That last quotation comes from Babur (pronounced BAH-boor), who was a terrifying warlord of the sixteenth century. He started out as King of Tajikistan, aged twelve, invaded Afghanistan and northern India and founded the Mughal Empire. He also kept a diary.
Babur’s diary is one of the weirdest documents in history. It’s personal and unembarrassed and pretty much the sort of diary that you or I might write today. It’s filled with little details about the lovely view, or how his friend came to visit, or that he had a terrible tummy-ache. You feel that you know the chap, and that he’s a nice chap, and that you’d get along if for some reason a time machine accidentally dropped you down in Kabul 500 years ago. So for January 12, 1519, the entry goes, “Wednesday: we rode out to visit the Bajaur fort. There was a wine party in Khwāja Kalān’s house.”
Except, and this is a big excerpt, the diary for January 11, the day before, went:
With mind easy about the important affairs of the Bajaur fort, we marched, on Tuesday the 9th of Muharram, two miles down the dale of Bajaur and I ordered that a tower of skulls should be set up on the rising ground.
You see, Babur liked to massacre his enemies and build towers out of their skulls. Today you’d call it a trademark, or perhaps a gimmick. But you can never tell with Babur. It’s hard to say whether he’s a friend manqué or a monster, or maybe both.
Babur didn’t drink until he was in his twenties. He’d simply never been interested. But then he did drink, and then he got very interested indeed. And he noted it all down in his diary (along with the massacres and the skull towers and the occasional skinning of his enemies alive). He drank on horseback, in palaces, in boats, on rafts, up mountains and down ravines. Babur loved to booze. Here is a typical example:
November 14, 1519: I told [Tardī Beg] to get wine and other things ready as I had a fancy for a very private party. He went for wine toward Bihzādī. I sent my horse to the valley-bottom with one of his slaves and sat down on the slope behind the kārez [water conduit]. At the first watch [9 a.m.] Terdī Beg brought a pitcher of wine which we drank, just the two of us. After him came Muhammad-i-qāsim Barlās and Shāh-zāda who had got to know of his fetching the wine, and had followed him, not knowing I was there. We invited them to the party. Tardī Beg said, “Hul-hul Anīga wishes to drink wine with you.” I said, “I’ve never seen a woman drink wine; invite her.” We also invited a wandering dervish called Shāhī, and one of the kārez men who played the fiddle.
*There was drinking till the Evening Prayer on the rising ground behind the kārez; we then went into Tardī Beg’s house and drank by lamplight almost till the Bedtime Prayer. The party was quite relaxed and informal. I lay down, the others went to another house and drank there till beat of drum [midnight]. Hul-hul Anīga came in and wouldn’t stop talking; I got rid of her at last by lying down and pretending to be drunk.
Forsyth, Mark. “Drinking in the Middle East.” A Short History of Drunkenness. Three Rivers Press, 2017. 111-13. Print.