Articles

Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

A ‘grave’ tale

Navtej Sarna

THE idea of going to Vevey and looking not for Charlie Chaplin’s but Graham Greene’s grave has haunted me for months. Ever since I have found a reference to the grave in an English literary magazine along with a somewhat enigmatic description of how to get there. Armed with that reference and the memory of an earlier triumph of a similar expedition years ago to the village of Peredelkino near Moscow where I had found Boris Pasternak’s grave under three pine trees, I set out for Vevey. It’s a bleak, windy, blustery day, ideal for visiting graveyards.

To reach Vevey from Geneva, one takes the sweeping auto route which leaves on the wayside the pretty little lakeside villages of Coppet, Nyon, Gland and finally the city of Lausanne. As the miles pass soundlessly by, the sun plays hide and seek and its varying light fills Lake Leman with imperceptibly changing shades of blue and grey. In the distance the lake seems almost white as if it were one large reflection of the snows on the Savoy. Alps that rise dramatically out of the lake towards the sky as we race towards Vevey and Montreaux.

Gladly, we leave the autoroute as soon as the signs for Vevey come up. It’s a straggling town which seems to begin somewhere up on the hills and stretches down to the lake in long fingers of villas, narrow streets and industrial buildings. In summer I have been high on those hills, blowing into a barbe-que and watching the incredible men hang gliding fror the crags into the blue sky. But an early March its too early for the hang gliders and too early for the vineyards to gather colour. The description of the directions in my reference begins at the Nestle factory. An old lady walking up the hill looks incredibly at me. Obviously I, could not be further away from the Nestle factory. Its way down, she points out, towards the grey lake, towards the lakeside road which goes through expensive, famous suburbs from Vevey to Montreaux.

WE begin our descent passing once again under the relentless autoroute which seems to be set on the landscape as an artificial, impersonal appendage which wasn’t supposed to be there. The matchbox size cemetery where Greene rests is supposed to be above the factory so I should logically come upon it on my way down. Instead I spot the sign announcing the little village of Jongy, where Greene’s daughter is supposed to live. Suffering from his fatal blood disease Greene left his flat overlooking the Mediterranean in Antibes and came to the hospital in Vevey, to be near his daughter when the end came.

The road leads into the village of Corsier. The centre of the village is deserted except for a young boy desultorily knocking a football on his knee. With the accuracy that can only be expected of young boys who roam the lanes through the afternoons, he points the way to the cemetery and gives directions that cannot be wrong. There is not a soul to be seen as we enter through the little gate and walk the patches between the graves. A black cat accompanies us and then ducks away. My reference says that Greene shares the cemetery with Chaplin but I am intrigued by the fact that the author says he has never been able to find Chaplin’s grave and that there is no view from the cemetery. Charlie Chaplin’s grave is unmistakable, marked by a large marble plaque. Next to him lies his wife Oona Chaplin. And the view is stupendous.

THE trail warms up again at the funicular station from where the rail car goes up to Mount Pelerin. A man points up the hill. The name of the village is Corseaux. Two old ladies in their Sunday best think that we are on the Chaplin hunt and point us backwards again. But we insist, it is the other, the not so-famous cemetery that we are looking for. “Then you are very near”, says one of the old ladies. And suddenly we are parking the car under tall trees, excitedly rushing into the cemetery. This must be the right one. It hardly has a view. Only the backs of suburban villas with their little windows and lace curtains and chimneys standing out against the grey clouds.

And second from left, not left from the main entrance but from a non-descript side gate, is the grave of Graham Greene. Plane and stark with only his name and the years 1904-1991 engraved on the stone. Blue crocuses are sprouting out of the grave; there are one or two rose bushes and a half-upturned flowerpot. It has a number too-528. This time a grey cat seems to be the guardian of the cemetery and watches us intently from behind another tombstone, its green eyes luminescent. We spend a few quiet minutes thinking of the man who had for so many long years put into words the doubts, the enigmas and deceptions of the human soul. And as we leave a very fine snow is beginning to fall. It’s almost like hard powder and soon it will sprinkle and then cover over the crocuses and the rose bushes.