A visit to St. Bartholomew’s Church Cemetery: Remembering van Ingens of Mysuru
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns, Top Stories

A visit to St. Bartholomew’s Church Cemetery: Remembering van Ingens of Mysuru

April 6, 2023

I was surprised to read a detailed article on the world famous taxidermist Edwin Joubert van Ingen of  Mysuru, who passed away in the year 2013 at the age of 101. Unsung and unwept.

It was very sad to learn that at his burial at St. Bartholomew’s Church Cemetery, next to St. Philomena’s High School, there were hardly 20 people of which half were helpers to lower his coffin into the grave.

I knew Edwin Joubert van Ingen in his last days and even had dinner in his house located opposite to Karnataka Police Academy with my late friend Aroop Banerjee, a marketing executive. Of course, I had visited him earlier a couple of times in the 80s when he took me around his world of stuffed animals, from lions, bisons, elephants to antlers, bears, wild boars, cats etc.

A soft spoken, humble bachelor, he had deep knowledge on the subject of taxidermy. Indeed he was at the height of his popularity and fame, a rich man with huge properties and well connected with the rich, famous and powerful — Maharajas and Presidents of different countries all over the world.

St. Bartholomew’s Church Cemetery where the graves of Edwin Joubert and his brothers John Dewet van Ingen and Henry Botha van Ingen are located.

When I finished reading the article, the first thing I did was to go to St. Bartholomew’s Church Cemetery from my Office in Bannimantap and see his tomb. I was deeply touched at the total neglect of the tomb which is simply a black tablet buried in earth. Thank God, the keeper of the Cemetery Antony Das was kind enough to guide me to the tomb. Edwin Joubert  was buried alongside the tombs of his two brothers namely John Dewet van Ingen (1902-1993) and Henry Botha van Ingen (1903-1996).

As I stood there in silence reflecting on man’s fate at the end of his life, I realised death is the greatest leveller of man, who while alive, has built around himself many levels of wealth, position and power, all of which will finally lead only to his grave. Thomas Gray, the English Poet could not have explained this existential truth in his poem ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,’ more          eloquently. He wrote:

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,

And all that beauty, all that wealth, e’er gave,

Await alike th’ inevitable hour.

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The paths of glory lead but to the grave…

When I returned to my Office, I sat down reflecting on a man’s journey in his life, his destination and destiny. Same thoughts crossed my mind when I visited old age homes where I find men and women, desolate in many cases and in despair, many wishing for an early end. Some for reasons of decrepit health, burdened with pain and helplessness, some for reasons of loneliness and being deserted at their old age when they need most care and attention by their own dear and near ones, children. To bring them up they had sacrificed much in their days of family life.  For some children, caring for their pets (dogs) in the US is a more compelling reason to rush back leaving behind the parents to their fate. These are human conditions which cannot be reasoned for justification. Let it be.

The grave of TATA family members interred in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. JRD Tata’s tombstone is seen in the extreme right.

Along with these thoughts, I recalled my visit to Paris, France, in the year 2017. My son, who had already visited Paris before and explored important tourist centres and places of special interest for an Indian in Paris, had visited the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. After explaining to me the significance of that Cemetery, he asked me if I could take the trouble of travelling to the outskirts of Paris to visit the Cemetery. I jumped at the opportunity because that was where JRD Tata was buried. JRD Tata had died in Geneva, Switzerland, on November 29, 1993 at the age of 89 due to kidney infection.

India has had a number of French connections but the one it has had through JRD Tata is epoch-making. Another French man with India connection who comes to mind is that great French savant and intellectual Romain Rolland. It was he who introduced the two famous Indian Hindu spiritual persons to the world. Those two are Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda. But for Romain Rolland, a Nobel Laureate, writing a book on each of these spiritual leaders, they would, probably, have remained known to only India and Vivekananda to America also.

There was also another French connection to India. It was through Tipu Sultan the ruler of Mysore, who tried to befriend French to fight the British without much success in 1796. However, India owes much to France because it gave India JRD Tata, an extraordinary person — an aviator, a visionary entrepreneur, Chairman of Tata Group of industries and business and a shareholder of Tata Sons, the flagship company of Tatas.

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A grateful nation, India, honoured him with two highest civilian awards — Padma Vibhushan (1957) and the ultimate honour Bharat Ratna (1992). He was also awarded the French Legion of Honour by the French Government in 1983. And as destiny would have it, he was buried in a city, Paris, where he was born. And I wanted to visit his grave.

It is nothing but his destiny that JRD Tata, born in Paris, could get his burial done in the famous Paris Cemetery. Not just that, his other Tata family members too were buried there.

Be that as it may, reverting to Edwin Joubert van Ingen, it is said that such a rich and famous man with so much of real estate properties like land, building and coffee plantations coupled with huge number of invaluable stuffed wildlife animals, did not leave behind in proper time a will bequeathing the properties to whomsoever he loved or to whomsoever served him in his old age or even to some charity. One deserving charitable institution was just a stone’s throw away from his house — The Old Age Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor. As a result, all his properties are said to be embroiled in both civil and criminal cases.

Such a great man of the world of taxidermy, who had enriched the landscape of arts and crafts in the field of stuffed animals, today has been forgotten in Mysuru, his karma bhoomi. It would be befitting if the Mysuru City Corporation or the authorities concerned, who have power to recognise the services of Edwin Joubert van Ingen, to honour his memory in a suitable way — naming a Road or a Circle, installing a bust in Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, popularly known as Mysuru Zoo or at Regional Museum of Natural History in Siddarthanagar or any such other befitting manner. It is important to know that in his later years, he gave up hunting completely and turned into a wildlife conservationist.   

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