Leela Thompson (1914-2007) was born Leela Pasricha. I interviewed her on 12 October 2003 at her home in a retirement village at Boothbay Harbour in Maine, U.S.. She was 89 at the time. Her son and daughter-in-law provided marvellous hospitality over a fall weekend in Maine. I talked to Leela while researching what became A Mission in Kashmir (2007). She was in Kashmir at the time of the invasion by Pakistani tribesmen in October 1947 - she was a young widow and in Srinagar. Her family was based in Baramulla and sought refuge at St Joseph's hospital and convent, the site of a massacre by the invading tribesmen (which was the principal focus of my book). Her future husband, John E. (Jack) Thompson, made his way to Baramulla with a Daily Express journalist, Sydney Smith, to try to rescue those trapped in the mission.
Leela's father, Brij Lal Pasricha, was a London-trained chief electrical engineer. Her mother, Celia, was English. Leela was the oldest of their six children. She and Jack lived variously in Bombay, Delhi, Japan and Beirut before settling in the United States. Jack died in the mid-1990s.
Leela explained that she had no photos of her time in Kashmir, saying there were all looted along with her fur coats (one snow leopard), saris and other possessions - except a small and stylish table which she came across by chance and reclaimed years later from her lawyer.
I have posted below a fairly complete transcript of our conversation as well as a marvellous photo of Leela (many thanks to her son and daughter-in-law for providing that). There's another photo after the transcript. I've also posted a document in the National Archives in London - Jack Thompson's statement of what happened at Baramulla.
Leela Thompson (nee Pasricha) - transcript
interviewed by Andrew Whitehead at her home in a retirement village at Boothbay Harbour, Maine - 12th October 2003
AW: YOUR FATHER WAS BASICALLY PUNJABI, IS THAT RIGHT?
LT: Punjabi, and the family started in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama is now. That’s where my grandfather was. And he spent seven years in England.
He was at Faraday House. Electrical Engineering. And he had a cousin, an Indian cousin of his, who was also in London at the same time. And I believe they had a really wonderful time. And he came back once, for his sister’s wedding. I think his father insisted he should come back. And he told me that that wedding took three weeks. Can you imagine - So, anyway, he came and then he went back to England. And then when he came back my grandfather was in the state of Jammu of Kashmir, and
WORKING FOR THE MAHARAJA?
Well, for the government there. My grandfather was a home minister as well as a Chief Justice of the High Court.
HE WAS A HOME MINISTER?
FOR THE MAHARAJA’S GOVERNMENT?
Well in the government, the Kashmiri government.
WHAT WAS HIS NAME?
Sukhdial [ph] Pasricha - his name was Sukhdial Pasricha. But he died about - I think I may be the only one who ever sat on his knee. Because he died then and everyone said he’d been poisoned - because he’d been very friendly with the royal family. But anyway -
AND WHAT WAS YOUR FATHER’S PROFESSION?
My father was an electrical engineer, a chief electrical engineer, trained at Faraday House in England. And -
WHAT WAS THE FAMILY LIKE? YOU MENTIONED THAT ENGLISH WAS THE LANGUAGE OF THE HOUSEHOLD
Well, mostly because, you know, everybody - I mean, Kashmir was, there was a Resident there, English Resident in all these different places. The British had Residents, and there was a Resident who knew my father very well - it was a great thing, you had to, my father said we had, if we were going to speak English, we had to speak it correctly. He didn’t want all this - When we went off to school, in Murree at the convent, you picked up that awful Anglo-Indian accent ... my father and mother were absolutely horrified, mainly my father. We were not to speak like that, and so three months at home from school, we went back to what we were supposed to be. Then you went to the convent for nine months and back you went into that awful, awful -
DID YOU LEARN PUNJABI, OR URDU OR KASHMIRI?
No. We had smattering of it - but it was English that was the main emphasis. You had to know English. In those days, the British - we had a British Resident, and the emphasis was really on speaking English correctly.
HOW DID YOUR FATHER MEET YOUR MOTHER - WAS THAT IN LONDON?
Must have been, I don’t know. We never sort of heard - we were not encouraged as children to ask all these questions. Children kept their place and the adults kept theirs. It was run that way, very much on the British sort of upper class lines.
WHERE DID YOUR MOTHER COME FROM?
BUT WHEREABOUTS IN ENGLAND?
I don’t know. I’ve never known. I don’t know anything about - we were not encouraged to ask any questions.
DO YOU KNOW HER MAIDEN NAME?
I’ll have to ask my sister. She would know. My sister has more of certain things of the family - she knows more. But I never really - my aim was that I wanted to go to England. And I wanted to have some sort of training and I could stay in England and so anyway ...
YOU MARRIED A SIKH GENTLEMAN, IS THAT RIGHT?
He was a - well basically a Sikh but he didn’t have hair and beard. He was in England, He was a wonderful, very intelligent man. He took the Bar exams. He had his B.A., B.Litt., M.A., M.Litt and everything. And he approached my parents - my father I think. He used to meet - of course the women didn’t mix - it was the men who mixed at the Club. So he must have spoken to my father. And the next thing was I was told there was a person in the garden who wanted to talk to me - you know, we were brought up to be sort of, you know, we were sort of kept away, we weren’t allowed to go out and mix and so on. I’m looking for a special word but I haven’t got it -
Oh no we weren’t - we’re not Muslims. We’re Hindus. And anyway -
SO YOU GOT MARRIED - WAS THAT A RELIGIOUS WEDDING?
Well, yes it was but it was not a very long drawn out thing because my first husband had also been in England for many years, he was a barrister, he was M.A., B.Litt, this, that - he was a very intelligent man. And I was told there was someone in the garden who wanted to talk to me. And here I went out, creeping out there, afterwards I thought about it - I thought I could kill my parents for doing this to me. But anyway -
HOW OLD WERE YOU?
I must have been 18 or 19 or something - I can’t remember. You know - I don’t know what it is, but I think I’ve put all of those things out of my mind as if they happened to someone else.
BUT A VERY ANGLICISED, WESTERNISED YOUNG WOMAN MARRYING SOMEONE WHO WAS BASICALLY A STRANGER - THAT MUST HAVE BEEN QUITE DIFFICULT.
It was, but you see that was our custom.
NOT YOUR MOTHER’S CUSTOM
No, but then the men were predominant. My father, who you know everything my mother did - because actually she wanted to do everything the way my father wanted it done. And so that’s what happened - and I was always furious about it. Even to this day when I think about it I’m mad about it. I don’t even talk about it to my son or anything - I don’t talk about it. I really don’t want to.
YOU WERE MARRIED IN BARAMULLA?
No. I don’t even remember where I was married. Not in Baramulla - I think it was in Lyallpur in the Punjab.
YOUR FIRST HUSBAND DIED - IN THE 1940s?
He died the year Amrita was born. 43, I don’t know. I know I had to leave - because my sister was staying with me. She came to be confined at the convent and so she was with me when I had the news that he had died - down in Lyallpur in his village, you know, where he had all his property. They grew a lot of oranges and sugarcane, and the usual things. So I had to go from there, go down. I hated it - I had an awful time. And I was told that he’d been poisoned. But who knows. And I think I was almost poisoned because the night that I was to leave - you know, they put me into a tonga and sent me three miles on my own with a tonga wallah, driving me around all these awful lanes and so on. I was absolutely terrified. Once I got on a train, I thought thank God, I’m on my way home. But I started thinking they might send someone to kill me on the train.
HOW DID YOU MEET JOHN?
Well, I had been away from Kashmir ... and I came back - I used to go and stay with my sister in Jamshedpur, and then I came back, and Mrs O’Kelly asked me to go and have tea and play badminton. And I knew that, I think, one of my brothers was on leave from the army, two of them, I can’t remember. But anyway, I went. And John was standing at the gate. And in those days, we had to be very careful because our parents didn’t want us to know people, or mix with people - really you weren’t supposed to have anything to do with men. I remember once somebody sent me some magazines and my father was furious and wanted to know where I’d met this person. I said I don’t know, never did. I don’t know how they’ve come to me. But, that’s the way we were brought up. Very strictly.
BUT YOU WERE THEN A WIDOW WITH A SON - WHEN YOU MET JOHN
Oh yes, when I met John. I was thinking about the first time - when I met John, then my son was in the Doon School, and I made arrangements for him for his travelling back to Kashmir for his holidays, and that’s how he happened to be there when the trouble started. In 47.
WERE YOU ENGAGED TO JOHN BY THEN?
No. I refused to marry him. I didn’t want to get married again. I was not married to him.
BECAUSE HE DESCRIBES YOU IN SOME OF THE RECORDS AS HIS FIANCEE
I know. He told Lord Louis Mountbatten that his fiancee was in Kashmir and he had to rescue her. That’s what he told me when he went to see these people. He went to see General Boucher [ph], Lady Kitkat and I forget the other man’s name, there was one from the airforce, he was the head of the airforce , I think. And there was General Boucher and there was Lady Kitkat, and John had met them, and then when he was given this place by Lord Louis Mountbatten to bring me back to Delhi, he told me that they wanted me to go over and - they wanted to meet me. And I had no - I just had one sari with me. I don’t even know if I had a handkerchief. That was the way I left Baramulla to go to Srinagar.
BUT WHAT WAS JOHN DOING IN KASHMIR, WHAT WAS HIS JOB?
He was working for - he was in the army during the war. And Sir William Roberts approached the army and said that he needed someone because he had all these - I forget the name of it now, but you get forests, and he was able to have the trees cut down and they were machan’ed [ph] down the Jhelum river
DOWN TOWARDS PAKISTAN?
Down to the plains you know ... to Jhelum. They were sent to Jhelum really.
SO YOUR HUSBAND WORKED FOR HIM
So then he was seconded from the army, because that’s what Sir William Roberts had asked for. And that’s how he came to Kashmir. And that’s how he was looking after things for Sir William Roberts who couldn’t be in Kashmir all the time, or very seldom. And he lived with the O’Kellys.
AND WHAT WAS HIS BACKGROUND? WHERE DID HE COME FROM - YOU HUSBAND JOHN? (13’20)
From Scotland, from a place called Bieldside in Aberdeen. That’s where he came from. And he was not generations of Scots - he came straight out in the army in the army to train parachutists.
WHAT SORT OF MAN WAS HE? WHAT DID HE LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST MET HIM?
Well, I’ll show you a photograph of him, but he didn’t change very much. He was not very tall. He loved going out to parties, he was a real party man. And he liked his Scotch, but not too much. And he loved good food, really good food. He always loved the way I decorated my homes. Everything was left to me. I used to give big dinner parties and curry parties and so on and he was always very proud of that. And always wanted me to go out in a sari. Whenever we were invited out, he always asked me if I was going to wear a sari and I answered no, not today. Yes, please. ...
I IMAGINE YOU WERE A VERY BEAUTIFUL AND ELEGANT YOUNG WOMAN
Well, they said so and that’s where there was trouble with my first husband. When we were in Hyderabad we joined the Club and it was full of British -
HYDERABAD DECCAN OR HYDERABAD SINDH?
Hyderabad Sindh. And we joined the Club. And we went there every evening. And all the British officers were very kind to me, because my husband had a drinking problem. He’d drink and then he’d stand there swaying around. And they would be very nice and come to me and say: Leela, we think you ought to take him home and we will help you. So they did. They used to help me. And he’d accuse me of course, you know - oh they just like you because you’re so beautiful and this that and the other - Well, anyway, that was another story.
IN 47, WHEN DID YOU LEAVE BARAMULLA PRIOR TO THE RAIDERS COMING? WHAT WAS THE STORY THERE?
Well, I left because I wanted to get my sister away - she was staying with me.
That’s where I lived at the time.
WHEREABOUTS IN BARAMULLA?
Well it’s very difficult to describe, but it was not anywhere near the shops and things, the bazaar or anything. It was a different area. There were fruit gardens all over and I had quite a lot of gardens with fruit. I had just planted 500 or 600 trees, small trees, apple trees, when all this came up. When I went back with Thimayya, they had put tents up everywhere in my orchards
THE INDIAN ARMY
SO YOU LEFT A DAY OR TWO BEFORE THE RAIDERS CAME, OR A WEEK OR TWO
No, I left about - there were rumours that something was going to happen. And I thought oh my God, I’ll never be able to face her husband if anything happened to these children. Because she was with me with the children. If anything happened to them, I thought to myself how will I face her husband, Jugan [ph] - Amrita’s father. So I thought well, I better go. So I managed to get into a bus. I had my servants out. I said you get me a seat on a bus, and I went to Nedou’s, I got a room, and then I called this man - and I’ve been trying to think of his name but he was the head of the whole transportation thing -
A BRITISH MAN?
No, no, no
No. A Sikh gentleman, but from a very well known family. Known to my family. So I went to see him. And I forget his name now - I was trying to think of it the other day. And I said: you have to help me, you have to get my sister and her two children and my son out of here. Because everyone was fleeing. And he said Leela, but - there’s no room, all the aircraft are full. I said, you have to, you have to do something. And I went back and I almost cried there, and I said will you please, I have to get her out. Well, I went back again every day to see him. And in the end he said: Leela I’m going to send them out on the last plane that’s going out from here.
BUT THEY WERE THEN IN BARAMULLA STILL
Yes, I know, I had to get them back from there. So I had to call my sister and say get a tonga, get any blessed thing you can, but come.
WHEN WAS THAT DO YOU THINK - WHICH DAY?
Well, it was before these people started coming up towards Uri, or whenever. They hadn’t even I don’t think arrived in Domel at that time, or maybe that was their starting point and we heard the rumours. And I knew I had to get her out with her children. And then of course my son. So that was when I made all those arrangements. And he did get them out.
TELL ME ABOUT THE MOOD IN SRINAGAR AT THAT TIME - DO YOU REMEMBER PEOPLE BEING WORRIED ABOUT THE RAIDERS, OR WAS IT LIFE AS NORMAL?
Well, it was not normal. Everyone was going around, you know, rather fearful. But I don’t think they quite realised the impact of what was going to happen. And none of us realised how close these people were to the airport. They were five miles from the airport. And then my friends - I was at Nedou’s hotel, and of course everyone knew me there
HOW DID THEY KNOW YOU? DID YOU STAY THERE OFTEN? (19’50)
Oh, of course. My parents had been going there from when we were children.
IT WAS A POSH HOTEL -
But we, my parents were there. They gave parties there. They used to come from Mahura and stay there.
YOUR PARENTS LIVED IN MAHURA?
DID YOU LIVE IN MAHURA?
Yes, as a child. Because that’s where my father started, as - he was in charge of that whole electrical power house and everything.
SO YOU MOVED TO BARAMULLA WHEN YOU GOT MARRIED?
No.My father moved to Baramulla eventually from Mahura, and then he was in Srinagar for a while, then back in Baramulla. We had a nice house in Baramulla. And that’s where we were, and this is where my first husband’s people - because his father was the Settlement Commissioner. I’ve put that all out of my mind now like it never happened to me.
TELL ME ABOUT NEDOU’S, WHAT WAS NEDOU’S LIKE AT THAT TIME?
Wonderful, we had dances there. There was an English gentleman who had a band - he was the conductor. Actually, well, alright that’s it -
WHAT WERE YOU GOING TO SAY?
I was going to tell you that he wanted to marry me.
DID HE ASK YOU?
Of course he did.
WAS THIS BEFORE YOU WERE MARRIED FIRST TIME OR AFTER YOU WERE WIDOWED?
No, after - when I was a widow.
AND WERE YOU TEMPTED?
No. I like - you know, he was alright, but he was not the type of person - I didn’t think we has very cultured but he was quite a nice man. And quite a few of my friends, Begum this and that one, can’t remember their name, they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to have anything to do. And I said but I don’t, I don’t want to marry him, and so why should I encourage him. But he tried - he did try but, anyway, I just wouldn’t, you know, do anything about it. I didn’t want to. He was alright but I didn’t really - he wasn’t really the type of person that I was interested in. So -
DID YOU EVER SEE THE MAHARAJA?
I personally didn’t. But my father used to go there to cook with him. There were cooking classes. He used to have cooking sessions - not classes, sessions. Once a week, or once in two weeks, I don’t remember, and my father - of course my grandfather knew them very well, but then my grandfather died and then my father, when we were in Srinagar, he used to go there quite often, but he never attempted to mix that with his family.
WHAT DID YOUR FATHER THINK OF THE MAHARAJA?
Well, he didn’t really know him - he didn’t mix with him socially except for these cooking sessions that they had. Because I think that Maharaja had a special kind of group of people he mixed with. And I don’t think that my father and his friends ever - whoever the friends were, I can’t even remember now - but you see in my day, when my parents - we were in one place, we didn’t even - we were told by our parents, when people come to see us to call, and we are not there, you please sit there and talk to them until we come and then please leave the room. And then we’d all creep out and go. Bu we were never, never allowed to be with adults. Children had their place, and adults had theirs.
BUT NEDOU’S HOTEL IN THE 40s, I’VE HEARD A FEW STORIES OF BRITISH SOLDIERS WHO WENT UP THERE FOR HOLIDAYS AND STAYED AT NEDOU’S OR ON THE HOUSEBOATS AND HAD QUITE A JOLLY TIME - LOTS OF GIRLFRIENDS, LOTS OF WHISKY -
Well, I’ll tell you what happened. It used to be that it was hot in the plains in the summer and all these army officers used to send their wives up to Kashmir. Well, the wives had a whale of a time, they really a did.
BOYFRIENDS AS WELL?
Oh, sure. The Maharaja of Cooch Behar, whom I knew, and his brother - we were all in a group. We used to have a whale of a time. And his sister, Ayesha. I used to go over to the Cooch Behars and play badminton. But anyway -
AND DID YOU SWIM?
I’ve never been able to swim, I’ve never been taught ...
DO YOU FEEL YOURSELF TO BE INDIAN?
Oh, I am. I’ve always been very proud of being an Indian.
DO YOU REGARD YOURSELF AS INDIAN RATHER THAN KASHMIRI?
Oh, I’ve never been, I never would wish to be a Kashmiri. I never had any sort of desire. I’ve always been an Indian, and I’ve been proud of it. And then because of this nonsense about my passport, John saw to it that I became a British national in one week. But that was not something - I didn’t want to change, but when it came to it I had to.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT SRINAGAR IN THE TIME BEFORE 47, BEFORE THE TROUBLE. A LOT OF EUROPEANS WENT THERE (26’30)
Yes, because that was a resort to come to in the summer. It was cool - it was hot in the plains, it was cool in Kashmir, and there they came and they had a whale of a time. There were dances and parties and all sorts of things going on. Rushing up to Gulmarg
TO DO WHAT?
Oh, to go there, to dance at Nedou’s there.
NEDOU’S HAD A PLACE AT GULMARG AS WELL?
Oh, yes - they did, yes.
I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT THESE ARE HAPPY MEMORIES
Well, yes, those were nice times. And we had a wonderful time. And we went all over and we did lots of foolish things I suppose but -
GIVE ME A FLAVOUR OF THEM - WHAT SORT OF FOOLISH THINGS?
Well, you know - I suppose we did - I can’t really remember them, but we did. We sort of danced and rushed around here and there - the usual things that youngsters do.
AND THIS WAS WHEN YOU WERE WIDOWED?
This was when I was widowed. I wouldn’t have been allowed before. But then I was on my own, and I went to Srinagar and took a cottage from the Guptas, I rented it, and then there we stayed. I asked you about Paul Gupta - his mother was a friend of mine. They were friends of my parents, but then she was Vera - she was an English woman - they had a big house and cottage, so I rented the cottage, and that’s where I stayed. So we used to go out, and there was Dr Soni who was a dentist and he had a Scottish wife, Foy Soni, so we were all in a sort of group.
SO WHEN YOUR SISTER AND HER CHILDREN AND INDER ALL ARRIVED ON THE TONGA FROM BARAMULLA, THEY CAME TO NEDOU’S?
Yes, I had a room ready for them with a huge fire going. And that’s where we stayed until I had the call that they were leaving on the planes. So they left.
BUT NOT YOU?
No not me. I had no intention - my parents were prisoners in Baramulla. How could I go? I had to do what I could for them. And so I stayed there and then my friends, the Guptas - now he was in the PWA
PUBLIC WORKS ADMINISTRATION?
Yes, he was the chief. His wife was English. The Sonis - he was a dentist and his wife was Scottish. And a whole group of. They came one day to Nedou’s and said, Leela, we’re all at Foy’s place - they had a huge house, beautiful house - and you have to come and join us, you’re not going to stay here alone at Nedou’s. So bag and baggage they took me off to - it’s not Gupkar Road but another road which goes down, and they had a lovely house. And I suppose that house is still there. So that’s where I went and that’s where I was when the plans were made to leave, because we had to. We had to get out because these people were within five miles of the airport.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT DAY THAT WAS?
No, I didn’t keep track, I didn’t see what the point was - these people had already come and they were five miles from the airport, so they’d already been through Baramulla and they were wending their way up to Srinagar.
SO HOW DID YOU GET OUT? (30’30)
So then of course the Indian troops were coming in because he’d by then decided, the Maharaja, to join India and ask India to sort of rescue us. But I went out then because we were told we had to leave. I was at Foy Soni’s with all my friends and we were - they came and said we had to get ready, so get all your things together, whatever you have. So we left, in a car to begin with. And somebody had a dog, I think, and somebody had something - but we had our fur coats, I would love to - I wish I’d had pictures of that, it makes me laugh now when I think of it but it was a terrible, terrible time. So we left in a car. Well that broke down. Then we managed to get hold of a bus and we all piled into the bus. And then that broke down. And we were wending our way to the Banihal by this time, where we met the Indian troops coming in. Thrilled to bits. We got up and cheered and so on. They were going to get these people out of Kashmir. And so then we went - that was the bus, then we went into some other vehicle, and eventually we land up in a jeep, an army jeep, through Paul’s father. And there I sat with Vera Gupta on this side of me with a gun on her shoulder, me on this side with a gun on my shoulder, a dog under my legs somewhere in the floor, and - Mr Gupta was there, and I forget who else was with us. And the PWD people along the way were trying to help us get into Jammu, where we eventually arrived. And then we stayed in the PWD place, the house, because there’s a house there for the chief. So we all had our rooms. And I was - one morning, Winnie Shaw, she was another one who was with us, she did some work, she was from somewhere in India, she came to me and said, Leela, you’ll never guess who is here. And I said, well, how do you expect me to know who’s here. I don’t know, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So she said, well, I would like you to know that John Thomson’s at the airport and he’s coming over to fetch you.
WHICH AIRPORT IS THIS - JAMMU?
Yes. And she said he’s coming over, he’ll be here within half an hour, and he wants to take you to Delhi. I thought, well, I don’t know what she’s talking about. How can he possibly be here. I thought he was a prisoner in Baramulla or somewhere. I knew he’d bicycled down there or gone - whatever he’d done. I had heard he was a prisoner in the convent. So he arrived in half an hour and he said get your things together. I said I have no things to get together. I left without anything except I have one sari and one or two things in a small suitcase, that’s all I have. But anyway, off we went to Delhi.
No. He had Lord Louis Mountbatten’s aeroplane. So we went - he and I were the only passengers.
Yes, and we went to Delhi. And then I was told by John that General Boucher, Lady Kitkat and the other General, I forgot what his name is - I’ve been trying to remember it, he was air force I think and General Boucher was army as far as I remember ... They were very nice to me. But anyway, John told me they wanted to see me, and I thought my God, how am I going there, I have no clothes, my shoes are awful, I look like a refugee and I’m going to see these people. He said they want to see you and you have to. And I went. They were most kind. First of all, they gave me a big box of cosmetics they had collected for me. And then we sat and talked, drinks, and they were very kind to me. But all the time I felt so awkward being there, a bit like I needed being out into a good bath and scrubbed and get some decent clothes on.
SO THIS WAS AS SOON AS YOU ARRIVED IN DELHI ALMOST
Oh yes. The next day or that day - I can’t remember that. I’ve sort of pushed all that - it’s long ago for me - it was too painful for me to go through all that. But anyway, I do remember going to see them and they were very kind.
YOU SAW MOUNTBATTEN?
No, I didn’t see him. He was not there that day. But General Boucher was, Lady Kitkat was, and there was some other man, he was air force I think, I can’t remember his name. But we spent at least an hour with them or more. And we had drinks with them, and they gave me this box of cosmetics. And then the next thing John arranged was that I should, he and I would get on a plane, fly to Rawalpindi and rescue my parents who he believed by that time, having spoken to General Gracey and all these other people, that he thought they must have been rescued and brought down to Lahore or Pindi or wherever. So it was arranged that John and In would go by plane and go and bring my parents and take them down to Calcutta and then probably to my sister for a while until we rehabilitated them, because my mother was not well, she’d been shot - twice. And my father was a nervous wreck, I think.
SO YOU FLEW TO RAWALPINDI?
Well the first thing we got on to the plane, and something happened, we went into a kind of - the plane in trying to taxi off down the runway went into a kind of ditch or something, so we had to get out of that and start all over again. But eventually, we didn’t go. We had to wait. My parents were brought in to Delhi and from Delhi we arranged for them to go to Calcutta and that is where I met up with them, in Calcutta.
AND WHEN DID YOU MEET UP AGAIN WITH INDER?
When I went to my sister, in Jamshedpur.
HE’D GONE TO JAMSHEDPUR?
Yes, he went with my sister and the children when they flew out of Kashmir. So he was there. I didn’t think I was ever going to see him again, so I wrote my sister a letter and asked - that was when I was still in Nedou’s. I went to the bar and looked around, and I had never been in a bar on my own but I went in, looked around and I saw two Scotsmen - particularly one who had all his kilt and everything, looked absolutely wonderful. And I went to him and I said, would you do me a great favour please. Are you leaving Kashmir soon? And he said, yes, the next day. And I said if you could do me a great favour would you mail a letter for me? And he said certainly. So I asked if he was going to be in the bar a while and I would rush back to my room and write this letter to my sister. Then I came back to the bar and gave it to him. And he was so gracious and so kind. I’ll never forget that man. And he took the letter and that was it. He said, don’t worry, I’ll mail it. He didn’t say another word and I left - went back to my room. But I asked her in that letter to look after my son because I said I didn’t know whether I was going to get out from Srinagar or not. There was no - one didn’t even know, it was all problematic. And that’s how Inder went to Jamshedpur and that’s how I met him again.
TELL ME ABOUT JOHN’S MISSION BACK TO BARAMULLA - HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? (39’30) DURING THE TROUBLE -
Yes, well he - I don’t know whether he was in Srinagar or he went to - I think he must have gone there to see what he could do about these, whatever was happening, or find out what was happening. And when I was at Nedou’s, I went into the dining room. And who should be sitting there but John, whom I had been trying to avoid because he was very persistent. He wanted me to marry him. He’d been offered a job in New Zealand. And I said, well, are you thinking of taking it - and he said well, he thought about it, but if I would go with him - And I thought, do you know I don’t even know this person, I think that’s an awful cheek. So that put me off him. I thought that was very bad mannered and rude, anyway. And -
SO HOW DID HE GET BACK TO BARAMULLA?
So, anyway. So then, when he heard - but I was not there I don’t know anything - he was staying in Nedou’s also, but he heard from somebody that the first Indian troops were going in and he wanted to go with them. So he went wherever he went to the army place and he was told that General Roy, Rai nor Roy I think, was going in and he could go with him. So that’s how he went into Baramulla, with the - And they were up on that hill and when these people first came in. But he had - before that because of his work, I think, he was in Srinagar. Then he bicycled there - I mean to Baramulla. Then he came back for some reason. I didn’t see very much of him. I tried to avoid him really because, well - you know, you just didn’t do those things in that way. My father would have killed me I think.
BUT HE TRAVELLED TO BARAMULLA WITH A JOURNALIST CALLED SYDNEY SMITH
No Sydney Smith - I don’t know if he travelled with him - I don’t think he travelled with him. He met him there when they were up on this hill -
DID YOU MEET SYDNEY SMITH YOURSELF?
Never. But he told me the story of meeting this man, and when they escaped, eventually came down this hill where these people were over-running that hill - and I think this general was already killed by then, I’m not sure - but they came rushing down that incline, and then there was a ditch. And John, of course, having been in Dunkirk and this, that and the other, he said to Sydney Smith, get in here - And even tried to hide, or whatever. But of course they were seen. And that was where the man came and took his jacket and his shoes and made him get on this motorcycle and drive into Baramulla.
Mm. They came along but they couldn’t understand any English. So John had to indicate - But they took his jacket immediately, whoever it was, and his shoes. And he was told, get on the motorcycle. This is what John related to me. What happened to Sydney Smith I don’t know - he wouldn’t - John tried to egg him on to come with him, or do something, or run this way or that way. But he wouldn’t, as far as John told me. He wanted to do it his way, and he was right I suppose. But anyway, that’s how John came to - and went with this man, drove the motorcycle, then when they got near to the convent, he jumped off and ran into the convent and escaped this man. And that’s where he found what had happened.
WAS JOHN GOING BACK TO HELP YOUR FAMILY?
Not my family in particular. He wanted to try and get all the women out of there, whoever was in that ward. There were 78 people in a ward and there were quite - Colonel Dykes and his wife were there - and so he thought - he wanted someone to know what was happening and to get - he didn’t actually go to do it himself, he wanted someone from either the Indian army or Rawalpindi or whoever it was to send someone in and rescue these people. That was his main idea.
(44’10) BUT WAS HE DOING THIS PARTLY TO IMPRESS YOU, DO YOU THINK?
Oh no - I don’t think so. I didn‘t know anything about - well, my brothers were in the army but I really didn’t know about that. He - I think he just did it because he felt he wanted to or, I don’t know.
BUT HE MANAGED TO PERSUADE THE TRIBESMEN TO LET THE WOUNDED, INCLUDING YOUR MOTHER, TO GO TO -
That was after some few days. This was not the first lorry-load of people, but they were sending out tribesmen who’d been injured in the fighting. And then someone told him that there was a lorry leaving with tribesmen, wounded tribesmen, so he thought this is a good idea, get my mother in to that, on to it, because she had been shot. And he would also get on. He was taken out several times and - you know, they searched him and questioned him and so on. But he just got back on, I don’t know how he did that. And then he went into Rawalpindi and saw General Gracey and told him what - what was happening. Nobody really knew what was going on. And then he went from there - General Gracey arranged for him to go to Lahore and from there he went to Delhi and told his story there and that’s how he came to rescue me.
In Jammu. He tried Jammu first, He didn’t know I was there. He thought he’d just try to find out, because he didn’t know from where he was what was happening on the other side, you know, this was from the Srinagar side. So when the plane came down to Jammu he thought he’d just try to find out if anyone knew where I was. And he called this, he got this number for this house and he called and Winnie Shaw was the one who answered, and she said yes, Leela’s here with us.
DID YOU EVER SEE ANY OF THE TRIBESMEN?
Me, no. Never. I was not there, anywhere near them.. Because I was in Srinagar at Nedou’s, then I was at Foy Soni’s house, and then we went out on the Banihal pass side,. Never saw them. But was saw the Indian troops.
WHAT WERE THEY LIKE? WERE THEY SIKHS?
Well, that I can’t tell you - but we knew they were Indian troops and we got up and cheered and very happy. But we were also concerned about getting away from there, because we had these - the first vehicle we were in broke down, and the second one did, and then the third one we got in to and, I don’t know, we stayed in a Dak bungalow somewhere, or a rest house. And the fourth day, I think, we were in a jeep and then we got to Jammu.
A LONG JOURNEY
Mm, it was. But you never knew what was going to happen, whether they were going to - who was going to pounce on you and capture you. It was a frightening sort of - I don’t know if we actually realised the implication of how awful it was. But we knew that something terrible was happening and could not understand how it could happen in Kashmir - quiet, we were fairly, compared to the plains and Lahore and Rawalpindi it was a quiet place.
WHAT SORT OF PLACE WAS BARAMULLA? YOU DESCRIBE THAT AS A QUIET PLACE.
BUT IT HAD LOTS OF RESTAURANTS AND -
No, it did not. That’s absolute nonsense. There were no restaurants.
DHABAS OR -
Well that might have been the bazaar area but we didn’t know anything about that. We didn’t mix like that. We didn’t know those people.
DID YOU MIX WITH PANDITS OR WITH SIKH FAMILIES?
Well, maybe there were one or two here and there but, we didn’t really -
DID YOU HAVE ANY KASHMIRI MUSLIM FRIENDS?
Oh, I suppose there must have been but you know we were all very young and so we just had - we knew the O’Kellys and we knew their daughters and we sort of, we very much were on our own really.
WHAT DID LOCAL PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE NUNS AND THE HOSPITAL?
Oh, they liked them because they were very good to everybody. They cured them, they looked after them, they rode out on ponies, on horses to the villages. Everybody liked the nuns very much.
DID YOU KNOW ANY OF THE NUNS?
Oh yes, I knew Sister Priscilla, I knew the - I knew, mainly I knew the nuns in the Dispensary, which was wrecked the raiders. They smashed everything. But when I was there I knew the Spanish nun, I forget her name, I knew Sister Priscilla was one of my favourites. She was the one who asked me for speckles
WHEN SHE MEANT SPECTACLES
And I used to go there and look round and see if no one was around and ask her to sing from opera to me, and she did.
Hmm. She was a darling. I loved Sister Priscilla. Both those nuns, the Spanish nun and Sister Priscilla, I knew but I didn’t really get to know the other nuns because that was a sort of cloistered place. You didn’t sort of go in there.
DID YOU KNOW FATHER SHANKS?
Yes, and Father Mallett.
WHAT WERE THEY LIKE?
They were nice people, quite nice. But you know - ... [my brother in Calcutta] was with Father Shanks and Father Mallett and he was on guard every night at the hospital. Every single night. And they used to come, the tribesmen used to come and say we want that girl and that girl sent out.
DID THEY MISBEHAVE WITH ANY WOMEN IN THE CONVENT? (50’15)
No, I don’t think they did. They killed them, but they didn’t - Because my brother and Father Shanks and Father Mallett got together and decided what they were going to do about this request. And they never did do anything to send anyone out - they would not do that. So my brother was there the whole time. Actually he, of that period, he knows more than anybody else because he was there, he was on guard every night, guard duty.
WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE WERE FATHER SHANKS AND FATHER MALLETT? WERE THEY FRIENDLY, OUTGOING -
Mm, to a certain extent. But they sort of being priests, they were sort of withdrawn a bit. And I remember once there was a Dutch priest there, with a little goatee, but he painted beautifully, and I asked - I wanted him to give me painting lessons. And I told my parents that I’d asked Father whatever his name was, Father de Reuter or something. And my father said no, I was not allowed to do that, I was not going with a man - that was not done, no you can’t do that.
DIDI YOU GET ANY SENSE OF WHAT POLITICS WAS LIKE IN BARAMULLA - NATIONAL CONFERENCE, MUSLIM CONFERENCE -
No, we never interfered with - We never knew anything about that. We were never encouraged to know anything about that. We just knew a few people.
DID YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT SHEIKH ABDULLAH?
Only what we read about or heard about, or knowing that he was at this demonstration or that demonstration. We knew that he had taken a leading role and wanted to have Kashmir for Pakistan really.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN JINNAH CAME TO BARAMULLA?
No, that we never knew. Never even saw him.
DO YOU KNOW THE NAME MAQBOOL SHERWANI?
OR MOHAMMED YUSUF SARAF?
We were never encouraged to know, and I think it’s a shame really. But we were never encouraged to know any of those things. We had just to be children in our own - or when I was also married - but we were not allowed mix with people, or that sort of thing. The O’Kellys yes. I think my parents weren’t very pleased about John hanging around. And I was having a party with some friends of mine from Srinagar out in my garden. And the servants were serving drinks and so on. And who should turn up but John, and I was furious. I really could have killed him there and then. But anyway, he stuck there. He knew that one of the men there had wanted to marry me.
Well, he was from Srinagar but he was a Punjabi and he had wanted to marry me. And John knew that. So John stayed there until everyone left. And I was furious. I said I didn’t want to see him again. He was not to come to my house please. And then Mrs O’Kelly wrote and said he’d disappeared. Gone off into the mountains.
YOU WERE IN DEMAND, WEREN’T YOU?
WELL YOU’VE GOT THREE PEOPLE AFTER YOU
Well, I don’t know, but that was not being in demand it was just - I don’t know. But anyway, his servant who was a Pathan, but beautifully dressed always and he loved John and looked after his clothes for him and everything, he was crying and he went to Mrs O’Kelly and said my sahib has gone. And he’s gone and he hasn’t even taken a jacket, he’s just got a shirt and trousers and - Well, they wanted to know if John had taken any, anything else with him. No he didn’t, he’d just gone up into the hills. So there was a search on. And Mrs O’Kelly wrote to me and told me that there was a search, and would I send my servants out to hunt for him. And I took that, you know, I was furious. I thought, why am I being dragged into this. If my father hears about it I’m going to get into serious trouble. But anyway, in the end Mrs O’Kelly wrote to me in the evening and said that they had found him. Oh - no one of my servants came back on horseback. And why had he come back? He’d found the sahib but he wanted water, and he didn’t want water from anywhere else but my place. Well, that infuriated me to such an extent I said this man is not even civilized. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. So I said well, if it’s water you want to take you can take that but get out of here, I don’t want to see you or anyone here. So the servant went off with the water. Next thing Mrs O’Kelly writes to me and says John wants to see me. And I said I’m sorry, I do not want to see this person, and that’s that. But there was nothing that you could say to John, if he’d made up his mind he was going to do it. And that was the evening when he saw me out with my friends in the garden and he came along. And afterwards, he stayed on until everyone left, and I thought that was very rude and bad mannered and I told him off. And I said, please don’t come here any more. Didn’t make any difference to John. But then the next thing was that Mrs O’Kelly wrote to me and said, we are leaving for Europe, my husband now you know is a retired Captain and so on, O’Kelly was. We are going and we are going to sail back to England, so will you give - do you know where John can go and stay? And I wrote back and said no, I have no idea. Why can’t you give him one of your cottages? Then I wrote to Mrs O’Kelly, I said I’m sorry, I have no cottages - I don’t want anyone living near me.
SO WHERE DID HE MOVE TO?
So then he went to my sister. At that time - who had died? Somebody was with me. And he went to them, whoever it was, and said, I have to get a place to live in, and look at your sister how mean she is - or whoever it was, whoever he spoke to, one of my brothers or I don’t know, can’t remember now. But he wanted a place to stay, so in the end my family prevailed upon me to let him have one of the cottages in Baramulla. But I said, well he can be there - he’s not to have any fruit from my garden, he doesn’t - I’m not giving him any meals or anything. He’s just - if he wants to rent that cottage, alright, but that’s it. I don’t like people living near me. So no food or anything. I didn’t care where he was going to get his meals. I thought, well, he can make his own arrangements, I’m not in charge of him or have anything to do with him. But that was when the raid took place and he lost everything, all his klit and everything, everything went. As my things did.
DID YOU EVER MEET COLONEL AND MRS DYKES?
No, I saw them but it was Colonel Dykes that my father went to - my mother went to before, when she was frightened and these people were running around in the hospital. But she went and knelt down by his chair where he was sitting in the room he had. He was sitting in a chair and my other in sheer fright knelt down by him, you know, just to get some sort of feeling that there was somebody. And this man stood in the doorway, came along, one of the tribesmen, and just shot Colonel Dykes and shot my mother. Colonel Dykes died but my mother didn’t die, but she had all these wounds you know in her thigh and this that and the other.
WHEN DID YOUR MOTHER LIVE UNTIL?
She survived that, but she was never the same and then we had, I made arrangements, eventually I went to - from Calcutta or Jamshedpur I rented a cottage up in Kalimpong because it was cooler there for my parents and that’s where I took them. That started the trouble - none of us had any clothes or anything, so I had to get a shirt for this one, trousers for that one. And then my mother and father were there.
WHEN DID YOUR MOTHER DIE (59’30)?
She died about - I went to England with John, or to Scotland, and I wrote to my sister on this particular - I don’t remember which year it was. And I asked her to take over from me, you know, to look after them or just find out how they were while I was away. So when I came back from England, I went straight up to see them. They were in Kalimpong. And my mother was not well then and then she died.
THIS WAS 1950s OR 60S?
It must have been in the 1960s.
AND YOUR FATHER?
My father then died, I don’t know how many years later - he used to come and stay - when I was living in Delhi, John and I, John’s business were there - I used to bring him down every winter to be with us. And all the servants would line up and tell him, ask him what he’d like to eat for lunch and what he’d like for dinner. And my father needed all that - which he’d been used to from childhood I guess. So the servants would all line up, and look after him. And then I had some of my cousins in Delhi who used to come and take him out to play bridge. And then he went to - that has always been a sadness to me, then John told me that we were leaving and going to Japan. And I had to take my father back to Kalimpong. And it was - the winter was not over and that made me very sad. But he was not happy going to anyone else. He just wanted to be with me. But I had to go with John, and so while I was away he died.
THAT WAS AFTER YOUR MOTHER?
Oh, that was after my mother, yes.
AND WHEN DID JOHN DIE?
John died nine years ago
94 - July 11th.
HOW OLD WAS HE?
He was 84, I think.
AND YOUR’E NOW 89?
BORN THEN IN 1914?
14. Can’t forget that. But anyway.
YOU SAID THAT YOU SAW COLONEL AND MRS DYKES?
Well, in passing, but I didn’t know them.
DID YOU KNOW GRETA BARRETTO, THE DOCTOR.
Yes, I knew her.
WHAT WAS SHE LIKE?
I used to meet her - she was nice, I used to meet her in the Dispensary sometimes. That’s as far as I went. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the convent. But I used to go to the Dispensary to see my - the two nuns that I liked very much. And so I used to walk down from my house - which was not far from the convent.And I used to go into the Dispensary and fool around with the, the nuns, these two nuns, and get Sister Priscilla to sing for me. And then I didn’t really ever go into the convent proper.
YOU NEVER WENT TO THE CHURCH?
No, never - not being a Christian I didn’t ... I went into the Church, but I didn’t go to any services or anything in Baramulla.
IS THERE ANYBODY ELSE YOU REMEMBER FROM THE CONVENT OR THE HOSPITAL OR THE MISSION?
Well, I met people but you know, those names have been vague. But those two nuns always remained in my mind. I liked them very much. And then I thought the nuns were very hardworking. They preserved fruit. We used to hope to buy some of those cans, the bottled fruit and things, for the winter.
YOU SAID THEY MADE WINE?
I believe they did but I never tasted any of that. But I did buy the fruit, the bottled fruit. And I - those two nuns - I didn’t really have much to do with the other nuns. I knew the Reverend Mother. I met her.
WHAT WAS SHE LIKE?
She was quite nice. I think the nuns were nice people, much nicer than the nuns where I went to school.
WHAT ABOUT THE COLLEGE - THAT HAD QUITE A GOOD REPUTATION DIDN’T IT?
Where the boys were -
WHY DIDN’T YOU SEND INDER THERE?
No, I didn’t want to. I wanted Inder to go to the best school in India. So his name was down for the Doon School. And so he started in the preparatory school, which was run by a Miss Oliphant. It broke my heart. I went there, and I went to the parlour and then along came Miss Oliphant and took Inder away. I thought I was going to die. But anyway, I knew that my son had to be with other boys of his own age, and not be with me. Because Baramulla there were, you know, no children there that he could meet or mix with. But then school was good for him, because there he was going to have boys of his own age and get all his sports and things. And then he, he’s always been very good at sports, and he was the best boxer of his time, and the best this, that and the other - at Welham, that was the preparatory school.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER FIGURES YOU REMEMBER FROM BARAMULLA? DO YOU REMEMBER THE WAZIR WAZARAT, THE DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, OR ANYONE OF THAT SORT?
No, the only people I ever met when I went to the convent - I had a gardener who was marvellous with pruning trees. He was an old man but he was wonderful. And of course I was his ma-bap and every blessed thing. And he used to sleep outside my door and keep guard on me. He was a wonderful old man. But the pruning, he was an absolute expert. Wonderful. He used to prune all my trees if they needed pruning and grafting, or whatever. He did grafting too. But he was the one who turned against me, us in the end. Or me. He brought a case against me, or his son did, and said that they had - they demanded some of the land, you know I had property then in Baramulla, which I’m supposed to still have. And then he demanded some of that and - I think his sons put him up to it or someone. But after that I never saw him because I didn’t - I only went back to Baramulla twice, once with General Thimmaya and once with John.
(66’50) WHEN DID YOU GO BACK WITH GENERAL THIMMAYA?
I don’t remember the year, but it was when these people had been driven out and the Indian army were there. And he was Commander-in-Chief of the whole of the Indian army.
SO WAS IT LATER IN 47 OR THE NEXT YEAR?
It was - well, this raid took place in 47 and it was - I think about a year or two after, because then the 19th Div had taken over my place and that’s where they had their headquarters. And I went down with Thimmy and we had lunch there. And Thimmy kept looking at me and saying, Leela, shall I bring a bucket now. Are you going to - are you going to start crying? I said, no I’m not and I don’t want any buckets or anything of yours -
IS THIMMY GENERAL THIMMAYA?
Mm. And he and I were invited to lunch by the 19th Div, whoever was there, the General or Colonel or whoever.
DID YOU GO TO THE CONVENT ON THAT TRIP?
I can’t remember if I did. But I know that I went to my lawyer, Mr Gariali [ph]. But that was not on that trip general Thimmaya. That was when I went with John, and then I found that table of mine.
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL TABLE
I know, but I had to have it done up. The drawer was missing, it was full of ink, and he had a cloth over it. And we were having, John and I were invited by my lawyer, Mr Gariali, for lunch while we were there. We had driven down from Srinagar, where we were staying at Nedou’s. And so he invited us to lunch, which we accepted. We were sitting there having lunch and I happened to just look down and I saw the feet, you know, the legs of this table.I thought, that looks very familiar, and how does he have anything like that in his home. He was a - not that type of person who’d have that kind of furniture. So I just said, Mr Gariali, I think that table belongs to me. Would you take the tablecloth off and let me see. And it was. No drawer. Full of ink.
SO HE HAD GOT PROPERTY WHICH HAD BEEN LOOTED FROM YOUR HOME?
Oh he must have. I don’t know what anyone took, where it went. I was not there. We none of us was there. They just came like a lot of locusts and took everything.
WHAT DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE KILLING AND THE MOLESTING OF PEOPLE IN BARAMULLA?
Well, that’s where they made their mistake. If they had not stopped in Baramulla to do any of these - or to loot or whatever - they’d have been in, near Srinagar much earlier than they were. They stopped to, you know, enjoy themselves in the bazaars and so on, and that was really their undoing because they were delayed, giving the Indian army time to get in.
DID YOU KNOW ANY OF THE WOMEN WHO WERE ATTACKED?
No, I had - I don’t know, I’d probably seem them or something. But I really never went to the convent much. I just used to go to see these two nuns in the Dispensary.
(70’15) BUT THE LOCAL WOMEN WHO WERE ATTACKED - DID YOU KNOW ANY OF THEM, DID YOU SPEAK TO ANY OF THEM AFTERWARDS?
No, because I never went to Baramulla to stay. I just went there, drove down to Baramulla, rented a car - well, I went with General Thimmaya, so had the army thing, but when I went with John we rented a car, and we just went there to see Mr Gariali and have lunch with him and find out what was going on about the property and just to get a general idea. Because at that time - I don’t whether John and I ever thought we were going back to Kashmir, but it was my property. But then of course I soon realised that the army were never going to - because they told me they would not give it up - Madam, do you expect us to go into tents, to go out into the woods. And I said, yes, I couldn’t care less, this is my property and I want you to get out of it. How do you know that I don’t want to come here, back tomorrow. It’s my property. Didn’t make any difference.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE CINEMA IN BARAMULLA?
No, we never went there. We were sort of - we just kept to ourselves really, because there were not people there that you mixed with. There weren’t - well there were one or two families, we knew the O’Kellys and I think my parents knew one or two of the Indian families. ...
A wedding photo - Baramulla, 1946
This photograph is of a wedding in Baramulla in (probably) 1946 The bride and groom are Sheila and Gerald D'Silva Identifications are not entirely certain Leela Thompson is probably the women in a sari three from left in the middle row Her parents are probably the couple on the far right of the middle row The priest is Father George Shanks The venue seems to be the grounds of the Chinar Hotel in Baramulla
Jack Thompson's statement - in the National Archive in London