| Rishti Diwan
Bumper year ahead for UK-India business
Before I get on to the dangers of comparing cologne with perfume, let me make a passing reference to 27-year-old Rishti Diwan, a model student about whom I hope to be writing in slightly more detail by and by. Rishti shows what talented Indians can achieve in Britain given the opportunity. Having been brought up in Calcutta (where she is getting married, incidentally, later this week), she came to the London College of Fashion, where, initially, she found the going tough as she was up against the best students from all over the world. Within a year, her designs were being stolen by those who made clothes for the beauty queen who won the Miss Universe contest in America. When Rishti arrived in Britain, she conserved her funds by living on tea and biscuits. But now, her unique qualities have been recognised by the London College of Fashion which has appointed her a roving ambassador who will promote what Britain has to offer to fashion students in India and elsewhere.
The society that produced Rishti Diwan also produced Lakshmi Mittal and many other achieving Indians — Monty Panesar, the England spinner, for example — who have made their mark in Britain over the past year.
The following are some of the highs and lows of 2006, plus what to look out for in 2007:
What is the best thing about Britain'
Britain has its bad politicians but no one quite as destructive as Mamata Banerjee, a woman clearly determined to keep poor people trapped in misery and poverty so as not to lose political control. In Britain, someone with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s vision could aspire to be prime minister or something even more important, such as the boss of Manchester United.
What’s this “cologne vs perfume” controversy'
Frankly, given the hostility he faced, I never thought that Lakshmi Mittal would win his battle against Arcelor. Guy Dolle, Arcelor’s chief executive, had characterised his company as “perfume”, as against Mittal Steel’s “cologne”. But Mittal would not have won without behind-the-scenes help from the Indian government, especially Kamal Nath. Mittal’s landmark victory has raised hopes that Ratan Tata will also defeat the bid from Brazil’s CSN for Corus, the Anglo-Dutch group. Part of me wants Tata to outbid CSN, but the other part feels he should walk away because Corus is now grossly overvalued. 2007 will see many Indian companies investing in the UK.
| Richard Blurton and Sona Datta
The best book of the year'
Kiran Desai won the Booker with The Inheritance of Loss. But worth a mention is the beautifully illustrated Made for Maharajahs: A Design Diary of Princely India by Amin Jaffer, curator in the Asian department at the V&A (published in London by New Holland, £40, and by Roli in India).
Meghnad Desai’s perceptive Rethinking Islamism: The Ideology of the New Terror (IB Taurus, £8.39) suggests that Islam must not be confused with the political ideology pursued by extremists but tackled in the same way as other ideologies such as “anarchy, fascism and communism”.
Most unlikely marriage'
Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto meeting in London to announce their love of democracy and a common front to oust President Musharraf, whose Line of Fire (Simon & Schuster, £18.99) achieved the impossible. The work of fiction was knocked down to half price at Waterstone’s in Piccadilly but did so well it was put back to full price.
Why has it been a good year for Parsis'
Firstly, because Karan Bilimoria, chief executive of Cobra Beer, was the first Parsi to be elevated to the House of Lords. Secondly, another Parsi, the late Freddie Mercury (real name Farrokh Bulsara), was the lead singer of the Queen, whose Greatest Hits sold 5.4 million copies and was named the UK’s best-selling album of all time by the Official UK Charts Company.
Most important visit to India'
It may prove to be that by Tory leader David Cameron, who wants to see Britain and India establish “a new special relationship”.
In January, 2007, though, Indians should pull out the stops for Gordon Brown, who is expected to make his debut visit. The chancellor of the exchequer is counting the days till he takes over from Tony Blair as prime minister. What is worrying is that Brown keeps emphasising that the rise of India poses an economic threat to Britain.
Did flattery go a degree too far'
Not quite, but after Amitabh Bachchan’s honorary degree at De Montfort University, Leicester, and Manmohan Singh’s at Cambridge, the time has come to award doctorates only to people who have submitted a thesis.
Time to forgive the British Museum'
On the whole, yes. It has many Indian treasures but does show them. This year, it was during the Voices of Bengal exhibition, during which a statue of Durga was built. Among the many who worked hard on this project were Richard Blurton, assistant keeper in the museum’s Asia department, and his assistant, Sona Datta.
|Amitabh Bachchan at De Montfort University, Leicester
Bollywood at BAFTA'
Bollywood films do brilliantly in Britain, no matter how badly they bomb in India. This explains why Bollywood actors bond with their undemanding fans in Britain. Some have been willing to buy tacky £24.99 dolls of Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Priyanka Chopra and Hrithik Roshan at Harrod’s. BAFTA put on a Bollywood weekend with Yash Chopra, Aamir and Shah Rukh, Karan Johar and Preity Zinta. The IFFA ceremony in 2007 will be held in Yorkshire, thereby giving the area’s large Pakistani population a chance to see their favourite Indian stars. There ought to be a blacklist of Bollywood stars who behave unprofessionally — for example, at the Birmingham Mela this year, organisers complained about Ajay Devgan and Kajol and especially their discourteous flunkies — at the Marrakech Film Festival, the couple failed even to turn up to their own “homage”. Such behaviour gives the whole industry a bad name. But one man who always behaves impeccably is Amitabh Bachchan.
Provoked into purity'
Jagmohan Mundhra, the LA-based director who now lives in London, has given up making “adult movies” for the time being. His Provoked, starring Ash, premiered in Cannes and is worthy of a big release in India and the UK. Sonia Gandhi should think again about saying no to Jag who wants to make a film about her life.
This school is proud that one of our former boys, Gopal Gandhi, former director of the Nehru Centre in London, is doing well in Calcutta — so well that these days he cannot find time to meet his old headmaster. This year, the coveted headmaster’s prize will go to curry king Sir Gulam Noon, who had his promised peerage snatched away through no fault of his own. Having set up the India Room at the Oval cricket ground, he encouraged Pakistani businessmen to raise funds for a similar Pakistan Room. In the end, he magnanimously helped them to raise the money. I would send such a big man to Pakistan as Indian high commissioner or even as viceroy to Bengal to knock some business sense into Madam Mamata except that we need him in London.