Bhutto graves may be silent, but for the people who care for them memories are clear

Published: April 5, 2012

Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari pays her respects at the grave of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her grandfather, in this file photo. It is covered in velvet fringed with silver and a turban lies at the head. PHOTO: FILE

GARHI KHUDA BUX: The historic cry of “Jiye Bhutto” rises up from within the Garhi Khuda Bux mausoleum. The devotees sob, pray, touch their foreheads to the marble boundaries of the grave of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto draped in velvet and ringed by silver. A turban rests on it.

One of the caretakers of the graves, Haji Mashooq Ali, recalls Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s burial, 33 years ago this week. “A brigadier came. He told us that Bhutto saheb had been hanged and we had to prepare for a burial space. There was a note – signed by a cleric – that his body had been washed according to religious customs.”

The villagers gathered and about a hundred to 150 people attended the funeral of the former prime minister. “There was a curfew, the army had taken over the area. There were helicopters. It was just us. Ameer Begum was called but she wasn’t allowed to use the shroud from Medina. The brigadier said, “We have the shroud, we have everything, just quickly bury him.’”

Three decades on, thousands will be here to celebrate Bhutto’s memory on Wednesday, April 4.

Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa visit regularly, says the caretaker. Shades are put up and the mausoleum is emptied to give them privacy. While Zulfikar and Benazir’s graves are encased in marble, the final resting places of Nusrat, Mir Murtaza and Shahnawaz, are not.

According to Ghulam Mustafa, who manages security at the graves, Sanam Bhutto picked the space for her mother’s grave, next to her father’s. Work on Nusrat’s grave is expected to start after the death anniversary. For now, it is draped in a black chador and is marked by a small sign that identifies her as the mother of democracy and the wife of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Plastic covers still adorn the marble pillars on Benazir’s grave, because work is still going on.

According to the caretaker, attendance at the mausoleum increases when the PPP isn’t in power. “Now the government puts up these hurdles, you can’t park here, you can’t go there.” People will soon be restricted to the upper level of the mausoleum, as happens at Quaid-e-Azam’s tomb in Karachi. This, they say, was Benazir’s original idea.

People of nearby villages tend to the site. Mashooq Ali says he was picked by Benazir. He recalls that while the villagers did not wash the body, they were allowed to see Zulfikar’s face: “He was weak, and there were marks on his neck, but it was him.”

According to him, the man who led Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s funeral prayers, Mullah Mehmood, also officiated at Benazir’s nikkah ceremony. Today that man’s grandson, Abdul Fateh Bhutto, runs the stall for shoes outside. His elder brother reads the Holy Quran inside, replacing his late father, Maulana Mohammad Malik Bhutto, and grandfather, who did the same.

Maulana Mehmood told his grandsons stories of how he would teach Benazir and Mir Murtaza the Holy Quran. “Then they left, went to study in London… when BB came back, she would help us. She sent money, paid for medical expenses. She would always come talk to us. She came to visit us and gave us a house when my grandfather died, but someone else usurped that. She would send us money when she was in Dubai too. Now no one helps. We are a family of about 50 people, and I get paid by the TMO. About Rs5,000 a month.” As visitors leaving the mausoleum file out, they hand him money, a Rs50 note here, a Rs100 note there.

He says President Asif Ali Zardari came to see them and asked if they needed any help before the 2008 general elections.

When they went to see him, they were refused entry at Naudero House and only admitted once the now-president had left. “It’s not him… The people below him are like this.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.

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