THE LIVES OF FREDA: THE BLOG
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.
Sridhar Balan, writing in the Asian Age, has given generous praise to The Lives of Freda in an article largely about women in Buddhism. Here it is:
Do come along to the LSE on 29th November when I'll be talking about my biography of the remarkable Freda Bedi, an English woman who was jailed in India for supporting its claim to nationhood and who was later a pioneering Tibetan Buddhist nun.
The event is free and open to all - you are asked to register if you are coming. Details below.
(And if you can't make that date, there will be a book launch at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair on 9th December - more details in due course)
Nation, Gender and Religion: The Many Lives of Freda Bedi
Venue: Vera Anstey Room, Old Building, LSE
Date/Time: Friday, 29 November, 6.30pm
Participants: David Arnold is Emeritus Professor in History, University of Warwick; Katie Hickman is the author of She-Merchants, Buccaneers and Gentlewomen: British Women in India 1600 – 1900 (2019); Andrew Whitehead is a journalist and author.
Chair: Mukulika Banerjee is Director of the South Asia Centre, and Associate Professor in Anthropology at LSE.
This event is free and open to all but Registration is essential.
You can't win them all! The Lives of Freda has attracted a rather sour review in the pages of the Hindustan Times - here's the link if you want to read it for yourself.
The only consolation is that the HT have published this photo of the Misamari camp for Tibetan refugees in Assam which I hadn't seen before ... it doesn't feature Freda, but it is a very graphic indication of what life was like at Misamari sixty years ago.
And judging by the Amazon India rankings, the review seems to have given a spur to sales.
A chunky extract from The Lives of Freda has been published in the India edition of Readers' Digest. It had the title: Meet The Extraordinary Freda Bedi: An English Woman Who Fought For India's Freedom.
Here's the link: https://www.readersdigest.co.in/culturescape/story-meet-the-extraordinary-freda-bedi--an-english-champion-of-indian-nationalism-who-fought-the-satyagrahi-125057
The Live History website has posted an extract from The Lives of Freda - part of the section dealing with her involvement in Kashmir. They gave the extract the very appropriate title of 'Freda Bedi's Tryst with Kashmir'. Here's the link:
More than 45,000 people accessed the extract.
Chintan Girish Modi has reviewed The Lives of Freda for Teacher Plus, a teachers' website - with the apt headline 'Indian by Choice'. Here's an extract:
I am fascinated by people who defy conventional understandings of reality wrapped into little boxes with no room for individual agency. They destabilize our assumptions around what is possible, and push us to see how prejudice clouds our view.
Freda Bedi is the person whose story has done this to me most recently. Her new biography titled The Lives of Freda: The Political, Spiritual and Personal Journeys of Freda Bedi would be of interest to those who study and teach the Indian freedom struggle but are a bit exhausted with the centrality of men in that narrative and would like to learn more about women who participated in efforts to decolonize India from British rule. ...
Whitehead has managed to offer a comprehensive picture of Freda’s rich and illustrious life, including inputs from people who were not particularly fond of her. His research is quite solid. Reading his book made me wish I had met Freda in person. England’s loss was India’s gain, one might say, but the irony was that her own friend, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, selected her to be one of 46 ‘foreign women’ who were awarded for their outstanding services to India. As someone who saw herself as Indian, she was upset but had to get over it. She was one among many who were not born on Indian soil but devoted themselves to India. Her story is worth celebrating at a time when we are becoming increasingly obsessed with narrow definitions of what it means to be Indian.
Such a nice mention of The Lives of Freda in the Hindustan Times - among five biographies recommended by top writers and historians. Aanchal Malhotra, who has written so tellingly about Partition, chose the Freda Bedi biography -
The Lives of Freda
- a blog about my biography of Freda Bedi