We insist that what we put forward to readers is 'verifiable' evidence and we have expanded on the scope made available to further our argument in scientific and logical spheres wherever possible.
1. There is empirical evidence to suggest and confirm that a man by the name of Fakir Lalon Shah did exist in Seuria, Kushtia in what was pre-partition (1947) Nadiya district of undivided Bengal, British Imperial India. His date of birth is not known and his death as recorded in his tombstone is 1st Kartick, 1297 corresponding to the Gregorian calendars 17th October 1890. It is estimated that he was between 115 to 117 years of age at the time of his departure – meaning he lived approximately between the periods 1774 AD to 1890 AD.
2. Traditions (not myths) reaffirm where researches and documentations have failed - that Lalon by choice, implications or necessity 'never revealed' his date of birth, the name of his biological parents, his religion, caste or societal background, and any pertinent information that could have been used to track back his roots and origins.
3. Accepted overall is that he was discovered in a near semi-comatose state near the banks of the River Kaliganga in Seuria, Kushtia with a full blown case of smallpox virus (variola major) - a disease discovered in 10,000 BC, with estimated mortality rate as high as 30 to 35%.
4. In 18th Century Europe 400,000 people died of the smallpox each year including seven reigning monarchs – Queen Mary II of England, Emperor Joseph I of Austria, King Luis I of Spain, Tsar Peter II of Russia, Queen Ulrika Elenora of Sweden, and King Louis XV of France.
5. In India the disease evolved about 3,000 years ago with devastating consequences. It appears only among humans and there were no known animal reservoir – nor did insects ever play a part in its transmission. On the 8th of May 1980 World Health Organization declared smallpox to be dead and successfully eradicated from earth.
6. The person who instinctively rescued Lalon from his plight was Motijaan mAA (The Precious Jewels Mother, possibly a later day honorific) who had gone to fetch water before dawn and found his near lifeless form washed up on the river bank, breathing only in gasps and when the sound of sighing drew her attention.
7. Matijaan rushed back to her cottage and summoned her husband Maulana Malam Shah and both reportedly carried this seemingly teenage child (some traditions mention pre-teen) indoor for care, treatment and restoration of health and well being. It is reported that the couple was childless and Lalon thus became their only adopted son. The disease left Lalon apparently partially blind in one eye and his face and rest of his body permanently scarred and/or disfigured with characteristic pockmarks.
In analyzing 1 to 7, we have to bear in mind the social conditions prevalent in Bengal at the time, and historically there are documented evidence and traditions encapsulated in our heritage indicating that smallpox victims were often subject to involuntary euthanasia, - either buried alive or cremated secretly. In rural backwaters the more 'humane' option was to strap a victim to a bhela or makeshift raft made with stalks of the Banana or Bamboo plant, which is then left to float freely overnight in the course of river current, leading either to the raft capsizing, and/or being deliberately scuttled at discovery. Lalon was subject to the same ordeal – the difference being he possibly fell into water and was miraculously washed ashore.
Horrific as this may sound, the author of these series of essays witnessed the Bhela (Raft of Mercy) phenomenon firsthand in the 1960's. A raft adorned with red flag signaling danger - carrying a solitary terminally ill patient veering listlessly in the River Buriganga in Narayanganj – with people on both banks of the river fleeing at the sight of the raft, and boats on course pushing the raft to midstream allowing for a clear passage.
As such, contrary to popular misconceptions, the only way Matijaan and Maulana Malam Shah could have saved Fakir Lalon Shah was to spirit him off secretly to their cottage and confine him without anybody in the near vicinity, having any knowledge of the presence of a patient afflicted by pestilence.
The secrecy option would have been necessitated as otherwise it would have led to violent incidents like burning of the couple's home, with bodily harm and death not outside the scope of possibilities.
The times were desperate; harboring one smallpox patient would amount to death for of an entire village population. Why then would Matijaan and Malam take such a risk?
© Ongoing Research - Maqsoodul Haque - Mac 1st April 2009