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huma_xceptionHUMAYUN IS OUT ON THE FIELD testing the defences of a district, when Hamida who is at Umerkot, goes into labour. In a short while a liveried messenger arrives to tell Humayun that a son has been born to him. The date: October 15, 1542; the time: 2 am, the phase of the moon, the astral bodies, all make for an exceptional astrological reading. Humayun is ecstatic. He breaks open a pod of musk and distributes it among those present by way of gift. He names his son Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar. He will go on to become the first Hindustan-born King from the House of Timur. Trumpets are sounded but celebrations are brief. The family must move again or they risk jeopardizing their gracious hosts as their enemies close in on their quarry.

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From a 16th C painting depicting celebrations for Akbar’s circumcision, Kabul

Humayun next looks to Persia for refuge. His trusted advisor Bairam Khan has done the ground work and sent out feelers to the Saffavid Court at Persia, and the response is favourable. But before they reach Persia, they must first make their way across the hostile environment of Afghanistan. The anxious parents make the decision that newly-born Akbar should be spared this journey; they leave him in the care of Askari, one of Humayun’s truculent brothers who controls Kandahar.

Though his ambassadors have alerted him to the exiled sovereign’s imminent arrival, Shah Tahmasp hasn’t given it much thought. He is after all in the middle of battle with the Turks and figures he may as well try his luck backing an exiled sovereign who may one day shape into a helpful ally. By the time Humayun and his contingent arrive at the Palace, Shah Tahmasp has already laid down the service protocol for every stage of their stay. The reception alone will outdo anything Humayun has experienced as ruling king. Staff and attendants of the Court act on these opening orders: Upon his auspicious arrival let him drink fine sherbets of lemon and rosewater, cooled with snow; then serve him preserves of watermelon, grapes and other fruits, with white bread just as I have ordered. For this royal guest prepare each drink with sweet attars and ambergris …

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