Monday, October 11, 2010


On the west coast of India about 8-10 kms from the port city Mangalore, is a small town called Ullal. Situated on the south bank of the Nethravathy River, it has a scenic coastline along the Arabian Sea. Huge black rocks and treacherous breakers make some parts of the beach unsafe for swimming. But the shady stretches of causarina groves and miles of golden sand make it an ideal place for a holiday.

Way back in the 16th century, Ullal was a small port exporting spices and black pepper. Being a rich and popular trading centre, it was coveted by the Portuguese, British and Dutch. But for almost four decades a young queen called Abbakka, successfully repulsed these intruders, making them beat a hasty retreat. Her main enemy was the Portuguese who tried to capture Ullal on many occasions between 1558 and 1618, by land and by sea. Abbakka had a well trained army drawn from all castes and religions. The Mogaveeras (fisher folk) were sturdy and fearless men who formed the backbone of her army.

In 1568, Portuguese General Joao Peixoto managed to enter her royal court with his men. But Abbakka fled and took shelter in a mosque close by. Here she banded together 200 of her best soldiers and went back to face the enemy. Peixoto and several of his men were killed, and many others taken captive.

Abbakka belonged to the Chowta Dynasty which ruled a part of South Kanara, from the temple town of Moodabidri to Ullal. She had a dusky complexion with sharp attractive features, and though short, carried herself with great dignity. The Chowtas followed the matrilineal system of inheritance. So female members became leaders. Abbakka’s uncle Tirumala Raya trained her in warfare, sword fighting and archery. She was supposed to be the last person who used the fire arrow (Agni Vana) in warfare. She was also an accomplished horse rider.

Tirumala Raya trained her to be a good administrator and business woman. At the age of 15, he made her the Queen of Ullal. But her marriage alliance with Lakkaya the Banga Prince of Mangalore, was disastrous. He was a lackey of the Portuguese, and willingly paid taxes to them hoping to remain in their favour. Abbakka refused to be subservient or to pay taxes to a foreign power. She spurned their terms of trade and preferred to ship commodities directly to the Middle East. Her attitude caused much friction between the couple and she separated from him, returning to Ullal to resume her royal duties.

Even though Abbakka was a queen, she was very simple and always dressed in a cotton sari, with a cloth covering her mouth and upper torso. Her umbrella was made of areca palms. She was also a caring queen who had the best interests of her subjects at heart. She dispensed justice to her people, often working late into the nights.

Abbakka was an astute statesman. She forged alliances with the Zamorin of Calicut, the Sultan of Bijapur Ahmed Nazar, and several Muslim chieftains. Her last war against the Portuguese was in 1618. In the war, she was represented by a General from the Zamorin’s army. Though he was able to capture the Mangalore Fort, he was killed on his way back to Ullal. Abbakka was arrested and jailed soon after. But she revolted and died fighting. She was the first female freedom fighter of India against Colonial powers.

Abbakka belonged to the Jain sect which is so non-violent that it prohibits killing even of an insect. But she had no qualms about vanquishing her enemies through warfare.

After one of the Portuguese defeats, the Emperor of Spain reprimanded his Portuguese commander,
“Are you not ashamed of being defeated again by a black, dwarfish Indian woman named Abbakka? Though she is our enemy, I have great admiration for this heroic woman. Tell me something about her.”

It was the Persian Emperor Shiya Abbas who advised Peitro Della Valle an Italian traveller, to interview Abbakka. “When you go to India, please go to Mangalore without fail. There is a pepper queen named Abbakka, who is the talk of Europe for her victories over the Portuguese. Don’t miss to meet that woman.”

Yet in her own country she was forgotten for centuries, and only remembered in folklore and field dramas. Of late, there has been a resurgence of interest in her. In 2003, the Postal Department issued a stamp to honour her. Bronze statues have been erected in Bangalore and Ullal. There she sits in all her splendour astride a horse, mounted on a high platform at the Abbakka Devi Circle.

Since 1998, the Veera Rani Abbakka Utsava is held annually, when distinguished women are honoured. There is talk of a film on her life in the making.

Visitors to Ullal can see the Somanatheshwar Temple built by the Queen and the remains of her Fort in the vicinity of the temple. The Rudra Rocks (Rudra Shila) close by, is a sight to behold, as it keeps changing colour because of the relentless pounding of the waves. Ullal is well connected by road or train, and a lovely weekend get-away.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The Tulip Festival in May 2006 at Orange City Iowa, was a crowd puller. Here, 19th century Holland was brought to life by people of Dutch origin, through floats, tableaux, music and plenty of Dutch food. It was a pleasure to watch people dressed in period costumes with wooden clogs and bonnets, representing different areas of Holland.

I saw a motley group of middle aged women wearing red hats and purple dresses, in a glaring mismatch of colours. I presumed that this was all a part of the festival, and that these women would probably be part of the parade. They seemed a friendly lot. So I moved closer, and struck up a conversation.

“Which part of the Netherlands do you come from?”

They guffawed.

“Oh dearie,” one of them said, “We’re all from Iowa. We’ve just come here to have some fun.”

“But the garish costumes?”

“You must be new to the country. Haven’t you heard of the Red Hatters in their red hats and purple dresses?”

“No,” I said, “But perhaps you could fill me in.”

And so over tea and Dutch cookies, I heard about this inspiring social group of women above fifty years of age, who meet every month to talk, laugh, eat and enjoy themselves.”

“What do you do?” I asked.

“Nothing. We just have fun. But it’s more than that. You could call it a Fellowship. We share a deep bond of affection forged by our life experiences, and we do have a zest for living.”

Sometime in the mid-nineties, a woman named Sue Ellen Cooper, who lives in Fullerton California, went on a holiday to Tuscon. She bought a bright red hat at a thrift shop, which she thought looked cute. A couple of years later, she happened to read a poem called “Warning” by a British writer called Jenny Joseph, which was about purple dresses and red hats.

An idea struck her, and on her friend Linda Murphy’s 55th birthday, she presented her with the red hat and a copy of the poem. It was well appreciated, and Linda in turn, bought a similar gift for another friend. And so it spread to a group of five women who possessed red hats. To complete the poem’s image, they all bought purple dresses and went out to tea in their eye catching costumes. On April 25th 1998, the Red Hatters’ Society was born in Fullerton California, with five members.

Then one of them sent a red hat as a gift to her friend in Florida. It was the beginning of a sibling group there. Today there are 40,000 chapters in 30 foreign countries all over the world. Each chapter has about 20-25 members.

Their motto is “Red Hats Matter.” They have also adapted Mike Marline’s music as their theme song.

“All my life I’ve given to you,

Now it’s my turn to do for me.”

Most women dread facing middle age. Not these Red hatters. They come from all walks of life – grandmothers, golfers, teachers, entertainers and housewives. Their spirit of buoyancy is infective. They call themselves a ‘disorganisation’ with no rules or by-laws. This makes them adventurous, ready to try out new things, or even change the course of their lives.

Ageing is something to be welcomed with enthusiasm, and not to be anticipated with fear. They have no time for gloomy, morose people who stifle the joy of living. The vibrant colours they wear are liberating.

This particular group in Iowa has taken up a new interest. They are the Red Hat Quilters. At their meetings, the hostess passes out a large square of fabric coloured red or purple, to each member. Each must make a quilted block out of it. When sufficient blocks are made, a lucky winner is given all the blocks, to make a quilt for herself.

Each chapter has its own activity. For those below fifty who would like to join, the colour schemes are different. They have pink hats and lilac dresses. April 25th is celebrated as the Red Hat Society Day.

Just interacting with this group made me feel twenty years younger. I wonder if there are any similar groups in other copuntries. Such lively groups would change the mind set of many middle aged women, who feel lonely and unwanted.

Friday, June 11, 2010


.On my travel to France, the beaches of Normandy beckoned. It is just 10 kms from the English Channel and is famous for the Battle of Normandy during WW II, when the British and Allied forces invaded France by land, sea and air, and captured the town of Caen on 9th July 1944. Today, Caen is totally urbanized, and is the capital of lower Normandy.

Caen brought to mind the story of Charlotte Corday, a woman posthumously nicknamed
“Angel of Assassination,” by the painter Alphonse de Lamartine. She was born into an aristocratic family in Orne, Normandy. As she lost her mother early in life, she was sent off to the Holy Trinity Convent in Caen along with her sister, because her father Jacques Francois de Corday could not cope with their care.

Charlotte had a fine education at the convent. She had access to a well stocked library, where she became acquainted with the life and works of Plutarch, Voltaire, Rousseau and others. This might have influenced her political views in later life. After her education, she stayed with a rich cousin and eventually inherited her estates.

Charlotte approved of the French Revolution and supported the Gerondists, a loose group belonging to the Jacobin Club. She called herself a ‘conservative Gerondist.’ This group consisted of lawyers, journalists, and various professionals who shared a common ideology and also nurtured political ambitions. They considered themselves ‘elite’ and were totally out of touch with the needs of the common people.

Among this radical group was a journalist called Jean Paul Marat. Through his articles and newspaper, he incited people to violence. He even had twenty two of his own fellow Gerondists arrested. The irony of it was that he wrote his dangerous missives from a bath tub in which he was perpetually immersed, because of an intractable skin disease.

Charlotte became disillusioned by the group, and held Marat responsible for the September Massacre. He was also indirectly responsible for the execution of Louis XVI. In 1793, when fellow Girondist Jacques Pierre Brissot denounced Marat openly, she decided that something had to be done about it. She hated violence and bloodshed and was afraid that Marat would start a civil war against the Republic.
“I will stop him and end all this violence,” she vowed, “He is nothing but a heartless rabble rouser.”

In July 1793, Charlotte left for Paris with a copy of Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives,” and checked into Hotel de Providence. Then she wrote out her message to the people of France, about the necessity of eliminating Marat. Armed with a kitchen knife having a sharp six inch blade, she set out for Marat’s house. She was denied entry even though she claimed that she had reliable information about a Girondist uprising in Caen.

Undeterred, Charlotte returned that evening. This time she was allowed entry. As usual, Marat lay soaking in his bath tub. Charlotte approached with a list of some Gerondist names. As he took the paper from her, she plunged her knife into his heart. But she least expected that this would make him a martyr.

At her trial Charlotte proudly announced, “I killed one man to save 100,000 lives.”
But the Tribunal would not allow her to be revered for her political idealism. They declared her insane, and four days later, on the 17th of July, 1793, she was guillotined.
As an insult, her decapitated head was slapped by a man called Legros. Legend has it that Charlotte turned her indignant eyes at him and bored into his soul. The man was imprisoned three months later for this act.

But Charlotte was not to be forgotten. Two years later, she was hailed as a heroine who sacrificed her life to kill a monster.
She has been immortalized by poets like Shelley and painters like Alphonse de Lamartine.
An Italian composer even wrote a three-act opera about her, which was staged in Rome in 1989. Her life reminds me of what Shakespeare said, “Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant taste of death but once.”

Monday, April 26, 2010


Budapest is one of the many beautiful cities in Europe. Spread out on the banks of the Danube with Buda on the hilly west and Pest on the flat east bank, the two portions are connected by eight impressive bridges. After a guided tour of the imposing buildings like Parliament House, Opera House and the numerous Roman Catholic churches in Baroque or Gothic styles, it is nice to enter a local tavern for a plate of gulyas (meat and vegetable stew) and a glass of wine. My other place of interest was Dunaharasti by the Danube, where Amrita Shergill of mixed descent was born on January 30th, 1913.

Only a few years ago, an Indian HRD Minister had unveiled a plaque on the wall of this house. Ironically, the present occupant a tailor was unaware of its historic importance. I had seen Shergill’s paintings at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, and was fascinated by her life and times.

Amrita’s father was a Sikh aristocrat and also a Sanskrit scholar. Her mother was an upper class Hungarian pianist. Her parents were not the best of role models. While her father was grim and orthodox, her mother was a social butterfly with several peccadilloes under her belt. But she was the driving force behind Amrita’s achievements and encouraged her to work hard at her paintings.

Amrita was head strong, opinionated and independent. She came down heavily on her critics though she herself was critical of the work of others. She believed she was a natural painter with ‘a peculiarity that resented outside interference.’ She was drawn towards colour and form just as she was to landscapes and nature.
“I cannot contain my appetite for colour. I wonder if I ever will,” she said.

At the age of eight, she moved with her family from Hungary to Simla, a hill resort in India. But a year later, she and her mother went to Italy, in pursuit of an Italian sculptor with whom her mother had fallen in love.

Though Amrita was exposed to Italian masters of painting while schooling at Santa Anunciata, the regime of the convent was restrictive and she returned to India. Some say she was dismissed for proclaiming that she was an atheist. In India, she studied under Erin Backlay for two years, but didn’t like the way he used live models. So she left.

In 1929, she was sent to Paris for a degree in Fine Arts. At sixteen, she studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, learnt to read and write French, and also painted vigorously. She was exposed to the best Art Galleries and Museums in the city. Amrita was greatly influenced by the work of Cezanne and to a lesser extent Gauguin. The use of colour, techniques to represent depth of models, the intimate relationship between form and colour, was what she learnt from the work of the great masters. Amrita was the youngest and only Asian to be honoured as Associate of the Grand salon in Paris, for her painting of young girls.

Amrita returned to India in 1934. Human forms were her forte. Her keen powers of observation and deep compassion for people, was evident through her paintings. She combined her knowledge of western art with her Indian sensibilities, to produce her most outstanding work. There was something intrinsically melancholy in the people she portrayed. “They are like moving silhouettes on a landscape,” she said, “No amount of colour can change that melancholy.”
She captured on canvas sad child brides, powerless submissive women, beggars, vagrants and scenes from village life.
“Her art moves from melancholy to tragic,” says Salman Rushdie.

Between 1934 and 1938, Amrita travelled around India, visiting Ajantha and Ellora, Travancore, Cochin and other places. She was critical of Indian Art and dismissed it as “putrid specimens of western academic painting.” However, she had a great admiration for the Ajantha frescoes, and called them ‘inspirational.’

Amrita had a Bohemian lifestyle, was fun loving, glamourous, and like her mother an inveterate flirt. It was said that she even had a crush on Nehru.
“I fall in and out of love or rather I fall in love with someone else before damage is done.”
Flirting was her way of reaching people’s minds through their bodies.

In 1938, she went back to Hungary and married her cousin Dr. Victor Egan, much against her family’s wishes. They thought he was lazy, idle and irresponsible. A year later, she returned to Simla with her husband, who found a job as physician in her uncle’s sugar factory there.

In 1941, this happy wanderer and her husband moved to Lahore, as she had fallen out with her family. But she died prematurely at the age of 29, on December 3rd, 1941. Some said it was due to bacillary dysentery, but many were not convinced. She didn’t live to see the exhibition of her painting which opened at Lahore, two days later.

Amrita Shergill will be remembered for her prodigious collection of paintings and unique style. There are about 147 of them. This young woman paved the way for a contemporary style and freedom of expression in Indian painting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


In the good old days when Calcutta was the capital of British India, foreigners thought it was a nice place to work, live or visit. Whether civilians or military officers, missionaries or infidels, traders or gamblers of English, Scottish, French or Greek descent, they overran the city, until British India was firmly and permanently edged out by Bharat Mata.

A stroll through the numerous graveyards with their ornate tombs that dot the city, transports us back through the archives of Time, conjuring up lives that were sometimes extraordinary.

In the St. John’s Churchyard on Council Street very close to the Hooghly, lie the remains of Begum Frances Johnson, the Grand Dame of 18th century Calcutta – a woman who was born and brought up in India, and chose to die in the country of her adoption. Neither the heat, dust nor noise of the city could drive her out of her beloved Bengal.
However, there was no compromise on her style of living, and like a true English lady she had dinner at 4 p.m, and then entertained till the wee hours of the morning. Always dressed in lace, truffles, buttons or bows, she was extremely popular as a hostess. Only the high and the influential dined at her table. The likes of Warren Hastings and his wife, Lord Cornwallis, Lord Morrington and Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington were her regular invitees. Frances lived in style with nine slave girls (Bengali or African) to do her bidding.

But Begum? Where did the English lady acquire such a title? Was she married to an Indian? Her story unfolds like a fairy tale – sometimes amusing, sometimes sad. Her life was an intriguing chiaroscuro of sunlight and shadows.

Frances was a popular socialite with a wide circle of influential friends. The Nawab of Bengal admired and treated her with great respect. His mother Amina Begum became a very dear friend. It was because of this close association that Frances came to be known as Begum Frances Johnson.

Francis was born at Fort St. David on the Coromandel Coast, on April 10th 1728. Her father Edward Croke was the governor of the fort, under the East India Company. Her mother Isabella Beizor was of Portuguese descent.

Frances’ foray into marriage was jinxed from the start. At the age of 13, she was married to Perry Peupler Templar in Calcutta. The marriage ended with his death five years later. She bore him two children who died in infancy.
Her second marriage to a merchant James Altham was cut short in ten days, when he succumbed to small pox.

Two years later, she married William Watts a company agent at Cossimbazaar. It was a long lasting and happy marriage. She bore him three children and was pregnant with the fourth, when the Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-daula attacked the fort in 1756. Watts offered no resistance but meekly surrendered. Because of Frances’ close association with his mother, Frances and children were allowed to stay on at the fort. They were then moved to Murshidabad and later to Chandernagore, when Calcutta was seized by the Nawab.

Calcutta was soon reclaimed by Clive, and Frances was able to join her husband. Because the Nawab regarded her so highly, she was sent by the British to negotiate with him after his defeat at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
Two years later, Walter and his family went back to England. But after his death in 1764, Frances who didn’t like the English weather returned to Calcutta in 1769, and settled down at 12, Clive Street where she stayed till her death. At 36, having outlived three husbands, she was a wealthy woman.

But in 1774, she blundered into a fourth marriage with the Reverend William Johnson, Chaplain of St. John’s Church. He was 16 years her junior who preened himself like a peacock, and was extremely unkind to her. This ill-conceived folly can only be attributed to her midlife insecurities. In spite of her wealth and social life she was lonely. But the man chipped at her self confidence. So in 1787, she had the marriage annulled and he was sent back to England with a handsome annuity from her.

Begum now 59 years old, and was happy and at peace. Of her five grandchildren, four returned to serve in India. One of them was the Earl of Liverpool. Frances lived till the ripe old age of 83. She died on 3rd February 1812, after a series of mini strokes and multiple abscesses. She was buried on the site she had chosen, opposite the ornate mausoleum of Job Charnock, founder of Calcutta, in St. John’s Churchyard. Her funeral was well attended by the bigwigs in town, which included the Governor General and Chief Justice of Calcutta. On her impressive tomb is a lengthy inscription summing up the life of this beloved ‘Grand Dame of Calcutta.’

Monday, February 22, 2010


Hyderabad the “Pearl City of India” is a fascinating blend of past and present. Here cultures old and new coalesce into a colourful mosaic of architectural marvels, museums, parks and gardens, which transport the spell bound tourist from the forts and tombs of an elite Islamic past to Ramoji’s modern film city, from ancient purana havelis to the magnificent homes of the rich and famous on Jubilee Hills.

I searched in vain for the house where India’s nightingale was born. But like the mysterious veiled Rebecca in the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad has drawn a veil over her natal home.
“Sarojini Naidu ? Who?”
A blank look crossed the faces of those whom I asked, “Man, she must belong to Ancient history.”

Sarojini was born on the 13th of February, 1879 to Aghorinath Chattopadya a scientist, philosopher and educator, who founded the Nizam College, and a well known Bengali poetess Varadha Sundari Devi. Sarojini inherited the best genes of both her parents. She was something of a child prodigy, who passed her matriculation exam at the age of 13, and wrote a 1300 line poem on the Lady of the Lake in her early teens. She also wrote a play ‘Maher Muneer’ in Persian with some help from her father, which was well received in the literary world. The Nizam of Hyderabad was so impressed by her genius, that he offered her a scholarship to study abroad.

In 1895, at the age of 15, much against her will, she was sent to England. She studied at Kings College and Girton College Cambridge, rubbing shoulders with Arthur Symonds and Edmund Gausse. At this particular period in her life, she was influenced by the works of Tennyson, Shelley and Elizabeth Barret Browning, and her poems were western oriented. But Symonds and Gausse advised her to write on oriental themes – her own country, its mountains, rivers and people! She took their advice seriously. In her ‘Indian Love Song’ she wrote, “On ripe mango boughs of many coloured fruits, bright parrots cluster like vermilion flowers.” In her ‘Coromandel Fishers,’ she pictured “the wind asleep in the arms of dawn, like a child that has cried all night.”

Rich in imagery, her poems dealt with love and longing, separation and death. In ‘Ecstasy’ she talked of “the burden of love like the grace of a flower that is smitten with rain.”
Someone said that her poems had English words but an Indian soul.
Between 1905 and 1917, she published three volumes of poems – ‘The Golden Threshold,’ ‘Bird of Time,’ and ‘The Broken Wings,’ and won for herself the sobriquet “Nightingale of India.” Unfortunately today, her poems have been consigned to the archives. Modern poets call them “sentimental and mushy.” Others think they are “monotonous and boring.”
Poetry today has no rhyme or rhythm. Poems are mostly prose masquerading as poetry. No wonder Goethe said, “Modern poets mix too much water with their ink.”
Both Nehru and Tagore appreciated her poems.

Under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini channeled her energies into the Freedom Movement. When Gandhi was imprisoned in 1930, she took over the helm of the Movement. In 1931, she attended the Round Table Summit in London with Gandhi. Though she worked closely with him, she was never awed by his presence. In fact, she often teased him about his quirks. Many times she told him that the Freedom Movement lacked humour.
“May I confess privately that at odd intervals, I don’t feel very satyagrahic.”
She nicknamed Gandhi ‘Mickey Mouse’ and called him ‘My Little Man’ or ‘My Mystic Spinner.’ She never failed to remind him that it cost the exchequer a packet to keep him poor.

When Sarojini was sent to South Africa to encourage the Indians to fight against oppression, she wrote to Gandhi, “I cannot sleep in South Africa and its all your fault.”
Sarojini moved with politicians like Nehru, Gokhale, Malaviya and even Jinnah, whom she called ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.’ Whether joining Gandhi in the Dandi March or participating in the movement against the Rowlett Act, she made her presence felt. In 1942, she was arrested during the Quit India Movement and was imprisoned for several months.

Sarojini was a feminist to the core. Her first defiance of tradition came at the age of 19, when she married a South Indian doctor Govindarajulu Naidu. It was an unacceptable union, as the doctor was a non-Brahmin. They married in 1898 under the Brahmo Samaj Act. This was a happy union, and she bore him four daughters.

Sarojini travelled extensively all over India giving lectures to youth on Dignity of labour, and Women’s Emancipation. She brought women out of their kitchens and championed their rights. She encouraged them to participate in politics. She wanted every woman to be aware of her self worth.
“We want a new breed of men before India can be cleansed of her diseases.”
“We want a deeper sincerity of motive, a greater courage in speech and earnestness in action.”
Oh how the modern day feminists would have embraced her!

Sarojini was the founder of the “Women’s India Association” and worked closely with Annie Besant and Margaret Cousins. She became the first governor of U.P. and died in Lucknow at the age of 70, on 2nd March 1949. On her 61st Death Anniversary, one recalls Nehru’s eulogy to the Nightingale of India.
“Here was a person of great brilliance…….a person vital and vivid…….of so many gifts, some of which made her unique. She infused artistry and poetry into the national struggle.”
One can only salute her indomitable spirit and her capacity to face difficulties “with a light heart and a song on her lips.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

BERTHA VON SUTTNER – “Generalissimo of the Peace Movement.”

“The streets of Vienna are surfaced with culture as the streets of other cities with asphalt,” said Karl Krause. The city is a veritable gallery of Austrian art, with its artistic palaces and theatres designed by master architects and sponsored by royal patrons and wealthy landlords.

But in the midst of all these buildings is the Memorial Against War and Fascism, built in 1988 on the Albertina Platz. It is in memory of the sufferings of Austrians especially Jews in World War II. Three massive pillars in plaster of paris, stand upright in the Square, on which are engraved the bodies of mutilated men and women, with their aggressors standing above, wielding knives and staves. In between the pillars is the cast iron figure of a man scrubbing the floor. He represents the Jews who were made to scrub the streets clean, during that terrible period.

Even before World War I, Baroness Bertha von Suttner of Austria said, “Europe is one. Uniting it is the only way to prevent world catastrophe.” To this end she worked tirelessly, developing the concept of a society which would achieve peace through its people.

During her visit to Paris in 1887, Bertha heard of the International Peace and Arbitration Movement in London. She flew there to join the Movement and soon became its spokesperson, lecturing, writing and involving people all over the world.

Bertha von Suttner was born posthumously in Prague on June 9th, 1843. Her father Count Joseph Franz Kinsky was a Field Marshall and also the chamberlain to Emperor Franz
Joseph I. The Austrian society in which she grew up was seeped in military tradition. As an adult, Bertha opposed war. Her first book, “Lay Down Your Arms” published in 1889, was an indictment of militarism. In her second book “Machine Age” also published in 1889, she foretold the consequences of extreme nationalism and accumulation of arms. Her predictions came true two months after her death on June 21, 1914, with the outbreak of World War I.

Life was not always easy for Bertha. She tried various jobs to support herself. At the age of 30, she became tutor to the four daughters of Baron von Suttner, in Vienna. But she kept her intellectual life alive by reading and studying books on Science, History and Philosophy. She was also a musician.

Falling in love with the scion of the von Suttner family did not meet with the Baron’s approval. So she took off to Paris and worked as a secretary to Alfred Nobel. But after two years she could no more bear the separation from her lover and returned to Vienna. She was secretly married to Arthur Gundacear von Suttner on June 18, 1876, but had to live in Tiflis, Caucasus for nine years because of stern family opposition. The couple could return to Vienna only after reconciliation with the family in 1885.

In 1891, Bertha published a manifesto that led to the formation of the Austrian Peace Society. She was the only lady in a group of males. She also helped establish the German Peace Association and the International Peace Bureau in Geneva.

In 1899, at the first Peace Conference held in the Netherlands, she along with other peaceniks convinced the delegates of the need for a structure to resolve international conflicts. As a result, the Permanent Court of Arbitration came into existence.

Bertha’s friendship with Alfred Nobel began in 1876 and continued till the end of her life. The latter imbibed his pacifist ideas from her. She wrote, “Mr. Nobel and I exchanged several letters. He wrote soulful and intelligent letters but with a melancholic note. He seemed to be unhappy, misanthropic, highly cultured, and to own a deeply philosophical concept of the world.”
Her communications with Nobel are in the archives of the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

In 1905, Bertha was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace. Today in a world rocked by violence and wars, Baroness Bertha von Suttner, the “Generalissimo of the Peace Movement” is forgotten, and the most influential book of the 19th century “Lay Down Your Arms,” with its distinct ant-military message, lies tucked away in some mouldy archive.