The 82nd death.
[Text by RV Smith; photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
To generations in Delhi, nurtured formerly on Mughal and subsequent Anglo-Indian culture, the quintessential romantic was one who synchronized old world glamour with present-day reality. Of such caliber was Morris Ronald Vivian Smith (born January 6, 1938) who many thought was a ‘gudri-ka-lal’ (diamond wrapped in rags), something literally true as he was not very particular of what he wore. With a paan in mouth, even after losing his teeth, Mr Smith was able to charm readers with his columns–Quaint Corner in the Statesman and Down Memory Lane in The Hindu, fine tuned on a manual typewriter. Generous to a fault, his knowledge was greater than his wit and his interest in such diverse subjects as occult, Egyptology, Grecian, Roman and Hindu mythology, Sufiism, qawwalis, ghazals, mujras and other quaint pursuits greater than them both–as is evident from the dozen-odd books he authored.
Born and bred in Agra from where he did his Senior Cambridge and then MA in English Literature, he was never a distinguished student but one who always caught the eye of his teachers, who thought he had some unfathomable merit in him.
Belonging to a family with Armenian and British links, he acquired his love for journalism from his father Thomas Smith (1910-1995), and so did his three brothers and sisters. Leaving Agra and his doting mother reluctantly, he slowly fell in love with Delhi where he set up quarters in the Civil Lines and later in the Jama Masjid area, picking up anecdotes of oral history first in the Naaz hotel room, where painter MF Husain once lived, and then in Azad Hind Hotel, whose proprietor had 11 wives and 28 children. His married life with Alvina was passed in Karol Bagh, Daryaganj and Mayapuri, where through his writings he imparted a romantic touch to a dull and drab DDA (Delhi Development Authority) colony. As one who fell in love at first sight, he was not a bohemian but an ‘Ashiq’ whose relationships were mostly platonic.
Immensely fond of Mughali food (soaked with a sundowner) and the youngest of his five children, a Down’s Syndrome child, he scoured the city for little-known monuments. Such a historiographer, journalist, poet, novelist and raconteur, whose sons followed him into the profession, with Tony becoming his illustrator, should live in memory for years as a modern-day Omar Khayyam of a purloined garden that is Delhi.
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