In memory of the beloved

Life ends, but pursuit of love doesn’t. When British Major George Oswald Weston lost his pregnant wife, he decided to keep her and their unborn child’s memories alive by erecting a grave with a sculpture in Dagshai cemetery. Once the British left India, the grave lay neglected. But today, it has been restored to its old glory by a local couple.

In memory of the beloved

Monument of love: The restored grave of Mary Rebecca and her unborn child

editorial@tribune.com

Ambika Sharma

Life ends, but pursuit of love doesn’t. When British Major George Oswald Weston lost his pregnant wife, he decided to keep her and their unborn child’s memories alive by erecting a grave with a sculpture in Dagshai cemetery. Once the British left India, the grave lay neglected. But today, it has been restored to its old glory by a local couple.

Major Weston, a doctor, was stationed at Dagshai cantonment in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) during the British era. The local legend has it that he and his wife, Mary Rebecca, a nursing officer, conceived after receiving an amulet as a blessing from a local ‘peer baba’. She, however, died before she could give birth to the child in December 1909 and was buried at the local cemetery. Major Weston expressed his undying love for her by erecting a beautiful marble structure of a lady and their baby being blessed by an elf. Marble for the sculpture was shipped all the way from England and the British soldiers ensured that it was well maintained while they resided here.

However, once the British left, it faced total neglect. What added to its desecration was the superstition that if a piece of the marble was worn as an amulet, it would bless a woman with a child. The structure wasn’t just chipped recklessly, it was reduced to an unrecognisable mound... The vagaries of weather and lack of upkeep added to its plight and the monument of love was lost in wilderness. However, Anand Sethi, a local resident and an international banker, discovered its rare history and took upon himself the onerous task of restoring it.

“We believed it was our duty to restore this grave to its old beauty so that the spirits therein receive peace and mercy in the kingdom of heaven,” say Anand and his wife, Deepa, who began the task by tracing the living relatives of the Weston family. This was the crucial first step for the Sethis who wanted to receive the blessings of the family before beginning the restoration work of the grave in April. 

As Major Weston had served the Royal Army Medical Corps Association (RAMCA), a letter was shot off to the organisation in the UK, which placed an appeal on its website. This yielded no result, but the RAMCA gave them the go ahead.

Friends and enthusiasts began donating for the project. People, who were to play a pivotal role in the restoration project, joined. Tapan Paul, a master craftsman from Kolkata and a specialist in grave restoration, was engaged to reconstruct atop the existing grave a similar structure using marble chips, plaster of Paris, fibreglass, etc.

Work on the grave began during Easter in April following a prayer ceremony at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church at Dagshai. It culminated on June 11.

However, understanding that human beliefs are the hardest to change and driven by the fear of further desecration, a 12x 10 feet cage has been erected around the sculpture to protect it. The craftsmanship has been perfect and intricate details like the folds in the shroud, tassels on the pillow where Mary Rebecca is resting along with her child ensconced in her arms and an elf blessing the duo have imparted it the grandeur of yore.

An incarnation of love, dedication and passion, the restored white structure would be dedicated to the cemetery today.

All this while, Anand was trying to locate the Weston family. Weeks after pursuing various leads, he managed to locate Georgina and Elizabeth, Westons’ grandchildren from adopted children. The family plans to visit Dagshai later this year. For the Sethis, this would be the icing on the cake.

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