| CIRCLE OF LIFE: (From left) Uma Thurman, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory
His daughter's father
Having met Uma Thurman at Cannes when James Ivory and Ismail Merchant were giving a party for the star of their film, The Golden Bowl, I knew her name was, well, Uma Thurman.
What I did not realise until now is that her middle name is Karuna. For that, too, she has to thank her father, Robert Thurman, America's most respected Buddhist.
Although Uma is world-famous for her roles in such Hollywood movies as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, her father is, if anything, an even bigger star. In 1997, he was listed among Time magazine's 25 most influential people.
The 63-year-old has written a number of scholarly books on Buddhism, visited India several times, is a close friend of the Dalai Lama and is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University. He is also president of Tibet House in New York, an institution dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture.
'I heard him two years ago in Delhi and he was amazing,' says Alka Bagri, who has invited Thurman to deliver one of the 'Understanding Buddhism' lectures sponsored by the Bagri Foundation this year.
While her father-in-law, Lord Bagri, former chairman of the London Metal Exchange, and her husband, Apurv, concentrate on their business in copper and other metals, Alka is given a free hand to work with Asia House on the list of speakers.
Having done Islam and Hinduism in previous years, it was logical for the Bagris to move on to Buddhism this year.
Thurman is due to speak at the Brunei Gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies on February 28 on 'Buddhism, Tantra and the 'Inner Modern' Tibetan Identity'.
'After hearing him, I was adamant he should be invited,' insists Alka. 'He knows his stuff like the back of his hand.'
Buddhism has long appealed to Westerners. I once read that Judge Christmas Humphreys, who had been the senior prosecuting counsel in 1955 in the case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain ' she had murdered her lover ' found solace in Buddhism.
Thurman's lecture is certain to be oversubscribed. However, Alka is not taking the risk of inviting Uma, lest the occasion become too 'glam'. This may or may not be significant, but Uma's six-year-old daughter is called Maya Ray.
Manmohan Singh should thank his lucky stars he isn't Prime Minister of Britain.
Asked recently by a Canadian journalist for his views on same-sex marriage, he replied after a moment's hesitation: 'It is not proper for me to comment on internal Canadian affairs' I don't think such a thing will have wide acceptance in our country.'
In Britain, though, it is now okay to be openly gay, although same-sex marriage hasn't arrived.
All this poses a serious dilemma for Muslim Labour councillors, for they support party policy on everything but just cannot bring themselves to go along with the liberal consensus on homosexuality. As far as they are concerned, homosexuality remains a sin under Islam.
However, in the wider community, there is now easy acceptance of homosexuality.
At Sainsbury's, my local supermarket, for example, gay couples openly shop together, tick off items on a list ' milk, sugar, vegetables, meat, loo paper, condoms ' and discuss whether to buy this lot of tomatoes or that.
The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who claims one in 10 in the capital is gay or lesbian (a wild exaggeration) is planning a party to mark the 20th anniversary of the 'coming out' of Chris Smith, Tony Blair's former culture secretary who was the first openly gay MP and cabinet minister. According to Livingstone, Smith has given thousands of people the courage to be open about their sexuality and helped bring about a more tolerant society.
For Asians, it is harder to be quite as open, though fewer men now have to go through sham marriages. If there is a general rule, it is this: Asian men and women who are homosexual or lesbian no longer pretend they are not, but at the same time, they do not go out of their way to proclaim their homosexuality.
It is seen as progress that the Goodness Gracious Me team on television came up with a joke about an Indian boy who brings home his English male partner whom he introduces to his shocked parents.
Finally, the mother wails: 'Why have you done this to punish us, my son' Couldn't you find a nice Indian boy'
| CHINESE TREAT: A promotional of the Chinese film House of Flying Daggers
If there is one foreign-language film that is brought to India this year, let it be Zhang Yimou's Chinese-language House of Flying Daggers. To call it a martial arts film is a little like describing Attenborough's Gandhi as a film about a man being a little irritating to the Brits.
House of Flying Daggers is set 'in 859 AD as China's once-flourishing Tang Dynasty is in decline. Unrest is raging throughout the land, and the corrupt government is locked in battle with rebel armies that are forming in protest. The largest, and most prestigious of these is the House of Flying Daggers'. At its heart, though, there is a love story.
The film was nominated for best foreign film at the Golden Globe awards but didn't win. At the British film awards known as BAFTA, it has been nominated in several categories (foreign film; cinematography; editing; production design; costume design; sound; visual effects; make-up).
I found the film breathtaking when I saw it in Cannes last year. I saw it again last week. If only the people in Bollywood could see it, they'd understand that the Chinese are now beating Hollywood hollow in the art of telling a story.
|HAIL HARRY: The Prince featured in The Sun
Prince Harry, who wore a Nazi armband to a fancy dress party, has provoked some German politicians to suggest that the swastika should be banned across the European Union. They say that the public flaunting of the swastika, a symbol of horror for post-War Europeans ' January 27 is the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz ' is prohibited in Germany.
This has caused some Hindus to point out that 'swastika' comes from Sanskrit and has been used in Hinduism for 3,000 years as a sign of good luck. It seems no one took the trouble to protest when Hitler stole the swastika in the late 1930s.
A self-appointed Hindu spokesman has been e-mailing all and sundry because he is worried that Hindus will ' have their rights trampled on due to lack of information by the people of the world'.
To be fair to the The Sun, which broke the Harry story, the paper did carry a report: 'Hitler nicked peace sign'.
In an indirect way, South African cricket coach Ray Jennings has paid a great compliment to Virender Sehwag. Jennings admitted he was sick of the sight of Andrew Strauss after the England opener had struck his third century of the Test series against South Africa at the Wanderers.
The only comparison Jennings could think of was with the Indian opener. 'I thought I was sick of Virender Sehwag in India but Strauss has beaten that,' confessed Jennings.