Updated: Mar 31, 2018
Though a place housing 1600 dead isn't the best to go to post sunset, you better be there this evening! On most other days, it's the best place in the colonial capital to 'rest in peace'.
"On 6th Jan 2018, the cemetery is celebrating its 250th birthday", announced the newspaper. I am going to ignore the strange paradox of a cemetery having a birthday, for this burial ground does deserve to be celebrated.
A sprawling 8 acres compound whose inhabitants are 300 varieties of trees, a similar variety of birds, giant sepulchers, aging plaques and tablets, and, perhaps, 1600 smiling skeletons. The cemetery was ceremonially opened in 1767 and was active till about 1840, by which time it was full to the brim. Several epitaphs scribe young deaths, mostly from illnesses, often a young mother and child, buried together. I was enjoying the quick math refresh, extracting the age from subtractions of the years on the tomb and comparing it to my own, lucky to be living in the post-quinine world of modern medicine.
At one time, the excessive brickwork on the high walls around the cemetery was to contain the diseases from the dead bodies spreading outside. Today, it keeps the madness of the outside from coming in. Barely a few steps away from the hullabaloo of Park Street, with my tummy and my shopping bags full, I discovered this oasis of serenity. It seemed like even time is kept outside its walls. When you step in, it feels like stepping into a bubble where the sounds of traffic magically switches off and the Kolkata of the yesteryears, green, spacious, grand, opens itself to you.
The structural beauty of the tombs in the mossy, lightly manicured environs is calming. For someone who scares easily, I caught a short nap in the shade, resting my head against a tomb, transported into another parallel world. I didn’t see any crosses in this European cemetery. The tomb designs showed Roman, Greek, Mughal and Turkish influences. Some are even shaped like Hindu temples. I wonder what the present day religious fanatics would have to say to that.
I could spend hours here leisurely strolling down the many alleyways, discovering a ‘William Wodsworth’ or ‘A virtuous mother’, or a ‘Breeder of Cattle’, a ‘Livery’, a ‘Head tide-waiter’ and even a ‘Jail Keeper’!
However, the ticket allows you only two hours in this world. And, be sure that the security guard will find you amidst the dead and turn you into the departed.
For the thrill seekers is The Bleeding Tomb, the Dennison family tomb that is known to, on particular occasions, emit a blood like fluid. I sure am glad I came to know of it once I’d left the premises, else the guard would have extra work dragging a fainted body out .
What a beautiful setting this cemetery can make for an ad film or a fashion shoot, my advertising mind said. Apparently, it's a favourite with some book clubs and many a lovebirds. And, tonight it's the perfect setting for an evening of baroque music. The cemetery is celebrating it's 17th and 18th Century heritage, by paying a tribute to some of the most talented departed of the western classical world of that time.
250th Anniversary Celebration
A 2-hour evening show of baroque music.
Performances from the 17th and early 18th Century composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi and George Frederick Hendel.
A string quartet and a pianist, including violinist Prosanto Dutt.
On Saturday, January 6, 2018.
Ticket price - Rs.20
Tombs to watch out for
Rose Aylmer (died 1800) – Niece of Sir Henry Russel, after whom the Russel Street is named.
Elizabeth Barwell (died 1779) – An eminent socialite and a fêted beauty)
The Lady Anne Monson (died 1775) – A great granddaughter of King Charles II.
George Bogle (1746–1781) – Diplomat and the first British to lead an envoy to Tibet for exploration.
Lieutenant-General Sir John Clavering (1722-1777) – Army officer.
Augustus Cleveland (1784) – A distinguished administrator of the Indian Civil Services.
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809–1831) – Teacher and Poet and the leader of Youth Movement in Bengal.
Charles Short (1785) – An affluent trader after whom the present Short Street is named.
Sir Elijah Impey (1732-1809) – Eminent Judge and after whose private park the cemetery has derived its name.
Sir William Jones (1746–1794) – Indologist, founder of the Asiatic Society and an eminent scholar and orientalist.
Colonel Robert Kyd (1746–1793) – Botanist and founder of the Botanical Garden Of Calcutta.
Lieut. Col. Colin Mackenzie (1754–1821) – Surveyor General of India.
Sir John D’Oyly, 6th Baronet (1754–1818) – Politician and Socialite.
Major-General Charles Hindoo Stuart (1758–1828) – Known to be a devout practitioner of Hindu faith who bathed in the Ganges everyday and wore traditional Bengali attire in domestic life.
Rs.20 for 2 hours
8am - 4pm
Don’t think I’d want to be there any time later.
Park Street, Kolkata