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When sleeping becomes a midnight torture

The death of 30 children in 40 villages of Pratapgarh, Jaunpur and Sultanpur districts of Uttar Pradesh some years ago had created panic, with nobody sure about who killed them-man or beast.

R V Smith | New Delhi |

“The Sun shall not smite thee by day nor the Moon by (at) night”, says the blessing for the righteous in the Good Book. Others are adversely affected and, after the Sun’s fury, find it a torture to sleep even in the moonlight, when wolves howl at the moon in the wilderness.

Does moonlight have a weird effect on certain people? The recent Bloodred Wolf Moon enchanted many and agonised some, who found its effect overbearing on their senses.

The death of 30 children in 40 villages of Pratapgarh, Jaunpur and Sultanpur districts of Uttar Pradesh some years ago had created panic, with nobody sure about who killed them-man or beast.

The authorities blamed wolves and hyenas, which shikaris had been unable to shoot, while the villagers felt a Manai (werewolf ) was behind the killings.

Who are werewolves? The belief is that they are humans who undergo a complete transformation from man to animal under the influence of moonlight, as seldom are such killings reported on dark nights. There was Anu Kasai of Sindh, who was one such.

He was entombed in a fort wall for killing several people and selling their meat during Akbar’s reign. C A Kincaid, ICS, has mentioned in his “Tales Told by the Tulsi Plant” about how two of his friends, both Europeans, encountered a La khansama “who turned into a wolf at night” and killed their Goan cook in Sehwan.

In the 1930s Nawab Faiyaz Khan visited the Agra Mental Asylum and found that one of the inmates, a seth, looked perfectly sane. He asked the hospital Superintendent why the man had been interned there. The superintendent asked him to waited and as soon as the noonday sun burst forth in all its glory on that summer’s day, the man, who was talking very coherently, just rushed indoors in panic.

He was scared that he would melt as he was obsessed with the idea that he was made of wax.

Another man, who also belonged to a rich family of businessmen of Chandni Chowk, had a mortal fear of the full moon for he thought if he stayed outdoors on a full moon night he would freeze like the kheer that was cooled in the moonlight at the court of Wajid Ali Shah.

Incidentally, Bahadur Shah I, who ascended the throne as Shah Alam I after his father Aurangzeb, became a mental patient in the last years of his short reign.

One of his obsessions was that the full moon was penetrating his brain to drive him to commit suicide. That is why he would get all the doors and windows of his palace closed on such nights and sat trembling in a corner, where he was generally found after midnight and persuaded to go to bed. A son of Shah Alam II (who came to the throne 50 years after Shah Alam I) would hide in the royal hammamsas he was scared moonlight was searching for him in a bid to end his life.

This fear also infected his old spinster sister, who sought refuge in the Mumtaz Mahal of the Red Fort on full moon nights.

One doesn’t find mention of this in any book but in oral history peppered with gossip and hearsay.

Nawab Faiyaz Khan, a great bibliophile, met an intellectual in a mental asylum in England, (when he was studying at Oxford), who was a professor and sent learned articles to the Encyclopaedia Britannica on various subjects.

The professor was asked by the publishers to meet them as his knowledge was phenomenal and they wanted to see him personally. The professor wrote back that he was not in a position to meet them as he was confined to a lunatic asylum. The publishers questioned the Superintendent as to the reason for the professor’s confinement.

The doctor said the patient was certainly very sane, except for the fact that he turned violent on certain moonlit nights and wanted to attack those near him. Once he had beaten up his sister-in-law. At another time he had attacked his wife and son and became a danger to his family.

The last Superblood Wolf Moon brought these memories to mind when one saw pictures of it casting its enchanting effect on monuments in the cities in which it was seen during the lunar eclipse. It’s worth mentioning that the Mughal emperors were not immune to such beliefs and many of them, from Akbar to Bahadur Shah Zafar, bathed during solar and lunar eclipses and got themselves weighed in grain, which was distributed to the poor on the advice of their astrologer, one of whom was Pundit Pati Ram, after whom a kutcha is named in the Walled City.

Pati Ram always found a seat of honour in the Dewan-e-Khas of the Red Fort, where he was taken in the royal palanquin.

Among his list of do’s and don’ts was that royal inmates of the fort should avoid going out on full moon nights, especially at eclipses, on one of which, incidentally, Ahmad Shah, successor of Mohammad Shah, was stabbed to death at a mazar he was fond of frequenting at night.

His mother, Qudsia Begum was imprisoned after the assassination for misguiding her son on the advice of fakirsand mendicants, who influenced both of them by their superstitious talk.

One of them was the Fakir of Thatta who had conspired in the killing of courtier Hussain Ali with the connivance of Qudsia Begum. She used to send him disguised as a milkman to spy on the nobleman. He had aroused the jealousy of her favourite Hyder Quli.

The latter’s haveli still exists in Chandni Chowk as a rabbit warren of many shops, with part of the building, whose last occupant was Lala Narain Prasad still intact, though the nonagenarian Lalaji died in February 2016.

Funny to say so, but the haveli is situated in such a way that very little moonlight permeates it, probably because Hyder Quli too was a superstitious man, branded by his erstwhile mentor, Hussain Ali, as a “Moonia” (one who acted abnormally under the influence of the moon) and not fit to be in charge of artillery in the Red Fort.

It was this candid observation that actually brought about the murder of the nobleman. So you see how the moon affects the minds of some, no matter how high and low and affirms the sinister belief in werewolves supposedly active on Bluemoon nights!