The following is the first part from a short story series. This provides a background of the protagonist of the story, a teaching assistant at LSE. Following a conversation between the protagonist and his mentor, Fiona, the protagonist’ student and one of the other main characters of the story is introduced.
The London School of Economics and Political Science, known as LSE, is not a sight for sore eyes. Adjoining Holborn and Covent Gardens, it squats on one side of Aldwych, a jumble of ill-matched and dysfunctional buildings, an urban eyesore if ever there was one. Opposite the main entrance, one can see the stately Bush House accommodating the BBC and the Indian High Commission. A narrow lane, St Clements meanders between these buildings across the School’s entire breadth. At the rear, the school emerges into a quaint area with ‘The Olde Curiosity Shoppe’ of Charles Dickens, standing cheek in jowl with the stately theatres on Drury Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue. The LSE is the brainchild of the Fabian Society true bloods, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw, conceptualised in 1895. The Webbs, in fact willed their own house to the fledgling institution, which today stands in the middle of the urban mess. It was a bequest not likely to cause any heartburn to the most avaricious of their relatives. What they had hoped to achieve is not known; if the idea was to provide a launching pad for socialist economics, the founding fathers would have been bitterly disappointed. However, it has emerged as a first rate institution, not only for Economics, but for Law and a variety of Social Sciences. Its alumni includes distinguished individuals from George Sorros to Mick Jagger, and despite its ugly façade, it is a great, happening place to be.
This is where I found myself in 1990, reading for the mandatory MSc in Economics as a prelude to doing my thesis work towards a doctorate. Most of my fellow colleagues were also working women and men in their late 20s or early 30s. All students were self-supporting on either their own savings or scholarships, unlike India where every student thinks that it is his birth right to expect parental support for higher education.
I was fortunate in being offered a Teaching Assistantship by Megnad Desai, the Head of the Economics faculty. My assignments comprised of taking tutorials for the BSc (Economics) students in Micro and Macroeconomics and stepping in for Professor Saul Perlman whenever the lecturer was preoccupied. The job not only allowed me to supplement my meagre scholarship, but helped me realise my flair for teaching.
Sometime in the midst of the Michaelmas term, Saul invited me out for lunch. I should have smelt a rat, for Saul was a notorious Scrooge who would pick an issue even over a farthing. He looked worried when I vetoed his suggestion of ‘a curry lunch’ at the ‘greasy spoon’, The India Club, an indifferent eatery on the Strand started by the personal cook of Krishna Menon, the first Indian High Commissioner to the UK. Saul almost burst into tears when I suggested the grill at the Savoy, but came along gamely. At the table after Saul had looked around furtively for eavesdroppers and conspirators, Saul broached the topic with a precautionary hiss “Arrr..Meester Muckrejii,” he began in his Hebrew accented English, “I have a favour..arrr…but it must remain a secret , yes?” He continued mopping his brow and flattening the few strands of hair adorning his pate. I gave a non-committal grunt, and Saul sailed forth on his impending divorce in a state of such agitation that I feared he might take an apoplectic turn and suffer a heart attack. Saul remained immune to the oleaginous charms of the Maitre d’hôtel, giving me the opportunity of ordering an assortment of rock oysters followed by a Canard a’la Orange washed down by a 1979 light bodied Beaujolais from the Saone et Loire Region. In between, I heard out poor Saul, who assured me that it was not the parting of ways with his partner of two decades that he feared, but the quantum of alimony he might be expected to fork out. Saul was suffering from extreme paranoia. He believed that his estranged wife was trying to fix him in a compromising position with the fairer sex so that she could up the ante. He then came to the crux of the matter. It seemed that an influential member of the Board of Governors had asked Saul to help out with the term-paper of a woman doing her MA in International Business at the LSE. Apparently this lady had chosen a subject that had some economic content, but she lacked the knowledge of microeconomics sufficiently to lay out her case. Saul wanted me to take his putative ward under my wings.
I was puzzled. “So why don’t you give her a set of tutorials? After all you have women in your lectures and you do take tutorials too,” I added. “No no, Meestair Muckrejiii!” Saul bleated, “she ees a ..um..deeferent type of student !” What I could discern from Saul’s outpourings was that if he imparted tuition one on one to this femme fatale, the private investigators hired by his evil wife would certainly take photographs of them together and notwithstanding the innocence of Saul’s actions, incriminate him before the Chancery Courts. I promised to give the idea some thought, not sounding too enthusiastic about it. Saul was almost in tears now. He had been picking at his salad throughout his story of woe and now looked like he might up chuck the entire meal. To lessen the tension I tried to inject some light heartedness in the conversation.” Hey Saul, did you know that the undisputed father of French Nouvelle Cuisine Auguste Escoffier was Chef in the Savoy for many years? In fact I remember that he concocted the peach melba in honour of Dame Nellie Melba who was residing at the Savoy” Saul was uninterested in the history of the Savoy. I told Saul that I would give his assignment a bash, and Saul was ecstatic giving me the splendid opportunity of ordering l’Escoffier’s masterpiece, the Peche Melba. The lunch ended on a not too pleasant note when the bill was presented. Saul grumbled and swore under his breath but ultimately paid up, leaving a 50 pence tip for the waiter. Back at the LSE, he gave me a baleful look and muttered “Mestaair MuckreJii…you have Chutzpah!”
The LSE had allotted me an apology of a room to keep the assignments of my tutees, books and other personal effects. The room adjoined the chamber of Professor Charles Goodhart, who was on a sabbatical from teaching and spent more time at the Bank of England than he did at the LSE. His assistant, Debbie Fricker cheerfully agreed to help me out getting crayons, felt pens and such like to aid my efforts. Apart from classes, I held a one hour “Surgery’ in my room every Thursday afternoon to help out students who had difficulties with my assignments or problem sets.
In the week following my memorable lunch with Professor Perlmann, I made my way to my cubby hole of a room, to be greeted by an excited Ms Fricker. She gesticulated towards my chamber indicating that I had a visitor. On entering my room, I finally came face to face with my special tutee. She held out her hand announcing that she was Fiona. It struck me that she was pretty in a very un-English way. Most English women who had some claims to beauty had a somewhat equine quality, at least to me. Fiona appeared to be in her early twenties, but I later learned that she was twenty-seven. She was well dressed by LSE standards in a well-cut business skirt-suit, her silk scarf adorning her throat was undoubtedly Hermes.
After exchanging pleasantries, I asked her of what assistance I could be to her. Fiona explained that she had to submit a term paper as the final requirement towards her Masters. She had chosen to explain standard practices of her profession in formal Economic terms. I was totally at sea, and asked her to elaborate. For instance, what was this profession she was alluding to. She raised an arched eyebrow and asked “You mean Professor Perlmann didn’t explain what I do?” I shook my head. “Well Sir, I’m a high end prostitute, or more correctly, the highest paid escort girl in London.”
Fanny Hill-Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure: an erotic novel written by John Cleland and first published in 1748.
*This is the first part of the short story series, The Adventures of Fanny Hill at The London School of Economics.
Note: This story is purely a work of fiction. Though some of the personae peripheral to the story (such as Professors Desai and Goodhart exist), the main protagonists are fictional. Any resemblance to known figures is purely coincidental
Boz is The Nom de Plume of a retired IAS Officer with experience in Finance. He was at the IMF and possesses a PhD in Economics from the London School of Economics.