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Librarian at UK Indian high commission, who worked with 25 envoys, dies

The demise of Maureen Travis, one of the first employees of the Indian high commission in London after 1947, marks the end of an era at India House.

world Updated: Nov 10, 2016 22:37 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
Maureen Travis,india house,high commission
Maureen Travis with Navtej Sarna, who recently moved from London to Washington as India’s ambassador.(Indian high commission)

Maureen Travis, one of the first employees of the Indian high commission in London after 1947 and who witnessed history in her years working with 25 high commissioners, died on Thursday

Travis was one of several British citizens employed in the high commission after India’s independence but over the years,until Thursday, Travis was the only Briton left. She was highly respected by the India House staff, who admired her quiet dedication to looking after the library, which has more than 20,000 books.

"We are saddened by this loss. She will be greatly missed by members of the high commission,” Srinivas Gotru, director of the Nehru Centre, told Hindustan Times.

Travis, who was in her 90s, joined the high commission on September 6,1948. She hailed from Hampshire and had never visited India but always enjoyed the company of her Indian colleagues. For over 68 years, she worked from 11 am to 6 pm, five days a week.

“The officers have been good to me. I remember VK Krishna Menon (India’s first high commissioner). He was charismatic, you either liked or disliked him very much. I admired him. During his time, he got us British employees to swear our loyalty to India,” she told Hindustan Times in 2014.

Wistful about her long years in India House, Travis recalled how she continued in her job after reaching retirement age: "lt is through Salman Haidar (former envoy) that I am here now because when the time came in the late 1980s that I should be retired, he called me upstairs and said, 'Well now what are you going to do?' I said, 'I haven’t made any plans.’ ‘Well, why don’t you stay?' So I said, 'Okay, I will stay.’”

"And I have been ever since. I have spent a good part of my life here and I have been very happy. I love my job, it is wonderful. I like the research. I like helping people.”

Travis could not “bear the idea of computers” and insisted on retaining the charm of an old-style card-based catalogue of books. She read every book in the library, most of them related to India, typed their details on a card, including a synopsis, and knew exactly where each book is shelved.

“I am too old to go (to India) now. India has come to me (over the decades). I’ve read so much about India,” Travis, who attended culturalevents in the Nehru Centre untilrecently,had said.

First Published: Nov 10, 2016 22:17 IST