Of Cows and Kings and Pigs that have Wings — a Rapid Sweep through Contentious History

Like journalists are fond of saying, at this point, India is at the crossroads, at a critical juncture in its history, a historical ‘make or break’ moment. Several questions needs urgent resolution if the nation is to be preserved. Foremost among these is the question that I plan to address today in my exalted constitutional capacity as common citizen.

As an avid student of Indian history, the one question which has always bothered me is this — how long does it take one to become Indian? This is closely related to that other tricky question — who is a Hindu? Ah, you see now. This is serious business.

Zahiruddin Mohammed Babur invaded India in 1524. He was of distinguished ancestry, being fifth in line of descent from Timur-i-Lenk on his father’s side and fourteenth in line of descent from Genghis Khan on his mother’s. Despite the Khan surname, Genghis ( or Changez) Khan, was not a Muslim, but a sky-worshipper. ‘Khan’ is a Mongol title as is ‘Bahadur’, adopted now by Pathans and Gurkhas respectively.

So Babur could count two great benefactors of humankind among his ancestors. Both were seriously interested in the reconstruction and development of urban agglomerations, by which I mean cities. They had both established various city Development Authorities on the lines of the Delhi Development Authority and the BDA. But reconstruction implies deconstruction first. And Genghis and his direct descendants, notably Hulagu, were singlehandedly responsible for the deconstruction of many cities, Baghdad being one of them, as well as various cities in Khorasan, which were given up to the sack. Timur was not to be left behind in his zeal to deconstruct either. He is famous for the sack of Delhi in 1399. The intentions were benevolent. Both wished to build ‘smart cities’ in place of those unappealing slums and unappetising garbage dumps. But other pressing duties intervened and so they usually had to leave with the second half of the job undone. If you see Uttam Nagar in Delhi today, you will agree with Timur’s deconstructive criticism and be half tempted to take up where he left off.

By birth Babur was Uzbek, and by race, Mongol (Mughal in Persian). He thought so himself. But to many Hindus today he is just another Muslim.

In 1524, Babur was invited to invade India by a disgruntled Lodi. Inviting foreigners to invade India has a distinguished history. You remember Ambi, the raja of Ambala who invited Alexander in, in order to thumb his nose at Porus, and Mir Jafar of unhallowed memory, who betrayed Siraj-ud-Daulah (wetting the gunpowder apparently and preventing the artillery from firing) thus securing Clive an easy victory. You can see that we were always secular in our approach.

But these things don’t end well. Alexander was impressed by Porus’s dialogue delivery (as you can see in Mughal-e-Azam) and conferred additional territories on him, in addition to his own, after he had defeated him. Porus thus became a vassal in fact, but a ‘patriotic’ one. At least we Indians are proud of Porus or taught to be so. And Ambi? Well he got on Alexander’s wrong side and was exterminated, excommunicated or defenestrated or a combination of all three. Sounds good, doesn’t it.

How do we know of Porus? Not from Indian historical sources. We have no memory of Porus, but Greek sources talk of King Porus or Puru, and if they do, it must be true. We have a touching faith in fair-skinned foreigners. If they say something about us, it must be true.

Of course some recent Indian histories of that engagement in 326 BC, the battle of the Hydaspes (the Greek name for the Jhelum), have Porus defeating Alexander. Thereafter, being mightily impressed by the captive Alexander’s answer, the magnanimous Porus forgives the presumptuous Yavana for his temerity in invading the Punjab, an ‘integral part’ of India, as Porus pithily put it in the after dinner speech celebrating the victory (thus anticipating Krishna Menon at the UN by several centuries) and lets him go.

Reading Indian history is humiliating to a true patriot like me — an embarrassing litany of resounding defeats down through the centuries. Surely there must have been some victories in there. If there weren’t, we can always manufacture some. Thankfully some of our historians (no, not Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, I’m afraid) are hard at work reconstructing the past. I hope the government recognises their efforts.

So now I understand that after a gap of 541 years Rana Pratap has finally won the Battle of Haldighati, trouncing Akbar who had to scamper back to Agra with the Rajputs in hot pursuit. And the Marathas have now won the third Battle of Panipat, routing Ahmed Shah Abdali. They then pursued him right up to Baluchistan, where I read in a recent newspaper report that many people claim Maratha ancestry. That is how it must have been. How wrong our school books were!

That brings me to another point. Three battles were fought in Panipat, in 1526, 1556 and 1761, At least in 1761, with due regard to precedent, the Marathas should have had the sense to choose another battlefield. But no. They did precisely what any self respecting babu would do. Everything starts with the old file.
“Munshiji, Panipat ka purana file nikaalo.”
“Ji huzoor. Yeh raha.”
“Achha achha, pahle bhi do baar ladaai hua hai idhar. Phir thik hai. Tho is baar bhi ho saktha hai. Peshwa sahab ko bol do ki Panipat chalega.”
“Ji hukum, Panipat pe ladaai theek chalega. Pahle bhi do baar ladaai hua udhar.”
“Rajpurohit, koi shubh muhurt nikaalo Panipat ki ladaai k liye. Sena ki taiyari ho jayein.”
“Jo hukum.”
“Peshwa sahab, 14th January 1761 bilkul shubh rahega. Avashya hamari jeet hogi.”
“To theek hai. 14 January ko milenge Panipat mein.”
And the rest is history.

But I digress. To continue, Mir Jafar became Nawab of Bengal, but was himself replaced by Mir Kasim when he was unable to generate revenue for the British. How do you generate revenue? Look around for a handy peasant and then squeeze him. Easy does it. The British thought Mir Kasim was a better squeezer, but he was a disappointment, so they appointed Mir Jafar back again. I told you history was interesting, didn’t I?

The Lodi who wished to party with Babur was Daulat Khan Lodi, the uncle of Ibrahim Lodi, then the Sultan of Delhi. The Lodis were of Afghan origin and yes, you are right, just another bunch of Muslims. What’s in a name?

So Daulat, who thought himself unfairly done by, invited Babur to invade India. Babur turned up with his army. Meanwhile he had made up with the Ottoman sultan of Turkey and was given some artillery and a master gunner. Henceforward, the Master General of Ordinance in the Mughal armies would be known as Rumi Khan, Rum being the Turkish name for Istanbul, once the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Constantinople).

However, displeased with his guest’s tardy progress, Daulat Khan made up with Ibrahim again and apprised him (in officialese) of Babur’s evil intentions. Apparently, Ibrahim was not impressed, so Daulat switched sides again and informed Babur about Ibrahim’s. Babur, magnanimous as ever, forgave Daulat. Who wouldn’t? Anyway to cut a long story short, at Panipat in 1526, Babur despite being short of numbers, used his artillery to great effect to create havoc in the Indian, sorry Afghan, sorry, Muslim ranks, sorry again what am I saying? Both were Muslim. So the battle between the Uzbek (well mostly) and the Afghan (well mostly) Muslim armies was decided in favour of the Uzbek Babur. In short order that same year, Babur defeated Rana Sanga, leader of the Rajputs (yes Hindu this time and truly Indian if that’s the way you like it), again by skilful use of his artillery. “It was cheating dammit”, as Rana Sanga said after the battle of Kanwa in an interview with Barkha Dutt. “Why couldn’t he have fought us man to man, like a man,” Did he really say that? Anyway, the Rana died a few days later of wounds sustained in the battle, without knowing how right he was. Actually, Babur was gay, liked boys in fact, though he did not mind girls either, as he frankly admits in the Baburnama. I did not know this until Arnab Goswami, lately of Times Now revealed it in an exclusive interview with Changez Mian, fifteenth in line of descent from Babur and famous as a purveyor of tunday kebabs in Chandni Chowk.

So Babur was now master of India or at least the northern part of the sub-continent. But like Trump will tell you, he was no Indian. He was just another illegal immigrant, no passport, no visa, no nothing. But was he deported? No, sir. He stayed and like in the Bible, he begat. Babur begat Humayun, who begat Akbar, who begat Jehangir, who begat Shah Jehan, who begat Aurangzeb. However, these were not the only begettings. Being encumbered with several wives for dynastic and other reasons, each of the Mughals begat several other descendants, who for want of space and out of consideration for your feelings, I will not name.

Akbar did gain some renown as a great emperor, if one can forgive him his victory at Panipat in 1556 over Hemu Gupta or Raja Vikramaditya as he had styled himself in anticipation of victory. Hemu had been the wazir of Sher Shah Suri. A Hindu as wazir of a Muslim king? How could that be? Apparently it was so and Hemu was considered a very competent wazir to that monarch, who had put Humayun to flight and conquered all until he died in the siege of Kalinjar fort in Bundelkhand. It would have been a famous Hindu victory (or a secular Indian victory if that’s what you prefer) over the dastardly Mughal. Hemu’s forces were gaining the upper hand, when a chance arrow lodged itself in Hemu’s eye. Hemu was captured and taken to Akbar, then a mere fourteen. His tutor Bairam Khan urged him to kill the captive there and then. Akbar obliged, beheading the hapless would-be emperor.

Akbar was now emperor and was to continue till 1605, expanding his empire to include most of north, central and eastern India as well as Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan. But was he Indian? His family had been in India for just thirty two years or even less, if we discount the years his father spent wandering the desert in India, Afghanistan and Iran, after Sher Shah Suri ousted him. Was that enough to make him Indian? We have high standards in these matters.

Cut to Aurangzeb, Akbar’s great grandson, who came to power in 1658 by dethroning his father and killing his brothers. We knew it. They are all blood-thirsty monsters. Think nothing of killing their family, brothers and all. Hindus do not kill their relatives, do they? They just “go quietly into that dark night”. I remember my mother telling me stories from the Mahabharata and the Krishnavatara. The Pandavas killed all their Kaurava cousins and their uncles and other close relatives. Krishna killed his uncle Kamsa. But the Mahabharata is not history. Or is it?

I must confess to a sneaking admiration for Aurangzeb here. He was an austere man and lived on the proceeds of the sales of prayer caps that he made himself, unlike his luxury loving forbears. But was Aurangzeb an Indian? When he died in 1707, his family had been in India for a mere 183 years. Surely that is too short a period to claim citizenship. Give it time, I say.

But all this was just the preamble. Now for the important question agitating all patriotic citizens. Is it OK to eat beef? This begs another question — when does a cow become Indian and a Hindu? Are all cows Hindu, even if born Jersey or Holstein?

This is the question that I am grappling with. If a cow is a Murree or a Sindhi (now in Pakistan), does that make it Pakistani? Does that make it Muslim, even if its ancestors were Hindu? Pressing questions these, which need answers in these troubled times.

If a cow is Muslim, is it OK to eat its meat? If so, then killing it cannot be go-hatya and will not attract the death sentence in UP and Gujarat.

I therefore suggest that we import Sindhi and Murree cattle from Pakistan and use them in our beef burgers. Of course if the cattle choose to embrace Hinduism, as the wiser among them will, they will be sanctified and worshipped, as their ancestors once were.

But a problem I can foresee arises here. The secular among us will be worried at this import of Muslim cattle for slaughter. How can a secular nation slaughter cattle on the basis of religion. It strikes at the very foundations of our secular socialist constitution.

I thought that I had solved the ‘beef’ problem when I started this piece. But I see now that it has led to a profound philosophical question.

“Bashirey, randam meshayil oru beef fry.” (Bashir, one beef fry at Table 2)

“Randannam onnu pack chezhutheku.” (Please pack two more)
“Saarinna randu beef fry parcel.” (Two beef fries parcelled for sir)

So there.