Amethyst presented a book reading by author Murad Ali Baig on ‘Ocean of Cobras’ at The Folly, Amethyst, Chennai
Presentation and book reading by author Murad Ali Baig, on his engrossing book, ‘Ocean of Cobras‘, that captures the high adventure, reckless courage, ruthless cunning, tender romance, treacherous betrayal and heart wrenching tragedy born out of Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb’s conflict, in a world of incredible luxury and decadence, in what was once the richest domain of the world – the Mughal Empire at The Folly, at Amethyst entrance next to Corporation Bank, Whites Road, Royapettah, Chennai.
The story is about a beautifully tragic life, as related in a long lost manuscript written by Mubarak Ali, a faithful palace eunuch who was Prince Dara Shukoh’s constant companion and witness to all the battles, intrigues, scholarship, trial, death and events of his tumultuous life. The book is packed with military action, the magnificence and intrigues of the Mughal court and a battle for the very soul of India with Dara’s religious tolerance pitted against the puritanical Islamic intolerance of Aurangzeb.
Mubarak Ali’s adventures are pure fiction set in the actual history of the Mughal empire between 1620 and 1660 where emperor Shahjahan’s eldest and favorite son Dara battles against his brothers Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad for the Mughal throne, after Shahjahan becomes seriously ill. Over five battles, the conflict eventually narrows to one between the liberal Dara and the orthodox Aurangzeb. Betrayal gives Aurangzeb a very narrow victory.
Dara was a liberal thinking scholar (of Sanskrit as well), who first had the Upanishads and Bhagavat Gita translated from Sanskrit to Persian, to become widely known for the first time. He also wrote his own book `Mingling of the Oceans’ which shows the commonality between the Quran and the Hindu Shastras. If Dara had won the Mughal throne, India might have enjoyed a long period of Hindu – Muslim amity instead of centuries of communal strife.
Mubarak, the fictitious narrator of this epic story, is a faintly foreign eunuch of the emperor’s Zenana. Aged six years younger than Dara, he is intimate with all the members of the imperial family from their childhood to their adult years. Over the years, he develops from a nine year old boy into a capable soldier and reveals intimate insights into the lives of the powerful men and women of the court. In the cloistered zenana he also develops a secret and strictly forbidden intimate relationship with a royal princess.
His adventures describe the exciting royal hunts, the passing away of Mumtaz Mahal, the building of the magnificent Taj and the new city of Delhi. He shares his experiences while among tribals in the jungles, worship in Hindu and Muslim holy places, Dara’s grand marriage to Nadira Bano and the trade at the sea port of Surat., with its many taverns and brothels. He shares Dara’s spiritual quest for Hindu-Muslim brotherhood, exploring the many religious ideas of a time when Hindus were just beginning to assert their position in a Mughal world. The reader will follow Mubarak on a colorful tour of Hindustan from the limpid lakes of Kashmir, to the craggy terrain of the Deccan and Kandahar, the lush pastures of the Punjab, the forested hills of the Himalayas to the sandy wastes of Sind and Baluchistan.
Mubarak describes many scenes of battle where the Mughal strategies and command structures are described for the first time. He rides with Dara at the battle of Samugarh and follows him on the long retreat to Lahore and then down the Indus. He then assassinates an enemy commander and helps rally Dara’s forces for his final battle at Deorai near Ajmer. He then travels with Dara’s family and retainers through the cruel deserts of Sind and Baluchastan until Dara is again betrayed and taken to Delhi as a prisoner. He is with Dara when he is paraded through Delhi and taken before the imperial Qazis where he is tried for heresy and condemned to death.
‘The Ocean of Cobras’ is a tale of love and war, of compassion and cruelty in a period of Mughal grandeur and passionate pride. The story of Dara is a true story that many people in India still remember, despite the passage of the centuries.
Murad Ali Baig, a product of the elite Doon School, did his Masters in History from St Stephen College, New Delhi, and spent a year at the Sorbonne, Paris. He has a deep interest in history and religion and his ‘80 Questions to Understand India, History Mythology and Religion’ (Tara Press, New Delhi) has sold over 30,000 copies. He has a career in public relations and writing and is published prolifically on widely different subjects.