From my Indian history syllabus, I had learnt to think of Aurangzeb as just bad. In sharp contrast stood Dara Shikoh. The scholarly Dara who, were it not for his ambitious, ruthless brother, would surely have made a wiser, better king. This I did not question until I read Francois Bernier&rsquos Travels in the Mogul Empire. The book is as much of a first-hand account of seventeenth century India as we&rsquore ever likely to find and it knocked down many of my assumptions. Suddenly, Aurangzeb became human. Reading Bernier&rsquos book, I learnt to see Aurangzeb as not just a cruel despot but also a soldier who fought hard battles a child who craved his father&rsquos approval an underdog who sided with his underdog sister a man who probably loved his Hindu wife. A killer too. Bernier&rsquos account does what the best writing does, regardless of genre &mdash it makes its protagonists human. And it reminds us that a bloody power struggle probably means that all claimants to the crown were equally unworthy.
Annie Zaidi is an essayist, a poet and a writer of fiction whose latest book is Love Stories # 1 to 14.