by Gautam Pemmaraju
Allauddin Khilji1 did not vacation in France. The Turko-Afghan marauder and conqueror did not say to himself on one hot Delhi summer at the end of the 13th century, after having marched into the city with his uncle Jalaluddin’s head at the end of a lance, that the tropical heat, the sweeping ‘loo’ blowing across from the western deserts of Southern Baluchistan to the Thar, was too much to bear. And that he would rather bugger off to the more pleasant and purportedly more glamorous (even then?2) climes of Southern France. Via Paris of course, having first taken in the sights.
But I wrote that he did. I claimed, in my 7th class history final exam, that the heat-stricken ruler set off for some well deserved R&R and frolicked, as men of such regal stature are apt to do, with some fine local lasses – one massaged his troubled brow, one fed him grapes, and others fanned him. A few days later, post our Maths final as we played makeshift cricket with thick plywood clamp boards and a red rubber ball, I was called into a higher class (their exams were longer) by our history teacher Mr. Imdad Ali – popularly known as petloo on account of his distended, overhanging belly. He asked after my parents, if there was to be a family holiday, and how I had fared on the history exam. I had cracked it of course. The margins were straight, broad and drawn in red ink, I had spaced out my words cleanly, my handwriting was fairly legible, it even had an distinctive appeal I thought, and importantly, I had written more answer sheets than anyone else in my class. As the older boys sniggered in the prescient knowledge of my humiliation, I began to get a sneaky suspicion that something was amiss. He ruffled my hair, pinched my cheeks, told the class of how good a student I was, of my passion for cricket, and then asked in faux concern: “But baba, when did Allauddin Khilji go to France?”