Aap Beeti

This week I am grateful to Mrinalini Venkateswaran for the majority of the content of the blog post. Mrinalini is a Fellow of the Society and Museum Consultant at the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust. She writes about Mohinder Singh Randhawa, and his autobiography Aap Beeti, which has recently been translated into English by Tript Kaur, supported by the Royal Asiatic Society’s Oriental Translation Fund:

“Mohinder Singh Randhawa (1909-1986) was a member of the Indian Civil Service from 1934 until his retirement in 1968. His academic background was in the sciences. He took his doctorate from Punjab University in 1956 on the strength of his collected publications on a species of water algae. Randhawa served the Government of India on the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, and advised the Natural Resources Planning Commission. He became Chairman of the committee to plan Chandigarh city in 1955, the Financial Commissioner of the city in 1966, and retired as the Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh in 1968. He is best remembered in Punjab today for his contributions to village development, agriculture, and farming. Indeed, some refer to him as the father of the Green Revolution (in India) and credit him with developing the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, where he served from 1968-1976 as the Vice Chancellor. He remained committed to agriculture in theory as well as practice, farming land outside Chandigarh, where he lived from 1966.

Mohinder Singh Randhawa

He is a controversial figure among historians of partition. As the Deputy Commissioner of Delhi, from 1946-1948, he was responsible for dealing with the enormous refugee influx into the city. Many scholars have suggested that his official correspondence reveals an underlying communal bias that affected his sense of fairness, for instance in allotting housing, or his perception of where the ‘problems’ lay.

The Randhawa I first encountered, however, was an art historian, and institution-builder, who played a pivotal role in founding the Chandigarh Museum. He was a prolific author of books on painting from the hills of the Western Himalayas, known as ‘Pahari’ painting (literally, of the hills). His detailed explorations have been acknowledged as the first serious study since A. K. Coomaraswamy’s preliminary enquiries in 1909.

Chandigarh Museum and Art Gallery

Aap Beeti, M. S. Randhawa’s autobiography, is a sometimes disjointed, contradictory, rambling account of his life, with contributions from his sister Harbans Kaur on their childhood, and spouse Iqbal Kaur on their life as farmers, and on travels (with W. G. and Mildred Archer, and Mulk Raj Anand among others) in search of paintings. He wrote (or compiled and edited) it in two spurts, from 1972-1976, and 1982-1985. The first batch (the childhood years) was serialised for newspaper publication.

Aap Beeti

Randhawa wrote to be read, but in this instance, he did so in Punjabi. Aap Beeti was first published in 1985, and has remained in print, and circulation, since then. However, it had never been used by professional historians writing in English, until 2016, when I began my doctoral research at Cambridge. For me, it was a key source to establish the critical role that art played in constructing a unique identity for Indian Punjab in the two foundational decades after partition; and was crucial for reconstructing actors’ motivations. But there remains much for others to mine, from the perspective of an agent of the new Indian state, and an eyewitness reflecting on his role. With permission from the author’s son Mr Jatinder Randhawa, the book has now been translated into English by Tript Kaur, supported by the RAS Oriental Translation Fund. The work is available to consult from the RAS, as well as the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge.”

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In other news – it was with some sadness that I learned of the death of the poet, Anne Stevenson, this week at the age of 87. She was a poet I admired and whose poems speak into many situations. Earlier this year she published her 16th collection of poetry, Completing the Circle, with Bloodaxe Books, which she called her swan song. A full obituary can be found on the Bloodaxe website.

Anne Stevenson turned up in an earlier blog post as one of the correspondents with Angus Graham. In the Papers of Angus C. Graham we have both letters and poems by Anne Stevenson. So in honour of her passing here are the images of one of those letters (ACG/15/3/9), probably from 1968, which reveal her interest in Graham’s work.

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Finally, last but not least, we would like to invite you, at 6.00pm (UK time) on Wednesday September 30th, to join us for the virtual book launch of Dr. Anna McSweeney’s From Granada to Berlin: the Alhambra Cupola (Dortmund: Verlag Kettler, 2020). The event will feature a talk by the author followed by a discussion with Professor Stefan Weber, Director of the Museum for Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

If you would like to attend, please contact Matty Bradley by e-mail:  mb(at)royalasiaticsociety.org and the Zoom link and password will be provided. Please note the number of attendees is limited so early registration is advised. Please register by the 28th September. The book can be purchased from the publisher’s website.