Madan Lal Dhingra’s great niece, Leena Dhingra, unravels the life and death of an Indian revolutionary in this haunting work that is part history, part memoir.
What was the largest movement of people in history? In 1923, over a million and a half Greeks and Turks were forcibly ‘exchanged’ as part of the Lausanne Convention. In May and June 1940, about eight million people from the Netherlands, Belgium and France fled from the blitzkrieg advance of the German army. But the sorry prize for the largest movement of people must go to the 1947 Partition of India. Seventy-five years ago, up to twenty million people travelled between the newly-created states of India and Pakistan, crossing the border formed by arbitrary political considerations in the last days of the British Raj. Partition was a distressing, painful and bloody process: estimates circulate that something like two million never arrived at their chosen destination. Continue reading Guest Review | Sharif Gemie | Exhumation: the Life and Death of Madan Lal Dhingra, Leena Dhingra | Hope Road Publishing
“He stood at the edge of the pavement, exactly on the corner, a full head higher than those around him. Olivia waited for him to dip his head as a sign of respect, but he stood there, very still, his hard blue eyes fixed on the oak coffin. Then he stepped forward and it seemed for a moment that he wanted to touch the coffin, to make the last contact with her grandmother before she was buried. Slowly, he lifted his head back, looking to the sky, then he jerked forward and spat a long stream down the window of the hearse.”
When all else fails and no peaceful solution can be found to end a struggle to control a country or a region, to achieve independence, or to force a change in government policy, warring camps form, families and communities are divided, and the killings and atrocities begin. The time and place and context might vary but the root cause for people taking up arms against each other is always the same: the pernicious polarisation of hate.
Continue reading Review | The Settlement, Ruth Kirby-Smith | 2QT Publishing, Yorkshire
“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us,” James Baldwin
Pete Ayrton, editor and publisher, who in 1986 founded Serpent’s Tail which he retired from in 2016, has teamed up with Rosemarie Hudson, the founder of HopeRoad (2010) to head up a new imprint: Small Axes.
The publication and promotion of literature from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean which challenges cultural stereotyping is becoming ever more urgent in the face of rising authoritarianism in the US, UK and across Europe.
The Small Axes list will focus on republishing post-colonial classics that helped to shape cultural shifts at the time of their printing and remain as relevant today as when they were first published.
“He lapsed into bitterness, as people tended to do now, despite some shreds of conviction that still remained that Britain was an honourable adversary. ‘Over three hundred lives,’ he said. ‘A hundred Indians for each Briton. That is their scale, the scale by which they value themselves and against which we are measured. That is what we are up against: not their greed, or their anger, nor land hunger, nor the need to trade, but their arrogance, the mentality that produces such policies and acts.’” Continue reading Review | The Nowhere Man, Kamala Markandaya | Small Axes
“The next morning, standing in the doorway to see me off on my way to the north of Punjab, to the capital, Islamabad, the Begum strained with both hands to raise a heavy old leather-bound Koran under which I ducked to receive divine protection. She resembled a classical figure holding up a torch so that I might see the good in her country.”
Two great matriarchs loom over this memoir which flies over Pakistan like a magical flying carpet: Isambard Wilkinson’s grandmother, and her friend, Sajida Ali Khan a.k.a. the Begum, from Lahore in the Punjab. As a small boy visiting the Irish family home that is suffused with a “heady, dusty fragrance” and chock-full of Anglo-Indian mementoes dating back to the 19th century, a warm and intoxicating vision of another world offered an antidote to the cold austerity of boarding school. His first actual visit to Pakistan was with his grandmother in 1990, to attend a wedding of one of the Begum’s children; and then in 2006 as foreign correspondent. His desire to explore the country and live there eventually was cut short by kidney failure, dialysis and successful surgery when his brother gave him a kidney. Travels in a Dervish Cloak has been seven years in the making. Continue reading Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week
Where were you born?
Southsea, which conjured exotic images of Pacific islands in my young mind. Then I discovered it was part of Portsmouth. I was born there because my father was in the navy.
Where did you grow up?
After my birth, my father went off to sea to the Antarctic and my mother took me and my elder brother to our grandmother in rural Ireland. I went to boarding school in the UK at the age of seven ‘til 18. Ireland was our one constant for many years, as well as my parents’ Edwardian-bohemian home on the seafront in Deal, Kent, then an old smugglers town with a raffish air.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
My parents read lots and widely, from biography and history to novels of all stripes. My father’s favourite book is Lampedusa’s The Leopard, and my mother loved Nancy Mitford. There were also plenty of humorous books, including P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. Continue reading Interview | Isambard Wilkinson | Author of the Week