Audrey Truschke is an assistant professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. Her work focuses on the cultural, imperial, and intellectual history of early modern and modern India. Trushke’s book, Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, released in 2017, is a historical reassessment of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, one of the most prominent figures of seventeenth-century India. Aurangzeb’s historical legacy is widely contested—in public discourse, the Mughal emperor is often seen as a tyrannical Muslim fanatic, who ordered the destruction of Hindu places of worship. However, Truschke is among several scholars who insist that this depiction of Aurangzeb is both misleading and ahistorical. “The historical Aurangzeb fails to live up (or down) to his modern reputation as a Hindu-despising Islamist fanatic,” she said in a recent interview.
Majid Maqbool spoke to Truschke over email. She discussed her book and its reception, and how some of the popular misconceptions surrounding the emperor came to be.
Majid Maqbool: What prompted you to write a biography of Aurangzeb?
Audrey Truschke: I gave an interview to The Hindu in September of 2015, in which I said a few short sentences about Aurangzeb. Those sentences were bland and non-controversial from a historian’s perspective, but they caused a significant stir among non-academic readers. That’s when I realised that scholarly analyses of Aurangzeb, buttressed by research and critical reading, had not penetrated the popular vision of Aurangzeb in recent decades. I decided to see if I could initiate—or at least make a dent—in that project. In short, the popular misconceptions and stereotypes about Aurangzeb inspired me to write a fresh biography about this crucial Mughal emperor.
MM: Why do you think Aurangzeb is still thought of as a fanatic Muslim ruler in popular discourse in India, despite contrary evidence such as the presence of Hindu nobility in his court?