Chapter XIII – 1947

This chapter from my new book talks about Kashmir’s first hydroelectric power station at Mohra. It was here that Pathans invaded Kashmir from Uri District but spent too long looting and pillaging in Baramulla. On the way to Srinagar they doused the city lights by closing the power station. Here is a BBC clip of the area generally as it is now: Incidentally the short clip of the power station shows the inside of the 1960’s building, which is where Mohammed Sultan Thakur worked. Even today he is always pleased to show people round and feature in film clips such as this.

If it hadn’t been for that event Hari Singh might not have had time to sign the Instrument of Accession and persuade Nehru to fly in troops to Srinagar and so repel the invaders. Kashmir could have been very different today.

New book: Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley

About the book:

“An exhilarating Himalayan journey: a mélange of personal experiences, geology, ancient histories, trade routes, the great flood, conflicting religions, politics, and militancy in one of the most volatile parts of the world, leading to the brink of war.”

It is relevant now due to the current lockdown in Kashmir and the dangerous standoff between India and Pakistan.

The eminent historian John Keay has written the Prologue and has sent me this encouraging comment: “Congratulations; this is a serious book, beautifully produced and full of bold insights. I shall treasure it, so professional.”

After the informal launch in September the book is available online. It is only available on this website (not Amazon) or by hand. Copies cost £25 + postage and packing using PayPal – UK only.

228 pages on art paper. The text is supplemented by many b/w photographs by the author.

If you wish to buy a copy from outside the UK please go to GET IN TOUCH on the Menu bar and leave your contact details. They are safe. PayPal produce a invoice with the correct postage; it’s quick and simple.

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.

Dongria Kondh – victims of harassment, beatings and torture

Some of you will know that I have been following this subject closely since my first visit to Orissa (now Odisha) in 1999. The Vedanta Company wanted to take vast quantities of high grade bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills which are sacred to the Dongria tribe. The case went to the Supreme Court and the decision left to the tribe who rejected Vedanta’s proposal. It appears that Vedanta continue in their quest using insidious methods including harassment.

Please read the link below and I hope you will sign this important petition. Thank you.

The Dongria Kondh are victims of violent and systematic attacks by state policeSurvival International

Survival International – uncontacted tribes

Survival International is a great cause. Please watch this 3 min clip about uncontacted tribes and support. Click on the highlight or double click on the image to open in a new window.

Remember the huge support they gave to the Dongria Kondh tribe in their battles against Vedanta’s proposals to remove 30 metres of Bauxite from the top of the sacred Niyamgiri hills in Odisha.

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.

National Tribal Resource Centre – Vanjeevan

The Ministry for Tribal Affairs has launched a Tribal Resource Centre in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha (formerly Orissa) State. It is known as Vanjeevan and here are self-explanatory articles from the Orissa Post and the Times of India. This seems to be the Centre’s new website and as I understand it Vanjeevan as an overarching NGO. Please post a comment if you know anything more. Thanks.

Artangel – Reading Gaol, a short reprieve


Oscar Wilde’s cell door

A great cultural event is going on in Reading, in a prison of all places. The New County Gaol was opened in 1844 as a prototype and partly based by on the design of Pentonville Prison in London. The architect was George Gilbert Scott who was later to achieve fame for his iconic design of the Midland Hotel at St. Pancras and the Albert Memorial. He was followed by architect sons and grandsons, notably Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to whom we owe the K2 red telephone box and Liverpool Cathedral. This venue is fascinating in itself and there is much to learn about prison life, the inmates, the public hangings, the exercise wheel, and the Chapel where no prisoner could see another.

Oscar Wilde brought fame to Reading Gaol for reasons that are almost unimaginable today. But this major art event is not only about him, his writings such as De Profundis (letters to Bosie), it is also about others who were homosexual, incarcerated, trapped, abused, rejected and so on. I was greatly moved by a letter from Binyavanga Wainaina to his dead mother, in which he reveals his love for another man; he could not say this while he was a live. It’s wrong I suppose to pick on a couple of people that touched me but I had never heard of Marlene Dumas. She conveys intense emotions through slightly awkward portraits of people such as Jean Genet with minimal colour. These are haunting images.

When I went yesterday a film-maker was a making a video to transmit in Brazil News. This is a worldwide event and must be seen if you can. It was due to end shortly but it has proved to be so popular that it will continue until 4th December 2016. Click on Artangel Reading for more information all necessary contacts.

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.

Kashmir news: “the more biased the better”


Courtesy of Reuters/Danish Ismail

The recent news from Kashmir of stone pelting, firing metal pellets etc. at children and ‘protestors’ has been reported widely but rarely has it been put in the context of how reporters have to work these days. This article from Scroll-in by David Devadas describes how things have changed over the years and how little respect many reporters now enjoy. I don’t think this is unique to Kashmir. The speed at which news travels and the thirst for a scoop has got way out of order. Incidentally I have experienced this recently first-hand in the UK. The article is well worth reading.

Kashmir – why India must not blink

Things have been hotting up lately with the death of the young Burwan Wani of the Hizbul Mujahideen and his orchestrated funeral which has virtually made him into a martyr. This article “why India must not blink” strikes me as very clear and even handed for those who want to take Pakistan out of the equation. Swarajya describes itself as “a big tent for liberal right of centre discourse that reaches out, engages and caters to the new India”

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.

Kashmir – The Pandit Questions

Recently I took part in a Q and A discussion with Vinayak Razdan, a writer and game developer based in Kochi. We had met last year travelling in Kashmir and talked about his homeland, the effect of the militancy, that started in 1989/90 on Kashmiri Muslims who fled and Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) who were forced out of the Valley, the Indian Army, Pakistan, and the many issues that still face the troubled State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Last Saturday 21st May the Economic & Political Weekly published one of our conversations, which follows the pronouncement by PM Narendra Modi of his wish to establish three colonies so that Kashmiri Pandits can return to the Valley. The article is titled ‘The Pandit Questions‘ – please click on the highlight to read the article.

Supreme Court: Final decision for the Dongria Kondhs

It camDongria Kondh groupe as no surprise that the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC), which holds the lease for land in the bauxite laden Niyamgiri Hills, would try a rerun to get last October’s decision overturned. This would enable the huge Vedanta Mining Co. to strip millions of tonnes of bauxite to supply its well-established enormous Lanjigarh refinery.  The OMC asked for a referendum in January and this time the Supreme Court has said ‘NO’. For now the homeland of the Dongria Kondh is safe.

Here is a news item from Survival International published yesterday.

On Monday 23rd May Vedanta published a rebuttal saying “to date neither OMC nor Vedanta has acquired any land in the Niyamgiri Hill ranges” and Vedanta “is not seeking to source bauxite from Niyamgiri bauxite deposits for its alumina refinery operations, and will not do so unless we have the consent of the local communities.”

Sachin and who? 10 April 2016

The papers and TV have been full of images of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on their first visit to India and what a start. Never mind the dress let’s play cricket!

42 year-old Sachin Tendulkar, the worldwide legend, turned up at the Oval Maidan in Mumbai for a game with local children and the Royals of course. A journalist friend has kindly sent these excellent photographs which tell the story. And take a look at Kate’s determined expression.

Kate and Sachin - 10 April 2016

Photos courtesy of Anil Raina of Mumbai Mirror

Kate and Sachin 2 - 10 April 2016 Kate with bat - 10 April 2016

There is a more serious side which is to promote awareness for children’s’ charities.

News: Collapsed flyover, Kolkata. 31st March 2016

Collapsed Flyover - Kolkata - 31 March 2016This flyover was under construction in a densely populated area of Kolkata. Early this morning a section collapsed in five seconds and trapped people underneath. Many people came to the rescue and to remove rubble by hand. Large machines could not get near.

So far eighteen people are feared to be dead. The cause is not known and will be investigated. There is a suspicion that the materials used by subcontractors were inadequate; builders say it was an “Act of “God”.

On a recent visit to Central India I saw many other such flyovers being built over the centre of large towns.

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