Book - Mughal Sequence
“ These poems render the past as a historical present, within which we find our own place as avid eavesdroppers or unwitting confessors. They remind us that to read is to listen; to attend as much with the cochlea as with the eye. Throughout this concert, Thakore develops a pulsating interplay between his own times and problems and those of his figures. In their crises, we see our own, distant yet intimate. Anand Thakore’s Mughal Sequence is a splendid, magical achievement.”
- Ranjit Hoskote
“ ‘Twelve tongues now congregate at the tip of my tongue,/ To lift the weight of my artless shout,’ says Babur in one of the five sections that make up this richly imagined historical sequence. In work that is multi-tongued in its own way and far from artless, the poet reconstructs episodes not only in the lives of emperors but of a prophetic begum, a marginalized dancing girl and a gloomy Kohinoor diamond. Contemporary poetry abounds in poems written on historical subjects, but I haven't read anything quite as ambitious and evocative as Babur, after the Victory at Khanua. With Mughal Sequence, Anand Thakore significantly extends the scope and reach of his work.”
“Anand Thakore's Mughal Sequence is glowing verse, illuminated by inner fire. It is also incredibly supple, capable of conveying to us Humayun's introspections with as much immediacy as Babur's incandescent visions. Thakore's historical fictions are beautifully crafted internalised narrations.”
- Gieve Patel
INTRODUCTION (BY RANJIT HOSKOTE)
Anand Thakore’s Mughal Sequence invites us into a captivating musical arrangement: a quintet of voices drawn from the history of the Mughal dynasty; voices retrieved from the calligraphy of memoir and testament,their stresses and phrases recast, their habitual patterns adroitly reanimated.
We hear, first, the regretful cadences of Humayun, son of Babur and father of Akbar; the second of the Grand Mughals, it has been his fate to be sandwiched between the legend that preceded him and the glory that succeeded him. Next, we meet Gulbadan Begum on her way to Mecca: Humayun’s sister and Akbar’s aunt, she is a living archive of family lore; but she is baffled by her nephew’s religious experiments, his newly forged ways of belonging to India.
Making a transition from the rulers to the ruled, Thakore then presents an accomplished dancing girl, once an ornament of the court of Ibrahim Lodi, whose defeat paved the way for Babur’s ascendancy over northern India, now reduced to a component of booty and tribute, a puppet in the hands of men and gods. Fourth in Thakore’s Mughal Sequence, placed deliberately out of chronological order, is Babur: chronic nomad, expert juggler of indulgence and sacrifice, winner and loser of kingdoms, retrospective pater familias of what he himself must have viewed as a very tentative, precarious Timurid foothold in Hindustan.
Thakore’s fifth voice is a surprise, a distinguished mineral, as imperial as the humans it is set amongst: the Koh-i-Noor or ‘mountain of light’, once embedded in the imperial crown of the Mughals, from which diadem this diamond was prised out, eventually to become one of the crown jewels of Great Britain. As we make the passage from one voice in the quintet to the next, we find ourselves marking time to the ebb and flow of empire, the rhythm of fall and ascendancy.
None of these addresses are simple monologues: these voices are rich with inherited and implied resonances; others speak through these selves. Nor can these poems be regarded as straightforward soliloquies, in the classical sense of acts of self-discovery in solitude. They are more in the nature of apostrophes extended to those lost or not yet discovered. From the instant they emerge from the cocoon of the self, they seem to seek active engagement with imagined interlocutors distant from the speakers in time, place and cultural assumption. Like paintings from the Akbari or Jehangiri court ateliers, these poems fuse presence, voice and detail into a sumptuous whole. By presence, I mean the fullness, gravity and texture of a life, conveyed and grasped by look and gesture. By voice I mean a specific timbre: the wryly ironic, plangent or melancholic tonality of a person’s experience of the world; held in a way of speech, the contingency of birth and the cruelty of circumstance. And by detail, I mean here a gift for descriptive and elaborate minutiae: a source of voluptuary delight that is held, always, in restraint by the knowledge that the scimitar of fate may fall at any moment without warning.
Thakore’s Mughal Sequence is an ambitious project. But magically, it is not burdened by history, not slowed down by that common affliction among authors who turn to previous epochs: the need to pack an unfolding meditation or narrative with a freight of detail so heavy that it begins to act rather as ballast than as cargo. Instead, Thakore’s Mughal Sequence renders the past—as refracted through various experiencing subjectivities—as a historical present, within which we find our own place as reluctant listeners, avid eavesdroppers or unwitting confessors. These poems remind us that to read is to listen: to attend as much with the cochlea as with the eye.
What is the relationship between an author and the characters he creates from the stuff of historical record: is he a ventriloquist and they mere dummies; or is he a medium possessed by sad, angry, flamboyant ghosts? Throughout this concert, Thakore develops a pulsating interplay between his own time and problems and those of his figures; the rhetorical strategies that he assigns to each of his figures weave themselves into a tapestry. In their crises, we see our own, distant yet intimate: as we might do, they too craft testaments to their bewilderment. Anand Thakore’s Mughal Sequence is a splendid, magical achievement.
Bombay: January 2012