Since the departure from Andijān last year (AD 1500), Babur’s family has seen abundant hardships. Now finally after things had begun to settle for him in Samarkand, his mother and wife reached Aūrā-tīpā. Babur sent a party to receive them and bring them to Samarkand.

He was more than delighted to see them. Just after a few days from their arrival Aisha Sult̤ān Begum gave birth to a baby (probably in AD 1501). They named her Fakhr-un-Nissa (Ornament of Women). Babur was nineteen years old then. He was on cloud nine with the child’s arrival. But happiness did not stay for long. Fakhr-un-Nissa did not live for more than forty days, leaving Babur devastated.

Despite being in a state of despair, Babur had to move on with affairs and take care of the newly acquired Samarkand. He sent his envoys and summoners to the Khāns, Sult̤āns and Begs, reiterating the requests for aid and reinforcement on every side. But results didn’t appear as Babur would have hoped them to be. Many refused the proposal, while others seemed to have ignored it outrightly. Only a few sent aid and reinforcements but highly insufficient in counts.

Ali Sher Beg was alive when Babur took over Samarkand. He and Babur had exchanged letters. Babur replied to him affectionately with a Turki couplet. But before his reply could reach Babur, separations (tafarqa) and disturbances (ghugha) occurred. When Shaybāni Khān had taken possession of Samarkand, Mulla Binai had dedicated himself to Khān’s service. But when Babur took over Samarkand, he came into the town to submit himself to Babur.

Although Babur trusted him to a great measure, Qasim Beg was always suspicious of him. Believing in his distrust, Qasim often dismissed him towards Shahr-i-Sabz, but the cunning one never left any trace of errors. He was able to impress Babur enough, and hence was called back into the town.

He constantly presented ghazals for Babur. One of the quatrains composed by him read as below:

No grain have I by which I can be fed,
No rhyme of grain wherewith I can be clad;
The man who lacks both food and clothes,
In art or science, where can he compete?

In those days of the pause, Babur was generally in a poetic mood. He went on to answer the quatrain of Mulla Binai through a Turki quatrain which when translated into English reads as below:

As is the wish of your heart, so shall it be;
For gift and stipend both an order shall be made;
I know the grain and its rhyme you write of;
The garments, you, your house, the corn shall fill.

The sequence of poetic exchange took place for a while. Mulla responded with a quatrain which read as below:

Mīrzā-of-mine, the Lord of sea and land shall be;
His art and skill, the world over, the evening tale shall be;
If gifts like these reward one rhyming word;
For words of sense, what guerdon will there be?

The winter continued well for Babur and Shaybāni’s fate had begun to wane exponentially except for two things:

  1. The Merv men who had taken Qara-kul, could not be persuaded to stay there and it went back into the control of the Aūzbegs.

  2. Shaybāni Khān besieged Ibrahim Tarkhān’s younger brother, Ahmad in Dabusi. He had stormed into the place and massacred the inhabitants before Babur’s army could even begin to march becoming a saviour.

Babur was able to take back Samarkand with the help of only twenty dozen of his able men. Babur has mentioned that for five to six months, Allah seemed to favour his fate completely. And to him, this certainly was no less than a miracle when his men fought the arrayed battle of Sar-i-Pul (below) with a man like Shaybāni Khān. Babur was getting good rounds of help. A few of them have been recorded in the Baburnama:

  1. Around 5000 Barins along with Ayub Begchik and Qashka Mahmud had come from the Khān.

  2. Babur got around 200 men led by Khalil, Tambal’s brother from Jahangir Mīrzā.

Babur was also expecting a good amount of help to pour in from Sult̤ān Husayn Mīrzā, whom he considered experienced in dealing with enemies like Shaybāni Khān. But nothing turned up from his side no help came from Badi‘-al-Zaman Mīrzā or Khusrau Shah.

It was the summer of ad 1501 (month of Shawwal; probably April or May). Babur, high with the desire to give a blue nose to Shaybāni Khān, marched out of Samarkand. Babur stayed in a nearby new garden attempting to gather the best of men and equipment. The camp was well protected with the ditches dug all around. After having stayed there for five days, Babur and his men advanced and they dismounted near Sar-i-Pul. Shaybāni Khān came from the opposite direction and dismounted at the Khwaja Kardzan around five miles away from where Babur’s camp.

Having maintained their positions for five days, men from both camps began to take on each other. And then one day, the fight grew intense, but neither of the two parties could end up advantageous. Finally, frustrated with the continued standoff, Shaybāni Khān decided to lead his party and attack Babur’s camp at night. He wanted to demolish Babur for a long time, but it wasn’t materialising for long.

However, he was taken aback after coming close to the camp. The fire of his desires was vanquished looking at the mammoth ditches. He couldn’t do anything but instruct his men to merely shower arrows. But that rain of arrows brought no dent whatsoever to Babur’s camp. Finally, he had to retire leaving Babur and his whole camp unharmed.

After this incident, Babur became over-precautious and Qambar Ali took the lead to assist the soldiers with the uphill task ahead. Baqi Tarkhān was lying in Kesh along with a couple of hundred brave soldiers and he was to join Babur in a couple of days. At five miles in Diyul, Sayyid Muhammad Mīrzā Dughal was stationed. He was bringing around a couple of hundred soldiers sent by Babur’s maternal grandfather, the great Khān, whom he addressed as Khān Dada. He along with the massive troops was set to join Babur by the next dawn.

In such circumstances, Babur was eager to expedite the fight. Justifying his haste, he quoted the following lines from the Bustan in the Baburnama:

Who lays with haste his hand on the sword?
Shall lift to his teeth to the backhand of regret.

In the Baburnama, he has narrated more reasons to justify his haste to fight. On the day of battle (that was to happen), the Great Bear constellation was between the two armies. Babur had particularly decided the day for the battle. This constellation of eight stars would have lain behind Babur’s enemy for a couple of weeks if the fight had been deferred.

Perhaps there was a superstition that Babur had woven in his mind based on traditions of astrology that prevailed in his vicinity. He has said, “I now understand that these considerations are worth nothing and that our haste was without reason.”

With a high desire to fight, reinforced with omens of stars, Babur marched ahead with his soldiers as the dawn broke. They formed up in an array of right and left, centre and van. The right was led by Ibrahim Saru, Ibrahim Jani, Abu’l-Qasim Kohbur, and other major begs. The left was led by Muhammad Mazid Tarkhān, Ibrahim Tarkhān, other Samarkandi begs, Sult̤ān Husain Arghun, Qara (Black) Barlas, Pir Ahmad and Khwaja Husain. Qasim Beg was along with Babur who was leading in the centre. This central band included several of Babur’s close circle and household. The van had veterans like Qambar Ali, Banda Ali, Khwaja Ali, Mir Shah Quchim, Sayyid Qasim, Lord of the Gate Banda Ali’s younger brother Khaldar and Haidar-i-Qasim’s son Quch. Together with all the good warriors and the rest of the household thus arrayed, they marched from the camp.

Excerpted with permission from Babur: The Chessboard King, Aabhas Maldahiyar, Penguin India.