I have just read Amitav Ghosh’s review of the Baburnama, an essay included in a collection titled The Imam and The Indian. It is a brilliant review of this classic work, the diary of the Emperor Babur, founder of Mughal rule in India. I found Amitav Ghosh’s conclusion, in particular, hugely enlightening: the fact that these were “men of the steppes” who had never seen The Sea.
Ghosh finds it “baffling” how, down to Aurangzeb, who exhausted himself and his treasury trying to conquer a plateau, none of the Mughals looked at the sea as a source of wealth and power. “Their emissaries to Persia generally took the difficult and dangerous overland route rather than the much easier seagoing one,” Ghosh writes.
Ghosh concludes that the decisive battle of those years was not Babur’s with Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526, but that between the Portuguese and the combined navies of the Sultans of Gujarat and Egypt, and that of the Hindu king of Calicut, off Diu in 1509. After that, all the real “action” was seen on the coasts, with the French, the English, the Dutch and even the Danes – following the Portuguese – setting up “factories.” All this while the Mughals, “men of the steppes,” looked for more “acres and revenues” – for more and more Land: indeed, the massive Deccan Plateau.
Says something about our rulers today sitting in New Delhi, like Chacha Manmohan S Gandhi, a sardar from west Punjab, and his anti-commerce minister, The Great Kamal Nutt, whose constituency lies in land-locked, poverty-stricken Madhya Pradesh. Like the Mughals, the rulers of India today are all “landlubbers” who have never “seen” the sea, never thought that there was much more to rule than the Land. That the earth is 70 percent Ocean; that the source of wealth and power is The Sea.