Friday, July 10, 2009

Examining Documents in the National Archives at Kew

Friday, July 10, 2009

I left my house at 9. 30 this morning after breakfast and a shower to catch a multiplicity of buses that finally took me to Kew Green where I asked for directions and found The National Archives. These are housed in a splendid modern building that is beautifully designed around a large artificial lake filled with geese. This is the place I had wanted to reach a few days ago when I was caught in unspeakable traffic at Chiswick and turned back. This morning, it wasn't too bad and within two hours, I was there.

I made the error of forgetting to take picture ID with me--I had meant to carry my driver's license. But when I pleaded my case and told them that so many documents were being held for me, the manager relented and gave me a reader's ticket valid for today. I was, therefore, able to start my research at 12. 30 and believe me, I have no idea where the hours passed from then on.
It was 5 pm and the library was closing when next I lifted my head up! I was assigned Seat 10A and my requested documents had been stashed in a locker that was also marked 10A. This place is the very personification of organization and efficiency and I am deeply impressed. I had allotted the last two weeks of my stay here to examine these documents and because this place is so far out of the way, I hoped to finish it in two trips. But I fear I might need a few more sittings.

At any rate, the material I am reading in the files from the middle of the last century of the UK High Commission in Delhi and the Commonwealth Relations Office at Downing Street is pure gold. I finally have my hands on the very documents I hoped would shed light on the top level, highly confidential discussions that went on regarding the repatriation of Anglo-Indians from India and Pakistan to the Commonwealth countries and the concerns that were voiced regarding their welfare and progress in their newly adopted environments. I am absolutely delighted at what I have unearthed and I am very much indebted to Alison Blunt of the University of London whose bibliographical work has set me on the road towards finding this information and, therefore, being able to analyse and interpret it in the light of what I know of the personal experiences of the Anglo-Indian immigrants who made England their home and who have shared their lives with me over the past one year.

I finished with three files but since I requested six, I will be returning tomorrow to pour over the rest of them. What fascinates me, apart from the material itself, is the old tissue paper on which these letters were typed, the several typewritten copies of each item in these files (British bureaucrats sure loved to have everything typed and filed in triplicate!--now we know where the Indian obsession with bureaucratic red tape oirginates!!), the various stages through which the drafts went on the road to the finalization of policy decisions, the actual handwriting of the individual officials who were involved in this process--in fountain pen, no less. There is not a ball point pen in sight! It is difficult to decipher their handwriting occasionally (though some have exquisite penmanship) and the endless bureaucratic notes and scribbles they have made while cross referencing earlier documents or files or policies.

It so reminds me of my days in the Reserve Bank of India where I had a short stint in the Personnel Policy Department where I went through loads of files that were exactly like these--files bound in white tape that had passed through the hands of half a dozen different men in half a dozen different offices and bore the thought processes and logic of them all, each one justifying his decision and arguing his stance. The ability of these men to draft letters, memos, referendum, etc. is so marvelous. Indeed, their linguistic skills are enviable and there is nothing but the Queen's English evident in page after page. In their diction and choice of phrase, I am continually reminded of my Dad, a veteran banker himself, whose own drafting skills were stupendous and whose old-fashioned forms of expression continue to delight me today. I am hard pressed to find a single grammatical or stylistic error anywhere! What a magnificent gold mine of information that has turned out to be and I am so excited at my findings! Indeed, this is the sort of day for which every researcher waits...and after a year in this country, I have laid my hands on exactly the sort of documents that I hoped I'd be able to quote in the chapters that will form the body of my next book. I was so absorbed by my reading and my typing of the extracts I wanted to preserve that I took just ten minutes to eat a packed lunch that I had carried with me and then I was back at my assigned desk again.

Then, I was on the bus at 5 pm, falling asleep in the slowly moving traffic (what a good thing I was not driving!) and arriving home at exactly 7.00 pm when I sat down to eat a slice of cake. Next thing I knew, I was transcribing an interview I did with Malcolm a few days ago and with this done, I have only two more interviews to transcribe before I bring my research work entirely up to date. I sat to eat my dinner at 10.00 pm while watching extracts from a documentary on the Hampton Court Flower Show.

Tomorrow, I am headed back to Kew and the Archives but only after I have had a meeting with Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, an English scholar who lives in Wandsworth and who has published her work on the Anglo-Indian community. Our mutual friend Blair Williams of New Jersey made the cyber introduction and Rosie was more than pleased to meet me tomorrow. I intend to go directly from her place to Kew.

The last weeks of my stay here in the UK seem to be leaving me with almost no time for any fun activities so I am very pleased that I completed almost all the items on my To Do List very gradually over the last one year! Now that I am down to the wire, I cannot afford to scrimp on library time, so I have my nose very firmly to the grind.

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