About the Book
This book is "one of memories and reflections" of historian Percival Spear, and the wife Margaret. Their association with India began in 1924 when he joined St Stephen's College, Delhi, as a young lecturer and stayed on in the city till 1944.Unlike many books of the period that studied the political turmoil from the viewpoint of the leaders, Indian Remembered looks at Indian during its quest for freedom in the early twentieth century through the eyes of two perceptive people. In the first part of the book, Percival Spear carefully writes about his two-decade long relationship with the college, fellow teachers, missionaries, students, friends, both he and his wife made, and the huge political storm of the freedom struggle through the eyes of a sympathetic yet detached historian. In the second part, Margaret Spear takes the "Verandah Viewpoint" on India-painting a sketch of the land, the ordinary people, their lives, joys, travails and festivities. The Spears' passionate involvement with India is reflected in their writing, imbued with feelings, observations and insights that makes this memoir an enduring read. This second edition of the book has an introduction by historian Narayani Gupta, and will be of interest not only to students of history, but also to the general reader.
About the Author
Percival Spear was an English historian who spent much of his life teaching modern Indian social history. He taught at both Cambridge University and St Stephen's College with great distinction. He passed away in 1982.
Margaret Spear, Percival Spear's wife, came to Indian in 1933. In 1940 she joined the staff of the Director-General of information in India, later to become part of the Department of information and broadcasting. She left India in 1944.
This book is one of memories and reflections. Memories, because they are pleasant to recall and reflections because, now that our life in Indian is a completed whole, as is the British period of Indian history, one is increasingly inclined to seek the meaning which underlies it all. There is another consideration. Our memories of India together cover half the twenties, the thirties and half the forties of this century. It is a long time ago and apart from political changes, others in the social sphere have been drastic. Not only World War II with its dislocation of society, but Independence, the Nehru regime with its economic, social and political developments, have changed the face of the country. A new India has emerged with new outlooks, new stresses, new hopes and fears.
Consequently we realised we had lived in a world, not only thirty to fifty years in time past, but in what is virtually a different age. The pace of change had quickened; from the deliberation of the tortoise to the rush of the hare, from the creaking of the bullock cart to the speed of the air-liner. Reminiscence could not only record events but could also describe something of a vanished world. Who would believe today, for example, that the New Delhi of the thirties was one of the quietest, most spacious and traffic-free cities in India, that the Delhi of the twenties was still in essence an old-world provincial city, with a sprawling bur empty suburb to the south, and a cold weather incursion of "high-ups" to the north, longing to escape from their tents and temporary quarters to the coolness of Simla each March-April. We can detect few connection links save the eternal Chandni Chowk with its clanging and creeping trams, its incessant chaotic bustle and noise, the majesty of the Jama Masjid, the unending clamour of the railway station.
We saw in those years not only the transformation of Delhi from a provincial city to a metropolis but also the last years of the countryside as it had existed for centuries. On a visit twenty years later we found radical changes here too. The motor-bus had replaced the bullock cart for locomotion; the tube-well was no longer a talking point in New Delhi office and Vice regal speeches, but a fact of experience. Wayside factories, electrification, five-year plans were all to play their part in the change. No longer did our car creep beside a line of a hundred bullock wagons filled with chanting village women in their way to a Meta, or seek to evade sleeping wagon drivers on the Grand Trunk road by ploughing blind through the dust-track alongside.
The Simla Hills, too, were about to lose the peace, the solemnity, the kindliness of the thirties, leaving only the grandeur of the snow vistas for drivers whose eyes were too intent on the new motor roads to notice them. When the first of us came to Delhi in 1924, Mahatma Gandhi had just emerged from his first imprisonment and was about to embark on his first great fast. When we joined in setting up house, the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930, had collapsed; India was in a doldrums of repression and realignment. When we left, the British were about to appear victorious in World War II, apparently, for the moment, stronger than they had been for decades. Within these time limits there lies a vanished world; it has been our Endeavour to catch something of its nature and its spirit and to pass it on to the present generation.
The year before Percival Spear passed away, he presented an autographed copy of India Remembered to the India International Centre (IIC) library. This eminently readable book is the last of his four books on Delhi. It is a tribute to the city he met at the age of twenty-three and which stayed with him all his life. His account is beautifully complemented by that of his wife, Margaret. Written with characteristic modesty, it is in no sense an autobiography of the historian. Of Margaret Spear's life, we know even less.
Spear was born on 2 November 1901 in Bath, England. He read history and theology at Cambridge. He travelled to India in 1924, the year in which E.M. Forster, another Cambridge scholar, twenty-two years his senior, published A Passage to India-a classic novel on India. He joined St Stephen's College as a lecturer, teaching British and European history but soon developed an interest in the history of modern India. For his doctoral thesis he researched the social life of the British in India in the eighteenth century. His thesis, completed in 1931, was published the next year as The Nabobs: A Study of the Social Life of the English in Eighteenth Century India, a delightful book which has not dated.
In 1933, 'Dr Spear undertook a sentimental journey to England with happy results. We congratulate him on his engagement to Miss Dorothy Margaret Perkins of Stoke Ash, Suffolk. We wish we could tell our readers more about Dr Spear's fiance, but our attempts to question him on the subject have resulted only in mutual embarrassment' (wrote the St Stephen's College Magazine). In their memoir, both Percival and Margaret describe in happy detail how they set up home in Delhi, and how much they enjoyed living in the city. 'In this atmosphere and with these neighbours. we came to feel at one with the Indian people.'
Margaret Spear was clearly as happy in Delhi as her husband was. Her delight in its lively streets-'Such an utter contrast to the dull regimentation of the West'-may be explained by the fact that her childhood had been spent in the West Indies. Her training in theatre probably accounts for her easy ability to relate to different kinds of people-there is a delightful description of life in a nearby village, and of their bundling the village children into their car and taking them to see the Civil Lines bungalows. She was quick to notice how when they passed the Harijan Basti at Kingsway Camp they called out "Gandhiji ki Jai!"-'one of the most moving of all such demonstrations that I saw in India'.
The descriptions draw in the reader as well to enjoy the city. of Chandni Chowk Spear writes, 'The houses spread out into court after court with open verandahs and neem trees. From the roof of one of them the old city looked like a garden city.' of Hauz Khas, 'The buildings gave dignity, calm and repose, the raised bank a sense of space and perspective, and the crops life and colour.' Spear was polite about the brand new city designed by Luryens, but said tongue-in- cheek, 'It will take many years of encroachment to convert the whole into a bureaucratic slum' (what a phrase !). He was more severe in his comment on 'the fatal measure to build "types" according to status'. During the War the disadvantages of this kind of layout became clear-the streets which had houses of senior officials had telephone connections, while the others had none at all.
His interest in Delhi was not confined to exploring the monuments. He wanted the College Social Service League (founded by Rev. Ireland and Mr. Sharp) to be active in 'the old Moghul city with its suburbs which, until very recently, had been neglected by the administration in favour of the new. It is easy to understand that Delhi city is now one of the most congested and unhealthy cities in the world'. He pointed out that 'the composition of the population increases its value as a demonstration centre. Hindus and Muslims live there in the proportion of 4 to 3. The Sikhs have an important temple and a representative residential group (while) the Christian community now have about 17,000 Old Delhi provides a microcosm of national life, with its social, communal and religious conflicts and loyalties'.
This book might as well have been called Delhi Remembered, though there are accounts of other places too, a particularly vivid one being of Khajjiar and Chamba. The Spears enjoyed holidays at hill stations, though Margaret does not seem to have gone on the trips to historic places that her husband organised for his students. The Delhi that the Spears had known changed irrevocably in 1947. The tragic fallout of the decision to partition the country must have caused great sorrow to Spear. We do not have access to the letters he wrote to his friends in Delhi, but can get a sense of his anxiety in this letter from David Raja Ram, who had succeeded S.N. Mukarji as Principal. On 6 October 1947 he wrote to Spear, 'We rejoiced to find our Hindu students volunteering to serve the Muslims in the Refugee camp All our Muslim students who were in the Purana Qila were able to get away to their homes.' Shortly after, Spear received a letter from Karachi (dated 18 October) from I.H. Qureshi, whom he had appointed as a colleague in the history department. 'It is a source of great satisfaction to have friends like you to whom one can turn for advice, help and solace. Please understand that I would have accepted your most generous offer of monetary help if I had needed it, but I have no financial worry. The question is shall I throwaway my specialized knowledge of Indo-Muslim history? It seems doubtful that any Pakistani university can absorb me in the near future. He added bitterly, 'Among my own losses, the most hard to bear is that of my books, notes, my indices my Persian manuscripts, pictures, rare volumes and imagine my colleagues planning the loot and the students executing it.'
Years later, in the 1970s, Spear's visit to Delhi left him amazed at the changes. As he writes in the Preface, 'We had lived in what is virtually a different age.' Spear is .remembered as a historian, but in his lifetime he was loved as a teacher. To find out more about Spear the teacher, we have to turn to the entry on him in the Dictionary of National Biography written by a fellow-historian, Dr Kenneth Ballhatchet. There are also nuggets of information in old issues of the St Stephen's College Magazine, meticulously trawled by Dr David Baker, an Australian scholar, who in the 1960s joined the Department of History of St Stephen's College where Spear had begun his career.
St Stephen's College had three passions-theatre, cricket, and the History Society. In 1934 the college magazine wrote 'with great satisfaction (about) the acquisition to the life of the College as a result of Dr Spear's marriage. Mrs. Spear has provided another home where members of the staff and students are always welcome. She is a charming lady endowed with gifts which have already been of considerable assistance to the Shakespeare Society and in the judging of our Elocution Prizes'. Spear himself was not professionally involved in theatre as Margaret was, but he was game to participate, as in the Shakespeare Society spoof on an Urdu play, a pantomime for the Founder's Day Assembly in 1933.
Cricket must have given as much enjoyment to Spear as to anyone else, but his passion was tennis. He and his two colleagues were described as losing themselves in the game so completely that 'but for their "white" faces, we would have found difficulty even in recognizing them'. The founding of the History Society was Spear's greatest contribution to the college. In 1926 the Society reported, 'It would be difficult to say how great a support and guidance he has afforded to the Society. He has not only revived it but brought it to its present strong position'. It also led him to identify what was to become his chief area of interest. 'A few days before his departure to England on two years' leave he delivered a magic-lantern lecture on Mughal architecture' (how evocative the term "magic-lantern" in contrast to "PowerPoint'"). This interest was later to be translated into two books-Delhi: An Historical Sketch (1937) and Delhi: Its Monuments and History (1943).
His return to Delhi was marked by renewed activity. 'Ever since 1928, we have been probably the most active Society in the College. The activities of the Society are simply envied by the sister societies associated with (the) College', and 'have given us more real education than a score of books'. It is of little wonder, when we read of the range of their interests-in 1928 they had readings of "Joan of Arc", a demonstration of the Battle of Waterloo by Messrs. Sarkar, Spear and Winsor, a moonlight picnic at Humayun's Tomb, and a well-attended discussion on "Dominion Status or Independence for India". In the summer of 1930 the Nationalist Society was set up "to meet the heartfelt desire of the students to express their nationalistic feelings". Its members had to take a pledge to support the swadeshi movement. Spear gave them a lecture on "the difference between non-violence and coercion"-how one wishes one had the text! Nationalistic fervour was also given ballast by trips to Mohenjodaro and Taxila, to Ajanta and Ellora, and most memorably by visits to the historic areas around Delhi. The moonlight picnic at Humayun's Tomb seems to have been an annual event, for there is an account of one in June 1934. 'Besides light refreshment and cold drinks we were delightfully entertained by Dr Spear with his flute, and with his short discourse on the history of domes and Mughal gardens.'
A Leverhulme Fellowship for two years (1937-39) enabled Spear to take a second break from teaching, and the leisure to work on India During Bentinck, and to research for a book on the later Mughals. At that time he could not have foreseen that he would not return to St Stephen's. As their war service, he and Margaret in 1940 joined the staff of the Director-General of Information in India, later to become part of the Department of Information and Broadcasting. Later Margaret was appointed librarian, and her husband deputy- director of counter-propaganda. In 1943 he became deputy secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and, in 1944, the Government Whip in the Legislative Assembly.
If St Stephen's had to give up Spear in 1938, Delhi said farewell to Percival and Margaret at the end of the War. In 1945 he was appointed Bursar and Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge. 'I left India 17 years ago, but India has never left me.' His India, Pakistan and the West was published in 1949 in the Home University series. He carried Delhi back with him. His classic Twilight of the Mughuls was published in 1951. 'Everyone, I suppose, has their kinks, their interest or taste for which there is no rational explanation. In my case it was the Mughals. Indian friends would say that this reflected a previous Mughal incarnation.' Twilight, arguably the finest book on the subject, portrayed the life of the people of the city, and of its rulers, and ended by endorsing EW. Buckle's argument that the East India Company had had no right to try the King of Delhi since he was not a British subject.
Back in Cambridge, Spear's academic work moved to a wider plane-he completed three histories of modern India-the third part of the Oxford History of India of Vincent Smith, the India volume in the University of Michigan's History series, and the second volume of the Pelican History of India. In 1961 he published Factors in Indian History, and in 1975 a book on Clive. As a visiting professor at Berkeley he helped the University of California to set up its course of South Asian Studies. He returned to teaching in 1963, for the next six years, and is remembered as a generous and encouraging teacher. Pulled back to his enduring passion, he planned a large history of Delhi, which he was not able to complete.
In 1979, three years before the end, he was invited as guest of honour at a seminar on Delhi held at the University of Wisconsin, the proceedings of which were later published as a festschrift (Delhi Through the Ages, edited by Robert Frykenberg, Delhi, 1987). My own acquaintance with Spear began in 1963 when I wrote to him enquiring about the possibility of getting admission to a D.Phil programme in Cambridge. He replied in detail, and with characteristic courtesy, concluded encouragingly, 'To be accepted as a research student is not as difficult as for the History Tripos, so that I hope you may have success in your application.' As it turned out, I did not follow this up, but when I registered to work for a Ph.D. in Delhi in 1967, I chose the history of modern Delhi as my subject. This took me back to Twilight of the Moghuls, and after a year of leafing through records in the National Archives, I tried one hot summer to make sense of them and write an article. This I sent to Professor Spear, and I still have the note with his meticulous comments and, most important, his encouraging suggestion that I might try to publish it. I first met him in 1970, when I paid him a visit in Selwyn College. We had a friendly chat over a pot of tea which he brewed carefully, reminding one of Mr. Chips. In 1981, when my husband, children and I were in Cambridge, we were invited to tea with the Spears. Thinking it would be difficult for the elderly couple to organise a child-friendly tea, we took along a bag of cake and biscuits, only to be put to shame by seeing a large roundtable in a cozy and cluttered sitting-room, groaning under cakes of every shade of icing, and jolly biscuits in animal-shapes. We carried away the image of a happy smiling couple that remained with us when we heard the next year, in December 1982, that the last of the Mughals had left this world.
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