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Was Jinnah a jolly good fellow'

One morning last week, a few flakes of snow were floating prettily outside my window, putting paid to fears of global warming, when a friend rang me to tell me of a House of Lords function to launch a new 500-page biography of Mohammed Ali Jinnah by a 'Dr Devasiya'.

'And here,' said my friend, 'is Dr Devasiya.'

Dr Devasiya immediately puzzled me by disclosing his name was 'Asiananda'.

It took gentle probing to establish he was born Sebastian Devasiya, in Kerala, but had lived for 25 years in Germany 'near Dusseldorf', and adopted the pen name, 'Asiananda'.

Devasiya's life had been altered by a meeting with Rajiv Gandhi, after which he had written a number of books arguing for a changed world order. These books, published by Devasiya's own imprint, had such portentous titles as Whither India' Whither Mankind'; Redefining Indian History; Nuclear Subcontinent; and Healing the Subcontinent.

On newspapers, when we want to write about great sages, our departmental heads, invariably cynical people, tend to ask: 'Are you sure he's not a madcap'

Devasiya worryingly styles himself 'Professor of Philosophy, Intercultural Open University, Netherlands, and Holder, Sri Aurobindo Chair for Human Unity'. But his dissertation on Jinnah, whom he considers a decent fellow who was driven to distraction by 'personality differences' with an unbending Gandhi, definitely deserves wider discussion in India.

Devasiya admits he could not conduct such an intellectual exercise in Pakistan, where the Quaid-i-Azam is simply revered as the father of a separate homeland for Muslims.

'Pakistan is not so open (as India),' he suggests.

As part of his attempt at 'redefining Indian history', Devasiya acknowledges he is sympathetic to Jinnah, 'who right until 1946 believed that India was unpartitionable'.

Sounding like Nirad Chaudhuri, Devasiya said that Jinnah's philosophy could be summed up as 'civis Indica sum' ' meaning, 'I am a citizen of pre-Partition India'.

Personally, I belong to the Attenborough school which holds the Mahatma to be the greatest human being of the 20th century. So was Devasiya knocking my Gandhi'

'Definitely,' responds Devasiya. 'I don't want to do that and I did think of withdrawing one chapter on Gandhi, 'A Citizen of Hindu Swaraj', but I have to stick to my truth.'

For others the 'truth' may be that young Jinnah began by believing in Indian unity but evolved into adopting the opposite position.

Whether Pakistan is able to accept Devasiya's 'one India'-Jinnah 'depends on the fate of Musharraf. It won't happen if power passes from Musharraf to the long bearded ones.'

Star crossed

India would not be India without its Christian population, and those of us who have had the privilege of having been taught by Catholic Fathers (St Xavier's, Patna, in my case) will forever retain 110 per cent loyalty to them. The Christian community needs to be protected, especially when its religious sensibility is hurt.

The director of Sins, Vinod Pande, might be a trifle maverick in his choice of film subjects but I can say that when he was in London on September 11 last year, no father could have been happier as he gave away his daughter, Pimmi, in marriage at a church in Clapham, south London. He was delighted with her choice of husband, Steve Jones, a drummer. He is not a card-carrying Christian but the couple had chosen to marry in church, with Vinod's total support. They will also have a Hindu ceremony in Mumbai on April 2.

Vinod told me about Sins last September. A 'very bold movie', he called it. Vinod is like that only. Sins will be released in the UK by Yash Raj Films in DVD at the end of the month.

India is now a big and mature enough democracy to allow books, films, plays and works of art which provoke rage, fury, condemnation etc. from a section of the community. No one is silly enough to think one Catholic priest represents all the others. If people don't like the movie, they should protest to the media, holding Sins up to ridicule. India is not England, but that is the way things are done in England ' and it seems to work.

I thought that the BBC's decision to broadcast a filmed version of the musical, Jerry Springer the Opera, in which Jesus appears as a special guest, admitting to be a 'little gay' and wearing a diaper, was crass and offensive in the extreme. Life has moved on and the Church has survived.

That said, perhaps in future we could go a little easy on Catholic Fathers in India.

SUMMER PLANS: Sourav Ganguly

County call

Why on earth does Sourav Ganguly want to play English County cricket again' Surely, the Prince of Calcutta doesn't need the money'

In an interview with a new cricket magazine called Spin, the 32-year-old Indian skipper sounds a trifle desperate: 'I'll play anywhere and for anybody, I'm not fussed where, I just want to play a season of County cricket again. The last time I played County cricket, I didn't do as well as I do in international cricket, so I've got something to prove.'

If we regularly see Indian Test stars in County cricket (when quite often they under-perform), there is no excitement in seeing them walk out at Lord's on a sunny June morning.

The solution is to get more overseas players to play in Indian domestic matches. Sourav shouldn't forget he was labelled 'Lord Snooty' when he played for Lancashire in 2000.

If he has a spare summer, my suggestion to him would be to stay at home, enjoy family life and water the lawn.

GUEST OF HONOUR: Kiron Kher

Unquiet waters

There is a good reason for attending the opening on March 4 of the '7th Tongues on Fire', the annual film festival which focuses on the role of feisty women in Indian movies.

Kiron Kher will cut the ribbon, followed by a screening of Khamosh Pani.

But the waters were far from quiet when her husband was abruptly replaced as censor chief by Sharmila Tagore. People are hoping Anupam Kher, who has a permanent job playing papaji in various British Asian films, will come as well to give his side of things.

In London, no one will switch off the microphone when he has the floor of the house.

Tittle tattle

The 'dabbawallahs of Bombay', who are touched that Prince Charles took the trouble to visit them in 2003, are said to be sending him a turban, while their wedding gift for his fianc'e, Camilla Parker Bowles, will be a traditional green sari, blouse-piece and bangles.

Charles is very pleased with the gesture and will send a note of thanks, but not a red-edged invitation card to the April 8 wedding.

'He loved the trip to see the dabbawallahs,' I am told by one who knows. 'It was the best part of his Indian trip.'

But Camilla is unlikely ever to wear a sari, which her future mother-in-law, too, has never worn.

'Can you see Camilla in a sari' asks my source. 'I can't.'

The couple's children will attend the wedding.

This is now a British tradition, even when a couple is marrying for the first time.

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