Empire and its welfare kept the Nawab occupied –
Lost in thought even in the middle of the night.
The Emperor didn’t take an attempt to bring Shivaji under control before 1662 though the rebel leader continued expanding his territory. Number of captured forts under this Maharashtrian leader’s prowess was growing. Finally Shaista Khan, a commander who was awarded the title Amir Ul-Umra along with the regional rulers’ position of southern India, received the order to overpower Shivaji from Mughal Emperor. He conquered Puna, Chakan and some other forts that year. Next year, by the time this story evolved, he was planning to uproot Shivaji from Western India. Jaswant Singh, the eminent king of Marwar, joined Shaista Khan in 1663 leading a large force. This brought a grave threat to Shivaji. The joint force of Mughal and Rajput army assembled near Puna. Shaista Khan was staying in the same mansion of Dadoji Konddeo where Shivaji spent his childhood with his mother. Khan, aware of Shivaji’s strategies, issued an order that no Maharashtrian could enter Puna without valid permission. Shivaji with his armed force was staying in a nearby fort named Sinhagad. Maharastrians could not adapt themselves well to warfare till then; confronting the well-trained Mughal army was not quite possible for them. Shivaji found no other option to defend freedom and expand the Hindu empire but using some clever tactic.
It was an evening at the end of Chaitra month. The mighty commander called his deputies and ministers to discuss strategies to ensure victory over Shivaji. Bright lamps illuminated entire space inside the mansion. Fresh evening breeze was carrying the fragrance of flowers from the garden outside.
Anwari, an outspoken flatterer in the Durbar claimed, “The Maharashtrian force will fly away like dry leaves before strong wind if they are to face our armed force – or horrified, they will hide inside the earth”.
Chand Khan, an old army commander who was observing the Maharashtrian dexterity since many years responded, “I think, they have both the skills.”
Shaista Khan: “Why are you telling that?”
Chand Khan: “My Lord may remember how it took long two months to capture the fort of Chakan removing a few of their hill-tribes using our large force. So many of us lost their lives on the way to conquer only one fort! Again this year, irrespective of our deploying armed force everywhere, Nitaiji dispersed Ahmednagar and Aurangabad – without our knowledge!”
Shaista Khan: “Chand Khan is getting old. Seems he is scared of the mountain-rats. He was not like this before!”
The humiliation reddened Chand Khan’s face. He didn’t want to respond.
Anwari: “The Master said it! Maharastrians are like rats. Who would deny that they have the skill to enter the holes underground like mountain-rats?”
Chand Khan: “Hope the mountain-rats wouldn’t come out digging up holes underneath Puna.
Shaista Khan: “Here we have thousands of sharp-nailed cats from Delhi; rats won’t be able to harm us all on a sudden.”
The Commander’s wit amazed all courtiers. They found the ritual of ridiculing Maharashtrians more amusing than discussing warfare. Shaista Khan considered conquering other forts quiet impossible before capturing Chakan. He threw an idea of capturing all forts one by one and driving Shivaji’s army away. He complained, “Why can’t we first defeat them in battle and then chase those fleeing rats? Don’t we have an efficient cavalry? Can’t we destroy their entire army chasing them?”
Chand Khan could not resist intervening, “My lord! We will certainly clinch victory in war, and will destroy their army if able to catch them. But no other cavalier in Hindustan can catch a Maharashtrian cavalier chasing him in this hilly district. Our horses are large; the rider carrying heavy weapons is excellent in the plain – in fact vigorous and unstoppable there, but their movements are obstructed in these mountainous tracts. Small local horses with riders jump on hilltops like mountain-goats and flee through the valleys and narrow mountain tracks like stags. My Lord, please let me suggest something. Shivaji is in Sinhagad; let us besiege the fort abruptly. We will be able to seize it within one or two months. Shivaji’s arrest will define our victory without difficulty! Stalling ourselves here does not make sense. What shall we get by tracking fleeing Maharastrians? See how effortlessly Netaiji ravaged Ahmednagar and Aurangabad crossing the route close by – Rustam Zaman couldn’t catch him!”
Furious Shaista Khan yelled at him, “Rustam Zaman committed treachery. He intentionally let Netaiji flee; I will punish him accordingly. Chand Khan! You dare going against war – do you mean the Emperor doesn’t have any gallant soldier in his army?”
Blasted terribly, the emotional old lieutenant did not have any other option but stopping. Shaista Khan wanted to continue but an attendant brought a message of an emissary’s arrival from Sinhagarh – a Brahmin named Mahadeoji Nyasastri from enemy camp came to meet the commander.
Mahadeoji entered the court in a slow pace. He was not yet forty. Dark and short like common Maharashtrian, he had a sharp face and wide chest. His forehead was marked with sandal pest, body covered with short cotton shirt. His turban was so large that half of his face was not properly visible under its shadow. Shaista Khan greeted him cordially before showing him his seat. He asked, “What’s news from Sinhagarh?”
Mahadeoji replied reciting a Sanskrit verse: “Santi nadyo danḍakeshu tathᾱ paῆchavatibane I \ Saryu-bichhedaṡokam rᾱghavastu katham mahet II – There are hundreds of streams in Dandakaranya and Panchavati forest, but does that help Raghav (Ram) forget the distress of staying away from the banks of river Saryu? Shivaji still controls Sinhagarh and many other hundreds of forts, but Puna is in your hand; how is it possible for him to forget that?”
Shaista Khan wanted to be sure of the identity of the Brahmin; demanded, “If you have come down to discuss a treaty, then please show me an evidence of your representing Shivaji.”
The Brahmin took out an authorisation letter from under his jacket showing a sincere gesture. The Commander, satisfied with the letter after minute checking, expressed his willingness to know his proposition. The emissary continued: “Our Master intends to tell you that waging war from our part is insensible since you have already won the first phase.”
Pleased Khan answered: “Yes your master can still save his life surrendering before the Emperor of Delhi.”
The Brahmin smiled slightly before uttering another verse: na ṡakto hi swᾱbhilᾱsam jῆᾱtayitunchᾱtakah I \ jῆᾱtvᾱ tu tat bᾱridharastoshayati yᾱchakam II – A swallow cannot speak its mind to the cloud, but cloud fulfils its desire by pouring showers showing own kindness. This is way superior expresses his greatness. The embarrassment of losing Puna and Chakan prevents Shivaji even from praying for a treaty. But whatever your kind of a great person would grant considering his prayer, will be accepted.”
Delighted Khan replied, “Your Sanskrit language is undeniably sweet and meaningful. Do you mean Shivaji is looking for a treaty?”
The Brahmin uttered: “Kesharinah pratᾱpena bhayabidagdhachetasah I \ Trᾱhi deva trᾱhi rᾱjan-iti brubanti bhucharᾱh II – Our only intention is to save our lives. We are terrorised by the brandishing threat posed by the invincible army of the mighty Emperor. My master is keen to propose a treaty and requests for letting us know the conditions the Emperor of Delhi intends to impose for the treaty. He will take care of those.”
Shaista Khan: “Good. First he will have to surrender before the Emperor of Delhi. Secondly, the forts captured by the Emperor of will remain under his control. Thirdly, you will have to hand us Sinhagarh and some other forts. Is your master ready to accept that?”
Mahadeoji: “I do not have the right to take a decision for my master and disclose. I will only carry the message to him. But please tell me which other forts you want.”
Shaista Khan: “We will let you know that in couple of days. Fourthly, the forts and provinces Shivaji will retain must be taken care of as a subsidiary under the Emperor of Delhi. He will have to pay tax for those. Communicate you master all these conditions. We expect an answer within a few days, whether he agrees or disagrees.”
Mahadeoji: “I will do as My Lord orders. Let me place another request, Sir! We would be obliged if battle is suspended for the time being while an agreement of treaty is being prepared.”
Shaista Khan: “Not at all! I do not trust tricky rogues. There’s no act of trick in the world they cannot play. Battle is to continue till the treaty is signed. We will cause damage to your establishments as much as we can; you do the same as extensively as you can.”
The Brahmin bid adieu uttering “Ebamstu” (So be it). Did anyone notice the sudden flash of rage in his eyes?
He hastily disappeared in the crowd of thickly populated city of Puna.
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