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Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals By Debasish Das | Book Review

Regular readers of ThinkerViews know that we love reading and one of the best perks we find in being a professional book review team is getting exposed to the new talents. We strongly believe that every voyage, no matter if it is to the place next door or to another planet, always start with a small step. So it doesn’t matter whether the book (or any media for that matter) we read is the first or the hundredth of the author; it is an individual object and it has to be looked at it in the same way.

Recently we got a chance to get connected with Mr. Debasish Das, a history enthusiast turned author, in the context of his book Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals.

Book Title : Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals
Author :
Publisher : WorditCDE (13 December 2019)
# of Pages : 421 (Paperback)
6893 KB; 421 (Kindle EBook)
# of Parts : 4
Purchase Link(s) :

We found him quite a humble and genuine author (and more importantly, a genuine person) during our communication. Our communication thread kept getting enriched by the information about the book and other stuff. Finally, it is decided at our end that the book is worth reading and we should read it and share our genuine and unbiased review for the same with you all. From our team, I got a chance to read this book and here are my views about the same.

Red Fort, no matter who built it, is an iconic and historical monument belong to the people of India (that is Bharat). It represents the country in many aspects, especially when the prime minister of the country hoists the national flag from there and addresses the nation, the Red Fort becomes the center of attraction and attention for the entire world. So, knowing about it and the historical incidents it has witnessed is quite an important task.

Book Cover:

Let us take a look at the cover page of the book:

We strongly believe in the fact that “A book should not be judged by its cover (only)“. At the same time, it is human nature that the first impression about anything will have a strong impact on our interactions with the same.

The book cover is responsible to make its first impression. And it can definitely influence our purchase and/or read decisions for sure.

It is definitely just the first step, the book must have been rich and attractive in terms of content also. But, before jumping to that what do you think about the cover page of this book?

Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals by Debasish Das

Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals by Debasish Das

The book cover, many of us (including me) have expected to contain the famous and popular photograph of the red fort. You can find the referred image at the below-given link (and many other places on the Internet):

The cover page, however, shows an inside shot of the Red Fort. The shot represents the symmetry of the segment it captured. And then you see the depth, possibly representing so many memories and historical moments it holds within. It also represents a glance at the art and artistic elements used during the construction of this monument. The strong pillars on the right side represent the strength and the might of the monument and the seat (thus the nation). You can see the elements are glowing when you move your eyes from left to the right. While it may represent the efforts of the author to bring the glorious facts about the monument (and its makers, as the title suggests) which is lost under the darkness, especially to the current generation; I personally think that the black shades in the left side are too much. It could have been better if cheerful colors were three throughout the cover page. A moderately good cover that has a scope of improvements for sure.

The Plot:

Let us take a bird’s eye view to the content of the book.

The content of the book is distributed into 4 unequal segments.

  • The Cityscape
  • Monuments and Moments of Red Fortunately
  • 1857 Uprising: Fall of the Red Fort
  • Conclusion

There are total 23 chapters. The last segment contains a very detailed bibliography followed by index.

The book introduces us to the cityscape of Delhi and from there the journey starts. Then it gives us information about various interesting places in the city which can be traced to the history of hundreds of years. It includes various gates of the city, markets of the city, the inner palace and various areas of the same, and yes, the famous Deewan-E-Aam and Diwan-E-Khas. It talks about the peacock throne, Koh-i-noor, Nahr-i-Bihisht and many other such important aspects. You can find details about various traditions and social canvas including arts, betel-leaves, Tawaif culture, and much more.

The author tells you that:

Fortunately, there is an active heritage walk circuit in Delhi; I participated in these walks frequently and supplemented the visual impressions I gained in these walks with the published literature.

It reveals two things, the author himself has taken such walks to collect some first-hand details about the city and its places, and there is a lot of material available to read, and if you are a history enthusiast, you need to put in efforts from your side too, to know more about it.

You can also read segments of the second chapter of the book exclusively at:

Views And Reviews:

Delhi is one of the most historically and mythologically referred cities of India. While its references are found in Indian mythologies too, people always remain curious to know more about it. Of course, the author has set up a boundary to explore its history in aspects of “Red Fort” and that too with Mughal references only. On one end it will limit his research work to a limited timespan and works, on the other, it is comparatively recent history, so he needs to be very careful.

The author has done a nice job in terms of research work, you can find references of various noted works and historians while reading the book at most of the major points. Some of the names and works include “The Mughals of India” by Prof. Harbans Mukhia (he also wrote the foreword of the book), “Shahjahanabad: The Sovereign City in Mughal India” by Stephen P. Blake, William Dalrymple, Stanley Lane Poole, Francois Bernier, W. H. Moreland, and W. Irvene to name a few. These references (in addition to bibliography) makes the reader think positively about the book.

The author is indeed impressed by the cityscape and the Mughals both, it is clearly visible through the book.

In a streetscape behind glitzy malls and arcades, a half-collapsed tomb or some crumbled remains of an ancient wall can still surprise the history aficionado. This is the charm of this megapolis, straddling with grace across its historic past and a promising future.

While reading the book you will find detailed discussion and/or references of Babur’s ancestry, Hindu Persial cultures, Vastu Shastra, Hindu Manasara Shilpa Shastra amongst other stuff.

I like the way the author has talked about the layout of the Red Fort. In my limited reading about the place, I didn’t find it explained from this perspective.

Stephen P. Blake explains the city’s semielliptical design was based upon the ancient Hindu Manasara Shilpa Shastra that proposed a city-scape fronting a river as that resembling a bow or a karmuka.

Well-planned streets in the city were laid out to resemble different parts of the bow. … In such a Hindu layout, the center of the archer’s arm is designated as a site for a Vishnu or Shiva temple. In the city of Shahjahanabad, that place was selected for the imposing Red Fort.

I found the author referring many of the Mughal rulers with “Great” prefix. It made me think that it is too much. In our knowledge, we used to find references for the “Great” prefix to be used with Alexander, Akbar, and Ashoka only. However, when you find references to the throne successors belong to the later generations, you don’t see the use of this prefix. So, it seems the author has done it to refer notable initial Emperors from the Babur’s lineage superior to their later descendants.

The author has not only praised the rulers, the ruling period or various practices. He has also mentioned the weak points and/or wrong practices as well.

Delhi, or Shahjahanabad, was not a very visually appealing city beyond the place fortress. …

Only those artisans who were associated with the Palace or with wealthy amirs could flourish and prosper. Others – however admirable their work – were subjected to harsh treatment and were poorly paid.

Such type of official exploitation was in fact one of the root causes of Mughal bankruptcy.

European travellers were disgusted with this practice and viewed it as ‘daily bribes’.

However, the Mughal education system had its weak points and did not prepare the students for the practical side of life.

It would be interesting to read the entire “Sir Thomas Roe and Jahangir episode”.

The earlier section of the book talks at a length about various titles given by Mughal emperors like Mansabdar, Amir etc. The author has also mentioned what does each of them mean and how it will affect the person’s impact practically. Here are some of the lines from the book:

Their titles were not transferred down to their sons automatically upon their death. … Hence it was common to find grandsons or great-grandsons of amirs reduced to abject poverty.

The Emperor would, per his own wisdom or whim and fancy, unexpectedly upgrade anyone to amir, and just as unexpectedly downgrade an amir to obscurity.

You should not miss reading Metcalfe, 1843, (c) British Library Board (selfmark-Add.Or.5475/Item number ff.34v-35. Reproduced with kind permission).

The book talks about khwabgaah, harems and other parts of the palace in quite a detailed manner. At places, you can find comparisons and references with Agra fort too. The author has also talked about the prohibition on alcohol placed by some Mughal emperors and why it was not successful. Such details show that the author has tried remaining as much objective as possible despite overwhelmingly liking the brighter sides of the ruling period.

The book also talks about various unknown things. For example, some qualities of Bahadur Shah Zafar is referred to in the book which establishes him quite differently than the public perception. Here is one such line about Aurungzeb’s daughter:

Aurangazeb’s daughter Zeb-un-Nissa was an expert in playing chaupar. The game lasted as long as three months….

If you have a flair of linguistics, you will find the lines referring to the roots of the word “Shabaas” (or Shabbas) in Shah Abbas.

Here are some other interesting lines from the book:

The Mughal emperors took great effort to show themselves here every day, even when they were ill or indisposed. Volatile palace politics where power was quickly disputed by sons and successors warranted such a practice to be a practical necessity.

A beautiful marble basin adorn the middle of the building, where the Nahr-i-Bihisht slowly and graciously collected before falling down its plinth, the walls of which are punctuated by 22 small alcoves. They were used to keep flickering lamps at night to make the water look like “a quick fall of stars before illuminated niches”.

If you think only the Mughal and/or Persian cultures are talked about in the book, you will find the following lines quite interesting.

In a temple, the devotee enters the sanctum-Sanctorum and gazes at the deity looks back at him in unblinking eyes. It is a very private affair between the deity and the devotee. To ‘look” or to do ‘darshan’ is to have empathy and understanding of others. To invoke the God within, we must do the dharma of darshan, i.e. to understand the other without any prejudice. There is no judgment, because to judge others – either as a hero or a villain – is to be blinded by our own limited thinking. Judgment creates a ‘win-lose’ situation, rather than a ‘win-win’ situation. In Hinduism, there is no concept of ‘Day of Judgement’ when the bodies will ‘awake’ from their places of burial. Rather, the body is consumed in flames, as the indestructible soul takes shelter in another bodily shell.

I like this entire segment for the convincing and beautiful way in which it talks about the “Darshan” ritual which is a part of the lifestyle of most of us.

On the whole, reading this book reminded of the famous Hindi TV serial “Main Dilli Hoon” which was aired on DoorDarshan, in some aspects. In those days, DoorDarshan used to air some nice documentaries also. Here is one such video I found in the public domain of YouTube.

The author has also mentioned Umarao Jaan movie starring Rekha, when talking about “Tawaifs”. He also has mentioned the lyrics of the popular song of the movie:

Now let us talk about some of the points of the book which I found are letdowns or at least could have been better.

The first thing I found is some of the segments are repeated in various chapters (for example description about Nahr-i-Bihisht). Some of the pictures are embedded in the wrong places. There could have been a better place in the book for them somewhere else. Some stuff is linked to some other segment that comes later. For example, the author has talked about the corruption practice (referred above in quotes also) in earlier chapters, but the following segment appears after many pages of the same:

… It was possible to gain favours and titles by expensive gifts. In one incident, a dignitary was asked to pay one lakh rupees to Aurangzeb to buy an extra alif (equivalent to the letter ‘a’_ to change his title form Mir Khan to Amir khan. Instead, the old noble presented Aurangzeb a copy of Quran in the handwriting by its legendary scribe Yaqut.

For a book created with so much study and referring a number of resources chronology of incidents is expected. Some of the chapters have found incidents in non-chronological order (of the time and rulers). The same is found with a few phrases, they are not referred uniformly. For example “Diwan-e-Khas” is referred to as “Diwan-i-Khas” at another place, “Diwan-e-Aam” is also referred to as “Diwane-Aam”. Of course, this could have been used interchangeably, mostly in the same way it is spoken. But, for a so much detailed book, such small things need to be taken care of. Here is a line where “Supari” is referred to differently.

On the supari, Abul Fazl says, “The (Supyari) tree is graceful, and slender like the cypress.”…

Of course, the other variation is in quotes, but in braces, so not sure if it is a proofreading error. It might be the correct version too.

The reference to the 1857 Freedom Fight as “sepoy mutiny” may offend you. The author could have had infused those words in bracket or footnote.

While the book has some smaller references to the current state of various areas of Red Fort, there are no accumulated details about the present status of the same and what should have been doing to preserve it and what is missing. The author has mentioned that using “tight thick ropes” to prevent visitors in some areas actually doing more harm to the monument from an architectural point. But, according to me a detailed chapter on the “Red Fort: As Of Now” or something similar could have made the book even better resource.

I think most of the history lovers and explorers will agree with the following lines from the book:

… All the rooms are believed to be interconnected. Now they are locked and out of bounds. Opening them to allow their study would enhance historical knowledge and proper scientific conservation planning.

There are many other segments which I want to talk but cannot as it will contain spoilers. I have tried my best to keep only general stuff about the book to be referred to in this review, but, some of the spoilers might have been there. The main intent was to provide you a fair idea about the book and the quality of content you can expect from it without revealing much of the interesting content.

Summary:

A well-researched book. Not for light reading. It has a specific target readership and readers in that group will find it interesting. I found it is costly too.

ThinkerViews Rating:

Around 7.5 to 8 out of 10.

Quick Purchase Links:
Important note:

We are giving away a paperback copy to one lucky winner in our February 2020: Book Giveaway. I invite you to participate in it and stand a chance to win it. Please read all rules and regulations properly including the fact that you must be an Indian citizen with deliverable Indian postal address.

I wish you all the very best from our entire team!

Over To You:

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