SACRED TO THE MEMORY
OF THE REV. JAMES SKINNER
WHO DIED OCTOBER 30 1821
AGED 38 YEARS
‘”My flesh shall slumber in the ground
Till the last trumpets joyful sound
Then burst the chains with sweet surprise
And in my Saviour’s image rise”
Read one of the tombs. However eager I was to visit the Dutch cemetery, I was sceptical of walking on the ground below which several dead bodies have been buried. E had been to this place before and had warned me beforehand of the eeriness of the place. My love for old architecture drove me there; otherwise, I am the kind of a person who turns into stone when she hears a noise in the darkness! We were clever enough to go there during daytime – around 4:00 pm. This historic cemetery is located right on a main road in Katargam area. It is surrounded by residential buildings from the remaining 3 sides. Could this place have felt eerie, ever?
We were greeted by the stench of urine and sewage at the main gate of the cemetery. Stone structures topped with domes loomed beyond the walls. An old man sat on the ground removing wild grass (good thing that the premises are taken care of by someone). Some 10 teenage boys played cricket at the other end of the cemetery.
The place looked far from eerie or scary. The sky was clear and the sun beamed down on us in its full glory. With sunglasses covering our eyes, we looked around the various structures and tombs. The mesmerizing structures were worn out but stood upright. The cemetery contains several tombs of the Dutch who stayed in Surat in the pre-independence era. But the 3 major tombs are that of Francis Breton (President of the English factory. He died in AD 1649), Christopher Oxenden (He died in 1659), George Oxenden (C Oxenden’s brother; died in 1669) & Gerald Aungier (Governor of Bombay & President of English factory, who died in 1916). Large elegant structures have been put up as a tribute to them.
Some other beautiful structures:
Beautiful memorial verses have been engraved on the tombs. There was a tombstone of a baby who died merely 2 months after her birth. Tombs of army soldiers, captains and their families fill up this medium sized ground. Each touching verse spoke about how the person had lived, how he or she touched their lives and how they wish his or her soul rests in peace. Each message was filled with sentiments and affection of the departed’s loved ones.
Most of the tombs were of dates before the year 1900. Obviously, none of the descendants of the deceased stay in India anymore. In fact, when the cemetery was created, Surat city or India would have been some other territory, obviously under the British rule. I expected to see at least one tombstone with flowers on it but I guess that was an unreal wish. The tombs now lay alone and probably forgotten.
The cemetery is located in the heart of the city and is safe to go at any time during the day, though not advisable to go very early or late during the day, as the gate might be locked and it may be difficult to hunt for the caretaker. There are no fixed timings because, my guess is, no one really goes there. The structures are fantastic mastery of art and are worth seeing. It is quite sad that they are worn out and look nothing like the original forms but they are beautiful all the same.
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