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Minutes of the 75th Conference

Held at the Ancient India and Iran Trust: 30 June 2006.


Dr Richard Axelby SOAS
Ms Arati Banerjea London
Mr Ian Baxter London
Mr David Blake Families in British India Society
Mrs Jaya Bolt Cambridge
Mr Sydney Bolt (Speaker) Cambridge
Mrs Xiao-Wei Bond British Library
Ms Vyvyen Brendon (Speaker) Cambridge
Mrs Penny Brook British Library
Ms Marina Chellini SOAS
Dr Kevin Greenbank Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
Ms Jessica Haynes British Library
Dr Kevin Halliwell National Library of Scotland
Mr Craig Jamieson University of Cambridge Library
Mrs Jose John Ancient India & Iran Trust
Ms Leena Mitford British Library
Dr Antonia Moon British Library
Mrs Nalini Persad British Library
Ms Catherine Pickett British Library
Ms Rachel Rowe Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
Ms Shashi Sen British Library
Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams (Speaker) SOAS
Mrs Ursula Sims-Williams (Speaker) British Library; Ancient India & Iran Trust
Ms Shyani Siriwardene University of Cambridge Library
Ms Jan Usher National Library of Scotland

Delegates were welcomed to the Ancient India and Iran Trust by the Trust's Honorary Librarian, Mrs Ursula Sims-Williams.

Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams began the proceedings with an illustrated talk on Bactrian, the ancient language of Bactria in northern Afghanistan. Bactrian is an Iranian language written, uniquely, in the Greek alphabet. Professor Sims-Williams is currently building a palaeographic database of Bactrian, based on the inscriptions and documents that have been discovered so far. He explained that many of the documents were legal in character and were therefore formulaic. This made them very useful for linguistic study. All the documents were also valuable for the information that they provided on the history and culture of ancient Afghanistan. With the help of maps, Professor Sims-Williams outlined the fascinating history of the region in the seventh and eighth centuries.

Ursula Sims-Williams then spoke on the Zoroastrian collections of the British Library. Originating in Central Asia around 1500 BC, Zororastrianism spread eastwards to China and southwards to Iran and India, with India and its diaspora being the focus of the religion today. Because Zororastrianism was an oral religion, its scriptures were not written down until late; the Library's own manuscripts date from the thirteenth century. The majority are written in Avestan or in Gujarati but some are in hybrid form, such as the manuscripts written in Avestan script but in the Persian language. The Library's holdings also reflect the interest of early modern Europeans in the Zoroastrian religion and culture, an interest that led the Parsee community in Bombay to print their own works. Mrs Sims-Williams also showed some Parsee photographs from the Library's photographic collection.

After a wonderful picnic lunch supplied by the Trust, delegates reconvened to hear Vyvyen Brendon speak on the subject of her most recent book, Children of the Raj (Weidenfeld, 2005). Quoting from letters, diaries and oral interviews, Mrs Brendon outlined the experiences of sons and daughters of civil servants, missionaries, traders and military personnel. She argued that, contrary to popular belief, India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a safe environment for children, with some excellent schools. Children were often more open to the Indian experience than their parents were and, if their parents were less well-off, they were more likely to be educated in India itself. She concluded that the emotional separation suffered by those children who were sent home to school was one of the prices paid for Empire.

Sidney Bolt then spoke on his experiences in India as a secret operations officer during the Second World War. He explained his work for the Public Liaison Group, a shadowy organisation whose brief was to win popular support for the British cause. Mr Bolt recalled his tours of Bengal putting on dances and entertainments, his speeches to villagers and the mistranslations that had occurred, and his efforts to keep the Americans happy at the Delhi Gymkhana Club! The success of the Public Liaison Group had depended very much on the personalities involved and Mr Bolt paid tribute to its leader, Colonel Bill Short, and Short's second-in-command, Colonel Kilroy, both of whom had run operations with great style. Mr Bolt's memoirs of this period are soon to be published by Hardinge-Simple Press.

The business meeting was then held.

Business meeting

1. Apologies: apologies were received from: Lionel Carter; Marieke Clarke; Stuart Corner; Mahmudal Haq; Adam Lausch-Holubowicz; Kathy Lazenbatt; Margaret Makepeace; Nicholas Martland; Emma Mathieson; San San May; John McIlwaine; Diane Milligan; Nisha Mithani; John O'Brien; Val Pearman; Rosemary Seton; Janet Topp-Fargion.

2. Minutes of the meeting of 9 December 2005: circulated.

3. Matters arising from the minutes: none.

4. Treasurer's report: circulated.

5. SAALG Newsletter: Leena Mitford reported that the next Newsletter would come out in November 2006. She hoped that it might include extracts from Sidney Bolt's forthcoming book. After the next issue, the Newsletter would be produced every two years.

6. Reports on projects: Penny Brook reported that part of the India Office Records' biographical index project (A - F) would soon be available electronically in the British Library's Asia, Pacific and African Studies Reading Room.

7. Next SAALG conference: this would be held in London, at a venue to be decided.

8. Other business:

a. Ursula Sims-Williams drew delegates' attention to the list of duplicate periodicals on offer from the Ancient India and Iran Trust.

b. Rachel Rowe reported the sudden death, the previous month, of Dr Raj Chandavarkar, Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge. She noted that a major review of South Asian studies at the University was now in progress.

c. Jan Usher, of the National Library of Scotland, was elected the new Secretary of SAALG in place of Antonia Moon.

d. Penny Brook and Antonia Moon agreed to investigate the possibility of hosting the SAALG website on the British Library server.