Published: 22nd January 2019
How this American writer's attempt to debunk myths about Aurangzeb got her rape threats
A faculty at Rutgers University, New Jersey, Audrey Truschke wrote the biography of one of the most hated rulers in Indian history, a year back
Here's the story of a historian and a Mughal emperor, who lived four centuries apart. The modern-day narrative of the latter has often been one-sided, portraying him as a monster, so the former thought she might take a chance at debunking that story. The story of the emperor, Aurangzeb Alamgir. But when she decided to do so, the world was ineffably unkind to her. From death threats to abuses, the kind of wrath that Audrey Truschke, the author of Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth had to go through was unimaginable.
For many, Aurangzeb was a bigot, a ruthless conqueror and a hatemonger, who destroyed temples and murdered hundreds of Hindus. But was that all about him? The book explores the other side of the sixth Mughal emperor, the third son of Shah Jahan, who was also a worthy Indian king.
The debates about this 17th century Mughal gained much momentum in 2015, when New Delhi's Aurangzeb Road was rechristened Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road, owing to the myth of 'Aurangzeb, the villain'. So naturally, a year and a half later, when Truschke published her book, she was subjected to a lot of hatred, especially from the right wing. She obviously doesn't want to dust those leaves of memory, but she tells us that "it consists of graphic death and rape threats and severe anti-Semitism." But she has her own ways of dealing with it — Analyse, ignore, understand that it is rarely personal, check out of social media for a while and sip some wine.
Read out: The book is available for sale on Amazon (pic: Good Reads)
Truschke, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey, begins the book by telling the reader the reason behind her authoring it — A Twitter message that asked her if she wanted to write an accessible biography of one of the Mughal kings. She tells us how she ended up picking Aurangzeb. "I wrote a biography of Aurangzeb Alamgir, in part, because I realised that I had been studying him for the better part of a decade already and had previously written very little about him. I spent roughly an additional two years researching specifically for the book."
At a time when Aurangzeb ki aulad (Aurangzeb's progeny) is considered a much-hated cuss phrase, we sought the reason behind the Indian society's loathing towards the emperor. This historian had the perfect answer. "Aurangzeb had always had his detractors. But, as I discuss in my book, colonial-era scholars are largely responsible for the strong demonisation of the king. For them, an evil Aurangzeb served the political purpose of making British colonial rule seem favorable by comparison," she explains, reminding us of a quote by Shashi Tharoor — "Because even God couldn’t trust the Englishman in the dark."
History is no fiction. Neither is it a fairytale. Hence, Truschke has no favourites there. She says that she studies historical figures because she finds them important and interesting and not because she likes them. She is currently working on a book that looks at Sanskrit historical texts that span from 1190 CE to 1720 CE and feature Muslim and Indo-Muslim political figures.
This academic goes on to explain what exactly is wrong with history education in today's India. "Perhaps the biggest issue that the history of education in India faces at the moment is the embrace of nationalist pride in the past above the pursuit of accuracy," she says. "History is not about feeling good about oneself but rather understanding and analysing the past," Trushcke signs off.