Grave thoughts

‘That there’s some cor­ner of a for­eign field that is for ever Eng­land’

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Ecstasy Of Ideas - Bachi Karkaria

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.

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Alec Smart said: “Set a cop to catch a cop? Hasn’t worked with CBI and ex-Com­mis­sioner Ra­jeev Ku­mar.”

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