Upcoming Event

Ruby Lal at Harvard Book Store


Vagabond Princess:
The Great Adventures of Gulbadan

in conversation with SHUBHA SUNDER


March 1, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes RUBY LAL—award-winning author of Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan—for a discussion of her new book Vagabond Princess: The Great Adventures of Gulbadan. She will be joined in conversation by SHUBHA SUNDER—author of Boomtown Girl.

About Vagabond Princess

Situated in the early decades of the magnificent Mughal Empire, this first ever biography of Princess Gulbadan offers an enthralling portrait of a charismatic adventurer and unique pictures of the multicultural society in which she lived. Following a migratory childhood that spanned Kabul and north India, Gulbadan spent her middle years in a walled harem established by her nephew Akbar to showcase his authority as the Great Emperor. Gulbadan longed for the exuberant itinerant lifestyle she’d known. With Akbar’s blessing, she led an unprecedented sailing and overland voyage and guided harem women on an extended pilgrimage in Arabia. Amid increasing political tensions, the women’s “un-Islamic” behavior forced their return, lengthened by a dramatic shipwreck in the Red Sea.

Gulbadan wrote a book upon her return, the only extant work of prose by a woman of the age. A portion of it is missing, either lost to history or redacted by officials who did not want the princess to have her say.

Vagabond Princess contemplates the story of the missing pages and breathes new life into a daring historical figure. It offers a portal to a richly complex world, rife with movement and migration, where women’s conviviality, adventure, and autonomies shine through.

Praise for Vagabond Princess

“An astonishing work by one of the most exciting historians writing today. Vagabond Princess is more than just a brilliant page-turner of a biography, narrating in vivid detail a story few people know. It is a passionate and compelling argument to place the extraordinary Gulbadan among the pantheon of great adventurers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. I loved this book.” —Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and An American Martyr in Persia

Vagabond Princess is a deeply feminist text interrogating the making of archives, obsessed with imagining the spirit of freedom and love of learning in certain Mughal women, with a stunning buildup of the concept-metaphor of mujawir as ‘vagabond.’ A splendid teaching text, but also a reading text for sheer instructive pleasure; as we follow the epistemological performance of the making of the book with the book itself.” —Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of Other Asias

“In Vagabond Princess, Ruby Lal brilliantly illuminates the remarkable life and talent of Princess Gulbadan Begum, daughter of Emperor Babur and historian of her own times. Lost and forgotten for many centuries, Gulbadan and her work live again through Lal’s magisterial account of the 16th-century Mughal court.” —Amanda Foreman, author of The Duchess

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Ruby Lal
Ruby Lal

Ruby Lal

Ruby Lal is an acclaimed historian of India, a professor at Emory University, and the author of three books and numerous essays, op-eds, and literary pieces. Her book Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan won the Georgia Author of the Year Award in biography and was a finalist in history for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Photo Credit: Danish Saroee
Shubha Sunder
Shubha Sunder

Shubha Sunder

Shubha Sunder is the author of Boomtown Girl, a story collection set in her hometown of Bangalore, India, which won the 2021 St. Lawrence Book Award and was a finalist for the Flannery O'Connor Prize for Short Fiction. Her debut novel, Optional Practical Training, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press. She teaches creative writing at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. 

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