The Natural HR Theory by Dr IVNS Raju

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XV

IF the Deccan disappointed Akbar’s last ambition, there were other and worse blows preparing for the last decade of hihs life, blows at his very heart.

There has been a time when all the triumphs of his early manhood seemed vain because he had no son, no heir. How earnestly he had prayed for a son, how eagerly welcomed the hermit’s prophecy, how exulted when the prophecy came true! And how he had loved his first-born, Salim! Yet it was this beloved son who was to deal him the cruelest stroke of his life.

Prince Salim found that his father had lived long enough. Was he never to mount the throne himself? He grew more and more arrogant and impatient. Akbar was well aware of his son’s rebellious feelings. He had even suspected Salim of attempting to poison him. Yet Salim was still dear, and there was no one else to succeed him. Murad, the decoile, intelligent pupil of Monserrate, who as a boy had shown such courage in the field, had become a hopeless drunkard and was dead. Daniyal, the youngest, who had been destined by Akbar to be the governor of the conquered Deccan, was going, in spite of all efforts to prevent him, the same way; his passion for strong drink amounted to madness; when he could get it in no other way he had it smuggled in to him in the barrels of soldiers’ muskets; it was before long to destroy him in delirium. Salim was tainted with the same vice, but had it more under control. He was savagely cruel in the punishments he inflicted, yet genial when he chose. He was not without ability, and he was capable both of feeling and of inspiring strong affection. He was now, in 1600, thirty one years of age.

While Akbar was still in south, Salim decided to show his independence. What if he should seize Agra, with all its fabulous treasure! The thought inflamed him, but his nerve failed. He moved on to Allahabad His grandmother, who was devoted to him, had gone out from Agra to meet him, for she knew of his intentions, and earnestly wished to dissuade him. But, to her grief and chagrin, he avoided her. Arrived at Allahabad, he assumed sovereign powers, seizing whole provinces and allotting them as fiefs to his followers.

Akbar, returned from the Deccan, heard that his son was advancing on Agra with thirty thousand horsemen. He sent urgent messages to stop him, and appointed him governor of Bengal and Orissa. Salim retired to Allahabad, but abated nothing of his pretentions, negotiating with his father as king with king, making large and insolent demands. He even had his own coinage minted, and to goad his father to greater anger, sent specimens of the coins to Akbar.

About the middle of 1602 Abul Fazl, in supreme command in the Deccan, received from the emperor a dispatch informing him of the prince’s rebellion. Abul Fazl replied in a confident tone that he would soon bring the rebel to heel, and fortwith set out for Agra. He was warned of possible ambush, but insisted on taking only a small retinue. Later in the journey he was again warned by a fakir of intended treachery, but again took no notice and refused a bodyguard. On a morning in August the little party were preparing to march when five hundred armed horsemen suddenly appeared and blocked the road. They surrounded and overpowered the escort after a brief struggle; Abul Fazl was killed by a spear-thrust, and his head struck off.

Bir Singh, who commanded the murderers, sent the head to Prince Salim, who gloated over the sight and exulted in the death of his father’s dearest friend. For it was Salim who had contrived the murder and hired Bir Singh to do it. He was afraid of Abul Falz’s influence with his father; knew him hostile to himself, and had resolved that he should never arrive at the capital. Afterwards, when he was emperor, he justified the act and congratulated himself on his good luck in that ‘by the grace of God’ Bir Singh’s country was so conveniently on the route of the returning minister.

That he should lose his great friend, his right hand in the ruling of his empire, ‘the King’s Jonathan,’ as the Jesuits called him, was sorrow enough for Akbar; but that his friend should be brutally murdered by the hireling agent of his own son was a grief unspeakable. The emperor’s anger even surpassed his grief. For three days he secluded himself, against all custom, from the public gaze. And he sent out orders to search for Bir Singh and kill him wherever found. The hunt failed to capture the quarry. Bir Singh was pursued so closely as to get a wound, but succeeded in escaping into the territory of Gwalior. Akbar raged in vain.

This was a most unhappy time. The emperor was sore and bitter in his heart; at one time minded to march against his rebel son and crush him, at another shrinking from open civil war. It was rumoured that he intended to make Salim’s son, Khusru, his heir, instead of his father. And there were powerful supporters of this project, notably Rajah Man Singh, brother of Salim’s wife. Khusru is described by the English Terry as ‘a gentleman of very lovely presence’ and very popular. His youthful promise shone by comparison with his father’s tyrannical cruelties and fits of wild intemperance.

At last a kind of reconciliation was brought about. The widow of Bairam Khan, the Protector of Akbar’s early years on the throne, Salima Begam, whom the emperor had married in his youth, journeyed to Allahabad and used all her persuasion to bring Salim to submission. In the spring of 1603 Salim consented to come to Agra. Salima was with him, and Akbar’s mother, though nearing eighty, was easily persuaded by her to house the prince; she even went out a day’s journey to meet him. Through her, too, father and son were at last induced to meet. Salim presented his father with a large sum in gold and seven hundred and seventy elephants; at which Akbar was touched; he had a passion for elephants. And he curbed his feelings, and behaved with ceremonious politeness, even placing his own turban on Salim’s head. The supporters of the young Khusru were disconcerted; for the act was a symbolic acknowledgement by the emperor of his heir.

But it was a hollow reconciliation between these two estranged spirits. The blood of Abul Fazl flowed between them. Akbar desired his son to undertake a military expedition in Rajaputana; and Salim, having no such intention, only asked for more and more men and money. After futile negotiations, Salim, now residing at Fatehpur-Sikri, asked permission to retire to Allahabad. Thither in November of this year, 1603, he returned, and resumed his former show of royal state, and held a separate court.  With all his ferocities, Salim showed now, as in former years, a great interest in the Christian religion and paid much flattering attention to the Jesuits; in so much that they seriously hoped for his definite conversion. He presented them with a silver image of the infant Jesus for their church. In fact, so far as external behaviour showed – for who can tell what really was in Salim’s heart? – he had ‘far greater regard for the Fathers, and for the Christian religion, than the King.’ Whatever his ulterior aim, he certainly desired to have the Jesuits and their influence on his side.

On one occasion Father Xavier found the prince busy in the curious operation of extracting copper from peacock’s tails, as an antidote to poison. Poison was in the air. Akbar suspected Salim, and Salim suspected the adherents of his own son Khusru. This sinister distrust was to be the inveterate canker in the brilliant dynasty of the Moguls, son against father, brother against brother; the tragedy was to culminate with Shah Jahan imprisoned in his old age by his son Aurangzen, who had destroyed his brothers to mount upon the throne.

In this atmosphere, heavy with suspicion, the estrangement continued and deepened. Akbar, brooding and chafing, heard of Salim’s increasing pretensions with mounting anger. His son’s assumption of the royal title was, according to the Jesuits, the crowning insolence which moved him to action. He ordered Salim to his presence; but afraid of putting himself in his father’s power, and afraid of being superseded, as was now again the rumour, by Khusru, Salim turned a deaf ear to this command. Akbar, thoroughly aroused, at last determined to march with an army and compel submission. Salim, on his part, rallied all his adherents and collected a force of equal magnitude. Civil war was about to break out.

Once more the queen-mother intervened. Hamida, who long ago as a slim girl of fourteen had half-unwillingly married the fugitive Humayun in the deserts of Sind, had shared all Akbar’s fortunes and seen him grow from the adventurous boy, beset with dangers, to be the most potent and glorious of monarchs. But now her heart was with the grandson; she loved him dearly: and she foresaw how poor a chance he had, pitting his strength against the winner of a hundred battles. She implored Akbar to relent, and not march against his son. But Akbar had hardened his heart; he would not listen. She was overcome with grief, and, old and frail, became dangerously ill. The emperor was already on the march: the news was brought him: and though at first he thought her sickness was feigned, when it was confirmed beyond doubt he turned back in remorse to Agra. When he arrived his mother was worse, and in a few days she was dead. The body was conveyed to Delhi, to lie by the side of Hymayun.

Akbar mourned for her after the Hindu fashion, shaving the hair of his head. It was not his only loss in this unhappy year (1604): for his youngest son, Daniyal, had died miserably in the spring, frustrating all his father’s hopes for him. Sick with grief, Akbar had no heart to pursue his expedition; and negotiations were renewed. A skillful agent was employed to induce the prince to come before him as a suppliant, when all his offences would be forgiven.

In the end Salim was persuaded to submit. In continual dread of being superseded by his son, perhaps he decided that it was his safest course.

In November he arrived at Agra. He had marched with a large body of troops, but had left them at some distance from the city. Once more he brought gold and elephants as a present, though this time the elephants were only four hundred in number. The emperor received him publicly ‘in a certain gallery’ or verandah. Salim prostrated himself humbly before his father, who received him with many signs of affection, and then, taking him by the hand, he drew him apart into tan inner room. Suddenly Akbar lost control of himself. His pent-up fury exploded. He slapped his son’s face and bitterly reproached him, enumerating all his unfilial misdeeds. His anger was terrible. Then with a sudden change of tone he mocked at his son for his folly in coming unarmed as a suppliant when he had a huge host of horsemen at his call. Salim, quite cowed, cast his eyes on the ground and answered with streaming eyes.

The scene ended with Salim’s arrest. He was deprived of wine and opium, ‘the hardest of punishments.’ The prince was heart-broken. But soon his sisters and Akbar’s wives came and comforted him with tears and sympathy. They went to and fro between him and the emperor, and made so pathetic a picture of his contrition and repentance that Akbar’s heart, always inclined to mercy after the explosion of his wrath, was softened, and in a few days Salim was released and could solace his mortification again with wine.

Akbar’s overmastering personality was never more signally manifested than in the quelling by his presence of his presumptuous son, who, apart from him, had been audacious to insolence both in world and act. Salim, while his father lived, gave no more serious trouble.

But Akbar’s days were numbered. He had scarce a year more to live. A man of strong affections and great ambitions, he had been deeply wounded in both. The murder of Abul Fazl, the rebellion of Salim, the death of his mother, had made his heart sore with grief and anger. All his glory had turned to ashes. The ignoble and untimely deaths of his two younger sons had ruined long-cherished hopes, and the character of the eldest promised no auspicious future for his dynasty. Should he, after all, pass over Salim in favour of his grandson Khusru? Whether Akbar seriously considered this at the end we do not know; but certainly as soon as his fatal illness began, on 21st September 1605, the adherents of that young began to plot in earnest. The resolved to arrest Salim on a day when he came back by water to pay his respects to the emperor. His boat had touched the steps of the landing at the fortress when he was warned of his danger; and so he escaped the conspirators. They gathered the great nobles together and debated the succession, but the claims of Khusru were strongly opposed, and in the end of the plot failed.

Salim, who had no passionately desired his father’s death, yet knew his father’s greatness: he was torn with anxieties for the future, perhaps with some remorse for the past. He spent a whole night wandering about in sleepless disquietude. In the streets of the capital he, the heir to the throne, went about with the looks of a fugitive. Not till his father was actually dying did he dare to venture into Akbar’s presence; or perhaps he was excluded: mutual suspicions still hung their clouds between son and father. In spite of Akbar’s immensely strong constitution, the dysentery gained on him. Every small vexation now aggravated his illness. Yet towards the end he rallied. On 22nd October, a Saturday, Father Xavier and his fellow Jesuits were admitted to the sick-room, expecting a death-bed scene, and primed with admonitions on the state of the sufferer’s soul, and were amazed to find him cheerful and merry among his courtiers. On the Monday, however, a change had taken place: when they asked for admittance they were refused. Akbar was dying: their opportunity was lost.

Prince Salim, assured of the support of the nobles, since he had sworn to maintain the faith of Islam and not to punish the adherents of Khusru, at last with a strong bodyguard came to the palace, and was ushered into his father’s presence. He bowed and touched the ground with his forehead. Akbar had by now lost the power of speech; but he opened his eyes: he was conscious, and still, in the hour of death, commanding. He made signs to his son that he should place the imperial turban on his head, and then gird on the imperial sword, the sword of Humayun. Then with another silent gesture he signed to him to withdraw. Salim went swiftly out: he breathed freely: he lifted his head high: he heard the acclamations of the crowd and felt assured of his throne.

Only a few of his closest friends remained with the dying emperor. They repeated the creed of Muhammad, surrounding him with the atmosphere of the piety of his fathers and rebuilding the recollections of his infancy. But no sign of assent came from Akbar’s lips. Only at intervals he tried to utter the name of God. Early in the morning 27th October he expired.

The funeral, according to Muhammadan custom among the Sunni sect, was of the simplest. A gap was broken in the wall of the great red sandstone fort of Agra which Akbar himself had built, and through this the body was borne on the shoulders of Salim, now to be the Emperor Jahangir, and his son. A little procession followed it to the grave which had been prepared, at a distance of three miles. The few who wore mourning changed their clothes in the evening.

To the Jesuit observers these hurried and informal obsequies seemed scandalously maimed and slighted. Used to the pomp and ostentation which in Christendom accompany the dead, never more honoured in life than when the spirit has departed from the body: expecting the lofty catafalque, great burning candles, solemn music, sad apparel, prolonged and gorgeous ceremonial, the prayers of a vast and ordered multitude of mourners, they could not understand that the remains of so might a monarch should be committed to earth in so perfunctory a fashion unless it were from studied indifference of contempt. They were quick to moralise an epitaph; and ‘Thus does the word,’ one of them wrote, ‘treat those from whom no good is to be hoped nor evil feared.’ But they were ignorant that in Islam a contrary tradition prevailed, according to the percept of the Prophet that the dead should be carried quickly to the grave, for if it is good to make haste to put wickedness from one’s shoulders, so it is good also that the blessed spirit should be hastened to its peace.

 

~~~~THE END~~~~

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