Part four: A NEW ERA - XV. People I Have Known
People I Have Known
THE PEOPLE whom I have met and known throughout my life stand out in my recollection more vividly and sharply than the dogmas that I have heard preached, the theories that I have heard argued, the policies that I have known to be propounded and abandoned. I have enjoyed the friendship of beautiful and accomplished women, of brilliant and famous men, who throng the corridors of my memory.
The most beautiful woman whom I ever knew was without doubt Lady D'Abernon -- formerly Lady Helen Vincent -- the wife of Britain's great Ambassador in Berlin. The brilliance of her beauty was marvelous to behold: the radiance of her coloring, the perfection of her figure, the exquisite modeling of her limbs, the classic quality of her features, and the vivacity and charm of her expression. I knew her for more than forty years; and when she was seventy the moment she came into a room, however many attractive or lovely young women might be assembled there, every eye was for her alone. Nor was her beauty merely physical; she was utterly unspoiled, simple, selfless, gay, brave and kind.
If Lady D'Abernon was pre-eminent, there were many, many others whose loveliness it is a joy to recall: Lady Curzon, now Countess Howe; Mme. Letelier, Swedish by origin, and almost from childhood a leading social figure; Princess Kutusov; the American, Mrs. Spottiswoode, who took London by storm during the Edwardian era, who married Baron Eugene de Rothschild, and -- alas -died young, still in the pride of her beauty and her charm.
The most brilliant conversationalist of my acquaintance was Augustine Birrell, now -- I am told -- an almost legendary figure in an epoch which has largely forgotten the art of conversation. Oscar Wilde I never met, for his tragic downfall had overwhelmed him before I first came to Europe. Strangely enough I had one chance of making his acquaintance after he came out of prison. My friend Lady Ripon was one of those who stood loyally by him after his disgrace. One day in 1899 I encountered her in the hall of the Ritz in Paris, and she invited me to dine with her and one or two others in a private room at the Café Voisins to meet Wilde; but unluckily an important previous engagement prevented me from accepting her invitation.
I have referred to my friend Walter Berry. He was one who could more than hold his own in any society however brilliant or accomplished. Another of a different epoch and from a profoundly different background was Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the German financial wizard, who every time that I met him held a whole table enthralled.
I have known many women who allied great social and conversational talent to their beauty; notable among them were Mrs. Edwin Montagu and Lady Diana Duff Cooper (now Lady Norwich). My friend, Lady Cunard, was unique -- the most complete personality that I have ever encountered. Another figure of legend whom I knew well was the Comtesse de Chevigny who was, as is well known, the original -- or shall I say the chief original? -- of Proust's Duchesse de Guermont. One of the most striking and memorable of the novelist's descriptions of her is at a great party in, I think, 1900. She looked worried and preoccupied, and when asked what was the matter, replied, "La Chine m'inquiete." And I reflect that more than once, in those far-off, seemingly carefree days before the First World War, I met the Comtesse de Chevigny and saw, across the dinner table, amidst all that brilliance and gaiety, that same sad and haunted expression. Had I asked her, would she have answered, I wonder, "L'Allemagne m'inquiete" or "Agadir m'inquiete..."?
Only recently, in the summer of 1953, I made the acquaintance of one of the most remarkable men of our time, an agreeable, shrewd and courtly old gentleman, the Sheikh of Kuweit, who is the personal embodiment of a truly astonishing romance -- the romance of a sudden, dazzling rise to almost incalculable wealth. Kuweit's oil resources have only lately been tapped, but they are of tremendous richness. The royalties which the Sheikh derives from them suffice, at present, to enrich him and his little principality something like fifty million pounds a year. This sudden flood of wealth has come to what, until recently, was a small, frugal Arab state (though nominally under British protection it has always preserved its independence, and therefore its ruler ought to be designated as Sultan, not as Sheikh), whose population, through many centuries, had pursued their changeless callings as fishermen, tillers of the soil or nomad shepherds. Suddenly industrial need, with its accompanying exploitation and expansion, has enveloped them, bringing a swift and total revolution in their way of life and outlook.
It is particularly fortunate therefore that the Sheikh himself is a man of great wisdom, who allies an incredibly clear-sighted understanding of what this industrial and technical revolution means to a profound awareness of his own responsibilities. I especially delighted in his company because I found a kindred spirit, one whose mind had its full store of Arab and Islamic history and culture, and a steadfast appreciation of the spiritual unity of the Arab world which underlies its present divisions and miseries.
There is, I have often thought, a curious resemblance between the Arabia of today and the Germany of 1830: the many political divisions and subdivisions, minorities far dispersed and under foreign rule, the jumble of monarchies and republics, and withal the drive of a common language, a common culture and a common faith -- and that common faith being Islam is sufficiently tolerant to embrace the Christian minority in its midst and admit them to a full share in Arab traditions, culture and aspirations. How will the Arab world evolve? Who can tell? But who, at the time of the Congress of Vienna, could have foretold the astonishing course of German history over the subsequent century?
The core of the Arab world is the high, central plateau of the Arabian Peninsula itself. Here Islam was born. Hence its vast tide of expansion poured out in the centuries after the death of the Prophet, that tide which carried Arab and Muslim culture across enormous area of the world -- to India and China and Southeast Asia, to Byzantium, down the length of Africa, and deep into Europe, being stemmed only at Roncesvalles. Hence in succeeding centuries has come every great wave of Arab resurgence. Is the whole drive ended now? Few would dare say so with confidence. But given the conditions of today, and the domination of the world by science and technology, the Arab's future greatness must be spiritual and cultural. This is far more in keeping with Islam whose very meaning is "Peace."
For in Arabia vast and portentous processes of change are at work. After a series of violent and vigorous campaigns, during the years of the final decline and the Ottoman Empire's suzerainty over these regions, Ibn Saud consolidated his authority over a large part of the peninsula. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is his creation, and there can be no doubt that His Majesty King Abdul Aziz was one of the outstanding Arab personalities of recent centuries. The veteran Ibn Saud has sired a splendid brood of sons, numbering nearly forty, all tall, handsome, virile men -- the modern counterparts of those bearded gallants who swagger through the pages of the Arabian Nights, causing strong men to tremble and maidens to swoon. Yet they cannot be dismissed as simple storybook characters; many of Ibn Saud's sons possess his redoubtable characteristics -- whether in glamorous Arab dress or in European clothes -for they are as much at home in committee rooms, conference halls and the saloons of luxury hotels in London or in Washington as they are in their father's tents at Nejd.
For to Saudi Arabia the West has lately come, with the same allembracing compulsive vigor as to Kuweit; the oil resources of the former are believed to be among the richest in the world. American enterprise is revolutionizing its economic existence. But the enormous power that this development brings is being used in a most enlightened and skillful manner, and it makes nonsense of the shallow propagandist allegations about the crushing effects of "economic imperialism." The United States is creating, in its dealings with Saudi Arabia, a new and profoundly significant pattern of relationships between so-called "backward" and "advanced" countries. There is the maximum of economic assistance and support, and exploitation of natural resources, with a complete absence of political interference. This outlook expresses itself in personal relations as well; it is a firm rule that if any American working in Saudi Arabia is discovered to have failed in courtesy toward the poorest Arab, he is at once sent home and forbidden to come back. There is thus being built up a sense of confidence, of good will and of mutual respect between the two peoples -- and between individuals -- which is of immense value both in itself and as an example to other nations who, whether under Point Four schemes or the Colombo Plan or any other of these world-wide arrangements, come into similar contact.
Whenever the state of my health has permitted, I have traveled widely since the end of the war. I have visited the two new independent nations that have succeeded the Indian Empire which I knew from my childhood; I have been to Egypt and East Africa, to Iran and to Burma.
Before the end of British rule in India one of the curious and erroneous opinions widely canvassed was that Indians lacked the capacity to govern themselves, manage their own affairs and play their full part in the councils of the world. Recent years have demonstrated the glaring falsity of this idea. Both countries have been particularly well served by their statesmen, high officials and diplomats; and their contributions to the work of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations have been many and valuable.
Bharat -- though an assassin's hand struck down Mahatma Gandhi at a time when his country still badly needed him -- has been devotedly served by many brilliant and patriotic men and women, notably Sardar Patel, Mr. Nehru and his talented sister, Mrs. Pandit. My own contacts with the new regime in Delhi are close and cordial, and I have been received there with great kindness and hospitality. We are all constantly aware of the immensely important part India plays, with increasing sureness and felicity of touch, in international affairs, seeking to provide a bridge of understanding between the West and a resurgent Asia in a fashion that is both courageous and sensible.
Pakistan faced at the outset a far harder task than her neighbor. In Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay and other cities there existed both the traditions of a strong and stable administration and the facilities -the staff, the buildings and the equipment -- to maintain it. In Pakistan, however, everything, literally everything, had to be built from the very beginning. Typewriters, pens and paper and file covers hardly existed. Hundreds of miles separated East and West Pakistan. Neither had, in the ordinary sense, a capital city. Karachi and Dacca doubled and redoubled their size overnight; everything had to be built from the foundations up, and every ordinary facility of administration and government had to be established anew.
This vast task was undertaken with extraordinary skill and pertinacity. Pakistan was a going concern from the outset. Part of the genius of the Quaid-i-Azam was that, like the Prophet himself, he attracted into his orbit able and devoted people, and Pakistan has been served, throughout her brief existence, by men and women of the highest moral and intellectual caliber. They came from the ranks, not only of his previous followers, but of those who had been severely critical of his policy in earlier days. Their achievements have given the lie to all the croaking prophets who could foresee nothing but disaster for the young state.
First and foremost, of course, was the Quaid-i-Azam's sister, Miss Fatima Jinnah, who had been his companion, friend and helper for many years, who presided over his homes in London and Bombay, and later in his palace in Karachi and his summer home at the hill station of Ziarat. Miss Jinnah has much of the strength of character of her famous brother, much of his manner, voice, resolute bearing and appearance. Now, after his death, she is still prominent in public life, with a large and faithful following; and she acts as a zealous and vigilant guardian of the moral and political independence of her brother's God-given realm.
Ghulam Mohammed, the present Governor General, universally admired and respected, is a former industrialist and a learned and devoted student of the history of Islam, its magnificent rise, its gradual decline and its present hope and chance of rising, phoenixlike, from the ashes of the past. A former distinguished colleague of mine at the Round Table Conference and the committees which followed, Zafrullah Khan, is at present Foreign Minister; and he brings to his herculean responsibilities sagacity, forensic ability and great experience in the field of international affairs.
There was too the Quaid-i-Azam's faithful and skilled henchman, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was another tragic victim of the wave of violence and assassination which for some years swept the East. He is survived by his wife, in her own field of work and interests hardly less able and certainly no less devoted than her staunch and beloved husband. But Liaquat will long be missed; for surely if the Quaid had asked for an Abu Bakr, for a Peter, he could not have been granted a better one than Liaquat Ali Khan, whose qualities were not bright or showy but whose strength of character was solid, durable and of the utmost fidelity. He proved his worth in Pakistan's second stern testing. The Quaid's death, so soon after the foundation of Pakistan, strikingly resembled that of the Prophet himself who was received into the "Companionship-on-High" very soon after the triumph and consolidation of his temporal conquests. Similarly the Quaid did not live to preside long over the growth of the mighty child that he had fathered.
But Liaquat was in every way a worthy successor. Yet he who had been so near to the Quaid was himself soon to be struck down. Truly it may be said that he gave his soul to God. As life ebbed from him, his last words were: "No God but God, and Mohammed his messenger."
That is the stamp of a man whose achievement is the Pakistan of today. I think gladly of others: of Habib Rabimtoola, the brilliant son of a brilliant father, who had, as High Commissioner in London immediately after the formation of the State, a post of especial responsibility; of Mr. Isphani who, at the same critical period, represented his young country in Washington; of the present Prime Minister, formerly a very successful High Commis sioner in Ottawa, who is the grandson of Nawab Ali Chowdry, a colleague of mine in the early days of the Muslim League; of Amjid Ali, for many years my honorary secretary who has rendered great service in the most onerous of charges; and of the other Mohammed Ali, a brilliant expert on economics and finance.
Most of these men are comparatively young in years, and they come from families with industrial and commercial rather than political or official traditions. Their zeal, their efficiency and their success in their new tasks have all been notable. Is not the explanation that they have been sustained by their patriotism, by their devotion to a great cause, and, above all, by their Muslim faith and their consciousness of immediate and permanent responsibility to the Divine?
My most recent, postwar visit to Burma was a particularly happy experience. As I have pointed out earlier, I took the step of advising my followers in Burma, a good many years ago, to identify themselves in every possible way with the outlook, customs, aspirations, and way of life of the people among whom they dwelt -to give up their Indo-Saracenic names, for example, and to take Burman names; to adopt Burman dress, habits and clothing, and apart from their religion and its accompanying practices, to assimilate themselves as much as possible in the country of their adoption. Now that the people of Burma have regained their independence, this advice of mine, and the full and faithful way in which my followers have carried it out, have borne fruit. My wife and I were received in Burma by the President and the Prime Minister and many other leading and notable personalities with the utmost kindness and friendliness. Burma is a beautiful country; her people unite a deep piety (in few other countries does the Prime Minister have to be begged not to retire from office and -- as he longs to do -- assume the saffron robe and the begging bowl of the mendicant monk) to gaiety, gentleness and intensely hospitable generosity.
They were especially happy days that we spent in Rangoon. The climax of the hospitality which we received was reached, perhaps, on the night that we were bidden to dine, in our own apartments, on Burman food specially prepared for us in the President's palace. At eight o'clock sharp two aides de camp and several servants arrived with an array which marshaled in all something like thirty courses. The Burmans are by no means vegetarians nor are they particularly ascetic in their diet. Most of the dishes were very, very rich and very, very nourishing. When they were laid out, we asked the aides de camp to join us. After a few courses we announced that we had finished.
"Oh, no," said the aides de camp, smiling in the friendliest fashion. "We have been specially sent to see that you try every dish."
Such hospitality was irresistible. On we battled as bravely as we could, on and on to the puddings, the bonbons and the sugared fruit. After all, I had lived in Victorian London and had attended the long, rich and stately banquets of that era, but never in all my life have I known a meal which in variety and subtlety of taste and flavor could rival that dinner so kindly given to us by the President of Burma.
Iran, the home of my ancestors for many centuries, I first visited in February, 1951, to be present at the wedding of His Imperial Majesty the Shah. Although the circumstances and the duties of an active and busy life had, by chance, prevented me from going to Iran until I was well past seventy, I have always taken great pride in my Iranian origin. Both my father and my mother, it will be recalled, were grandchildren of Fateh Ali Shah, who was a pure Kajar of Turkish descent, and the outlook and way of life of the home in which I was brought up was almost entirely Iranian.
Therefore to go to Iran was in a real sense a homecoming. It was made especially precious by the graciousness and the kindness we received as personal guests of the Emperor, and in the beautiful palace which Her Imperial Highness, Princess Shams, most graciously put at our disposal.
In Mahalat, which was long my ancestors' home, I was received by thousands of Ismailis from all over Persia. It was good to see that their womenfolk had all given up the chaddur, the Persian equivalent of the Indian purdah. Isfahan, which we also visited, is more old-fashioned. There we saw the chaddur frequently worn, and we encountered a good number of men wearing the long, high-buttoned coat that was customary under the rule of the Kajar dynasty. In Tehran the effects of Reza Shah's policy of modernization are numerous and visible. Iranians in general do not resemble any neighboring Asiatic people; in ordinary appearance many of them might be mistaken for southern Caucasians. And nowadays in the cities their adaptation of European -- or allegedly European -dress and a somewhat forlorn appearance of poverty give them the down-at-heel look that one has seen in moving pictures about Russia.
Some of these appearances are, I think, misleading -- especially the appearance of poverty. Weight for weight, man for man, the masses of Iran are certainly better off than the masses of India or China; and although their standard of living is obviously not comparable with that of Western European countries or America, they are in matters particularly of diet better off than the people of many Asiatic nations, living distinctly above, not below, the margin of subsistence.
One fact is clear above the welter of Iran's problems and difficulties: if the present Emperor now has, after all the stirring vicissitudes through which he has lately passed, a free hand and is able to choose his own ministers and advisers and is not hampered by conservatism on the one hand and individualism on the other, Iran will be able greatly to raise her economic and social standards and to support in far better conditions a considerably increased population.
I must not close this brief record of my recent doings and experiences without some reference to an incident a good deal less agreeable than most that have lately come my way. One morning in August, 1949, my wife and I left our villa near Cannes to drive to the Nice airport to catch a plane to Deauville. Our heavy town luggage had gone on by road in our own two cars with our servants. My wife and I and her personal maid, Mlle. Frieda Meyer, were therefore in a car hired from a local garage. I was beside the driver, my wife and her maid in back. About two hundred yards from the gate of our villa the mountain road takes a sharp turn and another small road comes in at the side.
As we reached the intersection we saw another car drawn up across it, so that we could neither pass nor take the by-road. Three men, masked and hooded and extremely heavily armed -- they had no fewer than ten guns among the three of them -- jumped out and closed in on us. One of them slashed one of our back tires. The muzzles of their guns thrust into the car, one a few inches from my wife, another close to my chest. Fear, as one ordinarily understands it, did not bother any of us. I remember that I saw the hands of the man who was covering me trembling violently, and I thought with complete detachment: "That gun is quite likely to go off." My wife's maid, as she has often told me since, thought -again quite without agitation -- "When is he going to kill the Prince?" And my wife at her side had no sensation of alarm or fear at all.
I said, in my normal tone of voice, "We won't resist; we'll give you what you want."
One of them snatched my wife's jewel box which she held in her lap. As they backed away toward their car he said, "Please be kind. Let us get away."
Then when they were just about to jump back into their car, I found my voice and my sense of humor.
"Hi, come back!" I shouted. "You've forgotten your pourboire!"
One of them ran back and I gave him the handful of francs which I had in my pocket.
"Voilà le pourboire," said I.
"Merci, merci," he said again and again, as he ran back to the other car.
We went home and telephoned the police at Lloyd's. Lloyd's dealt with our claim completely and generously. After almost four years had passed, six men were brought to trial in 1953, and three were convicted and sentenced. And that, I think, is all that need be said about an episode as unpleasant as, in my long experience, it was unprecedented.