R.V. Smith, well-known chronicler of Delhi, passes away

Published : May 01, 2020 14:37 IST

Delhi’s irrepressible raconteur Ronald Vivian Smith, who never let history sleep, is consigned to memories after he breathed his last in Delhi on April 30. Ronnie, as he was affectionately called, was many things to many people—a caring father to his children, one of whom, Tony, was associated with The Hindu until recently; a well-respected and much-feared news editor at The Statesman; and a lover of poetry.

Above all, he was a chronicler in whose hands Delhi was like a beloved, ever willing to share her secrets, pampering him with the unknown, teasing him with the little known. The moments they shared with each other were enriching, uplifting, and in the end, delectable. The secrets he stumbled upon in the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, the havelis of mansabdars, the mansions of nawabs and the mahals of the royals did not stay with him for long. Like a doting patriarch, he shared them with his readers in two columns that have run long enough to make infinity intelligible. The first was Quaint Corner, started some 40 years ago with The Statesman. Over the years his column’s popularity soared even as the newspaper’s fortunes declined. As Quaint Corner gave history a new lease of life, Smith decided that it needed to build a relationship with more readers. Thus, a little more than 20 years ago was started Down Memory Lane with The Hindu. Love for his stories remained undiminished. For 16 years this correspondent was a recipient of his column every week. Old age, illness, celebrations, nothing came in the way of his column. Not one week went by without the column on Monday. One learnt that until recently it was typed out on a typewriter and was replete with manual changes. His scribble was not easy to comprehend. But his column was worth every inch of the space it got. It was history reproduced as a novella.

Born in the family of Col Salvador Smith of the Gwalior Army, Smith came into this world in Agra in 1938. It was in Delhi, though, that he was to discover his real calling. For many years, he lived in a hotel near Jama Masjid. The hotel came to be regarded as his home. So much so, two of his children, including Tony, were born in the hotel. Smith, on his part, loved the Old Delhi ambience, its varieties of paan, its kababs and biryanis, and not to forget its poetry and other charms of seduction. He spun columns out of it, he fleshed out more than half a dozen books from the city.

Over a period of time, he came to be considered an encyclopaedia on Delhi. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted following his death, “His work kept alive the stories and memories of our city. It’s a huge loss especially for Delhiites.”

The story that started from the historic city of Agra reached its culmination when the grand old man of stories and anecdotes, and love and warmth, was laid to rest in Burari’s Christian cemetery in the city. History can lie in repose.