The Badshah smiles
At the grave of Bahadur Shah Zafar
There was something heartwrenching about it. Maybe it was his sad verses written in calligraphy on the wall, or his brooding picture that seemed to chide me ever so gently. But there was no escaping the thick sense of melancholy that descended on me and made me linger and grieve at the grave of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last emperor of India, at Yangon.
The white and green mazar was a study in simplicity, untouched by the Mughal splendoour. But then, so was Zafar, as he spent his last years in a strange country, pining for home, in the garage of a Capt Davies who'd grown fond enough of him to call him 'Abu'. 'Abu' to the officer, Zafar was a pir to the locals; the old man with the healing touch and potions. The Britishers must have been relieved when he was gone - this is evident from the haste with which they tried to consign him to oblivion even in death. His grave was allowed to be swallowed by weeds until it was discovered by chance in 1991.
Zafar, who passed away on a wintry day in November 1862, had always feared this lonesome existence. No wonder he wrote:
Na kisi ki aankh ka noor hun,
Na kisi ke dil ka karaar hun...
Koi char phool chadaye kyon,
Koi aa ke shama jalaye kyon,
Main woh bekasi ki mazaaar hun
(Neither am I the light of anyone's eye
Nor am I the peace of anyone's heart...
Why would anyone offer flowers or light a lamp on this grave of helplessness?)
Not really given to Urdu poetry, I secretly though him a loser. This visit to his mazar changed all that. Zafar was not a loser, he could conquer hearts with one stroke of his quill. And even after his death, he had a presence so strong that he could reduce a bunch of hardened journos and bureaucrats to solemn attention. Abu was a badshah alright.
That day in March, he finally got what he may have wanted. A visit from India's president, APJ Abdul Kalam, who penned a fond note to him: You said no one will visit you...today, on behalf of your nation, I lit candles on your grave, I offered a chadar, I sprinkled flowers, I read 'Fatiha'...
Was it my imagination, or did Abu smile?
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