The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indians take to British Ball for charity

London, Sept. 25: The concept of the British Ball has been enthusiastically embraced by wealthy Indians in the UK who staged their own glamorous version of it at the weekend at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Park Lane.

They raised '300,000 for Pratham, an educational charity in India which is helping the government ensure 200 million children are literate by 2010.

Lakshmi and Usha Mittal attended the Ball, with their daughter and son-in-law, Vanisha and Amit Bhatia, as did Srichand Hinduja and his younger brother Gopi, who came with his wife Sunita.

Mittal, who spent a fortune on Vanisha’s Versailles wedding last year and recently donated '2 million to the Labour party, heads the biggest steel company in the world.

The Hinduja dynasty runs an empire that includes everything from banking to automobiles and oil.

“Indians follow their own tradition and culture everywhere and at the same time adopt local culture,” commented Srichand. “Balls represent one of the values of the British. Here, to raise money, you have to structure everything according to the western style.”

His brother Gopi said: “This is the only way in today’s world you can raise big money for charity. I did put a question to Pratham, ‘How much goes on administration expenses'’ They said, ‘Not more than 5 to 6 per cent. The rest goes to the education of children.’ ”

But the Ball was not restricted to billionaires. Mere millionaires, of whom there were dozens among the 750 guests, were also welcomed. “Carriages” at 2 am meant strolling out of the hotel into waiting Bentleys, Rollers and Mercs.

Surina Narula, the chairwoman of the Ball committee and mistress of Hyver Hall in the Hertfordshire countryside, emphasised: “Initiatives like Pratham need our support because education is a key factor in eradicating poverty.”

She had visited slum children and liked the way basic arithmetic was being taught: “ ‘If you have six sticks and take away three, how many are left'’ ”

Her businessman husband Harpinder Singh Narula, who complained affectionately that “my wife seems to have given her life to charity”, had told her that he could raise '300,000 on the money markets in no time at all. Why bother with a Ball'

“My wife said, ‘No, it won’t have the same cascading effect,’ ” he added.

Surina conceded: “I have had no family life for five months. But without the glamour people won’t come.”

From the '400,000 collected, '100,000 will be deducted for costs, despite generous corporate sponsorship by companies ranging from the Stanton group to Citygroup, ICICI Bank of India, Merryl Lynch and Air-India.

Since this was a British Ball spiced up to suit Indian tastes, there were touches of Bollywood. Aamir Khan, star of The Rising, raised '18,000, by auctioning a dinner date with himself.

Malaika Arora, one of the sex bombs of Bollywood, did a dance number on stage, while actors from the past, Waheeda Rehman and Simi Garewal, required no introductions.

Until only a few years ago, the Park Lane hotels were reluctant to allow in Indian food. Yesterday, the catering was done by Andy Varma, who owns Vama, an Indian restaurant in the King’s Road, Chelsea, which does the food during the many Bollywood shoots that now take place in Britain (the British Tourist Authority has even drawn up a Bollywood map of Britain).

Varma’s wife, Rupali, summed it up: “This is the (Asian) social event of the year.”

This being an Indian occasion, cricketers, too, had to be thrown into the mix. A dinner date with Indian batsman Rahul Dravid fetched '16,000.

Dravid was not present but the former all-rounder, Kapil Dev, a frequent visitor to Britain, was and spoke warmly about the new England side and especially Andrew Flintoff ' “he’s fabulous, I’ll will do anything to watch him”.

Glancing round the Grosvenor House Ballroom, he noted: “I can see the who’s who of England are here.”

Malaika did a dance number

He suggested that the British should not agonise too much about the loyalty of immigrants as many have done in the aftermath of the London suicide bombings.

“Odd people you will find everywhere. In our country, we have seen so many British come, such wonderful people. They have given education, opened churches, they did so much charity work but they are the people who also did Jallianwalla Bagh. The negative people are small in number. We should not give them so much credit, so much recognition.”

The British and Indian worlds met over race horses as well. An unusual auction item, a race horse called China Visit, “kindly donated by Ameeta Mehra of Usha Stud Farms of Dehradun”, was bought jointly by Surina Narula’s son and brother for '15,000.

The Indians have learnt the British trick of getting the right people to auction specific items. The race horse was auctioned by actor Kabir Bedi, who played a baddie in the Bond movie, Octopussy, and more recently Master of Horses in the musical, The Far Pavilions.

Baroness Shreela Flather, who has been to many a Tory Ball, explained that such a British institution appealed to Indians, partly because of its matchmaking possibilities.

“There has been no conflict in the value systems of the Indians and the British. Indians have taken up the Ball because they enjoy it. This is more glamorous than Tory Balls because we are more glittery here. Look at the jewellery. Even I have taken out whatever I have. I never wear so much normally.”

Prabha Chopra, who once ran a business selling evening gowns and whose younger brother, Ratan Chadha, founded the Mexx clothing empire, remarked: “The women are wearing very expensive clothes ' contemporary dresses and saris. I am wearing a sari, blue chiffon. There is fantastic jewellery displayed here, mainly precious stones ' tourmaline, emeralds, sapphires ' and diamonds. No woman is wearing jewellery worth less than '10,000.”

Annanya Sarin, who was once the spokeswoman for Mittal, said: “The concept of the Ball has reached Indians in England. It’s a successful concept and works for fundraising and we need to do more of these kinds of events.”

Planning for next year’s Pratham Ball, which will be the fourth, will begin shortly.

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