HYDERABAD: Do you know, Cornelia Sorabji, an Indian Parsee Christian was the first woman to study law at Oxford and also the first woman to take the law exams there? Not just that, she was also seen as India’s first female barrister. Despite standing first in the university examinations at the Deccan College, Sorabji was not eligible for the Government of India scholarship to study in England. She had to study in Britain with the help of funds raised by her British friends, the Hobhouses. Do you also know that Dadabhai Naoroji was the first Indian to be elected to parliament as Liberal MP in North London in 1892? Ironically, many such events stood as examples of building friendship and ties, in the midst of conflict between India and Britain before Independence. Likewise, the examples of author Mulk Raj Anand’s cookbook, which was a hit with British housewives and Sophia Duleep Singh, who campaigned for women’s right to vote in Britain, stand out.
Celebrating this long history of Indian presence in Britain is, Beyond the Frame: India in Britain, 1858-1950, an exhibition launched at the British Library in the city on Tuesday, which looks at the impact of individuals, communities and political movements on British life and their wider relevance in India. It uses reproductions of contemporary accounts like posters, pamphlets, diaries, newspapers, political reports and illustrations, to build up a clear picture of the diverse and rich contributions Indians have made to British life prior to 1950s. Other prominent Indians highlighted in the project include Sarojini Naidu, Abdul Karim, Mahatma Gandhi, K S Ranjitsinhji, Sabu and Mahinder Singh Puji among others.
Started as part of Open University project, led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the modern literature department, Beyond the Frame: Indian British Connections, will tour Southern India from February 13, starting from Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. Explaining the whole idea of staring the exhibition, Susheila Nasta says, “We wanted to portray the long history of Indian presence in Britain and also bring awareness among the people about historical events prior to 1950. The research took us three years and compiling all of this and making it accessible for people, took another year.”
A few more examples could be the Ayah’s Home in Hackney, East Londin, which had about 30 rooms for over 100 Indian and Chinese nannies, awaiting return trip to their home countries or the Bombay Emporium, 70 Grafton Street in London importers and manufacturers of Indian groceries and condiments.
Florian Stadler, a part of the team and Open University, says, “There are a lot of such historical events, that will just make you go like, I didn’t know this! We are also aiming at bringing similar events in the history to let people know about it.”
The launch of the exhibition was followed by a panel discussion at the British Library, on India in Britain 1858-1950 with Professor Susheila Nasta, Dr Florian Stadtler, Penny Brook from the British Library and Dr A Nagendra Reddy, director, Salarjung Museum. The panel was moderated by Adam Pushkin form the British Council. The exhibition will be on display at the British Library from February 21 to 24.