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Odisha – a lexicon for tribal languages

Move seen as a push to preserve vanishing native languages in State with largest tribal diversity

In what is seen as a significant step to keep vanishing tribal languages in circulation, the Odisha government has come out with lexicons of 21 such languages. Full story

The bilingual tribal dictionaries will be used in multilingual education (MLE) initiated by the State government at the elementary level in tribal-dominated districts.

Rain in England

Rain – Nageen Lake, Kashmir 2014

How many of us have grumbled about the excessive amount of rain this year? A couple of beautiful days, England at its best, then thunderstorms. Just now heavy rain started again whilst I was scrolling through some photos of Kashmir Valley and I was reminded of the floods in September 2014, five days and nights of incessant rain. Nageen lake rose by 15ft and people were picking apples off the tops of trees. The area is prone to flooding and this was the worst since 1903. A million people were affected in one way or another and 44 people died.

Why am I complaining? I suppose I am not but will continue living on the top of a hill and talking about the weather. After all it’s an English custom.

Viceroy’s House and Loot

I have just seen this new film ‘Viceroy’s House’ about Partition today at the Regal Cinema in Henley. Annoyingly I fell asleep at the crucial moment when the line of Partition was decided; the seats are very comfortable! The film is OK and visually excellent but I have had to spend the entire evening exploring the Cabinet Mission (not mentioned), Jinnah (did he really want Pakistan to be outside India), and were Jinnah and Earl Mountbatten duped by a plan made two years before the hapless Ratcliffe had to draw the line? These questions are still hanging in the air.

In this evening’s study I came across an excellent two-year old article by William Dalrymple about the EEIC and ‘Loot‘. I commend it you and the hyperlink should take you there. Well worth reading, good history well applied. I can’t find the book though so maybe the prolific Mr Dalrymple is still struggling with it. Please let me know if you have found it.

Tribal matters – Odisha

According to ‘Asianage’ the Tribal Museum at Koraput, a scheduled tribal area, is to close. It was started by some enthusiastic researchers and intellectuals led by Mr Krushna Chandra Panigrahi in 1992 with the aim of preserving the art and artefacts of over 62 local tribal communities including Paraja, Didayi, Koya, Bonda, Lanjia Soura and Gadhva. Lack of funds and government patronage for maintenance of the museum has led to its current poor state. According to researcher Dr Gouranga Charan Rout “The age-old traditional and cultural practices are declining fast due to the onslaught of modern influences and they can be preserved only through an institution like this tribal museum.” This will be a sad loss.

At the other end of the scale Lanjigarh refinery, owned by Vedanta, is to get enough bauxite to keep it from closing. It seems as if the company has at last given up its vigorous attempts to get legal permission to rip off the top of the Niyamgiri Hills that have been home and sacred to the Dongria Kondh tribe for centuries. Instead the State Government has agreed to provide raw materials from the Kodingamali bauxite mines District leased to Odisha Mining Corporation. It so happens that the mines lie within Koraput District. Ironic.

World Refugee Day – 20 June 2016

How appropriate that Parliament should reassemble today at 2.30 pm in a non-partisan way to pay tribute to Jo Cox MP who was murdered on her way to her constituency surgery in Birstall last Thursday. The Independent wrote that she ‘campaigned tirelessly for refugees’ and these included the many Kashmiris in her constituency who she mentioned in her maiden speech last June. What a great loss to so many.

The world’s largest chandeliers

Durbar Hall - Scindia Palace - Gwalior

Durbar Hall – Scindia Palace – Gwalior

20 years ago, I discovered that my great-grandfather Henry Elworthy, a farmer’s boy from Devon, emigrated aged 16 to Calcutta in 1864 to work for F &C Osler a top line crystal manufacturer in Birmingham. There are many stories here but this is about the world’s largest chandeliers, installed in the Durbar Hall of Scindia Palace, Gwalior and built by Jayajiroa, Maharajah of Gwalior, in 1874. Of course I had to see them.

Each weighs around 3 tonnes and to test the strength of the roof, the Italian engineer Sir Michael Filose insisted on building a mile long ramp and coaxing 9 elephants on top to roam around for a week! There are 274 lamps in the larger chandelier and spare bulbs have to be made specially in Calcutta. The palace is vast, unusually in the Italianate style, the design researched by Filose by visiting European cities in advance as he had no architectural training. There are 400 rooms, 40 of which are devoted to the Museum.  The courtyard must be at least as large as two football pitches.

Nearly all the lighting, candelabra, and metalwork was supplied by Henry as Osler’s agent for Rajputana and finished in time for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1875. Our hosts, staff of the Scindia Palace Museum, even turned on the lights for us. Have a look at some of the collection and note the banquet hall with its silver Basset-Lowke railway to take the brandy round after dinner:

Bizarrely I learnt that the great grandson of Filose had visited just three months before. Another world then and now, as ever India continues to surprise.

Durbar Hall with lights - Scindia Palace - Gwalior

With the lights on

Crystal balustrade

Crystal balustrade Colour pics: Jean Thomas




Snow Leopard


Snow Leopard, Darjeeling

There are just a few thousand snow leopard left and mainly distributed along the Himalaya, they are endangered. A few years ago I was taken round the Himalayan Mountain Institute in Darjeeling by a young experienced mountaineer, he has retired now because he has a son and his wife says he must be responsible. This has not diminished his enthusiasm and he gave a very stimulating tour of the museum. At the time the snow leopard conservation project was well under way but not open to the public although I was allowed access to see the Red Panda and this wonderful leopard. The site is open to visitors except for the breeding section. Here is a link that gives current information about Project Snow Leopard.


Nepali family - PatanI heard last night that much of the Durbar square in Patan had been smashed in the appalling earthquake that hit Nepal recently. Anyone who has been to this extraordinary land-locked country will have been impressed by its beauty, the generosity of the people and the dire poverty.

Let us hope that the many international tourists and world heritage organisations will dig deep to restore as much as possible of this amazing place. Here is just one photograph of a typical family who are bound to have been affected.


Loot is an Indian word and William Dalrymple has just published an excellent article in the Guardian about a part of the brutal looting reign of the [English] East India Company. He cleverly links this with modern India and worlwide multinationals. A new book is promised next year.

Carving against the grain

Num panel and detailHouseboats are serious business in Srinagar, Kashmir and in two senses. In good times they are full and profitable but in the 20-year conflict they were largely left to decay. Then there is the puzzling law. No new houseboats are allowed at all and repairs are bounded by heavyweight bureaucracy, even a permit from Central Government. Meanwhile many of these iconic boats are starting to decay.

Recently there have been newspaper articles about the decline in woodcarving which is a major feature of these boats – “Kashmir’s famed woodcarving a dying art” says one paper. I have witnessed the resurrection of one of these boats and so here are some illustrations for the record.

The num or verandah on Mascot 1 Continue reading