In 1904 in the city of Defiance in the state of Ohio in the East North Central region of the Midwestern United States, Daniel Myron Lefever and his sons Charles, Frank, and George crafted some of the best shotguns ever made. Almost one-hundred years later in the year 2000, one of those original guns, a riffled-bore double-barrel, hung on a grey stone wall in a small quarter inside the Fort of Munger. The ancient, ruined fort sat on a rocky hillock on the south bank of the river Ganges in the state of Bihar in India, twelve thousand five hundred kilometres away from Defiance where the gun was first made.
Some say that the shotgun tamed the American wild west. In the hands of soldiers, farmers, family men, guards, bandits, hunters, and sportsmen, it is perhaps the most widely used weapon in human history, which traversed the frontiers of Old West to reach many countries in virtually every continent.
A shotgun is a simple smooth bored or riffled firearm, spitting out numerous spherical pellets or a solid slug encased in a shell. The boxlock hammerless break-open action developed and patented by Anson and Deeley in 1875 is what made possible to make cheaper and more reliable shotguns at larger scales. Old and well-maintained antiques can be both priceless and deadly as an effective weapon.
Seventy-year-old Haider Ali was the proud owner of the gun that hung on the ancient wall in the fort of Munger. Haider claimed that sometime in the second half of 12th century, the fort was first brought under Muslim rule by Qutb ud-Din Aibak. The legendary Turkic general (of Mu’izz ad-Din Muhammad Ghori) from Central Asia, who went on to establish the independent kingdom that evolved into the Mamluk or Slave dynasty, which started the Delhi Sultanate.
The first historical account of Munger district, however, appears in the chronicles of the famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller, and translator, Hiuen Tsiang who visited the region in the first half of the 7th century AD. Recorded history of the fort though can only be traced back to 1330 AD onwards, under the rule of the “inhuman eccentric” king Muhammad bin Tughluq of the Tughluq Dynasty of Delhi Sultanate.
An ancient stone inscription, however, reveals the fort as being located in a town ruled by Hindu Kings. It points to Chandragupta Maurya founder of the Maurya Empire, as the one to have built the Fort of Muger sometime in the 4th century, this, however, remains to be authenticated.
Over the years, from the Mithila Dynasty of Karnataka to a succession of Muslim rulers, the Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Lodis, Suris, Mughals, followed by the Nawabs of Bengal ruled the fort of Munger. It was finally acceded to the British East India Company for a monetary reward by Mir Qasim between 1760 and 1772, after unseating his father-in-law Mir Jafar on the grounds of old age. The fort became a place of considerable significance to the British Raj in Bengal region.
Following a mutiny by European officers of the Bengal army stationed there in 1776, the Munger fort started losing its importance. After Lord Clive suppressed the mutiny, only a small garrison remained stationed there. Over the years it got neglected without any maintenance. Then during the early part of the 19th century, the fort was debased to a lunatic asylum for sepoys, where there was also a depot for army clothing, and it became an invalid station for British soldiers, degrading its illustrious history and heritage.
Haider Ali claimed that his forefathers forged guns in the fort’s foundry for Raja Todar Mal in the 16th century and then during the 1760s manufactured muzzle-loaded firelocks for Bengal’s Nawab Mir Qasim. His ancestral lineage was that of guns, marksmanship, and battle. For over five-hundred-years Haidar Ali’s family had lived, worked, and protected the fort of Munger.
Though with time a lot had been lost and forgotten, the one thing that Haider clung on to was his passion for guns, marksmanship, and battles. They were a part of his very DNA. Apart from taking care of a small armoury tweaking and tinkering with guns, the old-timer even made his bullets.
He designed his slugs to travel the extra distance, beating any bullet available in the market. The fort gave him ample space to constantly sharpen his marksmanship skills and perfect his long-distance bullets. With his self-modified legendary Lefever shotgun and home-made long-distance slugs, the graybeard could take out a moving clay pigeon a mile away.
Whatever Ali’s illustrious history might have been, long gone were the glory days. With no living kith or kin, the old man lived a solitary life residing in his dilapidated ancestral home at one corner within the ruined fort premises.
Though declared a Government protected site of historical heritage, no one of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) dared to request the antediluvian Haider Ali to vacate the Premises. They were all scared of his fabled temper and furious wielding of the legendary Lefever shotgun, which he constantly shouldered while walking within the fort, talking to the ruins, which had lost all its grandeur and had long become silent.
In 1964 Swami Satyananda Saraswati founded the ‘Bihar School of Yoga’ in a renovated section inside the fort premises. Around four hundred students from America, Australia and many other countries came to reside and study yoga in the campus every year. They, however, did not disturb Haider Ali, who consciously kept away from them.
The old man would spend some of his time during the day around the Tombs of Pir Shah Nufa, and Mulla Muhammed Said. Sometimes he would walk inside the ancient Palace of Shah Shuja or would be seen lamenting at the Kashtaharini Ghat on banks of the river Ganges.
At times he would meditate at Chandisthana, a site of Hindu pilgrimage, a shrine dedicated to Goddess Chandi or Sati, one of the fifty-one sacred Shakti Peethas, where body parts of the Goddess fell on Earth according to Hindu mythological references. In the evenings he would roam the ancient naturally rocky hillock named after king Karna Vikrama as ‘Karnachaura’, the highest point in the region.
Under the topography of the fort, lay a baffling labyrinth of tunnels. They were built over the centuries by many kings and dynasties that lived and reigned in the region. No one, however, knew much about them or that they even existed. As nature of fort tunnels go, they were secretly hidden, nearly impossible to be discovered even by intent or just by accident.
From the days of yore, tunnels have been an important feature, of many forts and castles. Specifically designed to be cautiously used for secret movements, both within and outside the fort complex, only select individuals have always known about their existence.
For the tunnels that mazed under the fort of Munger, Haider Ali was the only living person to know most about them. He had spent a lifetime discovering, secretly mapping, maintaining, and daftly mastering them. Using the tunnels, within moments he would appear at a different place, spaced at a distance humanly impossible to cover, giving him the nickname ‘Ghost of the Fort of Munger’.
Now when it came to the Lefever shotgun, Haider Ali claimed that sometime between 1910 and 1916, Lord Charles Hardinge II, 1st Baron Hardinge of Penshurst, British diplomat and statesman, that time viceroy and Governor-General of India had gifted the weapon to his grandfather. Lord Hardinge during his viceroyship between the annulment of the partition of Bengal and the transfer of imperial capital from Kolkata to Delhi had come on a recreational trip to Munger.
During his visit, on a hunting expedition, Ali’s grandfather had saved the viceroy’s life by killing a tiger with his muzzle-loaded firelock musket from the 1700s. Highly impressed with Ali’s grandpa’s skilled marksmanship in the face of sudden and unexpected danger, the Lord gifted him with one of his favourite Lefever shotguns, which was handed down the generations to Haider Ali as part of his ancestral inheritance. The shotgun today was nicknamed ‘Donali – The Shotgun Of Haider Ali’ by the locals of the region. Donali meant double-barrel in the Hindi dialect.
Crouched like an old tiger, Haider Ali waited for the right moment. He had kept his eyes closed to save the marksman’s light in his ancient oculi, only to momentarily open his left eyelid right before he fired the shot from his shotgun to confirm his kill.
The bullet cut across the chilly evening Gangetic wind, splitting open the skull of the man who was about to splatter the brains of an Australian kid, on his knees, gagged, and with hands tied behind his back, the first in the row of boys and girls tied and lined up to be killed.
The Avtomat Kalashnikova assault rifle fell from the man’s hands on the stone fort floor followed by his lifeless body. The shrill sound of the shot fired from Haider Ali’s shotgun resonated for a moment breaking the nocturnal silence. It announced the start of a ferocious gun battle between a seventy-year-old man armed with a double-barrel Lefever shotgun and a group of twenty highly trained criminals packing Glocks and AK-47 automatics.
There was utter chaos among the miscreants. How could anyone have fired a shot to kill one of their friends? They ran here and there taking cover and wildly firing into the darkness from their Glocks and AK-47s. The hostages tied up and huddled, shrieked and cried uncertain of what would happen to them.
Within a few minutes, however, the goons got back their bearings. Their training kicked in, and they became better coordinated and battle-ready. Some of them kept guard on the kids, while others scattered sweeping the fort trying to locate the person who had fired a shot and got one of their friends killed.
There was a second shot audibly distinct from the ones fired from the Glocks and AK-47s. It hit the left shoulder of another gawk throwing him against a stone wall, knocking him cold and unconscious. This time some of the miscreants saw where the shot came from, they fired volleys of molten led in the direction and ran to eliminate the threat, however, could not find anyone, all their efforts seemed fruitless. It was as if a ghost had fired on them and then vanished into the darkness.
Within a minute a third shot took out another of the bloodies. The cutthroats now were sure that a group of professional men, perhaps soldiers, or warriors, were picking them out one by one with much coordination and confidence. A shot came from the north, then one from the west, followed by one from the south and then one from the east.
It felt like they were surrounded, with no escape. The riffled barrels of Haider Ali’s shotgun gave him enhanced accuracy even at a great range, as he fired his custom-made long-distance solid slugs, which swirled with utmost precision towards their targets. As the battle continued into the night, one by one, sixteen of the miscreants fell. Some dead while others lay fatally wounded. In the end, just four of them remained.
The leader of the bandits finally realised his plight. He had lost the night’s battle. His plan of abducting Australian and American students from the Bihar School of Yoga and hold them for ransom in the coming days had miserably failed. He and his gang had successfully killed and abducted many businessmen and earned a lot of ransom in the process till date but were never busted.
It was the first time they had hatched such a big plan. The criminals were confident to comfortably kidnap at least twenty foreign kids and extort fat ransoms over the following days. The cops had been trying to catch them for over a year but were never able to nab them or put an end to their bloody rampage.
The bandits never thought that they would face any resistance in the ancient and silent Fort of Munger. They were, however, wrong. They, did not know that a seventy-year-old man with a one-hundred-year-old Lefever double-barrel shotgun would decimate them?
Fatally wounded with a slug lodged in his right thigh the leader of the group along with three of his friends barely managed to climb into one of the four SUV’s they had come in. They were about to escape.
Haider Ali took one last aim and fired a single shot from his shotgun, which obliterated one of the back tyres of the SUV, making the vehicle lose control and topple into a ditch near the fort’s entrance.
As dawn broke the silhouette of a man appeared atop the ‘Karnachaura’ hill. The school of yoga students saw the figure standing with an arm akimbo and with the other hand holding a shotgun with smoke still rising from its double-barrels on his shoulder resting. As the hostages freed each other, and the sounds of approaching police sirens grew louder, and mobile phones started ringing, disappeared the silhouette of the man from the top of the hill.
The cops did their routine investigation and officially reported that members of the criminal group killed each other over a dispute. They even said that police intervention got the criminals at the end. Everyone, however, knew who it was that had saved the yoga students.
So today if you happen to visit the ‘Fort of Munger’, 185 km from the Patna airport, do enjoy all its historical heritage, tourist spots and the school of yoga too. Make sure you visit the Tombs of Pir Shah Nufa, and Mulla Muhammed Said. Take a stroll in the Palace of Shah Shuja and spend some time at the Kashtaharini Ghat on banks of the river Ganges. Spend a moment of reverence at the sacred pilgrimage site of ‘Chandisthana’, and of course, do not forget to climb atop ‘Karnachaura’ the ancient hillock, highest point in the region.
Amidst all your sightseeing, however, do not be alarmed if you come across an antediluvian carrying a Lefever double-barrel shotgun. He does not like to be seen much and would vanish as soon as you lay eyes on him. The person carrying it would be none other than the protector of the place, the ‘Ghost of the Fort of Munger’ and the weapon you would have seen would be the legendary ‘Donali – The Shotgun Of Haider Ali’.
Copyright © 2020 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
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