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Tomb tribute with bagpipe

The pathways of the South Park Street Cemetery, silent except for the sound of dry leaves falling, were shaken out of slumber by the unfamiliar but sonorous strains of the bagpipe on a hot Monday afternoon.

Iain Morrison, a singer-songwriter from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, was standing by a tomb and playing Crossing the Minch in honour of a fellow Scotsman who had made India his home nearly two centuries ago.

Beside Iain stood countrywoman Catherine MacLean, a researcher intrigued by the story of Colonel Colin Mackenzie — the name on the tomb — ever since she learnt that he was from her hometown.

“I think this is truly incredible. I was really excited to find a man from my hometown who had devoted his life to India and had worked passionately to exploring and archiving the history of India,” Catherine, on her third visit to the country, told Metro.

Catherine, who works as the curator of an arts centre in Scotland called An Lanntair, had “discovered” Mackenzie on her first visit to Calcutta in 2010 along with a group of museum curators.

Her curiosity about the name on the tomb increased when she learnt that he was not only the first surveyor-general of India but also hailed from the same sleepy island where she was born.

Mackenzie was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, part of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, in 1754. He joined the East India Company at the age of 28 and arrived in the country in 1783, never to return to Scotland.

Mackenzie’s abilities as an engineer and a soldier are documented in history books, some of which describe him as “the man who mapped India”. The Mackenzie Collection of antiques, maps, drawings, prints, palm-leaf manuscripts and coins is housed across several institutions in India and the UK, including the Indian Museum.

Catherine has made it her mission to use Mackenzie’s legacy as a tool to strengthen cultural ties between Scotland and India.

Catherine’s Scottish Arts Centre Project aims to organise trips to India by painters, sculptors and musicians from her country. “The idea is to give Scottish artistes an opportunity to experience and immerse into India’s art and culture past and present, traditional and contemporary. They will meet fellow artists in India to share ideas, thoughts, inspirations and practices. The axis and inspiration for this project of exchange is Col. Colin Mackenzie,” she said.

In February, sculptor Steve Dilworth from the Isle of Harris had visited India as part of the programme and travelled across south India, following the routes that Mackenzie had taken.

Iian, who arrived in Calcutta on Sunday, played the bagpipe by Mackenzie’s tomb on Monday afternoon and later at the Calcutta School of Music. He described his journey as “inspiring”.

The piece Iian played by Mackenzie’s tomb is based on Minch, a river in northern Scotland. “I chose the piece to symbolise the crossing of boundaries between Indian and Scottish cultures,” he said.

“The music really enhanced the solemnity of the occasion,” said Pratiti Sarkar of CIMA.