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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bertrand Russell

(Written for Ragni)
Here is a picture of Bertrand Russell, taken by Dame Lotte Meitner-Graf. It hangs in the Captain's Dayroom (although many people call it a 'library') in our house.

Bertie | Captain s Dayroom WM

Lotte was a lovely old photographer. She took several portraits of Russell on his birthdays and other days. She also told me how she had a lot of difficulty in photographing 'a young Princess Elizabeth, who was very sober and not a bit like her sister'.

There is a print of this picture as a frontispiece in Bertrand Russell's autobiography. I always thought it would look great on the cover instead of the picture she had used. I went to see her in London, having once been told by my father that she was a wonderful photographer — and, soon, I was heralded in by a beautiful little deaf girl who'd been with Lotte for years.

Lotte started discussing London's weather (it was raining like crazy) and then moved on to loads of other things, including the fact that my father had met her in London. She remembered "... that Indian doctor. He had a lovely sense of humour ...". She spoke of Pandit Nehru, whom she had taken many pictures of and found him to be a wonderful talker.

I had a great time and had a piece of fresh fluffy chocolate cake her girl had made. I then said to her, showing the book that I was carrying, that this was a lovely picture and I'd like it framed as a large one. About 1.5'x2' was what she thought would be OK and the print would cost me £150 - something that I did not have. But I said go ahead. I'll get the picture the next trip. She said that I should reconsider taking the other picture that was on the cover. "It is so much better", she insisted. I said: No -  this was what I wanted! She told me that it wasn't quite as good, but she'd do it.

Two days later I went back to her and gave her £10 in advance. She smiled at me and said I should look out of the window in the next room as Bertie was coming to her house for a set of pictures. I could not meet him at her house since he wanted to come privately, always. I looked outside and, eventually, saw Bertrand Russell - the greatest philosopher of our time - walking down the road, with an ice-cream cone in one hand and another one in the other hand. I believe he was often seen that way. That was really wonderful. (I did see Russell earlier, in a garden near his house, when he walked past in the mornings to read. I also saw him at one of his last meetings in London.)

Next trip, when I reached London, I had no money with me, though I did have about £100 in a bank … but I wasn't sure if I should borrow the money from someone and get the picture or not. Maybe I'll phone her the following trip, I thought.

The next day we heard that Russell had died.

I just had to get the picture. I told Nuzhat, borrowed the money from someone, and phoned Lotte. She said I should come over. When I got there, she said the picture was much "brillianter, if I can use a word children use these days. Much more than I thought it would be". She was really thrilled to see it and said to me that she'd let me have it for just £50, because I was right in choosing a good picture.

(Ragni: The picture hangs in the room where I spend most of my time. Under it is a collection of his books. You can have both when I am no longer here, but I certainly hope you'll have to wait a bit … I promised you that I'd try and be around until I am at least 80 years old!)

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Anonymous Sheema Kermani said...

What a lovely episode Zaheer. I never knew that you had actually seen him in person- how absolutely wonderful. Though you say this is written for Ragni, I must say I loved and enjoyed reading it. Thank you. Sheema Kermani

24 October, 2011 18:47

Anonymous Mehreen said...


at one time I had a collection of his childhood photos from different websites..the man is incontestable though he would never stand for his own ideas! What an honour to have seen him!...tujhko maloom hai kiyun umr ganwa di humney ;)

25 October, 2011 14:35

Anonymous Sabeen Mahmud said...

What a delightful tale. I have heard you tell it but am so glad you've written it down. Now, to back up your blog database ...

Oh, and thank goodness you ran away to sea! We'd never get to hear these amazing stories if you'd stuck around and become a, I don't know, boring old engineer or doctor or whatever ...

26 October, 2011 00:20

Blogger nuclearbattery said...

This such was a wonderful read! I had no idea you had seen Russell. Do keep sharing more and more stories, absolutely love reading them. Must also remind you to show me the photograph the next time I come visit, I love it.

26 October, 2011 09:36

Anonymous Sophie M. said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing this one, feel quite sniffly now (in a good way).

26 October, 2011 18:48

Blogger Zakintosh said...

Dear Tony Barr

I can't remember where they met. I think it was at an early exhibition of her works or a group exhibition.

Lotte was only a few months older than my father and they met a couple of other people that Lotte invited to her house.

After that my father visited her three times, if I remember.

Can't supply more info since he passed away in 1963. Lotte died in 1973.

16 October, 2014 09:09


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