Mary Mole, almost 40 then, died during childbirth on December 18, 1868. Her nameless infant was buried next to her a day later. Chickoo and Sullu — who died 11 years apart — too are buried together, and a few metres away lies Grace Parshad, “who gave so much and asked for so little.”
At Delhi’s Nicholson Cemetery, the last resting place of colonial-era soldiers and civilians, a number of stories from the late 19th and early 20th century are etched in stone. The Delhi Chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is now attempting to document the stories of these soldiers and restore the cemetery, located at Kashmere Gate.
“We are preparing a detailed project report (DPR) which is being funded by British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA)…which will then raise funds for the project. This is Phase I; if we are able to raise enough money, we will begin landscaping, cleaning, and restoring the tombstones which are now damaged,” said Ajay Kumar, projects director, INTACH-Delhi.
Nicholson Cemetery was established after the Revolt of 1857 and is named after Brigadier-General John Nicholson, who played a crucial role in containing the revolt. His grave is at the entrance and is protected by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The cemetery is taken care of by three housekeepers, one of whom exclusively looks after Nicholson’s grave. With wild grass growing from in between cracked tombstones and dried flowers next to graves which have not been visited in decades — the cemetery appears to be in a dire need of a facelift.
“It’s a resting place of the dead, not a picnic spot. A modest facelift will increase the sanctity of the cemetery where apart from slain soldiers of the Revolt of 1857, 19th century mathematician Ramchandra and Belgian Hindi scholar Father Camille Bulcke are also buried,” said Eugene Ratnam, member of Delhi Cemeteries Committee which looks after the Nicholson Cemetery.
He added that the Delhi Cemetries Committee would not be raising funds for the project “because it’s beyond our scope”.
Kumar, too, believes that “funds can be raised in the UK by BACSA… as mostly British soldiers are buried whose families left India long ago,” adding, “the connect is low in India but money can be raised from outside.”
Among the graves of soldiers and young mothers, one is that of Alice Mary, who died young. It read: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven.”
“It’s important to preserve the cemetery from a historical perspective and also because it has an aesthetic appeal… and it can be turned into a green space. Most importantly, it’s a study in social history; these gravestones tell you how many British soldiers died young in the 19th century,” said Swapna Liddle, convener of INTACH-Delhi.