Book review: Bibi Mubarika and Babur


Author of the Book: Shahibzada Riaz Noor

Year of Publication: 2020

Publisher: Dost Publications, Islamabad, Pakistan; [email protected]

Pages: 122, Price: Rs. 500 plus postage


by Tariq Mahmud    7 April 2023


The story of the book, Bibi Mubarika and Babur is a story of fusion of Central and South Asian culture, tradition, and heritages.

The author of the book, Sahibzada Riaz Noor, a distinguished English poet from Pakistan who through the book has unravelled the confluence of history through his poetic feat and aesthetic imaginations.

Author’s Pashtun Dilemma

The book is in the genre of epic, which happens to be the author’s forte. His earlier book, The Dragonfly and other poems underpinned the dilemma of a Pashtun facing an existential threat while being in the line of fire in the war against terror. The Pashtun regions in the northwest of Pakistan have been battered and mauled by reckless alien drone attacks from the sky, while on the ground, in the name of jihad, killer brigades have been inflicting death, destruction and collateral damage on the hapless population. Riaz hails from that region, and his empathetic poetic discourse struck an instant chord with discernible readers. The narrative of The Dragonfly was in the form of an epic.

Babur and Bibi Mubarika

Bibi Mubarika was Babur’s fifth wife, a scion of the Yusufzai tribe of Pashtuns. Babur, the ruler of Fargana, had set his eyes on Hindustan after the conquest of Kabul.

Babur had made quite a few forays before the famous finale of 1526 in Panipat against Ibrahim Lodhi.

Babur, a warrior possessing a keen intellect and reflective mind, realised that establishing a toehold in the prized land of Hindustan wouldn’t be a simple endeavour. He was mindful of the fact that the Pashtuns in Bajaur and Swat valley were instinctively defiant and were fierce fighters. In his reckoning, he didn’t wish to take them on and wanted them to align with him. Earlier on, Timur and Alexander had their anxious moments too while facing resistance on the way to Hindustan. Babur made an intelligent move and sought the hand of the scion of the Yusufzai tribe, Bibi Mubarika as her consort and wife. Her elders, after deliberations, acceded to the proposal.

Bibi Mubarika (An imagined portrayed)

The solemnisation of the marriage between the Central Asian Uzbek Babur and Bibi Mubarika from present-day South Asia was the turning point in laying the foundation of an Indo-Iranian civilisation in the subcontinent.

Bibi Mubarika narrates who she was:

This is my history

Bibi Mubarika Yusufzai

Gulbadan’s Afghan Aghachi

In palace with the title Bega Begi”

Bibi asks the warrior Babur for forgiveness for her Yusufzai clan with a view to establishing peace in the land. Babur reassures his consort, his young wife that Cupid’s bow was more sublime than the blow of a scimitar.

The author Riaz Noor depicts the idyllic environs where Bibi grew up. A short yet rhythmic meter with demonstrable imagery and a low-key musicality runs through the discourse between the two protagonists, the Pashtun Bibi Mubarika and the Mughal warrior king. The author’s ambient portrayal of Bibi’s land is enchanting indeed:

I opened my eyes and grew up

In dale of pines and spruces

Cool water feeding orchards

Of peaches, plums and apricots

Grew up with friends fair

In nature’s pristine purity

Flowers and meadows green

Beatific youth was company mine”

With Yusufzai Pashtuns rallying around Babur, he faced no resistance up to River Chenab and the province of Bhera now lay under his feet. It was now time to prepare for further action with his eyes set on the throne in Delhi.

Conquest of Hindustan, a confluence of many cultures and religions

Ancient Hindustan, the present-day South Asia, is not at all unfamiliar with the epic poem. In fact, this land has been home to the world’s richest and most exhaustive epic poetry. Mahabharata and Ramayana wielded great influence on the thought process and conduct of people throughout the greater Indian civilisation. Mahabharata indeed surpasses Iliad and Odyssey by the Ancient Greek poet Homer both in scale and volume. These Indian epics carry the stories of love, war, deception, sacrifice and exile with great didactic layers. They have had a role in forming and reforming of the Indian society for the past over two millennia. The holy scripture of Hindus, the Bhagvad Gita traces its origin to the great epics that were laden with the morals of karma, artha, dharma, and mukta i.e., good deeds, wealth, duty and above all liberation. The two iconic epics wielded important influence on later Sanskrit poetry and way of life.

The latter history of the subcontinent saw new experimentations in epic writing. In the 19th century, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, an erudite Bengali poet wrote a trendsetting epic poem, Meghnabad kabya. The poem was based on the Ramayana, but Dutt’s style was in fact inspired by the English poet John Milton’s Paradise Lost. His exposure to English literature and poetry enabled him to experiment in this genre, which created a lasting impression in Bangla as well.

As the epic proceeds further with the eyes of the warrior on the throne, in the words of Babur, Ibrahim Lodhi sat on a fractious state of the sultanate, with unremitting revolts and unrewarded soldiery. Babur crossed the Jhelum and Chenab rivers and took over Lahore. He briefly sums up:

Punjab being garrisoned

With person trusted

Made we our way back

To Kabul in fervid haste”

The defining moment was reached in the eventful year of 1526, when Babur’s troops were arrayed against the forces of Lodhi for a final reckoning.

Orders for counting our force

But what we lacked in numbers

In fortitude was compensated”

The might of Lodhi’s army was crushed and he fell while fighting. Babur venerated the fallen fighter, marched to the place where his adversary’s body had dropped and uttered the words:

“Lifting the head I remarked

Honour to your courage

A brocade laid where he lay

A solemn burial we gave”

Ever since 1504, while sitting in Kabul Hindustan had been Babur’s aspiration, which never wavered in its firmness.

A country unique

Mysterious is Hind

Several its charms

Many its enigmas

Cross the water of Sind

A land wondrous is found”

After Panipat, Babur had to square with Rana Sangha and the looming battle with him paved the way for consolidation south of Sindh.

Overpowering foes

Both east and west

On Hind’s landscape

An imprimatur we etched”

As a father he loved his wards. When his son Humayun was ridden with a serious ailment he prayed to God:

“If life be exchanged

O God for another

Implored Babur

Mine for my son do offer”

Babus dies, willed to be buried in Kabul

In December 1530, the founder of the Mughal empire breathed his last. He had willed to be buried at Chaharbagh in Kabul. His body, however, was interred at Aram Bagh in Agra. With the onset of Sher Shah Suri’s rule, Humayun was left wandering for four years fleeing through Thar and seeking refuge in Umar Kot where his son Akbar was born.

Babur had wanted his body be entombed in Kabul. In the words of Bibi Mubarika:

“I had a promise

To keep faithfully

In devotion to fulfil

A tryst of loyalty”

Following the Pashtun code of loyalty and fidelity, Bibi kept her word and in 1544 set out for Kabul from Agra to inter Babur’s remains in Chaharbagh. This was an arduous journey, but the beloved wife, Mubarika Bibi fulfilled the desire and will of her loving husband, Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty in Hindustan.

The Mughal empresses

The history of the Mughal empire highlights the role of empresses in helping steer statecraft. Heer Kanwar, given the title of Mariam-uz-Zamani, and popularly known as Jodha Bai was a Hindu princess, a daughter of a Rajput chieftain. Wedded to Akbar she was the longest surviving empress of the Mughal dynasty. She was the mother and grandmother of Emperors Jahangir and Shahjahan respectively. According to historians, she wielded a powerful influence on Emperor Akbar. Their marriage led to a distinct shift in Akbar’s religious beliefs and policies. Tolerance to different religious beliefs became the norm and that helped Hindustan and the people of Hindustan evolve as one nation with an amalgam of diverse culture, religion and traditions. Thanks to Jodha Bai and Emperor Akbar the Mughals were steering towards establishing an expanding multi-ethnic and multi-religion empire in Hindustan.

Bibi Mubarika and Babur underpins the connect between civilisation streams, a missing link which could help chart the way forward in an era of irresistible connectivity.

Riaz Noor has been able to combine a sense of history with his poetic finesse in a remarkably crafted epic.

The Reviewer, Tariq Mahmud is an author, adjunct faculty at LUMS and a former federal secretary, Government of Pakistan