Michael Voysey Foundation

Playwright and Writer for TV and Radio

In A Bombay Bookshop

IT WAS IN A  BOMBAY BOOK SHOP I REALLY FIRST MET SHAW

“In 1940 I was a youthful member of the Indian Army stationed in Bombay.Bombay seemed to me then the most beautiful city in the world. Military duties a part, a lot of time was spent just being young. We were awe struck at the Gateway of India and the splendours of the Taj Mahal Hotel.

We watched the ancient rituals of the Indian Religions and those of the British Empire. This India, this country of whom I was not a citizen, with it’s jewels and its wealth, its thousands of hungry people, its children dying for the want of a handful of rice. Was this the Great British Empire we were being taught to defend, and for which at the age of 18 or 19, one might have died, and many did?

It was in a Bombay bookshop that I really first met Shaw. I remember the shop to this day. It was near the Taj Mahal Hotel, and it was remarkably well stocked, not only with the novels of the popular writers of the day; Cronin, Priestley, Mazo de la Roche, Howard Spring, Mary Webb, but the classic writers including      Bernard Shaw, the collected works in – I have forgotten, how many volumes. I opened the first book and began to read, not the plays but the Prefaces.

“Christianity has failed because nobody has had the sense to try it” 

And the second,The Society that spends more on Champagne before it has provided enough milk for its babies, or given dainty meals to Sealyham terriers and Pekinese dogs, whilst the infant mortality rate shows that its children are dying from insufficient nourishment is a badly managed, vain, stupid ignorant society and will go to the bad in the long run.

“And the third “Millions of labourers die in the workhouse or on the dole so that a few privileged children may have hundreds of thousands of pounds before they are born.”

I began to buy the books, I read the Prefaces, then the plays, Caesar and Cleopatra, Androcles and the Lion. The Doctor’s Dilemma and so on. The plays now had a real meaning for me. Shaw said when he first read Karl Marx he became a man with a gospel. (Although he admits he had to rewrite his economics).

When I first ‘met’ Shaw, I too, became a man with a gospel. This is what the war was about. It was defending the old order; it was about the creation of the new. It was many years later that I again began to think of Shaw. Had we really accomplished anything since the end of the war? Poverty was still with us; people still lived and died in the streets of the world. New forces of violence were emerging every day, new forces of oppression were destroying the human mind and spirit.

I began again to read Shaw, and although he was a self-proclaimed socialist, I saw for the first time that here was a man for all men. Shaw’s gospel – man’s right to be fed, clothed and housed in the temporal sense; his right to his dignity, his freedom of expression in the spiritual, was above all political or religious creeds.

If, as Shaw said, Christianity has failed because nobody has the sense to try Mr Shaw’s way. Or perhaps we should have the sense to try both.

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