AT THE ROYAL MEENA BAZAAR for ladies, organised as part of the annual Navroz celebrations, Emperor Jahnagir’s stepmother does the rounds of the stalls that showcase the handiwork of the women of the palace and nobility. She is accompanied by her chief lady-in-waiting, Mehrunissa. Mehrunissa is a young lady of many talents; she is adept at Arabic and Persian and accomplished at cooking, sewing, dancing, painting and interior decoration. She is a book-collector and pens poetry under the name Makhfi. If there’s one stall at the Meena Bazaar that Mehrunissa always looks out for it is the confectionary stall. Street stalls were her favourite haunt as a child but ever since adolescence, she’s had to depend on servants to procure street delicacies for her on their daily errands. Today she briefly excuses herself to spend some time at the shaan khatai stall.
When Jahangir takes his rounds of the bazaar on the last day of festivities, he comes upon Mehrunissa for the first time. She is gorging on sugared batasha, even as she’s having some nan khatai packed to take away. She turns round with her hands full, barely able to smile for the biscuits she has yet to swallow. At the sight of her, he approaches his stepmother for an introduction. He is surprised to learn that she is the daughter of Mirza Ghiyasuddin Beg, a prominent figure in his father’s government, currently serving as Itimad-ud-Daulah (Pillar of the Government) in his own Court. Jahangir makes his interest known immediately, proceedings are initiated, and in two months, he is married to Mehrunissa, now Nur Jahan.
In fact Nur Jahan is more than just an accomplished housekeeper. She has quite a reputation as a shikari. As queen she will accompany Jahangir on his pleasure hunts and on one occasion, will kill four tigers with just six bullets.
Nur Jahan will come to be the most prominent and proactive First Lady in Mughal history. She will be the only Mughal Empress to have coins minted in her name. In an unprecedented move, she now sits alongside Jahangir at the imperial jharoka as he grants audience. But she will never forget that it was the feast of Navroz that helped her meet Jahangir. As queen, this feast will be celebrated with special fervour at her quarters. She doles out gifts, honours and handfuls of a ‘khichri’ of precious stones, gold, silver coins and pearls. On Navroz, the walls, carpets, walls and costumes of everyone in her quarters, are coordinated according to auspicious colours of the day. She arranges for free banquets to be served across the city.