When a stranger goes knocking in London?
During our recent visit to London, my wife Shail Lodha Mehta and self, decided to visit the house and relive 1935 memories of my father in London. We had no idea, who lived today at 29, Rusthall in Bedford Park. It was our first day in London on 30th July 2018. We changed two trains to reach Bedford Park and followed the Google map, which also had picture of the house. My son Nakuul had warned me back in Mumbai, that it was highly improper to barge into someone’s house as a stranger. But my gut feeling said other way round. Do a cold call.
In October 1935, Inder Sinha Mehta (1910-1992), my father, arrived in London and went to King’s Collage, London (KCL) for legal education and to Lincoln’s Inn for Bar-at-Law degree. As per KC Student’s File (scan attached), obtained from the KCL achieves, he stayed at 29, Rusthall Avenue, Bedford Park, London W4. Also attached below is the record of Lincoln’s Inn admissions, obtained from the archives of Lincoln’s Inn.
Amazing and hats off these institutions and in particular Sheetal Jogia of Kings College Hospital for coordination, giving leads and identifying the documents at KCL and Rusthall Avenue.
We reached the door of our unknown host, late in the afternoon and rang the bell. An elderly lady opened the door and smiled. She keenly listened to my story and the purport of our visit. She was overwhelmed and welcomed us with open arms. We shook hands and even hugged each other. We were escorted to the backyard, where she was chatting and enjoying afternoon drink along with her husband and friends.
Everyone welcomed us and were more than enthusiastic to listen to our story. Myself being a Navy veteran helped establish my credentials and trust instantly. The broad smiles on their faces indicated warmth and friendliness. We began asking each other questions about the house they lived in.
Our hosts, both in their mid-70s, were Mr & Mrs Chris Henniker. Chris is a solicitor and has subtle sense of humour. Mrs Barnet Henniker did most of the talking. They had purchased this house nearly 33 years ago. According to them the house was built in 1890. But the way it is maintained, by successive owners, it looks brand new.
It has been aesthetically decorated with large number of family pictures, artefacts, paintings and chandeliers. The furniture looked antic with rich tapestry. The lady of the house conducted me around the house and permitted us to video graph the same. Indeed, very kind of them and we are grateful to the Henniker family.
In 1936-37, then 15-year-old Jagat Mehta (Cheel), son of Dr Mohan Sinha Mehta, arrived in England for higher education. Jagat S Mehta (1922-2014), former Foreign Secretary, in 2011 during an informal interview with me, recalled, “Dadabhaisa Inder Singhji was my local guardian. I stayed with him for the duration of summer vacations at his residence on Rusthall Avenue, Bedford Park in London. Dadabhaisa received an allowance of 17 Pounds (then 1 GBP=Rs 13) per month from his father Nawal Singhji”. Jagat Mehta (IFS, retired Foreign Secretary) further recalls that “Soon after my birth, mother passed away. Kakisa Sajjan Kunwar (1885-1975), sister of mamasa Nawal Singhji (Bachhawat) Mehta and wife of my uncle Tej Singh (Cheel) Mehta took the responsibility of my upbringing”. Sajjan Kunwar thus became the foster mother of Jagat Mehta. She had no issues of her own.
Our visit to 29, Rusthall on 30th July 2018 shall be a memorable one. We shall always be grateful to Henniker family for their warmth and willingness to conduct the strangers inside their home.