Delhiwale: A date with the dearly departed
Public interest: Stone angels, love notes, chiselled dates and dry twigs give Nicholson Cemetery an ethereal touchdelhi Updated: Jun 03, 2017 17:00 IST
The track disappears into thorny vines. It re-emerges a few steps later and passes by a small grave. The inscription on it is not immediately legible Some of the engraved alphabets have gone but they have left behind imprints: In Ever Loving Memory of Arthur Thomas William.
We are walking in Nicholson Cemetery, a Christian graveyard near Kashmere Gate. Date and tamarind trees watch over the dead, while thick bougainvilleas shed pink petals over the graves of ‘dearly loved’ children and ‘beloved’ spouses. The personal details of the departed are preceded by carefully chosen poems or Biblical verses. One inscription reads: “Jesus said, weep not.”
Stone angels look over your shoulder as you try to decipher these engravings after sweeping away the dry leaves that cover them. Some tombstones display curious symbols indicating the deceased’s profession. Several graves date from the 1857 uprising.
On clearing a stone, the following words show up: Born At Greencastle, Iowa.Sept. 12, 1863.Died at Delhi, India.June 17, 1935.
Another tomb says: She Loved India.
The cemetery’s most prominent grave is that of Brigadier General John Nicholson, who was nicknamed “the Lion of Punjab” and from whom the cemetery gets its name. An Irish army officer in the British East India Company, Nicolson died of wounds received during the uprising. His tomb lies near the entrance, barricaded by an iron grille invaded by jasmine vines.
The air in the cemetery pulsates with traffic sounds. Just outside it is a busy bus stop. Metro trains run along the adjacent elevated tracks. (Commuters in the train can see the graveyard from their coach windows.)
Feathers litter the ground, along with ant hills. The path turns scenically in long, angular curves. The frequent recurrence of thickly wooded patches turns the walk into a pattern of shade and sun.
Some of the tombs are in advanced stages of disintegration. Many lie unseen under bushes and creepers. Most graves have probably not been touched for years. The dead have been forgotten. That’s our future too.