Notes from the Raj
It's been an interesting week. I make time to see the Kohinoor at the Tower of London. It has pride of place in the queen mother's crown. I don't expect to see another 100 plus carat rock in my lifetime so it's slightly disappointing to glide past it, within seconds, on a conveyor belt - especially after queuing up for close to an hour. I also leave with mixed feelings - proud that it is ours, slightly miffed that it's not where it belongs.
The Raj also comes to life through the India Office records - a priceless collection of official documentation and private papers related to pre-1947 India. India Office, a department in the British government in London, became in 1858 the administrator of India, functionally replacing the East India Company. The collection comprises 70,000 volumes of official publications and over 1 lakh manuscripts and maps.
Map showing the boundaries of Punjab as determined by the Boundary Commission.
I see a few of the documents, fragile and beautifully preserved, at the British Library - a map showing the new boundaries of a partitioned Punjab, a poster from the 1930s calling upon Muslims to join the Congress's freedom struggle, documents recording the earliest calls for redrawing India's boundaries on a 'cultural' basis (outlined by Syed Abdul Latif in 'a federation of cultural zones for india'), a poster for referendum in the North West Frontier Province. My personal favourite is a 'personal report' from Mountbatten to the King and Prime Minister dated 12 June 1947. He relates his meeting with Jinnah and Nehru and details grudging acceptance of both to his 3rd June plan of partition. This collection is priceless for historians, students, film makers, writers - in fact anyone interested in south asian history.
Referendum poster in North West Frontier Province, 1947. Voters could opt for India (red box) or Pakistan (green box). No third alternative was allowed!
While at the British Library, I also get a fascinating peek into the lives of the earliest Indians in England. Beyond the Frame: India in Britain, 1858-1950 is the outcome of research by Susheila Nasta and her team at the Open University. Ranjitsinhji is well known in India and in Britain as are Uday Shankar, Mulk Raj Anand and Noor Inayat Khan. Others like Sophia Duleep Singh are perhaps less well known. The Maharaja's daughter was an early suffragette. Ram Gopal, the dancer, brought his company to London's Aldwych Theatre in 1939. Chuni Lal Katial was a doctor and politician who moved to London in 1927. In slightly over 10 years, he had become England's first South Asian mayor (Finsbury, 1938). Nasik-born Parsi Christian Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman to study law in Oxford (1889-94) and went on to train at a solicitor's firm in London.
Mountbatten's personal report to the Prime Minister (12 June 1947) detailing his discussions with Nehru and Jinnah on his Partition plan.
They are just a few Indians of diverse backgrounds who as early migrants, much before the post WW2 era, enriched Britain's culture, politics, arts, sports, and society. I am introduced to the exhibition in the British Library in London but the good news is its currently on tour in South India. Contact your British Council for more details. You can also log onto www.open.ac.uk/arts/south-asians-making-britain or www.bl.uk/asiansinbritain
More about PaarullPaarull Malhotra is CNN-IBN's Chief Diplomatic Correspondent. When she's not reporting, she's a newscaster. She considers herself very lucky because she enjoys what she does - which is covering India's relations with the world, with a special focus on the neighbourhood. Her areas of interest are Af-Pak, West Asia and China. She's an East West Centre fellow, and prefers to relax by blogging, tweeting, reading and travelling. You can reach her on her blaze page via ibnlive.com or on her facebook page. Paarull's twitter handle is @paarull
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