It gives me great pleasure in reporting that my book Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals has now been published. The book seeks to present the lived culture of Mughals in all its multiple facets.
About the Book
When we think of a Fort, it evokes an imagery of a massive military edifice with impregnable defences against any aggression.
However, the Red Fort of Shah Jahan, the Emperor who invested his life furthering arts and culture, was built as a pinnacle of the Mughal soft power. Profusely laid flower and fruit-bearing char-bagh gardens criss-crossed with streams of water canals, it was layered in symbolism that art historians find interesting even after many centuries to discuss elements that give it a sense of freshness even with the mere empty shell of buildings left in it after 1857.
Right from depicting the Greek God of Music, Orpheus at Diwan-e-Aam to building a jharokha or a window where the Emperor could give daily ‘sight’ or darshan to citizens as an extension of Hindu temple traditions, the Fort was an amalgamation of cultural motifs from all corners far and wide – Indian, Persian and European. Not only that, standing at the centre of a bow-shaped city of Shahjahanabad and standing at the centre of super-imposing important cultural highways, it was the very heart of flourishing cultural exchanges, linguistic innovations and flowering of new traditions that have flowed down to this very age and will continue to do so, defining India’s cultural identity.
I have tried to look into these aspects and more, while making my commentaries on the Red Fort, taking it beyond a dry narrative on its structures and architecture.
The book is divided in four parts. In Part 1 the focus is on the Imperial court and the court etiquette, cultivation of a multi-lingual culture with Persian and Sanskrit languages, and patronage of Hindu and Jain scholars. Part 2 contains detailed accounts of the Red Fort and the symbolism of its architecture, the philosophy of rituals like the jharokha darshan, ceremonies, games and pastimes, the material culture of costumes and jewellery, food, drink and perfumery. The remaining two parts deal with the decline and fall of the Mughal rule and the British Colonial Durbars at the Red Fort. The broadly historical narrative is enlivened by various anecdotes.
It had been a long struggle. Perhaps I would not have ventured to take up this maiden project of mine, had I known the complexities involved at every step. But thanks to encouragements from all, it has finally managed to see the light of the day. My sincere thanks go to the publishing house, BecomeShakespeare.com for sponsoring this project under their Wordit Art Fund program.
Prof. S. R. Sarma (formerly Professor of Sanskrit, Aligarh Muslim University), Padmini Smetacek (freelance editor at various reputed publishing houses) and Dr. Swapna Liddle (Convenor of INTACH Delhi Chapter) have warmly supported my effort and made many valuable suggestions which have been gratefully incorporated in the manuscript. Sohail Hashmi, who conducts highly illuminating heritage walks in Delhi, has advised me on the traditional water systems in Delhi. Dr Charn Jagpal, who wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled I Mean to Win: The Nautch Girl and Imperial Feminism at the Fin de Siecle, helped me shape the chapter on tawaifs; Nicolas Roth, a doctoral student at Harvard, reviewed the chapter on the gardens in the Red Fort and read through other chapters and made several valuable suggestions. I should hasten to add that any shortcomings in this book are entirely due to my own inexperience.
I am quite conscious of the book’s shortcomings, due to my academic and linguistic limitations. But I hope this will be an enjoyable read for people interested in Mughal history anchored around Delhi’s iconic Red Fort, the stories that lie behind its monuments had triggered my interest and so overwhelmed me that that I had no option but to write it in a book. I sincerely hope that my passion in telling these anecdotes will make up for any shortcomings.
The foreword to the book has been kindly written by eminent historian Prof. Harbans Mukhia, former Professor of Medieval History and Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, whose book The Mughals of India had been my constant companion. A few years back on a winter morning, I attended a heritage discussion with him in the lawns of the majestic Humayun’s Tomb. In the following months, I sought his guidance on the subject of my interest, i.e. Mughals: he not only helped me by referring various books but also been patient enough to entertain my emails and refined and rectified multiple initial drafts of this work. When he agreed to write a Foreword to the book, it was an encouragement beyond my imagination. He writes:
“For a hard-boiled professional, long trained and committed to the guiding principles of one’s discipline, an “outsider’s” intrusion can at times be exasperating and at others exhilarating. Debasish Das’ venture resoundingly belongs to the latter class. For, a telecom professional, working for an international giant, a book on Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals is purely a labour of love. His love finds a completely selfless expression, as the ideal of pure love dictates: it has no visible or hidden agenda – either career promotion or a political motive. It is also delightful to read, perhaps for that reason. It is a detailed, faithful, yet very aesthetic account of the Red Fort and the daily as well as ceremonial life within it from its inception through to its virtual destruction after 1857. But the message embedded in it has survived and is unlikely to fade out. The message gets renewed every year on 15th August in Independent India as the Prime Minister, irrespective of his/her ideological or personal predilections or party affiliation finds it unimaginable to address the nation from anywhere except the ramparts of the magnificent Mughals’ Red Fort. The cultural grandeur – synonymous with the very term Mughal – that inheres inter alia in the Red Fort – blends so comfortably with the hi-fi aspirations of the twentieth and twenty-first century India. In a beautiful way, Debasish Das’s blending of a career in a twenty-first century profession and love for the Mughal legacy is a testimony to the wellsprings of the durability that is India, the Idea of India.”
It is indeed an honor to receive the following review of my book ‘Red Fort: Remembering the magnificent Mughals’ from Shikha Jain, Director – DRONAH, Chairperson – DRONAH Foundation, State Convener – INTACH Haryana, and Vice President – International committee on Fortification & Military Heritage (ICOFORT)- ISc, ICOMOS. She also kindly shared the below image of an artistic rendering of Peacock Throne in the Red Fort. Thank you ma’am.
Excellently written to engage the audience with its anecdotes about various aspects of the Red Fort. Not many know about life inside the fort and the author has ensured with his short stories that the visitor gets a complete experience of all the fort spaces as they were designed and used. Be it the making of the fort, constructions, architectural details, planning and use, social life, games, palace politics, food, lifestyle or even the life in the surrounding havelis; the book covers all very well.
What is impressive is that the author builds on the previous Mughal references and texts to help the reader understand the essence of Mughal associations and lifestyle in the time of Shahjahan when the fort was built. And then it takes you on a complete journey of the fort when it was with the British and, also served as a centre point for Freedom Fighters. A book that truly records the complete saga of one of the most iconic of India’ monument.
(Artistic rendering of the Peacock Throne in the Red Fort, image courtesy – Shikha Jain)
Historian and author of many books, Rana Safvi says in her review of the book, “Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals by Debasish Das recreates the grandeur of a fort unrivaled in its time. Since it bore the brunt of British wrath after the Uprising of 1857, it’s now just a shell of itself. Das takes us on a journey not just of its physical spaces but culture and people thriving in it and brings it to life for those who know it only in its current diminished avatar.”
Sanskritist and Science-Historian, an eminent authority on ancient Indian astronomical instruments and former professor at AMU, Prof S.R. Sarma, writes in his review of the book, “Debasish Das writes with admirable felicity and engaging passion. With his vivid descriptions, he fills the bare walls of the Red Fort with people — princes, amirs and other courtiers in their finery. One can hear the water splashing in the artificial water channels or hear the rustle of silk as the ladies of the harem walk past and catch whiffs of the fragrance of the attar of roses or of musk. Particularly interesting is his treatment of the literary culture at the Mughal court where Persian, Sanskrit and Braj Bhasha were avidly cultivated.”
Zehra Naqvi is an author, journalist and columnist, whose articles have been published in Indian Express, Reader’s Digest, The Hindu, Financial Chronicle, Women’s Web and Child Magazine.
Her immensely readable review is replete with captivating photographs taken by her at Hyderabad’s Salar Jung Museum. The jewelry in the above picture once belonged to Zehra’s husband’s great grandmother! How touching. She writes: “If there is one thing that can be said about Debasish Das’s book ‘Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals’, it is that the book captures, in equal measure, the resplendence and the pathos that the Red Fort stands drenched in, unbeknownst to the throngs that mill around the historic structure today. Equally importantly, it must be said that it presents the Mughals for what they were: Kings, Emperors, human beings. Neither does this book demonise them, nor does it exalt them to false heights. It presents a very balanced account of their contributions and their faults, etching out an image that is neither black nor white, but full of varying hues and shades.The author unfolds before our eyes visions such as those of the Nahr-i-Bihisht – River of Paradise – a canal channelled from the Yamuna, flowing across the rooms of the palace, into marble basins decorated with bejewelled flowers in pietra dura, so stunningly real that when water flowed over them, they appeared to be swaying mesmerizingly! You can see the bejewelled walls and gold ceilings, silken curtains and brilliant tapestries, the lamps flickering like fairy lights in alcoves behind water bubbling over marble chaadars, even as the royal elephant beneath the royal balconies stomps its feet restively”..”One of the most fascinating things about the architecture of Shahjahanabad are the Sufi and Hindu linkages in design, further spreading out to connections with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The city’s semi elliptical design is based on the ancient Hindu Manasara Shilpa Shastra that proposed a bow or karmuka shaped city-scape: the North-South street representing the bow string, and the outer city walls representing the curved shaft.The Iranian architects of the city also borrowed from the Sufi architectural traditions from the Rasail of the Ikhwan e Safa or Epistles of the Brothers of Purity, drawing analogies between the Cosmos and the human being, between the macrocosm and the microcosm – the very concept theorised by Da Vinci in his ‘Vitruvian Man as the cosmography of the microcosm’.”..”For a feminist reader and a sufi learner like myself, one of the chief draws of this book was Princess Jahanara, daughter of Shah Jahan. The book is peppered with details of the life of this cerebral and strong administrator, who was an amalgam of such varied traits that she takes your breath away: a learned sufi, a brilliant writer, an architect, a leader and an able administrator. The famous Chandni Chowk was designed by none other than the magnificent Jahanara!As a Sufi, she was taught by the Qadri Sufi mystic of Kashmir, Mulla Shah Badakhshani- who, interestingly, refused to admit her when she was first introduced by Dara Shukoh and Shah Jahan. Just three years after meeting him, Jahanara wrote the book Risala i Sahibiya. Mullah Shah was later known to have said that he would have prefered her to be his spiritual successor. Jahanara had the title of ‘Sahibat uz Zamani’ or Mistress of Her Age, and was also the first unmarried royal woman to have her own seal, and the ability to issue her own farmaans and edicts. She wielded great power and also received revenues from the port town of Surat.”..”One of the most riveting chapters in the book is the one about cultural and literary exchanges in the Mughal period. Translation of Sanskrit epics—religious and others—was at its zenith during the Mughal Era. “The first book taken up was the Atharva Veda, followed by the Ramayana, Mahabharat, Nala-Damayanti, Bhagwad Gita, the Upanishads and many others. In Persian Mahabharata called the Razmnamah or Book of War, the narrative was interspersed with Persian verses,” enumerates Das. In fact, a Sanskrti-Persian lexicon was authored at Akbar’s court by Krishnadasa Misra.Dara Shukoh authored the Majma Al Bahrayn (Confluence of two Oceans) “where he theorized that the two traditions, Vedic and Quranic, emphasise the same basic truth. This book was translated into Sanskrit as Samudra Sangam.” Dara also sponsored the translation of fifty Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian. “..”From the zenith of the Mughals to the nadirs, from joyous celebrations of Jashn e Chiraghan (Diwali) to the bloodcurdling internecine murders for the throne, from heartrending descriptions of the raids by Nadir Shah to dramatic, poignant descriptions of the revolt of 1857 and the subsequent fall of the Mughals, the book deftly encapsulates the itr-like essence of the Red Fort—the rapturous revelry, the shattering tremors, the pallid gloom.The next time you decide to visit the historic city of Shahjahanabad, be sure to take this book along. You’ll never see the Fort and the city quite the same way again.”
While fleshing out my narrative on the Persian poetry scene in the 17th century Delhi and the composite Indo-Persian Mughal court in my book, I did not find a better insightful source other than Dr. T.C.A. Raghavan‘s award-winning book ‘Attendant Lords: Bairam Khan and Abdur Rahim, Courtiers & Poets in Mughal India’, especially on the contributions made by the Khan Khanan, Abdur Rahim. Currently the Director-General of Indian Council of World Affairs, and a former High Commissioner of India to Singapore and Pakistan, his latest book ‘History Men’ is getting rave reviews. In the past, I was pleasantly surprised to receive his appreciative comments on few of my blogs, and now it is beyond my imagination to receive his praise and encouragements for my debut book on a subject of his expertise:
The Corona lockdown gave me the time to read Debasish Das’s Red Fort: Remembering The Magnificient Mughals. This is a book about the Red Fort but is much more than a history of the fort and its many structures and a bird’s eye view of the culture of the Mughals in Shahjahanabad.
The book is a treat for all those who like wondering through Delhi’s many monuments as it brings them to life, animated with anecdotes and historical detail that often escapes specialists. Das has moreover an eye for the obscure which is a delight to encounter.
I have been following Debashish’s blog for some time. It is invaluable in following up tangential details. I got hooked after reading his post on now forgotten Najibabad but so important to understanding Mughal decline and final extinction. I have been to Najibabad myself about 20 years ago but somehow missed a lot that there was in the blog so would like to go back post Corona and also visit then nearby Ghausgarh. The trauma the Mughals under Shah Alam suffered in August 1788 at the hands of Ghulam Qadir Khan is described on pages 263-264 of the book. Ghulam Qadir was Najib ud Daulah’s grandson and the humiliation he heaped on Shah Alam and the imperial harem was revenge for the Mughal attack on Ghausgarh some 10 years earlier. Jadunath Sarkar had dwelt at some length on Ghausgarh recognizing its symbolic importance in Mughal history. What the Mughals faced at Ghulam Qadir’s hands was thus for him ‘a tragedy of even greater poignancy than the downfall of the French monarchy five years later’. The reason he observed was ‘Afgans vengeance may sleep for decades, it never dies’.
I also liked this book for reminding us that the Red Fort was not just a representation of the Mughals in their prime. It was their home as they were in decline and the magnificence of the structures within somehow make us gloss over the fact that they were in decline for over a century till their final extinction in 1857. P 376 of the book reminds us:
“The Red Fort was overpopulated and overcrowded- with hundreds of royal descendants and their long line of relatives calling it their home. Unplanned structures of every random nature had sprung up….Arcades of Dewan e Aam were used as stores and stable houses. The area around the Shah Burj was crammed with new Indo European structures to accommodate princes. Right behind the Dewan e Aam the heir apparent built his residential quarter”.
Debasish Das congratulations on your book, may there be others and may your blog thrive.
Author of many books on Delhi including Delhi: 14 Historic Walks, Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi and Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi and Convener at INTACH, Delhi, Dr Swapna Liddle is well known for her love for the city of Delhi. I feel honoured to receive a glowing review from her as follows.
This book has been sitting on my work table for several weeks now, and I have been dipping into it from time to time, since I didn’t have time to read it from cover to cover. It is easy to enjoy it in bite-sized pieces, because it is conveniently arranged in short chapters.
There are books that have been written on the Red Fort, and on the Mughals, but readers will find this particularly useful because the author uses his description of the fort as an anchor to give us a detailed picture of the life of the Mughals who lived in that palace complex for more than two hundred years. He draws on a wide range of travellers accounts, court histories and secondary sources for this.
The book deals with a large variety of topics. Apart from a study of the architecture and the important events in the Fort’s history, the reader will get a peek into the lifestyle the Mughal’s enjoyed, through chapters dealing with games and pastimes, royal animals, costumes and jewellery, perfumes and oils, food and festivals. It is also convenient that the reader can quickly find and go to a particular chapter of interest. In short it will interest different kinds of readers, from those who want to use it as a guide book to explore the Red Fort in some depth, to those interested in Mughal social and cultural history.
Well done Debasish Das, your sustained effort on this research has borne fruit!
Anisha Shekhar Mukherji, Director of Ambi Knowledge Resource, is a conservation architect as well as a visiting faculty at SPA, Delhi. Her book, The Red Fort of Shahjahanabad based on extensive archival research, is widely recognized as one of the most authoritative pieces of research and analysis of the Red Fort, and has been the reference for the case of the Fort’s inclusion in the World Heritage List.
My interaction started with her way back in 2016 when I sought few clarifications, and she advised me “to extract themes and tie together various sites in Delhi based on such themes – rather than write about them merely on the basis of individual sites, which is the more usual approach.” While writing my manuscript I kept that as a guiding principle to interleave a variety of themes with that of architectural descriptions.
So, with much joy and gratitude, I thank her for her glowing endorsement of my humble book, in which she says: “There’s much to commend in the book.”
I am humbled to see that she has featured my book in her own blogsite at https://anishashekhar.blogspot.com/2020/02/another-book-on-red-fort.html. Titled as “Another Book on the Red Fort”, each sentence of her scholarly review is a great encouragement to an non-academician like me, where she says:
She writes in the book review: The Red Fort is an iconic and complex piece of construction that has undergone both natural and forced transformations. It has been the subject of inquiry and research by many writers, and contains layers of information that can be discussed at multiple levels, with much that we need to appreciate, understand and apply in our present times. Debasish Das’s Red Fort, Remembering the Magnificent Mughals (BecomeShakespeare.com 2019) is a presentation of his journey in travelling within the spaces of the Fort and trying to comprehend them.
Das also writes a blog through which he has been sharing his explorations of the city of Delhi and its past. The book is a continuation of his exploration and is a personal interpretation guided by interactions with popular writers and scholars and heritage walkers. The book ties in various figures who have peopled Delhi’s historic and physical landscape, beginning from Babur. It is organised in a sequence that moves from the city to the Fort, and is divided into short chapters, some as brief as two pages. These move between a variety of themes, dipping into aspects of the Fort’s architecture as well as ‘Perfumes and Oils’, ’Games and Pastimes’ and ‘Hooqah, Wine and Opium’, among others.
There’s much to commend in the book. It is written with sympathy and feeling. The fact that the chapters are short and organised into themes covering popular events, anecdotes and figures, will help those who are new to the Fort and are looking for a quick overview. The author’s focus, as he writes in the introduction, is on the stories behind the Fort; and his objective is to bring these alive, which he manages to do even with limited images.
Inevitably, the information in the book is influenced by the more popular narratives, reinforcing some conventional notions about the Fort. More specialised interpretations leading from rigorous primary analysis, which may not have perhaps been easy to access, do not form part of the source-base. Nonetheless, it is an extremely encouraging sign when history is no longer confined just to the domain of the professional. Histories are shared, and all of us need to dialogue with what our histories have left us with – and in the process dialogue with each other. Place-histories are a tangible way of conducting such a dialogue to connect us with the past and present of the places we inhabit. That more and more people are sincerely trying to be a part of their place-histories bodes well for our future.
Marryam H. Reshii, Consulting Editor with the Times of India, has been writing about food and lifestyle for thirty years – bringing to light the bonds between a land, its people, culture and cuisine, by travelling all across the globe. Browsing her website which has the tagline ‘Food, Travel, People’, is soothing to the soul. Author of The Flavour of Spice, Times Food Guide, Kashmir – The Himalayan Paradise, Kashmir – The Mystery, Insight Guides to India’s Western Himalaya, Table Fare, Celebrated Chefs of India, Eating Out in India 101 Favourite Restaurants, her review of Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals is truly touching, balanced and straight from heart:
“Debashish Das’ book, Red Fort, Remembering the Magnificent Mughals is exactly what a book about a historical period ought to be. Light, fun reading, answering those questions that most ordinary folk would love to know more about, but would not know where to look for the answers. Among all my shelves full of books written about the Mughal period, this one is the easiest read.
The subject has been cleverly arranged so that the Red Fort itself is the central gemstone in an arrangement where smaller, matching stones are arrayed around it. Thus, while the history of the fort is the leitmotif of the book, the characters – major and minor – the culture, shopping, gardens, perfumes, entertainment, court manners and protocol, are all set out in a lucid manner that helps the layman (and I’m certainly one!) to visualize the era graphically.”
Thank you ma’am! This is one of the best encouragements till now that I could wish for. The link to the website is https://marryamhreshii.com/red-fort/
Rangan Datta is a freelance travel photographer and travelogue writer. Apart from his immensely informative blogs, his travelogues and travel photographs have also been published in some of the leading newspapers and magazines in the country. In the book review section of his blog, he says: “A fort is all about massive bastions and giant gateways coupled with massive military edifice and strategic defensive mechanism. But apart from being a defensive structure, forts have always served as independent cities complete with bazars, gardens crisscrossed with walkways and water channels. Forts complete with royal courts have always been centre of royal decision making. Behind the court, but within the walls of the fort, royal family politics had a significant role. This internal politics not only shaped the history of the empire but also had a significant role in the history of the entire mankind. The Red Fort of Delhi is no exception and Debasish Das in his latest book titled Red Fort, Remembering the Magnificient Mughals, brings out the stories from behind the walls of Delhi’s most iconic structure….Debasish in his book goes into the details of the fort’s layout starting from the char bagh gardens to the water flowing chanels. The addition of the barbican in front of the Lahore Gate by Aurangzeb or the vanishing north – south street of the fort and every other possible change in the forts layout have been minutely described…Debasish has taken utmost care in documenting the royal family politics including the roles of nautch girls and harem women. The murders of two Mughal (Farrukhsiyar and Jahandar Shah) emperors within the fort wall have been described with great details, so were the murder of the Britishers during the revolt of 1857. The looting of Delhi by Nadir Shah and blinding of Mughal emperor Shah Alam II by Ghulam Qadir Khan have been described to the utmost details. A vivid and detailed account of the royals jewels forms a section of the book. It deals with the much hyped kohinoor diamond to the lesser known Orloff diamond, presently mounted on the royal sceptre of the Russian Tsar. It is also interesting to know that a few of the diamonds of the present Crown Jewel of Iran traces back to the Mughal Red Fort. The detailed descriptions of the Peacock Throne are a reader’s delight….” https://rangandatta.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/red-fort-by-debasish-das/
Ranbir Singh Phogat, well known heritage enthusiast, author and the M.D. of Haryana-Heritage says in his generous endorsement of my debut book, “I have read many other accounts of the Red Fort of Dilli, some of them exclusive works by independent authors as well as those published by the ASI, GOI, New Delhi and many in the travelogues and narratives contained in the memoirs etc., but what makes Debasish’s book different is his own observations and up dates.”
Screenwriter and author of bestselling books, Adite Banerjie kindly reviewed the book at her blog. Link: http://www.aditebanerjie.com/2020/02/book-review-bringing-alive-mughal-era.html
Indian history as taught to us in text books is often a dry account of names, incidents and dates. Information provided at historical sites or monuments rarely offer insights into the era when they were built and the people who left their legacy behind. Even the history buff would find it difficult to make the connections between the glorious past that the placards talk about and the stark, near ruinous conditions of the monuments. While Western museums often have well-researched audio visual presentations for the lay visitor to be able to make this connect, unfortunately this facility is not available at Indian monuments…The author takes you on a guided tour of the Red Fort and the era in which it was built. The book is extensively researched and the facts presented in a structured format. The little stories and vivid descriptions add colour and bring alive an era that has passed. The reader is virtually taken on a drive through the alleys and streets of Shahajahanabad, its bazaars and mandis, the ramparts of the fort, the magnificent hallways and the customs of Mughal noblemen…Studded with little anecdotes and details, the book explores the various aspects of Mughal life, within and beyond the Red Fort, creating a complete picture of life in Shahajanabad (which is now a part of modern Delhi). It also helps the reader understand what went into the making of the “magnificent Mughals” and also get insights into the reasons for their downfall. For anyone who has visited the Red Fort and for every citizen of Delhi, this book is a must-read. It provides insightful glimpses into the past and the legacy that continues to echo in the present.
Madhulika Liddle, author of the popular historical fiction series based on 17th century Mughal detective Muzaffar Jang, such as The Englishman’s Cameo, The Eighth Guest & Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries, Engraved in Stone and Crimson City shares her kind appreciations while pointing out proof-reading mistakes which I am planning to remove. She writes:
In the 1640s, the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, having constructed his magnum opus—the Taj Mahal in Agra—decided to shift the imperial capital to Delhi. Of course, as befitted his stature, his wealth, and his reputation as an aesthete, this meant creating a new city, not merely occupying the old one. Shahjahanabad was the outcome of Shahjahan’s decision to make Delhi his capital, and the focal point of Shahjahanabad was the Red Fort.
Debasish Das’s Red Fort is about the Red Fort, but it is about a lot else too, all in some way or the other connected to the iconic fortress. The book, in fact, is perhaps more adequately described by its subtitle: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals. Because while the main focus of the book is the Fort, Das also covers much else that is somewhat tangential. He begins with a very brief history of the Mughals, followed by an introduction to the conceptualization and construction of the Fort, then goes on to describe each element of the Fort. And, in conjunction with that, the aesthetics, the functions, the stories and myths and history attached to each of those elements.
So, for instance, when he describes the Diwan-e-Aam, Das also discusses the various protocols that were observed here: how court was held, how it proceeded, how Mughal emperors before Shahjahan (and after) conducted court, and so on. When he discusses the zenana, he talks not only of the royal harem and how they spent their time, but also of the noteworthy courtesans of Shahjahanabad, women like Qudsia Begum and Farzana (aka Begum Samru), among others. Life in Chandni Chowk, the etiquette attached to being a mirza (a ‘gentleman’), the ups and downs in the history of the Mughals after the 1650s—especially the uprising of 1857 and its aftermath—are among the many sections covered.
This is an extremely entertaining and informative book about the life of the Mughals, in particular Shahjahan and those who followed. It’s full of detailed and rich descriptions, and it’s obvious that Das has done a lot of research. It’s also an easy read, because instead of getting bogged down with dates and dry facts, Das finds interesting tidbits that bring to life the Mughals and their heyday—as well as the tragedy of their decline.
The sad part is, this book hasn’t been given the post-writing attention it deserved. The fact that the photos are poorly reproduced and printed is a small matter; the shoddy editing is what really irked me. There are typos, there are repetitions (several facts and incidents are repeated in numerous places, for example), and there is the very occasional tendency to wax eloquent and imagine what a particular scene must have been—which is something I personally do not like when reading non-fiction.
Here are some Media Features, Interviews and Reviews:
Feature at travel blog, Light-Travel-Action: https://lighttravelaction.com/red-fort-delhi/
Interview with The News Now: http://www.thenewsnow.co.in/newsdet.aspx?q=108189
Firstpost, Feb 6th, 2020: ” (In) Debasish Das’ book on the Red Fort, a narrative that looks beyond the monument’s architecture….writer Debasish Das presents a multi-faceted cultural history of the Mughals.”: https://www.firstpost.com/living/read-an-excerpt-from-debasish-das-book-on-the-red-fort-a-narrative-that-looks-beyond-the-monuments-architecture-7996071.html
The Telegraph, May 8th, 2020: “Debasish Das breathes life into the 17-th century monument…” https://epaper.telegraphindia.com/imageview_330852_34611776_4_undefined_08-05-2020_11_i_1_sf.html
Live History India 11 March 2020: ‘The Tawaifs of Shahjahanabad’ https://www.livehistoryindia.com/herstory/2020/03/11/the-tawaifs-of-shahjahanabad?fbclid=IwAR3pVNxEF0JNHBk2XFJacUYHKWW3sv5TpVdl2NFieqkuNzbSjxDMZjdVNjs
Indian Women Blog 11 March 2020: “Author of Red Fort: Remembering the Magnificent Mughals, Debasish Das excursions the reader through the forgotten and much misunderstood period in history with rare for a researcher eloquence of fictional imagery that makes it an easy read. The book is fluent in facts and effortless in their delivery while letting the ray of imagination play on illusionary verandahs.” https://www.indianwomenblog.org/debasish-das-book-red-fort-gives-access-to-mysterious-zenana-with-poetic-sincerity/
Book Review in the News Now, Jammu: http://www.thenewsnow.co.in/newsdet.aspx?q=109218
Review and Interview at salismania.com: https://www.salismania.com/post/red-fort-book-review?postId=5e88987a510322002d812b30
Book Excerpt – The Dispatch, Jammu & Kashmir: https://www.thedispatch.in/the-red-fort-know-more-about-its-architecture-and-its-resplendent-gardens-based-on-the-concept-of-chahar-bagh/
The Bibliograph, February 2020: “The one reason why this book stands out is the exemplary research that the author has carried out. Right from the first sentence, you realise the hard work that was put into the making of the book… From Babur to Bahadur Shah Zafar, the author lucidly and vividly explains the chronology of the various events that shaped up their lives. The book also gives us a peek into the evolvement of customs and traditions over the centuries. It mentions and tells about Parsi and Hindu traditions, much of which could be unknown to the reader. Not only you get to know about the regal Mughal empire, but also the policies and administration that the rulers undertook to give their subjects a better place to live in. You come to know about the lives of the common people and the society as a whole, which was an important factor in determining the success of the empire. The book is a reminder of our rich cultural legacy and how we owe it to ourselves to take care of it. The language is so lucid and crisp and the Author has left no stone unturned to make this a masterpiece” https://flipnread.com/product/the-bibliograph-2nd-issue/
The book is now live on all e-commerce platforms. The following are links for e-book and paperback versions of the book. I look forward to your feedback and reviews.
Amazon ( International paperback)