Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Akbar The Great-Another Great Leader from History

Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar (1543-1605)
I know it has been too long since I posted but things are a bit busy here. I have started what I call a new hobby, but my some consider it a business (see link in side bar for more info on “Charmed by Shakespeare”) that has taken up all my spare time lately but that is now running smoothly but slowly. I will consider it a business when we break even with the investments into it. ANYWAY…. Enough excuses.
One of my first charms-Henry VI

Our next Great Leader in History is about the Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar (1543-1605), who reigned in the regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India. He came to the throne at the young age of 13 after the sudden death of his father, Humayan due to a fall.

The court of young Akbar, age 13, showing his first imperial act: the arrest of an unruly courtier, who was once a favorite of Akbar's father. Illustration from a manuscript of the Akbarnama

He was the third Emperor of the Mughal Empire and the first to truly be an Indian as he was born in a Rajput fort in what is now part of Pakistan. He was under the tutelage of the Regent, Ayram Khan during those early years and thanks to Khan, the empire was protected from 1556-1560. Shortly after the death of his father he faced his first challenge to his throne from a man named Hemu. Hemu was able to drive the Mughals out of Delhi. Hemu was defeated in a second battle at Panipat where he was hit in the eye with an arrow, piercing into his head while riding his elephant. His soldiers ran in confusion after seeing their leader hit. Hemu was captured and beheaded in front of the young Akbar. After this victory, Delhi stayed in the control of the Mughals for another three centuries.

Barely out of his teens Akbar began to quickly consolidate his kingdom and to centralize the administration of the Empire. Although a Muslim by birth he took a keen interest in all the faiths that his subjects practiced and never allowed persecutions based on faith. He never discriminated between the Hindus or Muslims.

His first wife (he had 33 wives), and some say his most beloved wife, was a Hindu princess by the name of Hira Kunwar (some call her Jodhabai), was the daughter of Bharmal Raja of Amber. They were married in February of 1562 in Sambhar and their son was the next Mughal emperor Jahangir. Some of the details of this marriage are still disputed today but it did create an alliance that caused a major shift in the balance of power within the Indian subcontinent. It also began a period of peace between the Mughals and the Rajputs.

Akbar had to deal with the usual intrigue in his court but you can read about that elsewhere. I wanted to go on and tell you of the things he accomplished during his reign.


As I already mentioned, he was interested in the religions of all of his subjects and tried to learn about them. He was taught about Jain, and Sikh followers and in his mind, he eventually formed an amalgam of the various religions like, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. He even at one time had Portuguese fathers visit his court and teach him about Christianity. He tried to form a new religion based on the best in all these religions but it never gained popularity.


Akbar was able to centralize his government and unlike his predecessors did not exact a large tribute of the territories he conquered. Instead of forcing the rulers of the defeated territories to step down, he integrated them into the administration of that region and provided for them to become military leaders.

He abolished all the taxes that were levied on all non-Muslims. These taxes had been in place since the Muslims gained power.


Although some historians believe Akbar suffered from learning disabilities, he was a leader that loved to learn. He collected thousands of beautifully written manuscripts during his lifetime. He also surrounded himself with writers, scholars, translators, painters and musicians.

Some call this period the Persian Renaissance of literature. He also was a great patron of the arts, architecture. Many magnificent buildings and palaces were built under his reign, many of which are still standing.


As a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I of England, he ruled over 140 million subject compared to her 5 million.
Akbar the Great's Tomb

Like Alfred the Great of England that I posted about a few weeks ago, Akbar the Great was great because of his great leadership of his people, not because of his strength in defeating so many territories.

He was indeed a great leader for his time, and I feel many leaders today would benefit by following his example as a leader.

Additional Information:

There is a FANTASTIC movie based on the life of Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar entitled “Jodhaa Akbar”. It is beautiful! Check it out! The music in the background is from the movie. 

Also, PBS had a great series on the history of India and they talked about Akbar quite a bit. You can find the entire series through Netflix but here is a small piece of that footage about Akbar:  (click on the timeline that mentions Akbar the Great for the video to start).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Perfect Literary Storm

During a recent trip I experienced what some would call “a perfect literary storm”. Each time I have visited England, I have tried to visit sites that played an important part to a favorite historical figure of mine. Last month though, I was in Oxford England to take a class and during that week I was able to visit the home and grave site of my 3 favorite literary heroes.

CS Lewis

On Monday, after class, Kim and I caught the bus on high street (okay it was the wrong bus but we eventually got on the correct one), and went a few miles to Headington to visit the home of CS Lewis.

"The Kiln's" where Lewis lived for the last 30+ years of his life
It is still a private home so we weren’t able to go inside but next to the home was a nature preserve that Lewis bought as a tribute to a friend. It was where he and JRR Tolkien got a lot of inspiration for there make believe worlds.

Holy Trinity Church in Headington
We then walked about a ½ a mile to the church where he attended for about 30 + years. They even had his regular pew marked so we could sit in it.

Me, sitting in his pew where he sat for many years.

There was a window near his seat with representations of some of the Narnia characters, SOOOO COOL!

The Narnia window in Holy Trinity
Then we walked out to the cemetery and found his grave site. CS Lewis’ writing has been such an inspiration to me.

Lewis and his brothers grave

Next to the Scriptures (Holy Bible, and the Book of Mormon), and my Church Leaders,  his writings have has the most impact on my spirituality.
William Shakespeare

On Wednesday, one of the extra excursions went up to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see a performance of “The Winter’s Tale” performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was so excited because this is my favorite play!

At Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon
The curse that marks his grave

We left shortly after lunch and it is less than an hour from Oxford so we had time to go to Holy Trinity Church and visit Shakespeare’s grave site and memorial. We also went to the home of his daughter, Elizabeth, who was married to John Hall, the Doctor in the town.

Home of Shakespeare's daughter, Elizabeth and her husband Dr. John Hall

Then we went to the site of where his last home was called “New Place”. He had it built and then after his retirement , lived here until his death.

Garden and excavation site at New Place

The home is no longer standing, due to a stupid man who got tired of people coming to see “where Shakespeare” lived so he had it demolished!!! Incredible! They are now doing an archaeological dig at the site. It was interesting to see some of the things they had found already. In addition to this, the play was AMAZING!!! And one of the actors, Sam Troughton, which was in the BBC series of “Robin Hood”, was in it and he was nice enough to autograph my program.
Sam Troughton who portrayed "Much" in the BBC's "Robin Hood"

Then on Thursday, our class went on an excursion to Winchester. I have posted about why in my “King Alfred” blog on the 23rd of August but Jane Austen is also buried in Winchester Cathedral. We had to convince our Tutor to let us take a few pictures at her grave site and memorial, (he is not interested in Jane Austen if you can believe that!).

Jane's grave and memorial in Winchester Cathedral
Then after we left the Cathedral grounds and were following the medieval wall around to where we were to catch the bus, we passed the home she had been visiting at the time of her death. Dr. Beard was patient again with us that wanted a few pictures of us in front of the home.
The home that Jane died in

Although Lewis Carroll is not one of my favorite authors, I still enjoy "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", so I took a tour of Christ Church College, where we stayed for the week and learned about all the Alice spots at the college and where Carroll got some of his influences for the stories. Very interesting!

The tree in the Dean's Garden that was the inspiration for the Jabberwocky
The door that Alice Liddell would go through to play in the garden.  Also, the tree in the top right corner is the tree that Alice's cat would always climb into so she couldn't get her.  The set of 2 windows in the building behind the wall are the windows of Carroll's office and where he would watch the Liddell children play in the garden.
The Door in the corner of the Great Hall where the students ate (same hall that is in the Harry Potter films).  This is where Alice Liddell's father, who was the Dean of Christ Church College, would rush through at meal times exclaiming that "he was late" again.  The students were not allowed to eat until he got there. 
Window's in the Great Hall, first is Lewis Carroll (the dodo bird is him in the books) then the Alice window with Alice Liddell in the center.  Below are other windows with some more characters from the books. 

Then to make the end of the perfect week at Oxford, on Friday morning, I woke up at 5 am and was out on the road at 5:45. I had found two different walking tours entitled “CS Lewis’ Oxford”. I combined the 2 to have a complete tour of every site that was important to him while he lived, went to school, and taught here throughout his life (except his home which we saw on Monday). I will blog about that later since there was quite a bit to see. But it was a great 2 hours!

It really was an amazing week!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Another Dickens??? YES!!!

I recently read a book entitled “Mariana” by an author I had not heard of before named Monica Dickens.

"Mariana" by Monica Dickens
            Monica Dickens        
It was written when she was 24 years old and originally published in 1940. She is the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens would be proud of his great granddaughter

She had several books published during her lifetime but she has kind of been forgotten about. My friend Kim found a book store in London that republishes books written by women of the past century. They are the ones that republished “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”.

It is called Persephone Books (like the Greek goddess). Kim was going to visit it one day that we were in London, so I asked her to pick me up a book that had a happy ending, and this is the one that was recommended to her by the store employee.
Persephone Books-London

“Mariana” is about a young woman, Mary Shannon, who lived in London during WWII, and while staying at a cottage in the country for a holiday, she hears about the sinking of her husband’s ship while listening to the wireless (radio). It was reported that there had been some survivors. The phone lines at the cottage are dead due to a storm that is going on and she can’t get into the village to send a telegraph to London to see if a telegram had been delivered to her flat. She is stranded all night to think the worst until morning. In order to make it through the night, she reviews her life in her mind, going back to when she was a girl and growing up with a single mother, who had been widowed during WWI.

Monica Dickens has a real gift for storytelling. I think it would have been hard being compared to her Great Grandfather. Charles Dickens had the ability to create characters so well that you could almost smell them! I love his books, but Monica Dickens can stand on her own as an author. She also has a talent for describing people and situations but in a different way. Maybe it is because of the different time period, but you admired her mother for all she was able to accomplish, and you cried for when Mary, the heroine, experienced romantic heartbreaks. This book has humor, and romance, and just a fun story.

WARNING!!! Spoiler Alert!!!! My only complaint is that more time was spent on the romances that didn’t work out than the one where she met and married her husband. I wanted their courtship to last a little longer because it was so sweet. Now I did read the end first, which is usual for me, but it was still suspenseful to find out if her husband was one of the survivors or not.

I really enjoyed her book and I look forward to reading more of her, but I think it will be hard to find more of her books because many of them are out of print. There are a few used ones on some book sites. Thank goodness Persephone’s does mail order!!! Here is the biography of Monica Dickens on the Persephone Books web-site:

Monica Dickens, born in 1915, was brought up in London. Her mother's German origins and her Catholicism gave her the detached eye of an outsider; at St Paul's Girls' School she was under-occupied and rebellious. After drama school she was a debutante before working as a cook. One Pair of Hands (1939), her first book, described life in the kitchens of Kensington. It was the first of a group of semi autobiographies of which Mariana (1940), technically a novel, was one. 'My aim is to entertain rather than instruct,' she wrote. 'I want readers to recognise life in my books.' In 1951 Monica Dickens married a US naval officer, Roy Stratton, moved to America and adopted two daughters. An extremely popular writer, she involved herself in, and wrote about, good causes such as the Samaritans. After her husband died she lived in a cottage in rural Berkshire, dying there in 1992.
Beautiful paper used and very beautiful books! 

Here is a link to Persephone Bookstores website:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Are the Older Women of the World too Rebellious???

I recently visited another country with my friend Kim, and we noticed an interesting phenomenon. We observed that there were several women with a variety of bright, almost shocking hair color.
You wouldn’t think that was a big deal if you saw a young woman who may like to express themselves through their appearance but these weren’t young women.

Very Maroon!

Purple on the bangs only
I would say at least ninety percent of these women were at least over 45-50 years old.
Violet color just in the front

I called this color "eggplant"
Orange with Maroon streaks
This really had us stumped because throughout my whole life, it seemed it was the younger generations that showed defiance through how they dressed and the outrageous styles of their hair.
Deep Purple...This picture doesn't so it justice!
So I am asking, what is the appeal of having strange hair color?
With older women, it can’t be to rebel.
Could it be they feel the need to stand out more than others?
Not just crazy color but crazy style!
And the winner is...for the brightest one of all!!!!
This one is hard to see but she has purple highlights throughout the hair
Are they desperate for the attention? It can’t be a style reason because sometimes the hair color clashed with the clothing they were wearing so it just looked awful! I don’t know, we couldn’t understand the reason. Any thoughts?