Freda Bedi and the Bengal Famine
A fascinating book in so many ways - which I was lucky to find, though at quite a price, in a London bookshop.
It's a graphic first-hand account of the devastating Bengal Famine of 1943, written by the remarkable Freda Bedi, with unsettling photographs and an arresting dust jacket designed by Sobha Singh.
Freda Bedi was an English woman (she was born Freda Houlston) who at Oxford met and married a Punjabi Sikh, B.P.L. 'Baba' Bedi. She moved with him to Lahore, became an active Indian nationalist and was, like her husband, a communist. I've written about Freda Bedi before, and there are photographs of her elsewhere on this site.
Both Baba and Freda Bedi were keenly involved in Kashmiri politics in the 1940s, supporters of Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference - indeed Baba Bedi is said to have drafted the party's distinctly radical 'New Kashmir' manifesto. Later Freda Bedi embraced Tibetan Buddhism and became a renowned woman religious.
In the first half of the 1940s, Freda Bedi wrote for 'The Tribune' and other titles , and two books of her journalism were published, both now very hard to find - the first was Behind the Mud Walls, followed in 1944 by Bengal Lamenting.
The wartime famine in Bengal was one of the great calamities of modern India. Millions died. 'This small book', Freda Bedi wrote in the foreword to Bengal Lamenting, 'is the record of the month of January, 1944, which I spent touring the most afflicted districts of famine-stricken Bengal.' By then the famine had brought in its wake epidemic and disease, and Freda Bedi drew a sharp political lesson from the agony and wretchedness she encountered:
The book is more than a cry of pain, a call to pity, a picture of another tidal wave of tears that has wrenched itself up from the ocean of human misery. It is a demand for reconsideration on a national scale of a problem that cannot be localised, a plea for unity in the face of chaos, one more thrust of the pen for the right of every Bengali and every Indian to see his destiny guided by patriots in a National Government of the People.
The cover is a powerful work by Sobha Singh, then active in the progressive artists' movement and later well known for his paintings of the Sikh gurus.
Five mounted photographs are pinned into the book - harrowing scenes of the suffering caused by famine.
Quite the most macabre and shocking is the image on the right, which I have deliberately kept small so that it doesn't upset casual browsers.
The caption reads: 'Memento Mori - death benefits the starving dog'.
Thank you so much Andrew! Indeed it is rare and worth collecting!!!
Glad to have discovered your blog!
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