There is something about a cemetery that makes me feel at peace with the world. When Death, the great equalizer, is all around me, it suddenly ceases to be frightening any more. Peace envelops me as I look around, too conscious of the impermanence and the fragile beauty of life.
My friend Moony and I are visiting the Delhi War Cemetery, about which we learnt only this morning. Earlier in the day, we happened to find ourselves in West Delhi, and Google Maps kindly lit up with a new site that we hadn’t yet explored. So off we went, after the 3rd amused auto driver agreed to hunt down this obscure site for us. Within a few minutes we had realized why others had been unwilling so far….(No, I am not about to launch into a “haunted” story). This historic cemetery is a forgotten entity, even auto drivers haven’t heard about it. Many a wrong turn later we were finally at a railway crossing that would lead us to our destination. By then the sun was beginning to set, and in the beautiful evening light we came upon a place so lovely, peaceful and well maintained that we were taken aback. An ode to the soldiers that had lost their lives in World Wars I and II lay ahead of us. Rarely have we found such well-maintained spots in the city.
Our “auto wale bhaiya” agreed to wait for us if we could wrap up our visit in 15 minutes flat. That was too short, but we were not about to argue with him. This cemetery was well inside the Delhi Cantonment area and rather secluded, and there was no way we could get back to civilization unless we had this helpful guy waiting for us.
The cemetery has an imposing gateway leading into a lovely garden neatly lined with tombstones commemorating the soldiers who participated in the two World Wars. It was created in 1951 to permanently house the remains of those buried in the several cantonment cemeteries of North India- Allahabad, Dehradun, Kanpur and Lucknow. Over a thousand people who lost their lives in the Second World War are buried here today, most of them belonging to the Commonwealth, but some also from other nationalities, mainly Dutch. The massive entrance gateway forms the Delhi 1939-45 War Memorial. It is dedicated to the 25,000 people of undivided India who lost their lives fighting this war, and were accorded last rites in accordance with their religions. All their names are recorded in a Roll of Honor.
Later on in 1966, some bodies of World War I martyrs were disinterred from their original graves in the Nicholson Cemetery near Kashmiri Gate and moved to the Delhi War Cemetery for permanent maintenance, along with their brethren from World War II. There is also a stately memorial to some victims of the World War I whose graves in Meerut could no longer be maintained.
Lovely climbers in full bloom adorn the walks between the tombs today, a fitting tribute to the many war heroes lying here…some of them as young as 21! As Moony and I read aloud some of the epithets, we imagine the young soldiers, full of the joy of youth, their lives suddenly cut short by a war that tore the world….We didn’t know these people in life, but in death their epithets seemed to bring them alive. Their burial in a land so far from their homes and at such tender ages only demonstrates the madness that is war.
There are some little children playing and running around, probably the kids of the caretakers. Some of them are climbing the war memorial in the evening light, oblivious to that thing called death. Life is beautiful. To them this cemetery is just a pretty playground.