Tuesday 10 August 2021

Ananth Adhyam, ShortStory 2021 Longlist

Fading Colours

Dramatis Personae:

Muhammad Shah: Mughal Emperor from 1719 to 1748 C. E. Known to most as Muhammad Shah Rangila.

Khan-i-Dauran: The Mir Bhakshi, the official in charge of military and administrative matters.

Qamaruddin Khan: The Divan-i-Ala, the chief revenue officer of the empire and the Wazir, or Prime Minister.

Nasir Khan: The Mughal governor of Kabul.

Sa’adat Khan: A long time supporter of Muhammad Shah, governor of Avadh and an aspirant for the post of Wazir and Mir Bhakshi.

Ram Chand: The son of a wealthy Delhi businessman.

Nazeema Begum: A widow and a childhood friend of Ram Chand.

1st Wakil: Representative of Nasir Khan at the Imperial Court in Delhi.

Nadir Shah: The ruler of Iran.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Chin Qilich Khan, who held the title of Wakil-ul-Mutlaq, Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jha, the highest ranking noble at court, second only to the Emperor himself. He is also the governor of the Deccan with his capital at Hyderabad.

Other nobles, guards, Attendants and servants.

Scene 1


elhi, 1738 C.E. The resplendent Mughal Court. Muhammad Shah sits on the Peacock throne. His nobles stand in attendance, according to their rank. Music plays in the background and it is apparent that a dance performance has just ended. The music stops and a murmur of appreciation goes all around.)

Muhammad Shah: Well? What do you say Khan-i-Dauran? Was it to your tastes?

Khan-i-Dauran: Indeed your Majesty. The Wazir I am sure concurs that the musicians of such skill have rarely been heard of in these parts. Across the whole empire, people rejoice that at last, the days of Emperors Akbar and Jahangir have returned.

Qamaruddin Khan: Wholeheartedly! A most pleasing performance.

Muhammad Shah: If that is all then, the court may be dismissed.

(Just as everyone prepares to make their salutations and leave, one of the lesser nobles steps forward)

The Wakil: There is one matter Your Majesty, an urgent one.

Khan-i-Dauran: Had I not told you this was not a matter to bother the Emperor with? Nasir Khan should know better than to try extorting money from the Exalted Court on such flimsy pretexts.

The Wakil: (Addressing the Emperor) The governor of Kabul begs you to pay heed to his request your majesty. For years, he has been a most loyal servant of the Empire and has not once wavered in his duty. He is at a loss to understand why there is such hostility towards him. Even so, he only asks for the money to pay the tribes in the hills around Kabul, so that they fight for us should the Persians attempt to cross over into Hindustan.

Khan-i-Dauran: One day he wants money to pay his soldiers, the next the hill tribes! What does he take us to be? He has the taxes from the whole province, isn’t that enough? All he keeps going on and on about are the damned Persians!

The Wakil: Enough? There hasn’t been enough to pay the imperial troops in Kabul for a whole year! They are on the verge of mutiny! And as for the Persians, they are as real a threat as the Marathas. Nadir Shah’s men have been massing around Herat and Kandahar. It is only a matter of time before both cities fall and he turns his greedy eyes on Hindustan. From the time the Chatgha’i house was founded, the hill tribes have defended its lands from invaders. But they will not do so without payment. That payment has always come from the Imperial Court. I beg your Majesty to grant the governor the needed sum!

Khan-i-Dauran: (In a mocking voice) The Wakil must forgive us. Our houses are on the plains and so we are accustomed to fear only that which we see. But from his new house on Bhochla Hill, it seems the Wakil sees Mongol and Persian armies from his rooftop!

(A peal of laughter goes around the durbar)

Muhammad Shah: The Wakil may be rest assured that I have no doubt about Nasir Khan’s loyalty. But not long ago we received Shah Nasir’s envoys. He has assured us of his good intentions. If the governor still needs reassurance, we can send him some money when the remittances from Bengal arrive. Until then he must make do with the revenue from Kabul. What does the Wazir think of this?

Qamaruddin Khan: A most wise decision, your majesty. The Mir Bhakshi can surely arrange for that.

Khan-i-Dauran: Very well, if his majesty so wishes. (Turning to the Wakil) Tell Nasir Khan that he will have the money when it arrives. Whatever is left of it, that is.

Muhammad Shah: If that is all, the court is dismissed for the day.

(He rises and leaves the durbar. The Wazir Qamaruddin Khan and the Mir Bhakshi Khan-i-Dauran follow him out. The other nobles also leave, leaving only the Wakil.)

The Wakil: Yes Khan-i-Dauran, I see the Persians from my rooftop and so does the rest of the world. But you wouldn’t see them till they had your head impaled outside the city gates. It is only full of petty grudges and court intrigue. Bah! One can only hope that God lifts the veil from the Emperor’s eyes!


Scene 2

(A house in Shahjehanabad. It belongs to Ram Chand, a son of a prominent merchant. It is twilight.)

(An old servant enters bringing a tray with a glass of water and a lamp)

Servant: It is such a relief to have you back safe and sound my young master. It has been a hard year for us. First your father’s unfortunate passing, then your brother’s disgraceful flight and finally, the Maratha raid on the cities suburbs. These are dark, dark times.

Ram Chand: Dark times indeed. It is hard to believe there was a time when I was a happily married youth, son of a Delhi trader, roaming the highest social circles, a patron of music and poetry. All those feel like they were from someone else’s life. Why the Lord had to snatch away my beloved father so early, I don’t know. But I have long resigned myself to my fate.

Servant: God grant him peace. Had he still lived, your brother would not have dared to behave the way he did. But that is the past. He can do you no more harm.

Ram Chand: Yes, he can do no more harm. He took all that I had. First my father’s fortune and then my wife. And all those years I believed she truly loved me. Yes. He can do no more harm.

Servant: My master, the time for bitterness has passed. He is in the Deccan and cannot touch you. Your father’s friends have been most kind in helping you make your way around in the world again. You must not let despair get the better of you.

Ram Chand: But my wife! No. The woman who called herself my wife. Her father forced her into marrying me, she said, but she had already given her heart to my brother. And I never suspected it. Not once.

Servant: We are but pawns in Fate’s hands. What can we do? But that is now past. You are still young. You can marry again. The widow of Moin Khan I am sure will make a good wife.

Ram Chand: The widow of Moin Khan!? Have you no shame? I have known her since childhood, it is true. But that does not mean I should marry her. Imagine the scandal it would create!

Servant: The master should forgive my folly. Was merely saying what was already known in the marketplace. It is not after all, unheard of.

Ram Chand: The marketplace! Oh how tongues wag! Does faith count for nothing? Does the honor of two families have such little value?

Servant: Rather less than they used to. These are dark times and no God would object to the union of two noble families. As for the wagging tongues, if one had a rupee for every bit of slander ever spoken of him, Lord Kuber would find no worshipers among mankind.

Ram Chand: You disappoint me. Such words from you! Begone now! I have work to finish.

(Servant bows and leaves)

Ram Chand: Oh faithful one, is there anything in my heart that I can hide from you? Begum Nazeema is the sole lamp in this dark night. But marriage! It is unthinkable!

(Darkness falls)

Scene 3

(The court of Emperor Muhammad Shah. Music again. But when it stops, there is only a tense silence)

Muhammad Shah: What is the matter? Never has such a performance been greeted with such a stony silence. Qamaruddin Khan, what is the meaning of this?

Qamaruddin Khan: Most puzzling indeed, your majesty. I cannot explain it either.

Khan-i-Dauran: There is a grave matter on hand, your majesty, which the Wazir seems to have forgotten. It is our misfortune to inform you that Nadir Shah has reached Peshawar.

Muhammad Shah: Peshawar! Peshawar!? How did this happen? Explain!

Khan-i-Dauran: It is perhaps best if we let Nasir Khan’s Wakil explain the circumstances and account for his master’s shameful conduct.

The Wakil: (Stepping forward) Your Majesty, I shall lay before you all that has happened and the court can decide whose has been the shameful conduct. When Kandahar fell and it became clear to him that Nadir Shah was going to march on Kabul, Nasir Khan again wrote to the court requesting money to pay the tribes and his soldiers. The Mir Bhakshi again gave him only words. Nasir Khan, knowing that his situation was hopeless, retreated with what remained of the imperial army to Peshawar, leaving garrisons in Kabul and Jalalabad. They fought bravely but were slaughtered to the man. Nasir Khan tried to block the passage across the Khyber but a treacherous defector told Nadir of a lesser known path and soon, he descended on our forces from behind. They routed. Nasir Khan was taken prisoner and Nadir Shah entered Peshawar unopposed. Perhaps now, those with houses on the plains will wake up to the danger.

Khan-i-Dauran: The insolence of the Wakil is beyond words! He makes excuses for his master and slanders the court. It would be best if his Majesty relieved him of the excessive weight of his head.

Muhammad Shah: Watch your words! It is unbecoming of the Mir Bhakshi to speak that way. Nadir Shah had sent envoys requesting us to act against the Afghans fleeing before him. We promised him our full support. Why has he commenced hostilities then?

Khan-i-Dauran: The envoys were treated with every honor and were bid to return to him with the guarantee of our complete cooperation. But it appears they haven’t.

Muhammad Shah: Why? Surely, you were not so careless as to send them back without an armed escort?

Qamaruddin Khan: As a matter of fact your majesty, they haven’t even left the city. They remain in the quarters given to them and have spent the year in revelry and merry making. They have shown little inclination to leave.

Muhammad Shah: A whole year and they haven’t even left the city! What is the meaning of this? Why was I not informed of this? Return the envoys at once and send riders ahead of them with a message to Nadir Shah explaining the circumstances and apologizing for this insult to his honor.

The Wakil: It is wise, what you have decreed your majesty. But there is reason to believe that Nadir Shah’s intentions are anything but honorable. Some of the prisoners taken before the fall of Peshawar spoke of him openly bragging about wanting to pluck a few feathers from Hindustan’s golden peacock. The Afghans and the envoys are just excuses. We must waste no time and prepare for war.

Khan-i-Dauran: What the Wakil says may have some truth in it. But why create panic in the provinces by declaring war? The governor of Lahore has enough troops to repulse the invader should he strike eastward. Once Nadir Shah realizes that his band of Persian peasants can’t defeat well trained Hindustanis, he will go home with his tail tucked between his legs.

2nd Wakil: Your Majesty, my master, the governor of Lahore has written to the court repeatedly appealing for reinforcements. Our forces are much depleted and tired by the endless war against the Sikh rebels. I again place this matter before the court. We need more troops if we are to face the invaders.

Khan-i-Dauran: Another coward! Does he take us to be fools? The governor of Punjab doesn’t have enough troops to deal with Persian peasants? What rubbish! All just excuses made so that these cowards won’t have to fight.

Muhammad Shah: It was this band of Persian peasants who defeated our forces in Kabul and Peshawar. We cannot take them lightly. Let the governor of Lahore deal with them if he can. But let us make preparations just in case he can’t. Khan-i-Dauran, write to our mansabdars asking them to prepare their forces and march to Delhi. Qamaruddin Khan, write to Bhopal and request Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jha……

Khan-i-Dauran: Asaf Jha! That traitor! Surely you are not going to summon him here? Have you forgotten how he snatched the Deccan for himself and hasn’t his incompetence been manifest in that farce of a campaign in Bhopal? I beg your Majesty not the let him back into court on account of so trivial a thing!

(An angry buz goes around court.)

Another Noble: (Stepping forward) Not since the time of Akbar the Great has the Empire faced so dire a crises. As of now, Nizam-ul-Mulk is the most capable commander in Hindustan. Whatever his past misdeeds might have been, he still answers the Emperor’s call. It is only prudent that at such an important juncture, his services are once again called on by the court.

Muhammad Shah: Well said. Qamaruddin Khan, write to him at once. Ensure that he is given all the honors due to a noble of his stature. When you are done, write to Lahore and order the governor to evict Nadir from Punjab.

Qamaruddin Khan: As his Majesty pleases.

Muhammad Shah: The court is dismissed. Let it be known to all that war is upon us.

(They all perform their salutations as he leaves and follow him out one by one. Only the second Wakil is left.)

Second Wakil: War has been upon us for a long time, your Majesty. It has been upon us ever since Emperor Aurangzeb marched south. But none of your favorite nobles are willing to admit it. They have acted as if all this was little more than a game. Now that a crises has arisen, you turn to them and they to their petty squabbles. Thus we all hasten towards ruin.


Scene 4

(Twilight is falling on a house near the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin. Inside, A lady reclines on a diwan. A servant girl enters, announcing the arrival of Ram Chand.)

Ram Chand: Greetings to the Begum! May she have a long life. I was told that you wished to speak me.

Begum Nazeema: Welcome, son of Lal Chand. The Lord grant you the same. I believe the time for you to return the money I lent you has passed?

Ram Chand: I have not forgotten. But I beg you to give me more time. Business has been slow to get going. But you needn’t worry. I will return it.

Begum Nazeema: In that case, I suggest you keep it. A gift, if you will.

Ram Chand: My Lady, it would hardly be appropriate! You are a widow and I am the son of a rich merchant. How could I possibly accept this?

Begum Nazeema: I see no difficulty there. You will accept it just as easily as you find an excuse to come here every evening.


Come now! I was not born yesterday. Do you really think I would not guess when half the markets in Delhi are full of gossip about us?

Ram Chand: Nothing more than gossip, I assure you!

Begum Nazeema: You were always a hopeless as a liar. Come. Sit here by me. And stop denying what we both know is the truth. Tell me, what are your objections to a marriage?

Ram Chand: (Obeying) Very well! Since my return to Delhi, you have never left my thoughts and are the sole joy for me here. Having grown up in your company, it is but natural. But marriage? What would people of both faiths say? I am in the eyes of my kinsmen still married and in the eyes of yours, an infidel.

Begum Nazeema: Yet, both your kinsmen and mine pray side by side at the tomb of our revered master Hazrat Nizamuddin as they have for five centuries. God knows that such an objection is nothing more than hypocrisy. Listen to me, Ram Chand. My husband, God be with him, will remain my first love, always. But that does not mean I cannot love you. There is no dishonor there. I have a considerable fortune and important friends, even among the Marathas and if only we choose to, we can both build for ourselves a happy future.

Ram Chand: All of what you say is true, but my mind does not permit it. I once gave my heart to another and what came of it? When my brother fled, the very ground under my feet vanished and I was left clinging to nothing more than a shadow of a honorable, happy life. If I marry you, how will I show my face to my kinsmen and my friends? It is only by their grace that I survive today. By marrying outside my faith, I will become an outcast. And what happens, if Fortune turns foul again? It is not worth the price I will have to pay, and so I beg your forgiveness, My Lady.

Begum Nazeema: The past is dead and gone. Your friends and mine, the real ones, will not be bothered in the least. The others will stop complaining as soon as they lay their hands on a new scandal. If it becomes unbearable, why, we will simply move to another city and start life anew! If you never stand up for the fear of falling, how will you ever walk? What is the point in sacrificing a future, any future, for the ghost of a past, however great?

Ram Chand: My mind is made up. I am sorry my Lady.

Begum Nazeema: It is your decision. I will not push the argument any further. If you reconsider your choice, you are always welcome to return to me. But if you don’t, it is best that you add no more fuel to the idle marketplace gossip. It would be unwise to continue your visits with such frequency.

Ram Chand: I shall miss your company, my lady.

Begum Nazeema: As shall I. Be on your way now. Night is almost upon us and the streets are not as safe as they once used to be. God be with you.

Ram Chand: God be with you too.


Begum Nazeema: Alas! What is it that keeps good men from wise decisions? I pity you Ram Chand, I pity you. You are neither here nor there.

(Darkness falls)

Scene 5

(The council of war in the Red Fort. Mir Bhakshi Khan-i-Dauran pours over a map while Wazir Qamaruddin Khan stands expressing only mild interest in the proceedings. True authority, it is clear, rests with the third man, Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jha, the old governor of the Deccan, the Wakil-ul-mutlaq, second only to the Emperor.)

Khan-i-Dauran: (In a mocking tone) The Nizam’s jest is most humorous. Why, if we are to make our stand behind high walls on territory familiar to us, we might as well do it at Hyderabad! That way its governor will be less inclined sit idle when the enemy ravages his lands. Here in Delhi, no no no. We cannot risk fighting in so exposed a place!

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Taunt me all you want, Mir Bhakshi, but I will not throw away the lives of our men in futile frontal assaults. The Persians are stronger than you think. When they are so far away from their own territories, it is wiser for us to wait till they have spent their energies dashing themselves against our forts and then swoop down on them. What place is better suited for this than Lahore? But you insist it is impossible. Even if we accept your argument as convincing, and mind you, it is anything but, Delhi is better than Panipat. At least here, Nadir will be forced to make an attack and not just skirt around us.

Khan-i-Dauran: Very wise, very wise. What will the people think of the commander who let an invader reach the capital without opposition?

Nizam-ul-Mulk: They will certainly think more generously of him than of the one who conceded time and again to Maratha marauders rather than face them in battle.

(Khan-i-Dauran is about to retort angrily, but the arrival of the Emperor is announced.)

Muhammad Shah: Well? Have you decided on what we are to do?

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Your Majesty, I suggested that we march with the bulk of the army to Lahore and make a stand there, so that we can wear the enemy down first. But the Mir Bhakshi insists that we fight at Panipat instead.

Muhammad Shah: And he is right. With Nadir’s forces already across the Indus at Attock, I don’t see how we can hope to fight him in Lahore!

Nizam-ul-Mulk: At Attock! Why was I not informed that Lahore had already fallen? Surely, much time could have saved had this been made known earlier!

Khan-i-Dauran: It was kept quiet lest the soldiers’ morale be dampened by the news. The governor surrendered to Nadir even as he sent letters swearing his loyalty to the Emperor.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: The soldiers are made of sterner stuff than the Mir Bhakshi gives them credit for. This changes everything!

Khan-i-Dauran: It does. Which is why we should march to Panipat instead.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Delhi would be better for a stout defense. That way we will have more time to prepare. But we can leave that aside for now. Your Majesty, the matter of who is to have overall command of the campaign…..

Khan-i-Dauran: Someone who the soldiers can see is loyal to the Emperor. Not merely the oldest, lest treachery or rumors of it put an end to the campaign even before it has started.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Even less a man who makes up such tales of treachery, particularly if fighting battles is less his specialty than political intrigue. Why, perhaps we should give the honor to the Mir Bhakshi’s old friend, the Peshwa!

Muhammad Shah: Enough! What will the soldiers say? Nine months and foremost commanders of the Empire have done nothing but bicker. It has gone far enough! I shall command the army personally.

(Khan-i-Dauran and Nizam-ul-Mulk begin to protest)

No! No arguing about that. At a time like this, the soldiers need to see their king leading them. And as the commander, I decree that we make our stand at Panipat. That was where the seed of this house was sown and that was where the empire first took root. I have no doubt God will grant us a great victory again. Order all the Nobles to assemble and prepare to march on Panipat immediately.

(He Exits. A tense silence follows. After a minute or so, Khan-i-Dauran and Nizam-ul-Mulk storm away in opposite directions. Only Qamaruddin Khan is left)

Qamaruddin Khan: How heavy is yesterday’s burden! The most competent is the least trust worthy, the most trustworthy is the least willing and the most willing is the least competent. And so it is left to each one to decide where true power lies and lo! Before long power ebbs away, leaving only weakness and the whole edifice crumbles. But who am I to complain?


Scene 6

(The sprawling Mughal encampment at Karnal, twenty miles outside Panipat. Muhammad Shah, Khan-i-Dauran and Nizam-ul-Mulk have their respective tents in different parts of the camp.)

(In Khan-i-Dauran’s tent, he stands looking over a map. Some of his soldiers stand guard over him. A messenger enters.)

Messenger: A message from the Emperor. He requests you to march immediately against Nadir’s army.

Khan-i-Dauran: What? But we had decided to wait for the enemy to make the first move. What prompted this sudden change in plans?

Messenger: A great misfortune has befallen us. Sa’adat Khan, the governor of Avadh was marching from Panipat to join us with thirty thousand men. He made it to the camp and was with the Emperor when news reached them that the Persians had ambushed and captured his baggage train. Without waiting for orders or to form up, he left the tent and advanced with his forces. The Persians feigned a retreat and he gave chase, until our forces were two miles out of the camp. Then suddenly the Persians turned and surrounded him. If you do not advance immediately, he and his men will be lost.

Khan-i-Dauran: (Pacing up and down) Sa’adat Khan is a fool, like the other Nobles picked by Qamaruddin Khan. Why could he not wait till we were fully prepared? Good sense dictates that I should leave him to his fate. But thirty thousand men! And then there is Nizam-ul-Mulk. If I don’t attack, he will again go around claiming that the Mir Bhakshi is a coward! Moreover, the Emperor has ordered it, and we swore to obey his every command. But our artillery is not ready and by the time all the forces under my command form up, it will be too late. But no matter. They are only Persian peasants. They will probably flee once they see our elephants advancing.

(Turning to his guard)

Tell the men to prepare for an attack immediately. Whoever is ready marches now. The rest can come later, with the cannons, when they are ready. Bring me my elephant. It is time to put an end to this Persian pestilence and show Nizam-ul-Mulk once and for all that I am no coward.

(Darkness. In the background, the sound of an army on the move. Then the crack of muskets and the boom of guns. The screams of men mingle with the clash of metal.)

(Nizam-ul-Mulk’s tent is illuminated. He sits looking over a map. His men stand guard around him. Distant sounds of war can be heard. A messenger enters)

Messenger: The Emperor desires that his Lordship should advance immediately to aid the Mir Bhakshi.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Aid the Mir Bhakshi? In what?

Messenger: In war, your Lordship. The Mir Bhakshi charged the enemy hoping to get to Sa’adat Khan who had been surrounded earlier. But he was lured into a trap and he is now surrounded too.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Sa’adat Khan attacked already? Two fools, Sa’adat Khan and Khan-i-Dauran! First they stall any advance and then attack when still unprepared. But what were our gunners doing? And the musketeers? They should have made quick work of the Persian cavalry.

Messenger: Neither of them waited for the guns to be prepared. The musketeers did fire on the enemy’s cavalry, but they simply melted away. Behind them were their own musketeers armed with the new jazails from Turkey. They fired with such accuracy and so rapidly that even before our men could load, they were cut down. Even as we speak, our cavalry is receiving the same punishment and if they are not relieved immediately, it is going to be a complete carnage.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: How do you expect to win when you are armed with swords and spears and your enemies carry firearms? We are not going to march till all our guns and our musketeers are ready. Moreover, to rescue forty thousand men, we will need a hundred thousand. Till they are ready, there will be no advance. Tell the Emperor this.

(Messenger departs)

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Bring me some more coffee!

(All of a sudden breaks out into laughter)

Khan-i-Dauran and Sa’adat Khan! How remarkable! All these years you did your very best to undermine me at court. Now you depend on my mercy for your salvation! Let the world say what it will, I will let Karma deal with you. I will deal with Nadir Shah later.

(Darkness falls and the sound of war grows louder and louder and finally stops)

(Muhammad Shah’s tent is illuminated. He is pacing up and down in considerable agitation. Nizam-ul-Mulk is announced)

Nizam-ul-Mulk: (making his salutations) Your Majesty, Nadir Shah has sent a messenger offering terms.

Muhammad Shah: (Shouting) Terms! Have the wretch’s tongue cut out and send him back! Order the army to attack immediately!

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Your Majesty I would advise against it. Our forces…..

Muhammad Shah: What about our forces? What is your excuse now? If you had obeyed the orders given to you, by now Nadir Shah would have been in his grave!

Nizam-ul-Mulk: If I had attacked, my body would have lain next to Khan-i-Dauran’s and Your Majesty would have no soldiers left to command. As it is, because of Sa’adat Khan’s folly and Khan-i-Dauran’s – God grant him peace – haste, the blood of the Walashahis irrigates these fields. I beg you not spill anymore noble blood. With some tact, Nadir Shah can be induced to give up his venture yet.

Muhammad Shah: You traitor! I should have listened to Khan-i-Dauran and let you starve in Bhopal!

Nizam-ul-Mulk: And you would be no better for it. I did not order either Sa’adat Khan or Khan-i-Dauran to attack. If your Majesty so pleases, I shall leave for Bhopal immediately. But I must warn you that every minute more of our men are deserting. If His Majesty wishes to punish me for a crime I did not commit, I bow to His wisdom. I am His servant and have nothing to lose.

Muhammad Shah: If I order you back to Bhopal, you will simply disobey me again and go straight back to Hyderabad, just as your troops did when ordered to join us here. Oh yes! I heard about that and I have no intension of letting you slip away that easily. Go! Go to your friend Nadir Shah! Discuss terms with him. And do it as the Mir Bhakshi. Haven’t you had your greedy eyes on that post all these years? Go, and let the whole world see you for what you really are!

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Your Majesty is needlessly agitated. I pray to God that he gives me a chance to prove my loyalty to the Emperor. As of now, I content myself with the fulfillment of his orders.

(Bows and leaves)

Muhammad Shah: Yes! Pretend you are a loyal servant of the Empire as much as you want Nizam-ul-Mulk, but you will not fool me. It might not have been the result your orders that the man you most detested in court now lies in his grave, but it certainly was on your orders that your men in Bhopal chose to return to Hyderabad instead of joining us here. So you have it now, the post of Mir Bhakshi, all to yourself, without having done a thing to deserve it. I pray that at least Nadir teaches you to feel shame!


Scene 7

(Nadir Shah’s camp. The Persian monarch sits in his tent in conversation with Sa’adat Khan. His men stand in attendance around him)

Nadir Shah: I hope my men have not failed in their duty towards their guest. I trust that all your needs are taken care off?

Sa’adat Khan: Your Majesty is most kind. Even though we were arrayed against each other just a day ago, you have treated me like your own son. What greater honor can I ask for?

Nadir Shah: Honor? Come now! We and the Mughals are brothers, after all. This whole war has been nothing more than a misunderstanding. Once my grievances have been addressed, I see no reason why there should be any more hostility.

Sa’adat Khan: Your Majesty, if I may take that liberty, has Nizam-ul-Mulk replied to your kind offer to discuss terms?

Nadir Shah: That is what I summoned you here to discuss. Nizam-ul-Mulk is to join us soon. I want you to tell me what you think of the terms I am offering. After all, in my eagerness to compensate my men for the inconveniences they have had to endure, I don’t want to overburden our allies. Is fifty lakh rupees a reasonable request?

Sa’adat Khan: I cannot speak on behalf of the King, as I am not the Mir Bhakshi. It is perhaps best if we wait for Nizam-ul-Mulk to arrive with the orders from the Emperor confirming my appointment to the post before I give my approval to that request. I think the matter can be satisfactorily arranged, given a little time.

(Nizam-ul-Mulk is announced. He enters the tent)

Nizam-ul-Mulk: (Bowing) God grant the Shah a long and glorious life!

Nadir Shah: And God grant you the same, Oh Nizam. Our camp considers itself honored to have as our guest a man of such stature as yourself, renowned for his wisdom all over Hindustan. It only pains us that this honor should come in the light of such unfortunate circumstances. Be that as it were, we rejoice none the less. (claps for his Attendants)

(The Attendants enter and present the Nizam with expensive gifts and marks of honor. He responds by summoning his own Attendants who present gifts to Nadir Shah.)

Nizam-ul-Mulk: The Emperor of the Eternal State is most anxious that a settlement be reached at the earliest so that this misunderstanding between cousins is cleared up.

Nadir Shah: We too are just as anxious. We have come a long way from Iran and we have spent much on the journey. We feel it is only fair that fifty lakh rupees should be given to us to cover these expenses.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: Fifty lakh rupees? That needs some thought, your majesty. Our wars with the Marathas have much depleted our treasury and we would be hard pressed to gather so much in cash at once. But given a few moths time, we can raise the money.

Nadir Shah: It pains me that I must haggle like a miser with a noble of such distinction. But what can I do? My men refuse to leave unless the asked sum is paid up immediately. They are even insisting on marching to Delhi. It is with great difficulty that I am keeping them from looting the countryside. It would be unwise to keep them waiting any more.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: It will not be easy, but we will try. We only ask that his majesty be patient with us.

Nadir Shah: Come now, I am sure it can be managed. There is one more request. In order to strengthen our cooperation and prevent any future misunderstanding, it would please us if five thousand of your soldiers were to join us in guarding the frontiers.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: That can be arranged.

Nadir Shah: Then it only remains for the Emperor to appoint a Mir Bhakshi before the agreement can be drawn up and ratified.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: By a happy chance, the Emperor already has. Since Sa’adat Khan was unavailable, he has asked me to replace the late Khan-i-Dauran, God grant him peace, as Mir Bhakshi.

(Sa’adat Khan appears stunned)

Nadir Shah: Since that has been sorted out, I shall have the treaty drawn up and brought to the Nizam for ratification as soon as it is ready.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: In the meantime, I seek your majesty’s permission to return to the Emperor to place the matter before him.

Nadir Shah: Of course, of course! God be with you.

Nizam-ul-Mulk: God be with his majesty as well.

(Bows and Exits)

Sa’adat Khan: Your Majesty………

(Nadir Shah turns to face him)

Sa’adat Khan: I am afraid the Nizam hasn’t been completely honest in his dealings.

Nadir Shah: And I am certain that you aren’t at all pleased with his appointment as Mir Bhakshi. But why should I interfere in a feud between Hindustani nobles when I can profit from it? So tell me, what would you have me demand of him?

Sa’adat Khan: I assure your majesty that his appointment is not what bothers me. His manner, his pretence that gathering such an amount is difficult, his request for more time, all of this makes me wonder if there isn’t some dishonorable skullduggery being plotted against your person. After all, there is enough treasure in Delhi to pay the requested sum several times over. And what about the men? Five thousand of them! Without protest? Is it not possible, that among them the wily Nizam will hide assassins to do your Majesty harm? For all the claims of his honesty, I believe that his good sense has been clouded by arrogance.

Nadir Shah: If he wanted to have me assassinated, he doesn’t need to send his men to do it. For a price, my own men will be more than willing to oblige. He knows that just as well as you do. So rest assured, no harm will come to me. But if Delhi is even a tenth as rich in reality as it is in the stories I have heard, then fifty lakhs wouldn’t even be peanuts. Well well, there is an idea!

(Pauses thinking)

(Turning to his Attendants) Order our men to prepare for a march on Delhi. Tahmasp Khan Jalayi is to lead them, accompanied by my new Wakil-ul-Mutlaq, Sa’adat Khan. In the meantime, send a message to Nizam-ul-Mulk telling him that I have changed my mind and that I demand that a sum of twenty crore rupees be paid and twenty thousand Mughals be sent to join our army. Tell him that we will only settle the matter in person with the Emperor. As soon as his majesty arrives, I want you to place him under arrest. As for his army, let it be known that whoever wants to stay here, they may do so. Those who want to leave, they may do so as well. But if they try to make trouble, they will be cut to pieces where they stand.

(To Sa’adat Khan) There. You have the honor you so craved. A reward for setting me on a path of even greater glory than I sought.


Sa’adat Khan: (bowing after him) Your Majesty’s generosity knows no bounds. Even the Persians recognize loyalty while my own king disregards the services of faithful men and surrounds himself with traitors. Both he and the Nizam be damned! I will not let this insult go unanswered.


Scene 8

(Ram Chand’s house in Shahjehanabad. Dusk is falling. He reclines on a couch staring into space. His servant enters)

Servant: My master, you must listen to me. Every minute you delay is a minute closer to complete destruction. You must leave with me now!

Ram Chand: Leave? Yes, I want to leave this all and just melt away into the universe. But leave what? When you have nothing, what can you possibly leave? And if I have nothing, then what is it that burns my very existence? Ha! My mind plays such tricks! Asks questions to which it doesn’t know the answer, but mocks me for not answering them.

Servant: Master, this is no time to sit wallowing! They say that three thousand Persians were killed today during the riots. If it is true- tomorrow there will be a reprisal, a slaughter the likes of which have not been seen since the time of Timur the Lame. Those within the fort say that at the very moment, the Persians sit sharpening their swords, talking of the vengeance they will wreak on the city. you must waste no more time! The begum urges you to join her as soon as you can. She has managed to escape the city and awaits your arrival.

Ram Chand: The Begum! Alas, fortune has been most cruel to her! Tell her that I am sorry I cannot repay my debt. The Nizam’s officials took everything of value in the house. Tell her that I will visit her at home in person tomorrow to explain myself. Tell her that I am very sorry.

The Servant: (Shaking him by the shoulders) My master, you must come to your senses. Tomorrow, the past and everything that clings to it will be consumed by the flames of Nadir’s wrath. The future beckons. You must leave when there is still time to.

Ram Chand: O Faithful One, I will be only too glad to be swallowed by those flames! No! Do not say anymore! I have had enough of this miserable world! Tell the Begum I am sorry. I do not have the courage to face the world anymore, and my very soul yearns for sleep. Her love, great though it is, cannot sooth the wounds that fortune has inflicted. The future belongs to the hopeful, and has no place for the fallen. There is no hope for me, but you can have a future yet. Go with her. She will gladly take you into her service. And serve her as you have served me. Leave me. I am a lost cause.

The Servant: (Sighing) That would seem the case. My Master, you do not know how much this grieves me. But if you do not make haste, I must bid you farewell.

(Ram Chand rises and embraces him)

Ram Chand: Farewell. I pray that fortune is kinder to you than it has been to me.

(The servant bows and leave)

Ram Chand: How the past chains us so effectively to misery, I don’t know. Every time I think of moving on, I only see the path I have already trodden. The path ahead lies forever darkened to me. When my mind wants to take a step forward, my heart wants to remain basking in the dim light of the past. So I stand where I am, waiting for fortune to carry me where she will.

(Exits. Darkness falls. The sounds of a city burning rise in the background.)

Scene 9

(The Mughal court. There is none of the former glory. The Peacock Throne is conspicuously missing. Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah are seated on make shift thrones. They are surrounded mostly by Mughal courtiers. Some Persians stand among them.)

Nadir Shah: We are indeed blessed to have enjoyed the hospitality of Hindustan. The people have been most generous, absolutely pressing on us their dearest treasures! Such generosity! And your King, he is absolutely insistent that I accept all his treasures! Surely, he must be a saint! What is more, hearing that we have a long march back home, by his world encompassing authority, he kindly moved the frontiers to the Indus and made the journey so much shorter! Still, we have a long journey back to our own dominions in Peshawar. I wish to take leave of this great court and its equally great monarch.

(Silence. Nadir Shah rises and walking over to Muhammad Shah, lifts the crown of Hindustan off his own head and holds it in front of him. Muhammad Shah removes the turban he is wearing. Taking great care to ensure everybody is watching, Nadir Shah places the throne on Muhammad Shah’s head. One of his own men brings him his own Persian crown that he places over his own head.)

Nadir Shah: Behold! The crown of Hindustan has been returned to the house of Timur. May it be known that from henceforth, the Friday prayers are to recited in the name of His Imperial Majesty, Abul Fateh Nasiruddin Muhammad Shah, Padishah Gazi, Lord of all Hindustan! All coins are to be struck in his name. May it also be known that in accordance to the treaty of friendship between the two empires, the territories of Kabul, Ghazni, Sindh and all lands west of the Indus have been transferred from the Eternal State of Hindustan to the Mighty State of Iran. And with that, all hostilities between these two great powers have ceased. May there be peace in the world!

(Turning to Muhammad Shah, full of contempt) And now, your majesty, we shall take our leave. God grant you a glorious life!

(Exits without waiting for a reply, his men in tow. Muhammad Shah rises and is about to say something, but is left standing speechless.)

All the nobles together: All Hail His Majesty, Padishah Muhammmad Shah, Lord of all Hindustan, Light of the Age, Refuge of the World, Preserver of the divine order!

Muhammad Shah: (Bitterly) All Hail Muhammad Shah, Lord of the dung heap, King of the ashes, Laughing stock of the world!

(Darkness falls)

Scene 10

(In a room at a house somewhere outside Delhi. Begum Nazeema paces up and down the room. Ram Chand’s servant enters)

Begum: Well?

The Servant: (Shakes his head) I tried to get him to leave on the day of the riot, but he had long since given himself up to despair. He did not even register fully what I was saying. I tried to go see him the next morning again, but I was warned that Nadir Shah was on his way to the Jamma Masjid and that Persian soldiers were taking up positions throughout Shahjehanabad. I did not wait to see what happened next. They say that Nadir Shah sat down in the mosque and unsheathed his sword and the massacre started. His men then went to work and not even babies on their mothers’ breasts were spared. They say that much of the city has been reduced to ashes.

Begum Nazeema: (Sighing) God protect us! I assume you wish to join my service?

Servant: It would be a great honor.

Begum Nazeema: Very well. I shall call for you if I need something.

Servant: Yes, My Lady.


Begum Nazeema: Thus, when Nadir Shah came to pluck a few feathers from Hindustan’s Golden Peacock, our nobles ripped out its heart and handed it over to him. In a matter of days, the accumulated wealth of three hundred years changed hands. How many thousand lives were turned over to God’s keeping, who knows? How many children were orphaned, how many women were widowed and how many were dishonored, I dare not think. But who is to blame? I wonder. Was it the Emperor, who could not control his own nobles? But how could he, when he relied entirely on them to simply stay on the throne? Was it Khan-i-Dauran, who was too cowardly to face the truth when it was inconvenient to him? But how can a man who gave his life in battle for his king and country be called a coward? Was it Nizam-ul-Mulk who chose to put his old grudges before his duty to the Emperor? But what does loyalty amount to if the Emperor and his favorites are petty, incompetent fools? Was it Sa’adat Khan, who sold his honor and his nation to an invader? But why shouldn’t he, when the only reward for keeping them safe was ingratitude? Was it Qamaruddin Khan, who simply nodded his head for whatever was being said? But why should he do or say anything when there is nothing to be gained by it and nothing to be lost by not doing so? Is the blame then to be placed at the doorstep of the governors of Lahore and Kabul? Were they not trying all they could? Perhaps it was all a consequence of Nadir Shah’s greed alone? But what would have come of his greed if he had been prevented from crossing into Hindustan by timely and decisive action? Maybe it was only a conspiracy by Time and Fortune. And what of Ram Chand? Did he have to end up where he did? If only he had let the past go and cast off the yoke of tradition and prejudice, even just partially, his story could have been very different. As could have been the story of Hindustan. After all, he was a man just as those who determine the fate of great nations are men. Little wonder then, that the fates of men and nations are alike. Let this be a warning, to the wise men and great nations of every age- while those who fail to learn from the lessons of History invariably repeat them, those who dwell too much on the ghosts of the past end up just there, in the past, mere ghosts of all that they could have been.

(Bows. curtains)


Zahir Uddin Malik, The Reign of Muhammad Shah (1719 to 1748), Asia Publishing house (For the Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History, Aligarh Muslim University) 1977.

William Dalrymple ,The Anarchy: The East India Company, corporate violence and the pillage of an empire, Bloomsbury publication, 2019.

William Dalrymple , The Last Mughal: The fall of a dynasty, Delhi, 1857, Penguin Books, 2007.

Nawwab Samsam-Ud-Daula Shah Nawaz Khan and Abdul Hayy, Ma’asir Al Umara Vol.2, Translated by H. Beveridge, 1999 reprint.

Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Nadir Shah in India, Naya Prokash, 1925.

Michael Axworthy, The Sword of Persia – Nader Shah: From Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, I.B.Tauris & Co.Ltd, 2006

Meena Bhargava, Understanding Mughal India: Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries, Orient BlackSwan Private Limited, 2020.

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