Monday, February 19, 2007

In London, with James

I had been remembering all the films I saw during the year 1982-83 with my friend James Aboud, in London. Quite incredible, unbelievable, uncommon, yet true, and stupendous. Both of us lived in the International Students House in London (the York Terrace residence), where we had opposite rooms.

The picture above is a view of our hostel, looking out northwards, upon the rim of the outer circle of Regent's Park. Our rooms were on the first floor, we could step out into the balcony. Only a few years ago did I learn that this area was considered one of architect John Nash's spectacular creations in the early nineteenth century. Our building was one of the stunning, stark white stucco terraced houses along the outer circle.

James and I became very close friends, beginning late one evening shortly after I moved to the hostel in October 1982, when after we introduced ourselves, we went out to see a film (night show). That was Altered States, with William Hurt, which I suggested as I had read about it before coming to London. After the film, we walked back to the hostel, talking, talking, and then sat in his room, talking, talking. Thus began our friendship, we were like inseparable buddies, tweedledee and tweedeldum. James was four and a half years older than me, and was studying law, in preparation for the bar. He was from Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was in every way more aware, knowledgeable, experienced, and worldly than I was. I was beginning my studies and training to become a chartered accountant.

James opened a wide new world to me. Wordsworth's words about the French revolution come to mind:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.

We were companions in life, in thinking, values, aesthetics, feeling, political ideology, in being. He opened himself completely to me. We embraced every kind of enlightened, refined, humane, just, emancipatory, radical ideal. And through James I became friends with some of his friends from law school, like Satyajit Boolel, from Port Louis, Mauritius, and Samir Inamdar, from London. As well as with several of our hostel-mates from the West Indies. In Easter 1983, James and I went for a holiday to Paris, where we were joined by a larger group from the hostel. That shall remain an unforgettable hilarious memory.

James and I saw so many films together. That would usually be on Friday and Saturday nights, after reading the current Time Out. James will remember me screaming-growling to vent all my pent up rage in a desolate underground metro station as we returned after seeing Battle of Algiers, and heard some white bloke saying "We English weren't as bad as the French in the colonies".

Besides seeing films, we also traversed the city together, went for walks, visited pubs and jazz bars, saw plays, attended and gave "parties", went to the disco, watched films and other programmes on tv. And we talked and talked, about anything and everything, usually me taking in everything he said, about his life and experiences, about his family and friends, all that he knew, all about literature, history and politics, all the books he had read, films he had seen, music he listened to, all the places he had lived in (Port of Spain, London-Ontario, Barbados), all about the (Mardi Gras) Carnival in PoS ... He shared his collection of books and music.

Then we went our separate ways, after James moved to a shared apartment in the autumn of 1983, and was busy with his bar exams; and my friend from Calcutta, Rajashi, later to be my wife, arrived to study in Cambridge. James went back to Trinidad a few months later. In 1986, a couple of years after I returned to India, I wrote to him, and we were in touch again. In 2002, I again got back in touch with James thanks to the internet, after having lost contact.

James is now a judge in the High Court in Port of Spain. But he is also an accomplished and acclaimed poet (and connoisseur of poetry). It is my proud privilege to have received from him his two published volumes, The Stone Rose and Lagahoo Poems. A few years ago, I set to melody one of the poems in the former, "Radio Song", and then performed this with bassist Jean Claude Jones and vocal artist-pianist Maya Dunietz, in Jerusalem.


20 box said...

living in hostel with friends who have all the time in the world to chat with you and to play cards with you is heaven. i have never been there but i know it is the same feeling.

Anonymous said...

Battle for Algiers has just been released as a 3 disc boxed set, with background material, interviews, edited scenes, but, surprisingly, no alternate ending! What a ruction of echoes in the underground! Heard all the way to Marble Arch!

Do you recall the chap from Pakistan who proudly slipped a name card in the little slot of his door and decorated himself with the title OBE (Order of the British Empire) after his name? He was not very worldly and had a little paunch overhanging his "designer" jeans. James wrote in brackets after his OBE "Orgasm Before Entry". Poor fellow's name card was removed by morning!

London days. You knew the city better for having read Dickens than the City map.

Anonymous Trinigladian

James...the man himself said...

Yes...I admit writing those words after his self-accolade "OBE", because he was too full of himself at the time, that guy from pakistan, but not in a arrogant way. It was the type of narcissism born out of low, not high self-esteem, in which one places the Mercedes-Benz decal on a Toyota knowing that it is a Toyota, but trying a little tongue-in-cheek self-improvement.