Richmond, Russell, and India

DID THE YOUNG BERTRAND RUSSELL ever rush up King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park and enjoy the famous view of St Pauls Cathedral ten miles away? We might never know the answer to this, but there is a good chance that he did (on days with clear sky) because this small hillock (184 feet above sea level) that might once have been a Neolithic burial ground is only about 330 yards from Pembroke Lodge. This Georgian mansion in Richmond Park was built in the mid-18th century. In between 1788 and 1796, it was extended according to plans by the famous architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837). In 1847, Queen Victoria granted the lodge to her then prime minister, John Russell (1792-1878).

 

RUS 6

Eric Gill’s cover for the book in which Bertrand Russell wrote the preface

John Russell had a son, John Russell (Viscount Amberley), who was born in 1842. He died in 1876, four years after his son, Bertrand Arthur William Russell, was born (in Monmouthshire, Wales). Bertrand’s mother died in 1874. Bertrand and his brother were placed in the care of their grandparents, who were living at Pembroke Lodge. Had Bertrand’s parents lived longer, they would have been pleased to have learnt that their son was awarded a scholarship to study mathematics at Trinity College Cambridge in 1890.

Bertrand Russell was one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, but I am not qualified to describe his contributions to that field. In his autobiographical book “Unended Quest”, the famous Karl Popper (1902-1994) wrote of Russell that he was:

“… perhaps the greatest philosopher since Kant.”

That was praise indeed.

When I visit places for the first time, they often ignite new interests. Pembroke Lodge was  no exception, and visiting it sparked my interest in its former inhabitant Bertrand Russell. It appears that he was interested in a huge range of things. One of these, which also interests me, was the Indian freedom struggle that culminated in the country becoming independent in August 1947. Wikipedia reveals:

“During the 1930s, Russell became a close friend and collaborator of V. K. Krishna Menon, then President of the India League, the foremost lobby in the United Kingdom for Indian self-rule Russell was Chair of the India League from 1932-1939.”

Krishna Menon (1896-1974), born in Telicherry (now in Kerala, India) came to study at the London School of Economics (‘LSE’) in 1925, then at University College London. He became a keen promoter of the idea of independence for his native land. He was founder and president of the India League from 1928 to 1947.  The League was Britain’s foremost and most influential organisation fighting against the continuation of British imperialism. During the 1930s, Bertrand Russell was one of its its leading supporters and its Chairman for a while.

In 1932, the League decided to send a delegation to India to investigate conditions there. The group, which included Menon, spent 83 days travelling the length and breadth of the country, interviewing people, Indians and Britishers, in all walks of life. After the delegation returned to the UK, they prepared a damning report, “Condition of India”, which was banned by the Government of India but published in England in 1932. Its cover was designed by the artist Eric Gill (1882-1940) and Bertrand Russell wrote its preface. Bertrand Russell began the preface with the following words

“… TO obtain a true picture of the present state of affairs in India is as important as it is difficult. Many English people content themselves with the remark that India does not interest them. If India were independent, they would perhaps be justified in this attitude, but so long as the British insist upon governing India, they have no right to ignore what is done in their name by the Government which they have elected. There has been no lack of interest in the misdeeds of the Nazis in Germany; they have been fully reported in the Press, and have been commented on with self-righteous indignation. Few people in England realise that misdeeds quite as serious are being perpetrated by the British in India. Large numbers of men and women, including many of the highest idealism, have been imprisoned under horrible conditions, often without any charge having been made against them and without any hope of being brought to trial…”

Later in the same piece Russell wrote:

“In India, the peasants are powerless against the landlords and the Government combined, so that no economic lesson is learned from their hardships, and they are expected to ‘Starve quietly without making a fuss’. Only people with political power have a right to make a fuss ; this is one of the great lessons of history, and, lest history should not sufficiently impress the Indians, we are teaching it by the lathi and the gaol. Our ruling classes have lost their former skill, and I fear the ultimate result of their folly In India must be disaster. For in India, also, if the new regime is ushered in by bloodshed the result will not be so good as if it came peacefully. Statesmanship is dead in the post-war world, and India, like other countries, suffers in consequence.”

Like the philosopher Richard Congreve (1818-1899) many years earlier (in 1857), Russell was clearly convinced that the British should leave India. By 1938, Russell, who had dedicated a substantial part of his political activity to matters regarding the future of India, began to concentrate more on philosophy and academia. In the late 1950s, he re-entered political activity, becoming one of the founder members of CND, which opposed the atomic bomb and other nuclear weaponry.

Incidentally, after India became independent, Russell’s former collaborator in Indian affairs, Krishna Menon, then India’s High Commissioner to the UK, and others including Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten founded the India Club in 1951. In the mid-1950s, its premises shifted to 145 The Strand, near the LSE and India House, where it still stands today. Its shabby looking second floor restaurant preserves its original 1950s look and houses a portrait of Krishna Menon. It has a nice old-fashioned bar on the floor below. A few years ago, before the India Club got a licence to serve alcohol in its restaurant, alcohol could only be served to members of the Club. The only requirement for joining it was to pay an annual subscription of 50 pence.

Returning Pembroke Lodge, we enjoyed hot drinks with our friends in its tranquil garden. It was then that one of our friends pointed out its links with the great philosopher, who spent his childhood there (from 1876 to 1894). After returning home, I looked up Bertrand Russell on the Internet and that is when I found that he had a connection with the history of India. It is wonderful that someone brought up in such fine surroundings as Pembroke Lodge should have felt moved to fight for the people of India, very few of whom would have enjoyed such a luxurious childhood as Russell did.

A quartet of heroes

MADAM CAMA ROAD IN BOMBAY is so named to commemorate the Indian pro-independence Mme Bikhaiji Cama, a Parsi who was born in Navsari in 1861 and died in 1936 in Bombay. Some of her bold exploits are described in my book “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets”.

It is appropriate that in the street named after her, there are statues of two men who played significant roles in India’s fight for independence: Mahatma Gandhi and Jawarharlal Nehru.

A third statue in the street depicts another eminent Parsi born in Navsari: Jamsetji N Tata (1839-1904). Though not a freedom fighter, he did much to revolutionise industry in India. Starting with the cotton business, he soon became known as “the father of Indian Industry”.

In 1903, Tata opened the now famous Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. His successors, members of his family, established the variety of industries now known as the Tata Group. His family also fulfilled his ambition of creating educational institutions in his name with Tata money, for example The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

It is appropriate that the statue of Jamsetji Tata is close to that of other important players in India’s independence movement, Gandhi and Nehru, because Tata was a keen supporter of the Swadeshi movement. That is to say, he encouraged the production of products made in India to reduce or prevent the need to import these same products. In Tata’s case, he set up cotton mills to produce cotton fabrics in India, reducing the need to import them from Manchester.

A plaque at the base of Jamsetji’s statue records that it was unveiled in 1912 by George Clarke (1848-1933), Governor of Bombay between 1907 and 1913. Incidentally, in 1907 he considered Vinayak Savarkar, future Hindu nationalist and father of Hindutva, to have been “one of the most dangerous men that India had ever produced” Clarke was a liberal, but became a supporter of fascism later in life (in the 1930s). I wonder what he thought about the Swadeshi movement as he unveiled the statue.

Madam Cama Road is not very long, yet it commemorates four people who in different ways helped India throw off the yoke of the British Empire.

HUMBLE BEGINNING

GUJARAT IS THE BIRTHPLACE of several great politicians of India: Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai, and Narendra Modi, to name but a few. Kutch, which until soon after 1947 was an independent princely state, is now part of the State of Gujarat. It was the birthplace of an important, but now largely forgotten, ‘father’ of Indian Independence, Shyamji Krishnavarma (1857-1930).

The house in which Shyamji was born is the heart of the jumble of narrow streets in the old centre of Kutch Mandvi. Unlike the large house in Porbandar where Gandhi was born Shyamji’s birthplace is a very modest dwelling. Shyamji was the son of a poor man, who spent his working life struggling to make a living in Bombay.

We were shown around Shyamji’s birth house by Hriji Karani, who has not only founded a fine school in Mandvi but also instigated the creation of a monument to Shyamji at Kranthi Teerth.

The birthplace is now a museum, which is looked after by an elderly lady. In addition to caring fir the museum she helps her grandson and some of his friends with their schoolwork. Her grandson, aged only three, was able to speak a few words pf English as well as draw the Roman numerals on his slate.

The birthplace is devoid of household effects. Their pace is taken with exhibits, mainly photographs and paintings, relating to Shyamji’s fascinating life. Amongst the photos, there is one of the Middlesex Land Registry document relating to Shyamji’s purchase of a property in London’s Highgate, the building that was known as ‘India House’ between 1905 and 1910. This was the house where Shyamji and his ‘disciples’ including VD Savarkar plotted the downfall of the British in India. There was also a photograph of the block of flats in Geneva on which Shyamji spent the last few years of his life.

Shyamji and his wife died in Geneva. In his will, he had stipulated that his ashes were to remain in Switzerland and not to return to India until the land of his birth, India, became independent of the British.

Although India became independent, free of British domination, in 1947, it was not until 2003 that the ashes of Mr and Mrs Krishnavarma were brought to India. They were collected from Geneva by Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and brought to India. I knew that from 2010, the black marble casks containing the ashes were put on display in a specially built pavilion at Kranthi Teerth, but I had no idea where they were kept before that.

Mr Karani showed us the small room in the birth house where the ashes were kept from 2003 until 2010. This little chamber, like the inner sanctum of a Hindu temple, now contains several photographs and a reproduction of an early flag designed for India by Shyamji’s feisty revolutionary colleague Madame Bhikaiji Cama and VD Savarkar during the brief existence of India House in north London.

A large oil painting depicts Shyamji with Henry Hyndman (1842- 1921), the British socialist whose anti-colonialist ideas strongly influenced Shyamji and his followers. Hyndman delivered a speech at the opening of India House in 1905. In the background of the painting there is a portrait of BG Tilak (1865-1929), one of the most revolutionary of the earliest members of the Indian National Congress and can well described as ‘the father of Indian independence’.
Like many other traditional houses I have visited in Kutch and Gujarat, the wooden staircase leading to the upper storey is incredibly steep, almost a ladder. The upper storey of Shyamji’s birthplace was a single room with more photographs and a tiny balcony that provides a view of backs of the houses on the street below.

Shyamji left Mandvi to study in Bhuj and then Bombay before setting off for England where he became a barrister in London and a world expert in Sanskrit based at Oxford. It is unlikely that he visited Mandvi much after beginning his impressive career. I have described the remarkable life of this son of Mandvi and esrly advocate of Indian independence in my book, “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS”

Although I knew that Shyamji was born in Mandvi in a far from well off family, and I had already visited the town once before, seeing his actual birthplace, viewing its surroundings, and entering his childhood home helped me appreciate the ‘rags to riches’ aspect of his life.

IDEAS BOMBS AND BULLETS by Adam Yamey describes the life of Shyamji Krishnavarma and the centre for Indian freedom fighters that he created in North London. It is available from:
Lulu.com
Amazon
Bookdepository.com
Pothi.com (best place to purchase it if in India)
Kindle

A house in the desert

TWO YEARS AGO, we first visited Kranthi Teerth close to Mandvi in Kutch, once an independent kingdom and now a part of the Indian state of Gujarat. Kranthi Teerth is a memorial to Shyamji Krishnavarma (1857-1930) who was born in Mandvi. A brilliant Sanskrit scholar and a barrister, Shyamji became disillusioned with the British and by 1905 was advocating that India should become completely independent of the British Empire.

In 1905, Shyamji bought a large house in Highgate (North London). He converted this into a centre and hostel for Indians studying in London, a place where they could eat Indian food, meet fellow countrymen, and discuss affairs related to India. He called the place ‘India House’. The house still exists in Highgate but is now divided into flats.

Shyamji’s India House in Highate, not to be confused with the building with the same name in the Aldwych, rapidly became a centre for anti-British, anti-colonial activity until its demise by the end of 1909.

In 2009/10, a monument was created near Mandvi to commemorate the long forgotten pioneer of the Indian independence movement, Shyamji Krishnavarma. The monument includes a life size replica of the house in Highgate, which was once ‘India House’. The interior of the replica makes no attempt to copy whatever was inside India House back in the time of Shyamji. Instead, it contains portraits of numerous freedom fighters including some of those who either visited or lived in the house in Highgate when it existed as India House. There is also a collection of portraits of some of the heroes of the Great Rebellion, or First War of Indian Independence, that occurred between 1857 and ’58. One might question one or two omissions amongst the portraits (eg Jawaharlal Nehru and Gokhale), but there is a large selection of freedom fighters remembered here. Apart from the feisty Madame Bhikaiji Cama and Shyamji’s wife Bhanumati, there are no other ladies commemorated.

When I first saw the replica at Kranthi Teerth, which looks very incongruous standing tall in the flat sandy semi desert landscape, I became fascinated by its history. When we returned to London, I began researching the story of India House and its exciting contribution to the independence of India. Last year, I published a book about it: “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets”. The title encapsulates what happened in India House: ideas were discussed; experiments in bomb making were undertaken; and guns were packed ready to be smuggled into British India.

It was interesting to revisit the portraits on display in the replica of India House after having researched my book. At our first visit, most of the persons portrayed meant nothing to me. However, seeing them again, having learnt about them while writing my book, felt rather like meeting old friends!

Yesterday, we revisited Kranthi Teerth and met Hriji Karali, whose ideas led to Narendra Modi’s encouragement of its construction. I presented the senior officials at Kranthi Teerth with a copy of my book. They appeared to be very pleased because until then they had not seen anything in English about Kranthi Teerth and the person it commemorates. My wife and I were given a warm welcome.

Apart from the replica of house in Highgate, there is a simple but spacious gallery where the irns carrying the ashes of Shyamji and his wife are reverentially displayed. These were brought to India from Geneva, where Mr and Mrs Krishnavarma died in the 1930s, by Narendra Modi in 2003 while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.

I always enjoy visiting places more than once because each successive visit I discover more about them and thereby appreciate them with greater keenness. This was certainly true of our second visit to Kranthi Teerth.

“Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets” by Adam Yamey is available from:
Lulu.com
Pothi.com (best for purchasers in India)
Amazon
Bookdepository.com
Kindle

Picture shows setting of the replica of India House at Kranthi Teerth

AN INDIAN HERO: Savarkar

WHILE I WAS WRITING my book about Indian freedom fighters in Edwardian London, “Ideas, Bombs, and Bullets”, I was aware that Vikram Sampath was preparing to publish a book about one of those freedom fighters, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966). Until I attended the Bangalore Litfest in November 2019, I had no idea that Vaibhav Purandare had also recently published a biography of Savarkar. I have just finished reading this interesting survey of the life of Savarkar, a controversial figure in the history of twentieth century India. What made Savarkar controversial is well elucidated in the very readable book by Purandare.

Savarkar, a father, or maybe THE father, of Hindu Nationalism and the author of an influential book on the concept of ‘Hindutva’, led a vividly colourful life, much of it behind prison bars.

Purandare describes Savarkar’s life as a law student and ‘revolutionary’ in London between 1906 and 1910 in some detail. I must take issue on one fact, namely that the house in London where he carried out much anti-British activity was number 65, not 63, Cromwell Avenue. This is only a minor criticism of an otherwise good book. Whether or not Savarkar was involved in various bombings and assassinations in India and the murder of Sir Curzon Wyllie in London was never proved, yet suspicions that he was led to his arrest in London and subsequent imprisonment in the horrendous Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands.

Mr Purandare details Savarkar’s years of incarceration interestingly at some length. That a barrister trained in London could endure the torments that Savarkar underwent is a measure of his impressive character. The author deals with the prisoner’s appeals for clemency fairly. Many of Savarkar’s critics still accuse him of cowardice, but Purandare makes it clear, over and over again, that many other well known and obscure political prisoners made attempts to gain early release from the living hell that was the Cellular Jail.

After being released from the Cellular Jail, Savarkar, by now an Indian national hero, was confined to the district of Ratnagiri on condition that he did not carry out any political activity. To some extent, he conformed to this condition, but not as much as the British would have preferred.

By the time his period of confinement to Ratnagiri was over, much had changed in India and Europe. The Muslims, who were gradually adopting Jinnah as their leader, were demanding ever more political representation and then political autonomy within or separate from the rest of India. The Indian National Congress was far from free of internal conflict. Other forces including the Hindu Mahasabha, which Savarkar led for some years, all had their own ideas on how India’s future should be. Purandare skilfully guides his readers through this tangled time.

As India approached independence and Savarkar aged and became increasingly unhealthy, his influence on India’s political struggles decreased.

Savarkar was associated with exciting developments both during his student days in both India and then London and also in his old age. Following the assassination of Gandhi in 1948, Savarkar, who was very unhappy with the Partition of India in 1947, was arrested, being charged with conspiracy to kill the Mahatma. Purandare deals fairly and quite objectively with the controversy about Savarkar’s possible involvement in a plot to assassinate Gandhi. In connection with this, he mentions Vallabhai Patel, who suggested that although Savarkar might have been morally culpable, he was not necessarily criminally culpable.

Purandare presents Savarkar as an honourable and brave man but does not hesitate to point out his failings and weaknesses. His biography is a worthwhile and compelling introduction to the life of one of India’s most intriguing freedom fighters.

Now I am looking forward to reading how Vikram Sampath deals with the life of Savarkar in the first volume of his large biography, which deals with Savarkar’s life only up to 1924.

An Indian hero

SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE (1897-1945) was, along with Gandhi, one of the most important fighters for the independence of India. Without doubt, the activities of Bose and their consequences were one of the main reasons that the British left India in 1947. A one time president of the Indian National Congress, he later parted ways with it.

Before 1940, Bose was placed under house arrest in Calcutta by the British. In 1940, he escaped and made his way to Nazi Germany, where he arrived in 1941. The German authorities were prepared to cooperate with him to bring about the downfall of the British Empire in India.

After the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese, Bose and his colleague Abid Hassan Saffrani (1911-84), who was studying engineeringin Germany and anti-British, were placed on a German submarine in early 1943. It took them to Madagascar, where they boarded a Japanese submarine that took them to Japanese occupied Sumatra. Then, they proceeded to Singapore, where Bose persuaded captured Indian troops to fight the British to gain independence for India. It was during this time that Abid Hassan Saffrani coined the salutation ‘Jai Hind’.

Bose led his Indian National Army on an ill fated military expedition to enter India via Burma. In 1945, Bose was killed in an air accident in Japanese held Taiwan. Abid Hassan Saffrani returned to India and after Independence served his country as a diplomat.

The photograph shows Bose with Abid during their journey on the German submarine in 1943. (Bose is on the left with spectacles)The print I saw is in the possession of a nephew of Abid, who lives in Hyderabad.

Some days before I met Abid’s nephew, we met a lady in Calcutta. After spending an evening with her, I expressed my interest in the anti-British activists, who lived in Calcutta. Hearing this, she revealed that she is related to one of them. We asked which one. She told us that her grandfather was Sarat Chandra Bose, the brother of Subhas Chandra Bose who helped Subhas to escape from Calcutta in 1940. We were amazed to hear this.

Biography of an idealist

gandhi blog

I have just finished reading a 660 page biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Its author, Rajmohan Gandhi, is one of his grandsons, a noted historian.

Gandhi was an idealist with a highly original mind. After a childhood in Gujarat (part of western India), he studied in London and became a barrister. After a brief return to India, Gandhi set off for South Africa to dwork as a barrister. He remained in South Africa for many years, managing his legal practice and fighting for the rights of Indians living in the country – actually, countries as South Africa was only unified in 1910. His struggles for the rights of the Indians was the proving ground for methods of non-violent revolution which he brought to India when he returned there for good in 1915.

It is no exaggeration to claim that Gandhi’s activities and his saintly persona, more than anything else, prepared the Indian masses for a desire to become liberated from the yoke of British imperial rule. Rajmohan Gandhi describes and explains this lucidly. So great was the respect for Gandhi all over India, that he was able to resolve numerous problems with the government or between different communities simply by fasting. He was willing to starve himself to death, but neither the British authorities nor most Indians were prepared to lose him. So, they gave in to his not unreasonable demands. His mass non-violent protests that were joined by thousands of ordinary people, who were prepared to be imprisoned or to be beaten by the police without offering resistance, often achieved their aims.

By the mid-1940s, the situation in India was such that the British began planning to leave it. During the lead up to Independence in August 1947 and after the Partition of India and the formation of the new state of Pakistan, India was plagued by excessively violent inter-communal conflicts: Hindus vs Muslims and Sikhs vs Muslims. Despite numerous fasts, Gandhi was unable to keep the peoples of India unified.

Gandhi’s ideals included seeing India achieve its independence. He was also keen to maintain harmony between members of India’s different religions. He did witness India’s freedom from the British, but had to suffer in the knowledge that despite his efforts, Independence was achieved whilst inter-communal violence kept increasing.

There were many in India who did not share Gandhi’s desire for inter-religious harmony. Amongst these were the so-called ‘Hindu nationalists’. It was a group of them who assasinated the Mahatma in 1948 at one of his prayer meetings in New Delhi.

Rajmohan Gandhi’s account of his famous grandfather is thorough. It gives a good idea of the Mahatma’s personality and his brilliance with dealing with everyone from the humblest harijan (‘untouchable’ or ‘dalit’) to the most pompous of politicians both Indian and British.

In brief, this book is first class and I can strongly reccommend it.

 

Postscript:

The book described above deals with the Mahatma’s rather eccentric, to put it mildly, relationship with women. However, it avoids mentioning his prejudices aagainst black Africans during the first few years of his sojourn in South Africa. No one is perfect! As he grew older, he could no longer be accused of holding racist views.

Mahatma Gandhi ate in Notting Hill

Today, 36 Ledbury Road (illustrated) in London’s trendy Notting Hill district (made famous by the 1999 film Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts) gives nothing away about its colourful past. It was once the home of the Indian Catering Company, a restaurant run by Nizam-ud-Din, who also owned the Eastern Café near Chancery Lane.

The Indian Catering Company, which was serving customers during the reign of Edward VII (1901-10) was not the first Indian restaurant to have been opened in London. The first curry house in London was opened by Sake Dean Mahomet (born in India in the 18th century). An employee of the East India Company, which he joined in 1769, he arrived in London in 1807. Two years later, he opened his Hindostanee Coffee House at 34 George Street near Portman Square. Although it was called a ‘coffee house’, it was actually a restaurant serving curries and other examples of Indian cuisine. The restaurant thrived until 1833, when it was closed. There is much more information about this establishment in Star of India, a book by Jo Monroe.

By the time that the restaurant at 36 Ledbury Road was serving customers, the Indian Catering Company was one of many Indian restaurants in early twentieth century London. The reason for my interest in this former eatery is that it was a meeting place for extremist Indian independence fighters in Edwardian London. I discovered this while researching my recently published book IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS.

Although he cannot be considered an ‘extremist’, the famous Mahatma Gandhi partook of a meal at the Indian Catering Company in Ledbury Road in October 1909. Here is an excerpt from my book:

In October, the festival of Dussehra was celebrated at Nizam-ud-Din’s restaurant, The Indian Catering Company, at 36 Ledbury Road in Bayswater. Gandhi had been invited to chair the proceedings. He had accepted the invitation on condition that the food would be pure vegetarian and that discussion of controversial politics was avoided. The food was served by Savarkar’s followers: VVS Aiyar, Tirimul Acharya, and TSS Rajan, all sometime members of India House.”

Whereas Gandhi both preached and practised non-violence, the same cannot be said of VVS Aiyar, Tirimul Acharya, and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar ( a ‘father’ of Hindu Nationalism and Hindutva), who also attended the meal.

Although there is no plaque recording the interesting history of 36 Ledbury Road so near to Portobello Road, whenever I pass this house I feel a tingle when I remember the famous Indian freedom fighters who once entered it and ate there.

A SMALL house cover

“IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” is by Adam YAMEY

ISBN: 9780244203870

The book is available from on-line stores including:

Amazon, Bookdepository.com, and lulu.com

It may also be ordered from bookshops

There is an e-book edition on Kindle

 

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.

 

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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!