On a warm, early morning, as we traipsed around the ruins of what was once the Musabagh Palace, we emerged onto a spot which is higher than the ruins. Onto it’s right is the the cemetary, a board by the ASI informs us, though only a few graves seem to have withstood the ravages of time. It is here that we come upon a grave which seems like any other, but is covered by a bright yellow cloth with silver edgings and the air is redolent with the smell of incense. Strangely enough the place is strewn with cigarette packets and as we peer into the cemented enclosure we see a plaque.
Here lies Captan F. Wale, a British officer who raised and commanded the first irregular Sikh cavalry.
WHOSE GRAVE IS THIS?
According to historians, Musabagh was the stronghold of the Oudh forces during the Freedom Struggle in 1857. Now, only ruins of the building remain with few underground rooms and broken walls. Here on March 21, 1858, a fierce battle was fought between the British and native forces. Though the British won the battle, Captain Wale was killed. His friend Captain LB Jones, Acting Commandant of the 1st Sikh Irregular Cavalry, erected his grave in the campus.
FROM A BRITISH OFFICER TO CIGARETTE WALE BABA
Surprisingly enough we find that the captain has been rechristened and is respected by locals as ‘Kaptan Shah Baba’ or ‘Cigarette wale baba’ . People throng here in large numbers and offer cigarettes at his grave believing that he can change their fortunes. As there is no tree or jaali to tie their dhaagas on, they have improvised in true Indian spirit by using the ASI board to tie plastic wrappers taken from the agarbatti packets to submit their prayers and yes, they leave lit cigarettes to please baba! The local mazaar caretaker tells us that Baba used to enjoy his smoke and drink, so people offer him cigarettes and, on instances, have offered alcohol too! Hope the Captain had/ has a sense of humour!
BY TAZEEN HUSAIN
Tazeen is a freelance writer and blogs by the name of Dreamer Forever. She calls herself a social warrior, and has a witty and incisive take on social issues that’s hard to ignore.