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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BBC debates gender equality

There was gender equality in its panel –  three women and as many men.  The BBC World Debate in New Delhi  focused on the question whether gender equality is achievable in work place ? Consensus  was,  ‘ yes, but not anytime soon’.

Panelists : Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi ;  ICICI Bank chief  Chanda Kochhar ;  Obama’s envoy for global women’s issues  Melanne Verveer ;  and  Suhel Seth,  said to be New Delhi’s much sought after party guest,  and,  presumably,  most-invited  TV panelist ;   Renault and Nissan CEO  Carlos Ghosn ; and show host BBC’s  Nik Gowing,  who  gave equal opportunity for them to address the issue. What they said:

Ms. Nooyi:  What do we mean by gender equality ? Is it men-women employment on  50-50 basis,  or  equal recognition of their work?  Does it refer to peer respect for women in work place? Gender equality  is hard to define. She reckoned that  in many societies women are not given a choice  to work.

Ms Kochhar:  Employers need to address issues such as  maternity benefits. This assumes importance in ICICI bank,  where  80 percent of  women employees are below 30. As a woman, and working mother,  she says she considers  it  a privilege to be able to handle both roles. It is a 24 hr. job.

Mr.Ghosn :  Gender equality entailed men sharing responsiblities on the home front as well. Why not encourage male employees to take care of baby  by granting paternity leave and other benefits ?  Yes,  gender parity is achievable in the long term.

Mr Seth:  In the long-term we are all dead. To get anywhere on gender equality we need to look at the status of women beyond their work place. Viewed in this light the issue relates to gender respect.  There can be no gender equality without a mindset change in society.

Mr Vijay Malya:  Kingfisher commemorated the International  Women’s Day with flights that had  all-women crew.  He saw it as a matter of visibility of women in male-dominent fields. He refers to car racing says it would serve as role model for others, if we can identify  a woman Formula 1 driver.

Those of us who watched the debate may not have become any wiser on the status of  gender parity.  But then it is an  issue  that perhaps  needs to be hammered in,  on an ongoing basis in seminars, workshops and  TV talk shows.

At the end of it my thoughts were : 1) Can we  think of a women who can match up  to  Suhel Seth in TV appearances  as a  stock panelist ?   Kiren Bedi, maybe  ?

2) And why can’t  BBC think of holding a gender issue debate in Saudi Arabia ?

BBC poll special

bbcSo BBC   is up to a new way to cover Lok Sabha elections;  and in the process gain promotional mileage for itself.  The British news channel has chartered a seven-coach train to carry their news team, drawn from several language services,   on a 18-day spin around India.  BBC election special that left New Delhi on Apl.25  would cover Ahmedabad,  Mumbai,  Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar,  Kolkata, Patna and Allahabad, before returning to New Delhi, May 13, the last day of voting.

Even before the train moved out of Delhi, over 130 publications in India carried their story. BBC’s marketing people thoughtfully invited the New Delhi press corps to a posh hotel for celebrating their election special.  BBC  brought out publicity T-shirts to mark the occasion. Apart from the BBC news service reporters  from  language services  such as  Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Burmese, Swahili, and Arabic   the tain carries  a blogger on board . 

At Rewari, an unscheduled halt three hours into their journey,  wrote blogger  Soutik Biswas,  the fancy train, painted red and white , was mobbed by curious onlookers  at Rewari station. As they  surged towards their train,  BBC cameramen and sound recordists fanned out into the platform to record the event.

I am sure blogger Biswas would have much to write home about and his colleagues with the camera, plenty more of visuals to record over the next three weeks of the BBC train’s passage through India.  Elections would be over by mid-May,  but the BBC election special would be remembered long after,  by folks at Rewari and thousands of others who happen by the train through its journey.

Late last year BBC hit upon another promotional idea,  called  The Box.  It refers to a 40-ft shipping container,  painted with BBC logo and fitted with a transmitter device.  BBC News tells the story of international trade and globalisation by tracking its shipping container  on its journey around the world.   

At the time of posting  The Box  was tracked to  Hong Kong  en route to Japan.  From there they expect it to travel to Russia before its return to the UK in June/July. BBC brings television, radio and online reports from each location the container has touched.