The Chattri

“Where haven’t you been around here? You haven’t been to The Chattri!”

Up on the South Downs, staring peacefully down the parched hillside to the sea, sunk into a thick copse on grazing land is the marble umbrella of The Chattri. There’s no real pathway. There’s a barely used bridleway and some sheep tracks. Our first attempt takes us through brambles and nettles to the edge of an overgrown barbed wire fence. “It’s just on the other side!” “I’m not going over that.” Twenty minutes later we are at the top and we find the correct entrance, through the gate. We wander in to this peaceful place.

In the first world war, 800,000 men from India fought for the allies. Giving their lives in this distant war, coming from such a different place, such a different culture. Many injured were taken to Brighton for treatment. The king apparently thought they’d feel right at home in The Royal Pavilion with its Indo-Gothic pretentions. Most of the soldiers recovered, but there were some who succumbed to their injuries. Of these, 53 men were Sikhs or Hindus. Trying to respect custom and to answer necessity at the same time, a ghat was built here on the hillside. They were cremated here and then their ashes were scattered in the sea.

The Chattri is their memorial, and it is something of a rarity. There isn’t much in this country memorialising those who joined our causes from other countries and lost their lives. As such The Chattri has become a stand in place to honour the many many such souls lost over the years. Every year there is a memorial ceremony in June, and the poppy-wreaths are customised with “Om”. It remains something of a pilgrimage site, and perhaps the remote location makes it just a bit more special. We were the only people there today. But it is clearly visited and cared for, and it must be very powerful for people living here now from Indian communities, to know it is here and to occasionally pay respects. We sat a long time with the silence and the view, each of us lost in the waves of time and spirit since the bodies of these young men went to the flames over a hundred years ago.

From there we went peaceably to Stanmer Park to lie under the ancient cedars awhile and eat overpriced pasties having been too idle to pack a decent lunch. Late summer is bringing calm to the parks around here, because everybody in town is on the beach. After enough peace, we went to join the throng. After the funeral, all the driving and the Chattri it felt right to walk into the sea. A busy beach, but a good warm English Channel – noticeably barren of life after Greece and Sardinia, and none of the clarity of water. Splash. A restful day, but busy still. I’ll sleep well.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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