The early 1930s - the high noon of the Raj. A powerful set of images from inside the elite. I was given them by a friend, who bought these photos and negatives at auction thinking that they were something else. There about a dozen photos and a few negatives, all relating to Sir Frederick Sykes - as far as I can make out, the balding guy in the centre of the front row above with the light coloured socks - who was Governor of Bombay from 1928 to 1931, but remained in India until 1933. There's a newsreel clip of Sykes, including his remarkably cultured and measured voice, here.
The photograph on the right is, according to a note on the reverse, of a farewell tea party given by Sir Ali Muhammad Khan Dehlavi at Poona in August 1933. It all looks very self-satisfied, and distinctly opulent.
In this photo, Sykes is two from extreme right, looking at the camera and with the faintest glimmer of a smile. Dehlavi was a member of the Legislative Council over 1924-37, for a time its president - and was an important member of the Muslim League, the party which eventually demanded and won the creation of a separate nation for the sub-continent's Muslims.
Among the cache is a mounted photograph (mounted on card, and with the subject mounted on horseback) of Lady Isabel Sykes - it could have been taken in the home counties, but it was almost certainly snapped somewhere in the Bombay presidency. On the back is a small stamp saying: 'BACKHOUSE & CO / PHOTOGRAPHERS / POONA.'
Lady Sykes was the daughter of the Tory Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, and the auction was of an archive relating to Bonar Law and his family.
Among the images are several taken at the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra, now a UNESCO world heritage site - I've posted a couple below. There are also photos and negatives of a rather elaborate ceremony at Kolhapur railway station. I wonder if these are all mementos of a final tour round Sir Frederick's onetime Bombay presidency domain. I suppose they should be passed on to an archive.
LATER: These photographs are being given to the British Library which already holds records and photos relating to Sir Frederick Sykes.
It's strange how Partition can disrupt political cultures so entirely - like twins being separated in adolescence, the same stock can have hugely different outcomes. Take Punjab - united prior to 1947 by a common language and a syncretic culture, Partition has cast the two halves if Punjab into hugely different political trajectories. Or Bengal on the other flank of the sub-continent. West Bengal turbulently pluralist - while Bangladesh has never quite found its feet, and much as in Pakistan, the army is the dominant institution.
All this is prompted by reading two pieces of journalism this weekend about the two Bengals. Ian Jack in the Guardian has been reading a revisionist history of Bangladesh - by an academic, a member of the Bose parivar, whose roots lie in West Bengal.
He lavishes praise on Sarmila Bose's Dead Reckoning. 'As all good history tends to do, it complicates and contradicts the heroic narrative of national struggle.' Her book - I've just started reading it and it is wonderfully well written - challenges the conventional Bangladeshi nationalist account of the killings amid which the nation was born. She suggests that the massacres by the Pakistani army and its sympathisers were nothing like as bloody as often recounted - and that the killing of Bengali Hindus and of Urdu-speaking Biharis by advocates of Bangladeshi independence were much more substantial that previously imagined.
The other article is Amit Chaudhuri's Diary in the London Review of Books - a chronicle of the final demise of 34 years of Communist-led state government in India's West Bengal. Communist dominance was an indirect consequence of Partition. Bengali Communists won the loyalty of East Bengali refugees - not their only 'vote bank', in Indian political parlance, but an important one. In the last few days, Communist croneyism has been voted out in favour of the shrill populism of Mamata Bannerjee, West Bengal's Joan of Arc (my analogy not Amit Chaudhuri's).
Reading it all, I pine for Alimuddin Street and Chowringhee and Calcutta's Maidan - and for that sight as you fly in to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport of 'the palm and plantain trees, low houses and ponds'. As they say in the west: 'Oh, Calcutta!'
The first time I visited New York was three days after 9/11 - there was still a huge plume of dust and smoke rising from Ground Zero.
Last week I visited Ground Zero again, just days after bin Laden's death. It's not given closure to the pain of that attack, but it felt to me that the killing of bin Laden had helped to draw a line.
I was struck by how little triumphalism was on display in the city. There were some 'Obama got Osama' T-shirts for sale, but you had to look hard to find them. And I had to scour even further to find these 'Mission Accomplished: 05 01 11' badges, themselves a fairly restrained commentary on the operation against the ObL compound in Abbottabad.
The only, and I do mean only, celebratory placard on display near Ground Zero was in the name of - wait for it - the Mumbai branch of the BJP.
Mumbai has also of course suffered immensely at the hands of jihadi attackers. And the wording of the sign is hardly inflammatory. Still, to me it struck an awkward note.
I'm venturing beyond my north London enclave for this London Occasional.
I hadn't come across this touch of the Orient slap in the middle of London until a few weeks ago. It took my breath away. Such a surprise! But what is it? Where is it? When was it built?
As you can see the building is in good condition, and has marvellous tiling and architectural detail. It really is a gem.
This photo reveals more of the design. It feels more like the Alhambra than central London.
The building is no longer put to its original use - but it seems to be well patronised in its current guise.
And the area's redevelopment seems to have been designed around this curious building. As you can tell, its surroundings - at least on one side - are brashly modern. But this oasis of the exotic survives.
Anyone worked out yet where it is?
The pinnacle - is that the right word - of the building is lovely. A mini cupola of stained glass, and rising aloft the crescent and the cross. Not often you see that in this London locality.
I like the juxtaposition with the old gas lamp. It somehow helps to moor this structure in London, rather than Istanbul or Lahore.
Every now and again, when I pop into a second hand bookshop, I buy something I've already got - just because it's a book I like so much, I can't leave without it.
Yesterday, at the Oxfam bookshop in Kentish Town, I bought this title - Fermin Rocker's lively reminiscences of his East End childhood before and during the First World War. It cost £1.99. I've already got a copy - indeed I also have a copy in the original German, a language I don't read or speak.
So, the first person to tell me as a comment on this blog that they want this book gets it. Gratis! I'll even pay the postage. And let me explain why you should want it.
Fermin Rocker's father was Rudolf Rocker, a German gentile who was the leading figure in the very influential largely Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement in London's East End in the early years of the last century. Fermin's memoirs cover the period when that movement was at its zenith.
Fermin grew up to be a considerable artist - and his painting of the paper kiosk at Tufnell Park tube, which I posted here some time ago, attracted a huge amount of interest. His memoirs have several of his drawings - including the one on the cover, of Dunstan Houses in Stepney where he grew up. There are also photographs such as the one below, Fermin with his parents, taken - at a guess - in the early 1930s.
So, anyone interested?
Can you name the church on the hill?
There are a couple of vantage points which give you a marvellous view of this north London church, looking very fetching on the crest of a hill.
I've posted another, closer, take on the church below.
If I say any more, I'll start giving away too many clues.
Suffice to say it is still in use as a church. It has bells which peal on Sunday morning.
And this photo was taken in the late afternoon.
It's the sort of place that still has a very traditional annual church fair, with tombola and a chances to throw sponges at the parish priest. (Or was that a clue?)
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