Friday, October 26, 2007

Go read this.

In 1928, when a 17-year-old Akbar Jehan had left school and was back in Lahore, a senior figure in British Military Intelligence checked in to the Nedous Hotel on the Upper Mall. Colonel T.E. Lawrence, complete with Valentino-style headgear, had just spent a gruelling few weeks in Afghanistan destabilising the radical, modernising and anti-British regime of King Amanullah. Disguised as ‘Karam Shah’, a visiting Arab cleric, he had organised a black propaganda campaign designed to stoke the religious fervour of the more reactionary tribes and thus provoke a civil war. His mission accomplished, he left for Lahore. Akbar Jehan must have met him at her father’s hotel. A flirtation began and got out of control. Her father insisted that they get married immediately; which they did. Three months later, in January 1929, Amanullah was toppled and replaced by a pro-British ruler. On 12 January, Kipling’s old newspaper in Lahore, the imperialist Civil and Military Gazette, published comparative profiles of Lawrence and ‘Karam Shah’ to reinforce the impression that they were two different people. Several weeks later, the Calcutta newspaper Liberty reported that ‘Karam Shah’ was indeed the ‘British spy Lawrence’ and gave a detailed account of his activities in Waziristan on the Afghan frontier. Lawrence was becoming a liability and the authorities told him to return to Britain. ‘Karam Shah’ was never seen again. Nedous insisted on a divorce for his daughter and again Lawrence obliged. Four years later, Sheikh Abdullah and Akbar Jehan were married in Srinagar. The fact of her previous marriage and divorce was never a secret: only the real name of her first husband was hidden. She now threw herself into the struggle for a new Kashmir. She raised money to build schools for poor children and encouraged adult education in a state where the bulk of the population was illiterate. She also, crucially, gave support and advice to her husband, alerting him, for example, to the dangers of succumbing to Nehru’s charm and thus compromising his own standing in Kashmir.

(Bitter Chill of Winter)

The latest issue of The London Review of Books has a review of Tariq Ali's Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope. From there I somehow backtracked to this old article by him on Kashmir, which is full of double take inducing anecdotes as the one above. Pure Ali - extremely witty and very good overall. I stumbled upon it half asleep around 1 AM and midway through was giggling, nodding in agreement, definitely not sleepy and wondering "How have I NOT read this before?". By the way, if you haven't read Tariq Ali you really should. He is all kinds of awesome. Also from the article:

When Nehru and Ghaffar Khan revisited Srinigar as Abdullah’s guests in the summer of 1945 it was evident that divisions between the different nationalists were acute. The Lion of Kashmir had laid on a Mughal-style welcome. The guests were taken downriver on lavishly decorated shikaras (gondolas). Barred from gathering on the four bridges along the route, Abdullah’s local Muslim opponents stood on the embankment, dressed in phirens, long tunics which almost touched the ground. In the summer months it was customary not to wear underclothes. As the boats approached, the male protesters, who had not been allowed to carry banners, faced the guests and lifted their phirens; the women turned their backs and bared their buttocks. Muslims had never protested in this way before, and have not done so since. Ghaffar Khan roared with laughter, but Nehru was not amused.

Also, I know that General Yahya is generally greatly disliked in Pakistan but I did not know that Yahya translated as "Fuck - Fuck" in Lahori Punjabi. Heh. Ok, go read in full dammit!

6 comments:

Alok said...

I have seen that essay, it didn't seem to end anywhere though :)

the Chavez one looks more manageable. let me see.

there was somewhere a very nice video of a debate between Ali and Hitchens before the Iraq war. It was very entertaining.

Szerelem said...

The Chavez one is a book review....and I know the Kashmir essay is endless but its very good and covers ground from pre independence to post Kargil. You really should read it.

Hitchens - bleh.

Rahul said...

Very interesting article, thanks.

I wonder if the Rolling Stones were familiar with Lahori Punjabi.

That Armchair Philosopher said...

I see Tariq Ali's made an effect :)

But heck, that was a LONG book review - whew. Ive been reading it in gaps and I've just about finished.

That said, I've put his Saladin book on my next-to-read list. Which is to say, in a small little post it note stuck to my desktop!

Tabula Rasa said...

nice, thanks!

thalassa_mikra said...

Thanks a ton for alerting about the Tariq Ali article. If you're interested the National Archives in Delhi has a really cool album of pictures from Nehru's Kashmir visit - but don't tell them that that's the album you're looking for :).