Study Guide

Shah Jahan in Beneath a Marble Sky

By John Shors

Shah Jahan

We don't know if it's merely the thorough indoctrination we all undergo at the hands of Disney as kids, but we can't help comparing Shah Jahan, Jahanara's father, to the plump little Sultan in Aladdin. He's jovial, he's loving, and he's just a bit naïve.

As the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan is a staunch supporter of Mughal art, architecture, and horticulture. He's constantly trying his hand at poetry, using flowery language to pay homage to his deep, abiding love for his Mumtaz Mahal:

"You should have been a poet," she replied, smiling playfully, for Father delighted in words. "We'd starve, most assuredly."

"But, Arjumand, most poets write of pain, of misery, of want. I could only give verse to love, which most readers find a tedious subject. How could I write of hate, when I harbor none? Or of jealousy? Or of sorrow? No, it's better that the poets and philosophers debate these creations. They are not of my world."

"Nor of mine."

"Then let them write, my love, while we live."
(1.128)

He's also a doting father to Jahanara, and from her, he gets a strong loyalty that reminds him of the loyalty he and his wife shared.

And although we know from history books that he was a wise, respected leader of Hindustan—a kingdom constantly on the precipice of disaster due to the discord between the majority Hindus and ruling minority Muslims, and due to the constant threat of invading forces—in our book, Shah Jahan's main role is that of conflict aider and abettor.

He loves his sons too much to put the kibosh on their sibling rivalry, which ends in disaster. Then, when things hit the fan in Hindustan, his daughter is forced to choose between her loyalty to him and to her lover and daughter, to the detriment of all.

Despite his weaknesses, though, no one can say that some good didn't come out of this kindhearted leader: the Taj Mahal remains one of the great wonders of the world, and no one can forget that it sprang out of his passion for his beloved wife.