Indian dies of Eating too Much Opium: London; 1903

April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


Dinyar Patel, a gifted young historian, has written several pieces about the catastrophic state of Indian archives: he has done more to bring this matter to public notice than anyone else. His pieces can be read here, here, here and here.

His most recent article on this subject has just been published in the Hindu. He writes: ‘Over the past fifteen months, I have visited many institutions across the country in connection with my dissertation research on Dadabhai Naoroji. What I have seen has disturbed me. Archival experiences recounted by my academic colleagues have horrified me. Unless the government takes quick and decisive action, India is at risk of letting much of its heritage literally crumble into dust. Written sources of Indian history are at grave risk of being lost forever.’

‘At the National Archives of India, I consult Naoroji’s papers in the Private Archives room, which has broken windows and no proper temperature control. It is no surprise, therefore, that thousands of Naoroji’s letters have been destroyed over the past few decades and that thousands more are now too damaged to be read: while Naoroji bequeathed over 60,000 items upon his death in 1917, less than 30,000 survive today. The papers of Naoroji’s colleagues, such as Romesh Chunder Dutt, are in a similarly shameful state. How would the Grand Old Man, who so enthusiastically championed self-government as a solution to India’s administrative woes, react to this disappearance of so much nationalist heritage? ‘

Recently Dinyar sent me some interesting fragments from Dadabhai Naoroji’s papers. They were prefaced with this:

As a bit of background information: in the Naoroji Papers, there are hundreds and hundreds of letters from Indians resident in the UK from the 1860s-1900s. Since Naoroji was recognized as the most senior and prominent member of the British Indian community, he functioned as a mentor and father-figure for many of them. Whenever anyone got into trouble, faced financial problems, or needed academic advice, they turned to Naoroji. I have discovered a telegraph from New Years Day 1901 (if I remember correctly) at 1am where a police constable at Vine St Station lets Naoroji know that an Indian has been arrested for public drunkenness, and wants Naoroji to bail him out of jail! Some of these letters will be included in an edited volume of selections from the Naoroji Papers that I am co-edited with Professor S.R. Mehrotra, who has written extensively on the early phase of the Indian nationalist movement.


No date (Naoroji’s reply dated 7 April 1903)

Rajaram B. Panvalkar to Dadabhai Naoroji

Anerley Park, London

R-13 (1)

Six handwritten pages

Original: Laminated. Difficult to read due to lamination and ink bleeding through paper.

The following letter was written at Naoroji’s Anerley Park residence, on Naoroji’s stationery. As the author himself indicates, it was written ‘in haste & in mental uneasiness;’ hence, the numerous spelling and grammatical errors, which have all been left intact.

[DN:] repld 7/4/1903

Washington House,

72, Anerley Park,

London. S.E.

Dear Sir

I think you remember to have met Pundit Jwalanath Sharma [(]B.A. B.L. of Calcutta) some months back. He was staying at 50 Kenilworth Road, Kilburn N.W.) [sic].

I am sorry to tell that he is dead; and I wanted to consult you about his funeral; he has some 60£. in the bank (Thomas Cook & Sons). He was a Brahmin and belonged to the Nagari class. I wish to give him a descent creamation [sic] & I hope you will join me in that.

I dare say you know me. I am a member of the London Indian Society. I am a man of no means, therefore I can’t take the matter in my hand. The Police have removed the body to their quarters and tomorrow there will be the coroner’s inquest. The Police have also cabled to his wife in Calcutta through Thomas Cook & Sons) [sic]. I am a Maratha Brahmin. I wish to do my best to help in the matter. The police have his bank acc. book; but if you will be kind enough to forward me me [sic] some advice as to what should be done I shall be highly obliged to you.

The undertaker says he must make a coffin for him—& a special permission for creamation should be issue[d]—or granted.

I am sorry you were not home—hoping to know from [you] immediately tomorrow morning and with kindly regards.

I am writing in haste & in mental uneasiness

Yours sincerely

Rajaram [B. Panvalkar]

If you could conveniently do so, I shall be pleased to see you at his funeral.

I am poor and so could not do anything for him in the matter of money.


Please write without fail—

Hon. Dadabhai Nawaroji

9 April 1903

Rajaram B. Panvalkar to Dadabhai Naoroji

Kilburn, London


Two handwritten pages

Original: fair

[DN:] Repd 10/4/1903


41 Hopefield Avenue,

Kilburn, N.W.


Dear Sir,

The coroner’s inquest took place yesterday forenoon at 11.35 A.M. The doctors verdict was that he died of “heart disease accelerated by opium eating”. We have arranged to cremate him on Saturday morning at 11 A.M. at the Crematorium Golders Green, Finchley. The funeral procession will start from 73, Victoria Road Kilburn N.W. (where he died) at 10 A.M. sharp.

I shall be pleased to see you among us that time if this time is not inconvenient to you.

From Victoria sta.—red buses come straight to Kilburn.

Hoping to see you on Saturday morning—

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