Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The British Raj was good for India?

Here is an unexpected take from the prominent Indian novelist and journalist, Khushwant Singh. This article came across my radar recently and doesn't seem to have been picked up by others in the UK yet. In line with his reputation for being a bit controversial, he is countering a particular 'politically correct' line which Indian patriots (are expected to?) take:

Good things to the Raj times- Hindustan Times
When I submitted a collection of articles written by English men and women, compiled by me over 30 years ago to Penguin-Viking under the title Sahibs who Loved India, I hoped it would make the top of non-fiction best-sellers list. It did not. Besides Lord Meghnad Desai’s favourable notice in Outlook, it only got a few patronising paragraphs in other journals. Lord Desai is a Britisher and a friend. I expected him to be kind to me. I was disappointed as I felt strongly that our historians had painted a negative picture of British Raj without giving it credit for its positive contribution to the making of India. They have a lot to say about the rapacity of men like Clive & Warren Hastings, about the diabolical massacre of innocents at Jallianwala Bagh, their racist arrogance, ‘Whites only Clubs’ and keeping their distance from Indians and the nasty things they had to say about everything Indian. However, there was the other side of the coin.

Let me draw your attention to some of its salient features. The British Raj made us conscious of being Indian. We were Punjabis, Awadhis, Biharis, Bengalis, Oriyas Andhras, Tamils, Malayalis, Maharashtrians, Rajputs — also Hindu, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. We remained all these but also became Indians. All of us had one passport — Indian.

The British built us telegraph, connected our cities by roads, railways, laid networks of canals, dams to produce hydro-electricity. They started the process of industrialisation. They also introduced democratic institutions like municipalities, states and Central legislatures. During the British rule, there was more respect for the law. There were fewer riots, bandhs, and gheraos; blocking roads and rail traffic, burning buses and trains. Smashing of cars etc. was little heard of. There was less
corruption. Rarely did English officers indulge in bribery. Now it is rare to find an honest, civil servant who can’t be bribed. Ask any Indian of my generation and he will confirm that life and property were safer in British times than in India today.

Comparison with Princely States is pertinent. Most ruling princes lived in huge palaces, had fleets of Rolls Royces, amassed jewellery, maintained harems of wives and concubines, squandered public money lavishly. Not even the Viceroys of India lived in the styles of our maharajas and nawabs.

Many Englishmen supported India’s freedom movement. The founder of Indian National Congress was an Englishman, A.O.Hume; Mahatma Gandhi’s closest disciple was an English woman, Mira Ben. Amongst his closest associates were Reverend C.F. Andrews and Polak. Two Englishmen were involved in the Meerut Conspiracy case to put an end to the Raj. There were dozens of other English journalists, civil servants, Boxwallahs who lent active support to our freedom movement. The British did not divide us to rule, as is often alleged by nationalist historians. Maulana Mohammed Ali was right in holding ‘We divide and they rule.” The British did not break up India when they left, they did their best to keep it together. It was our leaders who split it as they failed to get on with each other. The British left the country with good graces. They did not have to be pushed out as other European colonists like the French, Dutch & Portuguese. That is why many Indians have nostalgic memories of the Raj.
And finally, lots of English people went out of their way to befriend Indians. I was lucky in knowing quite a few and felt I should do my bit in knowing quite a few of them and my bit in setting the record right. I am an unashamed Anglo-phile.

Hmm. Immediate thoughts (for that is all I seem to have time for these days!) are that it's a selective argument with selective examples - counter examples exist for each point. And, of course, a major gripe is that he is mixing observations at a national political level with those at a personal level - of course there were lots of nice English people involved with India but that doesn't give them the right to subjugate the country! What do you think?
p.s. Have come across this useful full discussion about this debate.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Obama wins historic US election

"It's a new day, it's a new life, it's a new dawn, and I'm feeling good..." You said it Nina.


"Democratic Senator Barack Obama says "change has come to America", after being elected the first black president of the United States.". Speech in full can be watched here.

Am stunned. Cannot write anymore.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Obama makes history (and Victoriana)

Excellent though the news is about Watermans, tonight has got to be all about the probable history being made across the pond. That the USA tomorrow might have a black President-elect is still truly stunning to me.

It hits me anew each time I think of it even though I know there's a multi-layered debate here:

- Obama is equally white (but he's perceived as black)
- the colour of his skin shouldn't matter (but it does to so many people, anti- and pro-)
- race and sex are no predictors for level of progressive policies (for sure, we saw that in the UK with Thatcher...)
- what difference does it make anyway? (hey, don't be so cynical, not yet)

For now I can only defer to more articulate bloggers and websites - see Liberal Conspiracy for live blogging by a UK team of the US election from, well, about now! And see the Politico website for 'liberal' coverage from the USA.

For me, however, even the election of Obama as the USA's 44th President cannot stand in the way of my having to finish sewing a 'Victorian' (goddamit) costume for my little daughter's 'Florence Nightingale day'' at school tomorrow (yes, they've done Mary Seacole too, thankfully) - the shame of it if I get it wrong! Good luck Mr Hussein.

Saved! The Watermans Arts Centre, Brentford, London

The London Evening Standard today brings this gratifying news about an arts venue in west London which has consistently show-cased theatre, film, comedy and more, on British-Asian themes :

Brentford arts centre wins back funding
Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent, 04.11.08

ARTS Council England is to restore nearly 60 per cent of the funding axed from the Watermans Arts Centre, Brentford, in recent cuts.

It reassessed its decision after the venue threatened to go to judicial review and will pay an annual grant of £240,000 for three years.

The new Arts Council support is specifically targeted at Watermans'programme of work with Asian artists and for Asian audiences. Ninaz Khodaiji, Watermans' programmer for Asian arts, said: "We are at a crossroads in Asian arts development with audience needs becoming more diverse than ever."

Watermans' tradition in Asian arts goes back to its 1984 opening when sitar player Ravi Shankar was the first to appear at the venue.

Why should this matter? Do we need specific 'British-Asian' arts? Aren't there plenty of other arts venues in London? Important questions. Quick answers are, yes, it matters because there has been no other similar forum in London which has consistently introduced and promoted some wonderful British-Asian artists e.g. Sanjeev Bhaskar, amongst many others, started here.

I caught an as-yet-unknown Sanjeev performing there in the mid-1990s when I did a review for Eastern Eye of his then-burgeoning comedy act with, of all people, Nitin Sawhney (check his website, he had a slick PR company even back then...). The British-Asian experience has not been adequately reflected in other theatres around London. Not only that but Watermans also hosts some Indian Punjabi theatre companies too. It's a wonderful riverside venue in a great setting - see what's on here and check it out sometime.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Interested in the Punjabi diaspora?

If you're interested in Punjabi diaspora, history and migration (as I am) then this little exhibition will be right up your street:

The Punjab: Moving Journeys
9 September – 27 November 2008

Monday - Friday, 10.00 -17.00. Free Entry
The exhibition reveals the ‘Punjab’, a region spanning India and Pakistan. The complex history of this region and its modern significance are explored from the perspectives of five UK community groups with links to both countries.The ‘moving journeys’ of successive generations of Punjabi people, both within and across borders, are explored.

Picture left: Bakshi Mulray (Governor of Gilgit) & Mehal Singh (Commanding Radur Regiment) 1865. Image Credit/Copyright: Royal Geograhical Society with IBG

Community organisations who contributed include Cartwright Hall Young Ambassadors (Bradford), the Muslim Women’s Welfare Association (Ilford), the North Hertfordshire Sikh Education Council, the Satrangi Group (London), adults and elders from the UK Punjab Heritage Association and the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail.

The Society commissioned, poet and singer Parminder Chadha and researcher and heritage consultant Irna Qureshi to research the Society’s collections.These essays outline their findings and highlight the themes and materials interested them (click below for essays):

1. Essay by Irna Qureshi PDF 2. Essay by Parminder Chadha PDF

All talks and events are free. For enquiries or to book call + 44 (0)20 7591 3057 or email Address: Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), 1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR.

I only discovered this exhibition as I happened to be walking past the RSG in Kensington (talking our kids to the Science Museum, like the model parents (ahem) that we are. It's a shame that the exhibition is only on during office hours - still there are lots of photographs and information at the RSG website at:

If you go to this exhibiton, let me know what you think...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Outdoor swimming, castles and French horses' bums!

Well, the holiday in Carcassonne, France was great. We stayed in a modern, but very comfortable villa at Caux-et-Sauzens, a sleepy town a mile or two west of Carcassonne. Though we are assured it was populated we hardly ever saw a soul on the streets - perhaps they all ran a mile when they saw 'les anglais' approaching, even though I am of the brown-looking variety! (although there is an alternative explanation...) Weather not so good for outdoor swimming though even we had a 'solar-heated' pool - it was the third week in August so we expected better. You could probably swim outdoors about 3-4 days out of the 7 days.
The airport, dominated by Ryanair flights, was a tiny place, hardly noticeable from the main road. We arrived back two days after the well-publicised loss-of-oxygen incident, gulp! Having a six and a four year old, and only being away for a week, we stayed kinda local - the furthest we travelled was to Narbonne, a lovely old Roman town, on the Languedoc South coast, just south of Marseilles. We discovered a little-advertised 'aquaparc' (see picture, above) backing onto the wide, sandy and uncluttered Narbonne beach and celebrated my lovely son's 4th birthday there.

We also did an obligatory, though very pleasant, visit to a vineyard - to 'Le Labyrinthe' at Arzens and its Domaine la Bouriette. The recent English owner (?Lorraine) had developed the site for tourists - she, and a visiting companion were charming, and our children were well-amused by the 'maze' and 'petting zoo', whilst hubby and I did some wine-tasting. We certainly wish the vineyard the best of luck in marketing and selling their wines in the UK.

(BTW I'm not sure if this is interesting to any would-be travellers to the area but I will ramble on about a couple more things we did (I know that I, at least, devoured the internet for info before travelling!)

Carcassonne is, of course, famous for its 'fairytale' ancient castle (restored with some subsequent controversy) and we had to have the guided tour of Carcassonne in a horse-drawn carriage (for the sake of the children of course!). You get a comprehensive, 20-minute commentary (en Francais!) and the route takes you between the two ramparts on the fortified walls, departing from Porte Narbonnaise. We thought it was worth it even though, seated at the front of the carriage as we were, we were treated to a long-lasting (and smelling!!) view of two horses' bums!

Another holiday activity, though cliched, but well-worth doing with children was the daily medieval jousting shows inside the castle walls - this really was a holiday-highlight for our kids, and it didn't matter how much noise they made! Hooray!

BTW the AngloINFO Languedoc-Roussillon website site was quite good for places to go-do-and-see, especially for famillies.

Away from the Castle (or le cite as it is known), you can walk to the medieval lower town or the 'ville basse' (as it is known) for services, shops, more restaurants and bistros (further to the ones actually inside the cobbled streets of Carassonne's castle, which was a surprise for us). Also in the ville is its central square , the Place Carnot, alongside its central riverway (see below). A market takes over Place Carnot in on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a colourful and appetising range of Mediterranean produce. Just south-west of here, the covered market at Place d'Eggenfelden is also worth a look. The main shopping street is the pedestrianised rue Clemenceau, which leads from the elegant 18th-century Porte des Jacobins northwards towards the railway station. Most of the offerings are branches of French retail chains.

The central riverway mentioned above is actually a canal - the Canal du Midi is an 18th-century engineering marvel that still serves to link the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, though these days it is used mainly by pleasure craft. From the railway station side, you can take a cruise on the canal of between 90 minutes (€7/£5) and two hours (€10/£7). I really enjoyed walking along the canal, appreciating the calm, the water, the lovely surrounding trees and the boats slowly moseying down with happy people aboard - it reminded me a lot of the Norfolk Broads where I've had a few boating holidays as a complete novice and was surprised at loving it.

I could go on...but won't. I've come to love this part of France since first travelling there in 2007 to Provence - that time we stayed in a dream mas in Eygalieres, just south of Avignon. Hope you've enjoyed reading about our travels, for now - though the length of time it took me to write it up is a sign of our hectic lives! Bye for now...

Monday, 11 August 2008

My virgin blog entry...

What is this blog supposed to be? Well, a kind of diary and musings and far, so not very original. But it's a start. And I'm interested in the following things in life so blog potential is good, but will it be realised? Family, child development, British politics, sociolinguistics, identity politics, diaspora, British-Asian stuff, Indian stuff, media, feminism, multiculturalism, London life get the picture, I hope.

So, here goes...

Against all better judgement, considering our financial position, we've just arranged a week in France, near the fairytale castle city of Carcassonne, in the South of France. The weather is not looking too good, which is shame since our house comes with its own private pool. Let's see.

At the moment life is dominated with trying to cover the school holidays of my daughter, six -no easy task since my husband and I both work. But I think I've succeeded in arranging a suitably varied programme (at least that's what I like to think!) - bit of fun, bit of culture, bit of nana and bit of downtime. Any tips on 'what to do with kids in south-east London' gratefully received!