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Krishna Menon’s 50 cups of tea a day

Although he was protected by his friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru, the reputation of V. K. Krishna Menon never recovered from India’s defeat in the 1962 China war when he was forced to resign as defence minister. But in London last week, at the India Club in the Strand which he helped set up, he was remembered with much affection.

The author Shashi Tharoor, whose late father, Chandran Tharoor, had lived in London from 1948-58 and was part of the group of young men who clustered around Krishna Menon, said: “He was extremely English in his orientation.”

He added that Krishna Menon, who was appointed India’s first high commissioner in the UK, “came here as a student and lived here more than he lived anywhere (else), including India. He was an indispensable figure of the nationalist movement in England throughout the 1920, ’30s and ’40s.”

Shashi claimed two literary feats for Krishna Menon of which I certainly was unaware: “He tricked Allen Lane to publish (E. M. Forster’s) A Passage to India by tricking him into believing that it was a travel book. (Also) Krishna Menon actually helped Nehru publish his autobiography (in London in 1936) because of his publisher connections.”

Shashi came from New York, his home, to London, where Smita, the younger of his two sisters, lives. The other, Shoba, arrived from California “via India”. For the first time in years, remembering their father and his connections with Krishna Menon, they could be together, along with their partners, children and friends.

Shashi described the India Club as “a little oasis for Indians and particularly for newspaper people”, while Smita recalled a nostalgic trip to London with her late father.

“I grew up in India on stories my father told me about the India Club,” said Smita.

The historian Kusoom, who admitted she was very lonely when she arrived in London in 1953 from Kenya, said that the India Club provided a sanctuary.

“I used to come here every week,” remembered Kusoom. “We were very keen on flying the Indian flag. The spirit of everyone who started this club stayed with everyone of us.”

Businessman S. N. Gourisaria also had warm recollections of Krishna Menon: “I don’t think you will find a patriot like that any more.”

Not that the man wasn’t without his eccentricities: “Krishna Menon drank 50 cups of tea a day. He would wake up at 4.30 am and between 4.30 am and 6.30 he would call up everybody.”

At Heathrow, he was once harangued by a British journalist: “Mr Krishna Menon, are you a Communist'”

The ascetic Indian turned and fixed the young man with an amused look: “You must be from the Daily Express.”

If Winter comes

After five years in Calcutta, where the Englishman learnt Bengali, poet Joe Winter has resettled in London, where last week he gave an animated two-hour talk at the Bishopsgate Institute on the “two great poets of Bengal”.

Joe is passionate about Tagore (“Tagore is the Shakespeare of the lyric poem”) and also Jibanananda Das, whom he has translated into English.

Of the 60 or 70 people who turned up to hear Joe in the institute’s library, two thirds were English, quite a few of them elderly ladies.

Joe’s new book, The Golden Boat, a collection of Tagore poem translations, will be published early next year by Anvil Press, “England’s longest-standing independent poetry publisher”. Although many foreigners leave India impressed with the country’s nine per cent GDP, Joe has returned, happily, as a confirmed “Tagore terrorist” who ought to be let loose on British-born Indians who know and care nothing about the poet. Joe took us through Tagore’s versatile life, arguing the man could do no wrong and that whatever else others might say, the poet “was a genius in English” as well.

He made his audience feel that if they had not read Tagore, they had missed the best thing in life.

In the intermission, Joe, a former schoolteacher, revealed his big ambition to me: “I would like to do a blockbuster. It would be called just, ‘Rabindranath.’ By the way, if you know Richard Attenborough, would you put in a word for me'”

For you, Joe, who has drunk deep of all that is good about Calcutta life, including its water, anything.

Room for Rumi

Now more than ever, the younger generation of British Muslims, who have heard mainly about Al Qaida’s harsh brand of Islam, needs to be told that a play about Sufi mysticism is about to be staged in London.

Rumi: Unveil the Sun is about the poet and scholar Mevlana Jalauddin Rumi, whose 800th birthday this year is being celebrated by Unesco.

When staged in Delhi, one reviewer called it “one of the best plays in English that we have seen”.

It is being now brought to London by Mohini Kent, whose mother, Amrit Kent, wrote the play with her daughter who has a producer and co-writer credit.

The play is directed by Sohaila Kapur with Oroon Das cast as Rumi and Danish Husain as Shamsuddin Tabrizi, the wandering dervish who changes the former’s life with tragic consequences for himself.

Mohini, who lives in London, said that Rumi’s words remain relevant and “as fresh as ever”. While Mohini’s public spirited husband, businessman Sir Gulam Noon, is the principal sponsor of the London production, which has Jay Visvadeva of Sama Arts as associate producer (London), associate sponsors include Lord Bagri’s Foundation, the Hinduja group, Habib Bank AG Zurich and entrepreneur Mohammad Dadabhai of Bahrain.

I have read the evocative script which makes me think the promoters shouldn’t find it too difficult to fill the 446-seat Shaw Theatre in London for three nights in mid-November.

Singhvi’s style

As Indian High Commissioner in London from 1991-97, no one was more approachable or hospitable, I can confirm, than Dr L. M. Singhvi, who has died in Delhi, aged 75. To his credit, he fought to strengthen the Indian diaspora’s links with India by promoting the concept of dual nationality. And in Britain, during his tenure, he distributed more than 100 busts of Gandhi, with his name emblazoned in bold as the donor. He laughed when people teased him that he was “the man who busted Britain”.

Tittle tattle

O. P. Bhatt, chairman of the State Bank of India, who is attending tomorrow’s function at the London School of Economics to mark the founding of the I.G. Patel chair in economics, is about to have fame thrust on him. Like finance minister P. Chidambaram before him, he will open trading on the London Stock Exchange at 8.00 am on Tuesday.

This will also mark the 11th anniversary of the SBI’s own listing of its Global Depository Receipt.

Bhatt will set in motion The Source, a dynamic sculpture consisting of 729 spheres, suspended on metal cables stretching the full height of a seven-storey atrium. Controlled electronically, each sphere moves independently, forming random shifting patterns of words, numbers and shapes fed in directly from the world’s media.

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