City Monument – Rani Tara Devi’s Derelict Grave, Nicholson Cemetery
A resting place.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
We will never know what distresses were raging through Rani Tara Devi’s heart when she boarded a taxi at north Delhi’s Maidens Hotel, drove all the way to the Qutub Minar in the south of the city, walked up the stairs to the top, and jumped.
Was it the impulse of a moment? Was it the prolonged deliberation of a melancholic mind?
This was in December 1946, when the centuries-old tower was still open for visitors to climb. Rani Tara Devi, wife of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala, was buried soon afterwards, here at the Nicholson Cemetery. Today, her grave is stranded amid a sea of unwieldy grass. The historical graveyard itself has disintegrated into the likeness of a deserted garden. The old stone graves have grass growing out of them. Some of the tombs have developed cracks. Wild flowers are blossoming in thorny shrubs. This afternoon, the graveyard is empty, but the air is swelling with the noise of the Ring Road traffic, which is just outside the cemetery’s gateway.
The little-known royal figure who is lying buried here was from Europe. She was a theatre dancer in Vienna before she caught the fancy of an Indian maharaja, who transformed her from Eugénie Grosup to Tara Devi — according to a brief account of her life written by city flâneur Abhilash Gaur last year on his blog. Rani’s resting place lies towards the far end of the cemetery, and it is not accessible by the gravelled path. To reach it, a visitor will have to jump over scores of graves, and risk stepping upon hidden snakes while walking upon plush beds of grass, bushes and dry twigs.
The tomb is a simple slab of stone. The French inscription has faded to a great extent, but it is still discernible:
Born on 22 January 1914
Dead on 8 December 1946
Spouse of his highness
The Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala
Sorry that she had such an unexpected end
May God rest her soul.
A corner of the grave has broken into fragments of bricks. Another corner appears to be on the verge of collapse. But then Eugénie Grosup must be past caring by now.
A grave secret