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Sahibji

Other names: Jan Nawaz Begum


Biographical

Sahibji was considered a clever and expert woman. In conducting the administration she was her husband's partner. His success in many a difficulty was due to her wise suggestions and business capacity. She was the real Governor of Kabul. One night the Emperor Aurangzib learnt from the report of Kabul the news of Amir Khan's death. Immediately summoning Arshad Khan (who had formerly acted as Diwan of Afghanistan), he said in concern, 'A great difficulty has cropped up. Amir Khan is dead. That province, which is ever ripe for a thousand disturbances and troubles, has now none to govern it. A disaster may happen before the arrival of his successor'. Arshad Khan boldly replied, 'Amir Khan lives. Who calls him dead?' The Emperor handed him the report from Kabul. The Khan read it and added, 'Yes; but then it is Sahibji who governed and controlled the province. So long as she lives your Majesty need not fear any disorder'. The Emperor at once wrote to the lady to guard the province till the arrival of her husband's successor in office, which, however, happened two years afterwards. During this interval she was the sole Governor of Afghanistan, as she had been in all but the name in her husband's lifetime. Death overtook Amir Khan when he was out among the valleys. If the fact had got wind, the Afghans would have taken heart and massacred his leaderless escort in their narrow defiles. Sahibji with great presence of mind suppressed her grief, concealed his death, dressed a man like Amir Khan, made him sit in a patki with glass doors, and thus marched long distances. Every day she inspected the troops and received their salute. It was only after issuing safely from the hills that she went into mourning. After her husband's death, all the Afghan chieftains sent their relatives to condole with her. She treated them with great respect and sent word to the headmen, 'Take your customary dues. Do not rebel or rob, but remain obedient as before. Otherwise I defy you to a fight. If I defeat you, my name will remain famous to the end of time'. The headmen out of regard for fair play gave her new promises and assurances of their loyalty and did not break out in lawlessness. Her courage and presence of mind had been as conspicuous in her youth. At Delhi she was passing by a lane in a chandol. The Emperor's own elephant — the chief of its species — appeared in an infuriated condition before her. Her attendants wanted to turn it back. But the mahouts as a class were vicious, and this one was further proud of being the Emperor's own driver. So he urged the elephant rashly onward. Her escort pulled out their arrows from the quivers; but the brute flung its trunk on the chandol to seize and trample it down. The porters dropped it and fled. Quick as thought Sahibji jumped out, ran into a money-changer's shop hard by, and shut the door. This was no common feat of agility, as a Muslim noblewoman travelling on the public road must have been securely wrapped up like a parcel sent by post in the rainy season. She had saved her life, but she had broken pardali—an unpardonable offence against Indian etiquette. Amir Khan was angry at her audacity, and for a few days lived in separation from her. Then the Emperor Shah Jahan told him frankly, 'She has played a man's part; she has saved her own and your honour at the same time. If the elephant had seized her and exposed her (bare body) to the public, what privacy would have been left?' So she was taken back by her husband. Amir Khan might have cried to his heroic wife, 'Bring forth men children only! For thy undaunted mettle should compose Nothing but males'. But unfortunately she was childless like Lady Macbeth. Her husband, in fear of her, durst not take another wife, but kept a secret harem and had children by them. At last Sahibji discovered it, but adopted and lovingly brought up her step-sons. On being relieved of the government of Kabul, she made a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, where she spent large sums in charity and was highly honoured by the Sheriff and other people.


 
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Sources

1. Muhammad Afzal Khan, 1987. Iranian Nobility Under Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. Thesis. Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.
2. J Sarkar. Anecdotes of Aurangzib and Historical Essays. Calcutta: M. C. Sarkar & Sons, 1917.

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