Murals and Memorials

If I should die, think only this of me: 
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be 
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,      
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
- The Soldier, Rupert Brooke

Although those words were written by a young poet of the 1st World War, who himself would perish in that ill-begotten horror, they resound with the many graves and memorials scattered the length and breadth of India.

The first book this writer ever read in regard to memorials in India is the now out-of-print “The Two Monsoons” by Theon Wilkinson. It spawned a life-long interest in exploring those graveyards many of which today, are sadly lost to time, neglect and that irksome beast, progress. The sterling work of BACSA (British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia) has preserved many graveyards that would otherwise have been lost forever, and continue to call to attention those who have the power to save the monuments to the dead.
The question of course in our modern times, is should we preserve graves of colonials? After all, they were in our sense of understanding, invaders, foreigners in a land they had no right to call their own, the despised minority ruling over the majority. Although I am mindful of this fact, I believe we cannot see things through the glasses of self-righteousness.

Graveyards are first and foremost, burial grounds. There lie the last resting place of the dead, who had they had a preference, would probably have chosen to die at home. Others felt India was their home – remember Mary Carshore – so for them, they were in essence, buried in what they understood as their native land. The dead deserve to rest in their slumber, no matter where they are buried. Digging up bones, as happened at the battle site of Badli Ki Serai, is at the lowest end of the scale, disrespectful and horrifying (Chowkidar, Volume 14 Number 2 Autumn 2015).

Grave in Nicholson Cemetery, Delhi

It is understandable that not all graveyards can be saved – there simply is not the interest nor the funds invested to make this happen. Natural decay is however preferable to wanton destruction, such as witnessed in Lucknow.

Dashwood Grave, 2011
Same graves, 2016

And this, my dear readers even though Lucknow Residency is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India! I leave you to ponder upon those words.


On my last visit in 2016, I could not find even the slab of the grave. I might be accused of not looking carefully enough, and granted, the grass was high and I have a worry of being bitten by snakes, but it appears, for all intents and purposes to have vanished. The grave stone pictured below was inaccessible due to the high grass and it was impossible to get to.

These are just 2 examples from Lucknow but they serve to illustrate my point.

Another reason to preserve graveyards, of course, is history. Families searching for their ancestors in foreign fields do find a sense of coming full circle when they find the headstone of a long-lost relative. For some who had relatives who were killed in 1857, it can be a journey to address a suppressed grief and bring to a close a chapter of family history. Having been in contact with some relatives of those who were killed in 1857, it never ceases to upset me how much having this kind of history in the past can follow a family for over a century. There is actual sadness and a genuine need to know what happened to their unfortunate family members, albeit long since deceased. One woman expressed her relief to find out her relation had died of disease in Lucknow and was not shot as family legend had led her to believe. Another was grateful his relative had died in the entrenchments in Cawnpore and not at Satichaura Ghat. I spoke to a relative who asked me to lay flowers on a grave in Delhi and another requested I send pictures of a wall plaque from St. James’ Church. Some trauma, although it is old has not healed with time. It has become a part of family sorrow – history so far away and they have no hope of visiting the grave of someone they never knew but who continues to live on like a distant memory.
Cawnpore is a place of much contention and it leads to very heated arguments on all sides. However, I can see the subject from both sides.
On one hand, it was obviously not possible to keep the Memorial Gardens as a shrine in the newly formed India in 1947 with all the rules it entailed and the enormous maintenance costs. It would have been as absurd as keeping the Union Jack flying atop the Residency in Lucknow. However, the present condition is not the right solution either.

The well and site of the Bibigar, picture by Harriet Tytler, 1858
Memorial Well and Gardens
Marochetti’s Angel in the Memorial Garden, picture by Samuel Bourne
A part of the remaining screen and the angel were removed to All Soul’s Cathedral also known as Kanpur Memorial Church

It might serve a nationalistic purpose to have removed Marochetti’s Angel from the well at Cawnpore but to replace it with a bust of Tatya Tope is as tasteless as it is disrespectful. One of the men who instigated the betrayal at the Satichaura Ghat will now spend eternity standing on top of the well of the women and children murdered at the Bibighar. The site is chilling to this writer and possibly the saddest thing I have ever had the misfortune to see. I have lived the story of Cawnpore for over 2 decades of my life and the well, having seen it in its dilapidated state, leads me to believe there will never be peace for those who died in Cawnpore. The well continues to cry in strangled silence. History serves little purpose to those who have no need for it and to those who have no regard for the past.

The Bibighar Well Memorial, 2009

No religion calls for dishonouring the dead.
But politics does.