THE LIVES OF FREDA: THE BLOG
Kabir Bedi's vivid and bestselling memoirs, Stories I Must Tell: the emotional life of an actor, reflects tellingly on his closeness to his mother and the lasting influence of Freda Bedi's political and spiritual journeys. I had the privilege of reading the book before publication.
In this interview with the Business Standard, Kabir talks about his parents and his upbringing, and allowing outsiders access to the family archive to tell the remarkable and powerful story of his mother's life.
"It's a crime if family members don't share important materials and writings of their parents. They are not achieving anything when they are gathering dust", Kabir Bedi comments. "I tried to write about my mother but then felt that publishers might think every child believes their mother is great. The story is more credible when it comes from others. They have added to my knowledge of my own mother."
The Lives of Freda is the lead review in the latest issue of Chowkidar, the twice yearly publication of BACSA. That stands for the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia - though the organisation is more robust (more than a thousand members) and of wider interests than that baleful name might suggest.
The reviewer is Rosemary Raza, a former British diplomat who married a Pakistani politician (I mention this simply to indicate that her own life story has some similarities with Freda's). She completed a PhD and subsequent book on British women writers on early colonial India.
The final paragraph of the review reads:
'The author was fortunate in being given access to extensive family archives, as well as recordings which Freda herself made in her later years. The resulting picture is intimate and perceptive - but by no means a hagiography. Freda Bedi was a remarkable and truly impressive woman, though some who encountered her were less awed than others. In taking all this evidence into account, Whitehead gives us a compelling picture of an outstanding character and the age in which she lived. Highly recommended.'
A Chennai-based friend, Yusuf Madhiya - a businessman and heritage enthusiast as well as an artist - has presented me with his portrait of Freda Bedi.
It is based on the photograph of Freda in Lahore in the 1940s - the image which appears on the cover of The Lives of Freda. It is such a touching portrait and kind gift - thanks Yusuf.
It's now a year since the publication of The Lives of Freda, and still the reviews come in. And the latest is a very full and warm review by the historian Reba Som in the literary quarterly Biblio. She describes the biography as 'compelling'.
Here's the review in full.
I don't know very much about The Better India website - but they have published a rather good piece on my biography of Freda Bedi.
The article is more a summary of my book than a review of it - but cogently put together. Here's the link: https://www.thebetterindia.com/212524/freda-bedi-british-woman-fought-freedom-struggle-forgotten-india-history-nor41/
The Kashmir Walla - a lively and conspicuously well-produced magazine which circulates in the Kashmir Valley - has printed an extract from The Lives of Freda. Here's the link: https://thekashmirwalla.com/2020/02/new-kashmir-and-a-revolutionary-document/
Both Freda and her husband were politically influential in Kashmir in the 1940s - and B.P.L. Bedi took the lead in compiling the landmark New Kashmir manifesto and draft constitution. Freda at one time worked underground for Sheikh Abdullah's National Conference in the face of an oppressive crackdown by the maharaja's administration.
After Partition, the Bedis moved to Srinagar and spent five years living there, working with Sheikh Abdullah who had become Jammu & Kashmir's prime minister. Freda and B.P.L.'s last child, Gulhima, was born there.
It's such a pity that the one place this blog will not be seen is in Kashmir, where the internet is still unavailable for almost all residents of the Valley.
What a wonderful, well-attended, lively event the Hyderabad Literary Festival is. I was there to talk, of course, about Freda Bedi - one last hurrah, perhaps, for The Lives of Freda.
As well as a decent audience, the event got good press coverage (though the remarks attributed to my co-panellist Irene Frain in that report were not made by her). And I was thrilled that among those attending were a couple who knew Freda and her family half-a-century and more ago.
Ahmad Rashid Shervani, now 88, was a very good friend of Binder Dewan, an adopted member of the Bedi family. Rashid and Binder were students together at Ahmedabad. He got to know all the Bedis, including Freda's mother-in-law, Bhabooji. Nusrat Shervani also has warm memories of Freda.
They already had a copy of my biography and now they have a second copy, signed by a grateful and respectful author.
This is Bradlaugh Hall in Lahore, once the city's main venue for nationalist rallies. It's where Freda Bedi first spoke at a political rally in (undivided) India.
I visited the hall this week, in part to pay homage to Freda and the nationalist tradition of which she was part. Bradlaugh Hall is an imposing and historic building. It was sad to see it in such a state of dilapidation.
I've blogged about Bradlaugh Hall here:
It's wonderful to see The Lives of Freda on sale in Lahore - even if I had to carry in copies of the book myself. I was there last weekend for ThinkFest which included a launch of the biography in the city which was Freda's home for thirteen years - the place where she was jailed as a nationalist, and where one of her sons, Kabir, was born.
Among those at the launch was Viennese woman who, in a sense, followed in Freda's footsteps. She met her Punjabi husband while a student in the UK and came to live in Lahore in the early 1960s. Also present was a grandson of Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, a Baluch nationalist leader from NWFP, who features alongside Freda in a historic group photograph taken at the annual gathering of the National Conference in Kashmir in 1945.
I was in conversation with Moneeza Hashmi, who chairs the Lahore Arts Council and is the daughter of the renowned poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his British wife, Alys. She was born in the same years as Kabir Bedi - 1946.
So wonderful to be talking about Freda in the city that she adopted as her home - and the city in which she and her husband were happiest.
The Nehru Centre was the venue last night for the London launch of The Lives of Freda - I was in conversation with the historian Yasmin Khan. There was a good turn-out and indeed we sold out of copies of the book!
Two of those I interviewed while researching the biography - Anderson Bakewell and Jim Robinson, who both knew Freda when she was a Buddhist nun - came along, and it was wonderful to have people who had memories of her in the audience. A member of the Bedi family was also there.
Many thanks to the Nehru Centre for hosting the event - and to Yasmin for being such a generous (and gentle) interrogator. I've also spoken about Freda at the LSE and at Derby People's History (Freda's home city) - so Freda has, I hope, once more been introduced to her home country.
The Lives of Freda
- a blog about my biography of Freda Bedi