The Blue Plaque in London
The Vedanta Kesari|August 2021
Blue Plaque is a scheme under which London keeps its history alive by marking out buildings and places associated with eminent people of the past. One such Blue Plaque building is associated with Swami Vivekananda. In 1896, on his second visit to England, Swamiji stayed here along with his brother-disciple Swami Saradananda, his disciple J.J.Goodwin, his younger brother Mahendranath Datta who was there to pursue higher studies, and an American friend. Dr Vayu Naidu who lives in London draws attention to this building sanctified by the two swamis’ stay. This article was commissioned by the Royal Literary Fund when the author was a Fellow at Royal Holloway University College London in 2019 and was originally an audio podcast broadcast by RLF VOX on social media.
DR VAYU NAIDU

I never dreamed that it was literature that drew me to London. Increasingly, I’ve found myself visiting locations that are signposted in novels, to work out where the action takes place. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty is a well-known example, and following its television series as well, I decided to stand on the site and get the measure of how it appears in reality compared to how the writer creates it in my imagination. The difference in scale can result in a multitude of responses culminating in congratulating a brilliant writer for evoking a whole new world peopled with imaginary lives and or a consummate loss of innocence from where it started.

I was mulling on how words can transport readers across spaces as I was standing beneath the alley’s signpost of Apple Tree Yard within the proximity of The London Library, and Beau Brummel’s London, all layered in a location inspired by English politician and courtier Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of Saint Albans (1605-1684) and the court favourite of Queen Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I of England. I was trapezing across time.

By happenstance I looked across and had another ripple of history. Just opposite was a new building, on the site of an older one that commemorated where Sir Edwin Lutyens unfurled his plans of building New Delhi for the British Raj between 1912-1930. A little over a hundred years on I was standing on a razed site dedicated to the place which laid plans for the city of my birth – New Delhi; a confluence of traditional Mughal and colonial-style architectures that have influenced the languages I think, dream, speak and write in.

It struck me then, that the realities created by literature through imagination, and the reality across linear time categorised as History can both be experienced in the present, if we can locate it. Perhaps that is what makes for Tourism – tourists taking a tour of time past in the present seeking out the grand buildings that are or on that site what once stood. I’ve often spotted individuals, or couples, or a tour group gazing at rubble or a humble brick wall as if the thing itself is there in its glory. In other times of history, these might have been pilgrims seeking salvation. In the here and now a significant life qualified by contributions to, let’s say evolution of thought, rather than civilisation, is signalled by the English Heritage Blue Plaque.

London’s Blue plaques have spurred my enthusiasm for rediscovering literature, its writers, with the additional reality of a historical perspective which enables my search entering the palimpsest of realities, simultaneously. No passports or security checks required. This is the liberation that London brings with the Blue Plaque. But the flight is not as easy as it sounds. The enigma is: Which Blue Plaque to select to begin the journey?

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