गाए हैं वफ़ा के गीत यहाँ, छेड़ा है जुनूं का साज़ यहाँ।
इस फ़र्श से हमने उड़-उड़कर, अफ़लाक के तारे तोड़े हैं।
इस बज़्म में गिरकर तड़पे हैं, इस बज़्म में पीकर झूमे हैं।
With the soaring temperatures outside, the children now prefer to pass their summer break by getting cocooned in the comforts of coolers and air conditioners. The best they can do is either watch television or play with tab, play stations and other gizmos. In contrast, our summer breaks were different. During those days, comforts of coolers and air conditioners were available only for few privileged citizens belonging to high society. During most of the afternoons it was customary for all our friends to collect within the cluster of mango trees located on the edge of a small graveyard. This nineteen century cemetery has been actively used by the members of Christian and Anglo- Indian Community. Once or twice every month we use to see a coffin arrive at the huge cavalry gates of the cemetery in a small tempo car with glasses all around. Having witnessed several cremation ceremonies there we were curious about few of the ancient graves which were located in the center of the graveyard. They were lavishly built and it seems that these twenty to twenty five graves were first to occupy space in this graveyard. We were once told by a Christian priest who often used to visit the cemetery that they belonged to family members of some British soldiers who were killed during the seize of Lucknow in the year 1857-the first rebellion against the colonial rule.
I remember one such afternoon when we friends were reading comics sitting on the tree trunks. Suddenly one of our friend Sanjay Thapa screamed, “Yaar! I’m fed up with these ghostly stories. Now living beside this graveyard for so many years my fear of ghosts and spirits has completely vanished". Sanjay was eldest and pretends to be patriarch of our group. At that time he was probably the only teenager in our group who had completed fourteen while rest of us were around eleven or twelve years old. He had proved his leadership time and again by being a harbinger of innovative ideas. He had introduced us to Railway club where for past one year we were availing the facility of swimming pool even without being member of the club due to his friendship with the club manager. He had been pioneer in introducing us to great slopes situated in the Cant area on the outskirts of the city where every Sunday morning we use to go for cycling. There the highly undulatory road was characterized by artificially build up and down tracks which were used by army training facility. Cycling on these slopes used to be a very thrilling experience. Very recently he had discovered a haunted house near the graveyard which was a semi constructed house lying vacant as the owner had abandoned the construction work in the middle. We heard that labors had seen some paranormal activity one night and they fled away. Since then, no labor was ready to work for further construction of that house. This place had become our playground since then and we had named it Haunted House being inspired from one of the Secret Seven novels which were in vogue those days.
Sanjay had come to live in our locality about two years back with his elder brother and mother after the death of his father who served the Indian Army. His brother had suffered a paralytic stroke few years back due to which his left hand’s fingers had become mysteriously curved. While playing cricket he could ball tremendous spins with his left hand. He often use to join our group giving advice on our forthcoming ventures, several of them being planned by his younger sibling. He often use to tell us various fascinating stories of his father experiences in army during his posting at border. Many a time he had introduced a suspense factor in those stories. Along with Sanjay, we also called him daju (meaning big brother in Nepali).
Knowing about Sanjay’s total denial to fear for ghost, Rajeev who never use to miss any opportunity to let down our leader replied in great rage, "Abe sale! Agar tera bhooton ka dar khatam ho gaya hai to ek raat isee graveyard mein so kar kyun nahi dikha deeta”. Sanjay was perplexed he never expected such a repercussion for his comment. He exclaimed, “Yes!..... Why not?..... I’m already sleeping with the graves. There is only that old cemetery wall which separates me from those graves".
Actually, Rajeev's house was near the park located on the northern periphery while Sanjay’s house was towards the southern side of our colony sharing common boundary with the graveyard. It was all said and done. However after intervention of his elder brother Sanjay's overnight stay was cut short till midnight on the condition that daju will tell us a very scary story during the time his brother is venturing in the graveyard. It was planned that Sanjay will go in the graveyard on forthcoming Saturday night after dinner. He will have a complete round of graveyard alone and return back at mid night when the security guard completes his first round of the colony. Daju advised us that it will be much convenient for all of us as we can inform our parents that we all are going out for night movie show.
Next Saturday we all were very excited except Sanjay. He didn’t join us during the afternoon session. As planned we all gathered at the main gate which was the only entrance and exit of the cemetery in order to welcome our friend who reached there at quarter past nine with daju. As Sanjay walked inside the graveyard we all sat on the concrete seats constructed on the graveyard entrance portico to wait for Sanjay to return back. We all then surrounded daju so as to listen to the story he was about to narrate. He began,”My brother doesn't believe in ghost but you know I've heard several stories of Lucknow especially cantonment area where sightening of ghosts has been reported. Even the master story teller Satyajit Ray, the maker of movie “Shatranj ke Khilari” had mentioned such ghosts of Dilkusha in one of his famous story. During my father’s stay in Calcutta we had seen this play and today I will narrate you the same. This story is named as Lucknow-er-Duel.
Daju threw a glance towards the cemetery road. His brother was slowly walking towards the central part of the graveyard with a torch and stick in his hand. As he disappeared in the darkness daju continued, “The main character of this story is a Bengali uncle nicknamed as Tarini, an aged bachelor who lived in Calcutta. The uncle in this story narrates his experience at Dilkusha in Lucknow to a group of five boys like you”. The story begins with Bengali uncle asking the boys “Do you know what duel means?” One of the boy replied. “Of course I know what it means, Dual role – it means a double role in films. Like Amitabh played in the movie Satte pe Satta. The elder of seven brothers Ravi and his lookalike gangster Babu.
By this time we all had forgotten our friend Sanjay and his night walk in the graveyard. We all came closer to daju as he continued:
The Bengali uncle smiled at the boy’s answer, “I’m not talking about that dual,” he said, “It’s d-u-e-l, not d-u-a-l. It means a fight between two people. It started in the 16th century in Italy. Then onward by the turn of century, it gradually spread to other countries of Europe. In those days, swords were regarded as most important part of a gentleman’s personality. If a person, for some reason, humiliated another, so in order to save one’s reputation, the victim used to challenge that person for a duel. There was no way of rejecting such challenges; as a result, a sword-fight used to take place between the two. Later, in the era of firearms, the pistol became the main dueling weapon instead of the sword. This happened around the 18th century. These duels had long list of rules and regulations! The two had to use exactly the same weapon, both were supposed to have ‘seconds’ or umpires to minimize the chances of cheating, and when the challenger’s second cried ‘fire!’ both opponents had to fire at the same time.”
The description was sounding interesting suddenly daju again turned towards the cemetery road to look for Sanjay. We all shook him,”Daju!!shouted Rajeev, "Sanjay ko kuch nahi hoga. Hum hai naa aap to bas kahani sunayo”. Daju with a smile on his face continued:
The Bengali uncle after telling the history of the duel to the boys who by then had become restless to hear the actual story further remarked “It’s not any experience like you all are thinking, but hearing about this incident will definitely make your jaws drop.” After a quick sip of a cup of black tea, taking out a packet of export quality beeri and a matchbox, and keeping these items on the mattress, Tarini uncle started his long-awaited story:
At that time, I used to live in Lucknow. I didn't have a regular job at that time – didn't even feel the need of having one either. Two and a half years ago, I had won a generous sum of Rs 2.5 lakhs in the Ranger’s Lottery; the interest from this money at that time was more than enough for me to live on. I’m talking about 1951, when living was not as costly as it is today. Moreover I was a bachelor, and only Rs 500-600 a month was quite sufficient for me. I lived in a small bungalow in La Touche Road and wrote stuff like jokes for ‘The Pioneer’. One of my hobbies then, was visiting an auction house in Hazratganj once in a while. Some antiques of the Nawabi era could still be found at the shop. Bought at a favorable price, selling these precious artifacts to rich American tourists earned me a good profit. It’s not that I was not interested in antiques. Some of these antiques also found way into my living quarter showcasing my interest for these artifacts.
Once on a bright Sunday morning, I went to the shop and saw a brown mahogany box lying lazily along with other items. It was about a cubit long, a palm-stretch wide and about three inches thick. Despite trying hard, I couldn't figure out what was inside, so my curiosity about this box increased. There were many other interesting articles in the auction, but what I could think of was only that wooden box.
At last, after waiting for about an hour, I saw the auctioneer pick it up. I sat up erect in rapt attention. As usual, he started praising the article in typical auction style, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I now have the pleasure of presenting before you a very interesting item. Look, I’m opening the lid now. Its about two hundred years old, but look! It still retains its old glory. We all can see the world famous producer of firearms, Joseph Manton’s logo on this magnificent pair of dueling pistols! You won’t find another pair like this!”
That was good enough for me; I had to buy those pistols. Even my imagination started soaring. I could visualize in front of my very eyes that the two challengers were standing 20 cubits away from each other, and when the second shouts ‘fire’ both shoot together, resulting in severe bloodshed. As I was thinking about these things, the auction had already started. When a Gujarati gentleman from Charbagh shouted out 700 rupees, I bid 1000 rupees at once. And that was all! No more price proposals for the day and the pistols were mine at last.
When I brought my treasure home, I observed that these were indeed an ideal pair of dueling pistols. The butts of the pistols were as glamorous as their barrels. The length of each pistol was about 17 inches. Both of them had the maker’s name engraved with great care – Joseph Manton. I had studied about guns before. At the end of the 18th century, Joseph Manton had been one of the most efficient producers of firearms.
It had been only three months since I had been in Lucknow. Very few Bengalis lived there, and I did not get the chance of associating with them much. I used to stay at home in the evenings; people who lived in my place included a servant, a cook and myself. A plot related to a duel was revolving inside my head from the moment I had bought those pistols, so I sat on the armchair with a notebook to jot it down. Just then, I heard a knock at the door. Who could it be? Maybe some foreigner customer of mine, I thought. I had earned quite a name as a supplier of antiques by then.
I quickly opened the door, and yes I was right.
The man at the door was indeed a foreigner. About forty-five years old, it was apparent that he had spent a lot of time in the sub-continent. Maybe he was born here too, an Anglo-Indian. ‘Good Evening,’ I greeted him. The Sahib said, ‘I need to have a word with you. May I come in please?’ ‘Of course’, I replied. The Sahib did not have a hybrid accent in his pronunciation. I showed him in to my living room. Now I got a better look at him in the bright light. He was quite handsome; he had blonde hair, a thick golden mustache, blue eyes and he was wearing a gray suit. I said, ‘Sir, I’m not in the habit of drinking, but may I get you a cup of tea or coffee if you like?’ The gentleman refused me very politely saying that he already had his dinner. He said, ‘I saw you at the auction house in Hazratganj this morning.’ ‘You were there too?’, I asked. ‘Yes, but you were too captivated to notice me’, he replied. ‘Actually, I was craving for something…., but you became its owner; a pair of dueling pistols, made by Joseph Manton. You are very lucky.’ I could not but ask him something.
‘Did they belong to someone you know?’
‘Yes, but it has been a long time since he passed away. After his death, I did not have the slightest idea where these pistols went. May I have a look at them? There is a story related to them, that’s why….’
I gave him the mahogany box with the pistols in it. The Sahib took out the pistols and looked at them with great awe. Taking them in front of the lamp for a better look, he said, ‘These pistols were once used for a duel in Lucknow, do you know about that?’ ‘A duel in Lucknow?’ ‘Yes. It happened about two hundred years ago, at the end of the 19th century. Actually, there are only three days to go for the 250th anniversary of this incident. On 16th October.’ ‘Really?’ I asked, ‘Yes indeed,’ He replied.
‘That’s very strange! But who are the people who fought the duel…?’
Sahib put the pistols back in their case and sat on the sofa, ‘I’ve heard the story so many times that I can almost see the things happening in front of my eyes. Dr. Jeremiah Hudson’s daughter Annabelle Hudson was one of the most renowned beauties in Lucknow. She was a girl of the robust type; she rode horses, was an expert in shooting- just like a brave man. On the other hand, she was a great singer and dancer too. At that time, a British artist named John Ellingworth went to Lucknow to make a portrait of the Nawab. But when he heard about Annabelle’s beauty, he decided to go to her house and make a portrait of her first. The portrait was well painted, but long before that Ellingworth was deeply in love with Annabelle.’
‘On the other hand, a few days ago Annabelle met a Charles Bruce at a party. At that time, there was a large part of the Bengal regiment in Lucknow, and Bruce was a captain of that regiment. Bruce too fell in love with her at first sight.’
‘Two days after the party, Bruce could not stand it any more. He just had to meet Annabelle, so he went to her house at once. What he saw there was an unknown man drawing Annabelle’s portrait. Though Ellingworth was not a very young man, he sure was good looking. Moreover, Bruce understood by his very look that he also had fallen for Annabelle. Charles Bruce used to have a strong disliking for people like artists, and in this case he called this artist a name or two in front of Annabelle.’
‘Ellingworth was a very artistic and gentle person. But such an insult in front of Annabelle was quite hard for him to swallow. He challenged Bruce to a duel at once, which the latter happily accepted. The day and date of the duel was also fixed: 16th October, 6 am.’ ‘I think you know that both the duelers need a second?’
I said, ‘I know. They work as umpires in the field; it’s their duty to ensure that the duel rules are followed properly.’
‘You’re right. In most cases, a friend or such of the challenger is chosen as the second. Though Ellingworth did not know many people in Lucknow, a government official named Hugh Drummond came to his aid as his second. Ellingworth also requested him to arrange a pair of quality dueling pistols, as according to the rule, both the weapons should be exactly alike. In the meantime Captain Bruce also chose a second, his friend Phillip Moxon.’
‘The day of the duel drew nearer and nearer. Nobody was at the least in doubt about its result, because Captain Bruce was an expert with pistols. Maybe Ellingworth was good with his paintbrush, but he had the least experience with firearms.’
After saying these words, the Sahib came to a halt. I couldn't help asking him, ‘What happened in the end?’ The gentleman smiled, ‘Every year on 16th October, 6 am this incident is repeated.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I mean exactly what I am saying, if you go there the day after tomorrow you can see for yourself.’
‘What are you saying! This is unusual and…unearthly!’
‘There is no hard-and-fast rule about going there. You can just go and see for yourself only if you wish to.’
‘But how can I find the place? I’m quite new over here. I don’t know much about the city…’
‘Have you heard about Dilkusha?’
‘Yes I know that place.’
‘I’ll wait for you outside Dilkusha at 5:45 am.’
‘Okay then, see you at the dueling spot.’
With these words, the stranger bid me goodbye and left. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t even asked what his name was. Anyway, the name did not matter at that time; the thing that mattered the most now was the story he had told me. I just could not believe that such a romantic incident took place in this very city. Moreover, right then, I was holding a pair of pistols, which had played a vital role in this duel. But who ultimately won over this Annabelle Hudson? There was yet another question- of the two men who was the person Annabelle loved? I hoped this mystery will be revealed on 16th October.
16th October was soon knocking at the door. On the night of the 15th, I was returning home from a musical show. It was then when I met the Sahib again in the street. He said, ‘I was on the way to your house now, just to remind you,’ I replied, ‘It’s not that I've forgotten about it, I’m actually waiting very eagerly for tomorrow morning.’
The Sahib then bid me goodbye.
The next day, I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock at 5 am. After having a quick cup of tea and wrapping a muffler around my neck, I took a horse carriage and set off for Dilkusha. Dilkusha Kothi lies in the outskirts of the city, which was at one time, the pleasure garden of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. At that time, there was a huge park surrounded by a wall where a large number of deer used to graze. Even a cheetah or two entered these gardens, once in a blue moon. Now only the remains of the house could be seen, and a garden is maintained near the house; people go there for evening strolls once in a while.
I reached the spot at 5:35 pm, and told the coachman to wait for half an hour so that I didn't have to search for another carriage on my way home. As I knew Urdu quite well, the coachman took me for an aristocratic man and agreed to wait.
Getting down from the carriage, I saw the Sahib standing under a tree at a stone’s throw away. He informed that he had just arrived five minutes ago. I said, ‘Alright Sahib, lead the way and I’ll follow you.’ After about five minutes, we arrived at an open field. Very little could be seen because of the dense fog, maybe just the same kind of fog was there on the day of duel. The Sahib came to a halt in front of a ramshackle house, full of weeds and thorny bushes. Anyone can say from the first look that it was a house of the British period. Well, we did not go there to deal with the house. We turned away from it and faced the east. Though it was foggy, we could still see some tamarind trees in front of us, and to the right of those trees, there lay a large bush. The river Gomti was flowing serenely; we could see through the fog that there were no inhabitants on the banks. All these elements added a mystic feel to the scenario.
‘Did you hear that?’ the Sahib asked all of a sudden. As I tried to listen very carefully, I finally placed it to be a sound of hooves. I just could not deny that a chill ran down my spine on hearing it. Along with that, I had the strange feeling of excitement and curiosity of a new adventure. This time I saw two men on horseback. They finally stopped under a tamarind tree at our left. ‘Are these the people who will fight?’ I whispered to him.
He said, ‘Not both, only one of them will fight. The taller person is Ellingworth, the challenger. The other is his friend and his second, Hugh Drummond. Look! Drummond has the mahogany box in his hand.’ It was true then! Now I understood that my pulse rate was increasing rapidly. My heartbeat increased at the thought of watching a 250-year-old incident in front of my very eyes.
In a few minutes, Captain Bruce and his second, Phillip Moxon arrived, riding their horses. After that Drummond, took out the pistols from their case and re-loaded them with bullets. He handed them over to the opponents, Bruce and Ellingworth, giving them a brief on the rules. The sky soon took a rosy hue, reflecting its colour in the river Gomti.
Bruce and Ellingworth were soon ready to face each other. They stood face to face and then moved fourteen steps back. They turned around to face each other once more. I could not hear a single sound till now, but now I saw the opponents pointing their pistols at each other, I clearly heard Drummond shout, ‘Fire!’ The next moment I heard a deafening sound of two pistols.I was shocked to see both the opponents fall to the ground at the same time.There was another thing that shocked me – from behind those bushes I was talking about, came out a lady. She ran and disappeared in the thick fog.
‘So, you saw the results yourself,’ the Sahib said. ‘In this duel both the challengers had to face death.’ ‘That’s okay, but who was the lady coming out from the bushes?’ I inquired.
‘That was Annabelle’
‘She understood that Captain Bruce would not die in Ellingworth’s hands, but she wanted both of them to leave this world. So she decided not to take a chance and shot Bruce herself when the command ‘Fire!’ came. Ellingworth’s bullet didn't even touch Bruce.’
‘But why did Annabelle do such a thing?’
‘Because she did not love any of the men. She knew that Ellingworth would die, and Bruce would live and taunt her for the rest of her life. She didn't want such a life, because she loved somebody else – the one she married afterwards and lived happily ever after.’
I noticed that the 250-year-old duel scene was rapidly vanishing in thin air. The fog was getting even denser then before. I was thinking about Annabelle in awe when I heard a voice. It was a female voice, which gave me the shock of my life.
‘Annabelle’s calling,’ whispered the Sahib.
The second I looked at Sahib, a chill ran down my spine. Who is this person standing right in front of me? He was wearing those ancient 250-year-old clothes!
‘Sorry I couldn’t introduce myself before,’ He said; his voice distant and unearthly, clearly coming from another world. ‘My name is Hugh Drummond, Ellingworth’s friend and Annabelle’s love. Goodbye.’
I watched with horror, as he proceeded towards that ramshackle house. He disappeared in the dense fog before I could say anything. After returning home by the carriage, I opened the mahogany box and took out the pistols once again. When I reached out for them, I felt that they were hot. I brought them close to my nose to smell them.
It did not take me long to recognize the smell of fresh gunpowder.