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A Bygone Lifestyle

Meena Bhargava

By R. Nath
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2005, pp. 228, Rs. 295.00


The first impression of this book – the title, the cover, colored plates, diagrams and illustrations – is fascinating. It is a description of the private lives of the Mughal emperors but only of a few i.e. Akbar to Shahjahan, with a line or two on Aurangzeb. Although Nath promises to tell us a story for the period 1526-1803, there are rarely any references to the period subsequent to the reign of Shahjahan. Neither does he provide any justification for ending his story in 1803. The Mughal emperors after 1803, even though not as powerful as the earlier Mughals continued to rule till 1857. More importantly, they were as driven as the earlier Mughal emperors by passionate, sexual desires, addictions, intoxications and use of aphrodisiacal drugs for stimulation – a major focus and concern of the book. The Later Mughals should have been at least mentioned in this book, since it is a history of mirth, glory, sumptuousness, sex, passion and an over-indulgence of all these under the Mughal emperors.   Nath claims that his book is different and more authentic as compared to the other modern works on the Mughal harem, based on the accounts of foreign travellers. Depending exclusively on travelogues, these works, he says, have misunderstood and misrepresented the Mughal lifestyle and unduly romanticized it. But Nath, who allegedly, has written on the basis of Persian chroniclers, romanticizes the Mughal lifestyle no less and this is evident throughout in the book. We are compelled to believe or doubt what Nath says, for no bibliography, references or notes are provided in the book. Though the author scantily refers to Abul Fazl and Badauni in some of his descriptions, he mostly talks of “the court historian” of Akbar’s reign without specifying which one of them – Abul Fazl, Badauni or Nizamuddin Ahmad Bakshi. These three are popularly known but apart from them, there were several other court historians in Akbar’s reign. We are confused as to which one he is referring to. Then the author writes about an English lady who lived in the zenana for twelve years and has left a valuable account of the lives of the ladies of the harem. But about who this lady was and which account of hers he is alluding to, we are completely in the dark.   The book gives several details on the different aspects of Mughal style of living i.e. Mughal kitchen and cuisine, ’...

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