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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: September 2018

4 - Padshahliq, Governance, in Hindustan

Summary

‘Hindustan is vast, populous and productive.’ With this sentence Babur introduces the Hindustan Gazetteer section of the Vaqayi‘. Like Babur's earlier gazetteer of the Kabul region, this gazetteer prefaces the political and military narrative of the following years. It introduces his Turki-speaking readers to the kingdom he had just seized from Ibrahim before he resumes the narrative by describing the distribution of the Ludi treasury in Agra. Yet, the two gazetteers are substantially different. His survey of the Kabul region of eastern Afghanistan reflects the detailed knowledge of its tumans or districts he acquired over two decades. It is not only vastly more detailed and precise than his survey of Hindustan, but in the gazetteer and the subsequent narrative of his Afghan decades, Babur also reveals his love for the region, where he later asked to be buried.

In contrast, Babur's account of Hindustan, where he lived for only 4 years, is much briefer – his appreciative survey of its exotic flora and fauna constitutes the greatest part of the section. Otherwise, it is distinguished by his largely dismissive critique of the environment and society of the Hindustan he had, in his own words, so long desired. Later, he translates this critique into deeply emotional verses of regret that he wrote in India after the conquest. In part, he reacted as a homesick Timurid in both the critique and verse. He and his compatriots found Hindustan to be both strange and also deeply repugnant in many different respects. Compared with ‘our countries’, he writes in Turki and presumably alluding to Mawarannahr, it is an ‘extraordinary country,’ gharib mamlekati. Babur further writes that everything about it is different: ‘its mountains, rivers, jungles and deserts, its people and their tongues, its rains and its winds are all different… Once the water of Sind [Indus] is crossed, everything is in the Hindustan way: land, water, tree, rock, people and horde, opinion and custom’. Nor was he alone in experiencing northern India as a profoundly foreign country. Some of his most loyal and long-serving begs abandoned him within months of the Panipat victory to return to Afghanistan.

Babur may not have cared for the Hindustan he had so long desired, but following his victory at Panipat in April 1526 he set about trying to realise his ambition of subjugating a country he did not control.

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