From Mandvi to Highgate

Pandit Shyamji Krishnavarma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch. He earned his title of ‘Pandit’ because of his very great knowledge of Sanskrit. In the 1880s, he travelled to England where he became an assistant to Professor Monier Williams at the University of Oxford. Krishnavarma’s studies of Sanskrit at Oxford earned him great fame amongst the Indologists all over the world. He also became a barrister. On hisreturn to India, Krishnavarma served as ‘Diwan’ in various princely states, before returning to England in 1897.

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By 1905, Krishnavarma had become deeply involved in the movement to free India from the grips of the British Empire. That year, he purchased a house in the north London suburb of Highgate. He named it ‘India House’ and it served as both a hostel for Indian students and a centre for plotting the liberation of India from the British.

Between 1905 and 1910, when India House was closed and sold, this place became known as a ‘centre of sedition’ and the ‘most dangerous organisation in the British Empire’. I have almost finished writing a book, to be called “IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” about Highgate’s India House and the people associated with it. 

Here is a brief introduction to my forthcoming book:

This is about a little known part of the history of India’s struggle for independence. It concerns events centred on a house in Edwardian London. It is a tale of bombs, guns, lawyers, patriots, philosophers, revolutionaries, and scholars.

A large Victorian house stands in a residential street in the north London suburb of Highgate. Between 1905 and 1910, it was known as ‘India House’, and was a meeting place and hostel for Indian students, many of whom wished to help liberate India from centuries of British domination.

In the 19th and 20th centuries before India’s independence, many young Indians came to England to be educated. This is the story of  a few of them, who came to Britain in the early 20th century, and then risked sacrificing their freedom, prospects, and lives by becoming involved in India’s freedom struggle. 

This book describes the true adventurous exploits of members of Highgate’s India House (including VD Savarkar, Madan Lal Dhingra, and VVS Aiyar) and its history.

I will give you more news about my book soon, I hope!

Fishermen at Mandvi and entering Pakistan

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The picture shows dogs resting in the shade provided by a beached fishing vessel in the estuary of the River Rukmavati at the town of Mandvi in the former Kingdom of Kutch, now part of Gujarat.

 

Nearby, there were many similar fishing boats, all manned by Muslim seamen. These boats sail into the Gulf of Kutch, a piece of water that separates most of Kutch from another part of Gujarat, Saurashtra (or Kathiawad). 

 

The vessels are allowed to sail as far west as Okha, but no further as they would then stray into Pakistani water. We were told that there is quite a good deal of smuggling between the Indian and Pakistani fishermen. The Indians have to be careful because they might be arrested in Pakistani waters, as a recent newspaper report  reveals:

“A group of 100 Indian fishermen Monday crossed over to the Indian side through 

Attari-Wagah border after the Pakistan government released them from jail as a goodwill gesture.

The fishermen crossed over to India this evening on the basis of ’emergency travel certificates’ issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, officials said.

Immediately after the repatriation, a medical examination of all the fishermen was conducted, they said.

The neighbouring country had released the first batch of 100 Indian fishermen on April 7.

The fishermen were arrested for fishing illegally in Pakistani waters during various operations.

Both the countries frequently arrest fishermen as there is no clear demarcation of the maritime border in the Arabian Sea and these fishermen do not have boats equipped with the technology to know their precise location.”

Quoted from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pakistan-releases-100-indian-fishermen-119041501180_1.html

 

A palace in Kutch

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Varsha Bhatia, whose family originated in Kutch, trained as an architect in Bombay. Now, she has become a painter, specialising in water colours. Her delicately executed, finely detailed works display her appreciation of the asethetics of architectural masterpieces.

Following a recent visit to Kutch Mandvi, she has painted a pavilion that is perched on the roof of the Vijay Vilas Palace built by the Maharao of Kutch in a traditional Rajput style during the 1920s . 

My wife and I visited this lovely palace during 2018. This extract from my book Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu describes what we found:

A notice on a wall near the main entrance reads: “Tides come and go but the legend here of sheer enchantment continues unabated”.  On entering the palace, we saw a large banner which exclaimed: “Welcome to palace and experience history which is housed within.” The walls of the pleasant rooms, filled with ageing furniture, are lined with photographs of the royal family, their guests including Indian and British hunters with their servants, alongside the spoils of the regular hunting parties, which used to be held in the palace’s extensive grounds.

Amongst the framed items hanging on the walls, we spotted a 500 Kori banknote issued by the Government of Kutch. It was printed with words both in Gujarati and English scripts. When the Emperor Jehangir (reigned 1605-27) met his vassal, Kutch’s ruler Rao Bharmal (reigned 1585-1631) in Ahmedabad in 1617, Jehangir gave Rao Bharmal the right to strike his own coinage. Thus, the Kori was born. It remained in continuous use in Kutch until 1948, when Kutch became part of the Republic of India.

The windows at the back of the palace look out over formal gardens with dried up water features including a slender stone-lined channel running between bare rectangular patches of ground and fountains. We climbed a spiral staircase to reach the roof of the palace and wandered amongst the domed pavilions with jali screens covering their windows. Another spiral staircase, made of cast-iron, leads to an elevated viewing platform covered with a large domed ceiling supported by pillars. From here, we had a wonderful view of the countryside surrounding the palace and the Arabian Sea.

It is this ‘viewing platform’ that is illustrated in Varsha Bhatia’s lovely water colour work.

 

TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey

is available as a paperback from lulu.com, Amazon sites, and bookdepository.com.

There is also a Kindle edition.

 

 

Camels on the beach

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Somnath beach

 

When we visited the beaches at Daman, Kutch Mandvi, and the temple town of Somnath, we saw camels on the beach. Their owners offer rides to holidaymakers, who have come to enjoy the sun, sea, and sand.

However, camels are not only kept for pleasure. All over Gujarat, we spotted camels drawing carts and wagons in towns, villages, and in the open countryside. Apart from being picturesque to my western eyes, they are much valued beasts of burden.

Gujarat and Kutch are areas with a semi-desert terrain and almost desert weather conditions. The camel is ideaaly suited to this environment. Most of the camels used in Gujarat State are bred in Kutch and are highly priced.

 

Read much more about this fascinating part of  western India in “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam Yamey. The paperback is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon, which also supplies the Kindle version.

A freedom fighter from Kutch

VARMA HOUSE

Shyamji Krishna Varma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch (now part of Gujarat State). A Sanskrit scholar of world reknown and a barrister, he was also an important, but now not so well-known, activist in the fight for India’s Independence from the British. 

He settled in London in the late 1890s and lived there in the northern suburb of Highgate until he moved to France before 1910. This house, number 60 Muswell Hill Road, was his home between 1900 and 1907. A circular plaque commemorates his short stay here.

Boat building in western India

 

Get to know Gujarat better: boat-building in Kutch Mandvi

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Gujarat has long been an important maritime interface between India and the rest of the world, especially Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Many of its folk have been, and continue to be, involved in mercantile activities, sailing, and boat-building.

KUTCH 1920

Mandvi in Kutch, which until 1947 was an independent princely state and is now part of Gujarat, used to be an important sea port. It is famed for its boat-building, which continues briskly even today. The wooden dhows constructed in Mandvi are now mostly built for customers in Dubai. They are built alongside the River Rukmavati that runs through Mandvi.

The timber used is ‘sal’ wood (Shorea robusta) that grows in Malaysia. This wood is both extremely durable and water-resistant.

With the exception of electrical saws, much of the construction employs age old techniques as can be seen in these pictures taken by Adam Yamey in early 2018.

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Discover much more about Kutch and the rest of Gujarat in “Travels Through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” by Adam Yamey, available in paperback by clicking HERE

The same book is available on Kindle by searching Amazon for “Travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu

 

Beaches, camels, dhows, and …

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A view from Vijay Vilas Palace near Mandvi

 

Mandvi is a small but significant seaport on the coast of Kutch. Formerly an independent kingdom, Kutch is now part of Gujarat State.

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Here are some brief excerpts about Mandvi from Adam Yamey’s  paperback book “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” (click here: NOW! )

ALSO available on KINDLE as “Travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” ( click here: HERE ! )

 

“After traversing a long multi-arched bridge across the wide mouth of the River Rukmavathi, we entered Mandvi.  It has a population slightly over fifty thousand. It is no larger than many villages elsewhere in India but is an important centre with a seaport. We passed a circular stone bastion and a stretch of the old city walls attached to it before entering the old city through a lovely, old, narrow stone archway. Cowpats, to be used as fuel, were drying on its walls. Much of the rest of Mandvi’s once extensive fortifications have been destroyed in recent years.”

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Cow dung drying on the remains of the city walls of Mandvi

 

“The bazaar is a tangled warren of narrow, smooth-surfaced lanes lined with shops and some venerable, picturesque buildings. The older buildings are embellished with verandas and upper-storey terraces and much nicely carved woodwork.”

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“Numerous motorbikes and scooters wove their way through the crowds of pedestrians, who ambled along paying little or no heed to the motorised two-wheelers, whose owners sounded their horns unceasingly.”

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“During our subsequent travels in Gujarat, we began to get used to mingling with vehicles that moved through bazaars, getting so close to us that we were almost hit by them. That we were never harmed by them is a testament to the skill of their drivers.”

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“I managed to become detached from my companions and became quite lost in this picturesque environment because I was too busy taking photographs…”

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“…Luckily, I knew the name of the shop, to which the others were heading. A kindly shop owner sent his shop assistant to lead me to the shop, where I was supposed to be.”

 

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“I noticed a plastic building shaped like a dome. Standing on the shore, it reminded me of the hemispherical concrete bunkers that the Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha built all over Albania. This one had no defensive purpose. It was the fishermen’s office. Across the almost dried up mouth of the river on the opposite bank, we could see the large wooden boats being constructed in Mandvi’s ship yards.”

 

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“Mandvi is well-known for its production of wooden dhows, which are sold to, and used in, the Arabian Gulf, mainly Dubai. The owner of one of the yards, whom we saw seated in a deck-chair, informed us that the timber for the boats is imported from Malaysia. It is not teak, but the highly durable and water-resistant sal wood (Shorea robusta).”

 

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“After our shopping expedition, we drove to the nearby sandy Mandvi Beach by the Arabian Sea. We walked passed many flimsy-looking stalls and huts selling snacks and knick-knacks. Near these, there were horses and tattooed camels available for hire to visitors.”

 

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“J  drove us to the Shri Ambe Dham Mandir … Next to the mandir (temple), there is an alcove containing a greater than life-size model depicting Mother India wearing a gold-coloured crown and a robe (coloured orange, white and green) holding the National Flag of India. Behind her, there is a large map of India showing all of India’s states labelled in Gujarati script. Models of nine men wearing various Indian national costumes (including Sikh and Muslim) stand around the female figure.”

 

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If you have enjoyed these excerpts, then read much more about Gujarat, Daman, and Diu  by clicking:

  HERE (for paperback)   

HERE (for KINDLE)

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