It is the 18th century and despite the dominant Mughal rule, the Maratha Confederacy has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the Indian Subcontinent. The fragile
peace between the two powers is threatened when Balaji Vishvanath Bhat, Peshwa of the Confederacy, foils the plans of Nizam UI Mulk of the Mughal Empire, and asserts the
power of the Marathas. However, little does the Peshwa know that he has dealt the Nizam an unintended wound—one with roots in his mysterious past and one that he would seek
to avenge till his last breath.
When the Peshwa surrenders his life to a terminal illness dark clouds gather over the Confederacy as it is threatened by a Mughal invasion as well as an internal rebellion.
All the while a passive spectator, the Peshwa’s Son, Bajirao Bhat, now needs to rise beyond the grief of his father’s passing, his scant military and administrative experience, and
his intense love for his wife and newborn son to rescue everything he holds dear. Will the young man be able to protect the Confederacy from internal strife and crush the armies of
the Empire all while batting inner demons?
Will he live up to his title of Peshwa?
Ram Sivasankaran was born in Madras, India, but has spent most of his life abroad, largely in the Middle East and the United States of America. He was brought up on stories
from Hindu legend and the great epics and classics of both India and the West. In addition to being a passionate student of history in school, Ram has built a keen interest in
stories of valour, heroism, chivalry, beauty, and romance.
A day-dreamer of sorts, Ram believes deeply in the power of imagination—the mind being the canvas on which even the seemingly talentless can create new universes, resurrect
eras long gone, bring the gods to life and even revive heroes and damsels of yore. Ram makes his debut with a historical novel on one of the greatest and yet, to an extent, a less-
known figure from Indian history—Bajirao Bhat, Peshwa of the Maratha Confederacy, mighty warrior, hopeless romantic and one of the most dazzling examples of wartime
courage, military leadership and battle strategy.
Barely a decade had gone by since the passing of Chhathrapathi Shivaji Bhosale, the founding emperor of the Maratha Confederacy.
Siddiqi watched in disturbed silence as the Maratha Chhathrapathi’s camp sprawled before him, aglow in a sea fire and smouldering embers. Billows of smoke from the
conflagration seemed to rise to the skies. Terrifying and grand, as the panorama of destruction seemed to play out, the details of the scene closer to the ground were even more
horrific. Maratha warriors were being chased down and slaughtered like lambs all around him. Even those who threw down their weapons and fell to their knees were killed, only
their deaths seemed more prolonged amidst the jesting, mocking, toying and torture.
The camp, which had also housed some of the families of the high civil officers of the upstart Maratha Confederacy, had been thoroughly routed and taken in a midnight raid by a
Mughal task force. Maratha men watched helplessly as their wealth and wives were carried away by the victors, while they were themselves being lined up for execution like sheep.
Children were put to death a little faster because, after all, the little ones were innocent and deserved more mercy.
Siddiqi was a stocky, tall and well-toned young man—a mansabdar in the Mughal imperial forces or simply, the imperial army. Being but around twenty-six years of age, he was
one of the youngest men to hold that position. However, unlike his peers, he was not extremely inclined to prey on the helpless enemy in this manner. After all, in the grand scheme
of things, the victor could trade places with the vanquished as early as the very next day.
The young mansabdar walked through the devastated camp, watching as the Maratha banners to cinders, ‘Ironic,’ he said to himself. ‘The Maratha standard itself is supposed to
represent fire.’ He was trying his best not to look in the direction of the horrors closer to the ground. Scalding hot, as the air burned in the flames, he was drenched in perspiration
under his armour.
The smell of death and cruelty pervaded the air.
Then, he saw him. The Chhathrapathi Sambhaji—son of the mighty Shivaji Bhosale and the incumbent lord paramount of the Confederacy. The man who had been a thorn in the
flesh of the Mughal Empire since the passing of his father, who was himself no less, had finally been captured. Siddiqi studied Sambhaji in awe; a great king only a few hours ago,
now little more than a captive exposed to the whims and fancies of even the lowliest soldiers of the imperial army. Sambhaji was a tall, powerfully built man with a well-trimmed
beard and a sickle-sharp moustache. His visage, yet surprisingly unharmed, was gaunt with handsome, well-defined features. He wore no headgear and his several-inches-long hair
Fettered in chains, Sambhaji was being walked to alongside his queen Yesubai, who fared slightly better. None of her clothes or jewels had been touched, perhaps due to the
express, merciful command of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The queen hung her face slightly to avoid the taunts, insults, and disrespectful glares that were being thrown at her
whereas her husband walked on in what regal gait and bearing he could manage, even while being dragged. His eyes burned fierce and defiant as ever.
Had it been up to Siddiqi, he would have immediately had the royal couple unchained and treated with more respect, befitting their stature. However, he was not the man who could
make that decision. The one who could, Muqarrab Khan, the Mughal commander who had led the assault on Sambhaji’s camp, was presently riding up to the regal captives on his
magnificent beige horse. Khan was dressed in ling flowing robes. He wore chain mail over his dark Mughal greens. A short, portly man with a great yellow through the shadow his
helm cast on his face, reflecting the colour of the inferno all around.
Khan studied Sambhaji as the vanquished king looked up at him, eyes filled with silent rage and defiance. Khan broke the silence first, ‘Maratha rats, we finally have you. I can
think of a million and one ways to make the remainder of your pathetic lives painful beyond the horrors of bell, ‘he said, his eyes wavering between Sambhaji and Yesubai.
Siddiqi watched on with bated breath. He was a true Mughal loyalist. His family owed everything to the generosity of the Peacock Throne in Delhi. However, he dearly hoped that
he would not have to bear witness to any more cruelty that day, regardless of the notoriety of the prisoner. This was the first time Siddiqi had ridden into battle in lieu of his father,
who had been mansabdar before him, and he was already sick to the stomach of the ways of war.
The steadily rising Maratha Confederacy had spread like a festering wound, feeding on Mughal dominions during Sambhaji’s reign. It was by immense luck and Khan’s deft
military manoeuvring that the Mughal army had chanced upon the prize trophy it held that night.
‘You are lucky, however, that your fate is not up to me. The Emperor wanted you alive. And your woman too,’ Muqarrab Khan continued, while wagging his fat finger at Yesubai.
‘So, you will be travelling with us henceforth. If you are luckier still I may even give you food and water along the way but rest assured, I will personally space no efforts in making
your travel most uncomfortable.’
A cry of laughter and a lusty cheer of support and approval arose in the ranks of the Mughal soldiers who stood by to watch this one-sided conversation. However, Siddiqi kept
staring at Sambhaji. The man had not flinched. He had not surrendered. He had not yielded and he was not broken.... yet. His eyes burned with the same rage and hatred he had
greeted Muqarrab Khan with, when the latter had ridden in. Siddiqi wondered whether he himself could have retained that level of composure had he been in Sambhaji’s position.
Muqarrab Khan spent the next few minutes bantering about his valued trophies with his men. He made sure every joke and insult, vile or extremely vile, was spoken loud enough
for the captive couple to hear. Siddiqi could somehow not bring himself to laugh out too land, lest Sambhaji looked his way and burned him down with a glare. When Muqarrab
Khan had had enough fun, he nodded to one of the man holding the couple’s chains. Sambhaji and Yesubai were then ushered away. The couple did not resist. Yes, they tried to
keep their gait dignified but they did not resist.
Khan then turned to the other men who had been surrounding him as he was speaking to Sambhaji. He cried out in a jolly tone, ‘Well, I would have commanded you to take what
you wanted and burn the rest...’ He surveyed the devastation all around him as he spoke. ‘But seeing as to how your actions have preceded, and exceeded my command, I will just
say... carry on!’ A cry of jubilation went through the crowd of Mughal warriors. Quickly, Khan whipped his horse around and rode away, followed by his personal guardsmen.
Within moments, the Mughal soldiers were back to the merry ways of war—killing, looting and raping.
Siddiqi also decided to get a piece of the action, though he had no heart for the killing and the raping. He ran around probing corpses, Maratha or Mughal, for any valuables that
may have been left untouched. However, it appeared he was too late. Every slain person had been stripped clean of even the tiniest valuables, some missing even their clothes and
shoes. Those were the ways of war.
As he continued looking, the agonised cries of the dying and the tortured broke his will. He decided to head back to the Mughal camp, have a light meal and retire for the night.
Suddenly, his ears picked up the faraway frightened cries of a child. Siddiqi looked around frantically. Did he just hear what he thought he did? He strained to listen, looking hither
and thither. Then, he heard it again—the bawl of an unmistakably very young child. Siddiqi broke into a dash, running towards where he thought the sound was coming from. With
scant regard for his own safety, he pushed aside those in his way, cut through burning tents, went around those burning too bright, and finally reached the source of the cries that
had rent his heart.
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