Friday, January 07, 2011

Killed by Indians, revered by Indians: Britisher turns 'smoking saint' [Communal Harmony Project-16]

The 'mazaar' of Captain F Wale in Lucknow.
Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

For long I have heard about the mazaar [Sufi's grave] where the visitors seeking the saint's favours offered 'cigarettes'.

A couple of years back I decided to see the place which is located in a corner of Lucknow. Contrary to what I had heard in BBC and other reports, it was not a traditional Sufi grave.

Rather, it turned out that the solitary grave amidst lush green fields on the banks of the river Gomti, was the final resting place of a Britisher. Of course, scores of burnt out cigarettes were lying around. Lovelorn youth mostly turned to this grave, for favours.

Awadh army soldiers had killed Captain Wale in a battle near Gomti river

It was Captain F Wale, a Christian, who was buried here almost 152 years ago. He was leading a British army unit that had a severe battle with the joint Hindu-Muslim forces defending Awadh in the aftermath of 1857 revolution [termed mutiny].

Over the years, the grave came to be known as mazaar. In India, where the ordinary man on the street remains devout and respectful towards all religions and their symbols, it was considered a mazar and the reputation somehow grew.

The fact that the words written in English were not legible enough and English not so widely understandable in the past, gave the impression that it was the 'cigaratte wale baba's mazaar'. Even otherwise who bothers if the person inside a mazar was a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian--as such beliefs still cut across religious discrimination. A friend and blogger had also written a post on the mazaar a few years ago.

Mazar with background of ruins that show signs of battle.
Legends, exaggerations and reality: Baba takes puffs!

Often things are exaggerated also and as I heard that the Baba takes puffs, it had puzzled me more. Anyway it was a revelation.

Coming back to how the saint smokes cigarettes, the visitors [or believers] light the cigarettes that are fit in holes on the grave. As this part of Lucknow is close to the banks of Gomti, due to the intense breeze the cigarette burns completely in seconds.

That's how the legend grew. Mostly it is a particular brand of cigarette that is offered. My theory is that though the engraved letters aren't clearly visible, someone read the word 'Captain' and that's how the popular cigarette brand 'Capstan' got associated with this grave.

Due to its location, the visitors who come to see the nearby historical ruins, also sometimes visit the grave, out of curiosity. Thus Captain Wale who had raised the first irregular Sikh cavalry in British Indian army and was killed by Indians, turned a sort of saint whose grave is more visited on Thursdays.