Bashabi Fraser gives me the sad news that William Radice is very ill. She thus had to collect his lifetime service award from the United Kingdom Bengali Convention. Radice, who is 72, is an Englishman who retired as senior lecturer in Bengali from SOAS in London. Bashabi, director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies in Edinburgh, fondly recalled that “he spent long months in Calcutta, immersing himself in Bengali culture. When William went shopping in the morning, he would ask, ‘Aloor koto daam?’ in perfect Bengali.” She says: “Bengal, Bengali language and literature owe a great debt to him... He has the humility of a true scholar. He is a kind, encouraging and warm human being.”
Radice read English at Oxford and studied Bengali under the late Tarapada Mukherjee at SOAS. His publications include two volumes of translations for Penguin Classics: Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems (1985) and Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Short Stories (1991). Hs translations also include Tasher Desh, Dak Ghar and Gitanjali. “His translations were excellent and accessible, taking Tagore to a global audience. His translation of Madhusudan Dutt’s Meghnad Badh Kabya is a good example of his Bengali scholarship. William has lectured across the world, especially during the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore and never given the same lecture twice.”
When picking up his award, Bashabi read a poem dedicated to her friend: “Today, I talk to you William, a lover of Bengal,/ Whose affection for the Bengali language, endorses/ Its validity in the spoken and written word, which will/ Be remembered as long as Bengali is spoken anywhere in the world.”
The India Club in London is closing but the journalist, Mick Brown, managed to get in last week to launch his new book, The Nirvana Express: How the Search for Enlightenment Went West (Hurst & Co.) Mick and I sat next to each other at the Sunday Times and have one slightly dubious claim to fame — we wrote a joint piece on Pamella Bordes, the Indian beauty queen. This might be the only instance of an editor, Andrew Neil, ordering his own reporters to dig up stuff on his ex-girlfriend. Andrew then devoted a whole page to the juicy scandal.
Another editor is mentioned in Mick’s book — Sir Edwin Arnold, who was editing the Daily Telegraph while writing The Light of Asia on the life of the Buddha which came out in 1879 and sold a million copies. Mick also talks of Swami Vivekananda and Annie Besant and “such gurus as Maharishi Mahesh, the ‘boy god’ Maharaj Ji and — the most controversial figure of the modern era — the Bhagwan Rajneesh.”
Mick and I chatted in 2019 when he got a scoop by tracking down the absconding jeweller, Nirav Modi, on the streets of London.
The British film-maker, Bettany Hughes, was invited to India House to talk about her moving Channel 4 documentary, Exploring India’s Treasures. I am glad I went, although it was not nice to see all the front windows smashed from the demonstrations in March. Two policemen are now positioned there.
Bettany’s film shows her performing pind daan in Varanasi for her mother who passed away when she was travelling. She was also on the road when her father died. In the documentary, Bettany explains to viewers that pind daan is “performed to liberate the soul of the deceased. I am recently bereaved so it is an honour to take part…one rice ball is offered to the soul of the departed. The rest are for the other ancestors.” She breaks down in the middle of the ceremony but manages to float the flowers and rice balls covered with honey into the Ganges.
She visits Akbar’s creation, Fatehpur Sikri, and marvels at his attempts to build bridges between Islam and Hinduism. She also includes some wonderful drone shots of the Taj Mahal, goes to the Nizamuddin dargah in Delhi, eats langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar and is impressed by the religious diversity of India.
Do people write pen-and-ink love letters anymore? Perhaps a text message along the lines, ‘CUxx’, has taken its place. While decluttering I found a copy of an old book, Love Letters: An Anthology from the British Isles 975-1944 (edited by James Turner), which brought back painful memories. The final entry is a poem, “Goodbye”, by Alun Lewis. The Welshman was conscripted into the army in 1940, posted to India in 1944 and died “in mysterious circumstances” confronting the Japanese in Burma on March 5. The poem ends, “Yet when all’s done you’ll keep the emerald/ I placed upon your finger in the street;/ And I will keep the patches that you sewed/ On my old battledress tonight, my sweet.”