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Dara Shikoh: ‘Rewriting’ a different history

New Delhi: “Dara Shikoh: A play in verse” is an attempt by Gopal Gandhi to think differently from what actually happened. History tells us how Dara Shikoh was decisively defeated at the battle of Samugarh in 1658 and Aurangzeb emerged as the triumphant claimant for the Mughal crown. In his wishful thinking Gopal Gandhi tries to reverse the situation and wonders what would have been the outcome had Dara been on the Mughal throne. He interrogates whether this would have saved fragmentation of the empire? Would the empire have escaped its annihilation at the hands of the wily European imperialists? Could this have stopped the arrival of the telegraph, the railway and ultimately the micro-processor? Though Gandhi does not muse with such fanciful ideas but surveys the possible predicament of principal characters in “changed” circumstances. Dara, the favourite choice of the common men with his liberal attitudes and sufi cult might have lent a totally different turn to events which “two-dimensional” Aurangzeb brought to the nation.

This play, on a similar theme by John Dryden, the eminent English dramatist offers an excellent contrast. How are the two siblings portrayed by two dramatists separated by time and place. Though Dryden’s “Aurangzeb” was a bundle of lies with which Dryden wanted to please the Royal Court and win their favour for the coveted post of Poet Laureate; “Dara Shikoh” by Gandhi sees the Mughal period in an Indian perspective. It is interesting to note that dramatists are re-inventing history of the Mughal era. Salman Khurshid captures the spectacular magnificence of the era in “Sons of Babur" while Gandhi focuses on the cultural milieu of the Mughal period. They present history through their own prisms. (Based on a book review by Abhishek Kaicker, a doctoral student of history, Columbia University)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2011 on page no. 19

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