The national gallery of modern art (NGMA) in the capital is playing host to an exhibition by the architect Raj Rewal. And among the many works on display is Rewal’s design for the residence of the former editor of The Times of India, Sham Lal in New Delhi’s Gulmohar Park area.
A true man of letters, Mr Sham Lal wrote a weekly editorial-page column titled “Life and Letters”.
When T.N. Shanbag the owner of Strand Book Stall in Bombay passed away, Namita Devidayal wrote in The Times of India:
“There was a time when the senior editors of The Times of India would go to Strand after lunch, browse and catch up with Shanbhag, and then stroll back through the arched arcades of Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, as part of their daily constitutional.
“‘Sham Lal’s wife hated me because he spent all his time and money on books,’ Mr Shanbhag used to joke about the former Times editor.
In her book on The Times, Bachi Karkaria wrote:
When Sham Lal retired, the newsroom (which he had never stepped into) gave him a farewell. It was held in the 6th floor canteen where the aam janata, not ‘invited’ to the august directors’ lunch room, ate.
Sham Lal was seldom seen in the latter, so he probably did not even known of the existence of the former. He was escorted up in the lift and into the huge hall. News editor, chief reporter, subs, peons, all sung his fulsome (sic) praises. The quiet but universally admired editor was presented ‘floral tributes’ and a salver.
Then the master of ceremonies grandly announced, ‘Now Mr Sham Lal will give a speech.’ Sham Lal slowly shuffled to his feet, cleared his throat, and as the packed hall waited in anticipation for an outpouring of enlightenment from the man who had attained intellectual nirvana, he merely said, ‘Thank you’. Then he went back to his chair and sat down….
At a party in Mumbai, Sham Lal was cornered by a large, garrulous American woman. After a 15-minute monologue, she stopped mid-flow and asked, “Am I boring you?” and Sham Lal replied with extreme and genuine courtesy, “Yes I am afraid you are.”
An epitome of an ivory-tower editor, Mr Sham Lal was once famously accosted in the ToI corridors by a studious looking young man as he stepped out.
“Who are you?” he is said to have asked the young man.
“Sir, I am your assistant editor.”
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In later half of 1960s and early 1970s I used to take lunch n the nearby ‘Swagath’ Hotel and make it a point to visit the Strand Bookstall next door. That was a time Penguin and other paper backs were affordable to my pocket and import of books were liberally allowed. Wonder whether both Strand Bookstall and the Swagath Hotel have survuved!