Derby now has, at long last, a tribute to one of its most distinguished daughters. Freda Bedi - who became a prominent Indian nationalist and later the leading Tibetan Buddhist nun of her time - was born in the back streets of Derby 111 years ago.
She was born Freda Marie Houlston and spent her childhood in Derby, and even after moving to India with her Punjabi husband, Freda kept in touch with her home city and visited when she could.
The memorial is the initiative of, and has been crafted by, Kalwinder Singh Dhindsa. He is a Derby man, a serious Derby County fan and a social and community activist. Kal's done a huge amount to burnish the memory of Freda Bedi in her home city - and of course he shares with Freda a sense of belonging to both Derby and Punjab.
The photo shows Kal with the Freda Bedi tribute - on the left - and another piece which he has also hand crafted. Impressive!
Kal says: 'The tribute is made from a cutaway cross section of a large Derbyshire tree. The great thing about the Freda Bedi Tribute is that the pattern of the 'heartwood' in the centre around the pith does not conform to the usual circular ring pattern of most trees. The Freda Tribute suggests that the early stages of the tree's life might have been a difficult period. Very much like Freda's own life due to the devastating loss of her father during the First World War.'
'From the photo you can see the 'heartwood' looks almost like a leaf shape or even a tree. Definitely not concentric circles moving outward uniformly. As soon as I saw this piece of wood I knew it was perfect to represent the life of Freda Bedi. A non conformist rule breaker, forging her own path in life. The Freda Tribute has an image of a cedar tree within its pith. This is a nod to Freda's old School, Parkfields Cedars.
'I pass this spot regularly on my walks. So do many locals and school children. It's nice to see folk stop to read the plaque. Although initially many folk would not be too aware of who Freda was, when finding some time to research her name or ask further questions, they'll no doubt be amazed to discover what an amazing life this Derby born girl lived.'
If you want to find the tribute, it's in a community garden on Carlisle Avenue in Littleover. This is close to Freda's principal childhood home on Wade Avenue and to the parish church where Freda's father, Frank Houlston, is honoured on a war memorial as a local man who gave his life in the First World War.
Against the odds, Freda Houlston got to Oxford University where she met B.P.L. Bedi. They married at Oxford in 1933. The couple moved to Lahore where both became prominent leftists and nationalists and published at various times an impressive quarterly review and a much more activist-minded weekly paper.
During the Second World War, B.P.L. Bedi was interned so that he couldn't disturb British military recruitment in Punjab. Freda took the huge step of offering herself up for arrest as part of a passive resistance campaign led by Mahatma Gandhi and spent several months in a Lahore jail.
The photograph below was taken in Mickleover in 1947 when Freda was visiting her mother. The baby in her arms is her third child, Kabir Bedi - who became a hugely successful star of film and small screen.
After India's independence, the Bedis lived for several years in Kashmir where they were influential figures in the new nationalist movement which came to power after the eclipse of the local maharajah.
Later they moved to Delhi, and Freda's association with Tibetan Buddhism started when she worked to improve facilities in the camps set up in north-east India for Tibetan refugees who followed the Dalai Lama across the Himalayas to escape Chinese rule. She became probably the first ever woman in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to receive full ordination as a nun.
I have written Freda Bedi's biography, The Lives of Freda.
Freda Bedi's birthplace on Monk Street is still standing. Last time I visited, it was a tanning and beauty salon.
What a marvellous spot this would be for a civic tribute to this inspiring Derby woman!
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