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  Opinion   Columnists  18 Feb 2024  Kishwar Desai | New-look London Overground open; Baroness Shreela’s remarkable legacy

Kishwar Desai | New-look London Overground open; Baroness Shreela’s remarkable legacy

Kishwar Desai, is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the Partition Museum at Town Hall, Amritsar.
Published : Feb 19, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Feb 19, 2024, 12:05 am IST

London's New Overground: Sadiq Khan's Frugal and Imaginative Move

A sign for the new Windrush line which was unveiled by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in London Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. London Overground services will be split into separate lines, which will be given individual names and colours to make the network easier to navigate. The six lines will be named Lioness, Mildmay, Windrush, Weaver, Suffragette and Liberty (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
 A sign for the new Windrush line which was unveiled by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in London Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. London Overground services will be split into separate lines, which will be given individual names and colours to make the network easier to navigate. The six lines will be named Lioness, Mildmay, Windrush, Weaver, Suffragette and Liberty (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

Miracles will never cease. Paul McCartney’s original bass guitar — a Hoffner 500/1, no less, that he bought in 1961 for thirty pounds (a lot of money in those days) — has been found. He played it at the Cavern club in Liverpool and at Abbey Road for that iconic LP. But then the guitar was “lost”. Now after 54 years it has been returned to him by a student, Ruiadhri Guest, who said he had inherited it. It was discovered in an attic in Hastings. The last time McCartney had used it was in the Beatles album, Let It Be.

That is not the only good news. The sun is shining and there is a promise of spring in the air. Even the by-elections or the recession in the economy is not dampening down the people enjoying the lovely weather.

London has always had the Underground. Now it has Overground railways as well. Sadiq Khan who faces election as Mayor just unveiled the new lines. The underground has routine names like Northern and Central. These new Overground railways have trendy names. There is Lioness celebrating the successful English women’s soccer team. Windrush — in honour of the boat that brought Afro-Caribbean people back in the 1940s and which changed the cultural scene with Bob Marley and the Notting Hill carnival. There is the Suffragette line to commemorate the women who fought for the vote.  

These overground lines (somewhat like Paul McCartney’s guitar) have been recovered from little used overground railway lines. So Sadiq Khan is frugal as well as imaginative. Let us hope it helps him get back in as Mayor.

But elsewhere there is trouble. Students can no longer afford night life. Swinging London from when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones ruled the roost is gone. Night venues for dancing are shutting down. Even pubs are suffering. There is a recession in the economy and it is telling.

But fortunately for authors — money is not everything. There is now to be a new literary prize for women authors for nonfiction writing. It turns out that women have caught up with men in fiction but they are lagging in the nonfiction prize field. So we now have 16 women shortlisted for a nonfiction prize worth 30,000 pounds. Naomi Klein, the well-known Guardian columnist, is shortlisted. Sixteen titles on the long list will be narrowed down to six on March 27 and winner will be announced on June 13.

One person who will be sorely missed is Baroness Shreela Flather, who just passed away. 

She was a pioneer in many ways. She was the first woman Mayor of Maidenhead as well as a member of the European Parliament and entered the House of Lords as the first woman of Indian origin. 

She sat on the Conservative benches and remained a fiercely independent member with a marvellous wit and a keen debating style. She married Gary Flather, a barrister and judge, but revelled in her Indian roots. We, at the Partition Museum (set up by the trust that I chair in Amritsar and Delhi) were delighted to interview her as she was the descendant of the great Sir Gangaram — who set up institutions in Lahore and India. She was proud of the connection — especially when one remembers that the hospitals he set up in both countries have survived the Partition. But in her own right she has left a permanent monument in London in the vicinity of the Buckingham Palace. It is a memorial to all the soldiers of the Commonwealth who fought and died during the world wars. She raised the money, made the arrangements and secured the place. There is a memorable photograph of hers in the Parliament gallery. A true pioneer.

Shreela ushered in a new chapter for Parliament — but the House of Lords has recently gained a new woman member who is also a novelty. She is only 27, Welsh and does not approve of the unelected House. She belongs to the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru which nominated her. She intends to take her oath in Welsh and wear her Martens Boots. That may wake up some noble lords from their afternoon nap but then they are used to that. Perhaps it was about time the House of Lords got a young rebel!

Tags: mayor sadiq khan, city of london, london overground