Storms ruled the first thousand years of life.
By the time I claimed my room, I turned into a zombie...
Suspended somewhere between the worlds within and outside...
Vaguely aware of either...
But then, existence needs more meaning, and spectacles need a windowpane...
Right here, I found mine…

Who am I? An average woman - trying to work on my share of maze through layers of haze...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mosses, Tombstones and a Lingering Morning, May 26, 2014

Lt Col. Miss Violet David “Sunbeam” rose from her grave and beamed at me with the quiet radiance of the springtime sun. I smiled back gratefully. The last couple of minutes had had me wondering about the curious title engraved next to her name on her epitaph. Now I knew.

It was the morning of May 26, 2014, our third and final day in Ooty, and Sourav and I had sauntered to the cemetery behind St. Stephen’s Church in search of some good photographic subjects. The dead didn’t approve. With my lens aimed at the nooks and crevices of their mossy tombstones and broken crosses, we were unwelcome intruders. The tall trees that spread out their hundred and one arms to form the wall that holds the churchyard a world apart from the rest of Ooty conveyed to us that we had stepped into a sacred place. So did the birds and the crickets that chirped in a rather measured tone, and the sun that shone sparingly through the foliage. We packed our gadgets away.

The cemetery, with its many decrepit colonial era tombs covered with layers of fallen leaves, mosses and wild flowers, teemed with a silent consciousness. Fragments of a long-lost Ooty stay trapped here, in the collective memory of all who lay here. A Major General William Pitt Macdonald, Madras Staff Corps, sat stone-faced at a lonely corner of his grave. It was the 12th of March, 1867 when he had passed away – says his epitaph. His face, with its innumerable lines and wrinkles, had witnessed the rolling of decades with the deepest impassivity. A Victor David “Sunbeam” strolled past us, hand in hand with Violet. They had died as recently as 2007 and 2011 respectively, and their distinctively unscathed black marble tombstones stood out rather as misfits amid the surrounding unkemptness. A few ill-fated Brit kids, who had succumbed to various epidemics more than a century ago, loosely gathered around us. Their eyes for sure had stories to tell. Their ears thirsted for tales of all the newness that continually unfolded in the world beyond the church and the trees – and was yet beyond their reach.

We couldn’t speak to each other. I wish we could. Their voice is too subtle for us, and ours, disturbingly loud for them. They are creatures made of thin air, and when they were more than air, they had treaded the same lanes of Ooty that we tread today.  They belonged to families that founded, planned, built Ooty and served in its armies.

That afternoon, we started back for Bangalore, thus concluding my third trip to Ooty. The ethereal morning spent at St. Stephen’s, of course, is destined to remain etched in my memory as a precious takeaway for years to come.



19 comments:

  1. You've really whetted my appetite for Ooty. Thanks

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    1. The Ooty hotel and restaurant owners should therefore pay me a handsome commission :p. Jokes apart, I'm so glad to know that you liked my post. Thanks for leaving the note, Kalpanaa.

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  2. Wow, what imagination!! Aptly supported by the choice of words and expression. Loved it. U must visit the Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata sometime. There stories laze around in grassy shadows, waiting to be picked up and retold.

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    1. Being appreciated for choice of words and expression by someone who can casually frame a '..stories laze around in grassy shadows..' is an honor . Many thanks, Nandini. Will try to visit this cemetery sometime.

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  3. You must visit more such places. I just passed through the cemetery at Dagshai in Himachal. A beautiful location on the hillside with pine needles on the ground and no air of general unkempt- ness with nice light and sunshine. Quite different from a standard graveyard for the British, that you see in India. Graveyards remind me of Ruskin Bond and his tales of the other beings.

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    1. Thanks Anoop. I'll try to visit Dagshai if I ever travel to Himachal. I can't quite put my finger on exactly why I'm fascinated by graveyards. It may be the pensive calm and the natural piety of the environment (as opposed to the imposed/ritualistic piety in many temples), or the thrill of being surrounded by the dead. I'm yet to visit a burning ghat or a tower of silence. Not sure if the experience would be equally enriching.

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    2. Well the burning ghats at Varanasi are more commercial than a routine Hindu temple. You will find the hustlers and the Brahmins or maybe the hustler who is a Brahmin always busy fleecing the poor dead and their relatives. Not a sight that will please anyone.


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    3. Hmmm... A pity that a so-called 'sacred' place should fail to respect death, and a pity that we routinely allow ourselves to fall prey to such 'devout' thieves.

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  4. I have visited Ooty once, and had an almost surreal experience. No matter where I looked, I saw beauty!
    The only other place that has had that effect on me was Chopta in Uttaranchal, especially the trek to Tungnath temple. Try it!

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation anawnimiss :-). The only points in Uttaranchal that I've visited are Haridwar and Rishikesh - that too many years ago. A second trip is due :-). BTW, have you visited any of the east Indian hill stations - like Gangtok, Lava, Lolegaon, Kalimpong etc?

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  5. Sometime between mind numbing work today , i stumbled upon your blog. I confess , i have literally given up reading blogs following the sudden mushrooming of blog writers airing their views on every other matter consuming our daily lives .
    But thank you for this , for more than a split second , i reclined back on my chair and cruised in the Ooty skies visualizing the cemetery , the smell of stale air , the beauty of untamed foliage and the pathos of past lives . You gave me a break from the every pressing existential threat of making every moment count .

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    1. Wow, that's a beautiful comment Devleena! Many thanks. And now I find it difficult to resist the urge to go through some of your writings!

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  6. The post resonated with my deepest thoughts —the ones that invariably invade me when I visit places such as these. I also ache to speak with them but I can't. If you go to Lucknow, do visits the cemetery at the Residency.

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    1. I'm a big fan of your writing, Umashankar, and it's awesome to know that the post touched a chord with you :-). I'll try to visit the cemetery you suggested if I ever visit Lucknow.

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  7. Antara , my grandmother is buried in this cemetery , my grandfather managed a rubber plantation in the area in the 1920,s -any ideas on how I could get a photo of her grave ? Its a long shot but worth a try !
    Rob -England

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  8. Antara , my grandmother is buried here , my granddad managed a rubber plantation in the area in the 1920,s -have you any idea on how I could get a photo of her grave ? Long shot but worth a try !
    Rob - England

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    1. Rob, sincere apologies. I don't know how I missed this comment for months!

      Could you please give me the names of your grandparents? I can try to get a photo of the grave for you (although photography is not encouraged in the cemetery).

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  9. Graveyards here I come! You are an exceptional writer!

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    1. Dipak, how did I miss this comment for a year! Delighted to discover it today!

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