Friends and Enemies: Baburi

At seventeen, Babur fell for a young male shop attendant. Too bashful for conversation, Babur retreated alone to the hills to write poetry. Although Babur does not describe his crush’s appearance, the round, beardless face and arched eyebrows of this young man exemplify sixteenth-century beauty ideals.

Standing figure with wine cup and flask
Uzbekistan, probably Bukhara, 1550s
Black and red ink with gold on paper
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art

In the words of Babur…

Babur recounts the tale of his first love, Baburi:

“During this time, there was a boy from the camp market named Baburi. Even his name was amazingly appropriate. I developed a strange inclination for him—rather I made myself miserable over him.

Before this experience I had never felt a desire for anyone, nor did I listen to talk of love and affection or speak of such things. At that time I used to compose single lines and couplets in Persian. I composed the following lines there:

‘May one be so distraught and devastated by love as I; May no beloved be so pitiless and careless as you.’

Occasionally Baburi came to me, but I was so bashful that I could not look him in the face, much less converse freely with him. In my excitement and agitation I could not thank him for coming, much less complain of his leaving. Who could bear to demand the ceremonies of fealty? One day, during this time of infatuation, a group was accompanying me down a lane, and all at once I found myself face-to-face with the boy. I was so ashamed I almost went to pieces. There was no possibility of looking straight at him or of speaking coherently. With a hundred embarrassments and difficulties I got past him. These lines of Salih came to my mind: ‘I am embarrassed every time I see my beloved. My companions are looking at me, but my gaze is elsewhere.’

It is amazing how appropriate this verse was. In the throes of love, in the foment of youth and madness, I wandered bareheaded and barefoot around the lanes and streets and through the gardens and orchards, paying no attention to acquaintances or strangers, oblivious to self and others.

‘When I fell in love I became mad and crazed. I knew not this to be part of loving beauties.’

Sometimes I went out alone like a madman to the hills and wilderness, sometimes I roamed through the orchards and lanes of town, neither walking nor sitting within my own volition, restless in going and staying.

‘I have no strength to go, no power to stay. You have snared us in this state, my heart.’”

Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Oxford University Press in association with Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1996. 89–90.