Wednesday, October 12, 2016
I set my alarm for 6.00 am, but awoke at 5. 30 am--always happens when I am setting out on a trip (my body clock is better than any alarm clock!). This left me enough time to wash, get dressed (though not for a shower), prepare breakfast sandwiches (as well as sandwiches for lunch), tidy and settle my flat (there was a chance of it being shown to prospective tenants by realtors) and leave on schedule at 7.00 am for my 8. 30 am coach from Victoria to Cambridge--for yes, I was off to "The Other Place' where I was invited to give a lecture to the grad seminar students at the Center of South Asian Studies by the dons from Trinity College. I felt honored and privileged--and all keyed up!
I arrived at Victoria at 8.00 am which left me adequate time to buy a coffee and board my coach. The journey was start and go all the way out of London (which took forever), plus I was seated right behind the driver in what, I thought, was a coveted place (except that he was in a non-stop conversation with a blind man who happened to have been a National Express coach driver and could not keep his mouth shut). He should know better, I thought, about distracting the driver with his constant chatter--but needless to say, the first chance I got (when the bus made a stop at Strafford in the East End), I changed places and went for some peace and quiet to the back of the bus as I had hoped, once again, to review my lecture and think about any possible questions it might provoke.
Given the terrible traffic delays leaving London, it is not surprising that we arrived in Cambridge 45 minutes behind schedule at 12 noon. Passengers waiting to board the coach for the return journey to London were tugging at the bit--and as I got off, I turned to a young black woman and asked her to point me in the direction of Trinity College where, I was told, a room had been reserved for me. Imagine my surprise when she told me that it was too complicated to explain and that she would run me there in her car as she had merely arrived to drop her friend off to the coach station. So, there was I, once again, getting a ride from a total, well-meaning stranger. We had a lovely chat together (she was called Malika and was from Guyana, a nurse at the local hospital) and fifteen minutes later, there I was.
Arrival at Trinity College:
Malika dropped me off at the Avenue of striking tall trees that go across the River Cam at The Backs and lead to one of the entrances to Trinity College. Naturally, since the sun had come out quite valiantly, I had to stop to take a couple of pictures of my first sight of visitors punting on the river and of one of the bridges of St. John's College that was upstream. In two minutes, I was at the entrance and being escorted by one of the dapper, bowler-hatted porters who led me past the Tudor Quad and the Neville Court (which houses the famed Wren Library) and through antiquated wooden doors to arrive at the Main Quad where I could not help but gasp. He showed me the Porter's Lodge under the main Gateway where I was expected to report to the Porter and pick up my room key.
Trinity College boasts the largest Cambridge College Quadrangle. It is focused around a beautiful ornate fountain that is surrounded by vivid red geraniums. As I walked by it, it could hear the musical lit of softly dripping water. I circled around it and walked under the grand Tudor Gateway with its sculpture of Henry VIII and women of the court and entered the Porter's Lodge. There, sadly, I was told that check-in time was 2.00 pm--I had about an hour to kill, so I stashed my overnight bag in one of their cupboards for safekeeping and went out to discover the town.
I had last been to Cambridge about eight years ago but I had rather vivid memories of that day. Apart from the fact that it was icily cold then, I did recall the wonders of the Fitzwilliam Museum that had been like a revelation to me as well as taking a walking tour of the colleges that had led me over the many milestone bridges over the Cam. This time, I intended to see parts of the town as well as parts surrounding it (as I would be staying overnight and had the whole of the next day to do my sightseeing). This time, however, I did not have a map--so my forays were haphazard. I went where the will took me and since it was past 1.00 pm (when visitors are allowed inside) , I figured that the Wren Library of Trinity College would be the place at which I would start. So I retraced my steps through the Main Quad, past the little wooden door where the aromas of cooking and eating assailed my hungry nostrils (I would return to eat lunch here) as I was passing right by the ornate Dining Hall of the college. I entered it briefly to take a picture of it (a portrait of Henry VIII, its founder dominates it). Then I was hurrying through the cloisters of Neville Court to arrive at the Wren Library.
Perusing the Treasures of the Wren Library:
The Wren Library is so-called because it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It has a simple, almost plain, façade with a number of stained glass windows (which lead one to think it is a chapel). Upstairs, you are led into a hushed long space that is flanked on both sides by tall bookcases with a treasure-trove of leather-bound books topped by marble busts of Classical writers (such as Horace and Seneca) on one side and busts of English writers (such as Dryden and Swift) on the other. The main window is not of stained glass but is painted--it represents Sir Issac Newton (the most famous alumnus of the college) being presented before the King. At the bottom is Francis Bacon (also a luminary of the college).
The biggest treasure of the library, however, are its original manuscripts and these are placed in glass cases to allow the visitor to peruse them carefully. I was most delighted by the original manuscripts, written in his own handwriting, of A.A. Milne's Tales of Winnie The Pooh (also with his original illustrations). These, together with the other treasures in the cases, were bequeathed to the Library. I looked at all of them very carefully and thought I lucky I was to be able to see these words that ranged from Medieval illuminated manuscripts penned by monks to contemporary works that date from our own times.
Lunch, Then In and Out of Other Colleges:
Crossing the Neville Court again and arriving at the Dinning Hall, I decided to get myself some lunch. I entered the 'Servery' (only Oxford and Cambridge still retain the use of antiquated words like 'Servery', 'Buttery' and 'Infirmary'!) and chose to eat delicious Braised Lamb Chops with Gravy served with Fried Potato Disks and Brocolli. Gravy for the Potatoes was in the Main Hall and it was there that I took my tray, sat down and ate while being gazed upon my past Masters of the College, including India's Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen who was Master of Trinity till 2014. My meal, considering that it was an institutional offering, was quite delicious indeed, and replete with it, I set out to see some of the college. It was about 1. 30 pm by then so I still had a half hour to spend before claiming my room key.
I popped in next door to King's College and discovered that there was a fee to enter its magnificent and famous Chapel. By then it had started to drizzle and I was grateful for the little umbrella I had taken out of my bag and carried with me. The entry fee to King's Chapel is a steep 9 pounds (yes, that is 9 pounds) and I was loathe to pay it for a few minutes' visit. Having already attended Evensong at King's, a few years ago, I remembered it well and decided instead to try to return for the 12. 30 Afternoon Prayer service tomorrow when I could enter the chapel sans fees.
I then walked through the side street that led me into Gonville and Caiius (pronounced 'Keys') College where I had the chance to tour its quads, nip into its chapel and survey its Fellows Garden. Most of the colleges are open to visitors between 2 and 5 pm. and unless the college is able to boast a sought-after treasure that every visitor clamors to see, there is no entrance fee. Gonville and Caiius has rather unusual architecture in his arched gateways--but, other than that, it is not a big crowd-pleaser.
I arrived by then on to King's Parade, which is a strip of road in front of the main entrance to King's College, lined on the other side by shops. More recent viewers of British detective and crime drama in the US will recognize it as the street along which the Vicar of the Church in the neighboring village of Grantchester, Sidney, rides his bicycle, his gown flapping hard behind him as the brilliant actor James Norton plays him. I was also close to Market Square, so I did decided to browse in it and discovered that it was taken over by a flea market of sorts. I also did find the Tourist Information Center in a side street and nipped inside to get a map and find out how I could get to two places I would like to visit tomorrow--as my return coach to London only leaves Cambridge at 5.00 pm: Ely (pronounced "Eelee")Cathedral in the town of Ely and the village of Grantchester. The assistant advised me to take the train to Ely (as he said it would reach much faster and cost the same amount) and he told me which bus to take to Grantchester (which was much closer to Cambridge than Ely). I thanked him and left.
Taking Possession of my Room in Trinity College:
I returned to the Porter's Lodge at Trinity, got my bag and my key, took directions on how to get to my 'Parlor Room' (which overlooked the Main Quad) and ten minutes later, there I was, in the Fellow's Stairway, climbing up a grand wooden staircase punctuated by portraits of past Fellows and arriving at the third floor and entering a narrow corridor where I pushed past my door and entered my most enchanting room. It was furnished in period style with a four-poster bed dominating my room and with a dresser, pull-down desk, bed side tables, a large cheval mirror and a huge armoire filling the pace--but still leaving much space to get lost in as the room was so huge. I headed straight to the dormer windows, pushed open the curtains and looked down upon the Main Quad with such a sense of excitement that it is hard to describe. I had to pinch myself several times. How was it possible that I was occupying a room in the Fellow's Staircase, past a Fellow's Parlor and a separate Fellows Dining Hall, to take possession of a room in a college that had been founded by Henry VIII? As I gazed down at the courtyard, I thought, Nehru was a student here, Sir Issac Newton produced his Laws of Gravity here, Thomas Babbington Macaulay (whose notorious 'Minute' brought English education to the Indian sub-continent) studied here--and here was I? It was truly mind-blowing. And as I unpacked my few belongings and placed them in the drawers, I decided to take a nap in readiness for my lecture at 5.00 pm. So I curled up on the massive four-poster bed and tried to sleep.
It was impossible. I was much too keyed up. So I lay and took a rest, then decided to make myself a cup of coffee in the adjoining room where all the fixing's were laid out and returned to my room. I sipped it while doing a bit of emailing and whatsapping through the wifi whose password had been given to me and then I still had a half hour before I intended to leave. I decided to take a shower (as I hadn't showered in the morning) and was absolutely charmed by the completely adjoining en suite bathroom that was up-to-the-minute modern with a small rain shower cubicle and a full-size bath tub! Here was something more mind-boggling: a Renaissance College in a Medieval University with a Modernist bathroom! I discovered later than mine was the only ensuite room as other visitors to the college, occupying rooms down the same hallway, use bathrooms opposite the hall. Had I lucked out or what?
Shower done, I changed into the presentation clothing I had carried (crisp white shirt, grey jacket, formal dress trousers, Hermes scarf) and I left. I took directions from the Porter who directed me to the Center of South Asian Studies in the Alice Richards Building past the avenue of trees and on the main road outside from where I got Cambridge's most iconic photograph: King's College Chapel from The Backs. And then, ten minutes later, after I met Barbara Roe who had coordinated the entire lecture effort for me, I was being escorted to the lecture hall by Kevin Greenback who had set up my Powerpoint presentation and who asked me if it was okay to have my lecture live streamed. I told him it was fine.
Giving a Guest Lecture at the Graduate Seminar:
A few minutes later, I was meeting Prof. David Washbrook, a Fellow of Trinity and Ed Anderson, the Smuts Research Fellow, who made me feel welcomed and who would provide company for the dinner that would follow the talk. I settled myself at the podium and at 5.00 pm after the room had filled up considerably with MA., M.Phil and Ph.D. students from varied disciplines with an interest in South Asian Studies, I began my talk on "Britain's Anglo-Indians: The Invisibility of Assimilation'. Very soon, as often happens, I eased into my lecture and was pleased to see that many students were taking notes, typing on their laptops or listening intently. My talk went on for the 45 minutes I had been given and was followed by Q&A that went on for at least 20-30 minutes. I was amazed at the number of questions that were asked and the quality of them. Although some of the scholars were mature, it was the younger ones who were most eager to ask questions and to comment. Their comments were astute, their insights acute and deeply inspiring--as might be assumed, of course, in one of the world's premier institutions of higher learning. It was fun to grapple with them and provide more information and it was good to see that I had created enough interest in the subject that students wished to know more. David moderated the questions and called a halt to them about 20 minutes later when he invited the gathering to discuss the matter even more with me over drinks.
Drinks were offered two floors up in a small corridor. I had a glass of wine as I needed to relax after being nerve-wracked for most of the past couple of days. I felt relieved that the 'work' part of my assignment was over and that I could chat with the many students who crowded around me to ask more questions or make more comments. It was indeed another very satisfying half hour before we said goodbye to everyone.
Dinner at Loch Fyne Restaurant:
I was scheduled to have dinner with David and Ed who then led me on a beautiful night along Trumpington Road to Lock Fyne Seafood restaurant where we had reservations. It was a nice companionable walk during which time I got to know a bit about Ed who is a South Asianist working on the Emergency in India.
At the restaurant, my hosts ordered another bottle of white wine (a Portuguese wine, rather significantly) and the prix fixe three course menu. I went for the Soft-Shell Crab Pakora which was surprisingly delicious and interesting served with a blob of Tartar Sauce and Grated Carrot Salad, the Portuguese Seafood Stew which was a lovely mixture of prawns, octopus, squid and monk fish in a lovely well-flavored fish stock and for dessert, I had a really wonderful Clementine Tart served with Chocolate and Orange Ice-cream that was amazing. Wine and conversation flowed easily during our meal as we talked about folks we know in common and David's presence at NYU events in the past in New York City. It was about 10.00 pm when we were all done and I was thanking my hosts for looking after me so well and for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.
We walked back along what seemed to me like rather dark streets (far dimmer than the ones in Oxford) on Trumpington Road. Ed said goodbye halfway through and David and I continued as he has rooms in Trinity college. He saw me as far as my staircase and after I thanked him very much, I decided to have a coffee in the Fellows Parlor which is open till 11.00 pm. There I did some more emailing, sipped my coffee and then climbed the staircase to my room. Once again, I felt an acute 'high' at being in such an august space. It is one thing to be a student in such institutions--it is completely another experience altogether to be considered a peer and to be treated as one by colleagues who work in the same fields of research and scholarly endeavor. I was completely and fully psyched, chuffed and stoked (as Brits would say) by the entire experience and it was bathed with a sense of the deepest gratitude that I fell asleep when the clock on the Tower above the College Chapel chimed 11.00 pm.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...