Gran About Town by Pat Ellingham
I'M just back from a trip to India – a country I've grown to love over several years of visits. A long way from Bristol, you might think, but there's a fascinating link, which I've been half aware of for years, that came into focus on this visit.
On the plane over I was watching a classic Indian film from the 1950s by the great film maker Satjyt Ray, when one of the characters said "Oh to gaze upon the tomb of that great man in far-off Bristol."
I rewound to check I'd heard right. Far-off Bristol? Indeed I had.
The film's hero was mourning the loss of the great Bengali reformer, Rohamman Roy, who died in Bristol in 1833 – his statue now stands proudly outside the Central Library. And he is buried in Arnos Vale.
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My grandsons live near to that fascinating cemetery and it's a favourite place for blackberry picking and spotting wildlife.
I remembered the Hindi chattri that stands towards the Bath Road entrance. And then, a couple of days later in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), I saw a large photograph of it in an exhibition about the history of the Bengali Enlightenment. "Look," I said to our guide, "That's in my home city!"
"Then you are fortunate indeed to have such a great soul interred and honoured within your city," he said.
I've been finding out more about Roy since – how important he was to the growth of modern India and the great spirit of equality that flowered with Mahatma Gandhi.
He is, in fact, sometimes called the Father of modern India.
His link with Bristol came about because of his friendship with the Unitarian Carpenter family, and when he became ill he was nursed by Mary Carpenter.
Her story has also now unfolded to me – a spirited 19th-century woman who founded the ragged school movement for poor children in Bristol, campaigned for women's rights and was an ardent champion of the abolitionist cause. So this time I've brought back from India far more than photographs.
My eyes have been opened to the story of a great Indian who worked alongside European reformers at a time when visionary men and women began the long struggle for a fairer and more equal society.
And he came to Bristol, because some of those visionary men and women lived here.
I walked past the Central Library last week and stole a fond glance at the statue. A little boy and his grandfather were inspecting it and the boy asked what the man was doing. "He's been to the library," said his grandfather, "see, he's got a book. Shall we go and get some books now and read them together?" I watched them go and thought how much Roy would like that.
Pat Ellingham is adjusting to retirement after 30 years working for the Avon Wildlife Trust. She lives in St Andrew's and has two grandchildren who live in Totterdown