We in Kerala seem to have a genius for destroying our heritage so wantonly. How else could one explain the attempt to obliterate all traces of our history - this time by the local government?
On a trip to Anjengo to trace the history of this early British settlement, I was curious to see the state of the few surviving monuments. Anjengo is an interesting case for many reasons. It was one of the earliest settlements of the East India Company built during the days when the Company was engaged in 'pure trade'. The world view of the Europeans was simple and was best expressed in the term -'peace and pagoda'.
Yet, within years of the founding of the 'factory' in 1695, the factors had to face attacks from locals, instigated by the powerful 'Ettuveettil Pillais', a group of local chieftains who weilded more power than the Queen of Attingal who had permitted the EIC to build the fort. Ultimately, all the fortification was of no avail in protecting the 150 odd men who were massacred in a treacherous move on the 14th April 1721. ( This will be topic for another post.)
What remains of the Fort is well-maintained, thanks to the Archeological Survey of India. But the same cannot be said of other notable monuments.
For instance, James Forbes, the author of Oriental Memoirs and the Chief of Anjengo Factory till 1772, has left an engraving of Anjengo as viewed from the sea. The engraving dated 1813 shows the English Cemetery on the beach, prominent with its tall white monuments.
Julian James Cotton's compilation of 'List of Inscriptions on Tombs and Monuments in Madras' (1905) refers to this cemetery but records that thirty of the tombs had no inscription but 'one of them certainly marks the resting place of J. Whitehill, a relative of Eliza Draper.' Whitehill was the Chief of Anjengo Factory from 1759 to 1769. Cotton also lists two other tombstones - those of Mary Walker (1726) and of Anne Wrench (1773).
Our team was led by Mr. Uday Balakrishnan, the Chief Postmaster General of Kerala Circle ( who was exploring the possibility of issuing a special commemorative stamp on Anjengo, which was one of the oldest postal sorting and distribution centres in India) and consisted of a dedicated team of Mr. Selvam and Mr. Mohanti from the Archeological Survey of India and Mr.
Gangadharan Pillai, the keeper of the Anjengo Fort. We spent hours looking for traces of this cemetery.
At last, Pillai suggested that we look in the premises of the Anjuthengu Panchayat Office. The 60 cents of land which was designated as the Anglican cemetery had been taken over by the Panchayat long back. Locals remembered that in the process, they had uprooted many tombstones. We hoped those uprooted were the unnamed ones mentioned by Cotton and prayed that the three named ones were left in tact.
Our search of the compound did not reveal any evidence of the plot ever having been a cemetery. There was none in the Panchayat Office who could give us more details. We had almost given up when Priya, the sprightly young clerk in the Matsya Bhavan office (which was also located in the Panchayat premises) pointed out to us a protruding piece of granite in front of her office. Could it be one of the tombs?
We wanted to dig around the stone and find out. Soon, the locals produced a spade and Pillai started removing the soil around the granite stone. Gradually, we could see outlines of letters engraved in the ornate style of 18th century calligraphy:
Here lieth the body of
who departed this life
Nov. 25th Anno 1773,
It was, indeed,the tombstone of Anne Wrench, the beloved wife of P.E.Wrench who was the Chief of Anjengo Factory (1769-1774) after Whitehill. Anne lived to a ripe age of 87, an exception in times when the average life expectancy of a European in India was around 40.
There was no clue, however, about the missing tombs of Mary Walker and J.Whitehill. What did the Panchayat do with those stones? More significantly, how did Anne Wrench escape the fate of the other stones? The latest addition to the Panchayat complex, pretentiously called 'E.K.Nayanar Memorial' had come close to encroaching on the only memorial left of the colonials - a prospect Nayanar would not have relished. But, then, how did the stone survive?
The clue was in the stone itself.The stone was larger than usual tombstones and that was why the sarkari vandals could not dislodge it. It was large, we found out from Cotton, because the epitaph was rather long and only a large stone could accommodate such a long epitaph:
The loss of one let us good people deplore
So famed for virtue, piety, charity and more,
Formed in mind without a single fault,
Scarce any body is free from envy but in part.
Can any one pass by this lifeless tomb
Without reflecting how short it is to come
That everybody must follow her ere soon or late.
To live and be like her may wish to be their fate.
We have separately taken up with the Panchayat leadership and the Tourism department of the state on the need to preserve this and other monuments in Anjengo. Tourism is the only sure means of economic stimulus for Anjuthengu and villages around, due to the decline in the demand for coir products. And they have the 'product' with them. All they need to do is to preserve it and market it!