For three years in the mid-1930s, B.P.L. Bedi and his English wife, Freda Bedi, published in Lahore a really excellent leftist and nationalist quarterly. It was called Contemporary India and ran for ten issues, the last a double issue - there's a complete set at the British Library (though the catalogue entry is none too great - it's at P.P.3779hc) and an almost complete run at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
It was a substantial publication - each issue ran to 160 or more pages. 'Netaji' Subhas Chandra Bose was among the contributors. The articles were mainly about Indian politics and economic themes but also extended to Indian folk song and theatre, the caste system, issues relating to gender and such topics as Hitler's rise in Germany, Stalin's grip on the Soviet Union, the Middle East, South Africa, the Bahai religion and much more. It was nationalist - and internationalist. And it is virtually unknown.
At the end of this blog I've posted all the journal's covers to give an idea of the range of content, and also the complete text of Bose's article, which was entitled 'India Abroad'.
B.P.L. Bedi said that the idea for the quarterly came from Werner Sombart, his doctoral supervisor in Berlin and one of Germany's leading social scientists. Sombart lamented that India had no quarterly magazine of intellectual calibre. 'That very day I came back home', B.P.L. recalled, 'discussed the situation with Freda and decided that we must have a quarterly magazine immediately on our return'.
Contemporary India published an extract from Sombart's deeply controversial 1934 volume, Deutscher Sozialismus, which some regarded as advocating a form of German 'national' socialism which offered some intellectual solace to the Nazis.
The intellectual partnership between B.P.L. and Freda had begun earlier, when they were fellow students at Oxford University. They fell in love, and a fruit of their personal and political alliance was a series of three volumes they edited for Gollancz with the title India Analysed.
They became engaged early in 1933 - below is their formal engagement photograph - and married at Oxford Registry Office a few months later, as soon as they had finished their final degree exams. Freda Houlston was from a middle -class family in the English Midlands. She lived a remarkable life, was jailed in Lahore by the British during the Second World War for opposing the war effort, and later became a Tibetan Buddhist nun. I'm writing her biography - it will be published soon .
The Bedis - after a sojourn in Berlin interrupted by the menace surrounding Hitler's increasing political authority - arrived in Lahore in the autumn of 1934. Contemporary India started publication within a matter of months. B.P.L. was listed as the editor and Freda as the managing editor, and they assembled an impressive list of Indian academics as contributing editors.
In politics, the quarterly both championed Bose and the radical wing of Congress, and promoted the interests of the Congress Socialist Party, in which both communists (the CPI was banned at this time) and Congress leftists gathered.
Contemporary India also published some poetry - including this piece by a youthful Balraj Sahni, later a key figure in Indian cinema:
And the journal also published a folk song translated by Nora Richards, the founder of Andretta and a champion of traditional Punjabi theatre and performance:
Freda Bedi told a friend at the close of 1936 that the quarterly was 'self-supporting. and growing every day'. But that was putting a very positive gloss on a precarious situation. The journal was short of revenue and also had to deal with official obstruction and disapproval. And the Bedis' attention moved to another venture, a much more populist political Lahore-based weekly Monday Morning, which achieved both sales and impact but has disappeared completely beneath the waves (if anyone has a copy of knows where there are any, please let me know).
A double issue published towards the close of 1937 was, it seems, Contemporary India's last. This was the only issue to contain plates - to accompany an article by Tandra Devi (aka Mrs Maud Foulds aka the violinist Maud MacCarthy) on puppet and traditional theatre.
The quarterly was a brave and important initiative and deserves the attention of historians of Indian nationalism and leftism.
UPDATED in October 2018 with the discovery in the British Library of the tenth and apparently final issue of Contemporary India.
Contemporary India: covers of all ten issues
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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