In a Quiet Part of India

by Sheldon

Previous readers to this blog, specifically those who’ve read the ‘about‘ page, will know I have Indian ancestry. My family went out to India in the early eighteenth Century to exploit various new opportunities within the East India Company and on the Railways: the latter was considered to be the main family occupation right up until my late paternal Grandfather, when my Dad, Aunts and Uncle thought ‘blow this, lets work in a bank or the Government’.

Street Traders in India

Street Traders in India

When it came to dealing with my late Grandmother’s estate a few years back, we happened across some old family photos of the family’s time in India. Despite never having been there myself, I felt a great empathy and to a certain extent, deja-vu when I identified names to the places I’d heard in family lore.

One thing I would like to do when the circumstances are right is to go out there and visit where my Dad was born, where he grew up, where my Nan was schooled and so on. I’d also try and research more into the true Indian side of my ancestry – records were exquisitely kept for English people, but getting hold of Indian birth and death records is notoriously tricky. My Great-Uncle did a sterling job tracing us all the way back as being bastards of Richard Barwell, a rather frivolous MP who had as many children as he did schillings in his bank account which was acquired in highly dubious circumstances.

One photo in particular has always fascinated me, as I have a picture of it when it was brand new, and a photo from more or less the same angle but eighty years later. It is the grave of my Great Grandfather.

Percy Goodman was a twin: his brother dying shortly after birth.  He, like many others of my family, did various jobs on the railway in India, marrying Blanche Downes at Hubli in 1919. This produced four children: the eldest, Carlton (my Grandfather), Dudley, Russell and Colleen.  Percy died aged thirty nine, the exact circumstances I’m not sure of – it was either a heart attack or a tropical disease of some kind.

Blanche and Percy on their wedding day in 1919.

Blanche and Percy on their wedding day in 1919.

Family legend says that my Great-Grandmother was so bereft with his passing she ordered an exquisite marble statue to be carved and shipped from Italy to commemorate her husband.  When it was new it would have fit in nicely in any of the Magnificent Seven quite happily, and certainly the British influence on its design is very plain to see.  It was also a particularly extravagant thing to do, considering the world was teetering on the brink of World War Two and grave styles were becoming much, much simpler.

A few years back my cousin Petal went back to India to taste its delights and see where the Goodmans of yore resided.  Nan’s old school and the building where my family lived before they emigrated to the UK in 1962 were all still there, and one thing all members of my family were keen to see was if Percy’s grave was still intact.

The Grave of Percy Goodman

This is how it looks now alongside how it looked upon its installation.  The names of the people in the background are illegible but thanks to the old photo, the temporary crosses that marked the plots show who they are. As India turned to self rule, poverty re-emerged and theft and vandalism became widespread: here you can see the metal railings have been robbed away and probably sold for scrap.  It’s a bit sad when you have family members in far flung places and being unable to repair the damage that’s been done, but there we are.  It still stands and he still sleeps under it.

As for his wife, Blanche came to stay with my Grandparents in Croydon until emigrating to be with her other son Dudley in Melbourne in 1988, where she later passed away. Percy remains in his extraordinary grave alone, in a country where most of the Goodman clan has died out.  One of these days I’ll see it for myself and remind him he’s not been forgotten, and that his magnificent grave is still admired even today.

Street trader photo courtesy of Petal Goodman.

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About SheldonKGoodman

I'm Sheldon, a City of Westminster guide who has a love of all things Cemetery! Co-founding the Cemetery Club in May 2014, it's my ambition to challenge the perception of Cemeteries are mournful places but to champion them as museums of people and libraries of the dead. I also co-lead the official Pride in London tour and do guided walks for Open Garden Square Weekend.
This entry was posted in Family, India, Lost, Memorial, Railway and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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