Journalist, novelist, poet, historical researcher and Delhi’s master chronicler, Ronald Vivian Smith, passed away on Thursday. He was 82.
Purveyor of charming anecdotes, myths, legends and lore, R.V. Smith truly romanced Delhi, his adopted home, like a “timeless begum who excites love, devotion and nostalgia”, as acknowledged in one of his many books on the capital. His breathtaking knowledge and writing on Delhi’s quaint, half-forgotten stories were treasures which frantic internet searches or history books could never reveal.
“Besides the internet, the tendency to stand and stare is also the begetter of knowledge,” Smith wrote in the preface to his 2015 book Delhi: Unknown Tales of a City. He used to travel the length and breadth of Delhi, often in a DTC bus, to grasp the many lived realities and memories of the ever-evolving city.
Born in 1938, Smith studied in St. Peter’s College in Agra before completing his MA in English Literature from St. John’s college. His journalist father, Thomas Smith (1910 -1995), came from a family going back to Salvador Smith (1783-1871), a soldier who trained the army of Daulat Rao Scindia. Smith’s principal inspiration was his father whose book Agra: Rambles and Recollections led one to the hidden heart of the historical city like a friend, philosopher and guide. Smith clearly inherited and perfected that style of story-telling.
R.V. Smith worked as a scribe for The Statesman and started writing on history, heritage and the social dalliances of the Walled City of Old Delhi in 1958. In his long, distinguished career, he won the Rotary Award, the Michael Madhusudan award for journalism and the Canon Holland Prize for general knowledge. He also took a keen interest in mysticism and the occult. Besides history, poetry and romantic novels, Smith regaled his readers with ghost stories, specially in the book The Veiled Shadow.
Still writing columns for national dailies, Smith was hospitalised two days ago. His last column had him ruminating on all the key markers of his fulfilling life—food, Agra, his Anglo-Indian lineage and love for the Urdu language.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal took to Twitter to pay his homage: “RV Smith, the chronicler of our great city Delhi passed away this morning. His work kept alive the stories and memories of our city. It’s a huge loss especially for Delhiites. My heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. RIP”