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Of Humayun`s opium addiction, intrigues and treason

New Delhi: Babur, Humayun and Akbar lived in tumultuous times - their lives were full of dramatic changes. And the story of their lives would seem fantastical if it were not based on actual events.

The husband-wife team of Michael and Diana Preston, writing under the name of Alex Rutherford, has painted a broad- ranging history of the Mughal kings in their series "Empire of the Moghul".

Meant to be a five-book series, the second book titled "Brothers at War" on the life of Humayun was released recently while the first on Babur`s life, "Raiders from the North", has been on the lists of the top 10 selling books for several weeks. Akbar`s life story will form the next in the series.

The books capture the violent times of the Mughals, their descent from Ferghana Valley down the Oxus into the plains of Hindustan. Babur won the empire and Humayun lost it, though he eventually regained it. The authors write about the bitter sibling rivalries, the backstabbings, the treachery, mistrust, poisoning, torture and killings that were a feature of the lives of the Mughals.

There are few books in India in the genre of readable, popular historical fiction and the series is a most welcome addition. The books take familiar historical figures from musty history books and place them in the settings of thrilling adventure stories.

The books are engrossing with their vivid, fast-paced battle scenes and narratives of the intrigues amidst the opulent life at court.

"Brothers at War" is the story of Humayun, who ascends the throne of Hindustan on Babur`s death. Humayun goes to Gujarat and captures the Sultan`s treasure-filled fort. He returns to Agra where he learns elements of statecraft from his aunt, Khanzada, and comes to understand the need for royal pomp and show to bedazzle the people.

An opium addict and a dreamer, Humayun`s strong belief in astrology leads him to direct his courtiers to wear specific colours and to deal with specific subjects on each day of the week.

Lost in his own world, Humayun loses his empire, outwitted and defeated by Sher Shah, `son of a horse-trader` from Bengal. Humayun ventures forth to a battle but is deceived by Sher Shah, who entices Humayun further east into the marshy Bengal countryside. A lightning strike under the cover of heavy monsoon rain sends Humayun`s army in disarray and Humayun falls back to Agra.

He then retreats to Lahore, gives up the city and seeks shelter with his cousin at Cambay. Then begins Humayun`s slow wanderings through the desert and the chilly mountains to finally reach Persia. With the help of Persian soldiers, he wins back Kandahar from his youngest half-brother Hindal and Kabul from step-brother Kamran.

Humayun returns to Hindustan only after Sher Shah`s death, but his reign is short for he dies within six months of winning back his kingdom.

The first in the series titled "Raiders from the North" covers Babur`s journey, starting from the tiny kingdom of Ferghana, which he ascended at the age of 12, promptly lost, and later regained.

Both father and son faced defeat and at one stage were left as princes without a kingdom, wandering with a small pack of followers to seek help from the Persian king. The women of their families are strong characters who wield great influence from behind the walls of the royal harem.

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