Written by Babur in Chagatai TurkishTranslated by Annette Susannah Beveridge
Edited and introduced by Dilip Hiro
Published by Penguin Books India
Babur the conqueror, Babur the connoisseur, or Babur the raconteur; one is left wondering
Pay no heed to those preconceived notions as Babur’s diary is not just a chronicle of a conqueror on a vanity ride.
It’s a talking canvas that waxes eloquent on aesthetics, architecture, history, geography, and people, with war as its unwavering motif.
Valour came naturally to Babur but what’s astonishing is that he had the ability to keep his proverbial ‘third eye’ open even in battles and skirmishes.
From the quaint Ferghana to the seductive Kabul, and finally the coveted Hindustan, the maverick Turco-Mongol invites your company in his conquests.
It’s as if the reader is being told to imagine themselves as a pillion rider mounted on Babur’s steed.
Such as here: “Few towns in the whole habitable world are as pleasant as Samarkand. It is of the Fifth Climate and situated at latitude 40°6̓ and longitude 99°. They used to call it Baldat e Mahfuza (Secure Country).
“Timur Beg made it his capital. On the east of Samarkand are Ferghana and Kashghar; on the west, Bokhara, and Khorezm; on the north, Tashkent, and Shahrukhiya, and on the south Balkh and Tabrez.
“The Zarafshan River flows along the north. Grapes, melons, apples and pomegranates, all fruits indeed, are good in Samarkand. There are many fine buildings and gardens of Timur Beg and Ulugh Beg Mirza.”
Here and there, he dabbles in poetry too.
Be it one year, or a hundred with grace
Forth you must go from this delightful place
Drink wine in the castle of Kabul and send the cup round to entertain
For Kabul is mountain, is river, is city, and is also a plain
Beautifying the grotesque, he squashes mutineers with grace and poetically sends an arrow into a wild donkey’s heart during a hunt.
Even in vice – wine & women – he maintains the eye of a selective aesthete.
Quite incredibly, Babur, despite his blue-blooded conceit, had a respect for the adversary whether it’s the redoubtable Shaibani Khan Uzbek or the vulnerable Ibrahim Lodhi.
Throughout the narrative, he impresses upon an aspiring conqueror that discretion is at times the better part of valor.
And this is what makes one ignore the narcissism that an emperor just cannot abstain from while penning his chronicles.