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God's Acre

This past week saw the reopening of Nicholson's Cemetery - now all spruced up - at the good old Kashmere Gate



A NEW LEASE OF LIFE Nicholson's Cemetery PHOTO: ANU PUSHKARNA

While most of Delhi was celebrating Id, a small group was applauding the reopening of the Nicholson Cemetery opposite the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) by Sir Michael Arthur, the British High Commissioner, assisted by Father Valentine D'Silva, chairman of the Delhi Cemeteries Committee. David I. Hudson of Group 4 Securicor, and O.P. Jain, convener of INTACH, were among the others present. According to Lt. Col A.S. Yadav of G-S4 who supervised the renovation over two years at a cost of Rs.5 lakhs, besides a thick undergrowth, monkeys were the biggest problem they had to encounter, along with drug addicts and vandals, though not so much moony couples, who found the place a haven "for their activities."

The cemetery is now spruced up, with the graves almost restored to their original state. But still some work remains to be done. Jain has advised against planting of shady trees as their roots are a constant threat to the graves. Instead he wants ornamental bushes and shrubs to be grown all over God's Acre. The most important grave is of course that of Brig. Gen John Nicholson who was fatally shot at the storming of the Lahori Gate during the recapture of Delhi by the British in September 1857. Had it not been for him, the Firangi troops would have surely failed in their attempt. Nicholson, a 6 ft. 4-inch tall bearded Irishman led 2000 men, mostly British, Pathan and Punjabi troops, who overlooked his ferocity and worshipped him as a demi-god. The General, just 35 then, lingered for 10 days before breathing his last on Sept.23, 1857, content in the thought that "Delhi was secure once more."

Nicholson's funerals

Reginald Wilberforce records that at Nicholson's funeral, men of the Multani Horse threw themselves on the ground and wept. They refused to fight any more and left for the hills, from where they had come, picking up flowers from the grave of their beloved "Nikhal'Sen." This past Tuesday morning when the British envoy and his ADCs unveiled the tablet in front of Nicholson's grave, the giant from Ulster might well have sat up to relive an unbelievable moment - the restoration of not only his forsaken grave but of all the other graves around. The envoy and his wife, resplendent in salwar-kameez and a red scarf, walked through the vast cemetery to see the good work done to conserve a part of Delhi's heritage.And there were no monkeys around to jeer at them. However there were two pathetic tombstones to stir up emotions - one commemorating Harriet Taylor's infant daughter, Elizabeth, and the other of a mother whose son had written this epitaph - Passing Stranger call this not a place of dreary gloom. I love to linger near this spot. It is my beloved mother's tomb. Close by is the grave of Norma Nicholson, no relative of the Irish general but a latter-day animal rights activist, who won over many hearts by her eccentricity long before Maneka Gandhi came into the picture. Now perhaps it's time to restore Nicholson Park too, which has been badly mauled after the building of arterial roads for the smooth functioning of the ISBT at Kashmere Gate.

R.V. SMITH

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