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Promoting the insider

Perhaps I can reveal some harmless trade secrets, one being that British newspapers, unlike some of their Indian counterparts, make a big deal of 'obits' ' shorthand for obituaries.

Old boys in gentlemen's clubs apparently joked: 'The first thing I do in the morning is glance through the obits columns of The Times. If I am not in there, I get up.'

There is also the case of the ailing Nizam of Hyderabad, who was prematurely killed off by The Times. When the error was discovered, The Times apologised. Then the Nizam passed away.

I once attended the retirement party for a distinguished obituaries editor whose editor remarked: 'My dear man, people were always dying to get into your columns.'

All newspapers keep 'set and keep obits' on most dignitaries since news of their death often breaks inconveniently minutes before deadline. Everyone will hope that P.V. Narasimha Rao makes a complete recovery but his critical illness caught papers here on the hop.

It is relatively easy to find the highlights of his career ' born June 28, 1921, Prime Minister (1991-1996), twice external affairs minister, defence minister and chief minister of Andhra Pradesh ' but for Britishers it is harder to make an assessment of his legacy. Also, there isn't much 'human interest stuff'on him.

He came to the Nehru Centre once to promote his novel, The Insider. There is a sexy passage or two in this book, which is given over otherwise to the gripping subject of land reform. I know he was not pleased when an Indian woman asked him innocently: 'Is the sex from your imagination or your memory'

British politicians, on the other hand (e.g. Edwina Currie, Douglas Hurd), love to talk about the sexy bits in their novels because they know sex sells.

P.V. Narasimha Rao's reputation has been tarnished by the charges of corruption. But it is fair to say that although the process of economic liberalisation began with Indira Gandhi and continued under Rajiv, opening India up to globalisation might not have happened in the way it did without him. As such, the country does owe him a lot.

I don't want this to sound like an obit but just before he paid a visit to Britain 10 years ago, he told me in an interview that he would move India at a pace that suited India, not Western investors: 'I will not take rash decisions to conform to a theoretical framework which may lead to large-scale unemployment and runaway inflation.'

I do believe Madame Tussaud's has been unkind in melting down his waxwork model.

Nanny state

Indian servants in India are part of the social fabric and quite often, they do become part of the family. But in London, in the homes of rich Indians, I find the practice of importing them to this country totally objectionable.

One up from maidservants are the nannies brought in from south Asia to enable Western women to pursue their careers. To be blunt about it, those who cannot be bothered to look after their children employ nannies.

I do appreciate the eternal juggling act between home and career but, really, one woman's sexual emancipation is another woman's slavery. I am not saying that the Filipina 37-year-old nanny, Leoncia 'Luz' Casalme, at the centre of the Blunkett affair, was badly treated by her mistress, Kimberly Quinn nee Fortier, the American publisher of The Spectator.

But once, when her mistress shouted at her, the nanny protested: 'Please don't yell at me, I am not your slave.'

Such a relationship can be, at best, unequal. Still, in England, the situation for nannies is infinitely better than, say, in the Arab world, where ayahs from Kerala and Sri Lanka are routinely molested by their employers.

So far, the UN hasn't recognised that the traffic in nannies represents a new form of slavery.

Battle of Britain

The flight path to India is paved with gold. Despite a carve-up of the 21 new direct weekly flights from London to India, the battle between Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, who are less friendly than even the Ambani brothers, continues.

Both airlines are appealing against the adjudication of the Civil Aviation Authority, which has awarded seven of the flights to British Airways (four to Chennai and three to Bangalore, a new route), 10 to Virgin (seven to Delhi and three to Mumbai) and four to British Midland (all to Mumbai).

British Airways already has 19, so its total will go up to 26. But it says it has to compete against Lufthansa and Emirates, which have indirect services to India, and, as Britain's national carrier, should have been given all 21.

Branson argues that his is the only airline capable of challenging the BA domination of the market, but with only 10 flights, he is 'fighting with one hand tied behind my back'.

When his inaugural flight landed in Delhi, he ran down the aircraft steps declaring himself to be 'Bran Singh'. The inaugural flight to Mumbai next spring will, I am informed, 'have a Bollywood theme' ' maybe Branson decked out as Bachchan.

Stowe gals

Among British public schools, Stowe in Buckinghamshire arguably has the most beautiful grounds in all England.

Its old boys and girls include Sir Richard Branson, and, more recently, Dev Anand's leading lady in Mr Prime Minister, Khursheed Khurody. She is holidaying in Britain with another girl from Stowe, Virginia Holmes, who is part of the growing number of English women working in Bollywood.

In Virginia's case, it is as a make up artist ' she has worked on several TV ads (Close-up toothpaste, 7-up), music videos plus films such as Lakshya, Mira Nair's Vanity Fair in Jodhpur, and The Rising when she looked after Aamir Khan in Tajikistan.

Unlike Bollywood heroines, who will not allow anyone other than their personal make up artists near them, she found Aamir remarkably receptive to her suggestions.

'I have a lot of time for him,' says Virginia, who first went to India in her 'gap year' between school and Exeter University. 'He asks a lot of questions and is very respectful.'

Make up and what constitutes beauty are subjects on which Virginia has strong views. She thinks Indian make up artists are excellent but the tendency is perhaps to slap on too much.

'I am not saying Bollywood is bad, just different,' she says.

NEW ROLE: Gopal Gandhi

She considers BBC make up artists, from whom she received part of her training, to be 'the best in the world'. Her view is that Hrithik Roshan 'has a nice skin' and does not require masses of make up and Aishwarya Rai, with minimal make up in Chokher Bali looked more beautiful than in the run-of-the-mill Bollywood extravaganzas.

'In Britain,' Virginia points out, 'less is more.'

Tittle tattle

Friends of Gopal Gandhi in Britain are delighted he has become governor of West Bengal. Since he cut quite a dash as director of the Nehru Centre in London, many feel he is their man in Calcutta. When he was here, he bore the burden of being the Mahatma's 13th and youngest grandchild, with great courage.

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