Manu's Reviews > Ruler of the World

Ruler of the World by Alex Rutherford
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Apr 30, 2012

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Read from April 30 to May 05, 2012

The third in Alex Rutherford's 'Empire of the Moghul', and the one that focuses on the greatest Mughal of them all - Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar. The first Mughal to be born in Hindustan (technically Pakistan now) and crowned emperor at the age of 13 on the death of his father Humayun.
His early years were lived in the shadow of his trusted advisor Bairam Khan, who as time went on, Akbar began to resent.
This was probably the first of Akbar's failed close relationships - a theme that comes out in the book quite clearly. Except for his mother, and his aunt, Akbar's relationships - be it with his milk mother and brother, sons, wives were cordial at best. His early experiences made it difficult for him to trust people, but that did not deter him from creating an empire that stood the test of time, and gaining the respect and admiration of his subjects. The only exception to this mistrust was Abul Fazl, who though has been shown in a slightly negative light himself, should be thanked for elaborately chronicling the details of everything that happened in Akbar's life. This assumes greater importance because it was an important period in India's history, in terms of trade, relations with neighbours, Christian missionaries arriving in India and so on.
Indeed, it was probably due to Abul Fazl that Akbar's relationship with his eldest son Salim became as strained as it did. The book explores this relationship between father and son quite well. Feuds between brothers had been common in Mughal succession, but in this case, Salim felt his father was blocking him from inheriting what was rightfully his. It was only thanks to his grandmother Hamida - Akbar's mother - that things were always settled amicably.
Though displaying several vices, Salim is shown to rise above them, many a time thanks to Suleiman Beg, his close friend, but forever feels let down by his father - a mutual feeling. This would probably prove to be a hereditary curse as the end of the book shows a strained relationship between Jahangir (the name Salim adopts) and his son Khusrau.
The book focuses as much on Salim as Akbar himself. In fact, the military, political, administrative and other contributions that Akbar made have been underplayed a bit. Towards the end, Salim's frustrations and Akbar's mismanagement of his son cause many more fissures - the Anarkali episode, rebellion etc.
It also captures Akbar as a person - his failings as a father, a hint of megalomania especially when he goes on to start his own faith, his illiteracy, in addition to his sense of justice and fairness, his readiness to work alongside labourers, his love for his grandsons and so on.
I liked this book more than its predecessors, because though it probably doesn't do justice to the greatness of Akbar as much as I'd have liked it to, (the author does note that he has omitted events and timescales)the narrative is gripping and never falters.
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