Wednesday, October 10, 2007

From "The Tomb of His Ancestors"

As I was reclassifying some Rudyard Kipling books today, I found a short story entitled "The Tomb of His Ancestors" which described a visit to a grave in India:

They began the steep climb a little after noon, but it was near sunset ere they reached the stone platform clinging to teh side of a rifted, jungle-covered hill, where Jan Chinn the First was laid, as he had desired, that he might overlook his people. All India is full of neglected graves that date from the beginning of the eighteenth century--tombs of forgotten colonels of corps long since disbanded; mates of East Indiamen who went on shooting expeditions and never came back; factors, agents, writers, and ensigns of the Honourable the East India Company by hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands. English folk forget quickly, but natives have long memories, and if a man has done good in his life it is remembered after his death. The weathered marble four-square tomb of Jan Chinn was hung about with wild flowers and nuts, packets of wax and honey, bottles of native spirits, and infamous cigars, with buffalo horns and plumes of dried grass. At one end was a rude clay image of a white man, in the old-fashioned top-hat, riding on a bloated tiger.

Bukta salamed reverently as they approached. Chinn bared his head and began to pick out the blurred inscription. So far as he could read it ran thus--word for word, and letter for letter:

To the Memory of JOHN CHINN, Esq.
Late Collector of . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . ithout Bloodshed or . . . error of Authority
Employ . only . . eans of Conciliat . . . and Confiden .
accomplished the . . . tire Subjection . . .
a Lawless and Predatory Peopl . . .
. . . . taching them to . . . . ish Government
by a Conquest over . . . . Minds
The most perma . . . and rational Mode of Domini .
. . Governor General and Counc . . . engal
have ordered thi . . . . . . . erected
. . . arted this Life Aug. 19, 184 . . Ag . . .

On the other side of the grave were ancient verses, also very worn. As much as Chinn could decipher said:

the savage band
Forsook their Haunts and b . , . is Command
. . . . mended . . rals chick a . , st for
And . s . ing Hamlets prove his gene . . . . toil
Humanit . . . survey . . . . . . ights restore . .
A Nation . . ield . . subdued without a Sword.

For some little time he leaned on the tomb thinking of this dead man of his own blood, and of the house in Devonshire; then, nodding to the plains: "Yes; it's a big work--all of it-- even my little share. He must have been worth knowing. . . . Bukta, where are my people?"

"Not here, Sahib. No man comes here except in full sun. They wait above. Let us climb and see."

I found this to be a very interesting section of the story. They had the same problems with cemeteries being allowed to deteriorate. I loved the observation that was made that the ancestor was "worth knowing." Don't all of us as genealogists feel that our ancestors are that way?

Source: Kipling, Rudyard. "The Tomb of His Ancestors" in The Day's Work. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1911. The quote is from pp. 135-137. The entire short story is on pp. 109-153.

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