It’s a mystery why guidebooks have been indifferent to the (deadly) charms of one of the oldest British cemeteries in Delhi. Guarded by a cross-shaped gateway, Nicholson Cemetery has a sloping, grassy landscape dotted with intricately carved light-brown graves. Neem, khajoor and tamarind trees stand like sentinels. Thick bougainvillea bushes weighed down with flowers shed pink petals on the tombstones. Hundreds of “dearly loved” children and “beloved” wives lie beneath.
On the stones, personal details about the dead are preceded by sentimental poems or Biblical verses. Stone angels look over the shoulder as one reads these inscriptions. Some tombs show curious symbols indicating the deceased’s profession. Some are covered with dry leaves, which one must sweep clean to read the inscriptions. Most graves date from the 1857 ‘Mutiny’.
The cemetery’s most prominent grave is of Brigadier General John Nicholson, “the lion of Punjab”. An Irish army officer in the British East India Company, Nicolson died of wounds received during the Uprising. His tomb lies near the cemetery’s entrance, barricaded by an iron grill invaded by jasmine vines.
On the far side, towards the Ring Road, marigolds adorn the new graves of Indian Christians. Elsewhere, a tomb’s inscription reads: ‘Jesus said, ‘Weep not’.’