the ruins of the Middle East and the Near East, the origin of mankind and civilization, the outlines of man and state, and to think over what man should be.”  He had found solace in history and antiquity and that is what had bought him to Moen jo Daro. I looked into the proceedings of the International Symposium on Moen jo Daro which were published as a book with the cover design printed with a collage of Indus seals. The Symposium was held on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the excavations of the site.  The year was 1973, I was still a novice in archaeology.But today as I am reading the address of Prince Mikasa on Moen jo Daro I find it very relevant and  must share his views in his own words. Below is an excerpt from his address:

“May I be permitted to tell you about my own impressions?  When I received the invitation from the Government of Pakistan last year, my heart was filled with joy. As a student of the ancient history of the Middle East, I never forget the name of Moenjodaro, the most ancient and most elaborately planned and constructed city in this world, which has reminded Sir Mortimer Wheeler of New York’s Broadway Street. After going around the sites of the city, I realized how poor and how superficial was the knowledge obtained from books and photographs. Each block of bricks, rectangular or triangular, laid vertically or horizontally, the wonderful system of drainage in straight or loosely curved lines made a vivid impression on me. The dyer’s shop and the metal-worker’s shop remind the daily life of the artisans of Moenjodaro.

The Government of Pakistan and UNESCO have already done a great job to save this ancient culture. We, the participants, will do our best to co-operate with the Government of Pakistan and UNESCO in the noble task of preserving this universal human heritage.”

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