MAHATMA GANDHI IS commemorated by a statue in Tavistock Square in London’s Bloomsbury. He is probably the most famous of three Indians with statues in Bloomsbury. Crafted by the sculptor Fredda Brilliant and presented by the Indian High Commission, it was unveiled by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1967.
The next most famous Indian represented by a sculpture in Bloomsbury is a Nobel Prize winner, the celebrated writer and polymath from Kolkata (Calcutta), Rabimdranath Tagore (1861-1941). The memorial depicts Tagore’s head. It was created by the sculptor Shenda Armery, and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, on Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary year in July 2011. The bust stands in Gordon Square, close to University College London, where Tagore studied law briefly. His face looks away from the college towards the southeast. – towards India, his homeland. On one side of the plinth, there are some words written in Bengali script. On another side, there is a translation of this brief text (by Tagore) in English:
“Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresher life. This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new. At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in a great joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable. Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass and still thou pourest and still there is room to fill.”
This is from Tagore’s collection of poems – “Gitanjali”, translated into English from Bengali by the author in 1913. It was this collection that led to Tagore being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. In 1915, King George V awarded him a knighthood, but following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, he renounced his knighthood to express his horror at the murders that had been perpetrated on innocent Indians by British troops in the Punjab.
Call me ignorant but I had never heard of Thiruvalluvar, whose bust stands in a garden next to the School of Oriental and African Studies in Bloomsbury. According to a plaque next to the bust, this man was author of “Thirukkural”, which was a classic of Tamil philosophy and ethics. The bust was donated by the Governent of Tamil Nadu in 1996, and unveiled by the then Indian High Commissioner Dr ML Singhvi. Celebrated as he is in Tamil Nadu, little is known about his life. It is possible that he was born or lived in Mylapore (now a district of Chennai) in the south of India. According to Wikipedia:
“His work Tirukkuṟaḷ has been dated variously from 300 BCE to about the sixth century CE.”
As for his great work “Thirukkural”, the online version of Encyclopaedia Britannica remarked:
“…Tirukkural (“Sacred Couplets”), considered a masterpiece of human thought, compared in India and abroad to the Bible, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the works of Plato.”
I have described monuments to three notable men from India, but omitted one woman, whose memorial is close to those already described. The WW2 heroine Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) is commemorated by a bust, which, surprisingly, I have never noticed, in Gordon Square. Sculpted by Karen Newman, it was placed in the square in 2012. This artist also sculpted a bust of Violette Szabo (1921-1945), which is on the embankment of the Thames near Lambeth Palace. Both Noor and Violette worked for the British SOE, and perished in Nazi concentration camps.
Once the epicentre of the British Empire, it is not at all surprising that one comes across memorials to notable Indians whilst wandering about in London and other places in the UK.