Epics are lengthy narrative poems usually beyond living memory. While they are common in almost all languages, there is a relative paucity of such poems in Pakistani English literature. Several years ago, Ejaz Rahim wrote an epic poem
I Confucius that became the subject of a symposium at the University of Toledo. Recently he published another epic Gardens of Secrets Revisited. The book under review Bibi Mubarika and Babur is an important addition to the genre.
In the days of the British Raj, scholar-administrators were were well educated bureaucrats who not only administered areas under their control but added scholarly information about the area and the people under their jurisdiction. Sir Olaf Caroe, one of the last governors of NWFP (now KP province), wrote a definitive history of the Pashtun people. (The Pathans, 1957, Oxford University Press.) In the same vein the names of poet extraordinaire and retired cabinet secretary in the Government of Pakistan, Ejaz Rahim, and former senior civil servant in Pakistan and currently Ibn Khaldun Chair at American University in Washington DC, Akbar Ahmad, can be added to that elite group.
Sahibzada Riaz Noor read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford and returned to Pakistan to join the civil service. His first book of poetry The Dragonfly and Other Poems was published in 2019 to critical acclaim.
Babur and Bibi Mubarika is the story of a Pashtun Yusafzai maiden and Zaheer Ud Din Babur the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India. The contours of the story are well known. What is different is how the story is narrated in poetry in the voices of Bibi Mubarika and Babur. The author uses the technique of quatrains (four-line stanzas) to weave the epic.
Most of what we know about Babur is through his autobiography variably called Tuzuk Babri or Baburnama that was originally written in Chagatai Turkish. The great historian Stanley Lane describe the Baburnama as one of those priceless records which are for all times and fit to rank with the Confessions of Saint Augustine and Rousseau and the memoirs of Gibbons and newton. In Asia it stands almost alone.
Title: Bibi Mubarika and Babur Author: Sahibzada Riaz Noor Publishers: Dost Publications, Islamabad. 2020 Price: Rs. 500 plus postage Pages: 122
Babur entered India three times. In 1526 he fought and won a decisive battle with Ibrahim Lodhi at Panipat and a year later he defeated the mighty Rana Sangha. Those victories made him the undisputed ruler of India at age 44. Three years later he died at Agra at age forty-seven.
The poem is narrated in the voices of Bibi Mubarika and Babur. There are short segments where a narrator- raavi– fills the gaps. The poem begins with Bibi Mubarika:
In his many excursions into India, Babur was always weary of the Pashtun Yusafzai tribe that inhabited and dominated the areas of Swat and Bajaur. There was mutual distrust between the Mughals and the Yusafzais. To cement a relationship with the Yusafzais, Babur asked for the hand of Bibi Mubarika:
Afghan maiden g’daughter
Of Malik Suleman Shah
Chief of Yusafzais fame
Bibi Mubarika my name
Babur puts the proposal in perspective:
What the scimitar may not actuate
I remembered from my peers
Cupid’s bow more often
When she met him for the first time, she asked Babur to forgive her tribe for its past engagements with the Mongols, the ancestors of Babur. He agreed and celebrated their marriage in Bajaur Fort
The Yusafzais consented to the marriage and Mubarika was taken to the king’s camp by her brother. When she met him for the first time, she asked Babur to forgive her tribe for its past engagements with the Mongols, the ancestors of Babur. He agreed and celebrated their marriage in Bajaur Fort. At the time he was 37 and she was 19 years old.
Babur always had his eyes on the throne of Delhi and for that he fought a decisive battle with Ibrahim Lodhi at Panipat in 1526. After the battle the victorious Babur approaches the body of Ibrahim Lodhi:
Lifting his head I remarked
‘Honour to your courage’
A brocade laid where he lay
A solemn burial we gave
From India he sent long letters to Bibi Mubarika who was in Kabul:
How you entered my life
As the gold in autumn
Lavished chinar leaves
Amaranth the arghun
In the dark lanes
Of ambition ad doubt
It was your thoughts
That made valour my host
About India, Babur says
A country unique
Mysterious is Hind
Several of its charms
Many its enigmas
As mentioned earlier Babur was in India only four years when he died at Agra. He was buried in Agra even though he had always wanted to return to Kabul. He had foretold his wish many times:
I am now drained out
Reigning has made me tired
To this garden it is my wish
With a single servant to retire
After Babur’s death, Humayun ascended to the throne but his fortunes took a deep dive, and a Pashtun warrior Sher Shah Suri claimed the throne for himself. It was during that time that Bibi Mubarika, in one last act of abiding love for her husband, decided to bring back the remains of Babur from Agra to Kabul. In that passage of 1,176 km, Sher Shah Suri not only permitted Bibi Mubarika and her entourage to travel to Agra but provided all facilities to her. Babur’s earthly remains were finally buried in Chaharbagh in 1537 overlooking the plain of Paghman. Here is Bibi Mubarika musing about Babur’s final resting place:
Often would I go alone
Stop by his graveside
As the Autumn glory
Clad his tomb as a bride
Would I sit in rumination
I bore him no offspring
Yearning for royalty
Over Khorasan or Hind
The poem ends with the following three beautiful quatrains that sum up Bibi Mubarika’s love and devotion to her husband:
From the first hesitant steps
I took towards his arms
With the self-same
I brought him back
From Hind to Kabul
To lay him down
I his resting place final
Thus did I ultimately
Requite the love he gave
This is a beautiful love story rendered exquisitely in verse by a deft poet. Riaz Noor paints the lives of Babur and his Yusafzai wife using vivid imagery. His choice of words conveys the true sense of the extraordinary story of Bibi Mubarika and Babur.
Babur, while camped near Peshawar in 1519, described the profusion of multicolored flowers that, “he could see as far as the eye could see.” He compared the scene with a beautiful painting. Sahibzada Riaz Noor has created a multi-coloured and multidimensional narrative that feels like a moving and enchantingly colorful painting.
Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain is an emeritus professor of surgery and an emeritus professor of humanities at the University of Toledo, USA. His is also an op-ed columnist for the daily Toledo Blade and daily Aaj of Peshawar