Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Cemetery Sue and epigraphy on the North-West Frontier

From The Economist.

She began it in 1980, when Ms Farrington happened upon the gently decaying British graveyard in Peshawar, capital of north-west Pakistan. “And there I saw the whole history of the frontier written on gravestones,” she recalls. “There was the master of the Peshawar Vale Hunt and the nurse from the army hospital.” She took up a pen, began to record them, and has not stopped. Over the past three decades she has recorded over 20,000 colonial graves in Pakistan and over 60,000 in all: in India, Sri Lanka, Bermuda, the Maldives, St Helena and elsewhere.

Her travels reveal much about the people who live among these long-forgotten “ghora kabrestan”, or “white men’s graveyards”. Most were dilapidated and overgrown; few had been defaced or built upon, even on the frontier, where the Taliban roam. Some were even revered; in Jacobabad, a town in Sindh founded in 1847 by an administrator famed for his rectitude, General John Jacob, locals still meet at his tomb to shake on a deal.

Yet her research says more about the interred. Not least because the more remote the burial place, the more fulsome were their epitaphs. That is partly because British colonials often died colourfully—armed dacoits, hungry tigers and clumsy-footed elephants are among the thousands of causes of death in Ms Farrington’s files. It is also, their incongruous, valiant memorials suggest, because of a frail determination to leave a mark in a hostile world—for the bereaved as well as the deceased. “She had no fault,” reads a gravestone placed by a British officer for his wife, in the Murree Hills above Rawalpindi, “Save that she left me.”

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