| Book watch: Surendra Kumar
Drum beats of the diplomats
The Indian high commissioner in Kenya, Surendra Kumar, who came to London last week to promote his book on Ravi Shankar, Birju Maharaj, Pandit Jasraj, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Amjad Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain and the many other musical geniuses he has met, raises a fundamental question in The Minds of the Maestros.
This is whether Indian culture can be used as an instrument of Indian foreign policy'
Surendra I know well because he used to be press officer at the Indian High Commission in London until 1990 after which he has served as India’s ambassador in Mozambique and Libya, consul general in Chicago, and for the last three years as our high commissioner in Nairobi.
The 38 photographs of Suren in the book with the various visiting musicians means that by almost a process of osmosis he had acquired a love of Indian music, dance and other art forms and is ideally placed to claim: “I feel these musicians have not only entertained audiences but also won goodwill and friendship for India all over the world.”
He applauds Ravi Shankar, for example, for having “single handedly introduced Indian classical music to the West” and Amjad Ali Khan as “one of the most handsome, refined and secular human beings”.
Suren has no doubt that Indian culture has been a powerful force that works in India’s favour, a point we will appreciate even more if we all rush out and buy his book.
| In good company: Mira Kaushik
To curtsy or not, that is the question. Luckily for Mira Kaushik, who has been honoured with an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to dance, she won’t be confronted with the dilemma.
It is said that when journalist Kuldip Nayyar had to present his credentials at Buckingham Palace in 1990 on his appointment as Indian high commissioner in London, messages had to be sent that if his wife, Bharti, did not curtsy to the Queen, no disrespect was intended but “curtsying just wasn’t part of Indian tradition ' the namaste was”.
Earlier this year, when the Queen, now 80, dropped into the BBC HQ, Broadcasting House, one of the presenters, Sonia Deol, from the Asian Network, declared her loyalty to Queen and country: “Yes, I will curtsy because it’s the done thing with Royalty, isn’t it' But I haven’t got a clue how to do it elegantly. In Birmingham (where Sonia comes from) we don’t have much call for this sort of thing.”
Mira, who always wears Indian clothes, a big bindi and a pleasant smile, has lived in Britain since the 1980s and is director of Akademi (sic), which she describes as a “silent laboratory within which South Asian dancers have experimented and stretched the boundaries of their dance forms within a contemporary British social, educational and artistic context”.
“I have an Indian passport, so I won’t get my OBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace,” she explained to me. “Instead, I will have to go to the Foreign Office, where they said they give a better party.”
Mira is in good company. As I recall, when Ravi Shankar was honoured by the Queen with an honorary knighthood four years ago, the sitar maestro collected his gong from the British High Commission in New Delhi.
|RISING MERCURY: Gulshan Grover
Now that Bollywood bad boy Gulshan Grover is back in London, the British Asian scene, already hot, is getting hotter. He is here to present awards to young Asian achievers who are being encouraged (rescued') by a community project called the Heathrow Partnership that is backed by, among others, British Airways and telecom giant BT.
Gulshan believes he was picked to present the awards to youngsters “living on the edge” because they would more readily “identify with me than, say, Shah Rukh or Amitabh”.
One thing that Gulshan doesn’t like is the 90 plus temperatures that London has been experiencing (though thunderstorms have since broken).
“It’s too hot,” complained Gulshan, whom I had to take to Jo Allen (he admired a poster of Frank Sinatra) in Covent Garden because the actor wouldn’t be pacified until he had hamburgers washed down with cranberry juice (in return, I got the lowdown on Bollywood gossip, none of which can be repeated, alas).
“I want my London rain. I want my money back, I want to go back to Bombay,” wailed the poor boy.
But he has been urged not to return.
“Bandra is under water, though, I think Shah Rukh (who lives there) is alright,” he explained. “The (police') commissioner has sent an SMS to everyone asking them not to come back for two days.”
|ON CANVAS: Sundaram Tagore and wife Kelly
Distinguished New York art gallery owner Sundaram Tagore and his wife, Kelly, who writes on architecture for US magazines, passed through London, where they had once lived and admired the city’s many beautiful buildings.
To keep in touch with what’s new in the arts world, Sundaram travels a lot and is dismayed by how “modernisation” has destroyed heritage buildings in much of south Asia, notably in Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in the region.
He reckons that “lack of economic activity” in Calcutta might have been a blessing in disguise for a city which he considers one of the most stunning in the world.
“People from the West want to see a city like Calcutta,” he said, stressing the need to protect and preserve India’s architectural heritage in Calcutta, Bombay and elsewhere. “Tourism to Calcutta should be used to revive the whole of north-east India.”
Sundaram has an original take on why Lakshmi Mittal is covered, gushingly, almost every other day in the major American papers: “Some might say he hasn’t got the right accent but they see a man who has fought his way from nowhere to the very top. They like that. This is the essence of the American dream.”
|NICE MAN TO KNOW: Sachin Tendulkar
Just what a nice person Sachin Tendulkar is came across to the people who run Lord’s cricket ground where the injury-hit batsman has been recovering by practising at the Indoor School.
“We asked him if he would come across and meet some disabled people who were playing ‘table football’,” says my MCC mole. “He said, ‘Of course,’ and came across and spent an hour with them.”
What’s worrying is that he was “bowled four times”.
By the way, I am authorised to invite anyone who happens to be in London on August 14 for the one dayer between the England and India women’s cricket teams. Start 10.45 am, admission free.
The “spirit of English cricket” is represented by England’s opening bowler Isa Guha.