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The Polish Gold Run

80 tons of Polish gold and its amazing flight – WWII

With the Nazi’s knocking in the doors of Warsaw, the Bank of Poland had to make a difficult choice about their gold deposits. In the end they decided to move all of the 80 tons to neighboring Romania. A convoy of buses and cars, followed by a train would move the gold to the Romanian Coast. From there, it would travel to Turkey and onward to France. That was the plan, but in reality, it traveled even more. The desperate flight with that treasure was nothing less than harrowing as the Germans, the Brits, the Americans and the French tracked the gold. Events moved fast and the scales tipped tantalizingly from one side to the other, the Axis and the Allies, while the inert gold bars themselves rested eerily in silence. What would happen to the gold? Who would get their hands on it? This is a lovely story from the war, and one that will amaze you by the twists and turns it took. I will try to retell it, for your reading pleasure.

Istanbul, Oh! I can go on and on about that lovely city, a place where I spent more than five years of my life. A fascinating cosmopolitan metropolis, with some of the most interesting people, Turkish and foreign, it has so may secrets, so much of history, that you can write tomes about it all. I used to live at Bebek, overlooking the Bosporus, an area where many yabanci’s or expatriate foreigners lived. Not far from Bebek is the Eminonu area, the ancient part of Old Istanbul (Stamboul as it was referred to in the past) where one can see the Topkapi palace, the Blue mosque, The Aya Sofia mosque, the Basilica cistern and what not. It is also home to the massive covered bazars, the Misr Carsi (Spice bazar) and the Kapali Carsi (the covered bazar). Having spent countless hours in these areas on foot, I can still slip back in my mind and walk through the roads, feel the noises, the sounds and experience the ambiance of that teeming city, now home to over 20 million souls!

The first time I got a hint of this story was in the late 90’s when I visited the British Embassy in Istanbul for their annual fair and picked up a book I treasure, a masterpiece by Barry Rubin titled ‘Istanbul Intrigues’. Wartime Istanbul was quite different from the Byzantine Ottoman city detailed in Orhan Pamuk’s masterpiece ‘Benim adim kirmiz (My name is Red)’, and to get a feel of that Istanbul, you have to read Barry Rubin’s book. 

So, we go back in time, to the 40’s when the great war was ravaging across Europe and the world was on an edge, as Istanbul rested in in enviable position as a bridge between so many powers. The Germans wanted Turkey on its side, the Allies wanted them on theirs, while a wary Russia had already broken off with Turkey after its involvement in the failed attempt on German Ambassador Franz von Papen’s life.

Many of the scenes and events you may have seen in the movie Casablanca were more related to Istanbul and even though it was wartime, the city hosted many a side, as a neutral state. Most consulates were ensconced in Taksim, the largest being the British, French, German and the American, all stately buildings. Every European country had its representation there and they all met and lounged at the city’s fabulous hotels in the evening as scores of spies did their work and the diplomats schemed while they enjoyed life, drinking, dancing and making merry as the war raged on, out west. A typical wartime reception would span two halls in Turkey, one for the Axis powers and one for the Allies, such was the situation. Turkey itself was coming out of the tragic period which ensued after the death of their charismatic founder the great Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1938 and Ismet Inonu was in charge, shepherding the country through the tricky WWII years.

World War II broke out in the first year of his presidency, and both the Allies and the Axis pressured İnönü to join their sides. As the Germans sent Franz von Papen to Ankara in April 1939, the British sent Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen and the French sent René Massigli. İnönü trying to keep Turkey out of the war, teetered on the brink, leaning to the Axis at times, or to the Allies, outwardly maintaining a semblance of balance. It was only in 1945 that he formally signed up with the allies. But let’s get back to Poland and its national treasure, its gold reserves.

On Sept 1st 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. The small country, wedged between belligerent Russia and Germany’s new acquisitions, decided to quickly hide their hoard of some 80 tons of gold. After a feverish effort, the gold was taken out of the Warsaw vaults and spread for safekeeping at Brest, Lutsk and Zamosc. The Bank Polski’s managers then seeing the increasing danger of invasion, decided to move the gold to a nearby port from where it could be shipped to the vaults of the Central bank of France. So, the first step was to take the gold by road to Sniatyn, a railway junction on the border of Romania.

One of the bus drivers which took out the gold from Lutsk was none other than the painter, poet and Olympic athlete Halina Konopacka whose husband was Colonel Ignacy Matuszewski, ex treasury minister. He supervised the convoy from Lutsk and the couple and some of their friends were involved in escorting the gold through its entire journey! They started the journey at night, each bus with two drivers alternating, hiding in the forests during day. The passage was slow as some bridges were not designed to take the load. No mishap occurred.

Meanwhile the bank governor was sent to Paris to ensure that everything would be in order when the gold finally arrived in France. While the trucks from various points headed out to Sniatyn, the Polish army commandeered 4 tons of gold to try and procure arms. After four days, the convoys converged at Sniatyn.

The next step was to move it formally and legally into Romania, but by now the Germans knew what was going on and forbid the Romanian government (still neutral) from giving the Poles any support, under dire threats. As the convoys waited, part of the Polish team headed back to reclaim the 4 tons from the army, since it was too late for them to source any arms with it.  Finally, after some dithering, the gold was loaded onto a Romanian train which sped to Constanta, a Black Sea port.

The British had been watching the flight of the gold train with eagle eyes. The Poles now appealed to the Anthony Kendall, the British Counsel for help and he diverted (to Constanta) an oil tanker nearby, captained by a Brit, who agreed to sail it to Istanbul with the gold. The train reached the docks, the gold and the 27 Poles (men, women and children included) who had husbanded it through the border boarded the ship. With threats of bombing and furious protests from the Germans echoing behind them, the ship Eocene slipped out of Romania, destined for Turkey. There were U boats in the area, and Captain Robert Brett held to shallow waters, so that the booty could still be saved even if the ship got torpedoed.

Meanwhile the Russian army was speeding to Sniatyn and it was with great difficulty. The Polish team which had gone to get the 4 tons back from the Polish army, managed to return to Romania, only to be arrested by the Romanian troops, who then commandeered the 4 tons, which the Poles had managed to sneak in. After discussions they agreed to hold on to, less expenses, for the rest of the war!

The Germans were furious when they learnt that the ship had sailed to Turkey with the Poles and the gold on board. The ship reached the Bosporus straits of Istanbul on the 16th and dropped anchor at the port of Kabatas, right across the German embassy! A German yacht sailed out to take pictures of the anchored ship while the poles waited with bated breath. What would the Germans do? What would the Turks, who knew little, do now?

The French sent their mighty battleship Jean Barth, but the Turks quickly assessing the situation, refused to allow it to dock in Istanbul, not wanting to be dragged into the war (or to face demands from Germans and Russians for the use of Turkish ports). The Polish ambassador Sokolniki conferred with the Turks who suggested two choices to the Poles – either have Britain and France loan the gold to Turkey or have it taken overland to French ruled Syria. At that juncture, Sokolniki, in Ankara, hit a new snag when he discovered that he would have to fork out 2% of the consignment value as freight, in cash.

He did not have that kind of money and the Turks told him the only way around was to undervalue the gold to $10M. When somebody suggested that he sell a few bars of gold to pay for it, Sokolniki was scandalized, for he felt a moral obligation to deliver 100% of his country’s treasure as he was bound. Meanwhile he heard a rumor that the Germans were attempting to buy a Greek boat so that they could ram into the Eocene and sink both the vessel and its cargo. There was no time to lose.

Sokolniki’s wife came up with a suggestion that he take a loan from an acquaintance, Archibald Walker, the American regional head of Socony Vacuum Oil. A fierce anti-fascist, Walker coughed up the money without demur (It was his first brush with intrigue and after the event, went on to become the OSS representative codename Rose in Istanbul, later in 1942).

Sokolniki raced to Istanbul, had the gold loaded on a train and paid for the freight, in cash. On September 20th, the Eocene moved to the pier near Istanbul’s majestic Haiderpasha Terminal, where the gold was offloaded from the ship to a waiting train. Two days later, the gold train reached the Syrian border, where a French military unit took over its responsibility. Then the gold was unloaded and reloaded onto a narrow-gauge train headed for Beirut’s harbor where the French cruiser Émile Bertin, the fastest ship in the French fleet was waiting, to take the gold to Toulon.

Matuszewski leading the action, decided to split the cargo into two shipments in order to reduce the risk of losing everything in a potential U boat attack. Thus, on September 23rd, some 886 crates of gold were loaded (many crates broke open displaying the treasure to the sailors, but they were quickly re-crated!) on the cruiser and the ship arrived at Toulon on 27th without any mishap, accompanied by two bank employees. On October 2nd, two French cruisers, Épervier and Vauban, left with the remaining load of Polish gold, escorted by two more bank employees, arriving at Toulon on October 6th.

After all the gold had arrived, it was sent by armored train to the Banque de France’s regional office in Nevers and by October 18th, Polish bank officials who inspected and counted all the crates and bags of gold, confirmed that all of it (except the 3-4 tons in Romania)had arrived in France. The French bankers now offered two options to the Poles, it could either be deposited into an earmarked account or the Poles could store it all in a vault, under Polish responsibility, which they chose. The Polish at long last, heaved a sigh of relief but as you can imagine, the story was far from over.

By the end of Sept, the Nazi’s had overrun Poland. Despite losing, Poland did not surrender and formed a government-in-exile while a clandestine organization remained in occupied Poland. As Germany annexed the western and central parts of Poland, Soviet Union annexed its eastern part; while some bits were transferred to Lithuania and Slovakia. Germany and Italy then went after France. Paris fell to the Germans on 14th June soon to be divided into two parts, an Italian occupied zone and an unoccupied region under the Vichy Regime, aligned generally to Germany.

By June 1941, after differences of opinion and squabbles over the tripartite act, Hitler, supported by Italy and Romania commenced with the invasion of the Soviet Union. By 1942, America had joined the Allies against the Axis powers and Japan had teamed up with the Germans. The larger war was on.

Much of the gold reserves in Europe were being shipped to US for safekeeping during this period. Even though France had transferred quite a bit, the gold bullion belonging to the Polish, Belgian and some of its own reserves were still in France. The French decided to move their stock of gold from the central part of the country to the coastal ports, Brest and Le Verdon on the Atlantic, and Toulon on the Mediterranean coast. In June, when the German invaded Paris, they found the gold gone, and as you can imagine, a furious chase ensued.

In a touch and go operation, with the Germans bearing upon them, the French managed to ship out all of the French gold in five ships out of Brest. The Belgian and Polish, Gold were sent by train to Lorient. Victor Schoelcher, a cargo ship arrived to pick up the Polish gold. Stefan Michalski, a Polish bank official escorted the gold this time, as all the other Poles had left France, headed to London. The ship had two choices, head to Africa or America, the date was June 18th and there were mines on the water which the ship narrowly avoided.

The ship reached the Iroise sea and was joined by the ships carrying the French Bullion. A new (a previous fake message was radioed by the Germans asking it to go to Royan which Michalski would not accept) destination was radioed for the ship and its gold – Casablanca! Narrowly avoiding torpedoes, they reached Casablanca on the 23rd. Some of the French gold would later go to America on US battleships, but the rest of the French, the Polish and the Belgian gold (some 740 tons) went to French Colonies in Africa for safekeeping, Dakar, to be specific.

This was when the French learned that a British attack (Churchill wanted to lay his hands on the gold before the Germans did, or so he said) was expected at Dakar. The French navy decided to move all the gold as soon as possible to Thies, a safer inland location. By this time most of the French gold was spread far and wide, mainly at Dakar, New York, Ottawa, Martinique and London. Some 2080 tons belonging to France, Belgium, Poland and Luxembourg had been rescued from the Germans.

The Germans settling down in Paris were initially unaware that the French had moved gold to the Caribbean and Africa and the French officials had led them to believe that they had sent it all to North America. When the Nazis specifically questioned them about the gold belonging to Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Norway and Czechoslovakia, the French after quite a lot of feet dragging, admitted that some of it had been sent to Dakar. When the Germans demanded that this gold be brought back to France, the French obfuscated, talking about the dangers at sea, the British desire to lay their hands on it etc. As discussions dragged on, the French moved the gold further inland, to Kayes.

The British joint operation with De Gaulle to take the gold, turned out to be a disaster, with the Vichy squadron trouncing the British – De Gaulle fleet. The Germans continued to press the French for the Dakar gold. Finally, when the French ran out of options, the Belgian/Luxembourg gold was taken out from Dakar and moved to France and thence to Berlin, only to be sold to a variety of Germany’s gold partners such as Switzerland, Romania, Turkey etc. (After the war, France did compensate Belgium, from its own secured stock).

The Germans had not forgotten the Polish gold and pushed hard for it, but now the French maintained that it belonged to France so as to write off previous Polish debts, and the fight between lawyers got heated. Meanwhile, Germany’s clout in Africa reduced with the British American wins in the region. The gold remained in limbo, but was still being claimed by the Germans. The Polish wanted to track it down and keep an eye on their hoard, but the French stopped helping them. Thus, it was in 1943 that Major Stefan Michalski representing the Polish Bank, was deputed to Algiers.

As the Vichy French started getting difficult, the Poles suggested that the French transfer an equivalent amount of French bullion stored in New York to the Polish, but they French would not agree and so the Poles, acting through a New York law firm “Sullivan and Cromwell” filed a lawsuit against Banque de France. The US court promptly seized a part of the French gold deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York while at the same time the trial got suspended due to the war and since the Banque de France’s attorneys could not travel for the hearing. The Polish side were not in a hurry as its main objective, seizure of an equivalent amount of French gold, had been achieved.

Eventually the French admitted that the Polish gold was stored in the territory of French West Africa and agreed to release it, if the Poles recognized the French Committee of National Liberation. The Poles after intense negotiations agreed and also terminated the lawsuit in New York in Jan 1944. The two sides then worked out a plan for the French to turn the gold over to the Polish government in exile, now not a problem with the Germans out of Africa.

In March 1944, a convoy of six American naval vessels including the escort cruiser USS Block Island was on anti-submarine patrol off the coast of Africa received a message ordering them to pick up the cargo of gold and sail with it to New York City. Finally, it was time for the gold to move, yet again. The French brought the Polish gold from Kayes to Dakar, still crated in boxes with the Bank Polski seals. Senegalese workers loaded the gold and the Americans gave the banks representative Michalski a formal receipt for the gold, as the ships headed to New York. They arrived at Brooklyn in April and Brinks armored trucks had the Polish gold moved to the Federal Reserve vault in Manhattan.

The gold that left Warsaw on Sept 6th 1939, arrived in the Manhattan vaults in April 2nd 1944. It did not stop here though, for the Poles decided to distribute it to three locations, 45% to Britain, 12% to Canada and 43% to remain in the US. As the war wound down, Romania transferred the last 3 tons stuck there, to Warsaw in 1947.

It had been quite a dramatic and colorful odyssey, don’t you think? What is amazing is that all this became possible due to the untiring efforts and integrity of the many bank officials who tracked every movement and liaised with the many other countries involved. The kindness and honesty of all these foreign countries during the period of strife was as you can see, paramount.

The saga of the gold flight is still not over, we will get to it shortly, after seeing what happened to some of the key personnel in this story.

After the fall of France in 1940, Olympian Halina Konopacka and Ignacy Matuszewski made their way to the USA in 1941. Ignacy died in 1946 and Halina Konopacka lived in Florida until her death in 1989. Stefan Michalski travelled to England to join the Polish Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF), as a fighter pilot. He and his English wife later moved and settled down in USA, where after a successful real estate career, Stefan passed away in Feb 2019. Michal Sokolnicki stayed in Turkey after the war, where he remained a respected figure in diplomatic circles. He lectured at the University of Ankara and passed away in 1967.

Eocene’s British captain Brett went back to England and in early 1940 was given command of HMS Goodwin, a converted coastal cargo ship whose mission was to escort convoys along the east coast of the British Isles. Later he joined the navy to command a minesweeper HMS Seaham through the war years. His service ended in 1946 after which he joined Standard Vacuum (the very company Walker worked for), finally retired from Mobil Oil Corp in 1968 and settled down at Melbourne, Australia where he passed away in 1982.

Some of that gold finally completed the full circle when it was sent out from the Bank of England to Poland, in Dec 2019. Travelling with a police escort and a helicopter overhead, the trucks stopped at a British airport where it was loaded onto freight planes destined to Poland, from where they were then taken in armored vehicles under another police escort, back to the vaults of Poland's central bank.

The circle was complete. Just imagine, what an active life for one of the world’s most inert metals!!


With thanks and due acknowledgements to the following works and their authors

Chasing Gold - George M. Taber
Istanbul Intrigues – Barry Rubin
The wartime fate of the Polish gold – Bankoteka - Professor Wojciech Rojek
Operation Fish – Albert Draper

Notes: The sleek and swashbuckling light cruiser Emile Bertin has a story of her own, which if you recall transported the Polish gold from Beirut to Toulon. It also transported many tons of French gold to Halifax but had to divert in a hurry to Martinique in the Caribbean with the British in pursuit, as the French surrendered to the Germans. But nothing could match its 34 knots speed and 102,000 HP power, as it sped to the Caribbean, leaving the Brits gasping in its wake. Later it was refurbished in the US and continued its fight against the Axis powers till the end.

The Germans cornered some 600 tons of European gold during the war, spending over 400 tons (during war years that was the only acceptable payments) to buy supplies. Interestingly, the Brits hatched a plan to attack and take away the Polish gold in 1941, but the plan fell through after the debacle at Dakar. Equally interesting are the stories concerning Norwegian and Romanian gold, but those are for another day!

Istanbul image - Carlos Delgado, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul, Turkey.

Anna Rajam Malhotra – A Luminary

The first woman IAS officer in India

Calicut in the late 1930’s was quite different from what you see today. It was a sleepy colonial town, not any longer the great trading entrepôt it once was. The days when the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Arabs and so many other nationalities who came to trade there were long gone, for the arrival of the British had changed all that. It was some time in the 30’s that OA George arrived at this Calicut with his children and wife Anna Paul, in order to start up a little publishing outfit. Both of them were well educated graduates, something unique in those days. KC Menon’s CESC had just started to electrify the town. Traffic was sedate, with just bicycles and horse carriages plying the main roads and Calicut exhibited hardly any hustle and bustle. During weekends, some Europeans from the estates in Wynad drove in to party at the European Club and by Sunday they were also gone. But Calicut had two colleges, a few good schools and this was one of the main reasons why the couple chose the town.

This story is about their daughter, who went on to become a pioneer and a trailblazer to women in the field of administration and it was in that Calicut that Anna Rajam George (Born July 16, 1927) grew up with her parents and four siblings (an elder brother, two younger brothers and a younger sister). Anna’s family lived right across the Providence girls’ school on Gandhi road, close to the beach, so it was only natural that she did her schooling there. Though the family were originally from Niranam (the writer Pailo Paul was her grandfather) near Cochin, Calicut became their home, and as we all term it, their native place. George stuck a friendship with Norman (as he was called after his printing press) Achutan Nair and settled down to run his little business.

After schooling at Providence Calicut, Anna finished her intermediate at the Malabar Christian College Calicut and moved on to complete her BA Honors at Presidency College Madras, where she majored and topped in literature. During her growing years, she had a keen ear for music and played the Piano, but they were always waging a difficult existence, what with a father who had been victim to a stroke. Nevertheless, her education did not suffer.

With hardly any other job avenues open to women in those days, Anna started her career as an upper division clerk at the AG’s office in Madras. As they all say, some things occur by chance, and thus it was that her cousin, an engineer, who was applying for the IREC, brought home an application for the Civil services examinations (in 1950). She probably did not even know what IAS was all about, I guess, but she filled in the application, only to realize that the fee to be remitted with the application was a princely sum of Rs 140/-, something neither she nor her family could not afford. Her friend’s mother offered to pay the fees, and she did so (The benevolent lady’s son rose up to become an IPS officer later).

While her two brothers went on to work for the P&T department in North India, Grace the youngest, continued studies at Calicut. It was at this juncture that Anna got news that she had been successful in the civil services written examinations.  Interestingly, even though her mother was one of the first women graduates from Madras university, she never worked, and Anna had always been told that she had to do more than tending to a home.

When Anna appeared for her interviews in 1952, the interview board suggested that she choose the foreign service because it was more suited for women. Anna was insistent that she would not choose any easy option (Her sister Grace adds – She was a tough nut to crack) and chose the Madras cadre. Reporting to Chief minister C. Rajagoplachari, a person who did not quite agree that this was a field for women, she was offered a job at the secretariat, but the obstinate Anna would not budge, she wanted a Sub divisional officer’s post. That was how she was deputed as the Sub Collector of Hosur district, Rajaji’s birthplace, an area bordering the Mysore state, not far from Bangalore.

Her days as a sub collector at Hosur & Tirupattur were legendary. Though I had read about a lady collectors elephant encounter, I never imagined it was Ann Rajam, and it was not until Grace, her sister mentioned to me that Chettur had written about it, that I got it in a flash, for in his book Mango seed and other stories, there was this charming story of the sub-collecteress and the elephants, titled “Her finest Hour”. I quickly got my copy out and reread the story, which Chettur had written as a piece of fiction. The story itself runs close to reality, as recorded by another eminent Malayali, MKK Nayar IAS (1949 cadre), to whom Raju (yes, that was Anna’s pet name) was as close as his own sister.

Let’s take up the story from Nayar’s book, and I acknowledge the source in gratitude – He starts off mentioning that the news of ‘a lady sub collector at Hosur and the elephants’ had hit the press - The men who read the news were not amused. Some raised eyebrows! What! A woman in the IAS? A she-elephant storming into the bastion of bull-elephants? How did the Government permit this? If a serious riot broke out, would a girl be able to quell it? Or give orders to shoot? Would she be able to face a charging mob of communal madmen and address them?

Anyway, as the story went, a group of elephants from Denganikotta forest had lost their way and strayed into open land venturing eastward, terrorizing the villagers on the way. Walking eighteen miles, the elephants reached Hosur. The villagers gathered at the sub-Collector’s bungalow to cry and complain. It was only when Anna, who was taking a bath, came out that they realized the sub-Collector was a woman. As they fidgeted, a woman among them told her about the calamity and pleaded “Please save us, Amma!’ For a moment the sub-collecteress (as Chettur called her) was stunned, not knowing how to handle this. But she recalled that elephants were scared of loud noises. With the little Tamil that she knew, she asked the villagers to get hold of all kinds of tins and cans. Joining the villagers and creating a bedlam, she accosted the elephant herd, cautiously.

Picking up Nayar’s words once again - Wonder of wonders! The leading tusker slung his trunk on his tusk, turned around and began to retreat. Other elephants followed him. Anna’s ploy had worked. Anna and the villagers followed and the elephants began to go faster. Other villagers on the way also joined with pots and pans they could find and joined the tin-beating procession. In four hours, the elephants were back in the forest and hiding. Anna was very tired and weak by then but did not lose heart. The villagers celebrated their success with a festival at Denganikotta looking on Anna as Goddess Durga. She was surrounded by hundreds of women of the village who massaged her feet, legs and arms. They fed her milk. She became their Mariamman…

Anna was tired and wished to get away somehow. By then, hearing about the incident, the DFO arrived in his car. With his help, Anna escaped further anointments, offerings, dousing in turmeric powder etc and went home by 1AM at night. She slept until noon next day. She thus became the heroine of a fairy-tale that received wide publicity and put to shame her male detractors. As SK Chettur put it, It was her finest hour!!

There are mentions both in Chettur’s story as well as in other articles of her colleague’s suggestions that the elephants be shot, but Anna would not harm these gentle giants, she knew that they just had to leave, not die. Anna, as Grace explained, actually got the idea of making loud noises from the time she had spent with her cousin and witnessing ‘khedda’ operations in the past.

There are so many such incidents in this iron lady’s life, there is a story of how she and her team accosted a bunch of smugglers at the border, with no weapons or other means, on a dark night. The district collector was aghast hearing all this, he admonished her foolhardiness, read her the complete riot act and gave her a pistol and ammunition to take care of herself in future. Well, these were all novel things mind you, a fearless women administrator, one who could ride a horse, fire a gun and so on. All this becomes even more surprising, considering that Ann was a diminutive lady tipping the scales at just 98 pounds in weight!

Anna returned to Madras around 1956, lived at Chetput where Grace schooled, and perhaps continued at the Madras secretariat until the early 70’s, after which she moved on to Delhi. However, I could not ascertain the exact timeline and Grace feels she went off to Delhi not too long after getting back to Madras. Asked often what she felt about being the first IAS woman officer, she would reply that it was not important, it is just a statistic. She always believed that women always had the desire, but the many social pressures and a general lack of opportunities, were the reasons they remained behind the scenes.

There was a love story brewing through it all and her beau was none other than her brilliant IAS batch mate, RN Malhotra. But it was not a time for marriage (in the 50’s it was simply not feasible for a Punjabi lad to marry a Christian woman, that level of tolerance was ages away) and in any case, Anna was not for it. At that time, only unmarried women or widows without encumbrance could join the services, though none had. Though her appointment order had these lines: “In the event of marriage your service will be terminated”, this clause was rescinded some years later. Grace mentions that when Anna and her classmates debated this topic, Anna was the one who was against a female IAS officer marrying and straying away from her chosen path. While all the boys argued for the rule to be changed, she was the only one who suggested it remain as is!

After her tenure in Madras, she moved to Delhi during the Indira Gandhi years. As additional secretary for agriculture, she was very much involved in the Green Revolution and argued against the many detractors of fertilizers. There is a story of how she had to accompany Indira on an eight-state tour to review food production, a trip she undertook, despite a fractured ankle. By 1973, the food situation had stabilized.

Now we pick up the story of her husband, the revered Ram Narain Malhotra, who went on to become the governor of the Reserve bank. His family had arrived as Punjabi refugees from Pakistan during the partition, and Malhotra was a hardworking and efficient IAS officer. A brilliant administrator and financial whiz, Malhotra was later posted to the IMF in Washington DC as an executive director after a stellar tenure as the finance secretary at Delhi. Anna visited the US in 1975, during that time and when Malhotra proposed, Anna accepted. They were married at Washington DC, after a long 25-year wait! Malhotra returned to take up the RBI position in 1985 during which period he carefully shepherded India through a period of credit crunch and foreign currency deficits.

We can see that by 1977, Anna had taken up the post of additional secretary of the department of animal husbandry and fisheries. By 1980, she became the Chairman of the National Seeds Corp and thence the head of the State farms Corp in 1981. Around 1982, we see Anna as the secretary of the department of Education and Culture. During this tenure, knowing that legislative measures to stop ragging would take time, heads of institutions and universities were asked by her to ban ragging through executive orders. She also headed India’s delegation as its secretary general and spoke in a few UNESCO conferences. We also get to understand that she worked closely with Rajiv Gandhi when he was in charge of the 1982 Asian Games, to help set it up.

Malhotra by the way, had succeeded Manmohan Singh in Feb 1985, who moved on to the Planning Commission. At that juncture, the high command was faced with a problem of finding an appropriate posting for Anna. There were only a few options available in Bombay (as she belonged to the TN cadre). Finally, it was suggested that Anna take charge of a project that had been announced recently to set up a greenfield port close to the Bombay harbor. The Bombay port trust was not capable of handling the increased demands and it was decided to build a new modern container handling terminal. This was how Anna took on the responsibility of building India’s first computerized container port, Nhava Sheva, in Bombay. Anna took up the challenge, and it was a huge one. As the eleventh major port of India, it was constituted as a separate port trust, with its own constitution and Anna Malhotra, was its chairperson.

Starting from a marshy salt pan in 1984-85, the JNU port project took shape and for once, a project was completed ahead of time (3 ½ years) and below budget, thanks to the iron will and tough work ethic of its administrator. Anna had a harrowing time with the archaeology department, but ensured that controlled blasting techniques were used to avoid any damage to the nearby Elephanta caves. As Grace puts it, she was a tough cookie alright and a taskmaster, no excuses worked with her. At the end when all was done and dusted, there was not a whiff of a scandal, that was how Anna completed the 1200 crore project, traveling daily from South Bombay to Nhava Sheva and back. An impressed Rajiv Gandhi, India’s prime minister, had only one complaint, about the ordinary food that Anna would arrange, that too for a dignitary! Today the port handles around 60% of India’s container volumes and I could not help but wonder at what Bal Thackeray had to say about this Madrasi, who built him his greatest asset, the Nhava Sheva port!

When the port was opened in 1989, the country took notice and a year later fetched Anna the Padma Bhushan award. Interestingly, a year later, Malhotra also got his Padma Bhushan, perhaps the only couple in history to have both been recipients of such high honor!!

Meanwhile Malhotra had resigned after Yeshwant Sinha asked him for his resignation in order to make way for a Congress nominee, S Venkitramanan to take the position in 1900 (Source YS’s autobiography). Malhotra was later tasked with regulating the insurance sector. His committee’s work allowed entry of private entities into the insurance sector, and created the IRDAI, to regulate the sector and protect the interests of policyholders.

When Malhotra passed away in 1997, it was a massive blow for Anna, she had waited so long for them to be together and just after just two decades of togetherness, he was gone! She continued with many ventures such as the National commission for women and the film certification board. Grace mentions that she was the worldly person of the family, the agony aunt, who always had an answer, a solution for anyone with a problem, be it an insurance policy issue or paperwork or anything to help out.

One person who changed her life at this juncture was none other than the legendary Capt Krishnan Nair who as you may recall, built up his Leela hotel empire from scratch, after the age of 65. Anna who had run into him some decades back at Delhi and known him over the years, joined the Leela Group as a director of the board. Anna often mentioned of her enormous respect for the self-made Krishnan Nair, and it was apparent that the respect was mutual. Concerned about her safety, staying alone in a large house in Delhi after the death of her husband, the Nair family wanted her to relocate to a place close to them. Anna moved to Bombay, Nair had arranged a flat at Marol - Andheri and tasked one of his employees, Sujith Damodaran from Cannanore, to ensure that any assistance Anna needed was provided.

That 20+ year tenure in Bombay was in no way a retired life for Anna, for she traveled to Delhi often, met hundreds of people in connection with the Leela hotel affairs, took care of many projects and board meetings, and oversaw the group finances. Sujith wistfully recalls the days when these families united, how Anna would be always supervising Sujith’s children, forcing them to improve their English, how Krishnan Nair’s children grew up under their godmother’s hawk eye and how they all loved their Annama! He breaks up when he tells of the day he got a frantic call from Anna, who had fallen in the bathroom and how he rushed there to see her in a pool of blood, an injury which she eventually recovered from after the doctors had put in 18 stitches on her head. Manmohan Singh, Narendra Modi, she hobnobbed with them all, in those days. In the autumn years of Anna’s life, one could often see her meeting her visitors at the lobby of the Leela hotel or spending time with Captain Krishnan Nair and his family. Until the end, she would still field a number of telephone calls from various people who wanted some assistance or clarification. Anna was equally at home in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi and I would not be surprised if he handled a smattering of Marathi as well. Capt Krishnan Nair passed away in 2014.

Grace, her youngest sister and Anna’s biggest fan, who lives in Rhode Island, USA remembers it all, how they used to spend a month or two at their little home in Edappali - Cochin, and that is where we get to hear of a final chapter in Anna’s life, relating to a maid who worked at their house. Anna as usual checked and tutored the maid’s kids, and found out one day that the maid was a college graduate who after marriage could not find work. She had passed her PSC exams, and had been trying for long to land a job as a typist, but of no avail. Anna got to working the phones over this matter and harangued every authority possible. Many years passed by. Just as she thought she had succeeded in 2016, elections intervened and the whole process ground to a standstill. Anna was distraught, she had tried so hard, and she had not succeeded. But things would change, for in June, the lady got her appointment order as a typist.

It was possibly her last hurrah and Anna Rajam (George) Malhotra bid adieu to our world, in Sept 2018. She wrote no memoirs, always downplayed her part in history and was immensely happy in the success of women. Throughout her life, only one thing was paramount for her, education. Any child she came across, would be questioned, cajoled and scolded, if she found him or her not focused on studies.

This no nonsense, tough and competent character who took all her achievements lightly, always brushing off compliments, insisted that her best days were spent in the villages she served, not the politicians or bigwigs she worked for. The bureaucracy during her last years left her disappointed as she saw it getting mixed with politics. Her era was different, she said, and the women who succeeded her showed “high conduct.” Her overriding motto in governance, as Sujith explained was “if you have to upset one person in order to avoid upsetting a thousand, that is the step to take.” Playing down her pioneering role, she called it a “fluke” during an interview with the Hindu in 2012. Her story will perhaps teach anybody who aspires public office that a stubborn and honest person could also do well, in today’s world.

Anna broke barriers, set examples and blazed through to showcase an enviable career which I hope many more women will emulate and people like me can write about.

The Story of an era told without ill will - MKK Nayar (Trans - Gopakumar M Nair)
Mango seed and other stories – S K Chettur
Remembering Anna, India's first woman IAS – Cris @ The Newsminute, Sept 20, 2018 
Pahal episode 13, Doordarshan, interview by Tabassum

With many thanks to Cris, my friend and journalist at Trivandrum, Sujith Damodaran at Leela Hotels - Mumbai and Grace, Anna’s sister at Rhode Island USA, each of whom narrated Anna’s story to me, passionately.

Photo – Courtesy Grace V

As Madras trembled - 1942

The Japanese Indian ocean raid and the Madras exodus..

Everybody talked about the Great War as the summer months seared the South. Even though there was an imminent fear of a Japanese invasion in India, the Mahatma and the Congress were quite upset with the British dragging India into what they essentially thought was a white man’s war and were focused on finding the right opportunity to push through with the Indian claims. The British government sent Sir Stafford Cripps on 22 March 1942, to talk terms with the Indian political parties and secure their support in Britain's war efforts. His weak offer was rebuffed with Gandhiji terming it ‘a postdated cheque on a crashing bank’.

Japan entered the war with the attack on the American Pearl Harbor naval base at Hawaii, in Dec 1941. It was a devastating attack, launched mainly from Japanese aircraft carriers, destroying a large number of ships in the American Pacific fleet. The primary intention was to cripple the western command, thereby preventing the Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya without interference. Having succeeded in that effort, they bombed Burma’s Victoria point next and secured entry into Burmese mainland from its south and Eastern borders. Simultaneous forays into Malaysia and Singapore resulted in rapid allied capitulation. In all of these frontiers the might of the British forces was found wanting. By February Singapore had fallen. By March 1942, Rangoon had fallen after Malaya, so had the strategic Andaman. Hundreds of thousands of Indian workers in SE Asia were in full flight across the land borders into India, their ancestral home. Their belief was total that the British Raj would do nothing to help them, for they had not seen any overt support either at Malaya, Singapore or in Burma. One could hear the refrain – that invasion was imminent, the Japanese were coming, and that the British were set to flee. As the British manipulated the war news channels, rumor machines took over and wild tales were told and retold.

Strategically, the Japanese aims were multi fold and involved destruction of other key Allied strongholds of SE Asia, in the march towards India. The eastern cities of India namely Calcutta and Madras took note, for they were British regional capitals. Air raid actions were practiced, blackouts were observed and businessmen slowly started to pack up and leave to more Westerly and Northern cities. It was apparent that the invasion would be from the East and that the British may not stay to fight. Bose and the INA were fighting side by side with the Japanese, and Bose was exhorting his countrymen to join his side. Richer families sent women and children farther from coastal cities to interior villages. In places like Calcutta, some city administrators even tried to utilize this opportunity to relocate many thousands of beggars, but failed.

Down south, in Madras, things were no better. As often mentioned, the Japanese soldier, though quite a bit smaller than a Burmese elephant, evoked a bigger fear. British officials in the coastal areas sent their families away to the hills; Indian officials sent their families away to relatives in villages and there was a fear that the Japanese would murder civilian officials without batting an eye, based on rumors coming from Burma. Initial orders prohibited them from moving, but officials were later told that they should stay so they could help the population, and it was not a matter of if, but when. The British hardly mentioned the aftermath of the unlikely event of naval invasions, large scale air attacks and so on, for they had little idea of ‘what then’. Many expected a land invasion across Bengal and Assam, with the Japanese hordes streaming through, in attack.

But the Japanese had other plans though with their Indian Ocean raid, and their immediate point of focus was actually Ceylon, for the British navy had retired to Ceylon after the debacle at Singapore. With the defensive perimeter set at Singapore shattered, coupled with the Japanese taking of the Andaman Islands, the British were vulnerable. By launching operation C, the Japanese aimed to catch the British navy by surprise at Ceylon.

Admiral Somerville knew of an impending attack from various signal intercepts, (I wrote about this some time ago in the PNS Ghazi story) and was awaiting the Jap flotilla led by Admiral Naguomo with his own attack force of carriers, destroyers and submarines. Many of these ships were based at the isolated Maldives, at Addu Atoll, where earlier in 1941, the Royal Navy established a base ("Port T"). Air strips, oil tanks, supply stations etc. were kept in place, and strangely its existence was largely unknown to the Japanese, so also Indian nationalists who supported the INA. Somerville expected the attack to take place on the 1st or 2nd April, but Nagumo delayed it forcing Somerville to send back some of his bigger ships to Addu and elsewhere. Nagumo arrived with his fleet on the 4th and wreathed havoc on the shipping plying the Indian West coast and Ceylon. 28 ships were sunk in all. On 5th, Easter Sunday, the Japs bombarded Ceylon with 125 planes. Later they decimated the harbor at Trincomalee and sunk a number of Allied ships.

Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, the commander of Ceylon, stated "The Japanese Fleet has retired to Singapore, to refuel and rearm, and to organize an invasion force, which we think is coming back to attack us." But Sir Andrew Caldecott, Governor of Ceylon, speaking in Tamil, asked shopkeepers near the harbor to not panic. The death toll was only 50, “much less than the daily casualties from the street accidents in London,” he tried to reassure. People fled Ceylon, taking the Dhanushkodi route to India. Madras thus started receiving not only Burmese refugees, but also Ceylon refugees, both parties giving first hand details of Japanese prowess. Even though the Japanese attack demonstrated their superiority in carrier operations, Somerville was able to save the bulk of his fleet, including the carriers HMS Indomitable and Formidable, to fight another day.

On April 6, at about seven in the morning, a single Japanese plane strafed Kakinada, a port town 400 miles north of Madras, damaging two ships, killing one person and injuring five. In the afternoon, a small group of planes attacked Vizag, another later on in the evening, bombed the area. The government press release mentioned that some 20 bombs were dropped but that not much damage had been caused. Nevertheless, the officials admitted that five were killed and 40 were wounded.

Old-time residents of Vizag mention rumors of Japanese ships, the resulting panic and the hurried digging of crude air raid shelters. Civil defense drills and blackouts were practiced, and car headlights had their top half blacked off. But naturally, the prices of essentials rocketed, as shortages hit the merchants due to their diversion to the military up NE. Ration cards were issued and ‘Standard Cloth’ was issued as a ration, while new recipes were perfected from leftovers and in general the populace  quickly adapted to live with little. Source (Chandramathy Moses – Vizag)  

As news of the attacks in Ceylon and the cities of Andhra in the North reached Madras, panic set in. The residents expected Madras to be next. Madras as you can imagine was already in preparation for the invasion. Let’s see what they did and while doing so, let me also record my thanks and indebtedness to A Srivathsan, who collated much of the input and presented it in a series of Hindu articles in the autumn of 2012.

As early as in January, the air raid precautions unit had been set up. By March over 4,000 volunteers had been trained in first aid, shelters and handling blackouts. Siren identification brochures had been printed. As the harbor was prone to raids, plans were made to move offices, commercial firms and banks from the sea side to interior areas. A proposal to shift the operations of the office of the Accountant General, except for payment of pensions to Bangalore was bandied about. Library books had been moved. Concrete air raid shelters were built while inhabitants of Madras nervously scanned the sea for signs of the Japanese navy, as a landing was feared on the beaches of Madras. The leading business houses shifted elsewhere, for example while Burmah-Shell moved to Salem, Standard-Vacuum relocated to Bangalore.

By April 6, 1942, the Madras police commissioner Gasson ordered all employees of the water supply and transport departments to stay, fearing an exodus. Fears of shortages were paramount, items such as milk and food were important. Then came the fear of hotels closing and all of this adding to a food shortage. The Madras government quickly came up with the idea of starting co-operative shops to control distribute provisions and vegetables, and they also ensured that private shop pricing was regulated. Nevertheless, most hotels closed, and the remaining ones sported long lines and much higher prices serving mostly food packets - the first-class packet included sambar rice with curry and curd rice with pickles priced at 3 annas. The second-class packet containing only sambar rice with pickles was priced at an anna and a half.

A false alarm on the dawn of April 7th alarmed the Madras folk, and though an ‘all clear’ signal was sounded an hour later, panic quickly engulfed the residents. The city came out with blackout requirements and the staffing of volunteer forces. Five days later, the government issued a communique advising all non-essential population to leave. The common took it quickly that Madras was no longer safe and with that the railways stations at Central and Egmore were besieged, and the general flight was east and south to Bangalore and Malabar. Close to 50,000 people railed it out every day to distant locations and in a couple of weeks, over 500,000 had fled, most of them going to their native villages or towns, while others camped with relatives and friends in those distant locations. For those who had nowhere to go, the government set up six temporary camps at Nandivaram, Nandambakam, Periyapalayam, Attur, Vengattur and Thruapallam. Some of the officers were relocated to the Sherman Girls school and a military contingent was placed at Ranipet. The ARP officers stationed themselves at the St Christopher’s training college while the trainees moved to CMC Vellore temporarily.

Prisoners were shifted to jails in Andhra Pradesh by special trains; wild animals in the zoo were shot as a precautionary measure. Patients at hospitals also fled in panic. The bustling metropolis was quickly reduced to look like a ghost town. The Madras secretariat was disbanded and while the essential staff and departments were shifted to Madanpalle, the non-essential offices moved to Ooty (of course!). Some other departments moved to Vellore, Salem and Anatpur. But Arthur Hope the Governor decided to stay in Madras. The 22 miles of slit trenches built looked like a wasted effort for an abandoned city. An old escape road was readied through Kodaicanal to Munnar and from there to Cochin with the hope that British ships could evacuate the Brits back home, if it came to that.

Even celebrities like the dancer Balasaraswathi the dancer and her mother Jayammal fled to Chingleput, while many of the affluent families moved to Mysore while the landlords there tried their level best to dislodge their existing tenants to make hay while the Japanese sun rose. Madhavikutty (her family lived in Andhra in those days) was sent off to Malabar. Trees were camouflaged as guns on the beach, idlis and dosas were starting to get replaced with wheat dishes and coins were in short supply. An unused small center gate of the Fort St George was sealed with bricks. Madras university offices were relocated to Coimbatore.

Pulla Reddi the commissioner wrote that the British officers simply fled and when he asked for instructions about what he should do if the Japanese landed, he was told to do what he liked, they had no time and had to catch the Blue Mountain express  bound for the Nilgiris. He adds - No street lighting was allowed, and no electric lights were allowed even inside houses, ’and finally and the worst of it all, I was asked to have all the lions, tigers, panthers, Polar bears and such dangerous animals in the zoo to be shot in a few minutes. Everybody seemed to have lost his head.’

Interestingly, the zoo tried to offer the animals to other zoo’s but none were interested. Then they tried to move them to Erode, but the railways had no space to transport them. The Police Commissioner, insisted that the animals might break loose if Japanese bombs fell, refused to wait and sent a platoon of the Malabar Special Police to the zoo ’who to my great horror ruthlessly did their job in a few minutes’. Three lions, six lionesses, four tigers, eight leopards, four bears and a black panther were shot while the lone elephant was spared as nobody could figure out the logistics in the burial of its corpse (V Ramakrishnan -DT next).

About three weeks after the government had issued the communique advising people to leave the city, Governor of Madras H. E. Sir Arthur Hope spoke to the residents in a broadcast on All India Radio: “During the past few weeks much has happened to cause anxiety in this country and especially in the Madras Presidency. That anxiety is natural, but I want this evening to try to put things in their right perspective. When the Government issued their communiqué on April 11th, they had good reason to believe that there was a direct threat of invasion to the Madras coast and Madras City. Happily, this threat did not materialize. There is, however, as the Commander-in-chief said in his broadcast the other day, always the danger of an attempt at invasion, until the Japanese are driven from the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. This danger will lessen from week to week, as our reinforcements of all sorts pour in.”

It appears that propaganda radio also played its part with a radio channel and its female announcer ‘Tokyo Rose’ repeatedly told her audience about Japan’s plans to bomb India. Perhaps it was the Japanese American Iva Toguri from Los Angles who was stranded in Japan and forced to work for the Japanese. Perhaps it was others, we don’t know.

After an agonizing period, with the Japanese showing no sign of arriving, much of the beleaguered population slowly began to return. Most people returned to live through a period of air-raid warnings, while bomb shelters were built at many locations, including key locations such as Nungambakkam, Mylapore and George Town. Film production, which was a key job and money spinner had crashed with the film supply from Agfa affected. Even though Kodak took up the slack, that was also disrupted as commercial shipping declined. Some studios moved to remote places. War film newsreels were shown in theaters. The beach area was out of bounds and a hefty fine of Rs 3/- was levied on transgressors. Time gun firing at Ft St George was stopped, one could buy only a maximum of Rs 5/- worth of provisions and fishing in the harbor was prohibited. First line beach was deserted, waiting for the Japanese. Locks were in short supply.

By the end of 1942 and early in 1943, things were back to normal in Madras, with hotels and movie halls busy as usual and when speculators made big money reselling houses they had purchased at throwaway prices when the previous occupants fled Madras after selling them. Cricket matches resumed, with the Europeans beating the Indians at Chepauk in Dec 42, in spite of Gopalan’s well hit 87 runs.

And then, it finally happened on a dark and stormy night on 10th (or 11th) Oct 1943. The banks of Cooum and Adayar had overflowed, and Madras was flooding, with even the Longmans and Oxford press buildings affected. Air raid sirens went off as people clambered on roofs to escape floods while several others drowned. A Japanese plane flew by and ditched or dropped one or a few bombs on a drenched Madras, killing two people and some cattle. The newspapers did not report it and Madras folk knew about all of it only after a week.

After the war, it became clear that these 1942 Japanese incursions were just a cover as convoys steamed to Rangoon. In fact, it was the last time the Japanese fleet and its supporting air arm ventured East for they were not too keen of deploying their limited naval or air resources into the Indian Ocean regions since they had to worry about a regrouping American fleet. John Clancy affirms it - The Japanese High Command were concerned at the possibility of their Task Force in the Indian Ocean being cut off from the remainder of their naval forces in the South China Seas as the result of increasing American naval activity in the South Pacific, and had ordered a retreat.

Later, the Japanese established a submarine supply and fueling station at Swettenham Pier - Penang and German, Italian and Japanese subs roamed underwater, wreaking havoc on Allied merchant ships through 1944. Though the Japanese failed to arrive, an even bigger crisis hit the East coast, it was the 1943 Bengal famine, and the actions taken by the British at that juncture are the most abhorrent, a topic I will write about another day.

Rajaji had warned against “exaggeration of the danger of a Japanese invasion” and well, one could always say in hindsight that he was correct, but the fact is that the fear of a ruthless enemy who had successes at Singapore, Malaya and Burma, panicked the British. It soon became amply clear to the masses that these foreigners were simply incapable of taking care of the people they governed. When that reality hit them, the British lost the jewel in their crown.

Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire in India - Stanley Wolpert
Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War - Raghu Karnad
The shiver of 1942 - Indivar Kamtekar (Studies in History 2002 18: 81)
Military Economics, Culture and Logistics in the Burma Campaign, 1942-1945 - Graham Dunlop
Madras Miscellany - Muthiah S
Autumn leaves – Pulla Reddi
Hindu reports – A Srivathsan 
 The Most Dangerous Moment of the War -  Clancy, John

What the Dickens?

Charles Dickens, India and the life of Walter Dickens in Calcutta

Dickens has been so much a part of many Indian generations since the mid-19th century, we have read his works as part of school studies, and many others have read him for pleasure and enjoyed his works. We got to know his characters such as David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, we have clapped for his stand against social injustice, bureaucracy and oppression of the downtrodden. But what many of you may not know is that he had another side, a dark one.

With all that, you may wonder what made him say this in 1857, writing to Angela Burdett Coutts – And I wish I were Commander in Chief in India. The first  thing I would do to strike that Oriental race with amazement (not in the least regarding them as if they lived in the Strand, London, or at Camden Town), should be to proclaim to them in their language, that I considered my holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do  my utmost to exterminate the race upon whom the stain of  the late cruelties rested; and that I was there for that purpose and no other, and was now proceeding, with all convenient  dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution, to blot it out of  mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth.

Well he did and it was just after he heard about the 1857 revolt. The mutiny itself which engulfed much of middle and North India, involving the triumvirate of Nana Saheb, Tayta Tope and the Rani of Jhansi is a subject which is difficult to maneuver through, for the literature produced since the event has been so heavily English sided, to say the least. But there have also been recent attempts to create revisionist works swinging wildly to the other side of the balance. Perhaps the truth and reality are somewhere in between and to sift it out from the Burra Saheb’s masterful manipulation of the language and the media in those days, takes much time and effort, what with time having obliterated many a track.

Though Charles the pater had not ventured into India, his desire to send his sons to the imperial colony resulted in two of them securing positions in India. Walter lived in Bengal for some six years and Frank spent a brief sojourn in Bengal, returning to England when his father passed on. It was while searching for information on Louise Ouwerkerk that I came across Dick Kooiman’s paper on Walter Dickens, Charles’s son and his career in India. One thing led to the other and I ended up studying Dickens and his Indian connections.

A recap of the so-called rebellion - The rebellion of 1857 was an unsuccessful uprising in India in 1857–58 against the oppressive rule of the British East India Company. Starting around May 1857 in the form of a mutiny of sepoys at Meerut, it spread along as many civilian rebellions across central, North and East India. It was eventually suppressed with the rebels' defeat in Gwalior in June 1858. Violence and cruel actions were perpetuated by both sides and British reprisals were severe, with entire cities laid waste in British retaliation. When news of the events reached Britain, the populace there were aghast, unable to understand that their realm was no longer invincible, that it was being threatened by the lowly masses. The press went on an overdrive and newspapers published exaggerated accounts. While the majority of writings available today voice the British story, two books cover the revisionist Indian side, written by Parag Tope and Amarish Mishra.

An example of the fake news (London Times – 25th Aug 1857) and the Brits as you can see were masters at it - They took 48 females, most of them girls of from 10 to 14, many delicately nurtured ladies, violated them, and kept them for the base purposes of the heads of the insurrection for a whole week. At the end of that time they made them strip themselves, and gave them up to the lowest of the people to abuse in broad daylight in the streets of Delhi…..British investigators as early as 1858 concluded that the allegations of rape, cannibalism, and mutilation were fabrications, but that did not halt the circulation of such sordid fake tales, especially those related to the rape of delicate British ladies.

As the news of the events and violence in Kanpur spread in England, the Sahib was enraged. Many wanted the race which took to their brave soldiers and fair women, exterminated. Dickens following the general opinion, said those very words which we started out with and then he went silent. Never did he write a novel set in India, nor did he visit country. Instead he wrote “the tale of two cities’ talking about the throes of the French revolution and a mutiny. Did he really mean to put an undercurrent of the Indian mutiny in his two cities?

Joshi explains - Always contemporary and already thinking about fictionalizing events, Dickens wrote to Henry Morley, a colleague at Household Words, asking him to research whether an English colony existed, or could have, in South America. In his 18 October letter to Morley, Dickens explained that he “wish[ed] to avoid India itself” but wanted a setting “in which a few English people—gentlemen, ladies, and children—and a few English soldiers, would find themselves alone in a strange wild place and liable to hostile attack” (Letters, VIII,469). The language - “strange wild place,” “hostile attack”- reveals Dickens’s siege mentality, self-righteousness, and un-complicated response to events in India.

Well, he did get influenced by it in his writings and we can see its impact on the work "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners," around the events in India co-authored with Wilkie Collins late in 1857. Dickens wrote the first and last chapter of "Perils," a tale set in the British West Indies and narrated by an English soldier, Gill Davis, sent to protect the island of Silver Store from attacks by pirates.

Thus, we can conclude that while Dickens was probably one with a somewhat balanced view of life, it was restricted to the life in his world, the British one. The imperial subjects, the masses in the colonies had their place way down below and were not worthy of study. Affected by the rumored treatment of the women and brave men of the EIC, he turned a blind eye into the workings of the EIC, that huge organization which was stripping the country dry and massacring hundreds of thousands in the name of mutiny.  But let’s leave Dickens now in Britain, nursing his hatred and shift to the life of his son.

Many types of youngsters made their way to India in the steamers bound east. Fortune seekers, truant youngsters from well-to-do families, career soldiers who had the needed training rearing up as mercenaries of a sort and of course administrators, who had never administered anything. There were businessmen who saw great opportunity to prosper, then there were professionals such as engineers, missionaries, doctors etc. who saw a great demand in the far away India. Yes, plenty of good men who wanted to do something for the people also went to India, not to forget the numerous missionaries who traveled to implant a new religion and uplift the downtrodden, or so they explained. Finally, there were women who went out fishing, as part of the fishing fleet, to hook a husband in India. Not mentioned often, there were also the undesirable of Britain, the scum and the criminal, heading out East.

Dickens had his fair share of problems, and when you have ten children and when many of his sons fail to succeed, the worry on a pater can be manifest. Charles, the eldest went bankrupt toying with banking and business, Walter the second, we’ll get to him later, Frank joined the Bengal police, then moved to Canada, was considered incompetent and alcoholic, Alfred racked up debts and fled to Australia, Sydney went to sea but was also beset with financial difficulties and died young. Among the last two, Henry did well in the law field, lived the longest but was killed crossing the road and Edward went to Australia to work at petty jobs and died penniless.

As the children grew, one by one, Dickens’s enthusiasm plummeted. Having earned his success and having overcome childhood poverty while still a teenager through his own impressive energy and drive, his children’s complacency and lack of ambition drove him to a depression. Perhaps if only to escape a disappointing marriage, in 1857, the same year as the mutiny, Dickens fell in love with Ellen Ternan, an 18-year-old actress and drifted away from his wife Catherine. Dickens was 45 when he met her and began an affair with Ternan, but kept the relationship secret. She became his "magic circle of one". Matters eventually came to a head in 1858 when Catherine opened a gift for Ellen wrongly delivered to her. It contained a gold bracelet meant for Ternan with a note written by her husband. As the embitterment peaked, Catherine was ‘persuaded’ to leave home that year, after signing a deed of separation!

As the late Girish Karnad opined - “His novels have good and kind descriptions of women, but in his real life he treated women poorly. He fought with his daughter, despised his mother and there are several examples of how he treated his wife, whom he was married for 21 years, had 10 children with and then divorced. Not only did he divorce but he publicly announced her as incapable of being a good wife and a mother,” he said in an interview with The Pioneer (24th Feb 2014).
Walter Landor Dickens

Walter Landor Dickens, called Wally by some and “Young Skull” by his father due to his high cheekbones, was born on 8th February 1841. Originally to be named Edgar, his father decided to christen him after the poet Walter Savage Landor, whom he admired. Walter was schooled at Kings Private school at St Johns Wood and then continued with his preparatory courses for the military at Wimbledon School. Finding that Walter was deaf, Dickens had him examined and it appears that the subsequent treatment brought about some relief. Walter seems to have done well for himself there and got ready for the cadetship exams in 1857. As Walter prepared, Dickens politely refused Burdett-Coutts’s offer of financial assistance, but accepted her glowing recommendations and character reference for the boy as part of his application.

The immensely rich society lady Angela Bourdett Coutts whom we talked about earlier, a benefactor of Dickens, a close friend and to whom Dickens confided about wanting to exterminate the Indian natives, was the one instrumental in sponsoring Water’s visit to India as a soldier. Bourdett was a large shareholder in the East India Company. Using her special influence, she managed to get him a direct entry into the Bengal infantry as a cadet, subject to him passing the requisite exams in April 1857, which he did, all of 16 years of age and slightly deaf! Not to stop, Dickens decided to try and get his next son Alfred also to a post in India.

Walter went through the many rigors required for a career in India, he learnt to fence, swim and ride, use guns and even learnt a bit of Hindustani! By July, youngster just 16 years old, had boarded the P and O liner Indus at Southampton, bound for Calcutta. He was just one of the many thousands of young people who ventured East, to enrichen themselves in the Indian colony. Many were to thrive and flourish, some lived their entire lives in that distant land, some died in war or of disease, some built vast families who survived and thrived through many generations. Some went native, some intermixed with the local populace to create the Anglo Indian race, while others ended up as abject failures.

As the ship was headed to Calcutta, the situation in India had reached a boiling point and the mutiny was well under way having started around May 1857. By June the siege at Kanpur was on. Britain still did not know the details and the first bits came through only after Walter had sailed away. He arrived in Calcutta around 30th August to join the 26th, but it had been disbanded. He joined the 42nd which was instrumental in taking back Kanpur and Lucknow from the rebels.

Back in England, father Dickens was seething with rage, perhaps also worried stiff about his son wallowing in the thick of things, and venting about wanting to destroy the Indian race. He blamed the politicians and administrators of the EIC and Britain for not sending quick reinforcements to defend the cities of Kanpur and Lucknow, he also took to blaming the Hindu character as totally untrustworthy. Dickens was equally vehement that mercy should not be accorded to any Indian prisoner, and remonstrated against Canning who proposed it. And to top it, he castigated British women flocking to serve or see Hindu princes.

Walter seems to have been doing well in the military which was on the move and in action, and got quickly promoted to lieutenant, was awarded a mutiny medal and of course some prize money or bounty - the spoils of war. His regiment was involved in the operations at Kanpur and later in the retaking of Delhi. It is also apparent that not only was he fighting during the mutiny, but also in the NW frontier province later. Anyway, he settled down to a routine life in India but seems to have been invalided and carried in a litter to a hill station, according to a letter written by his pater. We do know from his father’s writing that he had fallen sick, fainted of sun stroke, suffered from Smallpox, and caught smart fever, after which he moved to a hill station to recuperate and rally out of the ailments.

But things went south very quickly and before long Walter was deeply indebted and no longer popular in his company, being placed low on account of his debts. What could have happened? Was it due to illness, combat fatigue or pain from his wounds? Did he get involved with vice and opium? We do not know, but we do hear that he was always in debt. From the family letters, we can glean that he had asked his father for money, but Charles refused help, and we see Walter writing to Mary (Mamie) his sister that he had resolved to write home no more until he was out of debt. I guess this is when Charles, his brother arrived (when he was a tea trader in Hong Kong) to settle his debts, during his fortnights stay in India in 1861. Walter then planned to join the home service but was advised not to do it as it would reduce his income. Mary did get another short letter in the fall of 1863 that Walter was unwell. By Christmas he wrote stating that he was very ill and traveling to Calcutta to get a medical certificate in order to head back to Britain on medical leave.

Dickens quickly sent his son Frank to check things out but he arrived in India too late, in January 1864, only to hear that Walter had passed away, after coughing blood, of an aneurysm of the aorta on 31st Dec 1863. The gory details go thus – He arrived in Calcutta from the station where his regiment was, on the 27th of Dec. He was consigned by the regimental doctor to the officer’s hospital there, which is a very fine place. On the last day of the old year at a quarter past five in the afternoon he was talking to the other patients about his arrangements for coming home, when he became violently excited, coughed violently, had a great gush of blood from the mouth, and fell dead; all this, in a few seconds.

Dickens writing to Miss Coutts said – I could have wished it had pleased god to let him see his home again, but I think he would have died at the door.

Among his possessions Walter had left nothing of value: only a small trunk, changes of linen, some prayer books, and a colored photograph of a woman believed to be a member of the family. According to his captain, everything else had been turned into cash in preparation for the return to England. But it is not clear where that money went, though. The officers' mess, the regimental store, the billiard table, the native servants, a merchant or two, all remained to be paid. We notice that Walter left behind, considerable debts and his regiment passed along to the family a claim for a substantial debt of 140 pounds, including a humble written request from one Ganga Ram for Rs 18 and annas 8.

Walter was buried in the Bhowanipore Military Cemetery at Calcutta. Charles Dickens, his father received the news of his passing on Feb 6th, 1864, on his birthday. His original tombstone read - In memory of Lieut. Walter Landor Dickens, the second son of Charles Dickens, who died at the Officers' Hospital, Calcutta, on his way home on sick leave, Dec 31st 1863, Aged 23 years.

In April 1987, a group of students from Jadavpur University collected funds and moved the tombstone to the South Park Street Cemetery, more as a tribute to the author, his father. The tombstone is now placed among the memorials of the notable Europeans who died in the 18th century, but is grave is no longer marked or traceable, from what I understood. Walter’s story comes to a sudden stop here and Kooiman, who was responsible for all the original research into this topic in 2002, had been unable to dredge much more. Will the days ahead reveal something more? I doubt it, for few are interested in such forays!

The boy was surely attached to his mother and she to him, for Catherine’s will mentions leaving an Ivory elephant miniature complete with a houdah (sitting platform on an elephant), gifted by Walter. In fact, Charles Dickens did not even tell her of her son’s passing, such was the depth of the animosity between them. The sad part was that Dickens saw his wife’s genes as the root cause for all the problems his sons faced. Several of the children “were undermined by drink” or had gambling addictions. Dickens with his huge ego, maintained that their flaws came from their mother, them acquiring her “curse of limpness”, the lack of purpose and energy, and a natural defect of character.

William Hardman, editor of The Morning Post wrote succinctly: "Poor Mrs. Charles Dickens is in great grief at the loss of her second son, Walter Landor Dickens, who has died with his regiment in India. Her grief is much enhanced by the fact that her husband has not taken any notice of the event to her, either by letter or otherwise. If anything were wanting to sink Charles Dickens to the lowest depths in my esteem, this fills up the measure of his iniquity. As a writer, I admire him, as a man, I despise him."

Charles Dickens died in 1870 leaving a legacy of £1,000 to Ternan in his will and sufficient income from a trust fund to ensure that she would never have to work again. In 1876, six years after Dickens's death, Ternan married George Wharton Robinson, 12 years her junior. She died of cancer in 1914.

Dickens as you see, was a man with great many virtues, but like many others, one with a lot of failings.

Priti Joshi, “Mutiny Echoes: India, Britons, and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities” (pp. 48–87)
Dickens and the Indian Mutiny - William Odie
The short career of Walter Dickens in India – Dick Kooiman
Georgina Hogarth and the Dickens circle - Adrian, Arthur A
Catherine Dickens and Her Colonial Sons - Lillian Nayder

Pics – Wikimedia, thanks to the contributors

What the Dickens – is an idiom unrelated to Charles Dickens and was apparently in use even before Charles Dickens was born. It seems to predate Shakespeare as well and is considered to mean 'What the devil?' The Oxford English Dictionary explains that the expression “the dickens!” is “an interjectional exclamation expressing astonishment, impatience, irritation, etc.; usually with interrogative words, as what, where, how, why, etc.” and explains it as a slang or colloquial term meaning “the deuce, the devil.” The exclamation is “apparently substituted for ‘devil,’ as having the same initial sound.”

Jesus Christ in India?

The various myths, legends and lore – an overview

I must admit I was in two minds before starting on this trek. Many years ago, I found the Holger Kersten book staring down at me from one of Gangaram’s top shelves, at their MG Road store. The title ‘Jesus lived in India’ was arresting and I picked it up. Once I finished speed reading it, it became clear that there was little to back up the story of the Himalayan wanderer Nicolas Notovitch. Then there was the Ahmadiyya angle, which was quite intriguing. Who was Yousef Asaf? Was he just another contemporary mendicant? What about the Buddhist contributions?  I got hold of many relevant works listed under references, to checkout how they saw it.

Since I have only a passing interest in the subject, if only to check out the Indian angle, I will go on to just provide a precis of the legends, serving as a quick start for those interested in studying the topic in greater detail. Let me start out by saying that while most of the basic sources have a foundation on which their theories are built, the story structures that sprung up over those were very unstable fabrications. They were systematically taken apart by researchers such as Pappas and Fader, leaving the original base at Jerusalem, undisturbed.

As an outline, the myths allude to Jesus’s travels during the so called ‘missing years’ of his youth, in which period he traveled to India, then to the mountains at Ladakh, spent time at a Buddhist monastery, learning their philosophy. Returning to Israel, he propagated a version of what he learnt as the tenements of Christianity. The second myth is based on the premise that he did not die at the cross, but was brought down, treated with special ointments, recovered and fled to Kashmir where he lived out his last years and died.

There is also another angle which I chanced on, where Cleopatra and/or her son fled from Alexandria, sailing to Malabar. The son Caesarion grew up and somehow ended up at the Buddhist monastery, became Issa and traveled back to the Middle East, while other stories are doing rounds that Jesus was the great grandson of Cleopatra. I did not bother checking that out, though, Other angles cropped up, involving St Thomas and his connections with the story. It was all stimulating, so let’s take a look!

The world was somewhat at peace with the established storyline based on the Epistles of St Paul written 25 years following Jesus’s death and the New testament written 40 years after, as well as the gospels – which state (though there is hardly any archeological or hard evidence, as yet) that Jesus a Jew, with followers, was executed on the orders (aided by the Jewish priests and Caiaphas) of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, at Nazareth. Apparently following his father’s trade, as a carpenter, and spending a number of unrecorded or missing years, he reappears in his 30’s, gets baptized, starts to preach attracting much public attention and rises to fame and in public esteem. His ministry is a short span of just one to three and a half years and its intensity attracted the attention of the Roman administrators who considering him a trouble maker, arrest him, have him tried and crucified at Jerusalem.

He was hung between two convicted thieves and, according to the Gospel of Mark, died some six hours later. According to the Gospel of John, a soldier pierced his side with a spear to be certain that he had died, when blood and water appeared from the wound. The soldiers did not break Jesus's legs, as they did to the two crucified thieves (breaking the legs hastened the onset of death), as Jesus was dead already. Following Jesus' death, his body was removed from the cross and buried in a rock-hewn tomb. However, there is some confusion about this narrative and some question if he died and got resurrected or if he never died in the first place.

These two unclear aspects in Jesus’s life – firstly Jesus’s travels during his formative years, his deep philosophical education prior to return to Nazareth which formed a base for his preaching and secondly his life after crucifixion form the crux of the two Indian myths. The missing years are the formative years when he worked as a lay carpenter, the ages between12-29. Or, did he go on to travel and acquire much knowledge? A preacher to be acceptable has after all, to be knowledgeable, it does not just come in a flash. The lost years are the years following his resurrection, or life after being brought down from the cross (apparently still alive) instead of ascending to the heavens. None of the scriptures had covered these years well and this narrative vacuum, they say, resulted in much speculation and the creation of myths. So much for background.

The first person who pops to my mind is the 16th century missionary Robert Nobili who called the Bible the 5th Veda. Many years ago, I had introduced this Italian priest, the one who donned the looks of a Brahman in order to preach Christianity as Yesurveda, the lost 5th Veda, on the grounds that for its acceptance, he could not be just a foreign priest, he had to study the existing scriptures and language before he could face the lay man. This he did, calling himself a Roman Brahmin, dressed as a Tamil priest, wearing a sacred thread, his hair as a tuft and speaking in Tamil. He wrote and preached the Yesur Veda calling himself a descendant of Brahma!

The next was the connection between Lord Krishna of Hinduism and Christ. One Louis Jacolliot in 1869 wrote that the entire story of Jesus was a myth woven around the Bhagavatham or Krishna’s strikingly similar life. Jacolliot a French barrister, colonial judge, author and lecturer, studied and translated many Sanskrit and some Tamil scriptures and works to French. During his 2-year (1867-67) tenure at Pondicherry and the following year as chief justice at Chendernagor (in Calcutta), he got interested in Hinduism and wrote the works connecting these religions. He went on to state in his book - The Bible in India: Hindoo Origin of Hebrew and Christian Revelation that Jesus Christ was actually Jezeus Christna or Krishna the pure essence. But one should note that Jacolliot does not connect Jesus or any travel to India, otherwise. Most academics scoff at his writings, seeing them of no merit and term them pure fabrications. I will however leave it here and come back to his life, some other day.

There may have been others, but we now come to Nicolas Notovitch. Shulim or Nikolai Aleksandrovich Notovitch was a Crimean Jewish adventurer living in Paris, who claimed to be a Russian aristocrat, spy and journalist. After breaking his leg in India during a trip in 1887 and while recovering from it at the Hemis monastery in Ladakh, Notovitch learned of the Tibetan manuscript covering the Life of Saint Issa. He went back to write a book in 1894 in which he claimed that during his unknown years, Jesus left Galilee for India and studied with Buddhists and Hindus there, before returning to Judea.

Hemis Monastery
According to his accounts, he was shown two big volumes in cardboard covers, with leaves yellowed by the lapse of time” which was in Tibetan and a translation of an original document written in Pali which detailed the travels and studies of a prophet or messiah called Issa in India, recognizably the Jesus of the Gospels. Notovitch had his Nepali guide make a quick translation of its contents.

Notovitch explains - One day, while visiting a Buddhist convent on my route, I learned from a chief lama, that there existed in the archives of Lhassa, very ancient memoirs relating to the life of Jesus Christ and the occidental nations, and that certain great monasteries possessed old copies and translations of those chronicles. An unfortunate fall, causing the breaking of a leg, furnished me with an absolutely unexpected pretext for returning to the monastery, where I received surgical attention. I took advantage of my short sojourn among the lamas to obtain the consent of their chief that they should bring to me, from their library, the manuscripts relating to Jesus Christ, and, assisted by my interpreter, who translated for me the Thibetan language, transferred carefully to my notebook what the lama read to me.

He continues, stating that he returned to Europe, consulted many experts and the clergy who tried to dissuade him from publishing his fantastic discovery. Eventually he put it all down into a book, but waited till a philosopher consultant M Renan was dead, before publishing. In summary the story as he records it, goes thus…

After a long journey, perhaps through the well frequented spice trails, in caravan to Sindh, Jesus settled in Sindh and began to frequent the temples of the Jains, the link religion between Hinduism and Buddhism and presumed to have originated 7 centuries before Christ. Jesus or Issa as he was known while in India, continues his journeys to Puri Jaganath in Orissa where he spends 6 years studying Sanskrit, and thence many subjects such as Philosophy, medicine and math. While there he observes the caste system and many objectionable ways being followed in India, and started to preach to the lowest classes, the Sudras. He did not quite consider the Vedas divine, and preached that the people should only bow to one god and not the Hindu apparitions. Quoting Notovtich, Issa denied the Trimurti and the incarnation of Para-Brahma in Vishnu, Siva, and other gods; "for," said he: "The eternal Judge, the eternal Spirit, constitutes the only and indivisible soul of the universe, and it is this soul alone which creates, contains and vivifies all… and this tone continues on in many verses.

It appears that the priests of Puri decided to finish Issa off, but warned by the Sudras, he fled to the mountains and having acquired some skill with Pali, started to learn the Sutras for another six years. Thus, after another six years with the Buddhists, where he discovered monotheism, he remembers his fatherland struggling under Roman rule and decides to start back on his long trek back, preaching what he had learnt, along the way. In Persian, the Zoroastrians became upset, and cast him away hoping he would be devoured by wild beasts, but he continued on without incident, to Israel, where things were in a state of despair, for the Romans had subjugated the population.

The records purportedly discovered by Notovitch are supposed to have stated all the above in a verse form, completed by the monks after they learnt about his fate since leaving Tibet and his greatness (See link attached). 

How did that information and details of his preaching in Israel reach the scribes at Nepal? Notovitch mentions that Issa was not a popular figure when he left, but when the monks heard later of his fame in Palestine, they complied the information to create a continuous narrative.

Notovitch’s accounts were quickly rebuffed by theologians and academics, he was accused of being an American atheist, and proved to be a fraud. Notovitch slipped out from public view, but the line has been cast and to date there are many people who perused the tale and its antecedents. Notovitch wrote some other books, was jailed in Siberia for a while and spent out his life and royalties living a rich social life.
N Notovitch

What were the reasons in casting this away as a fraud? A detailed analysis is provided by Fader. The situation itself presents a problem, a very feverish Notovitch with a broken leg and a local guide meet the monks who narrate the verses and the guide loosely translates the verses for Notovitch to jot down. He rearranges them and gets it printed many years later, and centuries later, when Abhedananda visits the same Hemis monastery, comes up with the exact same English translation and wording! When many others including Holger Kersten visited Hemis, they were told no such scrolls existed. So to date nobody has photographed or really seen the volumes of Issa’s story, and so it is a pure fabrication.

Now we come to the second part of the story, which is the story of his second coming to India, this time to Kashmir, after escaping from death at the cross. The sect called the Ahamadis believe that Christ believed dead at the cross, was brought down and nursed back to life with various spices and herbs. In 1890 Ghulam Ahmed published “Jesus in India’. Ahmed who acquired the tale from divine inspiration, that Jesus journeyed again East to India, looking for the ten lost tribes of Israel, to preach to and live amongst them and finally reached Kashmir, where he died at an old age. His tomb and shrine can be found at the Khanyar quarter, the Rozabal shrine.

A later Ahmadiyya scholar, Al-Haj Nazir Ahmed condensed all this in his ‘Jesus in Heaven on Earth’. According to the Ahamadi’s the ten lost tribes settled in the region of Assareth (now the Hazara district) and the present days Afghanis and Kashmiris are descendants of these tribes and haver customs similar to the Jews. Interestingly per the Ahamadis, Jesus had brought along his mother Mary and his twin brother Judas Thomas (Didymus), traveling along to Syria, thence Urfa in Tukey, then Nisbis (Madgonia) which is when one King Gondaphares (Gopadatta)of India requested the king of Nisbis for a builder who could build him a Roman style palace. Jesus deputes his brother Thomas to take care of that since he was a skilled mason and carpenter, and he completed the work in 6 months, at Taxila. All this is dated to 48-49AD.

Jesus by now sporting the alias Yusuf Asaf, leaves Nisbis and travels East, spent some time in Persia, then moved to Afghanistan and preached at Ghazni and Jalalabad. Here Jesus meets his brother Thomas again and they decide to travel farther. At Murree, Mary passes on and is buried at Pindi point, a tomb which was venerated for a long time. Jesus continued on, arriving Kashmir in 60AD and lived there (Yusumarg) as a preacher until his demise around 110AD. is not clear when Yusuf Asaf passed away in Srinagar, but he is recorded as living in 78 (so aged 85 as Jesus was born in 7BC). His last instructions asked Thomas his disciple and brother to continue his missionary work. Now we come to some mentions of Jesus’s travels from Srinagar to visit the Bani Israelites in Malabar and Ceylon! There are mentions of a Solomon temple atop Mt Solomon in Srinagar and at a location called Aishmquam, it appears the Rams of god and Jesus’s staff were preserved.

Thomas (Ba’bad) as instructed, decides to go preaching and goes to Taxila and journeys South East, but could not find any ship to Malabar for there is a war in South India. He therefore sails on to Socotra, and preaches in Abyssinia briefly. From there he finds passage to sails on to Malabar, lands in Cranganore where he pauses (the story well known to the Malayali Christians) to create a new community and establishes the seven churches and a substantial following. He continues on to Mylapore where he preaches, tries to convert a local queen Tertia and gets murdered for doing that.

So much for the second part of the story, but Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the sect maintains that Jesus came to India only after his crucifixion and that Buddhism was influenced by Christian works and not the other way around. There is also a confusion in these narratives as to who was responsible for his death – Jewish priests or the Roman governor Pilate, and some feel that the Jewish traders cast the blame on Pilate, thus coloring the Buddhist account of Issa.

The tomb of Yusuf Asaf (Shazada Nabi or Hazrat Isa) is called Rozabal or prophet’s tomb where a smell of musk used to emanate from the tomb for many centuries, until an untoward incident stopped it. The descendants or the Mir family are legal owners of this private property. Behind the tomb are footprints on a stone, showing crucifixion wounds. The place is a popular stop for many visitors, religious or otherwise, these days and actually home to multiple tombs, with Yousef Asaf’s tomb being in the lower crypt and aligned East-West in the Jewish tradition.

Faber Kaiser’s supporting work is also taken apart by critics such as Fader, since he refers to obscure witnesses to the scrolls such as Lady Merrick who turned out to be an ordinary traveler who never witnessed anything but only alluded to the existence of some scrolls. Ahmad Shah and A Douglas who visited Hemis in 1894-95 found monks who had never heard of any scrolls or Issa, damming the Notovitch book’s credibility. Holger Kresten visited Hemis in 1979, found no scrolls, but after discussions with one F Hassnain in Kashmir, propounded the double trip to India notion.

Kashmiri informs us (he has used a good bit of reasoning from Kaiser’s book), quoting also many other sources, that Kashmir, where a number of biblical place names and Hebrew words can still be evidenced, is actually Kashir (Hebrew for Halal) and that the Kashmiri pandits, descendants of Kashyapa are the Bani Israel or immigrants from Israel. He also states that the boatmen of Srinagar are descendants of Noah (Noah is buried at Tanda)! He provides more detail on Moses’s tomb located at Booth-Bandipura, and goes on to claim the Aryans were actually the Bani Israel. The Kashmiri language originated not from Sanskrit, but from Hebrew (Ibrani), mixed with Syrian and to lend credence, gives a large number of examples. He also points out that Kashmiri temple architecture is reminiscent of ancient Babylon and Jerusalem. These are the reasons why Kashmir, according to him, was always known as the “Paradise on Earth”.

Nicholas Roerich visited Hemis with his son George in 1925 and stated - In Hemis indeed lies an old Tibetan translation from the manuscript, written in Pali and preserved in a well-known monastery near Lhasa. But no additional proof was provided by him. The books by Elizabeth and Suzanne are mentioned for completeness of available resources, but I could not find the energy to peruse them in detail, especially the latter, to be quite frank, for the story was taking me nowhere.

As expected, there is much debate on if the Ahmadi claims hold any water. The Paul Pappas study goes over it in detail and after debating it, states that the Ahamadis were selective in their use of original scriptures to create a new storyline and points out to the major issue with them is Ahmed’s harping on sex being a carnal sin, right through. There are other issues with Ahmadi claims that King Solomon flew to Kashmir, the construction of the Temple of Solomon, and the issue of Moses being buried at Mt Niltoop (Nebo) in Kashmir, so also his brother Haroon. But these myths and legends continue to be believed by some, right or wrong.
Roza bal tomb

The story of the Ahmadiyya or Ahmadi sect started by Mirza Ghulam Muhammad in 1889, is quite sad. They are considered heretical by orthodox Muslims because they consider Ghulam Muhammad to be their prophet and not Muhammed. The Ahmadis insist that Ahmed was not a "law-giving" prophet and his job was only to propagate the laws enunciated by Islam's Prophet Mohammad. After independence, they moved their headquarters to Pakistan but were a persecuted community and termed officially as non-Muslims following which they moved their HQ to London, now ministering about 10 million Ahmadis worldwide from London.

Now what did the fledgling post-independence Indian government have anything to do with all this? The national archives present an interesting tale. One AK Gupta petitioned Pt Nehru for assistance to obtain copies of the Pali manuscripts at Hemis - Ladakh and asked for the matter to be checked with the Dalia Lama who had arrived in India. When reminded  by the Dept of Education and the PMO, President etc, the ad hoc committee of Indology considered the whole matter to be ‘not serious’ enough for study, but they thought it a good idea to check with Dr Roerich (since his father had visited Hemis to check the matter out). After many failed attempts in eliciting a response from Dr Roerich, the J&K state minister Kushok Bakula confirmed in 1958 that no such manuscripts existed at Leh and Hemis Gumpas. The department of education & scientific affairs opined that a large article in Blitz which triggered all this should be given no credence. Why Svetoslav Roerich remained silent is not known, for his brother George also visited the Hemis monastery with their father in 1925 and had alluded to the existence of the scrolls.

The arguments and counter arguments continue, though infrequently these days, with nothing left at Tibet by way of Issa’s evidence, after the Chinese cleansing. The tomb of Yusus Asaf is still there, but no real evidence connects Yusuf Asaf to Jesus. So, did Jesus wander around the world during the missing years or did he just work on as a carpenter in his own hometown during the missing years? Did he acquire his profound knowledge or was it suddenly revelated to him? Did he die at the cross or many decades later, in Kashmir?

I have briefly retold the myths and legends, but I will offer no opinion as I am in no way qualified to do that. The books listed under references provide all the detail. As the idiom goes, Each to his own.

The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ - Nicolas Notovitch
The Issa tale that will not die – H Louis Fader
Jesus tomb in India – Paul C Pappas
Jesus Lived in India – Holger Kresten
Christ in Kashmir – Aziz Kashmiri
Jesus died in Kashmir – Faber Kaiser
Lost years of Jesus - Elizabeth Clare Prophet
Jesus in Kashmir – Suzanne Olsson
Journey into Kashmir & Tibet – Abhedananda

Pics – Hemis & others – Wikimedia