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Saturday, October 31, 1998

This above all
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Drinking in medieval India

By Pramod Sangar

DRINKING was a grand vice which remained popular with the Muslim aristocracy though the general masses were also not averse to its use. Drinking of wine is prohibited by the Holy Koran. In case, a Muslim was found intoxicated and two witnesses gave evidence against him before a qazi, he was awarded 80 lashes while a slave would receive 20 stripes. However, the Muslim law provided no penalty for the sale of liquor. Aurangzeb supplemented the law by providing penalty for this offence. On the other hand, Persian traditions recommended drinking, provided it was done moderately. The wine is the best restorative for health and "the excess of it will do you harm, as much as other beneficial drugs, even elixir".

Despite the strict ban imposed by the Islamic law, drinking remained a common feature of medieval India. There was hardly any social group in Muslim society which remained away from it. Teachers, ulemas (clergymen), the aristocracy and even women indulged in drinking. Some drank secretly while others enjoyed drinking socially.

A king like Ala-ud-din Khilji wanted to stop this vice due to administrative reasons and inflicted cruel punishments to those found guilty. But the people resorted to bootlegging. He therefore, failed in imposing prohibition.

Another notable, Sultan Firoz Tughlaq observed the religious injunction with utmost devotion and appeared intensely committed but enjoyed drinking secretly. On one occasion, in the midst of a campaign, he was seen by Tatar Khan lying half naked with wine cups concealed in his bed. The Khan reproached him for this depravity. But, on the other hand, the Mughal rulers enjoyed drinking openly with their nobles.

Zahir-ud-din Muhammed Babar, the founder of the Mughal empire, though endowed with laudable qualities described by his cousin and admirer Mirza Haidar Douglat, drank "religiously". His drinking bouts were legendary.

He, however, renounced drinking before the historic battle of Kanwaha with Rana Sangram Singh (1527). He records the event in his memoirs Tuzuk-i-Babari "Having sent for gold and silver goblets and cups with all other utensils used for drinking parties, I directed them to be broken and renounced the use of wine, purifying my mind". The broken utensils were distributed among the poor and the darvesh.

His son and successor Humayun was more addict to ‘opium’ than wine. Though Humayun possessed all the humane qualities of his great father, he lacked, "the decision and spirit of command without which no prince can secure the respect and confidence of his subject". The excessive doses of opium were perhaps the reason for his "erroneous thinking". For this reason, he was defeated and expelled from India by his formidable antagonist Farid, popularly known as Sher Shah Suri.

The dynasty of Babar was lucky to survive due to the solid contribution made by his grandson, Akbar. He was the real author of the Mughal restoration and architect of the empire; yet he was not free from this vice in his early youth. He drank very hard and was once saved from the "terrible state of drunkenness" by Raja Man Singh during his Gujarat campaign.

Salim (Jahangir) naively begins his memoirs with: "My father, whether in cups or in his sober moments, call me Shaiku Baba". Akbar also made use of arrack, an extremely heady palm wine and sometimes of post, a similar preparation of opium, diluted and modified by various admixtures of spices. His bad example was followed too faithfully by his three sons.

Two of them, Murad and Daniyal, died from the chronic intemperance. Though Akbar tried hard to save them from this fatal vice, he failed to do so. But over a period of time, we find Akbar to be an absolutely transformed person, more humane and catholic in his approach due to the company of some great luminaries of the age.

Akbar decided to regulate the use of drinks. He ordered public bars to be opened under official supervision. The rates were fixed. Excessive drinking and disorderly behaviour were made punishable.

Akbar thus displayed his qualities as a sound administrator. He realised the impracticability of total prohibition and made a compromise by controlling the use of intoxicants.

Akbar’s eldest son Jahangir, who occupied throne in 1605, broke all the previous records of his ancestors and plunged into his favourite past-time almost headlong.

He was immensely fond of drinks and would consume 20 cups of double-distilled liquor — 14 in the day and the rest at night. He, however, abstained on Thursday night and Friday evening. But it is quite amazing to note that he prohibited its use, among his subjects though he himself was an addict. Thomas Roe, an English traveller, has given an eloquent testimony to Jahangir’s increasing fondness for drinks for he was in attendance every day in the court and camp of Jahangir for nearly three years from 1616. He built a good rapport with the king and became one of his favourite drinking companions.

In 1616, Jahangir celebrated his birthday at Ajmer (where he happened to be) and sent for Thomas Roe. Roe was given a rousing welcome and offered a cup of wine in a golden cup. The wine was so strong that Roe, after gulping a bit, starting sneezing and this made the Emperor laugh heartily.

It is rather doubtful if Shah Jahan was addicted to drinking. Manucci, an Italian traveller, says that the Emperor was not a drinker, but he did not care to remedy the evil.

The English East India Company records, on the contrary, amply reveal that he was passionately fond of drinks. English president Fremlen wrote to the company by way of information that Shah Jahan had requested him to procure grape wine for himself from either English or Portuguese sources and two large cases of Allegent and Canary wine were required to be sent to him. But he, like Babar, later on gave up drinking during his Deccan campaign and the entire stock of wine was thrown into the Chambal river and the wine utensils of gold were broken and distributed among the poor.

The ladies too did not lag behind and Princess Jahanara was extremely fond of wine imported from Persia, Kabul and Kashmir. The best liquor was distilled in her own palace.

Aurangzeb drank nothing but water. Tavernier’s assertion that he saw the Emperor drunk three times is wholly untrue. Aurangzeb tried to make prohibition a real success and for this purpose he made several provisions. The Chief Muhtasib and the large body of subordinate censors under him were required to explain to the people the harm done by the use of intoxicants.

The bazaars where the mansabdars purchased wine were abolished. All these steps, however, did not bring success. If we believe Niccolao Manucci’s statement then every person in the kingdom, with the exception of Aurangzeb himself, was addicted to the use of wine.


Giving her roots and wings

By Suneeta Chahar

ALL relationships are beautiful but the mother and daughter relationship is a unique experience. We never understood when our ancestors said that one daughter is a must in the family. Now one knows, it really makes your life rich and worth living.

The process of the beautiful baby turning into a graceful young lady is fascinating.

Initially, one loved the little bundle of joy, recorded her every sound in memory, the little smiles, crawling, walking and running. It seems as if it happened just yesterday. One has been a silent spectator to her all first discoveries of life.

Her sorrows and joys became her mother’s. The mother starts reliving her life through her daughter. She makes the daughter do all those things which she herself would have liked to do as a kid -- clothes, games , books et al -- though it might be sheer torture for the offspring.

This tussle goes on for quite some time between the two. The teenaged daughter often finds her mother outdated. The mother feels she must advice her resentful daughter who sighs everytime mom opens her mouth to give a "sermon". The refusal for going out with friends is never taken kindly to by the young lady. Both feel like pulling their hair in frustration.

The daughter is unappreciative of her mother’s interference in buying outfits of her own choice. How unreasonable can mothers be? Why must they always talk about values, morals, right and wrong? Once teenaged twins were overhead discussing their mother. One asked the other: "Are all mothers as bad as our?" So, teenaged girls should not feel singled out. God has blessed all of them with similar mothers. How sad!!! Don’t you feel the God should have been little more kind to the girls?

Inspite of all these hassles, somewhere along the line the two become wonderful friends. The little bundle of joy graduates to a worthy friend for life. Understanding and softness creep into the relationships. Now one understands why mothers cry when the daughter goes after marriage because she looses her most trusted friend to someone else. At this stage the mother remembers her own time and relishes her daughters growing up.

It had been lovely to go for walks with her, the visit to the market were most looked forward to, going for picnics, discussing class fellows or teachers, clothes, going for movies, listening to music, singing songs loudly, laughing at some secret joke, going out for a drive, trying to pull each other out of bad moods — all these are novel experiences.

This relationship grows on you. As the time passes, besides love, the dependence on daughter also grows. It is rightly said that dependence leads to heartbreak. Heartbreak? Yes, one day she has to go and make her own nest. The mother must know when to let go gracefully without any heartbreaks. As Elbert Hubbard wrote: "If one has friends, one must learn to do without them." If we learn to do without her, we would not be so helpless when she goes to her own nest.

Sometimes one sees unfortunate mothers also who try to hide their daughters because they want to remain young forever.

What a pity, because they are so engrossed in efforts to look young that they miss out on so much as far as the daughter is concerned. Hence, they grow apart. Their bond is not strong enough. In such cases, the mother has always been out with friends or admirers that she never turned around to see the beseeching look in the eyes of the little girl clutching a teddy bear tightly for comfort. What will this mother know of such unique experience?

Once the daughter gets married, the mother is sometimes extremely jealous of the son-in-law because from now onwards he would be the centre of her daughter’s life. This new found love would be the most important thing of her life. The look of adoration and exchanging glances while sharing a secret joke coveys so much that the mother finds it unbearable. Unintentionally, she interferes so much in the married life of the young couple that it becomes hell. At times it leads to divorce and in some cases death of either spouse.

Instead of becoming a pillar of strength, she becomes a bone of contention.

On the other hand, there are mothers who enjoy each and every moment of their daughter’s new life. They look forward to share her experiences. Though the daughter is a friend, the mother too should be magnanimous enough to maintain her distance and let the daughter spread her wings as she herself did once.


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