By Aditi Khanna
London, Jan 30 (PTI) The India Club in London, a hub for Indian nationalists during the Indian independence movement in the 1930s and 40s, on Wednesday launched a new exhibition to celebrate its rich history after demolition plans for the building were defeated last year.
'A Home Away from Home: The India Club', curated by the UK's conservation charity National Trust, was born out of a long-drawn campaign to save the iconic club on London's Strand from redevelopment plans to set up a new luxury hotel on the site.
The audio-based exhibition follows an extensive campaign including a 'Save India Club' petition signed by over 26,000 people to prevent the redevelopment.
"There is a feeling you get as you walk up the stairs that you are entering another world, frozen in time; an old-world India. It is a piece of living history," said Phiroza Marker, the manager of India Club whose family has been associated with its running for over 22 years.
"It is one of the few physical buildings in the British capital pertaining to Indo-British heritage and migration and this exhibition shines a light on the social heritage of this building. It is the result of some precious stories shared by people associated with its history," she said.
The India Club has its roots in the India League, which campaigned for Indian independence in Britain with its founding members including Krishna Menon, who went on to become the first Indian High Commissioner to the UK.
As well as housing one of the UK's early Indian restaurants, the Club quickly transformed into a hub for a rapidly growing British South Asian community in the aftermath of Indian independence and Partition.
"Menon intended the India Club to be a place where young Indian professionals living on a shoestring could afford to eat, discuss politics, and plan their futures," says Parvathi Raman, Founding Chair of the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who worked on the latest project.
"The India Club attracts fierce loyalty among those who have known it over the years. In those early days it offered sanctuary to scores of young men like my father who had travelled to London in search of education and work," she said.
The free exhibition, which will run until March 1, is conceived as an immersive exhibition based around a newly-formed archive of oral history interviews carried out by National Trust volunteers.
These give voice to a wide variety of people connected with the India Club, from freedom fighters and descendants of its founding members to former staff, BBC reporters who worked in nearby Bush House, as well as artists and writers.
Following the exhibition, the oral histories will be permanently housed at the British Library. The National Trust said it is also working with Chocolate Films to produce a short documentary on the India Club to ensure the legacy of this new research.
"This exhibition offers us an opportunity to reflect on our national heritage and our shared history, which is and has been intrinsically linked to stories of migration. The India Club holds a special place in the hearts of many people, and remains a vibrant hub for Anglo-Indian communities to come together," said Nicola Briggs, National Trust's Regional Director for London and the South East.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of supper clubs, artist talks, screenings and conversations that will contextualise the project within the wider history of South Asian migration in the UK and the changing landscape of London’s high streets.
The Club, which has functioned as an Indian restaurant on The Strand in the heart of London since 1946, is located on the first floor of the 26-room Strand Continental hotel.
The freeholder of the building, Marston Properties, had put in an application with Westminster City Council for a “partial demolition" to create a new hotel. The application was unanimously turned down by the Council last August, noting its importance as a cultural institution in the heart of London. PTI AK ZH