Partition at the BBC – and more childhood memories

India and Bangladesh were important to my family – although I don’t think there is anyone left there now. I went last week to the Newsnight Partition programme presented by Kirsty Wark which was fascinating and packed, and well worth watching. The subject remains fraught with complications. Old men and women from all sides remembered what it had been like in 1947, historians and writers gave their opinions, The Daily Express  branded it biased and divisive and Dr Kehinde Andrews, Associate Professor at Birmingham City University, said: “There is no defence for empire. It should be a stain on our collective identity.” It is a time that has gone, and probably just as well, although people point out that some good came of Empire too.  I agree with those who feel that although we need to acknowledge the legacy, both good and bad, and learn from memories and past actions, we don’t need to beat ourselves up about it hundreds of years later. That energy could be put into doing things better, I reckon. Opinions and responses welcomed.

As a child of the British Empire, living on a tea estate in the 50s and 60s and leaving to come to small cold England to go to school aged nine, I can only remember people being nice to me (‘well they would be, wouldn’t they?’), and space and freedom and warmth. And isolation, it is true  – I didn’t have many people my own age, because people lived miles apart and travelling took time and often turned out to be a right tamasha (fuss and bother, as I recall).

When I did come to the UK, it was unfamiliar and not very welcoming. And as a child who had spent most of her time with adults I found it hard to find my way about, literally and in playground politics.sylvia and mum 1

I looked odd for starters – here I am at one of my birthday parties with a haircut that was done (possibly with his eyes closed) by my father’s nappit (barber) who would come the house, be set up outside so that the hair would blow away, and cut away without a mirror.

It’s my fifth birthday, I think, if you count the candles. I had been subjected to the trimming, and then, to make up for it, was called to the corner where the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow bush poured out its scent in the early evening, when the sun was dimmed. Its flowers start out dark mauve, change to pale lilac and end up, a day later, white. Its honeyed smell, like many others, remains with me, a light sweet scent that puffed out at you as you walked past, but inconveniently couldn’t be captured for long. When I got there, I saw that the table was laid for tea. My ayah, Lily, stood behind my younger sister’s high chair and my mother was dressed more smartly than she usually was at tea time. The cook appeared with a cake and lighted candles from behind the bush, and Sudham and William the bearers hovered in the background. Everyone was in on the act, and everyone was loving it, lustily singing Happy Birthday, and cheering when I puffed hard to blow out the candles. I felt spoilt and important!

I have put many of these sensory memories into The Jacaranda Letters, and some of the characters too. The book is a mixture of fact and fiction and I have used what I remember to make it authentic. I will share some of my notes in this blog every so often. Luckily most of the people are no longer around, and my sister was too small to remember!

 

 

 

 

 

A childhood in East Pakistan, then Bangladesh

rajkie house 1
The Burra (big) Bungalow at Rajkie Tea Estate in South Sylhet, East Pakistan. My mother was mortified that the photograph shows mattresses being aired on the lawn! My dad’s Jeep is in the foreground – I had my first driving lesson in it when I was 13. The lychee tree at the bottom right had my swing and a pen for my dear called, imaginatively, Bambi. She was bitten by a snake and died. On the left is the vegetable garden.
rajkie party 1
One of my birthday parties in the garden with my mother, my grandmother Kate, my sister in her high chair with our ayah Lily and Uncle Jid from the neighbouring tea estate
rajkie car
My mother all dressed up to go to the club in the late 1950s, early 1960s. I may just have been born.

 

It was a very long time ago, before I was born, but this seems an appropriate post to put up on the anniversary of Partition. My dad was in the Indian Army and my uncle in the police in Calcutta in 1947. They are now dead,  and I very much regret not asking them more about it. I do recall them talking once to say that packed trains came into the station with not one person left alive.

Years later I lived a very happy life on Rajkie till I was about eight, when I left and went to school in England. I had an ayah called Lily, and she and the other servants knew me inside out and often stuck up for me when I was naughty. When I returned for a stay in 1968, wearing mini skirts, the bearer was mortified. He took my father aside and asked if there were money worries. Could we not afford enough material to make longer dresses?

Every day was pretty much the same. My father went to the office at about 6am, before it got too hot, and came back for breakfast with us at 7.30 on the verandah if he was able to. Then lessons with my parents: my dad did maths and science with me for a couple of hours, my mother did english and history, all based on the PNEU system which was sent out from Burgess Hill to parents abroad. Time to myself after my father had left for work again – I went and played with the goat boy, poor thing, and bothered the servants who were kind but had work to do. Lunch at 12.30, then a siesta which I hated and always tried to get out of. Then reading and a walk at about 4.30, to return for bath and supper and bed.

I remember a lot, but I only have a few wrinkled black and white photographs, some of which are reproduced here. These are from the early 1960s. I have no idea what it looks like now.

 

 

 

Uploading – again and again and again

I have uploaded The Jacaranda Letters to iBooks and to SmashWords , which seems to cover a lot of bases. I was asked to do an interview with myself on Smashwords, so click on the link if you would like to read about me and why and what I write.

I don’t believe I have committed any uploading solecisms, and I am reading as much small print as I can, but this is a tricky process. The uploading, I mean, not the reading, although my eyes are crossing.

So to summarise, I have uploaded to

  • Amazon
  • Kindle
  • Kobo (Plus, which means that I cannot take advantage of the extra Kindle benefits, although the e-book and eventually the paperback will remain available. I have to stay on this for three months)
  • SmashWords – with the interview!
  • iBooks

These last two mean that I can be distributed widely throughout the world, I believe.

I add a post to my Facebook author page every so often, and I have published the paperback on ClearSpace so that I have something that feels real to show bookshops and people who prefer to read on paper. This took time and effort and it wasn’t  CreateSpace’s fault. I keep spotting little teeny weeny errors which I could, I suppose, ignore and hope everyone else will too, but I find I can’t do that. When my proof copy arrived, it made me feel all funny, and delighted, and nervous at the same time! I have now pressed Go and ordered some copies to take round to independent bookshops and libraries, in case I can persuade them to stock it.