The Scottish Cemetery, Kolkata

The Scottish Cemetery, Kolkata

by Chrys Salt

At first none of us would go there.
The kids were frightened of the snakes,
the tortured idols of their God.
My little boy Mohammed said he’d seen a ghost,
horned like a demon in a tree.
But when they’d cleared the jungle
dug up roots and thorns,
mended their graves
and set the stones upright,
it was like a garden in a picture book.
They planted shrubs and flowers,
it smelled of mint and herbs,
whole families buried there in temples
fit for kings. Carvings of iron faced men,
pillars and crosses everywhere,
statues with wings, and in the summer,
birds and butterflies.
One landed on Mohammed’s hand
and opened like a miracle.

We swelter in our bamboo hut
with scarcely room to swing a rat.
No shelter when it rains.
We dry our clothes and cook along the track.
Our kids play football on live rails
and dodge the trains.
So it is somewhere we can get away from that,
lower our veils when there’s no man to see.
Chat over chai and biscuits while our kids run free,
learn to dance, draw, wash their hands,
write poetry, befriend the Christian ghosts
of Scots who made their homes in India,
breathe sunlight from this greening lung of history.

note
The Scottish Cemetery was founded as a burial ground for Presbyterians and other non Anglican denominations of Scots arriving in Calcutta in the early nineteenth century. It had fallen into disrepair but now the Scottish Cemetery Project is clearing and restoring the site and providing programmes of activities for Muslim women and children from the neighbourhood to make a tangible improvement to their lives.