| WOMAN ON TOP: Maleeha Lodhi
Maleeha’s move; the tale of an accidental diplomat
Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London since 2003 and before that her country’s ambassador in Washington from 1994-97 and 1999-2002, gave the inaugural lecture, “Challenging Stereotypes: A Personal Journey”, in a new series, “Women’s Voices”, launched by Asia House.
So what next for her, I asked when she took questions.
“That’s a tough one,” she admitted.
Personally, I think President Musharraf should send her to Delhi where the literary/academic/media/ seminar/ India International Centre /drinks with Khushwant Singh circuit would suit her. After all, she got a real PhD from the London School of Economics — I know a few Indians who attach a “Dr” to their name after receiving honorary degrees — where she taught for five years. As a senior journalist, she also edited The Muslim News and the News International newspapers in Karachi.
After 10 years as a diplomat in two plum postings, the 53-year-old divorced mother of one son must have got used to a cushy lifestyle involving chauffeur-driven cars and seats at the best dinner parties and functions, but intellectually it must have become tiresome. In any case, since almost everything to do with Pakistan in the British media concerns terrorism, usually by young British men of Pakistani origin, representing her country must be just about the toughest diplomatic assignment in town.
“I was an accidental journalist and even more an accidental diplomat,” she pointed out, adding she ruled out politics since she was “too thin skinned for politics”.
She would go with the flow of whatever life brought her.
Maleeha spoke of the many challenges facing a woman diplomat but made no mention of whether Brit or American officials had ever made a pass at her — Pakistanis wouldn’t dare.
Both in London and Washington she had often found that when she turned up with a male colleague, the presumption was that the man was the ambassador and “I was his assistant”. At least, she won’t find that in Delhi where if a confident woman assistant strides in with her male boss, the assumption will be that she is the Joint Secretary in charge of something or the other and he is her Officer on Special Duty. As usual I exaggerate but not much.
So Mushie should send Maleeha to Delhi, where, no doubt, she will keep bumping into her former best friend, Benazir Bhutto.
| ROLE CALL: Dame Maggie Smith
It’s odd to be writing about Jill Yadav ée Lowe considering she died on August 19, 2004. But her name came up in casual conversation with a colleague, the obituaries editor of a newspaper, who mentioned he had carried a report on an Englishwoman who had gone on holiday to India, been assigned a local taxi driver, Lal Singh Yadav, to take her to Agra and on to Jaipur and, one thing and another, had ended up marrying him.
I don’t know how I had missed the obituary notice but when I checked it was the same Jill Lowe who had first met me at Charing Cross railway station in London after Penguin India had brought out a funny and touching account of her romance, Yadav: A Roadside Love Story.
Later, she sent me a copy when she got back to India. The only other time we met was at the home of the royal author, Robert Lacey, who gave a dinner for Jill — his son had gone to India and I had asked Jill to keep a motherly eye on the boy which she had been happy to do. Only a few days ago in Delhi I was wondering if I should try and get in touch with Jill, so the revelation she died nearly three years ago made me wish I had made the effort earlier.
Hers was an unlikely romance. Her unhappy first marriage to an Englishman, its break-up and her feeling that life had little to offer her was the background to her soul-mending trip to India. She came from an upper middle class family in England; Yadav was a Delhi taxi driver.
She squealed with delight, I recall, when she described her husband’s new found lifestyle based on her money. She had tried to set up a travel business after marriage but Yadav, poor thing, gave it up because looking after the books gave him a “headache”.
She laughed: “He lies in bed and takes tea.”
There was one thing Yadav absolutely refused to do — attend posh Delhi dinner parties with her. While Jill herself was warmly welcomed at the tables of Delhi’s elite, “Yadav didn’t like it when hostesses suggested he might feel more comfortable eating in the servant’s quarters.”
Her marriage to Yadav marked a very happy period in what had become a troubled life, she told me.
At Charing Cross, I couldn’t spot Jill among the sea of middle class English women. I called her and saw a woman with a suitcase get out her mobile phone. That’s how I found Jill.
One day, I am sure, her story will be turned into a film. The physical build is completely wrong, I know, but after his triumph with Rafta, Rafta, I would beg Harish Patel to take Yadav’s role. For Jill’s part, Dame Maggie Smith is the perfect answer.
Indian husbands in the UK wanting to get rid of their wives — permanently — appear to be adopting what they think is a cunning trick: luring them on some pretext to India where relatives can dispose of the unfortunate woman.
At the Old Bailey, Sukhdave Athwal, 42, and his mother, Bachan Athwal, 68, of Hayes, Middlesex, are on trial for the murder of Sukdave’s unhappy wife, Surjit Athwal, 27, who was allegedly strangled in India in 1998 but whose body was never found.
But the arm of the British law, I am pleased to report, may prove to have a long reach.
The Germans are sensible people who are good at making excellent Mercedes cars and taking penalty kicks (better then England, anyway). But this Bollywood madness has even got to them.
Passages to Bollywood in German by Claus Tieber, 41, who teaches Hindi cinema to 200 students at the Institute of Theatre, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna, has been selling like hot samosas.
“The first edition is sold out, my publisher is already thinking about a third edition,” I am informed by the delighted author, who is shortly to hit Britain where madness is building up about next month’s IIFA awards in Yorkshire.
The book has an introduction by Yash Chopra, collector of “lifetime achievement awards”.
An elderly Englishman at work, a distinguished military historian, fixed me with a kindly eye last week.
“You’ve got troubles in India'”
“Troubles' What troubles' GDP is eight per cent.”
I stopped short at saying, “India’s shining.”
“What about Gandhi — Rahul Gandhi' Is he going to be prime minister'”
“Well, yes and no.”
The answer is simple: like foreign coaches, we could buy in the best foreign politicians on short-term contracts. Tony Blair will soon be free. Some of our own could be placed on the transfer list and exported abroad as India embraces globalisation.