By Najmul Hoda

shah zafarTitle: The Life & Poetry of Bahadur Shah Zafar

Author: Aslam Parvez

Translated by: Ather Farouqui

Publisher: Hay House

Price: Rs 172

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“Do gaz zameen bhi na mili…”: Bahadur Shah Zafar in the Time of Qabristan and Shamshan

Ather Farouqui has translated The Life & Poetry of Bahadur Shah Zafar by Aslam Parvez. This is as good as translation gets. Textual integrity does not mar the flow of the narration.

I read this book in the Urdu original. Long back, in 1996, when in JNU. So, when I read Dalrymple’s bestseller, The Last Mughal, in 2006, there was a sense of having been there and done that, which made me wonder whether Dalrymple’s would still be such a roaring success if this one had already been available in English. This book is not only the spine and skeleton but also the muscle and sinews which Dalrymple fleshed out rather sumptuously in his book. He acknowledged as much. This, and Zaheer Dehlavi’s chronicles of the Great Uprising, and a slew of Urdu newspapers, published from Delhi, first sourced by Aslam Parvez, beside the elegies of the failed uprising such as Rashid ul-Khairi’s and Khwaja Hasan Nizami’s et al.

Bahadur Shah Zafar, above all, came to embody and symbolise the civilisational unity, cultural continuity and political integrity of India at her darkest hour. The moment when she refused to go gentle into that dark night, and raged, raged against the dying of the light. This is a requiem to what India was and a lamentation of what she could have been. Her aborted potential. It vividly captures the degeneration that had set in and the embers that still glowed under the heaps of ashes of the fire that was once the light and warmth of a vibrant civilisation. No wonder that the greatest cultural efflorescence since the age of Bhakti and Khusrau took place in the first half of the 19th century. Zafar presided over it, and Ghalib was its most luciferous star. Its sun. The greatest gift of the Indo-Islamic culture. The milky marbles of Taj Mahal may pale someday, but Ghalib will keep shining brighter with each passing day as humanity delve deeper into the depth of their soul and expand the horizons of their mind.

Rosie Llewellyn-Jones has written a well-researched book on Wajid Ali Shah, Awadh’s ill-fated last ruler, but ignores the significant cultural context of his reign in Lucknow

One of the first questions that arise from this book concerns the description of its subject as “the last king in India’’. With what justification can Wajid Ali Shah be described thus? His reign in his ancestral kingdom ended in February 1856 when Lord Dalhousie annexed Awadh. In other words, he ceased to be a king or he was a king without a kingdom. Bahadur Shah Zafar ruled in Delhi as the Mughal Emperor till September 1857. The Nizam continued to rule in Hyderabad till 1947 as did some other powerful rulers in Rajasthan, to wit the maharajas of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur; not to mention the maharaja of Kashmir. Thus in terms of simple chronology, the claim does not quite stand scrutiny.