Sunday, 8 July 2012

Farewell, old girl

As you grow older, you start to yearn for the familiar. In an ever changing world, that's a real challenge.  Wouldn't it be nice if some things never changed. A fixed beacon in the cauldron that is the world ? Alas that can only be a pipe dream as there is nothing that is impervious to the passage of time. And so, when something that is long standing , finally succumbs to Father Time, it is time to shed a tear. Especially something that has stood for 71 years.

When I first went to London, there were two places I HAD to see immediately. The second of them was a trek to Tunbridge Wells in Kent to stand on the hallowed pitch where in 1983, one of the greatest cricket innings of all time happened - Kapil Dev's 175 that launched India on the path to World Cup victory. But the first, even above that sainted place, was for me, Bush House, the home of the BBC in the Strand. You can't enter the building, unless you are an employee, so I contented myself with gazing at its majestic facade in awe. And a visit to the BBC World Service shop, which you can enter, of course.

Bush House, for 71 years stood for something special. As the home of the BBC, it was virtually the centre of the world. Right through the decades , until about 15 years ago, BBC Radio was the window to the world for most of its population. I grew up before the internet era ; actually even before the TV era had really established itself. I became a global citizen thanks to the BBC. My education was 50% at school and 50% thanks to BBC World Service. Fiddling a small short wave transistor radio, and trying to listen through the static and crackle, and there would come the magic words - This is London.

The BBC is shifting homes and abandoning Bush House to move to fancier (and presumably cheaper) quarters in London. The logic is impeccable. Bush House was never made for the digital age. Its old world rooms and corridors are a positive nuisance for a modern office. And yet, and yet .......

The BBC itself has changed of course. World Service Radio (at least on the short wave) is more or less dead.  TV has taken over. Budget constraints are taking their toll. But then the BBC is not going away - its only Bush House that's retiring. So why the nostalgia ? Especially for a building that I haven't even been inside. I can't explain it, except that, at my age,  it seems to be the passing of an era.

In four days time, at precisely mid day in London, the last World Service news will be broadcast from Bush House.  From the next hour onwards, the News will still come bang on time, but from the new quarters. Its the same BBC. Its the same news. Its the same anchors. But, surely, it will not be the same. The world may perhaps not notice. But I will heave a big sigh.

One more familiar sight in the world will go down.  Farewell old girl. Here's a big hug. You will always be one of a kind.


  1. Your nostalgic posts are simply awesome! I am speechless.

  2. well, talking of London, here is Federer who has done it again.. which you were sure... :)

  3. Ditto Vishal - speechless! I've never been to UK...hopefully next summer!

  4. @Vishal - Thanks. Yeah Federer, although you have to feel a bit for Murray.

    @Shachi - Honoured madam. Oh - London you have to go to - one of the finest places in the world.

  5. Can empathize with this post. Many a times i felt this about Bangalore too especially those areas where i have been too. I still visualize the old victoria hotel instead of the new Bangalore central.

  6. Sandhya Sriram9/7/12

    It takes me back to your post on Backbay reclamation. but if you look at what has taken this over now, its a fantastic place now, more suited to the needs of today and more responsive.

    even at the cost of sounding strange and arbid, i for one strongly believe, every place, whether it is a house, a tourist attraction, an office building I feel has a soul. but it does not connect with all the inhabitants. the ones who connect with the soul of the place always feel sad about leaving it, but like every other relationship, we move on. i have had this feeling for some offices where i have worked for less than a year, but no such feeling for certain other offices where i have worked for many years. it is similar for houses or for that matter anything, your car, even sometimes your mobile phone.

    My personal take is that the fact that one feels sorry about it goes to prove that it has indeed been a refreshing association and it opens up the person to look forward to the new one better.

    Sorry, for this stupid and foolish take on such a beautiful post :-(

  7. Never been a big fan of British or their customs and stuff..but would love to visit London sometime. Adutha countryoda historyko customsko respect illama these people had been the plagues that had destroyed many a glorious civilizations. Ennoda tenth standard history bookla Egypt Sphinx mela English soldiers ukkanthukittu photo edutha snap irukum. Atha paakrapolam enakkay kaduppa varum..imagine the natives who cry at the disfigured monument..courtesy these morons. Intha postukum commentukum suthama sambandathamay illayengareengala :) apdina usuala thaan post panni iruken nenakren :D

  8. What a cute sentimental post! It is strange how attitudes to change evolve over time. When we are young change is exciting and new is refreshing and one fine day you wake up and long for the old and glorious :) you do make a curious traveller - didn't think Bush House was in any kind of list of things to see in London ;) Also I was curious why with a name like Bush, you decided to make the building female?

  9. @Asha - Ahhh Bangalore of the old. Yes Victoria Hotel, one of the landmarks we have lost. Bangalore Central is just ugh !

    @Sandhya - You are right - there is no logic for my fixation with buildings and everything you say about associations and the new being better than the old is all true. But then nostalgia is the refuge of an old man, so just indulge him !!!

    @Gils - No No, the British are an honourable and admirable lot. Sure they did some awful things in the past, but then which race didn't. Go now and see for yourself; the UK is a lovely country.

    @J - Yeah - to each traveler, his eccentricities. And of course, all honourable and delightful things are always feminine :)

  10. K.Venkataraman9/7/12

    As a regular listener of BBC during the mid fifties and sixties of the last century, I recall from memory the following. At that time I was the proud possessor of a Sony four band transistor radio, a luxury many didn't have at that time. I should say the pick up of short wave stations like the BBC and sound quality was excellent. My favourite music programes were Top Twenty, (best of that week), Edmondo Ross and his Latin band, Victor Silvester and his Silver Strings (music for Ball Room Dancing) etc. A game show called "Twenty Questions" used to be very popular. "Letter from America" a weekly review by Alistar Cook was a popular, informative and educative programme. I used to listen reports from India by that famous correspondent Mark Tully. Incidentaly I had exchanged a few letters with Mr.Mark Tully on his reporting. Above all, it was the only way to keep in touch with cricket Test Matches in England. Unlike discussions on present day live TV reports, we use to discuss about decisions by umpires very seriously. Present day Hawke Eye decisions can stand no comparison with our final decisions !

  11. The old order changeth, the new order cometh. London has a brand new incredibile looking modernist, minimalist style tower,the Shard.Opened a couple of days back?, this is an excellent example of the modernist style. For some this is just glass, steel and concrete and yet I see poetry in tjos style. A (perhaps not forgotten) exponent of this style is Eero Saarinen, the Finnish American. The Washington Dulles Airport profile view is fluidity aat its best. Thanks boss, for a timely post. Who says there are no man made objects of beauty in still life.

  12. @KV - I was looking forward to your comment - you being the doyen of BBC Fans. To add to your list of fabulous BBC programs - From Our Own Correspondent, World Today, Outlook, Saturday Sport ......

    @Kiwi - Oh yes - to each his own taste in architecture and they all look very good. Shard is "imposing" indeed.

    But to have an American airport and positive adjectives in the same sentence .... :):)

  13. I have to respond. First - I proudly became a British citizen and did not see that as a conflict with my Indian values and upbringing and ethos. Not many people in the planet can call two old civilizations home, and I am proud that I can. When I first came to London (to stay with you, remember, all those years ago) I gawped like you did at Bush House. And I went to Tunbridge Wells and stood on that hallowed turf.

    The earliest memory of BBC for me is listening to "Vishwa Bharati" presented by Gopal Krishan, on a cold December day in 1971. My father wakes me up at 530am with an egg-flip and we sit down in the kitchen near the radio listening to the news of the war. Then, the measured tones of the announcer in his Home Counties accent, announcing "This is London" followed by the "Lilliburlero" march.

    Britain is a wonderful country. My wife and I refused many blandishments to move to New York by our respective employers. Much as though we love the United States, we could not bear to leave. Two years ago when my wife boarded the plane to Mumbai she was in tears.

    There is much that is wrong with Britain - you only have to listen to all the "India Shining" gang who never fail to point out how superior we are - but there is something timeless, something very gentle about that race. They laugh themselves sick at themselves. Today's copy of Private Eye has the picture of the Queen in a bomb suit shaking hands with Martin McGuinness. If this was India the Irish would have rioted. I am sure they are also laughing into their Guinness..

  14. Ah, yes, back in Neyveli, the BBC and VOA were my avenues to the world outside of the small township.

    But, never been to the UK. There is no inner yearning in me to go there. I suppose, if I really wanted to, I could psychoanalyze myself for the reasons. But, yes, despite my extensive puddle-forming drool for global wanderings, the UK is not in any of my lists.

    But, one doesn't have to like or love the UK and/or the BBC to relate to your post. In our own ways, we all carry such emotional connects to people and places and .... In such contexts, I am always reminded of The Beatles' "In my life"

  15. @TMM: There is a particularly poignant scene in "The Honourable Schoolboy" (John le Carre's masterpiece) - that very quintessential of post-colonial British novels that documents imperial decline so well. The old correspondent Craw - who also represents MI6 in Hong Kong - watches his operation come together and be taken over by the Americans, and his agent dies in the field. Towards the end, he shows up after a long absence in the Foreign Correspondents Club and over a small issue, picks a fight with the other correspondents and leaves the club, railing at the changing of the times. "The old order does not change, you snivelling arse-licking sons of whores!", he shouts, shaking his fists at the younger journos who do not seem to get this old codger who represents an era that has gone long ago. He then stomps off never to be seen again.

    @Ramesh: The World Service moved to Bush House in 1940 because a German bomb hit Broadcasting House during the Blitz. All that has happened is that the World Service has gone back to its original home...

  16. @Sriram: Liverpool - home to Liverpool United - arguably the most characterful football team in the world (along with Arsenal). A team that you cried with and cried for. The Beatles - very British. And vanguards of the explosion of British rock and pop in the sixties that reverberates to this day - The Who, Rolling Stones, Cream, Eric Clapton, Stealer's Wheel... need I go on?

  17. @Ravi - I was sure you would wax eloquently on this. There is much to appreciate in the UK of course - I believe they are one of the most honourable races that ever was. Sure there are a lot of faults, but then who doesn't have.

    Yeah - the original house may have been Broadcasting House, but that's too old history for me to feel nostalgic. BBC, Bush House, London, is what it will always be to me

    YYYYYYUUUUUUUKKKKKKK. Liverpool is never Liverpool United. You have gravely insulted an ardent admirer of that club. Liverpool FC it is. And you are grievous risk of injury if you mention Arsenal in the same sentence. Of course, all roads lead to Anfield and You'll Never Walk Alone.

    @sriram - Try the UK once. You may change your mind. Yeah - we carry emotional connects , don't we. Somehow they seem to deepen with age .....

  18. @Ramesh - Liverpool FC it deepest apologies. However Arsenal does it for me. And you have to admit there is much in common between the two.

  19. I felt like tht when they were pulling down Cash Pharmacy on Residency Road. Like as if people were deliberately destroying my past & memories associated with it. What memories...nothing direct but it was a building I took for granted when I passed by on my way to/back fr college everyday for 5-6yrs. Even loitered in the shade waiting for friends. Wondered abt the history casually then. Only when I saw it being pulled down I felt letdown...cant explain, dont have the words to express like how you did:-)).

    I even felt terrible when they stopped showing movies at Galaxy;-P

    Loved the post Ramesh!!!!!!
    Liked J's comment & ur reply;-D

  20. @Reflections - Ah, the quintessential college girl of Bangalore. And Ahhhh on J's comment. That mysterious commenter is also very mischievous :):)

  21. Anonymous11/7/12

    நினைவோ ஒரு பறவை..
    விற்கும் அதன் சிறகை...
    பறக்கும் வந்து கலக்கும் தன் உறவை...
    என்ற பாடலை அண்ணாச்சி அவர்களுக்கு dedicate பனுறோம்..

  22. Sharath12/7/12

    Dear Ramesh, I too belong to the pre-internet, pre-colour TV era. My mornings would begin with VOA, or BBC and much of the way I speak and comprehend the language traces its roots to my radio days.

    I still remember John Arlott, Brian Johnston and Christopher Martin Jenkins (hope I've got the names right) and their descriptions of Hall, Griffith and John Snow running up to bowl was still as intimidating as what we see live on TV.

    This article was a gem and inspires me to stick with radio, as long as I can.



  23. @Anon - Much honoured :) Nice song that one

    @Sharath - Lovely to see you here and read your comment. I bow to a fellow BBC fan - Test Match special and those names will always live in the minds of our generation.


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