This is a snippet about that remarkable institution, the Bush House Club, the subterranean bar which was a focus of life in the BBC World Service back in the day when we were based in The Strand. But first, the context ...
I am working on an oral history of the British New Left and for that I recently spoke on Zoom to Salima Hashmi, one of Pakistan's best regarded artists and academics and a prominent progressive public intellectual. She spent much of the 1960s in the UK - first studying at an art college in Bath and later teaching while her husband was enrolled at the LSE. Her mother, Alys Faiz, was an English leftist; her father, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was a widely revered Urdu poet and a progressive journalist.
During my conversation with Salima, she mentioned that during the Sixties she briefly worked at Bush House and that her father loved the Bush Club. With her permission, I'm posting here an extract from what she told me.
'[Faiz's] favourite haunt [when in London] was the BBC Club. So he’d be found at the BBC Club in the evenings, inevitably –
'Was that Bush House?
'Yes, that was Bush House. I used to do a programme there for – the Urdu programme for children, which was called Shaheen Club. I used to do that weekly – or perhaps it was fortnightly. I think weekly. And I started the Shaheen Club. They decided that I should have a shaheen, a falcon, on my hand. BBC took me off to this farm somewhere in Dorset, someone who used to rear falcons, and I had this photograph taken of a falcon sitting on my hand. Also for a while, I did a disco music programme also – pop music, also in Urdu, which the BBC thought was a good idea so I did that for a bit.
'But certainly Bush House was very much the haunt of a large number of leftists or fellow travellers who would congregate there every evening, many of them after they finished their programmes and they used to move downstairs. So - you met all kinds of people, not just Pakistanis but people from all over the world really from the various programmes who used to come there, and quite a few Indians who knew my father and used to have long discussions there.'
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
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