Saturday, May 14, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-V (Going round London-II!)

After initial sight seeing, I took up two other tasks about which I was very keen. The first was to meet my friends at the BBC. Those days many top journalists and media people had been visiting Kashmir. One of those was David Stride, the Head of Eastern Services in BBC Radio. He had come to Srinagar for a night and I was conducting him. He had to catch a plane for his onward connection to Kabul. The weather had gone bad and many flights got cancelled. His flight too was supposed to get cancelled.
However, I got a message that his flight had come through and would be taking off in half an hour. I rushed to his hotel and picked him up. Those days flights would land at the old terminal. I rushed him to the Airport in my jeep and reached when the last boarding was being done. He thanked me profusely and asked me to meet him whenever I had a chance to visit London. Now that I was there, I gave him a call. He was thrilled to know that I had come over. He invited me to his office. He once again thanked me for my help in Srinagar. He told me that he was able to keep his schedule throughout because of the flight he got from Stinagar. He wanted me to meet the heads of Urdu and Hindi sections of BBC Radio and invited me for lunch next day where he would call these people. We had lunch in an Italian restaurant near his office where he introduced me to his colleagues. He told them the story of his journey to Kashmir and asked them to fix some interviews for me regarding Kashmir tourism especially the winter tourism. Accordingly I got five slots of interviews in Hindi and Urdu on Kashmir tourism. He also spoke to Mohinder Koul who ran TV programmes at Pebble Mill in Birmingham. I was interviewed by him for BBC TV on winter sports in Kashmir. I had some video cassettes on skiing, clips from which were used for the interview. All these interviews got me about £ 200 which was a good sum those days! It was a profitable encounter with BBC! Subsequently, I had a longer interaction with BBC when we filmed in Zanskar a series called the “Lasr Place On Earth”. Those programmes were made by the producer Peter Montagnon and the French author Michel Peissel. George Arni also became a good friend and I met him during my subsequent visits to London. During my London tour one landmark which I witnessed almost daily was the Big Ben, the famous clock tower!
Next on my list was the British Museum. It is a huge affair. One would take months to go through various sections of the Museum meticulously. It has a very exquisite roof which allows light to come in. Inside view is dramatic in many places. I was very keen to see the original manuscript of Kalhan’s Rajatarangani. Sir Aurel Stein who translated it from Sanskrit to English is supposed to have brought it to London. I had first time read Rajatarangni in 1966 during my college days. The introduction in the translation by Stein describes the trouble he had to undergo to collect the parts of the original manuscript from Kalhan’s kin. This had roused my keenness to see the original manuscript which was supposed to be in London. I was really thrilled to see the original manuscript in a glass case. It is a pity that we have lost many books, manuscripts, and artefacts to outsiders. However, there is a consolation that these are safe here. Back home our Archives are in shambles and full of pigeon droppings! There were other rare books and manuscripts in the Museum. In fact, there are also many statues of Kashmir’s Hindu and Buddhist periods in the Museum. The British are very keen not only in preserving their own heritage but they also collect historical artefacts from all over the world.
I had heard about the British Museum Reading Room. Karl Marx is supposed to have written Das Kapital after studying books in the British Museum Reading Room! Before leaving Kashmir I had taken an introductory letter from the then Chief Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. I went to the officer in charge of the Reading Room and mentioned to him my keen desire to see and read some ancient as well as recent books on Kashmir. He told me that for doing so I had to become a member of the Reading Room for which I needed an introductory letter. I showed him the letter given by Sheikh Sahib which he readily accepted and I was issued a membership card.
The Reading Room is a big hall with lots of books arranged in shelves. There are places to sit and read books and take notes. In fact, there is an arrangement to get photo copies of all written material against a nominal payment. The Reading Room had those days manual catalogues and one could go through these and write numbers of the books required on a card. This card was given to the person in the hall indicating him also the place where one was sitting. The books would be delivered on that spot within few minutes. It was a very efficient service. Now the entire thing must have been computerised? After going through the catalogue I was able to find more than 350 books and other written documents on Kashmir. I studied quite a few of these. I kept on visiting the Reading Room every time I stopped in London during my five month tour of Europe. I prepared a list of all reference books and documents on Kashmir with accession numbers. I had an interesting encounter in the Reading Room. After getting various references on Kashmir, I decided to study some references about the myth of Jesus being buried in Kashmir. I selected some books on the subject and was studying these when a Hare Krishna devotee dressed in a saffron robe and shaven head came to my table and requested permission to speak to me. As there is always pin drop silence in the Reading Room, we had to speak in very hushed tones.
He was curious about my chosen subject of Jesus in Kashmir and wanted a meeting with me. I invited him to Bashir’s residence where I was staying on the following Sunday but told him not to come in the outfit he was wearing. He promised to come as a “normal” person. As planned he came on Sunday morning in a nice suit and tie with a matching felt cap. I was totally surprised and could not believe if it was the same man? We had tea and discussed various theories about Jesus presence in Kashmir. So far there had been no concrete evidence and all were conjectures. I asked him why he was curious to know all these details. He replied that he wanted to demolish Christianity as it was based on a false premise of the crucifying of Jesus Christ. I was shocked and told him that one should not acquire knowledge to demolish other faiths. My interest in the subject was purely historical research and not to cause any harm to anyone. We parted company not to meet again! After visiting London, I made arrangements for undertaking a short outward bound course at the Ullswater School in the Lake District which I will describe in the next episode.

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