Those concerned with heritage matters will agree that it is a rather depressing interest to have. News invariably centres on demolishing of heritage buildings, vandalising of precincts and the theft of artefacts. And then, every once in a while along comes a miracle that keeps hope alive. One occurred yesterday.
I had written about the mystery of the Bulkley tomb on Tuesday (‘Hidden Histories’, The Hindu, September 25) not really hoping to receive any information as to its present whereabouts. But I was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call from the security officer of the government’s Archaeology Department informing me that the Bulkely tomb was alive (pardon the inappropriate phrase) and well. He also offered to take me there.
On reaching the spot, I realised that I should have taken Henry Davison Love (‘Vestiges of Old Madras’, 1913) more seriously. He had stated that the tomb was opposite Madras Medical College and sure enough there it was. Only it was now safely behind a wall that cordoned off a defence area housing the Shaurya Army School, which stands opposite MMC, at the intersection of Poonamallee High Road and Evening Bazaar Road. The wall would not have existed in Love’s time.
Bulkley, according to Love, was buried in his own garden. And so the place where I was standing must have once been his residence. It is rather appropriate that the good doctor should be resting just opposite MMC and the GH. He had after all, once presided over an earlier version of our current GH.
The tomb is even now enclosed by the railings that Love mentions, though parts of it have fallen off. Gone are the steps that Love says once led to the place, perhaps they are now below the ground.
Bulkley lies under a massive rectangular piece of granite, and on top is a detailed inscription in Latin giving details of his life. The tomb itself is in fairly good condition though the same cannot be said of its immediate surroundings. Nobody is sure whose jurisdiction the tomb comes under; the Army which owns the land or the Archaeological Survey of India which ought to take care of such ancient artefacts.
For the record, Bulkley died on August 10, 1714. As I walk away, I reflect that the good doctor must be getting very few visitors these days. Thankfully, there appear to be no vandals either.