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humayunSHER KHAN IS NOT PUT DOWN FOR LONG. While Humayun cools his heels as he is given to after every exertion, Sher Khan recovers ground and regroups. He has his eyes set on Bengal and has gauged Humayun’s excitability over the wealthy territory. Sher Khan has made some influential allies in Bengal and of course he has the redoubtable Afghans forces on his side. It is at a certain confrontation in a forest in Bengal that Humayun’s poetic sensibilities get the better of him. Mid-campaign, he orders camp to be set up in the middle of a spectacular tract to give him some time to enjoy it. Almost as soon as he does this, the rains come down in force. Not only that, he learns his supply lines have been cut by Sher Khan’s more active forces.

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When Sher Shah’s forces come down heavily on the Mughal army in Chausa and then Kannauj, the only recourse for Humayun is to flee. Image: Painting by Abdul Ghafur Bershna

Humayun beats a hasty retreat but has to contend with Sher Shah’s forces once again at Chausa. To add to his misery, he receives information that brother Hindal has crowned himself at Agra. Humayun comes very close to being washed away at one hasty river crossing and he makes it to land with the assistance of a water bearer. On seeing Humayun return to Agra, Hindal – who had hoped Humayun wouldn’t make it back – steps aside. Humayun has the pleasure of making the water-bearer king for two days, fulfilling his rescuer’s wish and no doubt embarrassing Hindal. Sher Khan meanwhile takes over Chausa and styles himself King – he will now be known as Sher Shah. This is a memorable victory for him and he bestows the name of this city on his favourite variety of mango, still referred to today as Chausa/Chaunsa.

With his back to the wall and his pride at stake, Humayun sets his sights on a no-holds barred confrontation with his arch nemesis. Kannauj is the venue. This time, while he succeeds in enlisting the support of Hindal, he knows he is fighting with a depleted army and compromised judgement after so many setbacks. They are trounced. This time when Humayun retreats to Agra with his forces, Sher Shah gives chase. When Humayun arrives in Agra, he dares not go to his palace. Instead he stays at the home of the saint Sayyid Rafiuddin Safavi who serves him a warm meal. While the saint’s everyday fare is basic, he makes it a point to make Humayun comfortable. Humayun and his men are treated to rice flavoured with roast pine nuts and desi ghee, crisp kak with long aubergines pickled in brine and rai seeds, and a turmeric-infused wild chicken stew.

Humayun fights back tears and thanks Rafiuddin for the wonderful food. Better than any he had enjoyed in the luxury of his palace. But his palace – he has no hope of recovering it. He cries because he realises he no longer has a kingdom. He is now a fugitive.

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