By Vishal Gulati
YANGON– India’s last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar died in this former capital of Myanmar 154 years ago. But his exile still continues.
He is resting, but not in peace, believe his admirers. They say his wish to be buried in his homeland remains almost a dead issue despite assurances of action by the who’s who of the Indian leadership.
“We are praying that his mortal remains be buried as per his wish,” Bahadur Shah’s mausoleum caretaker Hafiz Kamaluddin told this visiting IANS correspondent here.
The 19th century mausoleum gets visitors even from India to offer prayers to the emperor, with whose reign ended the Mughal empire in India.
Kamaluddin said Bahadur Shah’s wish was to be buried in the dargah of Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki in Mehrauli in the national capital of India.
‘Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar, dafan key liye, do guzz zameen bhi mil na saki, kuye yaar main’ (‘How unlucky is Zafar who could not get even two yards of land for burial in the land of his beloved’).
These couplets written by Bahadur Shah, the commander of the first war of Independence and a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity, in his last days were recited by the caretaker.
He breathed his last in a British army officer’s garage, which later turned into a Sufi shrine that lies closer to one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites Shwedagon Pagoda, in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) on November 7, 1862, at the age of 87.
After the 1857 uprising, the British sent him to exile here where he spent the twilight of his life.
Buried alongside Bahadur Shah’s grave, which was chanced upon during digging in 1991 while laying the foundations of a memorial hall, are his wife Begum Zeenat Mahal and granddaughter Raunaq Zamani Begum.
“Who would pray on my behalf? Or bring me a bunch of flowers? Who would light a candle for me? I am nothing but a gloomy tomb,” say Bahadur Shah’s couplets, a noted poet.
In 2006, then Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited the mausoleum, known as Bahadur Shah Zafar Dargah that attracts a large number of Muslims, Hindus and Christians. It’s managed by a government appointed committee set up in 1935.
“You wrote who will come to my grave. Today on behalf of my nation I have come, prayed and lit candles, offered chador and recited the fatiha. May your soul rest in peace,” Kalam wrote in the visitor’s book.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also visited the mausoleum in May 2012, besides Pakistan Presidents Pervez Musharraf in 2001 and President Asif Ali Zardari in 2012.
In 2013, writer and former diplomat Kuldip Nayar, journalist-writer Saeed Naqvi and former Judge Rajinder Sachar started a campaign to bring back the remains of Bahadur Shah to the place where he wished to be buried in Delhi.
They even petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee, seeking help to bring back his mortal remains as Bahadur Shah, who is seen as a symbol of communal harmony, had chosen his own resting place in Delhi.
At that time, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, now External Affairs Minister, had welcomed the move.
“I welcome and support the demand to bring back the mortal remains of Bahadur Shah Zafar for burial in Delhi,” Sushma Swaraj had said on Twitter.
Perhaps it’s time the Indian government should talk to the newly-elected democratic government in Myanmar to facilitate bringing back the last Mughal emperor to his beloved country.