The history of Mhow especially the British presence here from 1818 to 1947 is something which fascinates me. I have spent hours exploring the two Mhow cemetries and photographing old British graves. This January I came across the grave of Sandra the infant daughter of Major and Mrs J Drudge-Coates of the British Army Corps of Signals. She had died on Feb 15 1943, aged 15 months.
The epitaph reads: "In Loving Memory of Sandra, youngest daughter of Major and Mrs J Drudge-Coates, Royal Corps of Signals, whom God called suddenly, Feb 15 1943, aged 15 months. An angel took my flower away, yet I will not repine. For Jesus in his bosom wears, the flower that once was mine."
During the early days of the Raj wives and children did not come to India. But the advent of steamships and later the Suez Canal changed that. The Gora Sahib in India stopped keeping desiwives when the ladywives started arriving. Of the many British children born in India many attained eminence. Some names I remember include Eric Blair (George Orwell), Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, Rudyard Kipling, Spike Milligan, the mathematician Augustus De Morgan and even the infamous cricketer Douglas Jardine of the bodyline (Ashes) series.
I do not feel particularly sad when I see the graves of British soldiers in the Mhow cemetry. It is possible that there may well be a hundred thousand British graves in all the cemetries of the Indian subcontinent. The British were here to keep the Union Jack flying and it did not come for free. I remember reading these lines of the poet Rupert Brooke from his poem The Soldier when I was in school:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.
Rupert Brooke had died in World War I along with other famous poets like Siegfried Sassoon and these lines were dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of English soldiers killed in the horrible trench warfare in Europe but the same spirit well applies to graves in India. When one is walking among these graves one does feel that one is in England so well have these graveyards been built.
Seeing the graves of women and children is a different matter and I must admit that seeing some of these grave makes me feel sad.
© Dev Kumar Vasudevan., all rights reserved.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
On 01 May 2010 Lt. Col (Retd) V G Sowani, SM passed away. At the age of ninety he was the seniormost surviving veteran in Mhow. He was also one of the few surviving veterans who had joined the Army in the pre-independence era. According to a blog of the Corps of Signals these are some of the details about him:
1. Date of birth: 11 Sep 1920
2. Date of Seniority: 04 Feb 1942
3. Date of retirement: 03 Feb 1970
He had settled in Mhow after retirement. I do not remember seeing him in my childhood though my parents knew the family. I remember him from 1979 onwards when I was in my late teens. He and I would often meet on our evening walk. We both would be with a dog. My father had been allotted an official quarter on the Mall which was known as Burmah Shell ka Bungla by the locals of Mhow. And the Sowanis lived diagonally across the road in a house they had purchased after the Colonel had retired from the Army. I also remember him for the side car attached to his Lambretta scooter. And for his impeccable manner of dressing - something very characteristic of officers commissioned in the pre-independence Indian Army.
We left the Burmah Shell Bungalow in 1980 when my Dad retired but we were always in touch with the Sowani family. There is a feeling of sadness when I think of veterans like Colonel Sowani and my dad. These are soldiers who were born in the nineteen twenties and and had served during historic times.
Mrs Vasundhara Sowani and their daughter Dr Abhijeet were kind enough to let me have access to the old photographs in the family albums. I am uploading some of them in this post as a tribute to the deceased soldier.