Aditya Poddar donates $100,000 for the retoration of Rammohun's tomb at Arnos Vale Cemetery
Arnos Vale CemeteryA Singapore-based Indian entrepreneur has donated $ 100,000 for the restoration of the tomb of Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Aditya K Poddar, the Chairman of Wellside International Pte Ltd, handed over a cheque for $ 100,000 to India's Acting High Commissioner Asoke Mukherji. The donation came after one of Roy's ardent followers Bristol-based Carla Contractor made an initial contribution of 5,000 pounds for the restoration of the tomb at Arno's Vale Cemetery, Minister (Coordination) at the High Commission Rajat Bagchi said.

"It is a very proud heritage that we have - I want to contribute to that," said Poddar, 39, who studied at St Xavier's College, Calcutta, after having a broad and secular vision of India ingrained in him at the Scindia School in Gwalior.

Now chairman of a timber company, Wellside International, based in Singapore and with concessions in many Latin American countries, including Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador, Poddar explained his philosophy - and his sentiments which he said had been echoed in Mira Nair's film, The Namesake.

"Our roots are very important to us," he said. "We relate to where we come from. Heritage is very, very important. As a businessman, you don't want only to make money, you want to contribute back to society because that is where you are making your money."

Arnos Vale CemeteryHe readily agreed to donate the entire sum required for renovation work after being approached last year by the mayor of Calcutta, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, and the Municipal Commissioner, Alapan Bandyopadhyay, who had visited Arnos Vale cemetery in the company of Rajat Bagchi, minister (coordination) at the Indian high commission in London. "It is an Indian looking monument," observed Poddar.

Welcoming the donation, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation commissioner said a Trust would be formed shortly to oversee the restoration and maintenance of the tomb. By "recognising our heritage in all its facets, we can look forward to make 21st century the century of India", Mukherji said.

"I had been trying in vain for a long time but out of the blue, the mayor of Calcutta arrived and offered to find the money to restore the tomb because the Raja is such an important hero in West Bengal," commented Carla, who is a member of the Raja Ram Mohun Roy Trust given responsibility for the restoration work by the Indian high commission in London. The tomb, began Carla, "needs a lot of restoration. The foundations are sinking, the pillars have got cracks down them because they are in sandstone, the canopy is leaking. Basically, the whole thing needs to be taken down, cleaned, solidified and reassembled. It is a major job but it will be done".

She promised: "When this is done, it will look as it did in 1842. It was William Princep from Calcutta who designed this tomb and I am in touch with the Princep family." She described the tomb as "a site of pilgrimage. Whenever I come here (I find) somebody has left flowers, a little memento, something touching. It is a source of pride for the Indian community - and my husband is Indian".

Richard Smith, chairman of the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust, told his Indian guests: "There are somewhere in the region of 50,000 graves and round about 170,000 people buried here. There used to be a crematorium here and over 120,000 people were cremated here as well. This cemetery was set up in 1837 and the first burial was actually in 1839. The crematorium, the first one in the west country, did not start until 1928." The repair and renovation work will be undertaken to the highest standards under the guidance and watchful eyes of both English Heritage and Bristol City Council.

Philip Davies, planning development director for the south of England at English Heritage, declared: "The monument is of very considerable interest and importance in England. It is one of the highest grades of listed buildings for a historical monument in England - Grade Two Star. It is something we are very keen to celebrate and the role of English Heritage here is provide advice and guidance and to make sure that the restoration and repair work is carried out to the best possible standards and does justice to the monument of such an important man."

he Rt Hon. The Lord Mayor of the City and the County of Bristol, Royston Alan Griffey said "This cemetery was in private ownership and the last 20 years or so it was in terrible condition. The previous private owner was not looking after it so the city (council) had to start compulsory purchase proceedings. That took quite a long time to do)." He went on: "That was successful and the compulsory purchase order has fairly recently been confirmed. The ownership was transferred (for a nominal 1) from a private company to Bristol City Council who then, in turn, transferred it to some trustees to look after the restoration of this beautiful cemetery, including the Raja's tomb." He insisted: "Without the city taking back the cemetery I am afraid it would have been in a very, very badly neglected state and it would have eventually deteriorated and a lot of the monuments, including this tomb, would have collapsed."

He also believed the Raja's message had contemporary relevance. "I certainly do - the Raja has the benefit of not one but two statues in Bristol. There is one outside the Bristol Council offices, a full-length statue, very imposing in robes, but inside the Council House is also a smaller statue, a bust of the Raja. And Bristol is interested in India because there is a large Indian population in the city."

He commented: "Of course, he was a great man, benefactor, linguist, ahead of his time with human rights. I am a lawyer so I know how difficult battles can be to achieve civil liberties and human rights."

He was frank about Bristol's dark past, in every way as shameful as sati. "This is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade act passed in 1807 and we have been having commemorations in Bristol and other places - Liverpool, London, Hull - who were also ports involved with the slave trade. Bristol was one of the major trading posts in the triangular trade - ships from Bristol went to west Africa and then over to the Caribbean and North America and then back to Bristol with tobacco and other products."

See Press Release by Bristol City Council at the Friends of Arnos Vale Cemetery site.

Learn about the Restoration project carried out by the BBC at Arnos Vale

Read the BBC news story of compulsory purchase of the cemetery

See article on Arnos Vale cemetery at http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk