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Zebunissa, Her Relatives and the Period

Meena Bhargava

By Annie Krieger Krynicki
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2005, pp. xvii 216, Rs. 450.00


This book written in French by Annie Krieger Krynicki has been translated into English by Enjum Hamid. The book in itself has interesting details on Mughal culture and politics, life in the Mughal court and zenana, personal lives and traits of the Mughal Prince and Princess and the romantic liaisons of Dara Shikoh, Jahanara, Roshnara and above all Aurangzeb. The portrayal of Aurangzeb as sensitive, sensual and romantic is noteworthy, which is in complete contrast to the conventional wisdom on him. The exhaustive descriptions of the imperial military expeditions of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, the political pragmatism of Jahanara and Roshnara, the Sufi silsilahs, astrology in the Mughal court and Mughal life and many such narratives hold the attention of the reader throughout. But then, one wonders about Zebunissa, the heroine of this book, on whom the book is actually supposed to focus. The details on her as compared to the other Mughals are meagre and rather inadequate to justify the title of the book.   Given the title of the book and the chapters, one expects to read about Zebunissa, the person, the poet, the princess. However, all chapters uniformly subordinate her to the description of her relatives – her grandfather, father, uncles and aunts. A line or a paragraph or at the most two paragraphs is what they devote to Zebunissa. For instance, in an involved discussion of the politics and military expedition of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, the author makes a sole, insignificant mention of Zebunissa i.e. “inspite of her precocity, little Zebunissa must have been fascinated by this excess of opulence and colour” (p. 46) or that when Aurangzeb was leaving for an expedition to Qandhar, Zebunissa was “more fearful than the others in the zenana” (p. 46). Such statements convey little about Zebunissa except that she like all other Princesses was also awed by Mughal wealth and loved her father.   Although all chapters are insufficient on Zebunissa, we will take the example of chapter 3, entitled ‘Zebunissa and the Poets and the Sufis’ to illustrate our point. Looking at the title of the chapter, one expects a discussion of Zebunissa’s association with the Sufis and the poets. To the contrary, the chapter devotes itself to details, no doubt interesting, on the Sufi silsilahs and their influence and thereby a deep involvement of Dara Shikoh and Jahanara in the Sufi practices. Zebunissa finds just a line at the end of an ...

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