| INDIA CALLING: Tory MP Peter Luff (above) and Labour MP Stephen Pound
Turbans off in race for power
Two British MPs, Stephen Pound and Peter Luff, looked positively Rajput in turbans on a recent trip to India. They were guests on Sir Richard Branson's inaugural London-Mumbai flight.
The MPs, now back into the thick of their respective election campaigns, will continue to be important figures in the development of Indo-British relations.
Pound, who is the sitting Labour MP for North Ealing in London where he has a solid majority of 11,837, has been to India many times as chairman of Labour Friends of India in the House of Commons.
Luff, a Tory, who is defending his previous majority of 10,627 in rural Mid-Worcestershire, stepped down recently as chairman of Conservative Friends of India.
Pound has a high opinion of the Indian community in Britain which, he says, provides almost a 'template' for a better world. He adds that Indian businessmen and women want to use their wealth to do good for others, which he thinks reflects the 'Hindu view of life'.
He argues that the relationship between UK and India has become one 'between equals' and predicts that before long Indian investments in the UK will exceed British investments in India. 'You can no more ignore an economic superpower than you can ignore an elephant,' he remarks.
He explains he is emotional about India: 'People in Britain just do not know what it is to stand alone on the edge of Dal Lake in Kashmir ' there is almost an excess of beauty.' He hopes to return in autumn, this time to visit Lucknow.
It is good that there are MPs sympathetic to India in all the parties.
Luff, a keen photographer, spent his time snapping away. 'I have a really good picture of a snake charmer in Mumbai,' he tells me.
He fears the number of postal votes this time could cause serious trouble. 'In 2001, there were barely 2,000 in my constituency,' he says. 'This time there are 13,000 in a constituency of 74,000 ' our constituencies are small by Indian standards. One company owner got 14 for his South African workers who are not eligible to vote. In any case, the South Africans have gone. There is scope for abuse with postal votes. There could be a lot of challenges after the election.'
Perhaps India should send election observers.
|LOOK NO FURTHER: Michael Ward (right) with wife Elaine outside the Shaftesbury Theatre in London
Labour of love
Any day now I expect Prince Charles to bring Camilla to see The Far Pavilions, the newest musical in London's West End. I have been to see it twice ' the second time, there was a woman four rows down whose face looked familiar. Later, I learnt President Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka had loved the show. I recall her late husband, who sadly became a victim of terrorism, had been an actor who had once played Jesus Christ.
It has taken Michael Ward, the producer of The Far Pavilions, seven years (and '4 million) to bring the show to the stage. It's been a real labour of love. He was born in Digboi in Assam, where his father was a tea planter.
'I lived in India till I was eight,' he says. 'I kept coming back from Britain during the school holidays till I was 16.'
M.M. Kaye's novel, on which the musical is based, was published in 1978. That year, a schoolgirl, Elaine, now Michael's wife, happened to pick up a copy at W.H. Smith.
She was the one who handed the novel to her husband with the words, 'I think this will make a good musical'.
Ward adapted the novel and he and his wife got the rights from Kaye (who had also been born in India), became friends with her and remained so until her death. In her memory, Ward kept a seat empty on the first night. And today, Elaine wears a ring presented to her by Kaye's daughters, Carolyn and Nikki.
Elaine and Michael have not missed a performance since the musical began previewing on March 24. 'It's my baby,' says Elaine.
Most Indians may not appreciate our repair culture. During a quick trip to India last week, I carried one of my wife's favourite leather handbags with a broken zip. She had been told in London that mending it was too bothersome and she would be better off buying an (expensive') replacement.
In Calcutta, my brother-in-law's tailor did something and handed it back.
'There, I don't think you will have any more trouble with the zip,' he said.
The man was faintly hurt when offered money.
'Money' What for' he protested. 'I haven't done anything.'
The streets of London may be paved with Indians but the country's repair culture is dead and gone.
In Britain, it is illegal to sell a book above its published price. It may be sold below its published price and the big chains, which buy popular books in bulk, routinely do so.
This brings me to the pricing policy of the bookshop at The Oberoi in New Delhi. Perhaps it is because the rent and other overheads are high that its management has gone round sticking new prices covering the old.
On my way to see Khushwant Singh I picked up a copy of his book of obituaries, Death at My Doorstep.
Like a magician I produced a copy of the said book, which I had bought the previous night in Khan Market for Rs 295 ' it was just that I wanted a second copy for a friend.
I showed the price to the man in the Oberoi bookshop.
'This is what we charge,' he said smugly, not even a little embarrassed.
In Britain, his bookshop would probably have been shut down.
When I discussed his book with Khushwant, he was reminded of a rani (of Mandvi') who had died in London when he was press attach' at the Indian high commission.
The undertaker was anxious to have the rani wrapped correctly in her best sari, as stipulated in her will.
'Well, I have some experience of unwrapping saris, none of wrapping them,' Khushwant told the undertaker, who promptly complained to the high commissioner.
|BOOK BREAK: Aparna (left) with husband Vikas Swarup
Despite the amazing success of his debut novel, Q and A, which was completed in a matter of weeks, Vikas Swarup has no intention of quitting his day job, he told me in London last week. He loves being director of Natwar Singh's office at the ministry of external affairs.
'The world is beating a path to India's door,' he pointed out.
Somewhere I read that 'the safe plotter is he who plots alone'. Although I knew Vikas well when he was a diplomat at the Indian high commission in London, I had no idea he was writing a book.
Neither, it seems, did his wife, Aparna, who had gone back to India in the summer of 2003, leaving her husband to wind up in London.
Aparna rang him from New Delhi and asked him: 'When are you coming'
Vikas replied: 'I have got to finish the book first.'
To which a puzzled Aparna responded: 'What book'