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Farewell, Pataudi
- Tiger rests by parents’ side

Pataudi, Sept. 23: Clouds of dust shrouded the grounds of the palace here obscuring the view of the women who looked from the balcony as Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi was carried to the burial ground at the far end of the garden.

Moments earlier, when his body was on a cot in the chandeliered but sparse central hall of Pataudi Palace, some 70km from Delhi, the women had been led upstairs by Sharmila Tagore after a sermon by a maulana.

“Nothing in the world is against His (Allah’s) wishes,” the bearded cleric told a quiet audience of women seated on the floor and men standing around the hall.

Sharmila greeted visitors, not quite the distraught widow in public, and occasionally looked to Saif to enquire if the visitors would not be intimidated by the crowd outside. Saif looked to Mohammad Saad Bin Jung, his cousin and Tiger Pataudi’s nephew, a former Ranji Trophy batsman for Hyderabad himself, who was overseeing arrangements.

“And, so, friends,” the maulana continued, “it is with such knowledge that we today grieve for a dear departed. Nawabsaheb never did anything just for himself alone or to show off; but what he did brought honour to his country and himself; the achievements were his but they made others happy. But everyone has to leave the world one day and when we go, we go empty-handed.”

Sermon over, the maulana and the ulema who were reading passages from the Quran, seated by the body of Mansur Ali Khan, left the building. It was closer to the appointed hour for the final namaaz and the burial. There is a belief that those who are buried after the Friday namaaz have lived fruitful lives.

The footfalls that kicked so much dust over the Pataudi Palace grounds this afternoon were of the celebrity and the “subjects”. In Pataudi, where the market was closed in honour of the man, they still refer to him as “Nawabsaheb”.

The estate sprawls over 10 acres. The gates are rarely opened to the public.

Sirajul from Basgaon recalls he was among a crowd that had gathered to see the Nawabsaheb when he was appearing at a court near here after being charged with killing a black buck in 2005.

The palace, a white mansion longer than it is wider, has high-ceilinged halls. It is run as a “non-hotel hotel” by a well-known Delhi-based chain. The gates warn explicitly that “non-residents are not allowed”. Its managers clearly did not imagine the scene here today after the death of the nawab who bore the name of this urbanised village.

There is but one portrait of Mansur Ali Khan in royal regalia on a wall in a corridor you step across to enter the central hall. Otherwise, the black-and-white photographs are of his father, Iftikhar Ali Khan, and his (Iftikhar’s) brother Major General “nawabzada” Sher Ali Khan, who moved to Pakistan (and whose son, Isfandiyar Ali, a cousin of Mansur Ali Khan, is among its military top brass today).

The yellowing photographs show them as members of the Oxford cricket and hockey teams. Also in the corridor is a large canvas of the city of Bhopal seen from the fort. The late India captain’s mother was “Begum of Bhopal”.

A black-and-white frame captures Mansur Ali Khan with Frank Worrell, the West Indian captain, and Richie Benaud, the Australian, in a pub, presumably in England. They are having a great laugh. Pataudi holds a cigarette between his fore and middle fingers. The other two are nursing mugs of beer.

If the photograph was taken after Pataudi had met with the accident in England that injured his eye, it does not show. For here the eyes are intense and dark and sharp. Doctors at the Gangaram Hospital, where he died on Thursday of a lung ailment, said they had “harvested” his one good eye because he had told his family he wanted to donate it.

As the maulana finished his sermon and left, the Haryana police commandos let in a larger crowd.

Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan’s girlfriend, who had now got up from the floor because she had just received a phone call, walked up to Saif. The actor told the nearest police officer to clear the way and took Kareena and his mother along to the entrance.

They received Karisma, Kareena’s sister, and Malaika Arora, even as a shout went up from the crowd outside because of the fleeting glance they afforded. Sarod player Amjad Ali Khan and filmmaker Muzaffar Ali stepped out to placate the crowd.

Sharmila embraced Karisma and Malaika and guided them up a flight of stairs to the first floor after a glimpse of the body.

Mansur Ali Khan spent a long time in hospital. His face was unshaven and his mop of hair had fallen back as he faced the ceiling, eyes shut and unseeing. Only the face was exposed. A white cotton sheet covered the body so used to jackets and sherwanis of the finest cut. Wreaths rested on the floor around his cot.

Kapil Dev, who was also in Vasant Vihar, accompanied the body and the family to Pataudi. He was probably the best-known cricketer among the mourners, who included Abbas Ali Baig, Ajay Jadeja and Atul Wassan.

Pataudi’s body was lowered into the grave a little after 2.30pm on the grounds of his palace. The grave next to his is his father’s. The grave next to his father’s is his mother’s.

After the burial, Tiger Pataudi’s grave was unmarked but for little patterns in the sand formed by the thousands of fists emptying over them.

The sand added to the clouds of dust through which you could see the white-shrouded figures of the women in the balcony: Sharmila, his begum, their daughters Soha and Saba and their son’s girlfriend, Kareena, stood frozen and stared at the crowds around the grave in unspoken companionship.

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