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Making a lookalike – How difficult can it be? Image: From Mughal Emperors and Rajput Prince (Images of Asia)

THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF Humayun’s demise send the Court’s notoriously phlegmatic coterie of spin doctors into panic. What should be the next move? It cannot be as easy as getting Akbar over and crowning him. People would want to how the Padshah died. A fall down the stairs is a shade too flimsy; it may colour perception of the rulers, it may give the impression that their hold is tenuous rather than ordained. It is decided that they will have to plant a story that Humayun is effectively, up and about.

Planting stories and shaping public opinion has been done before. What really agitates the coterie is news that the rumour has been doing the rounds of the army. Only an appearance by Humayun can settle the matter once and for all. This can be done. They zone in on a modest subject, Molla Bi, whom everyone agrees is a dead ringer for Humayun. For a day, Molla Bi is whisked away to a world that he could not have dreamed. Stranger still to him, no one is doing him a favour, it is he who is rendering a service. He is decked out in the imperial robes and seated on the imperial throne in the main hall. Through a strategic play of light and shadow, areas of Molla’s profile that may give him away, are kept in the dark.

The coup is successfully pulled off. Dignitaries, army officials and influential members of the general public are pleased that the air is cleared. Meanwhile, Akbar, who was earlier summoned, is advised to stay put. This is just as well since he is fighting a battle at Kalanur in Punjab against a certain Sikandar Shah. It is in a garden in Kalanur that thirteen-year-old Akbar is crowned.

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