Opulence and Grandeur of Court Life
Lakshmi Rajagopalan
BAZM-I AAKHIR: THE LAST GATHERING—A VIVID PORTRAIT OF LIFE IN THE RED FORT by Munshi Faizuddin. Translated from the original Urdu by Ather Farouqui Roli Books, 2021, 96 pp., 775.00
August 2021, volume 45, No 8

The blurb in the inner cover of this book describes it as a rich and lively first-hand account of life in the royal court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, in the Red Fort. The author Munshi Faizuddin lived in the Red Fort in his capacity of being a long-time servant of Prince Mirza Ilahi Baksh who, interestingly, was a member of the spy network instrumental in arresting the Emperor during the uprising of 1857. This book, rather booklet of just sixty pages, was first published in 1885 and unexpectedly proved to be quite complex to translate.

From the title, one may expect it to describe the last days of an empire, complete with court intrigues, undercurrents and heartbreak. Surprising is the total absence of the darker aspects of life in the court. It is a vivid and detailed description of the day-to-day happenings, the royal protocols, celebrations of anniversaries, birthdays and festivals from Eid to Raksha Bandhan and Diwali… all in resplendent and glorious detail.It begins with a description of the Emperor’s bedtime rituals—massaging of his feet by female masseuses while a storyteller recounted a tale outside the door, heavily guarded by Abyssinian and Turkish troops and surprisingly, a battalion of female guards called Qalmaaqni.

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