Thursday, March 14 was Angus’s birthday. We had a lively evening with friends at Moonpeak where everybody enjoyed coffee and chocolate cake. Many of us shared our memories of him. Marnie, Angus’s sister was with us and met many of his friends for the first time. A copy of Angus’s 1994 book The Five Foot Road: In Search of a Vanished China was circulated among friends, many of whom hadn’t seen it before.
It was different last year. I was with Angus in Delhi on his birthday. The sudden and unexpected diagnosis of his illness had disrupted his plans of spending his 50th birthday with his family in Paris, where he was born. Instead, Angus, I and Chulman Oh, our Korean friend, met up at McDonalds above the Inter-state Bus Terminus in Delhi where we sat looking at the dusty bustling streets below before setting out on a tour of the Kashmiri Gate area. I remember making a light-hearted remark to Angus that Paris couldn’t have possibly been better.
We visited the historic Skinner’s Church and spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the narrow lanes sampling street food and photographing life around us. We finished the day with a lovely dinner at Defence Colony.
Later, our friend Vijay Mohan flew up to Delhi from Bangalore to spend the weekend with Angus. We spent a couple of days wandering around, searching for almost forgotten imperial British monuments in Civil Lines and beyond. We dined at some of Delhi’s finest restaurants, sponsored by Vijay who hadn’t forgotten to bring his credit card along. One evening we watched The Iron Lady at one of the shiny new cinemas, and later spent hours impersonating characters from the film.
Vijay and I first met Angus in the autumn of 1997 in Dharamshala. Angus had come to photograph the annual school function at the Tibetan Children’s Village where I was teaching maths and physics. I had spotted him right away among the crowd, the tall and thin replica of a portrait which was so familiar to me from his book The Five Foot Road: In Search of a Vanished China. The book, which sat on my desk during my days as publishing manager at HarperCollins in Delhi, had tantalised me beckoning me to the exciting world of travel. I had often superimposed myself on that image of his, leaning on an ancient arch somewhere remote in China, looking into his unseen camera in the evening glow. Now that same lanky figure was standing just twenty feet in front of me.
I went up to him:
‘The Five Foot Road?’
His surprise matched mine and he told me later when we had become friends, that he was greatly flattered that someone in a small Indian hill-town would recognise him from his book. His bewilderment was complete when, two days later, he was identified by Vijay in a local bookshop. Angus didn’t know then that Vijay was staying with me and knew of my serendipitous encounter! Soon after that first meeting, the three of us were sitting around a bonfire in front of my wooden cabin relishing a bottle of good old Old Monk rum.