April 30, 2007

Remembering Krishna Menon


The handful of people who still care will mark his 110th birthday on May 3, writes Shashi Tharoor in his latest column devoted to V K Krishna Menon. The man who was seen as Nehru’s blindspot didn’t endear himself with very many other politicians, presumably, because of his reluctance to suffer fools gladly. As Mr Tharoor put it, Krishna Menon’s approach was not calculated to win friends.He died a forgotten backbencher, without even a political party to call his own.

The only visual that comes to mind of his funeral (I was then a newspaper reporter in New Delhi) is that of his body laid out on a truck being surrounded by Madhavan Kutty of Malayala Manorama, Blitz Raghavan (I believe) and a few others.Known for his carping comments the man had a delightful way with words. He was fond of telling his British friends, “You know why the sun didn’t set on their empire? Because God didn’t trust the British in the dark”.

Shashi Tharoor wrote that his father had helped Krishna Menon set up the India Club at The Strand, right across the street from the Indian high commission in London. It was a place where one had masala dosa and tea at prices affordable to young Indian newsmen. The club was also known for serving Southie meal, notably rasam. The cook there, as the story goes, was specially brought by Krishna Menon from Tanjore. Have you heard this one, Mr Tharoor?

10 comments:

Guru said...

"It was not an approach calculated to win friends..".

How true of pompous Tharoor who appeared on TV given every opportunity as Kofi Annan mouth piece. Tharoor's talkative arguments without checking facts and being his master's voice lost him the UN Secretary Generalship. Americans (the Republican Ambassador to the UN) threatened to veto his candidacy as they rightly saw him as another Kofi! The quiet Korean was chosen instead.

VKK Menon's politics was coloured by his membership of the Labour Party (he was a councillor in Camden Council) which was predominantly controlled by the Tribune faction. Also the Facism of Hitler meant that many English policians had leftward leanings ('pinkos'!) bordering communism at that time. Laski's influence was peripheral. VKK's politics as a Minister Without Portfolio in which capacity he attended the UN meetings when his marathon speech took place to a great extent was dictated by the attitude of John Foster Dulles. With Eisenhower a sickly President, Dulles ran the show offering Pakistan the SEATO membership and military assistance, thereby pushing India to the Soviet Camp. VKK Menon had to counter this and he did it with great gusto!

About the Tanjore cook. He was really from Kulittalai. He left India House, started a small cafeteria in 1970s which had poor success and later died of heart attack.

Guru said...

"He was fond of telling his British friends, “You know why the sun didn’t set on their empire? Because God didn’t trust the British in the dark”.

The problem with VKK and to a certain extent his master Nehru was that they failed to understand who their friends were. They criticised and ridiculed the very people who understood them and this did no good for them and to India. Even during Dulles days the British even under Macmillan's Conservative administration understood Nehru and VKK, particularly the latter and his abrasive attitude in the UN.

The problem with Indian leaders has been since the Nehru days they do not know who their friends are in the world. Democrats from Kennedy and Republicans from Nixon onwards, India has been a democracy with potential but little else. The Labour and conservatives in Britain feel the same way. But they all fear and respect China.
That is a sad epitaph, thanks to Nehru, VKK and Indian leaders since
their days.

VKK stayed in London the best part of his adult life and his membership of the Labour Party helped him in many ways. No one exactly knows what he did for a living for decades before he became High Commissioner. A Camden councillorship in those days was an honourary position.

Guru said...

I have some further thoughts about VKK in his adult days in London. It was the time leading to second world war and during the 6 years of second world war. What was VKK doing then? Did he return to India during that period or stayed in London during the Blitz etc..? If he did, did he feel comfortable when 16,17, 16 ... 40 year olds were conscripted, London and Britain , particularly London saw no younger men walking in its streets as all of them were either in military barracks or in spitfires or were fighting in the battle fields. I remember how uncomfortable I felt during my stay in America when my mates in the university and cclleagues in our work place later, were conscripted (when their social security numbers were picked through a lottery) for training to fight in Vietnam, a few did and a few did not return.

H.R.Bapu Satyanarayana said...

Like people with pots of money is the target so is with some people who are differntly abled as VKK was. Despite his ascerbic toungue there was admiration for he flayed the white man like nobody and it was a sort of vicarious satisfaction for others. British secret service was always trying to ferret out what he is upto but could not decide how to go about it. His statue should adorn the parliament for he single handeldly sent Pakistani speakers groping for answer when he lambasted them on Kashmir. There is no colourgul personality like him.

guru said...

"British secret service was always Given trying to ferret out what he is upto"

The British secret service probably knew more about him than Nehru did!!
He lived in London long enough for the Service to profile him! Like Nehru he was a talker, a dreamer and this did achieve nothing as Kashmir problem still exists.

While he flayed anglosaxon whites he sucked it up to others. His friends like Nasser or Cuban Castro were men with no substance with whom he had great rapport. He made himself a target when things were expected more about him. His and Nehru's paranoia about Westerners were such that when VKK fell in his New York hotel bathroom while on engagement at the UN, a blood clot in his brain developed and he was to have been operated by none other than Dr Davidoff the great neurosurgeon, Nehru sent Dr Baliga from Bombay all the way to be with Davidoff during the operation. Dr Baliga was not a neurosurgeon. Nehru perhaps thought that the Americans would implant a bug in VKK's brain!! Or perhaps realised that Davidoff was Jewish! Davidoff did an excellent job of removing the blood clot - no one else could in the world at that time as well as he! Nothwithstanding, VKK went to General Hospital Madras after he returned to India to get tests done by Dr Ramamurthy, the NeuroSurgeon. As he was a frequent visitor to New York, he could have gone to see Davidoff again. No one in the world was as skilled as Davidoff was at that time when it came to NeuroSurgery.

He trusted Dr Ramamurthy probably because this doctor visited Russia many times! Little did he realise that Dr Ramamurthy had had extensive connection in Britain having trained there! That is VKK for you!

Ken said...

GVK,just for record, the cook at India Club was called Ramalingam and he was mostly inebriated and swore like a trouper. After he left India Club, he was financed into opening a South Indian eaterie called the Ganpath in Grays Inn Road near Kings Cross, but eventually closed down because of our temperamental host, Ramalingam. I wish someone would blog about India Club through the decades. I frequented it between mid sixties to the end of eighties, and remember it with great affection

Maddy said...

GVK...It was nice of you to remember VKKM...I am no contemporary, but a present day admirer of not VKKM himself, but of the things he did, which people no longer remember. My thoughts are outlined in my blogs on VKKM

maddy06.blogspot.com/2006/11/vk-krishna-menon-1896-1974-undiplomatic.html

maddy06.blogspot.com/2007/03/vk-krishna-menon-part-2-reluctant.html

After reading & researching so much about VKKM, I can only snigger at Guru...Guru's comments are not necessarily supported by facts, but by reports circulated those days in the press..So I dont blame him..

Nevertheless, VKKM was not a very likeable person for many...That much I agree with.

P.G.Gopal said...

The famed cook at India Club was no other than Ramalingam who was my grandfather's cook in Madras. Ramalingam used to bring my food for lunch when I was a nine year old student at Good Sheperd Convent. I used to meet him at India Club and at home in the mid to late 60's when I was posted in London. He finally visited me in New York in the early 80's with his wife after he had left India Club.He did not look well and appeared a little depressed. I heard later that had died in London.
Ramalingam in the 60's had become an institution. He knew most S Indians visiting London and he was known to Labour MP's and other prominent Englishmen who had known Krishna Menon in his days in London.
I met Krishna Menon on two occasions, firstly in the late fifties when I was a college student in Madras and he was Defence Minister.He was introduced to me by my father. My father told me that he knew him in London in 1930 when he was preparing for the ICS,as a down and out socialist who lived practically on numberless cups of tea.
My second meeting was was in Delhi in 1974 or 1975 when I had gone to a house to pick up my son who was spending the day playing with a boy of the family. He had been living with the family that had a ten year boy who was in class my son.
During this visit VKK was very gracious and kind. He appeared to have mellowed quite a bit from those halcyon days as UN Ambassador and Defence Minister.
Gopal

Kris said...

Hi,
The cook brought over from India was my father Nellaye Vaidyanathan. Someone has said on the blog that it was Ramalingam. Actually my mother, an Irish girl working in India Club (then later had me & my brother), met Ramalingam coming off the boat in a dhothi as she remembers it.
My father after working for many years in India Club opened the Madras India Restaurant in Kings Cross in the sixties.
Ramalingam opened the ganapth restaurant in the mid seventies after my father sold his business. He opened it exactly opposite my dads old restaurant. I know, I worked for ramalingam for a while as a waiter. I must admit the Ganapth was 100 times better run than my dads one. The food was brilliant.


Krishnan Vaidyanathan

shafirahman said...

hi
i am a journalist with a london-based magazine and we are working on a story on India club. can you please get in touch with me on expressreporter@gmail.com