An ornate marble structure built in memory of Nelly, Leonard and Imre Schwaiger — a family that was buried together — has weathered over the years. Unattached inverted bowls are kept at random over the marble ledger as vegetation grows thick over and around the tombstones.
The Schwaiger family is among the many British people who were buried in Nicholson Cemetery near Kashmere Gate in and after 1857. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) documented each grave and cleared vegetation earlier this year, as part of the first phase of their project to restore one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in Delhi. Now, money is needed for the second phase.
The cemetery features gothic-revival style of architecture. “We removed vegetation with help of skilled labourers who worked for a month, after which 23 people from our team documented each grave at the site,” said Ajay Kumar, director, projects, INTACH, Delhi Chapter.
However, vegetation growth could not be brought under control in such a short time. Stems and branches over a few tombstones conceal the writing beneath, while others are covered in fruit falling from trees.
The project started when the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA) contacted INTACH to carry it out. “We will start work on the entrance and a few select graves as soon as the monsoon ends. Hopefully, we will get funds to carry out the latter half of the project,” said Kumar.
Peter Boon, honorary secretary, BACSA, said: “While Nicholson is still in use, maintaining its 8.8 acres and 2,463 graves is a major challenge for the Delhi Cemeteries Committee. So, BACSA invited INTACH’s Delhi Chapter to carry out conservation… we are limiting the project to conserving the gate house and some graves…”
Dennis Reginald, son of Major and Mrs Pay, died in 1931, 15 days after he was born. The writing on his stone — a poem inscribed on marble by his parents — cannot be read as the marble has gotten stained over the years. “It is a very emotional site as so many people died before time,” said Kumar.
INTACH proposes that these stones be preserved and cleaned using steam jets to remove stains and by applying a preservative coating to make the surface water-proof. Dust-shrouded stones will be cleaned with detergent and warm water, while broken parts will be reattached. Designs on graves such as marble scrolls and sculptures that are broken will be fixed. The graves will be secured by brick-edging — placing bricks around the graves. To stop vegetation growth altogether, deep roots will be removed and disposed at least 100 metres away.
The entrance will be given a new look by dismantling decayed plaster, renewing destroyed wooden batons on the ceiling and replacing old slate tiles from the roof with new ones, said INTACH members.