Dr Gray's Grave Rediscovered
We were contacted a few weeks ago by Mr Sandip Halder, Locum Consultant Surgeon, with the exciting news that Dr Gray's last resting place in Calcutta (Kolkata), his home town, has been tracked down by friends at his instigation. He became intrigued by the story of Gray's and its benefactor soon after he arrived in Elgin late last year, and tells the story in his own words below, followed by a selection of photos.
My Close Encounter with Dr. Gray
The nomad in me refuses to settle in one place. I change plans every decade, from serving the NHS, then the Australian health service, then the Indian health service and then back to NHS; I am sure my loved ones often discuss among themselves about how eccentric I am! But that is the thrill of life, to never settle. At this odd age in my fifties, amidst this global pandemic, I make my way back to the UK after serving my homeland for a good bunch of years. Out of the various answers that I give to people when they simply ask me “why?”, the one which tops the list is that my daughter Ujjaini, who is a self- proclaimed “rebellious independent teenager”, chooses to pursue her higher education in this country and the extremely possessive father in me refuses to stay time zones away. However, the other selfish reason, which I seldom utter, is my thirst to explore places that the general population haven’t heard of in their lifetime. I guess that explains my choice to move to this quiet, remote and charming town of Elgin.
While making my way to Dr Gray’s hospital on a surprisingly sunny morning I take a moment to stand and appreciate the grandeur and beauty of the structure that lies in front of my eyes. I mutter to myself, “the year ahead already looks good”. I am greeted in the hospital by my delightful colleagues, and I am convinced that the people here make this town appear as charming as it is.
I have decided to rent out a place on the High Street, partly because I am lazy to travel long distances to get grocery and partly because I genuinely do not mind the sound of the chitter-chatter of the youth that sweeps in. Coming from a country where quiet streets are hardly available, silence has become somewhat uncomfortable. I shall stop justifying now.
I make myself a cup of English breakfast tea in the evening, and sit on my exceptionally comfortable couch. I think to myself that there should be something interesting about this place. I am more specifically curious because I wanted to prove to my daughter that moving here was a better choice as she had skipped three meals after I had turned down the plan of moving to Manchester.
As I begin my research and wonder what should I start with, the picturesque view of my hospital flashes in front of me and I think to myself that there is no way that such a historic looking piece of architecture has no history attached to it. I type out “Dr, Grays Hospital” on the search bar and choose to browse through the single most viewed site, Wikipedia. At that very moment I get a call from an old colleague, Dr Sutirtha Roy. I tell Sutirtha the name of the hospital I am about to join, how grand the building is, and that I was in the middle of an attempt to find out about Dr. Gray, its founder. He cuts me off mid-sentence and with an altered tone filled with enthusiasm tells me I didn’t have to read up for he has some substantial and rare information about him.
He goes on to enlighten me. I am informed that he was a doctor who had worked for the East India Company. For all of you who are unaware, the East India Company was an English company formed for the exploitation of trade with East and Southeast Asia and India. Incorporated by royal charter on December 31, 1600, it was started as a monopolistic trading body so that England could participate in the East Indian spice trade. It was established in Calcutta (now Kolkata), the city which I call home. I am completely hooked and want to know a lot more. The piece of information which strikes me the most is the fact that his grave too is situated in my ‘City of Joy’. I also tell the story to my daughter and wife. My wife Bubun, who is a Bengali poet and writer, does not want to miss this opportunity to pen an article, and my daughter too is quite impressed by this piece of information.
I call Soma DasBose, one of my other close friends, at the weekend, and tell her about Dr Gray. I know she has the enthusiasm to look for the grave. I don’t have a clue how to find it though - I only know of a few old cemeteries in Calcutta. Overhearing the phone call, her very enthusiastic 15 year-old son Abhiraj decides to take it upon himself to find Dr. Gray’s grave. Abhiraj and his mum start enquiring about it quite systematically, like detectives. After a few phone calls and chats with some colonial era enthusiasts (especially Sayantani Nag) and cemetery experts, Abhiraj soon locates the South Park Street cemetery and, after spending a few hours there, he manages to find the catalogue with Dr Gray’s name in it and track down the grave and monument. Immediately he calls, shows me the grave, takes a photo and shares it with me.
While making my way to the hospital next day I take another glance at the photograph and think to myself how the world is indeed a small place and that the spirit of service can take us to any place. While many accuse me of still not quite getting over the colonial hangover, I always acknowledge that if not for the British, India could have never become India - it was people like Dr. Gray who contributed in India gaining a name for itself. After two centuries I come here in the spirit of service and with the same purpose to save lives, and this is an attempt to let the people know about this beautiful place Elgin which now takes over an even more special place in my heart.
Thinking of the possibility that one day my grave stone might age in the grounds of Elgin, but realizing that I will be cremated as per my religion, I smile to myself behind the mask. But for now, I chose to ignore the latter realization.
South Park Street Cemetery
15 year-old Abhiraj Bose who, along with his Mum, tracked down Dr Gray's grave for Mr Halder (subject and parental consent obtained)
South Park Street Cemetery