Valentine's Day

How Humayun convinced the love of his life to marry him

Hamida Bano grew up to be a feisty queen and loyal wife, but when she first met her husband, she was just an angry teen.

Hamida Bano was a 14-year-old when Humayun Badshah, 33, met her in Pat, a town in Sehewan in the kingdom of Thatta, in 1541. Having been defeated by Sher Shah Suri in the battle of Kannauj, Humayun was on the run – he had lost the kingdom his father Babur had established in India and along with his half brother Hindal, he took refuge with Shah Hussain, the Sultan of Thatta in Sind.

After many days spent travelling through perilous and desolate deserts, they had finally found some peace. Humayun’s stepmother Dildar Bano, who was Hindal’s mother, gave a banquet in his honour and among the guests she invited, was the beautiful Hamida.

Hamida’s father Sheikh Ali Akbar, a Persian sufi more popularly known as Mir Baba Dost, was Hindal’s spiritual instructor, and there was a close bond between him and the family. As soon as Humayun saw Hamida Bano, he asked his stepmother Dildar, “Who is this?” He was mesmerised by the beauty and liveliness of the teenager and asked if she was already betrothed. On hearing that she was not, he expressed the desire to marry her.

Mirza Hindal was affronted. Not because, as some stories and texts say, he was in love with her – but because he was concerned about the family name.

“I look on this girl as a sister and child of my own,” he is believed to have said. “Your Majesty is a king – heaven forbid there should not be a proper meher, and so a cause of annoyance should rise.” Meher is a mandatory payment in the form of money or possessions paid or promised by the groom, or the groom’s father, to the bride at the time of marriage, which legally becomes her property. Hindal was concerned that an emperor on the run may not have enough resources for this endowment to his bride at the time of nikah, or their wedding.

Emperor Humayun. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Emperor Humayun. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Humayun assured his half-brother that he would ensure a meher befitting his royal status and their family name. Thus began a royal courtship, or at least an attempt at one: Humayun tried to woo Hamida, but she would have none of it. A much older man ousted from his empire was probably not the prince of her dreams. She may have known that an emperor, even one without an empire, must be imperious. She wanted a companion, not a ruler.

Gulbadan Begum, Humayun’s younger sister and the author of Humayun Nama, writes:

“On another day he came to my mother, and said: ‘Send someone to call Hamida Bano Begam here.’ 

When my mother sent the message, Hamida Bano Begam did not come, but said: ‘If it is to pay my respects, I was exalted by paying my respects the other day. Why should I come again?’”

Another time, Gulbadan writes, His Majesty sent Subhan Quli and said:

“’Go to Shah Husain Mirza and tell him to send the Begam.’ 

The Mirza said: ‘Whatever I may say, she will not go. Go yourself and tell her.’ 

When Subhan Quli went and spoke, the Begam replied: ‘To see kings once is lawful; a second time it is forbidden. I shall not come.’ 

On this Subhan Quli went and repeated what she had said. His Majesty remarked: ‘If she is na mahram, we will make her mahram.’”

The young woman was not one to be swayed by royal protocol or pomp. The resistance continued for 40 days. Finally, Dildar Bano went to the young woman and said, “After all you will marry someone, better a king who is here.”

The young girl replied, “Oh yes! I shall marry someone, but he shall be a man whose collar my hand can touch and not someone whose skirt it does not reach!”

Dildar Bano advised the teenager and perhaps even swore that her stepson was no autocrat. Hamida Bano finally agreed to marry the king and in September 1541, Humayun, a keen astrologer, took the astrolabe in his hand and chose a propitious hour. He then summoned Mir Abul Baqa and ordered him to solemnise his marriage to Hamida.

Hindal Mirza, the younger half brother of the second Mughal emperor Humayun. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Hindal Mirza, the younger half brother of the second Mughal emperor Humayun. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As meher, Hamida received two lakhs, a sum that befitted the royal status, and the title of Maryam Makani, or dwelling with Mary, in recognition of her innocence and piety. Though Hamida had been apprehensive of being just another addition to a royal harem, the 15 years that she would be married to Humayun were spent in close companionship with him. Love must have been further nurtured in the hard conditions they endured, for she never once left his side.

While still on the run a year later, they were blessed with a son in Umerkot where they had taken refuge with the Rajput king Rana Prashad. The child born on October 15, 1542, was named in accordance with Humayun’s dream. After his defeat in Kannauj, Humayun had headed for Lahore. In a state of utter dejection, he had had a vision there, in which a venerable man in green clothes holding a staff had said, “Be of good cheer, do not grieve,” and had given his staff to Humayun. “The most high God will give you a son whose name will be Jalauddin Mohammed Akbar,” the holy man had said.

When Humayun asked the man in the vision his name, he replied, “The Terrible elephant Zinda Fil Ahmed of Jam,“ and added, “Your son will be of my lineage.”

Sheikh Ahmed e Jami had been an 11th century Persian sufi saint. Hamida Bano was in fact his descendant. Humayun personally cast Akbar’s fortune and predicted greatness for the baby.

In December 1543, they were once again on the run and she made the perilous journey from Sindh with Qandhar as their destination. But in the course of that journey, Gulbadan writes, “Humayun had to take hasty flight from Shal-mastan, through a desert and waterless waste”.

Hamida went with her husband, leaving her infant son behind with trusted servants and Humayun’s brother Askari. She was reunited with him in Kabul after two years. Hamida remained steadfast by her husband’s side through his life and even accompanied him to Persia. There were no comforts or luxuries with meager provisions and no personal attendants on that journey, but even in the darkest of days, Hamida was not only his companion but a source of inspiration.

After an exile of fifteen years Humayun regained the throne of Delhi, but he was not destined to rule for long. He died a year later and his son Akbar ascended the throne. Akbar was only thirteen at the time and recognising his mother’s acumen and intelligence, often sought her advice. Hamida was a wife for only fifteen years and she lived for fifty after Humayun’s death. She is buried in a chamber next to the tomb of her husband in Delhi, built by his eldest wife Bega Begum or Haji Begum.

Cenotaph of Hamida Banu Begum along with that of Dara Shikoh and others, is located in a side chamber of Humayun's Tomb, Delhi. Credit: via Flickr CC BY
Cenotaph of Hamida Banu Begum along with that of Dara Shikoh and others, is located in a side chamber of Humayun's Tomb, Delhi. Credit: via Flickr CC BY
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.