It was bleak and was raining that day in London.
It was springtime … yet … it was depressing weather to which, most born in the tropics are not accustomed to.
Rains are common in London – be it spring, summer, autumn or winter.
Weather changes in the Old Bailey at the proverbial drop of a hat … thanks to lip-blister-causing blustery winds that trigger hats’ displacements and temperatures’ downward spiral chilling to the bone anyone unaccustomed to the clime.
Having come from Chennai to take up his posting as the UK Bureau Chief a small India-headquartered news agency – Swaminathan Aiyar had become convinced that the unpredictable British weather was inimically disposed towards all those of his ilk.
Upon the advice of his family Ayurvedic quack, Aiyar had the habit of drinking 14 glasses of water a day. The term Ayurveda roughly translates into English as the Gospel for Prolonged Healthy life.
“We call it water-therapy, son. This simple method will flush out all the toxins in your body through urine and thus keep ailments like diabetes away and hold the physician beyond your threshold more effectively than the proverbial apple. What is more, even when you sweat heavily in extreme heat, the water content in your system will remain balanced the natural way,” the ‘water-medicine-uncle’ had said when Aiyar had been merely 7 years old.
Aiyar’s mom had ensured he followed those orders unerringly every day till she had passed away a year ago.
That scheme was and is kosher for tropical weather systems.
London’s inclement weather, nevertheless, totally unsuited to this treatment always made Aiyar fear that his bladder would leak and shame him publicly at any moment.
The only alcoholic beverage Aiyar liked was beer which made life even more difficult.
In March, London’s temperature is usually in its early teens. So it was that day.
Those born in the tropics are created with blood-plasma that seems somewhat diluted.
The liquid’s thickness and character change upon migration to colder regions owing to the human body’s inbuilt immunity system after a few weeks’ acclimatisation.
That metamorphosis was yet to set in Aiyar’s body. Like all Indians, Aiyar had the nasty habit of calculating every item to be bought or every item of expenditure in Indian rupees by doing the currency conversion math in his brain.
The average bedsitter flat in London’s outskirts had a rent quotient of some £ 800 a month. That came to roughly Rs.64,000 in Indian currency.
Someone had told Aiyar that he could choose a somewhat ‘seedy’ neighbourhood to keep the rent low.
“Go find a place in say East Ham, Kilburn or Walthamstow. The neighbourhood isn’t great and the local gangs are always known for some kind of criminal activity. So, the rents are always low in those areas. The London criminal can smell money a mile away. And those without serious stashes of bobs are generally left alone,” Eddie Gilchrist, an acquaintance who worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation had opined.
Aiyar had chosen Kilburn because East Ham and Walthamstow had more Asian criminals who were infinitely smarter than their white brethren, who could steal his identity, passport and a few other knick-knacks.
Located a shade north of central London, Kilburn is known for the domination of persons from Ireland.
“The Irish are extremely difficult to understand,” said Sinead Murphy, a matronly Irishwoman who met him at a coffee shop in London’s fashionable Covent Garden.
“We Irish can be the best of friends and the worst of enemies of anyone without having any particular reason to be so,” the somewhat overweight lady, who, for no apparent reason, had foot the bill for Aiyar’s coffee in spite of being a complete stranger, had said.
Just for that act, Aiyar had decided to risk trying Kilburn out.
A complete fatalist, Aiyar was sold on the idea that every event on earth had been plotted by a premeditated Karmic conspiracy. He called it benevolent and unavoidable brutality beyond one’s control to be suffered inevitably.
Aiyar was on the slim side and blessed with a skin colour fairer than most south Asians.
Born to Tamil speaking Brahmin parents from Palakkad – a town bordering the south Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu Aiyar, like all south Indians was a near perfect personification of contentment whose yearning for success could be measured in minus value integers.
Palakkad is a town that steadily supplies stenographers and secretaries to India’s more affluent north – a habit that refuses to die despite the passage of over 150 years and the arrival of computer software that can get the work done by a secretary with quadruple efficiency and sans a salary.
Yet, Indian big shots hire secretaries and most of them are from Palakkad.
For some strange reason, during the colonial era, the education system created by the British to mainly spew out mindless clerks with a yen for servitude had inexplicably produced stenographers from that nondescript town.
Despite his pronounced lack of drive, Aiyar was the manifestation of an exception of the assembly line that produced serfs for the colonial masters.
Aiyar had chosen to become a journalist.
While Aiyar was as harmless as a 105-year-old virgin Catholic spinster who spends her time praying in churches, his reports were always incisive and aggressive.
He also had a handsome face to represent his 32 years that sat lightly on his slim frame.
A permanent lost look found always on Aiyar’s face made women want to smother him by mothering him. Some women even told him that.
That always bolstered Aiyar’s ego.
The realtor’s proposed rent of £ 140/week fitted his budget nicely leaving a decent bit to spare.
The furnished flat with two bedrooms needed a mere 2 months’ rent as deposit – almost non-existent to what Aiyar had been accustomed to in Chennai where he had stayed and worked.
It was one of those nice flipsides of the ongoing recession and global downturn in the real estate industry.
Aiyar had wanted to hire the place immediately.
But the realtor had cautioned Aiyar.
“Everything looks normal, advantageous and even hunky-dory to you Ayer, but you need to take a close look at the whole thing several times. The reason is the neighbourhood being completely dominated by Paddies.”
Aiyar looked blank.
“Oh, I forgot, Ayer.” the realtor chimed in very quickly apologising for mispronouncing the name.
“Paddies are a derogatory reference to people from Ireland – meaning people like me. In my opinion, most of the Irish, most unpredictably turn to petty crime for no apparent reason, though I have been straight since a toddler. We can be totally friendly to coloured people like you and seem openly antagonistic towards persons of African origin. The attitude may undergo a sea change like the weather here to satisfy some silly, inexplicable whim. That attitude would explain the problem of Northern Ireland … that part of the island neighbouring Britain … which has a culture almost completely common with the British … and whose populace speaks the English with a thick accent but can do infinitely better than the English. You see, George Bernard Shaw was Irish. Even now we are hankering after a free Northern Ireland despite knowing it isn’t going to work. And we have more in common with our brethren in the southern section of the island … the Irish Republic that has gone nearly broke now in a financial sense like most of Europe … we are both Christian but the south is Protestant and we are Catholic who propitiate the same Gods and yet we Irish are at each other’s throats over minor matters of religion. We Irish, to put it mildly, are crazy,” the realtor had said.
If the lecture hadn’t sufficiently unsettled Aiyar what followed did.
The realtor handed him a folder.
“This is the handiwork of a somewhat balanced British Jew Richard Hauser – who lived 5 miles south of here as the crow flies – in Pimlico. That bleeding heart socialist atheist wrote this … and it would help you make your mind.”
Thoroughly confused by the Irishman’s attitude, Aiyar realised that his bladder was full again and needed to empty it.
Spotting The Shaw, a tavern with an Irish name where he needn’t pay the outrageous £1 for a leak, Aiyar entered, went straight to the toilets’ section.
In his hurry, he did not notice that he had entered the section meant for women. Luckily, it had a single commode and hence Aiyar relieved himself undisturbed.
When he emerged, he saw a woman was waiting to enter and the legend ‘for women’ and realised his gaffe.
“Oops! Very sorry,” Aiyar blurted out.
“All of us females and males do more or less the same thing behind closed doors – in the loo,” the woman said in a sing-song Irish accent and went in laughing.
The embarrassment had fazed Aiyar and he decided to have a beer to drown the feeling.
“Could I have a pint of lager please?”
“Ever tried the Guinness Stout, gentleman?”
The barman-cum-owner of the joint Martin O’Shea asked in a voice louder than necessary.
Stout is a kind of dark-coloured beer whose taste is very akin to roasted and ground coffee.
Being a south Indian Tamil speaking Brahmin, Aiyar loved his filter-coffee brewed strong.
He had been introduced to stout at the favourite watering hole of journalists in London called The Club that is situated in the basement of Bush House – the central London office of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Liquor is subsidised at The Club where only members or members’ guests are served.
The ‘guest’ could virtually be anyone and would be signed in by any member.
The only thing any club member would baulk at is paying a stranger’s bill.
The coffee tinge had made Aiyar love stout.
“Need time to make your mind, olde son? The Stout looks strong enough to make a spoon stand in it vertically … but is light enough to make you love it like a slim, beautiful woman!”
The bartender’s sales pitch appealed to Aiyar as it jerked him out of his reverie.
He paid for his pint of stout and he took his tankard of the dark liquid to a less populated part of the pub by the door where a pool table stood.
He then began reading the brochure handed over by the realtor.
Two Irishmen Michael O’Dwyer and Reginald O’Dyer had done to Indians what very few persons from a civilised nation ever had anywhere on the globe but their acts hastened the quest for freedom, its opening paragraph said.
Intrigued, Aiyar continued.
To quell India’s quest for freedom that had become a kind of mainstream middleclass mindset even in the 1920’s through peaceful unrest, O’Dwyer, the lieutenant governor of Punjab, Aiyar had thought, had hatched a plot to turn the trigger happy O’Dyer loose on an unarmed gathering in northern India, in 1919 to simply cow down the Indians.
O’Dyer had ordered his Ghurkha soldiers to open fire on an unarmed group of peacefully protesting men, women and children in Jallianwala Bagh located virtually next door to the Sikhs’ holiest shrine – the Golden Temple.
The official toll itself is shrouded in mystery as it ranges from below two hundred to over a few hundred depending on which press statement one reads.
Several credible Englishmen have placed it to around a few thousands.
Besides the Jallianwala Bagh pogrom, O’Dwyer had also authorised the aerial strafing of another unarmed group of women and children killing dozens in Gujranwala, a border town now located within Pakistan.
Despite its tendency to look the other way when native Indians were at the painfully wrong end of colonial sticks, the then Labour Party British regime drew a line with O’Dwyer and O’Dyer by condemning their actions in the strongest possible terms.
On 24 June 1920, the British Labour Party unanimously passed a resolution during its Scarborough Conference that denounced the two Irishmen’s deeds as ‘cruel and barbarous actions’.
O’Dwyer, when 75 years old, was shot dead at a meeting of the Royal Central Asian Society in Caxton Hall, London on 13 March 1940, by a Sikh revolutionary, Udham Singh, in retaliation for the 2 pogroms in what had been undivided Punjab.
On his return to Britain, Brigadier Dyer was, however, presented with a purse of £ 26,000, a huge sum in those days, which emerged from a collection on his behalf by The Morning Post, a conservative, pro-Imperialistic newspaper, which later merged with the right-wing Daily Telegraph.
General Dyer wrote an article in The Globe on January 21, 1921, entitled, “The Peril to the Empire.”
Its opening gambit was India does not want self-government. She does not understand it.
In the British Army Museum in London, a testimonial to O’Dyer by the British Monarch is the first exhibit along the wall of the staircase as one ascends to the first floor devoted to the Indian Army. He died of cerebral haemorrhage and arteriosclerosis in 1927.
The acts of the two men hardened India’s quest for Freedom, despite old man Gandhi not being convinced of it at that point in time.
In fact, the future father of the nation had written many times to the British Queen stating that he was not repeat not fighting for freedom as that would mean treason against Her Majesty. A decent level of freedom under the umbrella of dominion status would do nicely, or so Gandhi had said to the queen.
Ultimately India won freedom after the wily Churchill had signed on the dotted line in a secret agreement with the then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to dismantle the colonial system so that the entire advanced first world could do business with the jewel in the crown during the second world war while seeking help from across the Atlantic.
Another reason was that the British had understood the real meaning of Gandhi’s walking with the help of a stick and mouthing nonviolence ad nauseam.
A young British MI6 officer had pointed out the obvious during a meeting in New Delhi even as a naval revolt was brewing in Bombay in 1946.
“We would be better advised to leave when the going is good, gentlemen. The old half naked fakir is saying one thing and he means something else altogether though he will never utter anything close to what he actually means. What he is constantly saying is: “Look white people … I am old, frail … use a stick to help me walk … and keep mouthing platitudes against violence. But just think, boyos … what would happen if millions of Indian pick-up sticks like mine and use it for various chores into which walking isn’t included,” the officer is supposed to have said in New Delhi at the Vice-regal lodge that became the Indian President’s residence later.
That made the colonials’ minds up and they left India in 1947 a few months later … after dividing India … and installing a sex-crazed Nehru in charge … who was more British than the British.
That officer too, who shall for the time being remain unnamed, was an Irishman.
The brochure was full of illustrations of the two brutal men and scenes of what they had done.
Aiyar was fascinated and foxed at the same time.
Why did the Irish realtor give this to me? Does he want me to take up residence in this area or is he trying to scare me away?
The Shaw has enough chairs and tables to seat a big crowd.
Its big bar has lots of varieties of drinks – the most popular ones being Irish whiskey brands Jameson and Bushmills.
Those who had rolled the spirit on the tongues and savoured the taste would arguably bet a hundred bob that Irish spirits are infinitely better than the more famous Scotch.
It was close to lunch-hour.
The Shaw serves a strange variety of potato soup … thanks to its German migrant cook Hans – who hails from Hamburg.
Hamburg is famous for its 9 varieties of its Kartoffelsuppe.
Hans had added a few Indian condiments to the soup to make it a bit spicy before serving. That made it his personal recipe.
Aiyar liked it … especially with his beer.
The barman Martin O’Shea who also happened to be the landlord of the place served Aiyar it in a jiffy on the highly polished Mahogany topped table.
“The soup is very good, you know,” Aiyar told O’Shea when the owner of the pub wandered near his table.
“Tá a fhios agam, a céad míle fáilte, mo chara!”
It sounded like Greek to Aiyar.
“What did you say and in which language?”
“Ah! I greeted you in Irish, the language of kings. I said I know … and added a hundred thousand welcomes. We Irish always are generous with our words and deeds. The English retort you are welcome is rather insipid,” O’Shea said.
Aiyar placed a ten bob note on the table and expansively added, “You keep the change, mate!”
O’Shea made an elaborate bow and wandered away to attend to the others.
The pub-crawlers were slowly coming in.
Aiyar was into his third drink and second soup when he heard her.
“Won’t you even look at me then, mate?”
The voice was musically Irish.
Aiyar looked at her.
The girl seated next to him was stunningly beautiful. Her long blond hair fell carelessly on her shoulders. She wore blue jeans and a cardigan leaving the top three buttons tantalizingly undone. Obviously she was enjoying the mild British weather that was making life miserable for Aiyar.
“I am Rosaleen. But I am Flower to friends.”
“I am Swaminathan Aiyar. My family name is what I am usually referred to in England and I am yet to realise why!”
She placed her pint of stout on the table.
“Thank you. But why are you not staring at me like the rest of the guys here? I like being stared at, mate!”
“I am …er… a bit shy, Ro…Flower,” Aiyar stuttered.
“Give the Paki cad a broom, girl,” said a huge white man with an accent thick as frozen marmalade.
Aiyar turned to face the Irish giant.
“First of all, I am an Indian. And don’t describe Pakistanis that way.”
“Why should we not now?”
There were six of them asking the question in a chorus.
“The Pakis come here illegally and to settle down here manage to worm their way into the hearts of white women here and then discard them after obtaining citizenship. The bastard offspring born end up becoming young Moslem terrorists.”
One of them said this in an angry tone … but slurred by liquor.
“I am a Hindu Brahmin and totally different from Moslems … if you can understand that simple truth,” Aiyar remarked in an annoyed tone.
His carefree tone made the Irishmen angrier.
“Why don’t you go find a bearded woman in a turban then?”
Another Irishman cracked that one loudly implying that it was a joke. His friends twittered.
“Ya all are behaving like shites. And I like Ayer ‘ere. At least he is not boorish like the lot of ya!”
Rosaleen’s cheeks were flushed in anger. She tossed her shoulder length blonde hair back and did a bottoms-up of her drink.
Suddenly she put her arm into that of Aiyar.
“Come on! Let us play pool,” she said.
“I have never played the game.”
“I can teach ya.”
More white men gathered.
Aiyar quickly noticed that he was the only brown man in the pub.
And Rosaleen was the only white female, wantonly ignoring and insulting them white men was sipping her lager and teaching Aiyar to play pool.
The murmurs were becoming louder and angrier.
Nobody noticed O’Shea make the phone call.
“Come on, me boys. Let us teach this olde son some manners,” the first man said.
A crowd of twenty-two men, all drunk, had gathered around the pool table.
Suddenly the sirens’ wails were heard.
A male Caucasian officer led from the front. He was accompanied by two men of South Asian and Jamaican origins respectively.
They waded through the menacing sulking crowd, which slowly started dispersing.
“I am Head Constable O’Halloran, more Irish and better law abiding than the criminals here. My colleagues here are Hafeez and Washington.”
The officers shook hands with Aiyar.
Aiyar explained who he was.
“I am looking for a place to rent in this district … and was doing my own thing. The girl was merely being nice to me, sir teaching me to play pool. The people here took umbrage. Frankly, I do not understand this as neither I was making a play for the girl nor was she flirting with me,” Aiyar said.
“Why don’t you vamoose right now? To understand racism you have to be its victim. And being a victim of racism isn’t some bloody picnic. And we have a lot on our plate to maintain peace hereabouts. The white majority here has a persecution complex … just as you Hindus in India have against the minorities back home. And it is not our job to make people understand that there are baddies in every religion, nation and have all sorts of skin colours,” O’Halloran said bitterly.
Somehow, Aiyar felt he was hearing a younger version of Yorkshire-man cricket commentator Geoffrey Boycott.
“Sorry, I am late, darling!”
Everyone turned and looked in the direction of the voice.
Someone looking like a spitting image of Brad Pitt was at the door.
His accent was public school, yet there was a very slight trace of Irish.
“Oh, no problem, Patrick, Ayer here was taking good care of me.”
“Actually the name is Aiyar … spelt A-i-y-a-r!”
Aiyar shook hands with the Irishman who hugged the girl indicating they were lovers.
“Why don’t we have a spot of lunch somewhere? Now that we have an Indian friend, let us go to Goodge Street. There are three Indian restaurants there. But the Krishna is the best.”
“It seems a good idea,” Aiyar said.
“Sure,” Flower said.
The trio took the London Underground rail system referred to as the tube, changed at Baker Street, Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and reached Goodge Street in thirty six minutes.
A two-minute walk later, they were at the Krishna.
Once owned by one Haridas Menon, another man from Palakkad who had worked at the Indian High Commission in central London, the Krishna now had new owners.
Hailing from south India, Aiyar placed the order, as he understood the cuisine.
After three double Bushmills, six Pappadams, rice, Avial, Sambar, plain yoghurt and Malabar pickles – that had filled all the three tummies, Aiyar took leave after footing the bill.
“I never know why, but women trust me. And I never betray that trust. I try to be as protective as possible. The Irish had a persecution complex completely surprised me,” Aiyar remarked as they took leave.
“We are friends now. When we get married, you must be my best man, Ayer,” Flower’s boyfriend Patrick said as he shook hands warmly.
“We will pick up the tab next time,” Rosaleen intervened to say and pecked Aiyar on the cheek thrilling him.
As the lift taking Aiyar down in Goodge Street tube station disappeared from sight, Patrick looked at Flower and smiled.
“Pa felt he was lucky to have spotted this guy. We had felt that our flat wasn’t being rented for a long time with at a decent sum. Pa had a brainwave, called me in and I made a play for this guy. The drunken slobs had had enough of their sisters’ delivering one too many half-Paki bastards. One of them big guys Fallon had expressed interest in the flat. Hopefully dad has clinched the deal. But, had it not been for this south Asian Patel, those guys in the pub would have crowded me. I was not in the mood to be crowded especially on my first night in London. Think of the coincidence of this simpleton being the only Indian in the pub, being chivalrous and all that.”
Rosaleen giggled as she said that.
“Nice touch, the police. Now let us call Martin and find out what happened on the flat front.”
Flower’s boyfriend called his future pa-in-law from the Samsung mobile.
“The deal is through! The big fella Fallon was threatened with arrest by O’Halloran for his racist misbehaviour. I interceded on his behalf and got him off the law’s microscope. ‘Next time I may not allow myself to be convinced by a shady landlord,’ O’ Halloran told Fallon in a voice like the devil’s and left. The grateful Fallon fell for a renewed pitch on the flat like a ton of bricks paid the outrageous cash deposit of £3200 then and there. Said he is moving in tomorrow, with his wife and half-caste bastard step-son at a rent of £400/week. Seems he has fallen for a local bitch who, in to my knowledge, is a cross-breed born to a Romanian gypsy drug peddler on the run and a Scottish woman with the morals of an alley cat. She sold the sob story to the idiot and the grapevine informed me that Fallon who had made a lot of money by getting 3rd World labourers to work on contract in first world construction sites during the boom had got married to that unwed mother after hearing her carefully authored yarn. This opens a new vista of real estate business, Pat. We can buy options on properties and find different realtors to lure newer greenhorn Asians to be the worms to catch the Paddy fish with a huge persecution complex, get all the places rented at a hefty profit and pocket the commission!”
O’Shea was careful and was talking in a near whisper this time.
“I can see that we will be having very tasty Indian lunches and dinners … all on the house … or on the expense accounts of Indian suckers. And don’t forget our share of the commission, you greedy old geezer!” Flower said overhearing her pop’s words and laughed.
“What was that brochure the Indian was reading? Something you gave him?”
O’Shea’s daughter asked the question.
“That was yet another of my tricks. Somewhere I read about a man called Richard Hauser. He was a well-connected Jewish, bleeding-heart Human Rights Activist migrant Quaker from Austria who lived in Pimlico. That was just a name from a telephone directory and I asked the realtor guy to use it with deadly effect on the Paki… oops… I perhaps ought to say Indian. He said there is a vital difference.”
“I can’t see any,” Flower said and laughed some more.
“Paint the town red, kids!” O’Shea said and disconnected.
“I hope that one of them Asians does not worm his way into your heart, a-Colleen,” Patrick said with a mischievous smile, attempting to kiss Flower.
“Make this crack once more and I will really find a turbaned Osama for a boyfriend and jettison ya, you shite,” Flower replied, punched her live-in mate playfully on his muscular left bicep and began kissing him passionately as they began walking towards Euston Railway terminal breathing the fresh, nippy afternoon air, ready to paint the town red as O’Shea had suggested.