I had this rare phone call from Irfan Khan in Mumbai in the wake of an e-mail he had received from Kini. We, Irfan and I, have been in e-mail touch for some time now. Our exchange was usually about sharing media/web articles of mutual interest. I usually e-mailed friends and contacts about something I had written on the web, in the belief that they would be as enthusiastic reading the stuff as I was writing it. A friend of mine calls it GVK’s brag-mail. Many of them respond with flattering one-liners –‘very interesting’, ‘keep it up’, or some such suitably polite words. But a phone call was rare; and Irfan’s call went on for the better part of an hour.
It all started with my brag-mail alerting Irfan, among others,to a Desicritic piece -Blogging it out with my friend Kini. There was response from a few who suggested informative web links on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), of which Kini is a victim. Irfan sent Kini a one-liner, wishing him well, not knowing that Kini and he had been on the staff of Patriot daily, New Delhi, for a brief period in early sixties They had since moved their separate ways. With no reason or occasion to reconnect, for over four decades, Irfan couldn’t place Kini from my mail, but sent him a get-well message, as he would have done with any friend of his friends.
But Kini caught on, and responded to Irfan, reminding him of their Patriot connection (1963-64). As a low-paid newspaper reporter Irfan Khan used to own a car, which was exceptional for journalists those days, said Kini, adding that Irfan had once driven him to Vice-President Zakir Hussain’s residence for tea. “I was gobsmacked !”, said Kini in an e-mail to Irfan, of which he marked a copy to me. What does the word mean, Kini? I’m afraid, I haven’t heard of ‘gobsmack’.
Irfan told me on phone that the car Kini referred to was a gift from his mother, who wasn’t comfortable with her son driving a mobike,that he occasionally used for a cross-country ride (to places like Shimla). A car, his mother reckoned, was safer. And,Irfan said it came cheaper than his bike. Besides, petrol was 45 paise a litre (or was it a gallon?) those days.
Irfan has a UK-connect. He did a six-month stint on a Cardiff fellowship for journalists; was an intern with The Sunday Times, London; and related to many of those Kini has blogged about – Subash Chopra, Salman Haider, P T Chandra and many others. Happy to have re-discovered Kini through this bug called a blog, Irfan said he had half a mind to set up a blog of his own. I know he has a headful of stuff that he can blog about. He once told me he was working on a book. If he hasn’t done it yet, a blog would synergize material-gathering for his book in the making.
Cross-posted, Jun.29, 2009, from My Take
The Sixties: A New Renaissance by Kini
GVK is well ahead of me in our B2B . I lack his skills honed over 4 decades and more over my state of health is like a dried up well with no resources left to use. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a punishing illness, and sadly it is a collective term for a group of symptoms and not a diagnosis in itself. GVK is right about the power of blogging. I can well understand how compulsive this can be. I have had several avid readers of GVK’s blog write to me wishing me well in beating my illness.
One of them happened to be Irfan Khan who was my generous colleague during my year as a cub reporter in The Patriot, a fiercely left wing English Language Daily which started publication in 1963. Irfan does not remember me, but GVK describes how I was “gobasmacked” (utterly astounded is the web dictionary meaning, GVK) when Irfan drove me one morning down India Gate, to the splendid residence of the Zakir Hussain, then the Vice President of India. Zakir Hussain, in classical a Moslem Aristocrat–savant attire came in to the lounge and greeted each one of us with the customary hug and a kiss on the cheek. This was followed by tea served in an elegant tea service by footmen in livery Foremost in my mind was the thought “if only my parents could see this now! I am having tea in Rashtrapathi Bhavan with the Vice President of India! They would not believe it”. I had little further contact with Irfan, the well connected Prince among poor reporters. It was his elegant appearance that led us all to call him Prince Irfan. I am sure he continues to impress all those who came in contact with him.
Reading our B2B exchanges I cannot help worrying if there is a readership for this sort of mutual nostalgia-fest beyond the two of us, unless the characters we talk about are so universally compelling, that a typical reader of these blogs recognizes an archetypal human being in all his squalid glory. This exchange has further immersed me in to a reverie about the 1960s, a renaissance age, of the Beatles, Transcendental meditation, flower children, free love, anti nuclear protests at Aldermaston, continuing sorrow at the assassination of John Kennedy.
I arrived in the UK days before the Labour party won a landslide victory in the general elections and Harold Wilson became the prime minister. Those of us who arrived in the UK without a work permit but allowed in with no limit on our stay by trusting and generous immigration officers were more than a bit apprehensive about our future stay in England. Labour party’s victory gave us all a cause to celebrate: I recall going to the local pub in Shepherds Bush all on my own and seeing several middle aged Sikh gentlemen in turbans celebrating with pints of warm British ale. They bought me rounds of drinks which I was not able to reciprocate; but I remember staggering out of the pub late in the evening towards the Sikh Gurudwara on Sinclair Road where I had provisionally been given a floor space to sleep on. It needed unbelievable levels of optimism to have no money, no place of one’s own, and yet foray out each evening to a club in the hope of finding a lady companion to spend the evening with.
I recall visiting GVK in his tiny bed sitter in Bayswater, a salubrious enclave full of mean bed sitters in splendid colonnaded neo classical houses on wide avenues . He shared it with a mutual friend I shall call Satish using two bunk beds as in a ship. I had no inkling that within 5 years I would be married, with a child; no longer a writer but a business man owning one of the magnificent houses in Hyde Park square. Soon enough I found a more permanent French girl friend called Huguette from south western France who sheltered me from the disapproving eyes of her landlady by managing to smuggle me in for overnight stays. We spent long late evenings in basement coffee bars listening the Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and of course the Beatles. The sixties optimism soon evaporated when Harold Wilson turned out to be not a visionary saviour in the mould of Kennedy but a manipulative cynical And cunning politician. Trade Unions were all powerful king makers in the background with their surreptitious hands on the levers of power.
I saw less and less of GVK as he had gone to work for the Northern Echo as a sub editor in a grim northern city called Darlington. I was having too good a time in London to consider the monastic rigours of living in a cold northern town just to get in on a career ladder. I cultivated casual louche look, dressed in obligatory corduroy trousers and jacket, and a polo neck sweater to match. I grew my hair, long Beatles style and went to parties where I would find myself sitting on the window sill with Madhur Jaffrey, Syed her then husband, Francis Souza, Roshan Seth, a young unknown actor then, and dozens of aspiring writers and poets all dressed somewhat like me. I had long since stopped writing, but carried on with the make believe “devil-may-care” appearance of one.
GVK came down to London from time to time and we found ourselves once again in a dimly lit gloomy pub which matched our mood. We had a little more money in our pocket to buy several rounds. We sat for hours saying very little to each other with GVK answering me in monosyllables to my long hopeful soliloquies. GVK I saw in India in Chennai in 1996 was a totally different person: articulate, talkative, almost holding court on subjects that interested him. GVK of late 1960s seemed profoundly depressed and already planning to leave England for good and go back to India. This was an extraordinary decision considering the thousands who would have given a fortune to swap places with GVK. He would have to refresh my memory if I have inadvertently misrepresented the events or read too much into them. More to follow on the sixties>>>
Cross-posted, june 29, 2009, from Gateway to india (Jan.30, 2007)