A newsletter of the Indian International Centre announced that one of its members had passed away Boris N Yeltsin, the first President (199199) of the Russian Federation, was an honorary member of the IIC.
IIC to the aam janata and just ‘The Centre' to its members' is a meeting point for the nation's intelligentsia. Aritsts, filmmakers, writers and drama directors from Mumbai stay there, if they can get a booking that is. Its residential rooms - simple but clean - are always booked up.
President Abdul Kalam has been a member. Former Prime Minister Inder Gujral has been a habitué. Ditto Dr Manmohan Singh before he took over as head of government three years ago.
IIC was founded in end-1958 as a no-profit society at the initiative of Dr S Radhakrishnan and Pandit Nehru. They had got the idea from the American billionaire-philanthropist, John Rockefeller III, who had earlier funded a similar institution, the International House of Japan, in Tokyo.
A 76-acre, thickly-wooded site, adjoining the capital's historic Lodhi Gardens, was acquired; IIC was designed by the American architect Joseph Stein. Located on Max Mueller Marg, it has grown into a major cultural hub of the capital.
IIC currently has around 6000 members on its rolls, including about 300 corporate members. Mumbai has a fair share of its membership, the most visible being those connected with films.
The late Hrishikesh Mukherji stayed there during his visits to the capital. We would harangue him in his room on his favourite subject - the performance of our cricket team!
<b1>On an average day one can find , Shyam Benegal having a quiet lunch in the dining room, while Govind Nihalani sits down below in the tea-lounge in the company of young short filmmakers.
Gulzar has recited his poems here, Farouq Shaikh has held forth at a seminar on the ‘Muslims as portrayed in Indian films'.
Kumar Shahani drops in when he is in Delhi. Shabana Azmi is not seen that often now..after her term as MP ended.
Membership is a sore point with the power people. In fact, IIC was in the news recently for having refused to induct Laloo Prasad Yadav.
In protest, Dr Karan Singh, former President of IIC, resigned from the position of its life trustee. The board of trustees accepted his resignation with regrets.
According to the IIC's charter, its activities are mainly academic and intellectual, and have to conform to the stated aims to promote understanding and amity among nations through a study of their cultures.
Security of books
At its well-stocked library one can , run across the country's best opinion-makers, some with their heads buried in books and journals.
Former bureaucrat-minister Jagmohan, who writes mainly on urban development - as also on Kashmir (whose governor he had twice been), is a familiar figure there, while his commandoes loll outside (he gets Z-level security).
On any given day, IIC's slate of events could comprise a day-long conference, along with talks and discussions in its two seminarrooms, and a visual-art exhibition in its galleries.
The evening brings a cultural show -promptly at 6.30 pm - in its 240-seat auditorium.
It relents slightly in matters filmic: IIC has an active film club with a membership of over 1600. Indian and international films are the flavour here. No Lagaan or Rang De Basanti, despite their nationalistic fervour. No Spiderman either.
IIC is not the place for Genext (which has found the nearby India Habitat Centre more amenable and relatively easier to get into).
In fact, IIC has prescribed a minimum age of 30 years for its members, to maintain the right mixture of youth and age. Still, its membership has grown by almost 50 per cent since the last decade.
An annexe has come up on a nearby lot. The annexe's rooms are better-appointed, and it serves the best aapam (a South Indian sweet dish), this side of the Vindhyas in its eatery. Yet most members prefer to flock to the main building out of sheer force of habit.
A redevelopment of the centre's overall facilities is now on the cards, as it heads towards its golden anniversary, due less than five years from now.