February 16, 2018

Khan Zada's Song on the Hillside - The Romance of Picnics and Camp

Khan Zada's Song on the Hillside
The fires that burn on all the hills
Royal Mhugal Lady
eating a sweetmeat

        Light up the landscape grey,
    The arid desert land distills
        The fervours of the day.

    The clear white moon sails through the skies
        And silvers all the night,
    I see the brilliance of your eyes
        And need no other light.

    The death sighs of a thousand flowers
        The fervent day has slain
    Are wafted through the twilight hours,
        And perfume all the plain.

    My senses strain, and try to clasp
        Their sweetness in the air,
    In vain, in vain; they only grasp
        The fragrance of your hair.

    The plain is endless space expressed;
        Vast is the sky above,
    I only feel, against your breast,
        Infinities of love.

"Tiger" also enjoyed the outdoors
The third of a triad of  Khan Zada signature poems in India's Love Lyrics, this hillside song is not to be confused with the earlier "Song of Khan Zada" which at first glance appears to be more of a nod to Anglo-British writer D.L.R than something that a celebrated and dignified royal Mhugal lady would espouse.  The second Khan Zada signature poem  "When Love Is Over" speaks on the bewilderment experienced with passing attachment, which could apply to this much admired princess of the Timurid dynasty, as she married three times, and was not only a widower and divorcee, but was given away by her first husband to another man when she displeased him.   

Khan Zada Begum (pg.201) (or variously Khan Zara, Khanzada, etc) was the beloved sister of the Born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, Babur founded the first Mughal dynasty on the Indian subcontinent. He is likely the Zahir ud-Din of the first poem in the Love Lyrics, with the assumption that this may be a poem narrated by a servant, a lover, or perhaps Khan Zada as well - though not "credited" with a signatory name in the title. 
Mughal Emporer Babur (or Babar) who was a legendary son of Tamerlane and personally magnetic enough to be called "Tiger" by his friends. 

Reunion of Khan Zada and Babar

The devotion between Khan Zada and her brother Babur was celebrated, and by his wish she was raised up to be the First Lady of Empire upon his death.  She earned this respect in part for the hard work she put in as a mediator in family arguments, helping Barbur achieve and hold his position while preventing superfluous bloodshed and warfare.  Although she was given in marriage to her brother's enemy in a strategic alliance, it is said by Orientalist scholar Henry Beveridge that the marriage was a "love-match".  Because she obstinately supported her brother's interests over her husband's, the marriage soured and she was given away to a man of lower rank.  When this second husband along with the first were both killed in battle with her brother, Khan Zada journeyed with her loyal retinue over the hills in a famous return journey to join him in victory.  No doubt there was much celebrating in their camp and even some royal picnicking as they progressed towards this happy reunion.

Khan Zada's last marriage also was strategic, but she found much happiness in raising the young sister of her third husband.   She matched this young woman with her own nephew, and again found honor and pleasure in throwing the most lavish Mhugal wedding ever seen, while further securing the unity of the empire.  Khan Zada had a knack for making each turn of fate work to some advantage, earning honor for her loyal decisions at key points in her life.  A model of feminine potency within patriarchy, it is no wonder her life story was appealing to Anglo-Indian women working behind the scenes helping their husbands secure India's newest empire - the Raj.
Mhugal Recipe Book
Sweets and Aphrodisiacs

As a change of pace from the enclosed seraglio, Mughal ladies were known to greatly enjoy picnics and outings whenever they could arrange them (pg. 195).  Knowledge of this history must have impressed Violet as she planned occasions to escape the army garrison and head for fresh hill breezes with the Colonel and a company of his soldiers.  It is commonly accepted that Hope accompanied Malcolm and his men on forays into the North West provinces, and these precious days of freedom from garrison life must have inspired her as both an artist and a young romantic.  At some point, resting on rugs thrown on the ground or making a light meal of provisions, she could imagine ghostly royal retinues taking their gala outings upon the same ancient landscape.  She was in love with her very own commander of men, who was like a king to them - and certainly he was the king of her heart. 

The first line of Khan Zada's Song on the Hillside puts us in a scene of "fires that burn on all the hills" which sounds slightly apocalyptic, but likely refers to cooking fires dotting the landscape of camp as night falls.  "Fragrant hair", "dying blossoms" and "strained senses" carry a sense of the Decadence themes which influenced Hope:

"The death sighs of a thousand flowers
        The fervent day has slain
    Are wafted through the twilight hours,
        And perfume all the plain.

    My senses strain, and try to clasp
        Their sweetness in the air,
    In vain, in vain; they only grasp
        The fragrance of your hair."

Encamped with camels, horses and fighting men in tents, the poet's imagination soars - 

Sita Ram, Travelers at Kashipur
circa 1815
She is like a loyal follower released from the bondage of four enclosed walls;  
She is like a slave whose desires perfectly match those of her beloved master;  
As a commander of men Malcolm is like Zahir ud-Din;  
All the royal trappings of an Emperor or lack of them do not matter when night falls and you see nothing, but do possess one thing - the touch of your true love, lying beside you in a landscape of ferocious dark beauty... 

Of course, Khan Zada could have just been a conveniently exotic name that was applied to certain stylistically similar short poems when the Love Lyrics manuscript was prepped for publishing -  adding a further gloss of "translation" to some of Hope's lighter verse.  There is also the possibility that the Khan Zada poems are referencing the Khanzada Rajput clans of Uttar Pradesh, India.  The word Khanzada in Persian means son of a khan, or king.  Khan Zada Begum indicates a royal female, which Hope did not include in her titles.  As usual, no poem seems to appear in the Love Lyrics without it's own accompanying veils and questions. 

What is undeniable is that the "infinities of love" of the last line is one of the prettiest and most satisfying end lines in all of the Love Lyrics, capturing the poet in an rare state of calm, communion and fulfillment with the Beloved.  

 NOTE:  "Khan Zada's Song" is recorded in the fifth section of India's Love Lyrics and may be listened to here.  This is a sneak preview, and will not be available  on Librivox until the entire book has been recorded. 

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