It is remarkable how Kashmir continues to have such a grip on the British imagination - even though hardly any Brits have visited the valley for the past twenty years or more.
Popping in at a North Yorkshire tea shop over Christmas, I came across a line of locally made chutneys and preserves - incuding this 'spiced but mild' Kashmir Chutney.
There is no obvious link to Kashmir beyond the hint of the exotic, oriental, enticing ... but how that word 'Kashmir' stills bears a sense of wonder!
One of my more expensive buys from Oxfam (£4.99) - but then it is a curious period piece, with period photos to match. Rosita Forbes was a remarkable woman explorer and travel writer - there's a biographical note on the web with the appropriate title Appointments in the Sun.
This title was published by the Right Book Club - a counterblast to the hugely more successful Left Book Club - in 1939. Not always to approving reviews. A review tipped in to this copy concludes of Miss Forbes: 'It is a great mistake on her part (and in the very worst of taste) to write about the private lives of some of those in authority in these [princely] States. Never have we been in greater need of their support and understanding than to-day, and such remarks as Miss Forbes makes can do no good, but might well do irreparable harm.'
I bought the book because it has a chapter on Kashmir's royal family, where again the author writes 'in the very worst of taste'. She recycles some of the more vicious colonial era stereotypes and prejudices about Kashmiris. I apologise for any offence caused by repeating her words - but they are instructive of the attitude of the colonial elite as late as the 1930s:
'Throughout history the Kashmiri has been a victim. From his own character and the position of his country on the high road of invasion he was predestined to be conquered. Foreign rule, continuously changing, has made of him a rogue. His villainies are insignficiant and habitual. They do not detract from his charm. The Kashmiri proper will always run rather than fight. He has a genius for the misrepresentation of the smallest and least important fact. Lamentably untrustworthy and undoubtedly attractive, he invites oppression, and a succession of conquerors have made habitual his natural inclination towards slavery. A hopeless people, but with a ready wit and imagination that makes them the first of story-tellers, they love and live on rumour. ... They may not be courageous, noble or virile, they may not have the fighting qualities of the Rajput and the Dogra, but they are excellent cultivators, capable of developing their rich land, and their endless lies are often a form of courtesy, or a habit. Straight speech to so quick-witted a people is dull as cold boiled mutton. They offer prevarication as a spiced dish.'
Later in the chapter, Rosita Forbes returns to this theme, remarking: 'The Kashmiris have known too many grievances under a succession of conquerors to be happy without one.'
It is alarming to think that these ossified and ill-informed sentiments were once common currency among at least some of the English in imperial India and its princely states.
I have just bought, for the modest outlay of £5, a copy of the 'Indian Front News Bulletin' for March 1934. It is, as far as I can tell, the newsletter of Indian Communist students in London.
It's duplicated, in much the fashion of the student literature I helped to produce about forty years later. But what really caught my attention is that it contains an article on Kashmir - not an issue which captured a great deal of progressive attention at this time.
Indeed, on the back is a cartoon (not very good, but still), which addresses the aggressive nature of British imperialism across the sub-continent, including in Kashmir.
A large part of the concern about Kashmir - this was 1934 after all - was the implications of British policy there for the Soviet Union to the north. There is also a suggestion that the British had inflamed communal tensions in Kashmir (by pressing the Maharajah to redress Muslim grievances) for their own strategic purposes.
The article argues - and this is certainly unchallengeable: 'The truth is that the people of Kashmir are exceedingly poor and that they have been cruelly exploited'. It's a well written and well argued piece - as you can see for yourself:
Sister Emilia Montavani
65 years ago, 27th October 1947, was quite a day in Kashmir.
The first Indian troops landed at the airstrip outside Srinagar, initiating a military presence which continues to this day ... the Maharaja, in all probability, signed the instrument of accession by which Kashmir became part of India, and certainly this was the day that Lord Mountbatten, Governor General of independent India, accepted the accession ... and in mid-morning, armed Pakistani tribesmen scaled the walls of St Joseph's convent and hospital in Baramulla, killing six of those at the mission.
I first heard the story of the attack on the Baramulla mission from Sister Emilia, an Italian nun who had lived through the attack, indeed spent seventy years there in all, and is now buried in the mission grounds. She was laid to rest close to her friend Sister Teresalina, a young Spanish nun who was among the casualties that autumn day back in 1947.
On the far side of the misson lie the graves of the five other victims of that violence - a military grave for Lt-Colonel Tom Dykes, and plain headstones for his wife Biddy Dykes, a nurse pursuing holy orders Philomena, the husband of the hospital doctor Jose Barretto, and a patient Motia Devi Kapoor.
It's a moving and important story - modest in scale to some of the anguish Kashmir has endured over the intervening years, but in many ways the moment the Kashmir conflict began. 65 years on, let's remember those who died so tragically that day - and those such as Sister Emilia who kept their stories and remembrance alive.
Another book bought for the cover. Not that the book itself is a complete dud. Berkely Mather
, real name John Evan Weston-Davies, was a retired army officer with many years of service in India and across Asia who wrote thrillers that attracted the attention of Ian Fleming and Ernest Hemingway. They are dated, as this cover suggests. The Pass Beyond Kashmir
, Mather's second book, was published in 1960. It clearly sold well - it's not hard to find, though I was pleased to pick up a copy with Barbara Walton's dust jacket in half decent condition.And of course, the vulnerable white woman was the stock-in-trade of Kashmir in Anglophone popular fiction - thanks largely to H.E. Bates's The Scarlet Sword. More on that here.
To Mayfair this morning for the memorial service for Stanley Menezes, or to give him his full rank and title, Lieutenant General Stanislaus Francis Leslie Menezes.He was born into a
Goan Catholic family, wanted to join the Indian civil service, but with recruitment on hold during the war, he joined the Indian army in 1942 and was commissioned as an officer the following year.During partition he showed immense heroism shepherding his troops back to Bombay through Pakistan, and an attack by hostile armed tribesmen. More than twenty of his soldiers died.In late 1947, he was a staff officer at HQ in Delhi, and from that vantage point saw India fight Pakistan (armed tribesmen, then regular army)
in Kashmir. Soon after, he was posted to Baramulla and got to know some of those whose stories featured in my book on Kashmir
. He later became the second most senior officer in the Indian army.Stanley, though somewhat austere,
was a generous raconteur, a man of integrity, and himself a splendid historian. His obituary in the Daily Telegraph
tells more - written by his partner and fellow historian, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, who also organised today's memorial service.The venue, right in the heart of the Establishment, was Farm Street Church (the Church of the Immaculate Conception). It can't be often that that cloistered edifice resounds to an organ reniditon of 'Jana Gana Mana', India's national anthem.
The latest London Review of Books
includes the following letter, in response to Perry Anderson's articles about Gandhi, Nehru and modern India: Perry Anderson says that Kashmir became part of India in 1947 ‘with a forged declaration of accession’, and that the document then disappeared for ‘over half a century’. Not quite. The maharajah of Kashmir was pushed into joining India by an invasion of Pakistani tribesmen, and there’s little doubt that he signed the instrument of accession. A facsimile of the crucial page bearing his signature was published more than forty years ago, and the entire document was posted on the website of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs. However, when I sought permission to consult the original, I was told – it would be nice to think that the play on words was intentional – that the Indian government had ‘not acceded’ to my request.
There is certainly something fishy about the circumstances of the accession. The evidence is compelling that the maharajah signed on 27 October, but was told to record the date as 26 October. In other words, he put his name to the document a few hours after India began an airlift of troops to the Kashmir valley (the beginning of a military presence that continues to this day), but in a manner which suggested it had been signed before the military operation began.
London NW5There's more about this in my book about Kashmir in 1947 - and for ease of reference, here's the signed copy of the Instrument of Accession:
Sometimes I buy books just for the dust jacket. This was from Oxfam, so it didn't cost me much. A wonderful design for the first edition of Rumer Godden
's slightly sinister 1953 novel of living in Kashmir. This harks back to her experience of living for three years, after the break-up of her marriage in the early 1940s, in an isolated Kashmiri village with her children - and surviving what was an apparent attempt to poison her. Frustratingly, there is nothing to indicate who designed the dust jacket.
The life affirming poetry corner at Tufnell Park tube station has turned to Kashmir. Here's today's offering on the white board, much better than the customary, non rhyming, non scanning: 'There is a good service on the Northern line'.This rather intense poem, 'Kashmiri Song', is by Laurence Hope,
the pseudonym of Adela Florence Nicolson
. She was married to a British army officer in India - and after his death, committed suicide in 1904 aged 39.
This is perhaps her best known poem which also was - with slightly modified lyrics - a popular Edwardian drawing room song ... indeed I remember my father sometimes singing 'beside the Shalimar' (the name of Mughal gardens by Dal Lake in Srinagar).
Ever wondered how the Kashmir crisis began - what the whole fuss is all about?Well, you can either read a learned tome - allow me to offer a suggestion - or have a blast reading Sumit Kumar's wickedly entertaining comic history of Kashmir, 'Kashmir ki Kahani', which translates as 'Kashmir's Story'.You can get a sense of his style from the excerpt on the left: and let me give a beginner's guide to the runners and riders ...In the top frame on the left you have Jawaharalal Nehru (the Nehru cap is a bit of a give away), India's first Prime Minster - and alongside, in another example of trademark independence-era headgear, Mohammed Ali Jinnah in his astrkhan hat. He was the heavy smoking founder of Pakistan.They were the two leaders who went to war within months of independence in August 1947 - about who gets Kashmir. The former princely state has, de facto, been partitioned ever since ... though the bigger part in terms of population, including the Kashmir valley, is on the Indian side of the line.And below is the beturbanned last maharajah of Kashmir, Hari Singh
- to him fell the choice of whether his principality should cast its lot with India or Pakistan. His own preference was independence. In the end, as Pakistani tribesmen invaded, he plumped for India. And that's how it all kicked off.The complicating factor was that Hari Singh was a Hindu prince ruling a state with a (then) three-quarters Muslim population. OK, so it's obvious, Kashmir should have headed to Pakistan ...But there was another complicating factor - the pre-eminent Muslim Kashmiri nationalist politician of the era, Sheikh Abdullah, supported Kashmir's accession to India. OK, so it's not so obvious ...But then, a few years later, Sheikh Abdullah had second thoughts about whether Kashmir should be India's. OK, so not clear at all.As I say, if you want to find out more, and be entertained at
the same time, then read 'Kashmir ki Kahani' - you can get to the online version by clicking on the image.