The very first time I set foot in India was at Calcutta airport, back in 1992. I was making a radio documentary about the staying power of West Bengal's communists - you can hear it elsewhere on this site. Back then, Jyoti Basu's CPI(M) has been in power for fifteen unbroken years.
Fast forward another eighteen years to the present, and the Communists still govern West Bengal. Jyoti Basu, who at one stage came within a whisker of becoming India's Prime Minister, is now dead. But his party marches on.
Not for much longer, according to Jason Burke in today's Observer. He reports that the party is being outflanked by a populist split from Congress led by Mamata Banerjee - who I met on that first trip to Calcutta all those years ago. The party's epitaph has been written many times and they have proved remarkably resilient - but this time, the pendulum seems to be swinging away from Alimuddin Street (the CPI(M) headquarters).
Whatever, that first trip to India instilled in me a huge affection for Calcutta, which remains undimmed. A wonderful city with fantastic architecture and a vibrant culture.
Counting in Kashmir
It's not easy to assess opinion in Kashmir about the best option for the region's status. That's true both sides of the line of control that partitions the former princely state between India and Pakistan.
So all the more intriguing, then, that a big opinion poll has been conducted across Kashmir asking people whether they believe the state should be independent, part of Pakistan or part of India. The involvement of the much respected scholar of contemporary south Asia, Robert Bradnock, adds a measure of authority to the survey.
Here's where you can find a brief write-up - look out particularly for the findings from the India-ruled Kashmir Valley, the epicentre of the conflict.
Cape Coast Castle
It's an iconic symbol of one of the world's most profound injustices. The castle at Ghana's Cape Coast - once one of the world's largest slaveholding centres, and now a world heritage site. Famously visited by Barack Obama on his first presidential trip to Africa.
When I passed by last week, there were still banners flying - blown ragged by the strong winds off the Gulf of Guinea - showing Obama alongside the Ghanaian President. The castle stands proud above a stormy sea, and alongside a picture perfect strip of beach. The castle is a little brooding - and strange that some of the magnificent cannons are now lying untended on the seashore below - but has nothing of the sinister aura that you would expect of a slaving centre.
The Gold Coast
Last week, more than thirty years after studying nationalist movements in west Africa, I finally got there. To Ghana. Just for 48 hours, but long enough to get a sense of the place. And a budding affection for the country, and its hugely warm-hearted people.
It's genuinely pluralist. The coastal road - a main regional highway - is impressively free of potholes and bullock carts. And while many people are clearly poor, in Accra and Takoradi, I saw little of the in-your-face urban poverty which is still evident in many Indian cities.
Accra didn't even have power cuts. At least, not so you would notice. That's in part Nkrumah's legacy - the independence leader who developed hydroelectric power. With the prospect of oil just off the coast near Takoradi, Ghana could make a giant leap in the next yew years.
Local radio is impressive - on the long journey from Takoradi to Accra, listening on FM, I heard one talk station and then another hold local politicians to account over somewhat intemperate remarks by a party leadership contender.
Still, there are gaps in the media scene. 'What the Ghanaian media doesn't do', a former government minister told me, 'is report on our Francophone neighbours. Look at the map. Ghana is surrounded on three sides by French speaking nations, and on the fourth by the sea.' The legacy of the European imperial carve-up of Africa is still all too evident.
The really nice thing about a blog and website is getting in touch with people who share your interests. There's a page on this site about the novelist Alexander Baron - do give it a glance. Jennifer in New York noticed that the cover featured was not the originalbut that on the recent Five Leaves edition. Would I like to see the original dust jacket, she asked. Yes I would. And now you can see it too. Thanks, Jennifer!
Stairway to Heaven
As you leave Bethnal Green tube station in London's East End, there's a small plaque marking the site of the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War. 173 people were killed there on 3rd March 1943. The station was being used as an air raid shelter. But it wasn't enemy action which led to the loss of life. A new form of anti-aircraft weapon was being used nearby, it seems, and that triggered a crowd surge - hundreds were trapped and crushed.
You may have heard little about the tragedy. At the time, a desire not to harm morale contributed to the downplaying of the incident. After the war, this was widely seen as a private and local tragedy. There are still a few survivors of the disaster, and there's also an increasingly active local group seeking to build a memorial.
The project is to build a Stairway to Heaven Memorial - an inverted flight of stairs above the entrance to the stairwell. There's a whole range of events being organised to raise money. and earlier this year Sean Dettman wrote a detailed account of the tragedy and the response to it - The Bethnal Green Tube Shelter Disaster of 1943: A Stairway to Heaven, published by the East London History Society.
We need to honour and memorialise our past.
Up the Cally Road
A wet, cold, miserable morning - about the worst imaginable to go on a walk almost the entire length of London's Caledonian Road. But that's what I've just done - in the company of the oral historian Alan Dein abd about twenty others.
The organised walk is linked to the entirely wonderful sound map that Alan and The Guardian's Francesca Panetta have recently posted on The Guardian's site: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/interactive/2010/apr/26/caledonian-road-sound-map
It's a fantastic piece of audio - strong voices, specially commissioned music and magical production. (And the images and web design are also impressive). Alan took along a ghetto blaster so we could hear some local voices and stories as we walked.
We started close to what was once the Caledonian market (the clock tower and the railings are almost all that survives) - a live meat market from the mid-nineteenth century which turned in to London's largest flea market but came to an end with the Second World War. On through the Caldeonian Estate to Pentonville jail - there's a road just to the north side, a public throughfare leading to blocks of warders' housing, which doesn't appear in the A-to-Z, I suppose in a nod towards security.
Then under the Ferodo bridge (I didn't know that Ferodo had a deal once with a big building concern to feature on all their bridges) into the Cally Road proper. It's a haven of family-run shops and small businesses. Hardly any chains. Prosperous Barnsbury to the east - slightly run down social housing to the west. Towards the canal, we walk past a recycling bin for kinives - an attempt to tackle gang-related street crime.
Then on towards what used to be the Geberal Picton - a local turned gastropub, The Drivers, with a vertical garden on its exterior walls. A sign of the gentrification that is increasingly evident at the southern extremity of the road. I just hope Housman's bookshop survives.
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