Study Guide

Aurangzeb in Beneath a Marble Sky

By John Shors

Aurangzeb

One Bad Dude

With a professional name like Alamgir, which means "world seizer," it's pretty obvious that Aurangzeb is gonna be the designated villain of our story. He's lean, he's mean, and he's a fighting machine…but that's pretty much it, isn't it?

Hm. Yeah. While he's a great antagonist, he's maybe a bit one-dimensional for a major character in our story—but that one dimension is pretty impressively evil, so we're gonna go with it.

How does it all begin? Well, even in childhood, Jahanara's brother was like the bad guy in an old-timey cartoon, twirling his handlebar moustache and cackling evilly while she almost drowns in a river. That's just one example. Take it from us: Aurangzeb pretty never does anything that's not evil.

And in case you didn't the memo, Shors tells us that Aurangzeb eventually gets a cool scar across his face, which makes him even more of a gloriously stereotypical villain:

Aurangzeb and Dara were of similar build, but how different they looked. While Dara's face was as full as a ripe melon, Aurangzeb's countenance was lean and hard. Aurangzeb, unlike Father and Dara, only grew a mustache, and his scar stood out plainly. He wore nothing more illustrious than a white tunic, a black sash and a red turban. Attached to his sash was a battered leather scabbard sheathing his scimitar. Typically for him, but uncommon among nobles of all ranks, Aurangzeb bore no jewelry. He seemed to slide into different postures as he spoke, his movements so subtle that I thought he was sitting motionless when, in fact, he was shifting. (10.123)

Seriously, folks—remind you of anyone?

Wanna Know How I Got These Scars?

As the story progresses, Aurangzeb gets more and more evil. He has kids publicly executed, in horrific ways. He kills people by the thousands and mounts their heads in piles along Hindustan's borders, supposedly as a message to his enemies (but we think he also just kind of likes it). He's openly bigoted against anyone who isn't a Muslim, and he uses his faith to justify horrific actions. He even eats onions just to put people off.

Ew, right? Like, is it worth it?

Anyway, yeah. We're not really that surprised when this dude openly betrays his own family in order to take the Peacock Throne.

So, what's with Aurangzeb, anyway? Why is he so bitter? Could it just be his nasty nature? Or is it something else? Jahanara's got her own theory—she thinks that maybe Aurangzeb grew up feeling unloved and is now taking it out on everybody:

I start to speak, but Rurayya interrupts me. "Why is he so cruel, Jaha?"

How many times have I pondered this question? A hundred? A thousand?

"The Emperor," I reply, still somewhat unsure of the answer, "always felt unloved. He was mistaken, but that didn't matter, for when you deem yourself unloved your world is quite cold. At first there's jealousy, then bitterness, then hate. And hatred soured Alamgir's heart."
(Part I.21)

And that's not even mentioning the bad case of sibling rivalry that comes about when you don't have primogeniture, or anything like that, and instead Dad just gets to choose his favorite kid to be the next ruler:

"You think it's nonsense," I asked, "that Aurangzeb might want the throne? Sometimes, when Father speaks of giving it to you, I see how angry it makes him. He tries to hide it but can't. Aurangzeb has always known that you're Father's favorite, and that no matter how much he excelled, the throne would be yours. How do you think that makes him feel? How would you feel if Father loved you less than Aurangzeb, and everyone knew?"

"But I can't—"

"It would hurt, Dara. And I think it hurts Aurangzeb so dreadfully that he didn't mind watching me die. So dreadfully that he might fight you for the throne."
(3.44)

We think Jahanara's on the nose here. Either she's a better psychic than Miss Cleo, or Aurangzeb hasn't been too subtle about his feelings.

Yeah—it's probably the second of those two options.

What really doesn't help is that there's almost no occasion when Aurangzeb's blatant bigotry and hatred come back to bite him in the booty. He enjoys great successes in battle, his men adore him for his sadistic ways, and he's surrounded himself with brownnosers who know better than to counter any of his strongly held opinions.

So he just continues to strut around with his bad self, killing anyone who so much as triggers his overly developed sense of paranoia.

Sneaky Little Sis

Well, except for Jahanara.

Jahanara's basically Aurangzeb's arch-nemesis: the Ronald McDonald to his Hamburglar, the Princess to his King Toadstool. No matter what horrific punishments he concocts for his older sister, she outwits him and then takes it one step further. When she learns about his intense snake phobia, for example, she uses it to her advantage and holds him in her sway from then on out.

In fact, although Aurangzeb is successful in claiming the Peacock Throne and ruling the kingdom his way, by the end of the book, Shors encourages us to see Jahanara as the one who's ultimately won:

"I won and he lost. His empire crumbles, his people despise him and thoughts of assassins steal his sleep. He's grown weak in his hate and I've grown strong in my love." (25.51)

Because that's what happens to the bad guys. Boom. Mic drop.

Have fun sleeping with your machete, Aurangzeb.