Thursday, March 13, 2008

Can we really ignore where we're from?

I watched Jodhaa Akbar. I loved it mainly because of Hrithik's performance as a dignified yet vulnerable emperor who's trying to woo a proud woman. This might never have happened in history but I loved the performance anyway (The scene where Maham Anga is briefing a sheepish Hrithik who gets distracted by his beautiful wife is class)!

Fueled by this movie, I began a frenzy of reading about the Mughals. All the Mughals except Akbar were well-read and they're surprisingly candid in their memoirs. I've read bits and pieces of Babur's writings, Jahangir's memoir, Aurangzeb's letters and the Ain-i-Akbari. History books have always emphasized that the Mughals after Babur were quintessentially Indian having been born and raised in Hindustan. I had also come to think of the Mughals as Indians and the British rule as an unjust "foreign" rule.

However, what really shocked me was how most of these Mughal emperors (except Akbar) viewed themselves as "outsiders" and "superior" beings to the local populace. Babur openly writes that he hates the clime and the "infidel" people of "Hindoostan". He viewed himself as a "ghazi" or holy warrior. Jahangir was openly a religious zealot and believed that his was the superior clan. Shah Jahan seems to have followed the pattern. Aurangzeb was perhaps the worst of them all. In one of his letters to his sons, he tells him to hold "firm to his faith" and to persecute the "infidels" mercilessly by torturing them. I can understand the "hold firm to your faith" part but torture your own subjects just because their non-believers? That too, 150 years after your ancestors entered Hindustan and adopted the country?

History books also seem to have mislead us by parroting that everyone was happy under Mughal rule and that the Britishers were the "bad guys" who fostered dissessions. Based on all these memoirs, it sure feels like the Hindu-Muslim discord was always there festering under the calm veneer of society. The flames were fanned higher by Aurangzeb who made it a point to destroy Hindu temples to build his palaces and places of pleasure. I don't think the resentment felt by the Hindu population chafing under Mughal rule was ever resolved. Before it reached a healthy conclusion, the Britishers took root in the land but it was always there, lurking. Godhra, Babri Masjid et al.. are just occasional outbursts of that resentment.

To some extent, I feel cheated. I know it sounds silly after 500 years. But here we are, preening our Mughal heritage to the world, crowing about Mughal paintings, music and the Taj Mahal as examples of beautiful, "Indian" art while the king who created it really felt like he was a Persian and not really part of Hindustan! :(

Being immigrants to the US, a lot of us face the same conundrum the Mughals faced. We want to hold onto our faith, our beliefs, our culture but we also try to blend in. How much blending in is acceptable? How much will make us just "one of them"-- a betrayer of our faith and values? Can we ever ignore the fact that we're Indian and make decisions excluding that fact? At least for first-generation NRIs, I don't think it is possible. No matter how many years you've lived in your adopted country, the call of the homeland will always be in the blood and it will always resound stronger than any other call.