Real diplomacy has always been swift and cynical and flat, as we see in the Humayun-nameh, the book written about 1550, in Persian, by Gulbadan, a daughter of the first Mogul emperor of India, Babur (the Tiger). From the start we get a taste of high politics: Babur, Gulbadan‘s father, had, from his stronghold of Kabul, conquered the whole of north India, and, writing from the place of the Hindus, with its heat, rains, luxurious beasts and dreaded pagans, princess Gulbadan offers revealing examples of real diplomacy.

She thus remembers how her father had received the following simple letter from Sultan Husein Mirza (a vague cousin) from central Asia:

I am planning a war against the Uzbek; it would be excellent if you came too.

(ما خیال جنگ با وزبگ * اگر شا هم بیاید  بسيار خوب است

Babur seeks for divine advice and then goes to war.

What is extraordinary in today‘s terms is that we have here the equivalent of Wikileaks. The language of the diplomatic dispatch that led Babur, from Delhi and Kabul, to war against the Uzbek is like an exchange of emails between Bush and Blair before going into Iraq.

Humayun-nameh is written in exactly the same language –Dari– that is still today Afghanistan‘s official language, but the tone and style of the letter are not different from what a vegetable seller in the Kabul bazaar would say today to his neighbour when needing help to push a cartload of cabbage:

I am planning a to take this cabbage home; it would be excellent if you could give a hand.“

(من می خواهم به این کلم خانه * اگر شا هم بیاید  بسيار خوب است

English can hardly render the careless triviality of this. In Romanian, for instance, it would be: ”Dacă poți ajuta și matale, ar fi tare bine.“

Babur called his aimless campaign against the Uzbek something like”Enduring (or Everlasting) Freedom“… history would teach us something if we knew how to read it.


About how to accurately translate Persian-language Sufi poetry, here is :

Roasted-hearted melody : The Sufi poets’ obssession with kebab…