The View from Sir Syed’s Room

May 23, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)




On a recent visit to London I was pleasantly surprised to find that my lodgings,















which had a fine view of Mecklenburgh Square in Bloomsbury,
















had previously been occupied by two remarkable men.
















One was R.H.Tawney, author of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism & Land and Labour in China, who was born in Calcutta and went on to become a radical social critic. His book, The Acquisitive Society, published in 1920, might well serve as a manifesto for the Occupy movement. Consider this passage on exorbitant managerial salaries: ‘When really important issues are at stake every one realizes that no decent man can stand out for his price. A general does not haggle with his government for the precise pecuniary equivalent of his contribution to victory. A sentry who gives the alarm to a sleeping battalion does not spend next day collecting the capital value of the lives he has saved; he is paid 1/- a day and is lucky if he gets it. The commander of a ship does not cram himself and his belongings into the boats and leave the crew to scramble out of the wreck as best they can; by the tradition of the service he is the last man to leave. There is no reason why the public should insult manufacturers and men of business by treating them as though they were more thick-skinned than generals and more extravagant than privates. To say that they are worth a good deal more than even the exorbitant salaries which a few of them get is often true. But it is beside the point. No one has any business to expect to be paid “what he is worth,” for what he
is worth is a matter between his own soul and God… If a man has important work, and enough leisure and income to enable him to do it properly, he is in possession of as much happiness as is good for any of the children of Adam.’ (pp. 178-79)



The other, earlier, occupant was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan,
















founder of Aligarh Muslim University.







His grandson, Syed Ross Masood, studied at Oxford and taught in Patna and Cuttack (Ravenshaw College) and was a fellow of Calcutta University. He was also a friend of E.M.Forster,




Syed Ross Masood and E.M.Forster, 1911, source: King's College Cambridge














who, while writing A Room With A View, would certainly have crossed paths with R.H. Tawney






on this very street in Bloomsbury.






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