Around London’s Euston Station

AFTER EATING DELICIOUS KEBABS and a wonderful mutton biryani at Raavi Kebab, a Pakistani restaurant in Drummond Street close to Euston Station, we took a short post-prandial stroll around the area, a part of London that is home to University College London (‘UCL’), where my wife and I did our first degrees and we first met.

BLOG TAGORE

The west part of Drummond Street has become a desolate building site because of the works being undertaken to construct the HS2 railway. A building covered in tiles the colour of clotted blood stands in the midst of the building works. It looks like some of the entrances to older London Underground stations. It is located on the corner of Drummond and Melton Streets. It was the original entrance (opened between 1907 and 1914) to Euston station of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, now part of the Northern Line, which is now accessed from within Euston railway station. The latter was built in the 1960s on the site of the demolished Euston Station (with its impressive Doric arch) built in the 19th century.

When the old Euston Station existed, Drummond Street stretched further east than it does today. It ran past the southern façade of the 19th century station and across the present Eversholt Street, ending at Churchway (not far from the current British Library).

All that remains of what must have been a splendid old station is a statue of the railway engineer Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) and two pavilions on Euston Road. These formed part of the entrance to the old station’s forecourt. Built of Portland stone in about 1870, they were designed by JB Stansby. The corners of these two buildings bear the names of the stations that were served by trains from Euston Station. Interestingly, these include cities such as Cork and Dublin, which are no longer within the United Kingdom. When the pavilions were constructed, the whole of Ireland was under British rule.

Strolling along Gordon Street, we passed the Ingold Chemistry building, part of UCL, where my wife and I spent many happy hours trying to synthesize various organic compounds, often ending up with tiny granules of non-descript materials, which might have been bits of broken glass rather than the desired product. Across the street, where there had once been an open-air entrance to the main campus of UCL there is a new building, glass-fronted at street level. Through the glass, we could see the mummified, clothed remains of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) in a glass container, instead of the old wooden one in which he used to be housed. Bentham was strongly associated with the foundation of UCL in 1826.

As I stared at Bentham, an opponent of slavery, through the windows of the new building, I wondered what his views were, if any, on colonialism in India. Some of Bentham’s followers, such as John Stuart Mill, had been employees of the East India Company. Mill and Bentham, were not opponents of British colonialism, but did criticise it.

It was almost dark when we walked into the garden of Gordon Square, a place overlooked by the homes of some members of the famous Bloomsbury Group, a set of British intellectuals and artists, which thrived during the first half of the 20th century. We discovered something that had not been present when we last visited the square some years ago. This is a bust of the Bengali genius Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Created by Shenda Amery, it was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in July 2011, seventy years after Tagore’s death and one hundred and fifty years after his birth.

Tagore coined the name ‘Mahatma’ for the Indian Nationalist and freedom fighter MK Gandhi and also composed (in 1911) both the words and music of the Indian national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana”. The eminent historian Ramchandra Guha explains in his “Makers of Modern India” that:

“Tagore was a patriot without quite being a nationalist. He was no apologist for colonial rule… he was dismayed by the xenophobic tendencies of the populist edge of the Indian nationalist movement. He thought that India had much to learn from other cultures, including (but not restricted to) the West.”

Following the horrendous massacre of innocent Indians by soldiers under the command of the British at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, he returned his knighthood to King George V.

Tagore was sceptical about ‘non-cooperation’ as advocated, for example by Gandhi. He was also worried about the concept of nationalism as applied to India. In his book “Nationalism”, published in 1917, he wrote:

“When our nationalists talk about ideals they forget that the basis of nationalism is wanting. The very people who are upholding these ideals are themselves the most conservative in their social practice. Nationalists say, for example, look at Switzerland where, in spite of race differences, the peoples have solidified into a nation. Yet, remember that in Switzerland the races can mingle, they can intermarry, because they are of the same blood. In India there is no common birthright. And when we talk of Western Nationality we forget that the nations there do not have that physical repulsion, one for the other, that we have between different castes. Have we an instance in the whole world where a people who are not allowed to mingle their blood shed their blood for one another except by coercion or for mercenary purposes? And can we ever hope that these moral barriers against our race amalgamation will not stand in the way of our political unity?”

Tagore’s views on Indian independence were not as clear cut as many of the other advocates of freeing India from British rule, such as Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Vinayak Savarkar. He was essentially in favour of it but as Radha Chakravarty wrote in “The Essential Tagore”:

“For Tagore, the view of nationalism and patriotism that the movement was taking on was too narrow. He disengaged with the movement but remained expressive on the issue of independence through his art and writings … Fundamental to his belief was that nationalism could not rise above humanity…”

We left Tagore as his bust began to become less visible in the deepening gloaming and walked along Torrington Place past Waterstones bookshop that is housed in the pinnacle-rich building that once housed Dillons, the university bookshop. Almost opposite the north eastern corner of the bookshop, a private roadway leads into the UCL campus and under a circular archway. This was a familiar landmark for us when we were undergraduate students because it allows the roadway to pass beneath the building that housed ‘our’ Department of Physiology. Being August and in the midst of both the university holidays and the coronavirus pandemic, this normally busy roadway was empty.

We walked north along the east side of Gower Street passing a door marked ‘Anatomy’. This used to be an entrance to the Physiology Department, where I spent six years studying. During the last three of these, I used to have a key to the door so that I could let myself in whenever I wanted to do laboratory work on my PhD project. In those far-off days, security was far laxer than it is nowadays.

After passing the main entrance to UCL, we reached the corner of Gower Street and Gower Place. This building, now a part of UCL, used to house the medical bookshop, HK Lewis & Co Ltd. This, according to a plaque on the wall, was founded in 1844 in Gower Street, soon after UCL’s medical school was established in 1834. HK Lewis had a useful second-hand department, where I bought a few of my textbooks at prices not much lower than they would have been if they had been new.

We returned to our car parked in Drummond Street. Our favourite Asian grocery and Ambala’s sweet shop were already closed for the day. Raavi Kebab, a haven for carnivores, and its neighbour, the long-established Diwana Bhel Poori House, a haven for vegetarians, were still serving diners. These restaurants and several others in the street serving foods from the Indian subcontinent are run by folk whose ancestors were subjects of the British Empire prior to 1947. The street is a fine example of the idea suggested by the French colonial writer Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), namely, that eventually the colonial chickens come home to roost. And, thank goodness they have because they help to give London the vibrancy that makes it such a great city.

Veggie burgers and other creatures

veggie

The popularity of vegetarianism and its relative veganism has greatly increased in the western world in recent years, and is still increasing. Popular reasons for abandoning the consumption of meat and/or products derived from animals (e.g. milk and eggs) include seemingly virtuous reasons such as love of animals and a desire to protect the world’s climate.

On the 23rd of July 1939, one world-famous vegetarian wrote a letter to another equally well-known vegetarian. Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler. Here it is in a much abbreviated form (from: https://www.mkgandhi.org/letters/hitler_ltr1.htm):

DEAR FRIEND,
That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes.

… We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness

… I, therefore, appeal to you in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice

You know that not long ago I made an appeal to every Briton to accept my method of non-violent resistance.

During this season when the hearts of the peoples of Europe yearn for peace, we have suspended even our own peaceful struggle. Is it too much to ask you to make an effort for peace during a time which may mean nothing to you personally but which must mean much to the millions of Europeans whose dumb cry for peace I hear, for my ears are attended to hearing the dumb millions? …

I am,
Your sincere friend,
M. K. GANDHI
The letter never reached Hitler; it was intercepted by the British in India.

I have no idea what the monster Adolf Hitler had to say about vegetarianism, but the saintly and peace-loving Gandhi wrote much about his abstinence from meat. For example, in 1932 he wrote:

I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to
kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants. The beautiful lines
of Goldsmith occurs to me as I tell you of my vegetarian fad:

‘No flocks that range the valley free
To slaughter I condemn;
Taught by the Power that pities me
I learn to pity them’

(see: https://www.mkgandhi.org/ebks/moralbasis_vegetarianism.pdf)

And at another time:

“It is very significant that some of the most thoughtful and cultured men are partisans of a pure vegetable diet.”“.

Maybe, he was thinking of the man of culture, Bernard Shaw, rather than Adolf Hitler!

Returning to the present day and the increasing appetite for meatless and dairy-free food, let us consider the current desire for vegetarian products to resemble meat products. Supermarket shelves are filling up with veggie burgers, meatless steaks, meatless meat balls, meatless shawarma, and many other products made to resemble meat without containing it. Recently, I was in a Chinese restaurant, which offered diners vegetarian chicken and vegetarian duck dishes. This yearning for vegetarian products to be named like and to look like meat products is absurd,

There are plenty of delicious vegetarian dishes that are not made to resemble foods that usually contain meat. Middle-Eastern and Turkish cuisine, for example, offer vegetarian eaters delights such as: humous, fattoush, Imam Bayildi, Mutabbel (an aubergine dish), falaffel, stuffed peppers,etc. Even the French, who until recently have not been overly attracted to vegetarianism, have a traditional dish perfect for vegetarians: ratatouille. As for Indian cuisine, there is a plethora of dishes that are vegetarian and do not try to appear like meat. In India, the land where Gandhi was born, vegetarianism is a way of life, rather than a changed lifestyle, for hundreds of millions of people. This has been the case in India for many millennia.

To conclude, what I am trying to say is that if you wish to abandon eating meat for whatever reason, then you might as well abandon the desire to eat things that look like meat, but are not. If you are adopting vegetarianism, then enjoy meatless dishes for their own sake, not because they remind you of meat! Bon apetit!

Picture source: tesco.com

Mahatma Gandhi ate in Notting Hill

Today, 36 Ledbury Road (illustrated) in London’s trendy Notting Hill district (made famous by the 1999 film Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts) gives nothing away about its colourful past. It was once the home of the Indian Catering Company, a restaurant run by Nizam-ud-Din, who also owned the Eastern Café near Chancery Lane.

The Indian Catering Company, which was serving customers during the reign of Edward VII (1901-10) was not the first Indian restaurant to have been opened in London. The first curry house in London was opened by Sake Dean Mahomet (born in India in the 18th century). An employee of the East India Company, which he joined in 1769, he arrived in London in 1807. Two years later, he opened his Hindostanee Coffee House at 34 George Street near Portman Square. Although it was called a ‘coffee house’, it was actually a restaurant serving curries and other examples of Indian cuisine. The restaurant thrived until 1833, when it was closed. There is much more information about this establishment in Star of India, a book by Jo Monroe.

By the time that the restaurant at 36 Ledbury Road was serving customers, the Indian Catering Company was one of many Indian restaurants in early twentieth century London. The reason for my interest in this former eatery is that it was a meeting place for extremist Indian independence fighters in Edwardian London. I discovered this while researching my recently published book IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS.

Although he cannot be considered an ‘extremist’, the famous Mahatma Gandhi partook of a meal at the Indian Catering Company in Ledbury Road in October 1909. Here is an excerpt from my book:

In October, the festival of Dussehra was celebrated at Nizam-ud-Din’s restaurant, The Indian Catering Company, at 36 Ledbury Road in Bayswater. Gandhi had been invited to chair the proceedings. He had accepted the invitation on condition that the food would be pure vegetarian and that discussion of controversial politics was avoided. The food was served by Savarkar’s followers: VVS Aiyar, Tirimul Acharya, and TSS Rajan, all sometime members of India House.”

Whereas Gandhi both preached and practised non-violence, the same cannot be said of VVS Aiyar, Tirimul Acharya, and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar ( a ‘father’ of Hindu Nationalism and Hindutva), who also attended the meal.

Although there is no plaque recording the interesting history of 36 Ledbury Road so near to Portobello Road, whenever I pass this house I feel a tingle when I remember the famous Indian freedom fighters who once entered it and ate there.

A SMALL house cover

“IDEAS, BOMBS, and BULLETS” is by Adam YAMEY

ISBN: 9780244203870

The book is available from on-line stores including:

Amazon, Bookdepository.com, and lulu.com

It may also be ordered from bookshops

There is an e-book edition on Kindle

 

Mashed potatoes

Some restaurants in India serve both veg (vegetarian) and non-veg (meat, fish, eggs) food. Recently, my wife and I were sitting near to a young lady in a very good Italian restaurant in Vadodara in Gujarat.

Our young neighbour is a vegetarian. She ordered a veg pasta and asked the waiter if she could have a portion of mashed potatoes. I know that pasta and mashed potatoes are an unusual combination, but that is what she wanted.

The waiter told her that she could not order mashed potatoes with a veg pasta. Puréed potatoes, which are pure veg, could only be served with a non-veg dish.

We overheard the waiter telling this to our neighbour. My wife, who always tries to be helpful, interrupted the waiter and told him to bring a small dish of mashed potatoes with the pasta. Eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, the waiter did as asked. Our neighbour was so happy to receive the mash with her pasta that she got up and gave my wife an affectionate hug.

I am not a vegetarian.

Although I have met numerous pure vegetarians during the 25 years I have been visiting India, I still find it hard to believe that there are so many people, who have never tasted meat, eggs, or fish.

In Germany, we only eat…

High up in the sky,

a compartmented tray,

consuming airline food 

FLIGHT 1

 

Since I was a little boy (many decades ago), I have been travelling on aeroplanes, usually to and from holiday destinations. The food served during flights has always intrigued me. As a child, I used to collect the miniature containers of salt and pepper that appeared on the compartmented food trays. I can remember these better than the far from memorable food served with them.

In 1963, we took an overnight flight from New York to London. When the breakfast tray arrived, I remember that there was a hot, foil-wrapped item on the tray. Cautiously, I unwrapped it to reveal a long spindle of something yellow and rubbery. I hit it with a knife. The knife bounced off it. My mother told me that what I had revealed was an omelette. To this day, omelettes on ‘planes have repelled me. I love freshly made omelettes, but one made several hours earlier and reheated has no appeal for me.

The best food I have eaten in the air was on Air Lanka ‘planes in the mid-1990s when we were travelling between London and Colombo. The food was served in large foil containers, rather than in in tiny neat plastic dishes. Delicious Sri Lankan curries were served. They tasted as if they had been lovingly prepared in someone’s home rather than in an industrial kitchen. My wife recalls eating whole steaks and caviar on an Aeroflot flight between Moscow and New Delhi in the late 1980’s. The burly stewardesses served the food on real porcelain plates.

More recently, I have been travelling regularly to India. There is a direct flight between London and Bangalore operated by British Airways (‘BA’), on which we used to travel. The staff on these flights were coolly efficient. The meals were not so good. For some years I had a dental patient, a friendly fellow, who worked for BA as a cabin crew member. When I told him that I was not keen on what was served on BA, he suggested that I pre-order the seafood meals. These turned out to be better than the regular meals, and we ordered these on several successive flights. Then, on one BA flight I was seated next to a very devout Muslim couple, who did a lot of praying during the ten-hour flight. When their meals arrived, a delicious aroma spread from their trays. When they removed the foil from their hot dishes, I saw that they had been served with what looked like really nice curries and biryanis.

After seeing these halal meals, that is what I pre-ordered on all our subsequent bookings with BA. We were not disappointed. BA used a good quality halal caterer. Many people who order halal food are teetotal. The BA crew did not raise an eyebrow when we ordered gin and tonic or bloody Mary cocktails with our so-called ‘Muslim meals’.

FLIGHT 2

Before BA operated the direct flights between London and Bangalore, we had to make the journey with one change of ‘plane. The German airline, Lufthansa, ran a convenient flight from Frankfurt (Main) to Bangalore. On one occasion, we were served two meals on the flight. The first meal included some meat. Several hours later, the second meal arrived. It was a selection of vegetarian food items. Now, I have nothing against vegetarians and vegetarian food, but I like a bit of meat or fish with my veg. I called the stewardess and asked if there was a non-vegetarian option as there had been during the earlier meal.

“No,” she said abruptly.

“Why?” I asked.

“In Germany,” she explained, “we only eat meat once a day.”

What nonsense, I thought. Whenever I have visited Germany, I have seen people eating meat at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between these repasts. I was not going to put up with her inaccurate reasoning.

“Well,” I replied, feeling a little bit hypoglycaemic, “I shall be ill if I eat this vegetarian offering. You must find me some meat.”

“One moment, please.”

She disappeared out of our cabin. Maybe, she was worried that I might eat her. After some minutes, she returned with a tray containing some very tasty pieces of fish.

Apparently, Germans who travel business class eat non-vegetarian food more than once a day.

POSTSCRIPT:

I cannot understand why airlines feel that they have to serve hot dishes mid-air. Most of these dishes are shoddy versions of the descriptions given to them on the tiny menus handed out to fool you into thinking that the airline will treat you to ‘fine dining’. I believe that many people would be happy with a selection of tubs of what the Greeks call ‘meze’. These could include things like hummus, taramosalata, tzatziki, olives, cole-slaw, nuts, mutabel, guacamole, salsa, etc. No cooking required, and fun to eat.