Wednesday, September 21, 2016

In T'Smoke Again: Meeting at NYU and Field Trip to Kingsley Hall

Monday, September 19, 2016
In T'Smoke Again: Meeting at NYU and Field Trip to Kingsley Hall

 On The Road Again:

     Monday morning found me creeping about a still-dark home at 6. 30 am for the days are much shorter now. I washed and dressed, made myself two peanut butter sandwiches (one for the coach for breakfast, one for lunch while in London) and left the house at 7.00 am for my 7.40 am Oxford Tube coach to London. I found a solitary coffee house just opening for the day outside Queen’s College on the High Street and ordering one to go, I waited for my coach to arrive. Alas, although two had left before mine, the coach companies do not allow you to take earlier ones—even when seats are available. Mine did eventually arrive and I had a peaceful journey until the outskirts of London where peak hour traffic going into the city was a far cry from the sheep, cows and horses already in pasture in Oxfordshire. I got off at Marble Arch and jumped into a bus going down Oxford Street to Tottenham Court Road where there was a skip in my step again as I arrived at Bedford Square. I had about a half hour in my office to get important papers printed and to email something to Italy in preparation for the lecture I will give in November at the University of Padua before I left for the meeting I had arrived in London to attend.

Meeting of Research Fellows at NYU:

     The meeting I had arrived from Oxford to attend began at 11.00 and went on till 12 noon. Although I did not meet the other Faculty Fellow who was absent, it was good to meet a few of the grad students, also on Fellowships, and to find out what their area of research in London is all about. Eric and Phillipa were the NYU staffers who led and conducted the meeting and while coffee, tea and biscuits made the rounds, we got to know each other and the topics of inquiry we are each pursuing in London. Topics varied from Renaissance mortuary sculpture to business elements of theater production. It was all very productive and very interesting.

     Back in my office, I used time to book my air flights to Italy and back and to plan the rest of my day. My friend Roz touched base with me about our evening plans and once I knew what was ahead for the day, I went to the Faculty Lounge to eat my sandwich with a cup of hot chocolate and then I hit the road.

A Field Trip to the East End:

     Now that I am leaving the East End for good soon and moving to a completely different part of London, I figured it made sense to see bits of it that are connected with my own research project. During the past week, while reading at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I came across information about Gandhi’s stay at a place called Kingsley Hall in the East End of London when he arrived for the Second Round Table Conference in 1931. On googling it, I discovered that Kingsley Hall was not too far from where I live right now in Stepney Green. It is just two more subway stops ahead at Bow Road and armed with this information and screen shots on my phone of a few maps of the area, I set out in search of it.

     I stayed on the District Line train to Bow Road, then asked a friendly conductor at the station to put me in the direction. He did…and off I walked towards Bromley High Street from where I followed my map to Powis Road and found the place. Today, Kingsley Hall lies deep in the heart of Little Sylhet in Bangladesh. The Bengali community has completely colonized this part of London and all around me were men dressed in traditional clothing with white lace skull caps, women fully shrouded in burquas and lots of children playing on the street in a series of council estate housing—shabby blocks of apartment buildings that have a uniformly seedy appearance. There is trash everywhere, lots of litter covers these streets—just as I find from Bethnal Green to Stepney Green where I rent a house. You have to wonder at this lack of civic sense. It is what has completely put me off this area and convinced me that I cannot continue to live where I currently do.  Needless to say, I did not wish to linger here any longer than necessary.

     Kingsley Hall was founded in the late 1920s by a couple of sisters who wished to create a community center in the East End—which has always been a poverty-stricken area filled with immigrants, whether they were Huguenots, Jews or Bengalis. It is a plain black brick building that receives some aesthetic ornamentation from ivy growing thick on its upper reaches. It has a long balcony on the third floor and a very nice garden (which is obviously in disuse as it needs a lot of sprucing up).During his stay here, Gandhi planted a tree in the garden which was later stuck by a war bomb. In the 1990s, it was replanted. In the early decades of the 20th century, it was an active community center and was visited by some of the leading lights of the era. Its best-known visitor was Gandhi who did not wish to stay in a hotel, thanks to his insistence on austerity and was, therefore, put up here. The room in which he stayed is still preserved as it was as the building now houses part of the Gandhi Foundation.

     I was curious to see the places in which Gandhi moved during his time in London—hopefully, in time, I shall see the place in Bayswater that he occupied as a law student. Today, Kingsley Hall looks derelict. A notice on the main door proclaimed its office hours—open just twice a week for a few limited hours of the day. I would guess that the place relies on voluntary support services. It is apparently available for hire. I was not able to enter it as I had arrived on the wrong day and at the wrong time—but I do not really believe that it is open very much at all.

     Kingsley Hall received some attention from the cast and crew of Richard Attenborough’s film, Gandhi, which was actually shot on location at this place in the mid-1980s. It was partly from the film that my curiosity to actually visit this place was aroused. Attenborough is supposed to have raised some funds that went towards refurbishment of the building which still stands, solid enough, but I have to wonder about its future. There is a blue plaque on the front proclaiming that Gandhi once stayed there. I took several photographs with the idea of perhaps using them in a Powerpoint presentation for I am quite curious about the lives of early Indian pioneer visitors to London and reading about the missions of Raja Ram Mohan Roy at the Boldeian Library and seeing a blue plaque proclaiming his stay on Bedford Square in Bloomsbury where our NYU campus is now located, makes me feel as if there is a paper in this somewhere.

     Back on the No. 25 bus from Bow Church, I arrived at my flat on Globe Road and spent about an hour or two there as I continued packing for my departure. At about 4.00 pm, I curled up and took a short nap as, for some reason, I felt a bit sleepy. It was most refreshing. When I awoke, I continued putting my papers ready for the next phase of my travels and my move and when almost all of it was done, it was about 6.00 pm.

Dinner with Roz at L’Antipasto:

     The next course of action was getting on the Tube to Victoria and from there to Battersea as I was spending the evening with my friend Roz who also invited me to spend the night with her so that I would not have to get back to Globe Road when it was too late. Accordingly, I took the 44 bus from Victoria and arrived at her place at 7. 25 as was the plan. Roz had reached home after work and finished a couple of errands she needed to run. She poured me a glass of red wine and over a few peanut nibbles in her living room, we caught up and then set off in her car for one of her favorite neighborhood Italian restaurants called L’Antipasto on Battersea High Street.

     Roz is well-known to the proprietors as it is a place she frequents with her partner Christie and their friends. The prices are extraordinarily reasonable for such a nice establishment. Roz introduced me to Antonio, one of the proprietors and over another glass of the house red and vast bowls of pasta (mine was Siciliana with prawns and cherry tomatoes and Bolognese for Roz), we had ourselves one of our nattery evenings when conversation ranges widely.

     At about 10.00 pm, Roz drove us back home and I took to the guest room on the top floor where I speedily switched off the light and fell asleep after what had been another nice day in the city.                 
     Until tomorrow, cheerio…

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