On July 8 2016, India House is 86 its imposing presence in the heart of London for the best part of a century is testimony to a rich and abiding relationship between Britain and India, two great nations representing two great cultures, India House is a monument to the genius and ineer harmonies of East and West.
India House, the imposing building in the heart of London that is home to the High Commission of India, turns 86 on July 8. A monument to the genius of both the East and West, the building, in words of the then High Commissioner Sir Atul Chatterjee, was designed to ‘express its Indian purpose and association.’
Opposite India House is Aldwych Theatre, behind it is King’s College, across the road are Houghton Street and the London School of Economics, with which generations of Indians have had close intellectual links. On one side of India House is the Strand, with its theatres, restaurants and department stores, the other leads to Fleet Street , Chancery Lane and the Inns of Court , where many an Indian luminary trained for the Bar, and the Courts of Law. Next to India House is the imposing Bush House , BBC Headquarters, now housing the BBC World Service and a bit beyond is the Melbourne House , the Australian High Commission in London. Other important Commonwealth diplomatic premises of South Africa, Canada, Zuimbabwe, Kenya and Malaysia are not far from India House.
The Indian Commission grew out of the Montague- Chelmsford Constitutional Reforms of 1919. With their promise of responsible government for India. Its first premises were four buildings rented at Grosvenor Gardens in Victoria, but these were deemed inadequate and a new building to be called India Hiuse, was to be constrcted on vacant land with grants voted by the Indain legislature. Sir Atul Chatterjee, the then Indian High Commission made a strong proposal for the India House to have its own premises, which got the royal approval and the work started on the site in 1927.
It was on 8 July, 1930, when His Majesty King George V, accompanied by Her Majesty Queen Mary, formally declared open India House. The King said, ‘India House stands … the unity of India in herself.’ He hoped India House. Would foster between the peoples of India and Britain “that ‘wider sympathy’ for which I pleaded many years ago and plead again today.’ Word was made flesh in the the fullness of time.
Visiting India with a British parliamentary delegation, Reginald Sorensen (later Lord Sorensen) spoke of his desire to see Britain and India as friends, but said there could be no friendship save on the basis of mutual respect. From both the British and Indian points of view. ‘it must be accepted that British rule must end.’ And end it did. Amicably.
‘At the stoke of the midnight hour.’ On 15 August, 1947, proclaimed Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, India would fulfil her ‘Tryst with Destiny .’ As she awakened to “life and freedom.’
Free India’s first High Commissioner to the United Kingdom was V.K. Krishna Menon (SAugust 1947 – June 1952) Today, India House is truly an Indian institution. Its walls and spaces, once so bare of a living Indian presence, are now a gallery of oils and marble of Mother India’s greatest offspring.
Almost 1.5 million people of Indian origin live in Britain today. Their cultural values contribute significantly towards making Britain the vibrant, dynamic socisty that it is today. They are a vital bond between countries. The Declaration continued : “The cultural influence of the UK, not least through the use of English, has added to the richness of Indian culture, and Indian writers have enriched English literature.
India House is 86 and lives on to be an evidence in stone and wood and in spirit also of the partnership between ‘the Raj and ‘Swaraj’ : the United Kingdom and India.