From Norway to Bengal

Doll hse

 

We were attracted to the latest theatrical production at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith (West London) because it was a play set in Calcuttta (Kolkata) in the late 1870s. It was not any old play set in Victorian Bengal, but a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s the Dolls House (first performed 1879), which was originally set in a Norwegian town in the 19th century.

What we saw at the Lyric was a new version of Ibsen’s play created by the playwright Tanika Gupta. In Ibsen’s play the main protagonists are Nora Helmer, her husband Torwald Helmer, Dr Rank, Nora’s school friend Kristine Linde, and one of  the employees in Torwald’s bank, a desperate widowed father, Nils Krogstad. In Gupta’s play Torwald becomes Tom Helmer, an Englishman, who has married Niru,  a Bengali beauty, and has become a senior official in the British administration of India. Dr Rank remains Dr Rank, but is also an Englishman. Kristine becomes Krishna Lahiri, an impoverished widow and schoolfriend of Niru. Nils Krogstad is transformed into Mr Kaushik Das, a widowed Bengali father of four children and a lowly employee in Tom’s office.

In its new guise, Gupta’s Dolls House sticks to the spirit and main ideas in Ibsen’s plot but causes it to be played out in the steamy tropical climate of Calcutta. Gupta explores the relationship between the representative of British imperialism and his very sweet Indian wife. The arrival of Krishna and then Mr Das on the scene soon unsettles the happy home life that the Helmers had been enjoying. Without giving the story away, Mr Das, whom Tom does not like, holds a secret that could bring about Tom’s downfall if revealed. Tom is blisfully ignorant of the threat that Das poses, but the opposite is the case for Niru, whose great anxiety Das stimulates.

Although I had some reservations about the new version of the play, I enjoyed it and the often excellent performances of the actors. What fascinated me was how successfully Ibsen’s play had been ‘relocated’ from the gloom of Norway to the colourfulness of Bengal without losing the feeling that it was a play inspired by Ibsen. By translating the play from one cultural milieu to another, Gupta has preserved and enhanced Ibsen’s messages about the role of women and social class. She has added another fascinating ingredient: the portrayal of British racism towards Indians in pre-independence India. I feel that many of the Anglo-Saxon members of the audience might have been blissfully unaware of their ancestors’ unpalatable attitude to Indians they ruled. They would have left the theatre better informed about this blot on Britain’s history.

 

The play is on at the Lyric until 5th October 2019.

See: https://lyric.co.uk/shows/a-dolls-house/

 

Image adapted from lovetheatre.com

PHD on arrival

Arriving_240

 

A few years ago, the new airport at Devanahalli just north of Bangalore (Bengaluru) was opened for use. It was already too small when it opened and in recent years there has been much new construction to more than double its size and passenger handling capacity. 

On arrival passengers from some flights enter the airport by airbridges that connect the aeroplanes to the terminal building. Passengers proceed up escalators to the first floor where they walk along a gallery overlooking the departure lounge. We have spent many hours in the departure lounges awaiting the departures of flights which often depart in the dark early hours of the early morning. For a few years, there used to be a branch of the Pizza Hut chain available for passengers awaiting departure.

One year, I was truly surprised to reach the gallery overlooking the departure lounge because there was a large sign above the Pizza Hut counter, which bore the letters ‘PHD’. What, I wondered connected the Pizza Hut with the academic degree of Doctorate of Philosophy (‘PhD’)? ‘Surely some mistake’, as the British satirical magazine Private Eye often says.

Very soon I learnt that according to Pizza Hut, PHD stood for ‘Pizza Home Delivery’. Sadly, the Pizza Hut outlet has long since closed. It has been replaced by costlier eateries hoping for wealthy foreign travellers.

 

PHD-offer

Bachelor of Arts

booknarayan

 

Rasipuram Krishnaswamier (‘RK’) Iyer Narayan (1905-2001) was born in Madras (now ‘Chennai’) in southern India. He was a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. Many of his fictional works are set in the imaginary southern Indian town called Malgudi. Until recently when I bought a copy of “Bachelor of Arts” (first published in 1937 when India was ruled by the British), I had never read any of Narayan’s works. 

“Bachelor of Arts” is a delightful simply told tale about a young man, Chandran, whom we meet while he is completing his BA degree. We follow his life’s strangely interesting path after he graduates until he … well, I won’t give away the story. Despite the simplicity and clarity of the story telling, Narayan subtly changes the mood of the story as it progresses. I liked the way he did this. Another interesting aspect of this novel is the gentle way in which the author criticises the British imprerialistic attitude. I was also excited by the way Narayan, an Indian, portrays the ‘Indian-ness’ of his characters. As Grahame Greene wrote of Narayan in the introduction to the edition I read:

Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian.”

I agree wholeheartedly with what Greene wrote. I plan to read more of Narayan’s works as “Bachelor of Arts” has whetted my apetite successfully.

Memory of a great man

AMB 4

 

Almost wherever you go in India, you are bound to see the statue of a man wearing spectacles with round lens frames and a suit. He is always carrying a large book under his left arm. These statues depict Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who was born in Mhow (now Dr Ambedkar Nagar in Madhya Pradesh) in 1891, son of an Indian army officer. He died in New Delhi in 1956. This remarkable man was a jurist, economist, politician and social reformer. He was a founding father of the Republic of India and helped formulate the Indian Constitution. He is best known for his work on promoting the rights of the ‘dalits’ (‘untouchables’) and reducing discrimination against them.

Ambedkar was awarded a doctorate by Columbia University (USA) in 1927, and another by the London School of Economics (‘LSE’) in 1922. He was called to the London Bar in 1922 as a member of Gray’s Inn. Later, he was awarded further degrees by Columbia University and Osmania University (in Hyderabad, India).

Between 1920 and 1922 while he was studying at the LSE and for the Bar, Ambedkar lived in a house at 10 King Henrys Road near Chalk Farm in north-west London. In 2015, the house was bought by the Government of Maharashtra and was then converted into a memorial to Ambedkar. It is open to the public. Visitors can learn about Ambedkar from the well-captioned photographs on the wall of the rooms that they can wander through. The upper floor contains a re-construction of Ambedkar’s bedroom including a four-poster bed, some of the great man’s books, and an old pair of spectacles, which might have belonged to him. Other rooms contain shelves of books and various memorials to Ambedkar. There is also a commemorative plaque to India’s present Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who inaugurated the memorial house in November 2015. The garden contains a typical statue of the type I have described above.

Sadly, this monument to such a great man is under threat. Some local residents have been complaining that it is annoying to have a museum amidst their overpriced bourgeois residences (see: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-49411985 ). Camden Council, in whose borough the Ambedkar house is located, are to decide on its fate at a hearing to be held in September 2019. I hope that the (racist???) objecting residents of King Henry’s Road will not be permitted to help to erase the memory of a truly great man’s stay in London.

 

FOR A FEW PHOTOS OF THE AMBEDKAR MEMORIAL HOUSE, CLICK HERE:

http://www.ipernity.com/doc/adam/album/1244852

A house in west London

140 small SINCLAIR

 

Number 140 Sinclair Road in west London, not far from Shepherds Bush Green, looks like an ordinary Victorian terraced house, which it is. However, in the first decade of the twentieth century it was home to a few Indian freedom fighters. When the seventeen year old David Garnett, the writer and a future member of the Bloomsbury Group, visited the house in 1909, he met Bipin Chandra Pal (1858-1932) the Bengali nationalist and a father of the Swadeshi movement, which promoted Indian economic independence. He shared the house with his son Niranjan Pal (1889-1959), a young Indian freedom fighter who was to become a founder of the Bombay Talkies film company. Sukhsagar Dutt (1890-1967), a young Indian revolutionary and brother of Ullaskar Dutt who was involved in the use of bombs in Bengal and Bihar and tried at Alipore (Calcutta), also lived at number 140.

In mid to late 1909, VD (‘Veer’) Savarkar (1883-1966) also lived at 140 Sinclair Road as a lodger of Bipin Chandra Pal. Savarkar, who was studying law at the time, was deeply involved in activities aimed at attempting to cause the British to leave India in order that the country became a sovereign nation. Savarkar is now best known for his contributions to the encouragement of Hindu nationalism. His book “Essentials of Hindutva”, published in 1923, is considered a seminal work by promoters of Hindu nationalism.

Savarkar moved from India House in Highgate, a centre of revolutionary Indian independence activists, to 140 Sinclair Road sometime in 1909 before the assassination in London’s Kensington of a senior Indian administrative figure, Sir WH Curzon Wyllie, in July 1909. The victim was shot at close range by Madan Lal Dhingra, a close associate of Savarkar. Savarkar was suspected of having some involvement in the plotting of Curzon Wyllie’s demise. Savarkar’s host in Sinclair Road, Bipin Chandra Pal, was firmly against what Dhingra had done, but accommodated Savarkar, who was pleased that the assassination had been successful until, as I wrote in my book “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets”:

“… an angry crowd gathered outside, the house, Pal had to tell them that apart from being a paying guest, Veer had no other association with him. Another resident at this address, Pal’s son Niranjan, was a close friend of Veer’s and a regular visitor to India House. Niranjan’s association with India House worried Bipin greatly…

Soon after this, Savarkar shifted his home in London to a flat above an Indian restaurant in a now non-existent alleyway in Holborn.

From what I have described, the seemingly ordinary terrace house at 140 Sinclair Road has played a small role in the history of India’s struggle for freedom from the British, which was eventually gained in August 1947.

For much more information about Indian patriots in Edwardian London, I invite you to read my recently published book, “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets”, which focusses on the Indian patriots who congregated at India House in Highgate between 1905 and 1910.

 

A SMALL house cover

 

This publication is available at:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/adam-yamey/ideas-bombs-and-bullets/paperback/product-24198568.html

or:

https://www.bookdepository.com/IDEAS-BOMBS-BULLETS-Adam-YAMEY/9780244203870

(paperback)

and

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07W7CYKPG/

(Kindle)

Slow down

taxi

My late mother lost two front teeth in a car crash in South Africa during the 1930s. Ever since then, she was both a nervous driver and an apprehensive passenger.

In the early 1960s, my mother was one of the first drivers in the UK to have seat belts installed in our car, which, like all other cars at the time, was sold without seat belts.

When I used to go on holidays with my parents, we used taxis wherever we were: water taxis in Venice and automobiles elsewhere. The places we visited most often were Italy and Greece. In both places, drivers manoeuvred at higher speeds than in the UK and far more adventurously. I remember one occasion in Milan (Italy) in the 1960s where our taxi driver drove along the tram lines on the wrong side of the road, so that trams headed straight towards us. And, in Athens (Greece), if a driver saw a space on the road some hundred yards ahead, he would take all kinds of risks to reach it. In all the years that I travelled with my parents in taxis we were only involved in one accident – no injuries, fortunately.

Well, all this dangerous dashing about in dare-devil taxis did not do anything positive for my mother’s nerves. Consequently, wherever we went she made sure that she knew how to say ‘slow down’ in the local language. Whenever I am being driven in India, where traffic is very exciting to say the least, I often think that had my mother experienced it, she would have died of fright. Oh, by the way, the Hindustani word for ‘slow down’ is ‘aasthe‘.

Revolution in north London

65 ca

 

Between 1965 and 1970, I studied at Highgate School (founded 1565). Its main Victorian gothic building perches on the summit of Highgate Hill. About two fifths of a mile south east of the school, an architecturally unexceptional late Victorian residential building stands on Cromwell Avenue (number 65). Although this brick edifice may not look special, it harbours the ghosts of a lesser-known episode in the history of India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire. The only thing that hints at the interesting history of number 65 is a blue plaque commemorating the fact that the Indian patriot and philosopher Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a father of Hindu nationalism, lived there once.

In 1905, a wealthy barrister and scholar of Sanskrit, Shyamji Krishnavarma, bought number 65 Cromwell Avenue and named it ‘India House’. He intended it to be a home away from home for Indian students studying in England. However, it became more than that. It became a centre where Indian politics was discussed and acted upon.

Very soon, India House became the nucleus for Indians who wanted India to break free from the British Empire by any means possible. These included: sending propaganda and literature (including bomb-making manuals) regarded as ‘subversive’ and ‘treasonable’ by the British to India; smuggling weapons and ammunition into India; and political assassinations both in England and India. Valentine Chirol, the Foreign Editor of the Times newspaper wrote that India House was “…the most dangerous organisation outside India…”. As such, India House was under the constant vigilance of Scotland Yard, but despite this, its members were able to carry out real-life exploits that rivalled the derring-do of characters in John Buchan’s fiction.

Apart from Krishnavarma, those who congregated or lived at India House included well-known Indian patriots and freedom fighters, such as Madame Bhikaiji Cama, VVS Aiyar, VD Savarkar, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Lal Dhingra, and Har Dayal. The place was also visited by MK Gandhi (the future ‘Mahatma’), Charlotte Despard, David Garnett, Dadabhai Naoroji, and VI Lenin.

India House thrived until late 1909. During that year, one of its members carried out an assassination in London. After that deadly deed, activities at India House declined rapidly, and it was closed for ever by the beginning of 1910.

My new book, “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets”, describes the history of Highgate’s India House and the activities that originated there. In addition, it explores the ideas that led Krishnavarma to ‘create’ India House and the lives led by people who lived in, or congregated, at the place. Also, it contains the background to the replica of 65 Cromwell Road that can now be viewed and entered by visitors to Kutch, an arid part of the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Until I visited Kutch in 2018, forty-eight years after leaving Highgate School, I had not known that my alma-mater is situated so close to the site of such an exciting short episode in the history of anti-colonialism. Boldly, I suggest that this story is also unknown to most pupils, who have attended Highgate School since 1905. Furthermore, Highgate’s India House and Shyamji Krishnavarma are practically unknown amongst many educated Indians, with whom I have spoken. I hope that “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets” will help to make the exploits and aspirations of the members of India House more widely known.

 

BUY a paperback version of IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS here:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/adam-yamey/ideas-bombs-and-bullets/paperback/product-24198568.html

BUY an e-book version of IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07W7CYKPG/ 

The Patient Assassin

Assass

 

I love browsing in second-hand bookshops. Occasionally, I come across really good books that I had not previously known about. The Patient Assassin by Anita Anand (published 2019) was one such discovery.

The Patient Assassin is about the life and exploits of  Udham Singh (1899-1940), a pro-independence, anti-British activist. Some of his friends were killed in the notorious Jallianwalla Bagh massacre  in mid-April 1919. Under the command of General ‘Rex’ Dyer, several hundred innocent men, women, and children, were shot dead within the closed space of Jallianwalla Bagh, a walled public garden in Amritsar. Many others were injured in this cruel attack whose supposed purpose was to subdue the people of the Punjab so that they would not rise against British rule. 

Dyer died of illness in England, having been proclaimed a hero for his malevolent deed. Michael O’ Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, who thoroughly approved of what was done at Jallianwalla Bagh and other horrific treatment of Indians, retired to London.

Udham Singh had friends who were killed at Jallianwallah Bagh. He made it his mission to kill O’ Dwyer. The author of Patient Assassin, Anita Anand, traces Udham’s complex and mysterious life from the Punjab to London, where he shot dead O’ Dwyer at a meeting at London’s Caxton Hall in 1940. Ms Anand weaves an exciting tale based on her researches of Udham’s colourful and exciting life. Her book about a real person makes far more engaging reading than most fictional thrillers. 

I was very pleased to stumble across Anand’s book for two reasons. One is that it turned out to be an un-put-downable read. The other is that it chimes with something that I have been working on.

In mid 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra, who like Udham Singh came from the Punjab, shot dead Sir William H Curzon Wyllie, a retired important British administrator in India, at the Imperial Institute in South Kensington. This assassination horrified the British nation and many in India. 

Dhingra had come to England study engineering at University College London several years before shooting Curzon Wyllie. He had become involved in the freedom fighting activities that were centred on India House in Highgate between 1905 and early 1910. It was Dhingra’s fatal shots that hastened the demise of India House, a student hostel and meeting place which was regared by the British as a ‘centre of sedition’.  I have almost completed writing a book about India House and its members, including Dhingra, and it should be available for sale soon. Its title will be “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets”.

Finding Ms Anand’s book quite by chance was a great delight for me. Unintentionally, it might almost be considered a kind of sequel to what I have just written.

Indian patriots in Edwardian London: against the British Empire

 

Here is something to whet your appetite!

IDEAS,BOMBS, and BULLETS

Indian freedom fighters in Edwardian London

Inside a house on a quiet tree-lined residential street in north London’s Highgate, a young Indian held a revolver in one hand and repeated a solemn oath promising to give liberating India from the British greater importance than his own life…

Pandit Shyamji Krishnavarma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch. He earned his title of ‘Pandit’ because of his very great knowledge of Sanskrit. In the 1880s, he travelled to England where he became an assistant to Professor Monier Williams at the University of Oxford. Krishnavarma’s studies of Sanskrit at Oxford earned him great fame amongst the Indologists all over the world. He also became a barrister. On hisreturn to India, Krishnavarma served as ‘Diwan’ in various princely states, before returning to England in 1897.

FACE

By 1905, Krishnavarma had become deeply involved in the movement to free India from the grips of the British Empire. That year, he purchased a house in the north London suburb of Highgate. He named it ‘India House’ and it served as both a hostel for Indian students and a centre for plotting the liberation of India from the British.

Between 1905 and 1910, when India House was closed and sold, this place became known as a ‘centre of sedition’ and the ‘most dangerous organisation in the British Empire’. I have almost finished writing a book, to be called “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” about Highgate’s India House and the people associated with it. 

Here is a brief introduction to my forthcoming book:

This is about a little known part of the history of India’s struggle for independence. It concerns events centred on a house in Edwardian London. It is a tale of bombs, guns, lawyers, patriots, philosophers, revolutionaries, and scholars.

A large Victorian house stands in a residential street in the north London suburb of Highgate. Between 1905 and 1910, it was known as ‘India House’, and was a meeting place and hostel for Indian students, many of whom wished to help liberate India from centuries of British domination.

In the 19th and 20th centuries before India’s independence, many young Indians came to England to be educated. This is the story of  a few of them, who came to Britain in the early 20th century, and then risked sacrificing their freedom, prospects, and lives by becoming involved in India’s freedom struggle. 

This book describes the true adventurous exploits of members of Highgate’s India House (including VD Savarkar, Madan Lal Dhingra, and VVS Aiyar) and its history.

I will give you more news about my book soon, I hope!