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Saturday, 24 November 2012

HYDERABAD'S CRUMBLING MASTERPIECE



Portico and staircase

At first glance, there is little to suggest that the portico in  the picture shown above is not  part of a Palladian-style country house somewhere in the English countryside. Maybe the two palm trees might lead one to think otherwise, but even in England the occasional palm tree survives the country's often inclement climate. However, it is not in England, but in the heart of Hyderabad in the south of India. It was built to order for James Kirkpatrick (1764-1805), the British Resident at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Despite the European appearance of this magnificent building, its inspirer, Kirkpatrick, was far from being as conventional as the style of his Residence might suggest at first glance. Having converted to Islam, he married Khair-um-Nissa, the daughter of a senior official in the Nizam's court, and they had  two children. His extraordinary tale is related in great detail in White Mughals written by William Dalrymple.



In August 2012, my wife and I motored to Hyderabad from Bangalore. We spent four days in this fascinating city filled with fine examples of Islamic architecturebuilt over a number of centuries. One afternoon, after having visited the huge and eclectic Salar Jung Museum, my wife asked our driver (who hailed from Bangalore and knew nothing of Hyderabad's geography) to drive us there.

Neither I nor my wife had read Dalrymple's book, but the guidebook which we were using, The Footprint South India Handbook, mentioned that the book had been launched in the Residency (in about 2002), and that the building was worth seeing. We set off to look for it, knowing that it is located in the grounds of the Osmania University College For Women, whose grounds stretch down to the left bank of the River Musi. Our only map was that sketched out in the guidebook, and that proved to be unhelpful to say the least! Our driver spoke Telugu, the local language in Hyderabad, and so we asked him to find our way to the University by asking pedestrians and other road users the way. 

Many of Hyderabad's public institutions include the word 'Osmania' in thier name, and it was on this word that people whom we asked focussed. Thus, we found ourselves circling the Osmania Medical College, an Osmania Hospital, and many other places that were definitely not the Osmania University College for Women. We knew that we must be close, but our quest was elusive. I was ready to give up and return to the comfort of our quarters at the Secunderabad Club, but my wife was more persistent. She was not going to give up so easily  

After driving in ever decreasing circles often along two-way alleys only the width of only one vehicle, we finally homed in on the entrance to the University's compound. 

Ravaged lion

We drove through the gate and parked just inside the grounds. Moments later, an angry watchman came running up and asked us what we were doing entering the private College grounds. My wife told him in Hindustani that we had to meet with the Principal. The watchman pointed out the Administration Block and my wife disappeared inside. Meanwhile, we were allowed to drive further into the grounds, and I disembarked outside the grandiose portico of the former British Residency, its steps flanked by two carved lions in a poor state of preservation. I stood waiting in the hot sunshine. Groups of students, many of them wearing head scarves or hijab, passed, carrying folders and bundles of books under their arms.

A few minutes later, my wife arrived along with a young man from the office. He informed us that the Residency was in a poor state, and that it was unsafe to enter. Nevertheless, he unlocked it, and we entered.


Portico roof

A door at the rear of the building gave us access to the interior. We followed our guide to the magnificent main staircase, which we climbed.


Staircase ceiling

At the top, we entered a gallery that looked down on to the ballroom.


Staircase

We returned back down the staircase, trying to avoid touching its fragile, barely attached handrail and visted some of the rooms at the building's rear. Many of these were litterd with books and desks. They had been used as classrooms until recently.


Class room

Our guide took us back into the front part of the building and into the grand ballroom.


Ballroom

Now the home of pigeons and no doubt other pests, Kirkpatrick's crumbling Residence is in danger of imminent and sudden collapse. I am not sure how many heavy monsoon downpours this fragile architectural gem will be able to withstand.


Ancient mechanism

Listed as a Protected Building by the Archaeological Survey of India, and also by the UN, this building continues to disintegrate because of lack of funds as well as administrative squabbles such as those that hinder the preservation/restoration of other valuable historical sites in India. 

We feel privileged that we were able to view this building at such close quarters, but hope that we are not amongst the last to do so!






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Friday, 16 November 2012

A BUNNY & A BARISTA









The red line shows the route takebn by an Italian soldier crossing
Albania in 1941 during Mussolini's invasion of Greece



Having been successively occupied by The Ottomans (for several centuries), the Italians  and then the Germans, it is not at all surprising that the traditionally hospitable Albanians became somewhat suspicious of foreigners by the end of the Second World War. This xenophobia , which was exploited by Albania's dictator Enver Hoxha, led to Albania adopting an isolationist approach rivalled only by countries like Mongolia (until recently) and North Korea (still today). The following is a brief introduction to Adam Yamey's new book Albania on my Mind. It includes quotes from the book.



 When I became a dentist in 1982, the idea of ever treating a patient from Albania would have seemed almost as unlikely as meeting someone from Mongolia. Both were places that hardly anyone visited from the West, and from which visitors to the West were few and far between. Well, 30 years later, everything has changed. Almost daily I treat Mongolians and Albanians (both from Albania itself and also from Kosovo). Whilst I have never set foot in Mongolia, I have visited Albania.

I visited the country in 1984 when it was even more isolated from the rest of the world than North Korea is today. In those days, Albania was firmly under the control of Enver Hoxha, a dictator who counted Josef Stalin as his friend and inspirer.

Occasionally, when chatting to my patients from Albania (in English), I relate curious incidents that I recall from my short, but illuminating visit to Hoxha’s heavily guarded stronghold. Some of my audience are too young to remember life under the dictatorship, but those who are old enough say that what I relate is only too painfully true. One gentleman, aged about 45 and brought up in Albania, said after hearing one or two of my anecdotes:
You must write these things down. No one believes me when I tell about how terrible it was living in Albania in those times, but they will believe you, an observer from the outside world.”
And, that is exactly what I’ve done in my book Albania on my Mind.

My book is divided into two main sections. The first deals with how I became obsessed with Albania, and the second contains a collection of memories of the trip I made there in 1984.

My interest in the country began when I used to spend,
 “…much of my spare time during my mid-teens haunting second-hand bookshops.
In the second half of the 1960s, Hampstead Village, which was in easy walking distance of my family home, had at least 5 such establishments. My favourite store… was run by a scholarly old man. He sat reading in his untidy shop, surrounded by books, which were scattered disorderly on every available surface including the floor. Every now and then, he used to burst out laughing and would then read aloud, often in Latin, to whoever was in his shop. …I found and bought a number of old world atlases in his shop. Most of them were published between the two World Wars. I used to spend hours leafing through them, admiring their beautifully drawn maps. … One day, whilst examining one of my atlases, I saw a country, which I had not noticed before. It was Albania.”
My curiosity about Albania was aroused. I needed to know more about this place, about which so little information was available in the 1960s. Even today, not many people know much about it.

As the years passed, I made numerous trips to places in the Balkans from where I could catch a glimpse of the country which was beginning to tantalise me. On one trip, I took a bus over the Cakor Pass which links Kosovo with Montenegro. It traverses the mountains shared by these places and Albania. When the bus stopped at the top of the pass,
…a grubby little boy approached me. He said something to me in a language, which I did not recognise as being Serbo-Croat. It was probably Albanian. Somehow, he made it clear to me that he wanted foreign coins. I thought that he was either a beggar, or more likely, just a curious youngster pleased to have chanced upon a foreigner. I gave him a few British coins, and then he rummaged around in his pocket.  After a moment, he handed me a few Yugoslav Dinar coins, and left. He was no beggar, after all, but simply a young fellow with a well-developed sense of fairness.”

Although it was impossible to speak with Albanians in Albania - contact between them and foreigners was strictly discouraged by the authorities - I did manage to discover how friendly they are when I stayed in Kosovo, the part of Serbia which has an enormous Albanian population. When I disembarked at the bus station in the Kosovan town of Prizren sometime in the 1970s,
“…I was immediately surrounded by people, mostly young men. Everyone wanted to know my name, rather than my nationality or where I had come from. When I said it was ‘Adam’, they then asked me whether I was a Moslem. The answer did not seem to matter to them; they were just pleased to meet a stranger.”
Contrast this with what happened within 12 hours of my arrival in Albania in 1984:
After lunch, the Australian, who was travelling with us, called me aside, looking shocked.  He told me that when he was in the hotel’s lift, an Albanian couple began to strike up a conversation with him, but stopped abruptly mid-sentence. It was, he felt, as if they were keen to speak to an outsider, but became scared of the consequences of being caught doing so. Maybe, they had been worried, not without reason, that the lift might have been fitted with a hidden microphone.
In fact, whenever anyone wanted to try to talk to us in the country, they were warned against doing so by others standing nearby. Even our Albanian guides were wary of what they said to us. We, the foreign tourists, were regarded not only as guests (the guest is held sacred by traditional Albanians), but also as potentially dangerous intruders from the hostile world beyond Albania’s hermetically sealed borders. They were constantly keeping an eye on each other as well as us.

My trip to Albania was a truly remarkable experience. I am certain,
“…that the Albanians did not regard us as being simple tourists, but rather as potential messengers. We were being shown the country with a view, so our hosts hoped, to providing us with information that we could use to broadcast to the world how well Albania was progressing along the isolationist path it had chosen to take.”
I am not sure that the message we took home was quite what the Albanians had hoped. We were taken around a factory, of which our hosts were very proud. It purported to make precision instruments, but, 
… the sliding (Vernier) calliper, which had been made in the factory… was a crude object, whose jaw slid jerkily rather than smoothly. The markings were badly scored and looked a little irregular.” ‘Precision’ it was not!
And, although the Albanian-built tractor on display at an exhibition of Albanian industrial products in Tirana,
… differed in design from the Chinese tractors that we had seen on our travels, we had not seen even one of these home-made machines anywhere outside the exhibition.”
Nor, could I find outside the exhibition any samples of the
…yellow plastic bunny rabbit holding a rifle in exactly the same pose as the soldier, who had watched our arrival at the Albanian frontier.
I would have loved to have bought one of these to protect my garden.

It is easy to criticise, but one must not forget to praise. Even if I was unable to meet many Albanians on the tour I made in 1984, I cannot fault our hosts on the care that they took to make sure that we were comfortable and well-fed. Although their main interest appeared to be to ply us with propaganda and to show us what they wanted us to see, they showed us a great cross-section of their beautiful country.

I have not revisited Albania since 1984, but would like to do so. Never in my wildest dreams in my younger days did I imagine that I would now be able to slip out of my surgery, enter a neighbourhood café, and then order a cappuccino from an Albanian barista. And, the smile of gratitude, which I receive when I thank him by saying ‘faleminderit’ and shout ‘mir u pafshim’ when I leave, melts my heart. Even as I write this piece, I realise that although many years have passed, I still have Albania on my mind.



ALBANIA ON MY MIND is available in  Kindle on Amazon web-sites
&
in paperback by clicking HERE






Monday, 12 November 2012

ALBANIA






 ALBANIA ON MY MIND

by

Adam YAMEY





It struck me that Albania was the sort of place that might keep a man from yawning
                                                                                                            [ From The 39 Steps, JBuchan,1915]



The people of Albania achieved independence in 1913, having endured several centuries of Ottoman domination. After the First World War, they lived under a series of dictatorships beginning with that of King Zog. He was followed by Mussolini, and then by Hitler. They were ‘liberated’ by the Communist partisans at the end of the Second World War, only to be subjected to yet another dictatorship. This was led by Enver Hoxha. During his 30 year ‘reign’ Albania became even more impenetrable to outside observers than North Korea is today.

Hoxha rejected his close allies, the Soviet Union and then later the People’s Republic of China, and then tried to make his country to become self-sufficient by isolating it from the rest of the world.

In this book about Albania, published to celebrate 100 years of Albania’s independence, Adam Yamey describes how his almost obsessive interest in the country developed and what he discovered about life inside the country’s closely guarded, tightly sealed borders when he managed to visit it in 1984, the last year of Enver Hoxha’s life. 



Available on KINDLE and in paperback by clicking HERE

Friday, 2 November 2012

PACKAGE FROM ALBANIA




Excerpt from my forthcoming book "Albania on my Mind"

I had a Phillips radio in my bedroom. It was a valve radio, rather than the more modern transistor-based instruments, which were already available in the 1960s. Once it had warmed up - a slow business taking up to a minute - and had stopped emitting crackling sounds, it was able to receive broadcasts on three wavebands including short-wave. I used to enjoy twiddling its tuning knob, and listening to broadcasts transmitted from all over the world. It was a window to the world beyond the confines of the highly manicured, desirable but rather dull, Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived.

One day, I tuned in on an exceptionally clear transmission, and listened with some curiosity and a great amount of surprise to a woman who was speaking perfect English with only the hint of a foreign accent. After a few minutes, she informed her audience far and wide that they were listening to the voice of Radio Tirana. I could not believe my ears. I made a mark on the tuning gauge to ensure that I would be able to find this station again.  I tuned into Radio Tirana regularly, listening with astonishment and also amusement at the various commentators’ beautifully articulated words - mostly rants and raves directed against the actions of the imperialists and capitalists. These were punctuated by stirring Albanian songs sung in a style that was new to me, as I had never experienced the music of the Balkans before.

After a short while, I decided to write a letter to Radio Tirana. Somewhat tongue in cheek, I wrote to the unknown addressee (in English) that the songs, which were being broadcasted from Albania, inspired me greatly and helped to reinforce my faith in Socialism.  After addressing the letter’s envelope to ‘Radio Tirana, Tirana, Albania’, I waited with little expectation of receiving any kind of reply. I thought that it was more likely that I would receive a communication from MI5 or MI6 than anything from Albania. However, I was wrong to have been so pessimistic. A flat parcel, wrapped in brown paper and string, arrived by post a few weeks later. It was from Albania. I unwrapped it carefully, my fingers thrilling at the thought of handling something that had arrived from the mysterious country that had begun to interest me so greatly. 

The package contained a 10-inch diameter long-playing gramophone record in a garishly coloured cardboard sleeve. It was decorated with an electricity pylon; musicians in folk costumes; dancers dressed likewise; a man wearing baggy Turkish-style pantaloons; and an oil derrick. The plain, unadorned record label bore the name of the recording company: Pllake Shqipetare (‘Shqipëria’ being the Albanian word for Albania)...




Now, why not read  "ROGUE OF ROUXVILLE" ?


Dicing with debt, Jakob Klein struggles to support his growing family. He'll stop at nothing to achieve this. His dubious business ethics inevitably lead him into trouble with the law. He is imprisoned. His family have to flee from the small town in the Orange Free State, where they have lived. 

What wll become of them, and of Jakob? Will they ever be reunited? 

Read all about it in Adam Yamey's historical novel "ROGUE OF ROUXVILLE", available on AMAZON (Click HERE FOR KINDLE)  and also on www.lulu.com (Click HERE FOR PAPERBACK ) .

For more details, click HERE