Myanmar and Indian sub continent share a common sad fate of homes in exile for last of their kings. Landing into Yangoon (famous Rangoon of the Past), was a ride transport back to the Karachi of the 50s and 60s. Men wearing dark colored lungis, women wearing brighter pinks and blue hues, having thankana– a paste of wet mud plastered on cheeks; Monks in their maroon and pinks. Yangon is a beautiful amalgamation of South and East Asian flavors. My motivation in visiting this still quiet closed society that opened up just recently in 2012 to Tourist and one of the few to offer E-visa to Pakistan citizens was to see the resting place of ill fated Last Mughal Emporer of India Bahadur Shah Zafar.
In the mean while choosing to stay in the famous downtown area of Yangoon, I came across a unique amalgamation of Chinese and Muslim dwellings. Pavements were bustling with men, women, old, young alike. Pavements were occupied by people sitting and enjoying tea and Paan (Beetle leaf), having snacks and playing board games, chatting and relaxing amidst Victorian style streets. It was a treat roaming around those street stumbling across a Jain temple, or a small mosque. Budhist pagodas and churches stand peacefully making a statement that religions can coexist and stand tall in graceful eternity. Yangoon, however , remains a predominantly Budhist city with the enormous gold glittering ,world ‘s biggest Budhist temple- Shwedagon Pagoda dominating the city landscape. At every step, seeing this still one of the most poor nations of the world, I was transported back to some hundreds of years ago Rangoon. How alienated and alone the last Moghal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar must have felt having dethroned from his symbolic seat that although barely extended beyond Red Fort, Delhi symbolized the ailing Moghal legacy . The old emperor was forced to leave from a place he was familiar with all his life. At old age, disgraced, separated from his kin and accompanied only by his 40 years junior queen Zeenat Mahal and a handful of near relatives; the journey to Rangoon must have been tumultuous and sad. The local people did not have much clue about Bhadur Shah Zafar s final resting place in his exiled land. As I was trying to find the directions around this place that smell of dodh patti all around me, an elderly man abruptly stopped me and asked me in hindi tinted Urdu..ap Pakistani ho? I was taken aback, surprised and answered in affirmitive.. “Could he guide me to the burial place of Bahadur Shah Zafar?’…he beamed “yes, Shah Zafar Dargah, I can” , and I had to smile, the unfortunate yet saintly last king of India fondly known in his land of exile as Shah Zafar. I finally arrived at the simple looking Tomb Complex of Bahadur Shah Zafar. It stands in stark contrast of the grandeur Tomb “Taj Mahal”. The splendid architectures of Lahore and Delhi represented heights of Glory and Power, This simple gloomy construction represents the final laments of that magnificent Empire. Most visitors do not know that till the mid 90s this exiled king lay in an un marked grave under a tree and it was only almost a decade or so ago when this modest looking simple complex was built over the grave of the last Mughal King, his beloved empress and the unfortunate member of his exiled household-his niece and daughter in Law.
The poverty of Myanmar’s Muslim community in particular shows itself in the family looking after the Complex. The Mutwali or the Complex Keeper showed took me inside. I wasn’t wearing a Dupatta to which he said – “This is place of reverence for all religions as Shah Zafar was considered saint by all so you can come as you are”. Alighting the stairs, on left wall one finds the narration of Shah Zafar s tomb stone as “Here Lay the last light of the Moghal empire…”
The upper chamber contains and marks the place where the last emperor used to sit and meet his devoted disciples. Shah Zafar ’s presence can be felt through the wonderful “Mughal Street” home to a large Muslim population near his tomb. Just beside the place are graves of Emperor’s beloved Zeenat Mahal and his niece daughter in law .
Walls of this recently built room are adorned by enlarged Photographs of Bahadur Shah Zafar, his exiled young princes, His queen and their Nikah nama written in beautiful Persian. Yet the King does not rest here, for that you have to descend into the basement. His grave is situated adjacent to the Dargha building s store room where sofas and abandoned furniture is visible creating an irony in equivalence to Shah Zafar’s own fate. The wall just in front of the basement entrance is adorned by Photographs of Foreign dignitaries’ visits including Prime ministers of Pakistan and India. As the visitor enters the burial room of Shah Zafar, one is faced by white tiled walls, adorned with verses attributed to Shah Zafar. It was a solemn moment , reminder of fragility of glory. Some two centuries later this emperor’s fate still surrounds his last resting place as an epitome of sadness, somber defeat, misery and pain of death thousands mile away from home in a foreign cage. Kitna Badnaseeb hai Zafar Dafan k leay…do gazz zameen bhe na mili koey yaar mein.