The Story of a forgotten grave: Pt 2

The grave of ‘Prince’ Dwarkanath Tagore in London

It was cold, cloudy and stormy on that Saturday morning, the 1st of August, 1846, with bouts of thunder, lightning and heavy rains lashing throughout the city of London. ‘Prince’ Dwarkanath had been ill for a while. The attending doctors, Dr. Chambers and Dr. Martin of Lower Grosvenor Street, had said the day before that he was ‘somewhat easier than he had been the last two days.’

Hooly, his faithful servant, who always slept outside his door, even at the St. George’s Hotel on Albemarle street, London, had been up all night tickling the soles of his feet for hours. He failed to understand why Zamindar Babu, had to entertain the Dukes and Duchesses who called on him almost every day despite his failing health. Whenever anyone asked him how he was, he would answer, ‘I am Content‘.

Marble bust of Dwarkanath Tagore, National Library

But he had been restless since the morning. As the day progressed, his condition deteriorated, his fever increased and finally at 6.15 PM his soul left his body. As soon as the news spread, condolences started pouring in.

A condolence letter from the Duchess of Somerset to Nagendranath.

 I was deeply grieved at the death of my old Hindoo friend. It took place in England. His constitution had experienced a shock from high living and great commercial anxieties, and he died after a few weeks’ illness. A terrific thunderstorm passed over the great city at the hour of his death, as if it were only natural that so truly great a man should pass away in a moment of striking solemnity. I had never heard such peals of thunder, or saw such vivid flashes of lightning, even during a mountain storm in Armenia, or the commencement of a rainy monsoon in India, as that which accompanied the divorce of the soul from all that was earthly of the noble Dwarkanath.

The Memoirs of a Journalist, by J.H. Stocqualer, 1873.
Excerpt from obituary in ‘The Times’

The funeral of Dwarkanath was a matter of considerable anxiety with his friends. It was believed that a will had been executed, and Major Henderson, his partner in the Calcutta house, named an executor. But the Major could not take upon himself to decide about the disposal of the remains of Hindu gentleman whose ancestors had been burnt. It was true that his friend Ram Mohun Roy was  buried in England, but it was believed that that reformer was more of a Unitarian than a Hindu in religion. His son and nephew were both young, and their desire was to do what was right; and it was decided therefore that he should be buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, without the intervention of a clergy man: there were offers to read the service, but none was read, it was a simple act of lowering down of the coffin amidst the unfeigned sorrow of the bystanders.

Memoir of Dwarkanath Tagore by Kissory Chand Mittra, Originally read at the 27th Hare Anniversary Meeting held at theTown Hall on the 1st June, 1870
Excerpt from a detailed report of ‘Baboo Dwarkanath Tagore’s funeral in ‘The Times’
Excerpt from a letter from Comte Félix-Sébastien Feuillet de Conches, a French diplomat, journalist, writer and collector, to his wife describing the funeral.
*Père Lachaise  is a famous garden cemetery in Paris.
Excerpt from obituary in ‘London Mail’
Excerpt from obituary in ‘Morning Herald’

Despite the grand funeral, eloquent obituaries and opulent condolences, his final resting place was forgotten with time. One of the great ironies of history is that, the man who helped built the elegant monument over the grave of his friend and mentor, Raja Ram Mohun Roy, in Bristol, lay silently, as his own grave was lost into obscurity.

Krishna Kripalani, author of ‘Dwarkanath Tagore, A Forgotten Pioneer, A Life‘, who was also married to Nandita, grand daughter of Rabindranath Tagore, traced some scattered efforts made by the descendants of Dwarkanath Tagore to resurrect the gravesite, but the paper trail does not go too far.

* Referring to Satyendranath Tagore
A letter addressed to Ganendranath Tagore by Monomohan Ghosh (a friend of the family who had accompanied Satyendranath Tagore to England. He was enrolled at the Calcutta High Court as the first Indian barrister).
*An English friend
*A cousin of the Pathuriaghat branch who was the first Indian to qualify as barrister in 1862 but he practised in England and was the first Indian to hold a Chair in a British University of Hindu Law and Bengali language.
A letter (reproduced as in original) from Major Herbert W. Dent of Broadleigh, Brockenhurst, Hants. addressed to Sir Jotundra (sic) Mohun Tagore, Calcutta. Jatindra Mohun Tagore was a cousin of Maharshi Dcbendranath, from the Pathuriaghat branch of the family. Made a Maharaja and Knighted by the British government, he was in 1906 the best known Tagore in the official circles of the India Office in London.
Excerpt from a letter from Mr. from T. Burgess, Superintendent of Kensal Green Cemetery.
Excerpt from a letter from N.C. Sen (presumably Nirmal Chandra Sen, son of the famous Brahmo leader Keshab Chandra Sen) addressed to Rathindranath Tagore (son and heir of poet Rabindranath)

When the present writer* visited England in the summer of 1976, one of the first things he did, after visiting Rammohun’s Samadhi in Bristol, was to look for Dwarkanath’s grave in London. Prof. Blair B. Kling* who happened to be in London then and who had already located the grave in the Kensal Green cemetery, was good enough to accompany me and pointed out the grave which is right in front of the cemetery gate, in the unconsecrated ground.

I was shocked to see the sad state of neglect in which the tomb was. Having seen the elegant monument which Dwarkanath had got erected over Rammohun Roy’s grave which attracts a large number of visitors, it was pathetic to see his own grave, obscure, shabby and ill-kept, though still intact. Almost like a poor mans grave. While other tombs nearby had endearing inscriptions testifying to the love of relatives and friends, the only lettering on this tomb was: ‘D. Tagore, Calcutta, 1846.

 All around it was a jungle of weeds as though no one ever visited it. I had taken some flowers in a pot which were placed at the foot of the tomb. Noting its number, I went inside the Registry Office to inquire what arrangement was possible to ensure a proper upkeep of the tombstone. I was informed it would cost £5.40 a year. Paying down the cash and taking an official receipt for it.

I went to the Indian High Commission and depositing the receipt there, told the Deputy High Commissioner that I would be sending an equal amount annually to the High Commission to be passed on to the cemetery authorities. The then Deputy High Commissioner, Natwar Singh, being a student of history, knew of the pioneer role of Dwarkanath Tagore and assured me that thenceforth it would be the responsibility of the Indian High Commission to see that the grave of this very remarkable Indian was well looked after. Later he informed me that the High Commission had deposited a lump sum in advance with the cemetery authorities to ensure the upkeep and care of the grave for the next twenty-five years, i.e. till the end of the century. I was grateful for the assurance.

*Krishna Kripalani; Dwarkanath Tagore, A Forgotten Pioneer, A Life; National Book Trust, New Delhi, 1980
*Author Blair B. Kling; ‘Partner in Empire, Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India; University of California Press, 1976’

The lump sum in advance deposited by the Indian High Commission to the cemetery authorities would have finished after 25 years, around 2001-2. It is unknown whether any follow up was done after that.

P.C. Bengal Heritage Foundation, facebook page

The next chapter of the story is fairly recent. On 11th August 2018, Bengal Heritage Foundation, an NGO, aimed at preserving and promoting the heritage of Bengal, globally; London Sharad Utsav (LSU), a registered charity holding cultural events and religious festivals; supported by British Council (Kolkata); iLead, a Kolkata based Media and Management institute and ‘Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery‘ (London) restored and cleaned the grave, Unveiled a new plaque and bust and held a commemoration at the graveside, marked with hymns, Rabindrasangeet (songs of Tagore) and speeches.

I visited the grave on 8th March, 2019 (The grave of ‘Prince’ Dwarkanath Tagore: Pt 1). Although the surrounding area was clean, I could not find the bust and the plaque. Looking at this desolate grave who would have thought, that here lies a man who…

…could make a dull man interesting, a dry man piquant, a reticent man chatty, a blasé man animated, and a battered and effete man rejuvenescent…In truth, few men possessed a fuller humanity and a higher faculty of helping and sympathising with his fellow men.”

Kissory Chand Mittra, reading ‘Memoir of Dwarkanath Tagore’ at the 27th Hare Anniversary Meeting held at the Town Hall on the 1st June,1870.

Post Script: After my last post was shared, I have been informed that the members of Bengal Heritage Foundation, and London Sharad Utsav (LSU), have plans of installing his bust with the plaque after final permissions. On the first week of August a commemoration is being planned. I hope the ‘prince’ will be looking at us from above with a faint smile on his lips.

References:

  • Partner in Empire, Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India. Blair B. Kling, University of California Press, 1976
  • Dwarkanath Tagore, A Forgotten Pioneer, A Life by Krishna Kripalani, National Book Trust, New Delhi, 1980
  • The Memoirs of a Journalist, by J.H. Stocqualer, 1873.
  • Memoir of Dwarkanath Tagore by Kissory Chand Mittra, Originally read at the 27th Hare Anniversary Meeting held at theTown Hall on the 1st June, 1870

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