| Brushwork: Paresh Maity
Painting India in all its splendour
The artist Paresh Maity relaxes over lunch at Quilon, a Kerala restaurant in London, and talks about how he will provide an insight into Indian art to British holidaymakers who are expected to come to India for a fortnight of painting.
In Europe, there are plenty of opportunities for enthusiastic amateurs to go off on holiday to France or Italy equipped with sketch book and paint box.
But this is the first such enterprise that I, at least, have heard of for encouraging art tourism to India. “Anyone can come,” I am assured by Nomi Kakoty, spokeswoman for Indus Tours, a travel company which is teaming up with Taj Resorts and Palaces, to take British tourists on painting holidays to India.
“I was born in England but I have Assamese origins and my mother (Runima Kakoty) is an artist in the UK and likes to paint areas of India, such as Rajasthan and Kerala,” says Nomi.
But can Paresh teach someone as bereft of artistic talent as me to paint, I ask him.
He sighs to indicate there is little hope. “You can’t teach art,” declares Paresh, who will meet the tourists at his studio in Delhi (M.F. Husain will have a similar encounter in Mumbai). “But you can teach technique.”
I assume, though, that many of the tourists who come to India will have a nodding acquaintance with a brush. They will have a choice of going either to Rajasthan or to Kerala and pay about '2000-3000 for two weeks, flights and hotels included. They will be accompanied, incidentally, by two British artists, James Horton and the leading watercolour painter, Muriel Owen.
As Paresh points out, British artists have been coming to India for centuries. Many tend to head for Rajasthan because of its spectacular colours and breathtakingly beautiful forts and palaces. But Nomi takes my point that the Brits would definitely find much to inspire them in a city like Calcutta.
The idea of bringing British groups to India on organised painting holidays is so simple I wonder why no one has thought of it before. And the British see aspects of India which perhaps escape us.
At College, I once gave a statue of Kali to a friend, Bevis Sale, who had the room next to mine. He wanted to know what the garland of skulls meant. The next I heard Bevis has gone off to the cremation grounds in southern India where he spent the entire vacation painting skulls, animals and human.
He put one of his disconcerting, huge canvases in his room and began to spend more and more time in the cremation grounds of India. In time, he became a professional artist.
I don’t want other Brits to go down Bevis’s route but going to India on a painting holiday ' and be shown museum collections (eg. the Prince of Wales in Mumbai) and architectural masterpieces ' somehow seems nicer than hunting for fish and chips in Benidorm.
Seventy six years after Mahatma Gandhi’s 1930 Salt March from the Sabarmati to Dandi, another salt march is taking place ' this time in Wales.
David Lea-Wilson marches ' ok, walks ' from his home in Wales to the nearby Menai Strait, described by Country Living magazine in the UK as “the watery ribbon that divides mainland Wales from the Isle of Anglesey”.
David Lea-Wilson and his wife, Alison, make salt “but their product, Halen Mon (literally Anglesey salt) is said to be a far cry from the mass produced table salt that stands on supermarket shelves. It comes in large, snowy-white, translucent crystals which have a flaky, crunchy texture much admired by chefs. It is effectively handmade.”
Gandhi, one feels, would have approved, not least because some in Wales would like to loosen its constitutional ties to England. Should anyone in India be tempted to make a quick million, they could do worse than market Dandi sea salt in Britain as “the salt that ended the empire”.
| Screen presence: Om Puri
East goes West
Ayub Khan-Din’s autobiographical play, a comedy about an Anglo-Pakistani family ' his own ' growing up in Salford, next door to Manchester, in the early 1970s seems set to become a classic nine years after it first opened in Birmingham in 1997. Two years later it was made into a hit film, starring Om Puri.
I have no doubt this is one of the best plays of the past decade in Britain. Even though the film proved to be a huge success, the stage production by the Tamasha Theatre Company was actually subtler and funnier. Now the play is about to be revived at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre.
The play shows “George”, a Pakistani immigrant, and Ella, his English wife, as having seven children. In the film, the number was whittled down to six, I recall. In real life, Ayub grew up with eight brothers and one sister. I once asked him to recite all their names within one minute. To my surprise, he reeled off the names correctly within 10 seconds.
While Lakshmi Mittal has been grabbing world headlines because of his bid for Arcelor, sightings of the other Indian steel tycoon in Britain have recently been a trifle rare. But the reason for it is a happy one, his youngest son, Angad explained. “I’ve now become a father,” enthused Angad, who married media lawyer Michelle Bonn in October, 2004.
It seems that Swraj does not want to be parted from his little granddaughter. Every six weeks Angad has to fly from London to Delhi for family business.
“Dad just says, ‘Just leave the baby here.’ It’s wonderful to see him with the little baby in his arms,” says Angad.
|Bride and Prejudice: Aishwarya Rai
Poor Aishwarya Rai doesn’t seem to have too many friends in India. Speculation that she might marry Abhishek has triggered off an avalanche of mean comments about her from otherwise perfectly normal members of the Indian public.
In England, she would not be criticised for dumping Salman Khan but for not dumping him soon enough. The News of the World would throw '500,000 at her in the hope of getting an exclusive: “My New Love ' by Ash.”
She has been a wonderful icon for India in a way no other Indian actress has quite managed. The French took to her the moment she first came to the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. If anything, they would be asking: “Is Abhishek good enough for her'”
|Question hour: Lord Patten
Lord (Chris) Patten, the Chancellor of Oxford, who will be in India shortly, partly to encourage more Indian students to apply to his university, will have briefed himself on educational matters before embarking on his trip.
But he will have to be prepared to answer questions on a more important topic ' what he thinks of Bollywood and, more specifically, the role of the filmmaker Sue played by his daughter, Alice, in Rang De Basanti.
A few weeks ago, Alice told me she had given her father a VHS of Lagaan for Christmas.
Lord Patten tells me: “I have seen Lagaan but not yet Rang De Basanti. I’ve been in the USA. But I hope to see it next week.”
He adds: “I very much enjoyed Lagaan. The cricket match was almost as exciting as the Ashes! I was delighted that Alice got such a wonderful chance to act in a film with such distinguished actors and an excellent director. She is now playing Ophelia in Hamlet in London.”