St Stephen's College, Delhi
The place I was hiding out last week was actually New Delhi. I know the Brits get knocked for turning up in foreign places and never stepping outside the hotel compound, but simply sitting by the pool. Well I guess we were the academic equivalent of that. It was the monsoon season (see above) and we spent most of the time in our room, just writing -- and it was heaven, honestly.
But we did venture out, to see St Stephens College, part of the University of Delhi -- designed by one of the husband's imperial architects, W S George.
It was built in the very late 1930s and early 40s, and the husband was interested in the architectural style, part Indian, part Byzantine, part Arts and Crafts. I was more interested in the social architecture, if you can put it that way.
First, I started thinking about where George got his model for an Indian university from. It looked to me (not that I know so much about them, to be honest) is that he had in mind not so much Oxbridge (no staircases for exanple), but a "second ranking" English public school. It was full of quads etc, but all very Spartan and a bit well scrubbed.
But, as we peeked around, I got more entranced by the apparently pristine 1930s state of so much of it. The library lockers were still just as they ever were.
Wouldn't you die for those? And the wonderful glass covered notice boards still decorated as those in my childhood with such headings as "Games".
We went away with a slightly old-fashioned, even quaint view of the place (it was a Saturday morning and we watched late comers creeping into lectures and apologising as they did so).
But, of course, you do always need a bit of local knowledge. Later we met our friend Giles Tillotson (though I say it myself his book on the Taj Mahal is brilliant, and he has recently curated an exhibition at the National Museum in Delhi on a major Indian collector; more details here).He was able to dispel a bit of that quaintness, and explain that things were all a bit edgier (reminiscent, we thought, of Oxbridge back home). Just how elitist was St Stephens? Just how exclusive? And he pointed us to the big local story about the university, namely that a student who was a college gardener's son, and Hindi rather than English speaker, had just been elected president of the students' union.
The elite institution was becoming more open was the line -- and a good reminder that you need more than a tourist's eye.