A HANDFUL of good samaritans have joined hands and restored the iconic ‘Mem ki Qabr’ located in a graveyard in this sleepy cantonment town. The restored grave will be blessed with a service to be held on June 25 in the presence of the local Christian community and representatives of the Cantonment Board and the local Army Brigade.
The grave of Mary Rebecca Weston has been famous in this part of Himachal Pradesh for its supposedly miraculous attribute of inducing the conception of a child. Mary died in 1909 in Dagshai while in labour pain, along with her unborn child, and was buried here with a striking piece of work over her grave commissioned by her husband, Maj George Weston.
It comprised a lady reclining with a child in her arms and angel watching over them. Inscribed are the words “To the sacred and loving memory of my wife Mary Rebecca Weston who died at Dagshai, 10th December 1909 and our unborn Babe”. The marble of the grave was steadily shipped away over a period of time with local woman and wives of soldiers posted in the cantonment town taking away pieces to bring them luck.
In an effort made over the period of last three months, the grave has now been restored to its original condition, thanks to the efforts of a Dagshai resident, Anand Sethi and his close friends. Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Colombo where he has gone for a brief visit, Dr Sethi, said “We started the restoration work in March this year and brought a craftsman from Kolkata to do the intricate work,” he said.
Anand Sethi also made painstaking efforts to locate the descendents of Major George Weston in the United Kingdom. “Since Major Weston was posted in the military hospital in Dagshai in 1907 and was from the Royal Army Medical Corps, we made requests to the Royal Military Corps Association in UK to help locate descendents, if any, to give us permission to restore the grave,” he said.
Eventually, two descendents-Georgina Weston and Elizabeth James- were traced and the two would be visiting India in October to pay their respects at the grave of Mary Rebecca Weston. Mary’s grief stricken husband, George, did not remarry and adopted his brother’s son and daughter and these are their descendants. Sethi says arranging the finances for the restoration work was not difficult as many Dagshai lovers including old students of the Army Public school located here pitched in for the effort.
A steel wiremesh enclosure has been built around the grave in order to protect it from vandals in the future and a lock has been put in it.
The graveyard itself, one of the three in Dagshai, is not guarded and has no gates. Some of the graves date back to 1840 as before that the bodies used to be taken to Ambala for burial. According to Father Titus, priest at the St Patrick’s Church in Dagshai, there are very few funds available for the upkeep of the graves.
“Some money is spent by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to maintain the graves of soldiers who died in the First World War. But there is no money to care for the rest of them even though the graveyards fall in defence land,” he said.
For Sethi, this is not the first attempt at restoring historical places in Dagshai. in 2011, he had taken upon himself the task of restoring the Dagshai jail back to its original condition after decades of use as a godown for the Military Engineers Service (MES).
The jail, which housed freedom fighters ranging from the prisoners of the Komagatu Maru episode and Mahatma Gandhi, to the later years of freedom struggle, had also been a place of incarceration for a group of Irish mutineers of the British Army who struggled for Freedom of Ireland and one of them was executed by a firing squad here in 1920.