Imperial Embrace

“Do you mind spelling out for me the names of the four people that are always popping up in your talk? So I can write them down in my notebook. Will help me to know where you’re coming from.”

Marc said as soon as they were settled down at a corner table in the university pub with their beers.

Subrat shared the four names gleefully: Rao, Patnaik, Pathi, and Giri. They were all left-leaning professors at his alma mater in Odisha, fearless and uncompromising, at war with the capitalist value system. The last named, he added, was in Oxford for the past three years, writing his PhD. Marc had noted down the names in his small notebook. After this more from Subrat’s Indian past had tumbled out. No doubt the heady liquid contributed to the unravelling, aided by the racy numbers from that novelty named the jukebox. It was 1985. Subrat, a small-town boy from Odisha, had never seen a pub until that point and felt its electric environs.

Subrat got to know Marc soon after arriving at the University of East Anglia to begin his own PhD in English. They were fellow researchers in the same school. The Graduate Research Group, consisting of doctoral students, met once every two weeks. Subrat and Marc connected with each other in the first meeting of the group. They had both gone to the men’s toilet at the end of the hall, where they had exchanged names and personal particulars.

There was something funny about the way Marc had dwelt on the peculiarity of his name, spelt M A R C, as in French, not M A R K, as in English. After that, they met regularly. At first, the venue was the university pub. Then, with Subrat gradually finding his feet in the new place, the pubs in the city had begun to beckon. At times Marc would give him a ride in his car.

Marc was quite the expert on pubs and the English national drink, beer or bitter, as the English called it. The exotic atmosphere in the pub and the sight of adult men and women drinking, talking and acting without inhibition had loosened Subrat’s tongue. Loosened it only to reveal a mind stuck along the old grooves. That is how Marc had noticed that the four names from Subrat’s Indian past had lingered on. These figures had clearly crossed the seven seas in order to dwell with Subrat in his new life in England, messing with his attempt at a fresh start in the new land.


It was six months into his stay in Norwich and a Friday morning. Subrat was jubilant. The youngest of the four was coming down to his 19 Bateman Close home in Bowthorpe in the north of Norwich. He phoned Marc to suggest a meeting at the pub in their area for that evening. Surely Marc would be glad of this encounter with one of his four Indian gurus, especially one who had stormed the bastion of the English ruling class.

“How long is your friend staying? I would prefer it if we met on Saturday.”

“No problem.”

Subrat ran into Marc earlier that day during his quick trip to the university to pick up a new arrival in the bookstore.

“Are you looking forward to tomorrow evening?”

“Oon oon” Marc made a sound and an accompanying gesture not suggestive of much enthusiasm.

‘Well, it is just a friendly meeting. And, of course, a chance for you to put a face to a name. There need not be any point scoring, you know.”

“There’ll be point scoring”, Marc said with a grin, adding “We’re competitive, aren’t we?”


If there was point scoring at the Bowthorpe pub that evening, it was not immediately apparent, like the furious underwater paddling of the smoothly gliding swan is not apparent.  One quick flash of the sabre, however, was hard to be missed. It was when the conversation centred on Terry Eagleton, Oxford’s Marxist professor of English and a known basher of Oxford’s elite culture. Back in his student days at the University in the late 1970s, Giri, as a firebrand Marxist, was an admirer of Eagleton. He had introduced the younger Marxist’s work in their class.

“How is Eagleton perceived among the Oxford literati?”

“With amused tolerance.”

Had it really come to this? It was one thing to double back and question one’s beliefs, but quite another to become such a diehard Oxonian. Subrat thought Marc would give a befitting response. Marc had no wish to engage his interlocutor, however. His silence was a sign to Subrat’s long-conditioned mind that one who kept mum in a debate lost.

It was getting to be 8.30 pm. Marc reminded us that the party should break up if we wanted to give ourselves a chance at Hitchcock’s Vertigo which was coming up on television at 9. Subrat had long wanted to watch Vertigo.

“No ad breaks on BBC 1. The way to watch a Hitchcock thriller.” Marc said, as he excused himself to go up to the phone booth at the pub’s entrance to make a phone call.  He returned minutes later, in high spirits.

“I’ve just lined up a lift for myself. Judy is coming to pick me up.”

This time it was Giri who lost him. He wanted Marc to repeat what he had just said, the expression being a novelty for him as well. Subrat’s ears were primed to catch the words. To be able to speak English like the English was the dream that made the likes of Subrat and Giri want to come to England in the first place. That was the bottom line.

“So how did you find him?” Subrat enquired about Marc when they met next week.

“Well, an outsized version of you really. Held in an imperial embrace, and hating the fact that he’s loving it.”

(First episode of Season Two of auto-fiction series ‘Spots of Time’)






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