London 2012: Pub culture and our Biradhri

When Sushil Nangia  and his  neighbourhood  friends meet for Sunday beer session  at this  Northwood  heritage pub  Raj Singh Mongia  would be very much  in  their thoughts.   His recent death has left a void and a vacant seat at the pub that cannot be filled.   The Northwood beer-and-gossip group is now down to four members –  Davy, Jaggi, Mongia  (not Raj Singh), and Nangia. They were all Delhi Janpath coffee-house regulars,  who came to the UK in the early 60s.  The coffee house closed down decades back,  but the biradhri  of its regulars bond together wherever they meet.

A handful of them in Delhi,  now retired,  continue to meet daily at  Embassy restaurant in Connaught Place.  Its  convener  S P Dutt,  a retired Air India executive and a coffee-house regular since Delhi University days,   stays in e-mail touch many more. And those visiting Delhi drop in at the Embassy to re-connect with the  biradhri.   Nangia does,  on his annual Delhi trip from UK.

His Northwood  pub group can be said to  represent the UK  chapter of the coffee-house  biradhri.  If only they have a  pub in Heaven,  I suspect ,  my friend Raj Singh would start a coffee-house  chapter  Out There as well.  Membership for this  out- of- this-world chapter wouldn’t be  an issue,  I guess.   Coffee-house notables who are  no more  include  Girilal Jain,  Satinder Singh, Richard Bartholomew, Balwant Gargi,  and O P Kohli.   Jethinder Sethi,  recalling his coffee-days in  the 1950s,  names many more, who are still around  and  ageing.  This blogger completed 74 the other day.

If anyone thinks  of creating  a Walk of  Fame for Janpath coffee-house regulars,  at a Connaught Place sidewalk, (like Hollywood Walk of Fame)  we would have plaques bearing names of ex-PM I K Gujral  ( a coffee-house regular in  early 50s),  his painter brother Satish Gujral,  Nihal Singh Inder Malhotra,  Rakshat Puri,  Rajinder Puri,  Ajit Bhattacharjee, Uma Vasudeva, K N Malik (mota),  K N Malik (chota),  Kapila Vatsayan,  Roshan Taneja, and Irshad Panjathan.

As for  the  Maliks,   a  yarn spun around how they got dubbed,  chota and mota,  has it that  someone who came  looking for  K N Malik at the Delhi Press Club was told by a bearer that there were two of them at the club. When the visitor was asked  which Malik  he was looking for, he said,   ‘the one  who worked for The Times of India‘.  To which the bearer replied,  both Maliks worked for the paper.

Visitor:  I mean,   Malik the reporter who shows up,  but rarely,  at his office.

Press Club bearer:   Both Maliks are are reporters and they are rarely seen at office.

Visitor:  I am looking for the Malik  who doesn’t exert himself much.

Bearer:  Both don’t.

Visitor:  My Malik is usually found at the Club.

Bearer:  Yes, both spend lot of time here.

Visitor:  Mine is on the hefty side.

Bearer: Both are hefty, but one is conspicuously shorter than the other.

This helped the  visitor  identify  his Malik  (the short one) and the  bearer promptly led him to the Club card-room, and  to  chota  Malik

Friday after-office hour at a pub on Gracechurch St.

If the Northwood chapter of coffee-house biradhri meets at a pub,  it is because,  in UK,  they say,  ‘A lot can happen over a pint’ (to borrow the phrase,  from the Cafe Coffee Day slogan).  To quote from a website on UK pubs,  “When it comes to doing business in the UK  then the concept of a  “pub lunch”  is something  everyone will encounter at some stage.  A  public house makes an ideal venue for a business meeting in neutral surroundings” .  I had my first  interview with a magazine owner for job in Afro-Asian Echo at a pub in Paddington rail station.  Most office-goers  drop by at their favourite pub on way home.  And in London they have thoughtfully located a pub in every neighbourhood.  Most Underground stations in Central London are well served with street-corner pubs.

A pub on Fleet Street that has been mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities  because its author Charles Dickens frequented the joint.  Among other  English literary figures who visited at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese  in their time  were Dr Samuel Johnson,  G K Chesterton,  Sir Arthur Conon Doyle,  Alfred Tennyson,  Mark Twain, Oliver Goldsmith.  Dt Johnson  lived close by, at 17 Gough Square. A note left in the pub’s website refers to a teacher of English as a foreign language who brought students to this pub for a feel of the place.

Excerpts from some  comments:  It’s like walking into a Charles Dickins  novel. The place just oozes a dark unspoilt character. The sawdust on the floors may be unnecessary , but it’s still a nice touch.

…was like walking into the set of Harry Potter film set.

…a strong smell of burning wood tinged the air, heavy with the ghosts of London’s past.

Don’t miss Polly, the parrot who lived at the pub from 1884-1926 and is now stuffed in the tap room!

Dark wooden panels, small windows, lack of  daylight, it is like entering another world.

I visited with 8 other real ale enthusiasts. The Sam Smiths was utter crap.

visited this pub with my class while on a study abroad trip.

I have enjoyed the Cheese for 40 years.

Dwarfed by the high-rise buildings,  a Victorian era building that defied development.  Close to Westminster the Albert pub, they say,  has been a favourite watering hole for MPs. The guide on our sight-seeing tour had it that the Albert had Division Bell fitted in it for the benefit of MPs at the pub, so that they didn’t miss out on voting in the House.