A blog-to-blog chat between friends, to be of interest to anyone else, ought to be more than an ego-cast. I would like to think this exchange isn't just a mutual back-scratching exercise.
Kini’s blog piece triggered nostalgia juice in me. He spoke of our co-editing of the Afro-Asian Echo in London of the sixties. Those were the days, when most young men in Delhi with a college degree looked towards the UK, if they failed to get into the IAS or find a covenanted company job, or,if they couldn’t become a college lecturer (as a stop-gap arrangement). Getting a work permit for England was easy those days for folks from Commonwealth countries.
Kini and I landed in London around the same time (May 1964?), though by different means. I took a boat from Bombay to Genova; and from there, a train (later day edition of the famed Orient Express) to London. And Kini, with a friend (Subash Chopra) hitch-hiked it all the way. I wish he blogs about it sometime in Gateway to India.
Afro-Asian Echo, as Kini said, was founded ‘on uncertain financial premises’; and folded within six months. Designed to serve the Afro-Asian community in England and Europe, the fortnightly Echo evoked, while it lasted, considerable interest in the African immigrant community. So much interest, in fact, that we once had a bunch of them Africans barging into my cabin to threaten us for having written an editorial, disaagreeably titled – OAU: Myth of African Unity.
Kini mentions Adil Jussawala and Farukh Dhondy who were commissioned to write for us. Would like to drop another famous name here, late Dom Moraes, whom I met, courtesy Kini. Incidentally, he was instrumental in introducing Leela Naidu (remember the old-time movies – Yeh Rasthe Hain Pyar Ke, the Householder?)to Dom Moraes. Leela used to work with Kini and me at India Weekly, brought out by a bunch of London-based journalists.
It was a labour of love for Ms Naidu. India Weekly paid us, Kini and me, subsistence wages that we cheerfully accepted. The other option for me, at that stage, was joining the dole queue. Would you know, Kini, the current whereabouts of Ashoke Gupta, who worked with us at India Weekly ? And, of its promoters such as Mr Iqbal Singh and Mr H S Gourisaria ? (Cross-posted from My Take by GVK)
Our Fleet St. Days (cross-posted from kini's blog)
Recalling our days of friendship and collaboration in the mid sixties London, GVK forgot to mention that India Weekly brought out by a media oligarch Dr, Tarapada Basu (an avuncular manipulator of human resources) was sited in the famous Fleet street. I am grateful for the fact that I arrived and worked in the legendary street when it was still thriving. I recall that the minute one entered the street north of Strand with its august buildings, one was plunged in to Dickensian London with the acrid smell of printers ink and the news print which got under your skin. India Weekly was tucked away on a small narrow arterial side street called Carmelite street overlooking the back yard of – I think the Daily Mail.
The street was constantly blocked with giant lorries wheeling in rolls of news print. The local pubs where we retreated frequently were dim and dirty but the bitter beer was like tonic. Our favourite was the dingiest of them all called the Coger. Here we met typesetters and all the printing associated tradesman, fervent if lazy supporters of their trade union called the Chapel. These were generous folk and often bought us rounds of drinks unsolicited. The bosses and editors naturally did not frequent these pubs. Their venue was El Vinos, the legendary wine bar frequented by media giants like Lord Cecil King and Hugh Cudlip of the Mirror newsgroup. I eventually got a look in on this exclusive place in the company of Asoke who knew every bibulous journalist by their first name.
Back to 4 Carmelite street which was presided over by Dr. Basu who kept yelling for his secretary, side kick, ghost writer, coffee maker, Asoke. Dr.Basu believed in being unkind to be kind, a perverse way of relating to other human beings. Dr. Basu was physically intimidating: well built with a generous girth, covered in an expensive 3 piece suit.
Our greatest memory is the friendship that Asoke extended to us unconditionally. I remember my first visit to his generously proportioned apartment in Tottenham Court Road which impressed us no end, as we ourselves as unmarried bachelors lived in oppressively small bed sitters often in bed bunks two to a room. I recall Asoke had beautiful reprints of Jamini Roy paintings on his walls and even a fully tuned Sitar. He would offer to cook us the Bengali mixed vegetable curry called Niramish which used five Indian condiments in a highly heated wok and the magic dish with a plate of rice would be ready to eat in ten minutes. I cherish these memories of time spent with Asoke who would never let you buy a drink, whilst running a “slate” with the pub landlord, which Asoke did not have the means to settle at the end of the week. He would then cajole the landlord who also acted as Asoke’s Bank Manager to extend him further credit. Changing pubs for a while or wearing an over-sized raincoat with the lapels turned up as one scurried along the narrow street past the Coger was a familiar technique.
One other friend who was a contributor to India Weekly was my fellow hitch hiking companion Subhash Chopra, a brilliant journalist to his finger tips. He and GVK always seemed to get plum reporting assignments like interviewing film stars like Dev Anand as my over-literary style of writing consigned me to producing pieces on philosophical subjects like a hagiography on the literary style of Raja Rao and compare him with Laurence Durrell. No need for me to add whose contributions were much read and talked about in the Indian community who bought the Weekly. More memories to follow>>>>>