Ralph Russell: auto/biography

Part 3: 1958 -2008
coming shortly ….
The final volume of Ralph’s life story is being put together almost a decade after his death, so it will have elements of a biography, assessing the significance of his extraordinary life, together with a continuation of his own autobiographical reflections, through extracts from materials that he left.

As he explained in his preface to Losses Gains, there was already an element of this in how we worked on Parts 1 & 2:

‘The writing is my own, but Marion’s strong interest in helping me tell my story in a way which would make sense to a wide range of readers drew her into a role of more than editor, and has resulted in a book that is the product of our joint efforts. Much of the material draws on unconnected things I had written much nearer the time, and for widely differing audiences. Until Marion pointed it out I was often not aware of what else needed to be said to make it intelligible to an audience today. She has challenged, prompting me to think through more clearly what I wanted to say, and suggesting ways to better convey the life I have chosen to live.’

As that interactive process is no longer possible, where there are obvious gaps in the materials that Ralph left, I will need to fill them by other means, one of which will be the recollections of people who knew him. This will provide something his own writing alone could not – a sense of how he was seen by others.

His own reflections cover:

  • Several extended periods living in India and Pakistan
  • Teaching at SOAS and in the wider community in the UK 
  • Writing to introduce Urdu literature to English speakers
  • Political activity during the student upheavals of 1968 and after
  • A campaign to get Urdu taught in schools in Britain

Underpinning all that are his personal values, the outcome of a lifetime of reflection on what he understood it should mean to be a communist;  his thoughts about his position as an atheist working closely with Muslim believers; and the unusual range of his friendships.

If you, or anyone you know, can contribute something from your own memories of Ralph and your contact with him, please get in touch.

Return to Ralph Russell, Urdu scholar