Book review: 'Empire of The Moghul: The Tainted Throne'

Sunday, 17 June 2012 - 12:00pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The Tainted Throne deals with the relationship between emperor and crown prince, who in this case is Khurram (the future Shah Jahan).

Book: Empire of The Moghul: The Tainted Throne
Alex Rutherford
Price: Rs599

Jahangir is hot on the trail of his rebel son Khusrau, who has declared himself emperor. But Khusrau’s forces are no match for his father’s. The battle is quickly over and Khusrau is captured. Jahangir orders that Khusrau’s soldiers be impaled on wooden stakes and Khusrau is made to walk through the rows of stakes as his men cry out in agony.

Thus begins the fourth title from the Empire Of The Moghul series, establishing Jahangir as a ruthless ruler, insecure about his throne and determined to nip any dissent in the bud. Khusrau’s life is spared, but he is thrown in the dungeon. When he conspires the second time, his eyelids are sewn.

Like book three, The Tainted Throne too deals with the relationship between emperor and crown prince, who in this case is Khurram (the future Shah Jahan). However, while Akbar was almost eclipsed by Jahangir in the last book, this time the characters are far more balanced.

Mehrunissa, better known as Nur Jahan, is fascinating. Alex Rutherford has deftly imagined how she and Jahangir came to be married. Veering from history, Jahangir orders the assassination of Mehrunissa’s first husband, Sher Afghan, a Moghul commander in Bengal. He is murdered while in bed with Mehrunissa, who has the presence of mind to allow the assassin to escape even though her husband’s blood is all over her naked body because she is relieved her loveless marriage has ended. The scene may be fictional, but it establishes a historically-recorded aspect of Mehrunissa’s character — her ability to think on her feet and turn situations to her advantage.

The Tainted Throne revolves around how Mehrunissa ended up dominating the Mughal court by encouraging Jahangir’s fondness for wine and opium. She also created a rift between him and Khurram in order to maintain her own power. Her machinations against Khurram keep the book ticking. Also, the many wars, particularly Khurram’s campaigns in the Deccan and Jahangir’s kidnapping by one of his own commanders, are riveting.

However, despite the build-up thanks to the enmity between Khurram and Mehrunissa, the end comes a bit too soon. Once Jahangir dies, the contenders for the throne — Khusrau, Khurram and their youngest sibling Shahriyar (Mehrunissa’s puppet) — move to grab power. Khurram first defeats Khusrau and then Shahriyar to free his two sons and become the emperor.

Even though it’s a smaller battle, Khurram’s confrontation with Khusrau is more engaging than the finale, which is the only disappointing portion of the novel. Rutherford’s knowledgeable insight into historical personalities salvages the weak parts.

Even in her defeat, Mehrunissa manages to sow doubt in Khurram’s mind about a possible rebellion by his two brothers. As a result, Khurram orders their death.

As we know, Shah Jahan proved to be a capable ruler. But by ordering the execution of his two brothers, does he set an example for his sons — especially Aurangzeb — who are responsible for the bloodiest chapter in the Mughal period? We’ll know in the fifth and final book of this series.

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