On my visit to Varanasi, India a few weeks back, I managed to ‘discover’ an old British cemetery there with graves dating back to 1799.
The word ‘discovery’ is being used by me in the way the Europeans claimed to have ‘discovered’ the Americas, India and many other areas from 15th century onwards. These places were already there on earth but since the Europeans did not know about these, they claimed to have ‘discovered’ those. One does not know weather it was just poor use of English language or a bit of pompousness on their part which made them use the word ‘discovery’, but unfortunately the word did stick for quite some time. Anyway, let us let it rest here and take a look at the Varanasai cemetery.
It was not easy locating it. I could get no information from the internet. The local taxi driver and the rickshawallahs were keen to take me to the Hindu burning ghats on the holy Ganges. One of them even asked me, ‘Are you a christian ?’. My honest reply of a No, supplemented by ‘I do not believe in any God’ left him disappointed. I could almost read his mind- ‘Look, here is this old man who does not believe in God but is spending his time looking for old christian graves and that too of foreigners.’
I asked the local Tourist Office but got no clue. So I gave up and started moving towards Sanchi in a taxi. Suddenly I shouted to the driver, ‘Stop. Stop”. He applied the brakes with a jerk and looked back at me ‘Kya hua ji’ (What happened)?. Found it. I have found the cemetery that I was looking for.
And there it was on one of the major roads of the town with a clear board.
Fortunately the main gate was not locked. The driver too came with me and we spent the next hour moving from one grave to another, taking photographs and ultimately feeling sad at seeing so many children and young ladies having died so early in life. May be, that was one of the prices to be paid for colonialism.
Though there is a an effective boundary wall all around , the condition of old graves is sad. It seems that no one ever visits this place except for fresh burials. Since a large number of foreign tourists visit Varanasi, I am sure, a good number of them would love to visit this heritage cemetery provided it is got spruced up and sufficient publicity is given of its existence.
Sacred to the memory of
Who departed this life
On the 23rd October 1818 (?)
Aged four months and thirteen days.
Now this does look at little eirie though the photograph was taken around noon.
To the memory of
James George Brown,
Son of James Cowley Brown, and of Mathilda, his wife
Who departed the earth on March 15th 1821,
Aged 9 months, 15 days.
Sacred to the memory of John James,who died on May16, 1813, aged 3yrs, 2mys, son of Edward Robert 15dys &
Edward Robert who died on June 10 1813 aged 6 months 15 days,
sons of Thomas and Isabella Yeld
Sacred to the memory of Robert Balhurst Esquire, of the Bengal Civil Service, who died at Benares on the third day of November (not clearly legible)
Parts II & III of this article will follow later.
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