It's no secret that I'm fascinated with death, so I was thrilled when S suggested a picnic in the Himalayan foothills at a site a convenient saunter from an old English graveyard.
The place was closed, but we were not to be deterred. We climbed over a short brick wall, only to discover that the place was in quite bad disrepair.
Despite the broken crosses and disturbed stones, there was much to see. Most of the graves were of women and children, many of whom did not live past the age of five or six. The oldest graves were from the 1830s; the most recent was from 1997 and was littered with half-burnt Diwali candles and a box of poor-quality matches. Though the early graves were of the English, a number of Indians were also buried on the site.
Having visited a number of cemeteries, I was quite surprised by the relative modesty of the graves. Most were slabs of concrete, engraved with a few simple words. A few were marble, and even fewer had the ornately carved headstones invoking Jesus and the saints that are so ubiquitous in my memory. No angels were trumpeting for the fallen. Perhaps it was practicality -- lavishly mourn the dead, or feed ourselves for another year, keep ourselves warm in the shadow of the mountains.
Even the inscriptions were subdued; take, for example, that of James John Annett, "the dearly beloved husband of Bessie Annett." It is written:
"Who fell asleep 24 March 1881
'So he giveth his beloved sleep'"
There is no wailing, there is no rancor. Just a change in the state of being, a passing from wakefulness to sleep, routine and familiar
I'm sure this cemetery is no different from any other colonial graveyard, in fact it was rather nondescript. But it's a fascinating way to spend a day, ruminating on what lies behind us and what lies ahead, on what blood means and how it runs into the earth a hundred years, a thousand years after we're gone.