‘That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England’
Rupert Brooke’s haunting 1914 poem, The Soldier, came back to me with an ironic twist as i wandered through Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. The sun may have set on the British empire but so many from its past colonies came to bask in its original rising place. They arrived over centuries, in fleeing waves or as individuals. They lived out their allotted span, and are buried in these 550 serene acres. Brooke’s line must now be read as ‘some corner of a foreign field that is for ever multicultural’.
My first exposure to this evocative place was 15 years ago while researching Parsi identity in the Diaspora. My project got buried, but not Brookwood’s allure. Its small Zoroastrian plot represents the stratified social history of the British community. Here, Death the Leveller brings together the students and ‘Sethias’ who had come from Raj-times and got acculturated; the orthodox Aden Parsis escaping the new communist rulers in 1970; the wealthy/ scholarly Iranians who arrived after the Ayatollahs dethroned Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in1979. The grand Tata and Wadia mausoleums watch over proletarian Parsi graves.
The Fravardigan jashan-praver during my current visit drew me back to Brookwood. Early into our new year, Zoroastrians everywhere congregate at the community’s final resting places to honour all past souls, our Persian kings and our guiding angels. Their peace descends upon the living, even segues into strangers unrelated to those interred there. It’s the benevolence of graveyards of any faith, yes even of burning ghats. But alas not soulless municipal crematoria.
Brookwood, with its cultivated ‘atmosphere of perpetual spring’, is final home to over 2,50,000 mortal remains. Our plot is flanked by those for Ismaili Khojas, Bohras, Ahmediyyas, and a gleaming enclosure for the 19 members of the Turkish airforce killed in WWII. Indeed, Brookwood has been a military cemetery ever since a large part was given free for those who fell in WWI. There are civilian plots for Canadians and Americans; Brexit won’t affect the different European allocations. Britain’s Zoroastrians rest in death as they lived here – part of the main, but apart in the community embrace.
Alec Smart said: “Set a cop to catch a cop? Hasn’t worked with CBI and ex-Commissioner Rajeev Kumar.”