London 2012: Lunch was on Kini

Way back in the 60s when Kini T R  and I worked for a magazine in London – Afro Asian Echo – we used to  lunch together at Oxford St. (at neighbourhood Wimpy Bar ? Do they still have them ?)  Kini usually paid for our meal; I was tight-fisted on more occasions than I cared to remember.  Early this month,  revisiting London after 45 years,  I looked up Kini at Herne Bay, Kent.  And the lunch was on him.
His French-born wife Catherine (we hadn’t met till that day)  lined up pilau rice, cheese-on-tomato, salad, fruits, and red wine to wash it all  down with.  Kini is fond of his wine, said Catherine.  She had earlier  picked us up – Nangia and me – from the railhead in Herne Bay,  made us lunch,  and was to drop us back at the station for our train  to London.  Kini, weak and ailing,  relies on  Catherine to do the running-around in and outside their house.

Catherine, Kini  had said , would await us in a sky blue Fiat.  We spotted each other right away.  Sushil  Nangia and I were the only passengers on the 10.52 from Victoria, London,  to get down at Herne Bay, Kent.  On the drive home Catherine filled us in on her seaside town,  and how she and Kini came to make it their home,  after 40 plus years in London.
Herne Bay station,  on  Kentish coast.  The train takes 90 mins. to London;  and there is one every 30 mins. from here to victoria station

We spent some four hours –  Nangia, and I –  with Kini  reminiscing.  On my return to  Chennai  I got mail  from  Kini saying,  ‘it seems like a tear-jerker when one has to accept that we are never likely to meet again in person.  I share his sentiments, though I couldn’t bring myself  to saying so when we took  leave from him at Herne  Bay the other day.  Kini’s  Chronic Fatique syndrome (CFS) virtually immobilizes him.  And his only window to the world  around him  is the Internet.  And for a few brief months we stayed in touch through a blog-to-blog,  which prompted Kini to articulate his hitchhicking experience,  from Delhi to London – a 40-day saga, over 45 years back.

It was some  five years back that I first heard  about his health  condition,  when Kini e-mailed to informed me about his move from London to a chalet bungalow  in Herne Bay, Kent, ‘geriatric town where one is more likely to see dear old ones scooting about on electric scooters  than young lads on noisy motor-bikes’.  His e-mail ended on rather disprited note – ‘ uncertainty and hope fills our lives at present’. Kini’s ailment , they say, is incurable.  What’s is worse,  medical science has yet to figure out the why and the how-come  of his nagging  pains in chest and legs,  of his incessant  sleep problem.  Of late  Parkinson’s  has set in,  making Kini rely on Levodopa  (Sinemet),  a drug that relieves him of distressing symptoms for a limited time.

Kini said he took extra dosage in view of my trip,  so that he could,  hopefully,  spend a couple of hours at a stretch without having to retire to  bed because of fatigue –  “I was – to tell the truth,  apprehensive about your visit to Herne Bay – worrying whether you could endure it,  and whether I could,  with my discreet dosage of dopamine”.   I am 73 and Kini can’t be faulted for associating age with some form of ailment.

As it turned out,  our meeting was engaging,  reflective,  and it triggered memories of men and matters long dead or forgotten.  I noticed Kini had even  listed out some  talking points, just in case we fail to cover them .  As we parted Kini handed me a few issues of Afro-Asian Echo – a collector’s item –   that he had thoughtfully preserved.
The magazine,  of 1966 vintage.  Was published by a Nigerian who had fled to London following rioting in Lagos, and assassination of prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (on our magazine cover).

Kini commissioned articles,  from Subhash Chopra,   Adil Jussawala,  and Farrukh Dhondy.  They were no big names then.  Dhondy, writer, playwright,  social activist,  widely known among British Indian community for his stint at BBC Channel 4,  was a student at Cambridge when Kini got him to write for Afro-Asian Echo.  Adil a poet and writer,  who was then,  I believe,  teaching English for a living in London of mid-Sixties.  Subhash Chopra worked at the business desk in The Times,  London,  after stints in a couple of provincial dailies.  Chopra has since authored two books – Partition – Jihad and Peace;  and India and Britannia – an abiding affair.
  On racial prejudice Farrukh Dhondy wrote of insulation of the student community at Cambridge.
A foriegn student rarely faces the despair that haunts the working immigrant when he looks for a place to stay in, or for employment, or for ways to keep up with living. Most colleges ensure that strange faces fit in and are absorbed. They send African, Asian or West Indian students to landladies who confess to having no race prejusice.

When I went to North East England for work,  my newspaper – The Northern Echo – had advertised and interviewed  my prospective landlady to ensure I wasn’t exposed to racial prejudice in my neighbourhood during my stint in the newspaper at Darlington.  In fact the landlady and her husband met me at the station to take me to our residence when I first arrived in  Darlington to take up the newspaper job.

After lunch,  as Kini and I were on our nostalgia  trip  down the memory lane,  Nangia offered to do  the dishes,  and make coffee.  We were waiting for Catherine to return from a meeting of the local Workers Education Committee.  As Kini put it, besides taking care of him she finds  time for weekly Arts group meetings;  for learning skills as a water colourist.   Kini once wrote that Catherine was so enamoured with Herne Bay and Canterbury cathedral  that she spent  there as much time as she could,  hoping to become a knowledgeable guide to visiting friends and relatives.

Catherine would have loved to show us around her town,  if only we had time. On our drive back to the station to catch the 16.32 to London  she talked about her familiarization trip to India,  and of the time she spent at Kini’s village in Mangalore.  This was quite a while ago.  Catherine wasn’t sure, if  they would have another chance to do India.

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