Jab Tak Hai Jan – Memoirs of London Rekindled
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Last night saw the movie Jab Tak Hai Jan, memories of staying in London lighted up. The snow in London, the rain, the breeze, I saw most of the season while living there. There were many popular spots in film where I had walked as a daily routine.
I really loved ‘Embankment’ my favorite spot, where I use walk looking at Thames right up to Big Ben and Parliament on one side and Backfires Bridge on the other.-The Trafalgar square, where I spotted the lion on which I sat, the art gallery next to it -the London Bridge, the hide park. The Charring Cross tube station where SRK kisses Katrina – Your next station is Piccadilly Circus, the announcement still rings in the ears, traveling on the Victoria line.
I stayed at Collier’s high road next to Sainsbury, super market in south London in a rented room. In weekends I use to take the tube from there and get down at Charring Cross and walked up to Piccadilly Circus, the most happenings place in the city. I have been to one of the weekend clubs like the one in Ishq Shava song, it’s really the same.
When I was to leave London, I knew the city so well, that I was guiding people to find their way. I also remember how difficult it was for me to negotiate the places when I first landed there. To me Jab Tak Hai Jan – was like a photo album, I was seeing London after 1994.
Here I am trying to pen my thoughts on my visit to England in 1994. That year I was awarded field grant by the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi to pursue archival survey of the British sources for my doctoral research on Partition of India. My PhD thesis demanded incorporation of British perspective to the Partition debate particularly with reference to its India policy during the Second World War.
So there you go, I packed my bag at the Brahmputra hostel of JNU and Indira Gandhi international airport in New for six months stay in good old London. The Air India flight that was to come from Mumbai was abnormally delayed due Delhi fog, and it was a harrowing experience in Delhi airport where I was stranded from midnight till noon. It was for the first time I saw the misty morning from glass windows of the Delhi airport. I went hungry all night till the midday, as everything was at international rates and I could not afford to buy. It was almost 2 pm when the Air India leapt into the sky to take me to England. A sumptuous food was served and all the trial and tribulation was unburdened in the deep sleep that followed it. A movie was going on the screen that was inside the aircraft and when I woke up it was the end. There was no seat screen those times in the air India aircraft.
As I hurried my way out of the aircraft at Heathrow airport, my heart pounced what would happen if the folks do not show up at the airport to receive me. As I walked out, I saw a battery driven car, carrying some Sikh passengers to the aircraft with Indian flag flying passing by me and that soothed my nerves. I smiled at them and they waved at me. The officer at the immigration desk asked the purpose of my visit and I told him topic of research. He stamped my passport with a smile and as he raised his head up to return my document he saw the novel Shylock Homes in my front pocket. I could see the blinking of his eyes that was appreciative as he wished me good luck for my stay in England.
I was based in London and lived in a rented room at the 45 Colliers High Road, South London. It was quite close to Sainsbury supermarket where I use to frequent for my groceries.
The building where I lived was owned by a Pakistani of Indian origin. It had some very interesting people living there. There was a Pakistani couple in the ground floor, a group of Korean students in the second floor. There were two Romanians gentlemen and an English couple besides me in this building.
I use to take the southern line tube and go waterloo from where I use to walk to the backfires bridge where the India Office Library was located at that time.
During my stay in London I use to visit the School of Oriental and African Studies library the Record office at the Q’s gardens and the British Museum.
Some time I use to get down at Temple tube station walk to the High Court side either to visit the Indian consulate office or to the LSE, while on some other day I may be walking straight to the Kings College to attend some Talks organized there.
I used to be spent my evenings sometimes at the Piccadilly Circus, the China town, the globe theater and the Charring Cross. Some times I use to walk along the embankment watching the flow the river Thames, go up to the Big Ben and see the time, take a round of 10 Downing Street and walk along the British Parliament.
At times in the evenings, I use to go to the Indian YMCA, British Museum and Baden Powell Hall for some programmes. King college was another place I use to go for listening to lectures. Some times, I use to get down at temple tube station cross to embankment side and take a long walk to the college. SOAS was another place I used to frequent.
While staying in London, I use to frequent Oxford University for my research. Normally I use to go the St Anthony College to meet some Professors or to sit at Bodleian library at the Oxford University. I had an opportunity to have a glimpse of Mr. Beans who too was in the campus when I happen to be there.
Similarly, I use to travel to the Cambridge University and even stayed with some friends for few days there. At the Cambridge I had given a talk at the Darwin College, mostly to the Indian students studying there.
Jab Tak Hai Jan brought to me the fond memoirs of London after many years. Thank you Yashji – may your soul rest in peace.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org