BACSA has been described as ‘the liveliest Society for the dead’ and we certainly live up to our reputation through our journal.
Just after BACSA’s second public meeting its founder, Theon Wilkinson, MBE, told the Editor that he had received a large amount of correspondence from people who had served in undivided India. It was exactly thirty years after Indian Independence, and there were still many people with direct experience of governing and working in the sub-continent, and elsewhere in South Asia who had retired to Britain, were still active in mind and body, and wanted to support the new Association and to tell it of their own lives in the East.
So Chowkidar was born. It was cut on a stencil with a typewriter, inked, and then run off on a Gestetner. How ancient all these words seem today, when Chowkidar is written on an iMac, colour images are scanned in, and the whole thing goes off to the printers by dropbox.
So what’s in it?
Dip into any of the past issues of Chowkidar all of which from 1977 to 2020 are available online. Anything that is interesting and connected, even if tenuously, to graves and cemeteries in South Asia is within the journal’s remit. We cover everywhere that the East India Company set its foot and where its servants died and were buried. From ports en route to India, like St. Helena; to electric telegraph stations in the Middle East (Bahrein); to small British consular posts (Jeddah) and right around the globe to the Treaty Ports of China, there will be graves. And Chowkidar wants to know about them and will publish lively stories about them. Do not worry if you have problems putting pen to paper – we can edit what you send us into entertaining and factual copy.
Many of the editorial features from the early issues remain. If a thing works well then change is unnecessary. Contributors, both members and non-members, always provide queries for the ‘Can You Help?’ column, and more often than not, the answer is yes, we can certainly help. ‘Mail Box’ is a round-up of visits, projects, ideas and newspaper reports from the previous six months. The book review section is popular, many of the books reviewed are by BACSA members, and we review non-mainstream books dealing with the British experience in South Asia that normally would not get a mention anywhere else. We do not publish so much on family history or genealogy unless it is tied to a tomb. Our sister organisation, FIBIS (Families in British India Society) is better equipped to deal with this and to advise on tracing ancestors buried in the East.
Why call it ‘Chowkidar’?
Chowkidar is a Hindustani word meaning ‘watchman’ – someone who is employed as a security guard in the Indian subcontinent. Many buildings have a resident chowkidar who lives on the premises, but chowkidars are also employed to look after cemeteries and in these cases will usually be found in an adjoining gatehouse. They are usually male, but there are female chowkidars too. It seemed appropriate that an association set up to preserve, where possible, old European graves in the East, would act as a kind of chowkidar as indicated by its logo, and the journal was named accordingly.