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NEWS The Indian YMCA

a taste of India in London There’s a place in London where you can you find chicken curry, rice and poppadoms for less than £5 … and it’s not in Brick Lane.

By Zoë Renfrew

London’s best kept secret, The Indian YMCA, is tucked away at the corner of sleepy Fitzroy Square. With faded Georgian residences once owned by artists and statesmen, the peaceful surroundings feel a hundred miles from the seething West End. In fact, the hostel is a five minutes’ walk from Warren Street tube station and Soho is just a stone’s throw to the south. From the outside, the building is not particularly prepossessing; fifties architecture was never the best, although this one has in fact gained listed status for the design in contrasting brick and stone. But its history is prestigious. The YMCA has been providing a safe haven for Indian students coming to London to study ever since 1920. It is the only one of its kind outside India and was the first mixed hostel in London. Its existence is a shining example of how international bonds of cultural understanding and friendship can

be formed which have withstood the test of time. The YMCA Indian Student Hostel (to give it its full name), was founded by the first Indian National General Secretary of the National Council of YMCAs in India, Mr K T Paul, who was an advocate of Indo-British understanding. Reflecting the YMCA’s overall mission to aid the spiritual, mental and physical welfare of young people regardless of caste, colour, sex or race, the non-profit YMCA ISH became an important cultural centre, initiating scholarship programmes and hosting political debates on Indian affairs. Sir Arthur Yapp, who sanctioned the use of the first premises of the YMCA ISH, described it as a “little bit of India in Britain” in which “England may be welcome and may learn.” In the years leading up to Indian Independence, the hostel (then located in Gower Street), was visited by luminaries and leading

When Tagore visited he gave the students this message which is still relevant today:

Be not ashamed, My brothers, to stand

Before the Proud and powerful with Your White Robes of Simpleness. Let your Crown of Humility, Your Freedom,

Build God’s Throne daily upon the ample

Bareness of your poverty

And knowing what is Huge is not Great, and

Pride is not everlasting.

figures including the poet, Rabindranath Tagore, and Nethaji Subhas Chandra Bose and even Mahatma Gandhi in 1931. The building was bombed in the Second World War but with the help of the University of London and a grant from the War Damages Commission, a foundation stone was laid for the new premises in Fitzroy Square in 1953. The new building was described as a “monument to Indian Independence”. In the same year, the Indian YMCA was visited by the first Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawharlal Nehru who gave it his blessing. Since then it has hosted many political and royal visitors


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