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.
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.