Thank you, Queen Victoria

From worlds far apart,

Two folk come together:

Cupid’s bow does its job

 

When our daughter was a little girl in junior school, the members of her class were asked to name the greatest Briton in history. She nominated Queen Victoria. Her choice was based on the following facts: her mother’s parents were born in India and my parents were born in South Africa. When Queen Victoria reigned, she argued, both countries were part of the British Empire. This, she felt, made it more likely that both her parents would study in England and meet. Without Victoria, she concluded, my wife Lopa and I might never have met, and she would not have existed. Well, maybe she was right. I believe that the reason we met was due to two men who gave us career’s advice: Professor Lewis Wolpert in London and Major General SL Bhatia in Bangalore.

As I approached the time when I had to choose a university undergraduate course, I had no idea which subject to select. I was interested in biology, physics, and chemistry, but had no interest in studying medicine, or even dentistry, which I studied many years later. Careers advice at my secondary school was not helpful.

My South African-born parents knew many South Africans living in London. One of these was my father’s close friend, the late Cyril Sofer, a sociologist. It was through the Sofer family that we met Lewis Wolpert, who was born in South Africa. First, he trained to become a civil engineer. By the time I first met him, he had become an eminent biologist, specialising in cell and developmental biology.

Wolpert, on learning that I was having difficulties choosing a course of study, kindly invited me to his office in Middlesex Hospital in central London. He spent about an hour with me, listening to what I had found interesting in the science subjects I had studied at school. Having heard me out, he suggested that I study physiology at university. This subject would, he thought, encompass all that interested me so far. He told me that the best places to study physiology were Cambridge and University College London (‘UCL’). Of these, he considered the physiology department at UCL to be the best. I was pleased to hear this.

About five years before meeting Wolpert, my father and I had visited UCL because a friend of the family, the art-historian Leopold Ettlinger, worked there. All that I can remember of this visit was walking across the lawns in UCL’s elegant Front Quadrangle and thinking how beautiful it seemed. So, when Lewis Wolpert suggested that I apply for admission to UCL, I was happy about that.

At about the time I was discussing my academic future with Wolpert in London, a young lady, my future wife Lopa, was discussing the same thing with another eminent scientist 5000 miles away in Bangalore. The scientist, Major General SL Bhatia (1891-1982), had known Lopa’s mother’s father from when he studied medicine in Bombay. The two medics became close friends. When Lopa’s mother Chandra was born, Bhatia became the equivalent of Chandra’s god-father.

Chandra’s father died young having succumbed to blood poisoning while treating one of his patients. His friend Bhatia had a glittering career in science, medicine and the Indian Army. It was during his retirement that Lopa met him at his beautiful old-fashioned bungalow in Bangalore. Bhatia had studied medicine not only in India but also at St Thomas’s Hospital in London during the second decade of the 20th century. While in London, he had conducted research with leading physiologists. Like Wolpert had done for me in London, Bhatia recommended that Lopa, who was not keen on studying medicine at that time, pursue a course of physiology at UCL, because he knew it to have a fine reputation in that subject.

One morning in October 1970, I arrived at the Physiology Department at UCL, having travelled from my home in north-west London. I was one of nine students who had been accepted for the course. Lopa was one of the others. She had travelled over 5000 miles to join the department. We were greeted by the department in the Starling Room, named after a famous physiologist who had worked at UCL. This common room is where I met the young lady who was eventually to marry me.

SL BHATIA 3

In the bar at the Bangalore Club

Our wedding reception in Bangalore was held in 1994 at the Bangalore Club, a prestigious ex-colonial institution in the heart of Bangalore. Although he could not attend, Major SL Bhatia was the first Indian President of that elite club. Before that, all the Presidents had been British. Bhatia’s widow was at the wedding. She claimed, not without some reason, that it was she and her late husband, who were responsible for getting Lopa and me together.

The late queen_800

Just as our daughter is eternally grateful to Queen Victoria for bringing Lopa and me together, I am equally thankful to Professor Wolpert and Major General Bhatia for getting our paths to cross. I cannot acknowledge them for what was to follow; Cupid and his arrows are to be thanked for that.

Picture sources: semanticscholar.org (Bhatia) & retractionwatch.com (Wolpert)

Tact

nehru

I married in Bangalore in January 1995. A week or so before the marriage, I was introduced to Mr Krishnan, a tailor who worked in his home near to Cunningham Road in the heart of Bangalore. He was an elderly, dignified gentleman, and a good craftsman.

Mr Krishnan made me a suit for the wedding ceremony, a white Nehru suit with a high collar. a bandh gala. This kind of garment pre-dates India’s post-independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru; it derives from the Mughal years. The one that Mr Krishnan made me was precision fitting. I could breath in it, but it would not tolerate even the slightest increase in my girth. The same was true for a western style suit that he made for me at the same time.

A year later, we returned to Bangalore. Happiness in marriage and over-indulgence at meals had resulted in a change in my dimensions, notably an increase in my girth. We returned to Mr Krishnan with the suits he had made, which no longer fitted me. Fortunately, being a skilful tailor, Mr Krishnan had left plenty of material in the seams of the clothes in order to enlarge them.

Mr Krishnan measured me carefully, noting down my dimensions in a large book. When he had finished my wife asked him:

“Out of interest, how much has my husband increased in size?”

Mr Krishnan replied:

“Madam, I can not tell you that because I have lost your husband’s original measurements.”

Not only was Mr Krishnan a great tailor but also, he was a master of tact.

Postcards from the past

Sunset and lights_800

Yesterday (30 Aug 2018), I visited an exhibition that fascinated me. Held at the Brunei Gallery on the campus of SOAS in London, it will continue until 23 September 2018.

United services club

The exhibits are replicas of postcards sent from Bangalore and Madras (Chennai) during the early 20th century when India was part of the British Empire. I have visited both Chennai and Bangalore many times, but it is the latter that I know best.

Club panorama_1024

The building that housed United Services Club, which used to be a place that British Officers relaxed in Bangalore, still stands today. It is now the main building of the prestigious Bangalore Club.  Unlike so many old buildings in Bangalore, this one has been well-preserved.

Comm Str

Commercial Street was and still is an important shopping street in Central Bangalore, but it has changed in appearance greatly since this postcard was produced. It has changed yet again since my coloured photograph was taken.

Commercial Sunset_800

Queen Victoria’s statue in Cubbon Park was placed by the British near the end of her reign. It still stands today, but the cannons in the postcard are no longer in place.

Queens statue

That this statue of a former foreign ruler still stands is a tribute to Indian tolerance, as i point out in my latest book, “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” (see:https://gujarat-travels.com/):

It is a sign of Indian tolerance that a monument celebrating the deeds of invaders has been left intact. I have seen examples of this elsewhere in India. For example, Cubbon Park in Bangalore has two well-maintained British statues, one of Queen Victoria and the other of King Edward VII, and in Calcutta there is the Victoria Memorial.”

The late queen_800

If you can find a short time, I can strongly reccommend visiting this fine temporary exhibition.

exhibition leaflet