Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Grave of a Child of the era of the British Raj

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.

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