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The social history of the Indian diaspora at the India Club

a photo of an elderly ma and young woman dancing next to Formica topped tables

Dancing at the India Club. Courtesy of David Joseph.

A little known members’ club on the Strand is opening its doors to tell the story of the Indian diaspora in London

The India Club’s unique space on the Strand has remained an important political and social meeting place since the 1950s.

Originally located at 41 Craven Street before moving to 143 Strand, it is perhaps best known for its links with the India League who campaigned for full independence and self-government for India, with founding members such as Krishna Menon, the first Indian High Commissioner to the UK, President Nehru and Lady Mountbatten.

But as well as well as playing host to statesmen and politicians (and also having one of the UK’s early Indian restaurants) the India Club is an important site for understanding how the Indian diaspora in the UK established itself as an integral part of British culture and society.

Following Indian independence and partition the Club quickly became an important hub for the rapidly growing British South Asian community in Britain.

a photo of a man and two women at a small corner bar

The India Club Bar. Courtesy of Caroline Bond

a photo of a woman at a table writing

Kusoom Vadgama (freedom fighter, historian writer and President of Indo-British Heritage Trust) at her study table at her residence. Still from Chocolate Films documentary.

a group photo of an Indian family with the bride and groom and family members

Wedding Day of Joeseph Gyanapraksan (head waiter at the India Club). India Club. 17th September 1966. Courtesy of David Joeseph.

The National Trust’s A Home Away from Home: The India Club is a site-specific ‘pop-up’ exhibition taking place inside the Strand club that shines a light on this rich social history and showcases the significance of the India Club as an important meeting point and community space. Initially for migrants arriving from the Indian subcontinent its membership gradually spread to embrace a wider intellectual community.

Recently this vital space has come under threat from potential redevelopment and the exhibition comes at a particularly poignant moment, following an extensive campaign and petition signed by over 26,000 to save the India Club.

Taking the form of a series of oral history interviews carried out by National Trust volunteers the exhibition gives voice to a wide variety of people connected with the 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.

Throughout these comings and goings the club has remained virtually unchanged for over 50 years, remaining as a unique space that acts as a vibrant hub for a range of Anglo-Indian organisations and an extended community of journalists, writers, artists, academics and students who regularly meet there.

a paper from with the India Club crest at the top

Application for Membership, courtesy of the India Club.

a photo of two women seated at tables talking to standing man in a bar

Caroline with Dorris. Courtesy of Caroline Bond

a blurred black and white photo of a group of men laughing, smoking and drinking around a table

Wedding Day of Joeseph Gyanapraksan (head waiter at the India Club). India Club. 17th September 1966. Courtesy of David Joeseph.

“The India Club at 143-145 Strand has long served as a site where diverse communities come together to share cultural experiences,” says the Club’s current manager Phiroza Marker. “It is one of the few buildings in the capital pertaining to British South Asian communities, which still allows its historical and cultural associations to be experienced first-hand today.

“It is, in its current form, living history, particularly as a site of immigrant experience in Britain and through its connection with the India League. We welcome this opportunity to reflect upon the many past and present associations that have developed from India and Britain’s shared history.”

The audio-based exhibition provides visitors with a glimpse into the lived experiences of those who considered 143 Strand a ‘home-away-from-home’, from the late 1950s to the present day and follows similar initiatives by the National Trust in London – including Edge City: Croydon and Queer City: London Club Culture – and aligns with the Trust’s ambition to tell inclusive and plural histories, whilst contributing to the preservation of special places relevant to urban audiences.

Following the exhibition, the oral histories will be permanently housed at the British Library. The National Trust is also working with Chocolate Films to produce a short documentary on the India Club to ensure the legacy of this new research.

a photograph of a room laid out with tables and chairs

Photo of the India Club bar, courtesy of the India Club.

a photo of a room laid out with tables and chairs and ytellow walls with pictures on them

The India Club restaurant, courtesy of the India Club.

a photo of a glass hanging door sign in a corridor

The India Club door sign. Courtesy of Jake Tilson.

A Home Away from Home: The India Club is ticketed but free of charge. Tickets for the exhibition and specific evening events can be booked at: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/a-home-away-from-home-the-india-club 

Wednesday 30th January – Friday 1st March 2019

Monday – Wednesday: 12-7pm

Thursday – Friday: 12-5pm

Saturday – Sunday: 11am-6pm

 

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