Bitter memories of conquest and subjugation are most commonly expunged, post independence, by appropriating the edifices and symbols of a conquering power and imbuing them with national identity. Successive governments then milk political mileage by eradicating vestiges of colonial association from cities, streets. and maps. Even in stubbornly resistant cities like Calcutta.
But how does a post-colonial country deal with monuments to the mortal remains of its colonial rulers? Those painful spaces of remembrance whose commemorative inscriptions are veritable proclamations of glory and martyrdom? Of sacrifice and service to God & King?
By abandoning and ignoring them. Until they disintegrate into the mists of time. Until any surviving epitaphs have little import on a generation far removed from the turmoil of conquest.
South Park Street Cemetery, located in the heart of the city, just off a bustling thoroughfare that was once called the ‘Burial Ground Road’, is one such relic of Calcutta’s turbulent colonial history. It is said to be one of the earliest non-church cemeteries in the world, and the largest Christian cemetery outside Europe and the Americas.
And one that managed to survive.
A desolate space, despite its monumental tombs. Steeped in sadness and forlorn glory. Melancholy…yet deeply tranquil. Whose 1600, (mostly) poignantly young inhabitants, underscore the waste of it all.
PS: In 1978 a massive restoration of the decaying cemetery was undertaken by the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia. It is now maintained by the Christian Burial Board, Kolkata.