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I have been afraid of history books. Reads that somehow seem to take a lot of time to process and take a lot from me as a reader. That’s the perception I had for the longest time of history books. Till I read Dalrymple, Thapar, Manu S. Pillai, and now a recent addition, Supriya Gandhi’s, “The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India”.
This is a fascinating read. It reads like a novel. It reads easy. It speaks of Shukoh, of whom less is written, much less spoken of. A fascinating look of a family, the succession to the throne, and the politics that happened in its wake. Dara died at the hands of his younger brother Aurangzeb, and that forever changed the course of South Asian History. Let me speak more about the book.
Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. The Mughals did not practice the concept of primogeniture (the right of succession passed to the firstborn). How did Aurangzeb ascend to the throne and what happened to Dara, and Shahjahan’s other children is what the book is about.
I was enthralled by the writing. Like I said, Gandhi’s writing is very accessible and doesn’t seem heavy at all. There was not a single place in the book that seemed forced or unwanted. Every detail of the family, to what the siblings felt, to Dara’s sense of being, and Aurangzeb’s personality (sometimes misunderstood as well) was perfectly laid out.
Supriya Gandhi almost gets into the skin of Shukoh - the man he was, how he embraced Sufism, and yet he wasn't without his own flaws. She transports the reader to a land of constant conflict and gives us a biography that is balanced - there is no bias of any kind and she doesn't take sides. She presents history the way it happened.
We live in times when politicians in India (some of them) are out to erase the history of this nation. The Emperor Who Never Was by Supriya Gandhi reclaims history and gives us a complex, nuanced biography of a man who was not known at all, and also of a family that was different and always at loggerheads with each other. Read the book to know more. Read the book and educate yourself. We live in times, where a good open perspective is always needed.
I found this book via twitter recommendations and also in some best of the year lists. Naturally therefore I had high hopes from it even before I started. My rating of 3 stars probably tells you that I was neither unhappy nor overjoyed with this purchase. If are looking for an academic approach to who Dara sukoh was, what all writings exist of him or about him from that period. Then this can be a great reference book. However, of the 257 pages almost 100 pages are simply about Sufism, it's beliefs, all the symbolism it involves etc etc. Honestly it really becomes very tiresome and boring. Definitely not for a lay reader wanting to know about Dara. But then, unlike few other books on him, it is based only of available texts and neatly referenced. So u decide ☺️
An excellent book vividly describing the Mughals and since the focus is on Dara Shukoh, that has been done very nicely. A great book and I would suggest everyone to read it. Its very important that the good parts of our history should be understood and passed on.