Saturday, 3 December 2011

Sons of Babur - hit out at communalism and a communal mentality by retelling a simple truth

New Delhi: The performance of the Hindustani version of the play ‘Sons of Babur’ [Babur ki Aulad] written by Mr Salman Khurshid, Minister or Law & Justice and Minority Affairs, was performed at Rashtrapati Bhawan on 28 October 2011. The play was successful in giving a new meaning to the term ‘Nationalism’, especially taking in to consideration the context of Muslims of India. Incidentally, I have had the privilege of translating the wonderful English text of the play into Urdu and Hindi.
The play, while unfolding Mughal history, harks back to the fact that several Mughal princes had Rajput mothers—including Bahadur Shah Zafar. They were never forced to embrace Islam. Every Mughal emperor, from Humayun to Aurangzeb had at least one Hindu wife. Babur’s sister was married to a Hindu as well.
The history of the dynasty after Aurangzeb and stretching up to Bahadur Shah Zafar is a story of decline, but even the less-known Mughal kings adhered to the tradition of marrying Hindu girls, with Bahadur Shah Zafar being the son of a Hindu mother. The play refers to these facts in order to counter the fringe element’s logic that the Mughals were aliens, referring to them pejoratively as ‘Babur ki Aulad’.
What the play spelt out unequivocally was that the Mughals as well as present-day Muslims in the country—are as much Indians as practitioners of any other faith. A majority of Indian Muslims are converts to Islam, so they share the local culture with Hindus—of course, with variations—but the ethos is the same.
The play, thus, served as a powerful vehicle to hit out at communalism and a communal mentality by retelling a simple truth: The Mughals who ruled over India were totally secular and Indian in their outlook, to whom the concept of an ‘Islamic state’, being touted by several ‘pan-Islamists’ of our times, would have been totally anathema.
Even the conservative Aurangzeb had a number of Hindu soldiers and commanders in his army. He had a Hindu wife (Udaipur Mahal) in his household. He even provided financial help to several Mandirs. Moreover, none of the Mughal emperors ever felt the need to perform Hajj, Aurangzeb being no exception.
With a theme and message so telling and forthright, it is no wonder that the play has been performed more than 30 times to packed auditoria all over the country [NCPA, Mumbai; Kala Kendra, Goa; Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad and several venues in Delhi].
As for the performance at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, sat enraptured throughout the one hour forty minutes running time. The performance was attended by all state and union territory Governors, several of Mr Khurshid’s cabinet colleagues as well as many distinguished personalities. After the play, the Director of the play, Dr M Sayeed Alam, was especially felicitated by Smt Patil for his direction, with the President describing the play as engrossing.
President, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, being introduced to the cast of ‘Sons of Babur.’ On her left ,playwright and Union Law & Justice, Mr Salman Khurshid, while on the right are Mr Tom Alter and Dr Ather Farouqui

To Tom Alter, who played the lead role of Bahadur Shah Zafar in the play, she said that his performance was mesmerizing and legendary. When Tom Alter was introduced to the President, there was a standing ovation.
The Honourable President was in all praise for Mr Khurshid—who also received a standing ovation—not only for his literary effort but for reinterpreting the Indianness of Indian Muslims and the Mughals; thus spreading the message of plurality and tolerance.
To be honest, the translator does not have much of a role in putting forth such a carefully crafted and ideological play like ‘Babur Ki Aulad’, but the Honourable President was nevertheless very generous in her praise for the translation when I was introduced to her. She remarked that my translation was painstaking, and that complex historical factors spoke plainly, conveying the worldview of the playwright as well as a sense of history, with a total command over the language being on display. In reply, I could only mumble, “I am honoured”.
Let us hope that through more performances the play will convey its message to a wider audience and serve a social cause: the fight against communalism.

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