Letter from the hills: Tombstones that talk

There are no signposts to lead you to those who are with us forever. Resting under the mighty deodar trees that dot the slopes of Landour and Camel’s Back Road. Behind the lych-gate lie our early history: pioneers, settlers, generals, soldiers, mothers, infants, teachers and the taught.

Our first grave takes us back to March 28, 1828 near Railway School of Oak Grove, in Jharipaani, where Captain Farrington D. Bart of the 35th Regiment, found a resting place even as they carried him up the hill to Half Way House. It is a simple obelisk. Not like the impressive tomb of Sir Henry Bohle, a wealthy brewer, who started the Old Brewery before passing away in 1851.

On another terrace lies John A Hindmarsh, one of the hundred survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade. On April 16, 1890 he was in his 59th year, and he was laid to rest by two men - Mr. J.C. Fisher and Mr. H.E. Hathaway – both later declared that if only they had known, they would have marshalled the whole station to pay final tribute to this gallant survivor.

No one knows what Hindmarsh was doing up here. Only the inscription: ‘One of the Six Hundred’ refers to the Crimean War of 1854, where at Balaclava, misinterpreting a command, the cream of the British cavalry charged into certain death into the boom of Russian guns. The Tennyson poem says it all:

Cannon to the right of them,

Cannon to the left of them,

Cannon behind them,

Volleyed and thundere’d;

Storm’d at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell,

They that had fought so well,

Came thro’ the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of the six hundred.

Letter from the hills: Tombstones that talk

His wife, Amelia came to rest beside him in 1896. Then there’s Gulabi, from the hills, who married Rajah Wilson of Hursil, who was baptised Ruth Wilson to be buried on consecrated ground in 1899. She had outlived Frederick E. Wilson who passed away on July 24, 1883, aged 66 years and seven months.

And how can one leave without remembering John Lang, the Australian born author and barrister who spent the last years of his life in Landour. We remember his defence of the Rani of Jhansi in her litigation on the Doctrine of Lapse with the Not-So-Honourable John Company. She rewarded him well: ‘A thousand guineas, besides such presents as shawls, dresses, ornaments and presented him with a mosaic portrait of the Rani in precious stones.’

Some twenty lakh graves are scattered across the Indian subcontinent. They are reminders that men and their matters perish. Only the mountains are forever.

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