| COME TOGETHER: Narend Singh (left) with Kartar Lalvani
Such a long journey
If there is an extra spring this morning in the step of Narend Singh, a rising politician from South Africa, perhaps he can thank the UK's reigning 'Asian of the Year' Dr Kartar Lalvani for supplying him with the vitamin pills made by the latter's company, Vitabiotics.
Indians meet and become friends in funny ways. 'I was at the Swaminarayan Temple and he happened to be standing next to me,' recalled Kartar, who promptly invited Narend to a posh Asian function at a five-star Park Lane hotel.
Narend, who had come to attend the World Travel Market in London as minister for arts, culture and tourism for Kwazulu-Natal, then invited Kartar to a concert he was hosting at the Barbican to celebrate the 10th anniversary of South Africa's freedom.
After a hectic week in London, Narend was on his way back. 'As soon as I get off the plane in Durban, I'll be having lunch with Jagdish Tytler, India's minister for NRI affairs,' he said enthusiastically.
In today's world, where migration has rendered 'identity' such a complex question, Narend Singh, born in South Africa in 1954, is certain of his. He is the son of Tilokey Singh, who was born in South Africa in 1918 and who was himself the son of Bandasri Singh, who was born in the village of Besgaw in Gorakhpur in UP and arrived in South Africa looking for work in 1897.
'I am a South African of Indian origin,' declared Narend, looking ever so smart in one of the three bandhgalas he had tailored in Mumbai on one of his six recent trips to India (he will be in Delhi again next year for the NRI meet).
'South Africa has 1.5 million people of Indian origin, of whom 9,00,000 are in Natal,' he pointed out. 'Even in the fourth and fifth generations, we will continue to have links with India at the level of culture, music and cuisine.'
India's solidarity with black South Africans during the anti-apartheid struggle today stands Indians in good stead as does the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and his fight against the racist system of passes.
'In other countries, Indians have alienated themselves by putting themselves in a ghetto,' said Narend. 'But we are South African and we feel so much at home in South Africa.'
| CALL OF THE WILD: Harshad Patel (centre) with Andy and Rupali Varma
Out of Africa
At a charity dinner at the Portman Radisson last week, I made an ass of myself by waving ' while an auction was in full swing ' to Andy Varma, the chef who had offered to cook for eight people at the home of the winning bidder.
Lord (Jeffrey) Archer, the novelist who often acts as auctioneer at Indian charity functions with little asides ' 'Tendulkar is the best batsman in the world, if he isn't, Dravid is' ' immediately pounced on me with: 'I have 160 on the table here.'
I escaped because someone else won the bid at 170. Later, I told Andy that '160 for eight people would have been a bargain. On the previous day, at the Civil Aviation Authority hearing to decide how 21 extra flights to India would be carved up, Sir Richard Branson had boasted that Virgin first class served food from 'the best Indian restaurant' ' a reference to Andy's King's Road restaurant, Vama. Andy rolled his eyes as though he had bitten an unsuspected chilli: 'Not '160, you bid '1,600.'
All ended well for Archer raised '25,000 on behalf of Harshad C. Patel, the 70-year-old Kenya-born wildlife photographer, who set up the Vanishing Herd Foundation two years ago for Indian conservation.
The money will go towards helping the 300-305 lions in the Gir Forest 'stabilise' their numbers ' Harshad also backs an Indian plan to move some of the lions to a special reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
Harshad, who lives in London, is going to India on November 25 to ensure building work on educational centres in Ranthambhore and in Maharashtra respectively get underway.
He emphasises that outside the African continent, no country other than India has lions and that we should treasure them.
'They are very precious,' he says. 'Africa has many more but five years ago a mysterious disease killed off 1,000 lions in Tanzania. That's my worry.'
|ART WATCH: A work of Chila Burman
Flight of fancy
The distinguished Punjabi artist Chila Burman, best known for her collages with hidden naughty messages, is flying to India next month for an inspiration-seeking trip by Virgin Atlantic ' and thereby hangs a tale.
At a party she bumped into the Virgin boss, Sir Richard Branson, who saw her postcards and offered to buy one of her paintings. Chila decided to gift the painting since 'among Indians it is not usual for friends to sell things to each other'.
Branson accepted the gift but sent her two free tickets 'to anywhere in the world'.
That was two years ago. 'I have been really busy,' says Chila, whose latest work, Mind, Body and Spirit, currently hanging at the Brunei Gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, received a warm review from the British Medical Journal ('the most interesting item in the exhibition').
She still has a second Virgin ticket to use up. 'May be I'll go to Japan,' she says dreamily.
|TONGUE-IN-CHEEK: The cover of Private Eye
One in the Eye
We all know India has a free press and all that, but are we confident enough now to be able to sustain a scurrilous 'satirical' magazine like Private Eye'
The magazine, founded in 1961 by a small team of journalists, boasts a readership of more than 6,00,000.
Part of the magazine focuses on newspaper office politics ' who is up, who is down, who is knifing or sleeping with whom ' but over the past four decades it has been sued many times by politicians and celebrities and uncovered scandal in high places.
For example, the current issue discloses that Britain is selling military aircraft to China, despite its poor human rights record and a European Union embargo, in kit form.
Its covers are wickedly funny. India, which has more than its fair share of dodgy politicians, businessmen, sadhus and so on, seems fertile territory for a Private Eye-type venture.
It would certainly make people laugh.
As a child my parents never took either me or my brothers and sisters to a dentist. In fact, I did not know that dentists existed. Now, I know only too well they do, and in June my brother-in-law took me to 'Smile and Profile' in Calcutta for which I was immensely grateful.
Now it seems we will be seeing rather more of Indian dentists in Britain.
The health minister Rosie Winterton and the chief dental officer, Professor Raman Bedi, are assessing dentists from India who have completed the final stage of the International Qualifying Exam.
The health secretary Dr John Reid announced in July that in order to fill a shortage, the equivalent of 1,000 dentists will be recruited by October, 2005, many from abroad.
Britain's revenge for outsourcing might be to take a big bite out of India's pool of qualified dentists who are badly needed at home.