Photo by Rebecca Mcintosh
‘Springvale Botanical Gardens , Melbourne https://sbc.smct.org.au/ , is arguably the most beautiful cemetery in Australia . Covering an area of 169 hectares it boasts of a red gum tree that is reportedly 400 years old and no less than 30,000 roses of over 300 varieties . The gravestones and headstones that you see here are of outstanding quality .The monuments are set in manicured lawns and adorned by artificial and natural flowers- ‘ the last gift of the living to the dead ‘ as Kahlil Gibran would have called them . Can you believe this – wedding ceremonies take place in this cemetery and people , like their Victorian predecessors , socialise among gravestones and promenade along its wide pathways and gorgeous gardens . It has a chapel , a cafe , florists and a large function room .
Among the people interred here are hundreds of prominent citizens including forty eight First World War and 87 Second World War participants .
My wife is buried here too .
An erstwhile colleague of mine visits cemeteries all over the globe and writes brilliant notes about them . He has a personal website dedicated to this subject . I too have visited a few fascinating graveyards outside Australia . One of them is Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb , Croatia .With arcades and pavilions and a superb vine-covered wall going around it this burial place looks like an openair art gallery . The one in Moscow is also interesting . Boris Yeltsin and the wife of Gorbachev are resting here , along with innumerable grandees of the former Soviet Union , under exquisite monuments and sumptuous sculptures . The graveyard in Buenos Aires where Eva Peron was buried in a family vault of the Duartes is also worth a visit . Incredibly lifelike statues of angels and the Virgin Mother guard the dead here .
When I was in college I was taught a poem written by Thomas Gray – ‘ Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard ‘ . The most famous line in that poem is ‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave ‘ . I recall asking my professor as to why glory must end in a grave and could not be stretched beyond . Back then I was an unquestioning catholic christian and a firm believer in an after-life .
My views have changed since my salad days . I have trained myself to live as if there is nothing beyond the grave and this material world . Even if there is something I cannot comprehend it . I believe that we each create a heaven or hell inside us . The fact of death will destroy me but the idea of death has saved me . I know that I am an ephemeral inhabitant of an insignificant planet but , to me , life is beautiful despite the fact – or because of it – that it is temporary and short . I am aware of life’s terrors , not just its joys and pleasures . Still I have affirmed life without angst and resentment .
On many occasions during the past fourteen years whenever I visited my wife’s grave i have been seeing a young lady in an adjacent row of monuments . She comes alone with a bunch of flowers, kneels in front of an unpretentious pebble-strewn grave and closes her eyes for a few minutes in an attitude of praying . I have seen the portrait of a young man on the headstone of that simple grave . It is very likely she has remained single all these years and her love for the young man has remained as fresh as the flowers she brings to his grave . What can death do to such lovers ?
Ah , that reminds me . I too shall face the inevitable hour . I have lived well , so I hope to die well . I would like my epitaph to read – I LIVED , I LOVED . – RCI’
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