Alys George was born a century ago this month. She was better known as Alys Faiz - she married the renowned Pakistani poet, journalist and activist, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I met and interviewed her twice at her home in Lahore in the 1990s - and I am posting the audio of those interviews on this blog with the blessing of her daughter, the artist Salima Hashmi.
Alys was the daughter of a bookseller in the London district of Walthamstow. In the 1930s in London, she became politically active eventually joining the Communist Party, and got to know Indian nationalists and leftists in London. In 1939, she travelled to Amritsar to visit her sister Christobel, who married Dr M.D. Taseer, a noted Marxist thinker and educationalist. Two years later, Alys and Faiz married at Pari Mahal in Srinagar - with the nikah conducted by Sheikh Abdullah.
When I interviewed her in Lahore in October 1995, Alys reminisced at length about becoming involved in the British Communist movement ('I wanted to go to Spain but my parents said no'), getting to know Indian activists, coming out to Punjab and spending time in Kashmir. She recalled the tragic, cathartic violence which accompanied Partition, and spoke of her husband's ranguished poetic reflection on the manner in which India and Pakistan gained independence, 'Freedom's Dawn'.
Audio of Alys Faiz interviewed in October 1995, press the arrow below
I first met Alys Faiz a few months earlier, and talked to her then more briefly both about her memories of Partition, and her reflections on the then impending marriage of Imran Khan and Jemima Goldsmith, and what advice she might give the new bride:
Audio of Alys Faiz interviewed in June 1995, press the arrow below
The second time we met, I brought a long a copy of her book of letters to her husband when he was in jail, Dear Heart. My wife, Anu, was with me - her only visit to Pakistan. Alys signed the book to us both - a nice personal remembrance of a warm and courageous woman.
There is to be a centenary tribute to Alys Faiz in Lahore on September 20th.
Both interviews with Alys Faiz will also be posted in due course on the Partition Voices page of this website.
Alys Faiz (nee George) 22 September 1914 - 12 March 2003
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.
Sad news from Delhi - the death earlier this week of Mrs Khorshed Italia. She's the mother of a good friend, Shenny. A lovely, warm hearted woman, who had lived for more than seventy years in a top floor flat in CP, Connaught Place, for decades the colonnaded heart of the Indian capital.
Mrs Italia was 88 and the longest standing resident of CP, where the dwindling number of householders are being squeezed out by the pressure for offices and commercial lets. The Italia household was the last Parsee family in CP.
A newspaper article two years ago described Mrs Italia as 'the grand old lady of Connaught Place'. A very apt title. She also features affectionately in Sam Miller's wonderful Delhi: adventures in a megacity.
She once told me how from her balcony she saw the looting of Muslim shops in 1947 and witnessed Jawaharlal Nehru chasing rioters wielding a policeman's 'lathi'. She worked for several months as a medical volunteer, helping refugee women who reached Delhi from the violence-wracked plains of Punjab. I was greatly moved by her modest, unvarnished account of her work, the women she helped, and the injustices she railed against - the interview is available here.
The photograph by Ros Miller dates from 1997 - and below is a charming photo of Mrs Italia when young which I was given by Shenny a few years ago.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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