Book: Gulbadan: Portrait of a Princess at the Mughal Court
Author: Rumer Godden
Publication: Speaking Tiger Books
Pages: 165 pages
Price: Rs 399
Rumer godden has enjoyed a revival over the last half-decade, with new editions appearing almost every year. The last was Two Under the Indian Sun, jointly written with her sister Jon, an account of growing up in Narayanganj, now in Bangladesh. The latest is her biography of Babur’s daughter Gulbadan, which drops the sentimental “rose” from the original title: Portrait of a Rose Princess at the Mughal Court. It is a part-researched, part-imagined biography of a long-dead writer by a contemporary peer.
Shahzadi Gulbadan Begum wrote the Humayun Nama, the life of her brother, and is a significant presence in the work of Abul Fazl. She lived through the reign of three emperors — Babur, Humayun and her nephew Akbar. Godden’s telling of her life draws on her own book, on the Akbarnama and, quite obviously on Babur’s autobiography. It is therefore rich with interesting revelations, such as the monumental ugliness and plainness of Arga before the fort and the Taj, which now identify it, were built. Godden quotes directly from the Baburnama: “Soon after coming to Agra, I crossed over the Jumna and studied the country to find a place fit for a garden.”
Gulbadan’s story by Godden is an enjoyable foundation course, preparing the reader for the lives of the Mughals, each a great narrative.