By Najmul Hoda
Akbar in the Time of Aurangzeb is arguably the most readable and riveting book written on Akbar. History, biography or historical novel — call it what you may, Shazi Zaman has pulled a major tour de force. This is way better than what the Dalrymples and Rutherfords of the Indian historical fiction industry keep churning out. It has little exotica. Not much trivia. Hard historical facts. Culled from the primary sources, and strung together to make a seamless narrative with minimum speculation and intervention from the author. He lets the historical texts speak. And they speak loud and eloquent.
It’s not about empire building, wars, conquests and administration. Not much. Not directly. If anything—and if the word can be retrospectively used—it’s about nation-building.
It’s about Akbar, the thinker. The seeker, not the believer. The restless contemplator yearning for the resolution of myriad contradictions whirling in his mind. The free-thinker whose mind was free from the shackles of inherited wisdom and certitudes. The man who had the audacity, eagerness and enterprise to go beyond the limits set by his time, place, tradition and culture.
He never rejected Islam. He was devout. Deep. Spiritual. Mystical. Sufi. He delved deep into the meanings of both the precepts and the practices. Precepts kept him tethered. Practices made him break loose. Particularly the shenanigans of the religious establishment, most visibly personified in the unscrupulous and overweening arrogance of Shaikh Abdun Nabi who had the temerity to hit the adolescent emperor with a stick for something as innocuous as wearing saffron during the basant festival.