The Shattered World of Dora and Laci, Hungary 1956

An impossible love in the Hungarian Uprising of 1956






On this day, 29 March 2001, died a 95 years old British lady in a small village in Tamil Nadu. Dora Scarlett had spent 42 years in India, nearly all of that time running a small rural clinic, driven by volunteers. She was a naturalised Indian. And, surprising for a former communist, got a MBE for her work in the Tamil countryside,  in 1994.

There was, of course, a time before India. In 1942, she got a job in the foreign languages section of Radio Budapest in (then) Communist Hungary. She quickly learned the Hungarian language. In 1956, that enabled her to become an intimate observer of the Hungarian Uprising against the Hungarian Communist Party  and the Soviet interference. When the uprising was put down she fled, and a few years later wrote and privately published her observations in A Window Onto Hungaary (1958). It remained little known, but the experts acknowledge it as the best eye witness account by a foreigner.

Back in Britain, she left the CPGB. She got stuck with small joibs, till the Urdu scholar Ralph Russell suggested her to go to India. The only name she knew there, was Monica Felton in Madras, who had written a biography of Rajagopalachari. Especially after she had started the clinic, she had contacts with (ex) communists, Christian priests and Indian marxists, hindu priests, and peasants. And the occasional foreign volunteer, like me.

I visited her with great intervals as an old friend, but certainly also for the change of scene, when I was doing archival research in Kolkata and Delhi into HO tribal history. We were friends, but she never mentioned her private life to me, or to any other friend or co-worker. She was absorbed in her work and the Tamil countryside.

But then, in 1989, socialism fell in eastern Europe and Hungary. During a visit the next year, she invited me for a drink …

I am the only one to whom she told this. She had the great love of her life during the Hungarian Uprising. She mentioned no name, and, knowing little about Hungary, I had no cue. After decades I came to know his name through a chance remark of her biographer. She likewise had no further cue. But I could slowly start to fill in the picture. As, apparently, had been my late friend’s wish.

Download PDF file: