We were not permitted to terrorize Delhi. We saw it at a distance as we marched. The walls were massive. They were being reinforced complete with new siege cannon. Delhi had been looted so many times it was reputed to be half in ruins. ‘John Company’ was erecting defenses but it seemed to be rather a case of closing the stable doors after the horses had run away. What was left to loot?
That night my munshi told us about night the Glorious Rule of the Mughals was exposed for the tragic sham it was. “It was 1788 Sahib! The Mughals had ruled for almost three centuries. Delhi was the City of Gold! But the notorious marauder Ghulam Qadir came and he sacked Delhi! He trashed the imperial Red Fort. And he let his men riot throughout the ancient Palace of the Mughals. He sat on the a divan and roared with laughter as his men blinded the aged Emperor, using their thumbs to gorge out his eyes! Then they paraded him before his court dressed in bloody rags. Then that dreadful marauder shoved the bloody old man onto his golden throne and they ridiculed him by pretending to bow and kowtow! His son ran into the great throne room to try to save the poor old man. Then that dreadful marauder seized the son and the heir to the throne of the Mughals and he —forced him to dance —- like a monkey! Like a monkey! Before the golden throne of his poor blinded father! And behind a curtain a little boy watched his father dance like a monkey before his blinded grandfather! And today that poor little boy is the aged Emperor Zafar…..”
“But tell us about the Peacock Throne!” my Indian family exclaimed.
“Oh that!” the elderly courtier said. “The golden peacock flew away” he said as his withered hands gestured flying. “In 1739 the most evil Nadir Shah the Ruler of Persia came across the Punjab in a wave of terror! And he sacked Delhi! And defiled the Red Fort! And looted the Glory of the Mughals! He beheld the glorious Peacock Throne of the Mughals! It was the size of a great divan! It weighted 3255 pounds! Solid gold! Incrusted with countless jewels! Every sort of gem! Over the divan was an awing created by the feathers of the golden peacock! It’s tail fanned! It’s feathers gleaming with gems weighting over 100 carats! So many gems and jewels incrusted the fabled gold Peacock Throne no one had ever been able to count the all!
But I will name the most famous! They included the Koh I Noor which was the largest diamond in the entire world. The size of a man’s fist. Hold out your fists everyone! See! That fabled diamond was the size of your fists! And there was a Shah Yellow Diamond the color of a golden topaz over 88 carats! You! Son # 2! Hold up your fist! See! That was the size of the golden topaz! And there was the Great Mughal Rose Diamond over 280 carats! The size of a woman’s fist! Hold up your fist Sister! Behold! And there was a ruby cabochon over 595 carats! The emperors used to watch the sun rise through it! The peacock’s eyes were matching sapphires over 100 carats in size! Its crown was a real crown! Ah! Alas! Alas! All gone! Gone to Persia! Along with the rest of the Mughal Treasury worth over 60 million pounds sterling! All gone! Gone to Persia!.
When that evil Persian king saw that Peacock Throne he swaggered up and then he kicked the Emperor out of his Peacock Throne! Then that evil man brazenly sprawled in the golden splendor of the Mughals! Then he picked his nose and said “Mine I think! Don’t you agree?” Then he kicked the Emperor with one slippered foot!”
“You mean he entered the Throne Room still wearing his slippers!” everyone gasped. The aged courtier nodded. Walking into a formal audience durbar room wearing slippers was the heights of rudeness!
“So the Glory of the Mughals was taken to Persia! All gone! Gone to Persia!” Everyone mimed a solid gold peacock flying away to Persia.
“So what was left to be looted by Ghulam Qadir?” I asked.
The aged courtier shrugged. “Odds and sods. That was why that terrible marauder was so angry he put out the eyes of the Emperor of the Mughals! And today Emperor Zafar lives like a charity case on a pension of ‘John Company’ and his few sorry jewels are only unlocked for state occasions and ‘John Company’ keeps the keys! People say some of the aged courtiers and obscure members of the Royal Family are so poor they live in hovels! And wear rags! And beg for food!” Lord Auckland did not even bother to visit the Red Fort when he visited Delhi! ‘John Company’ owns the Red Fort in all but name! And who believes that poor old man is anything but a beggar holding out a shaking hand to ‘John Company’ buy sweets at his favorite sweet shop!”
“What is his favorite sweet?” everyone whispered.
“Oh! Nory Locum! Turkish Delight!” the aged munshi replied grinning.
‘Ohhhhh” everyone whispered.
“But when the Royal IOU bounces like a cricket ball then…..”
“So the Shah of Persia literally seats on one of the largest treasuries in the whole world?” I asked. The aging munshi gestured sitting on the treasure as he sat on my folding chair. Everyone laughed. But I pondered. While the Mughals of India and the Shahs of Persia literally sat on fortunes of gold my small island offered a rich golden prize for the discovery of the best way to measure longitude to allow British ships to sail around the world to seize the ports of the world to seize world trade. What if the Mughals in their decadence had invested just a fraction of that fabled wealth in something tangible for India? Canals? Better ports? Ship building? Expansion of the Wootz Steel industry? Aqueducts and sewers for the cities? Stone roads? What did the Mughals do? They sat on it. Was that the difference between once fabulously rich India and my tiny island of Britain?
“Dear Teacher” I asked. “What happened to Wootz Steel? No one seems to know? It was the best in the whole world. Now no one seems to know where it is or what happened to it. My Indian sword and knife I am so proud of — was manufactured in Sheffield. Where did the best steel in the whole world go?”
The aged man pondered and then shrugged. “Who one has ever asked. And no one knows. It has gone too. Flown away. Like the rest of poor India. Flown away…..”