| AWESOME TWOSOME: Elizabeth and Philip in 1947, and (below) 60 years on and still married, in 2007
In 1947, when Pakistan was being carved out of India, Elizabeth, then a 21-year-old princess, was getting married to Philip, who was basically a Greek immigrant who had to change his name to win full acceptance from the British royal family. Among the many gifts the couple received was hand-spun lace from Gandhi with “Jai Hind” stitched into the fabric.
Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, was not amused by the “indelicate” offering for she believed the Father of the Indian Nation had sent his loincloth.
As an intellectual exercise some analysts are comparing 60 years of the royal marriage with 60 years of Pakistan and asking: “Which is in better shape'”
Today, Elizabeth II’s subjects applaud her for having scarcely put a foot wrong in the execution of her public duties since she succeeded to the throne in 1952. But some also accuse her of being a “lousy mother” who has been responsible for the dysfunctional lives of her children.
As for Prince Philip, it is acknowledged he has been like a rock for the queen, but personally he has not been able to worm his way into the hearts of the British people. For example, the film, The Queen, portrayed the Duke of Edinburgh quite unsympathetically as rather a boorish fellow. Some biographers have also alleged, possibly unfairly, that he has not always been faithful to his wife.
This weekend, the couple are in Kampala for the Commonwealth heads of government summit.
Conspicuous by his absence is President Musharraf. His friends in London argue that unlike the royal marriage, which has become perhaps a little predictable, there is plenty of passion, fire, excitement, life and never a dull moment in Pakistan 60 years after Liz & Phil tied the knot in London.
New but not novel
More good news from the book front, where writers of Asian origin continue to perform strongly in harvesting literary prizes.
Since I happen to be reading Nikita Lalwani’s Gifted, the story of an Indian girl whose life is blighted by her over-ambitious father once a schoolteacher tells him of his daughter’s special gift for mathematics, I was pleased to note the novel has been shortlisted for a Costa Book Award.
This was called the Whitbread Prize from its inception in 1971 until last year when it was taken over and renamed by the coffee chain group. The prizes in five categories — First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book — are each worth £5,000, with the overall winner, to be announced on January 22, collecting £25,000.
Gifted is shortlisted in the First Novel section, as is A Golden Age by the young Bangladeshi author, Tahmima Anam.
In the Poetry category, Daljit Nagra, a Londoner, has been shortlisted for Look We Have Coming to Dover!, a collection of poems, some funny, some sad, inspired by the immigrant experience in Britain.
Voting for Vuitton
| BIG BAG WORLD: Hemma (left) and Rupali Varma (right) with their Louis Vuitton
My philosophy on suitcases is to keep getting my battered one repeatedly stitched and repaired by our friendly neighbourhood moochi in Calcutta. Others — especially the ones I encountered at a Sloane Street party last week — would not pack their toothbrush in anything other than Louis Vuitton luggage.
The party was hosted by Louis Vuitton’s managing director, Sue Whiteley, jointly with Jamie Edmiston, president of Edmiston & Co, “world leaders in yacht charter and sales”. Together, they had “invited some of their top customers to discover Louis Vuitton’s world of luxury”.
The luxury food came courtesy Indian chefs Andy Vama and his brother, Arjun, with the latter rushing back from a brief family visit to Calcutta in time to join the party. Perhaps their elegant wives, Rupali and Hemma respectively, who were among the Indian guests, will offer me an opinion on whether Louis Vuitton is the brand to take next time I land at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport (assuming baggage handlers at Heathrow load them on to BA or Air India flights at Heathrow in the first place).
Once upon a time, the Maharajahs — say what you like about them but they had expensive taste — kept Louis Vuitton in business.
“Louis Vuitton’s legacy in India began in the 19th century with the fabulous bespoke trunks owned by Maharajahs,” says Andrew Glenn, the company’s communications director.
One Tikka Singh, said to be Louis Vuitton’s representative in India, will be able to confirm my intelligence that a scout is visiting the palaces of India tracking down forgotten Louis Vuitton pieces from another age. This is because plans are afoot to stage a “Louis Vuitton Maharajah exhibition” in Udaipur next year.
Tim Scott Bolton, an artist who has been to India “about 25 times” since his first visit in 1974 — “I’m totally intoxicated by the whole experience” — offered a selection of his watercolours and oils last week at the Indar Pasricha Fine Arts gallery in London last week.
“For an artist there is nowhere quite like it,” he enthuses.
He doesn’t mind crowds. “I am rather disappointed if I have less than 50 people but I am a tall man — 6ft 4in — and can look over the heads of people.”
His easel has gone up everywhere, “from Ladakh in the north to Kerala in the south, in Rajasthan, Varanasi and the great cities of India — Calcutta is my favourite, it’s wonderful” (fortunately he wasn’t there on Wednesday last week).
Scott Bolton, who takes art groups to India, teaming up with Parvati Travels & Tours, a small Delhi firm, is due to head the next party early next year to Tanjore and Coonoor in Tamil Nadu and to Alleppey in the backwaters of Kerala.
Originally a Shropshire lad, he lives with his wife Tricia, who runs an art gallery, in the Wiltshire countryside and insists on pricing his pictures modestly between £450 and £6000.
“India has become a big part of my life,” he admits.
However, he does have grave reservations, not only about contemporary Indian art, but also about much of modern art. “I don’t see any real intrinsic beauty in what is happening today in British art and India is being swept up by all this.”
What also disappoints him is that Indians don’t like to buy his works even for charity: “It’s a post colonial angst. Rich Indian people in England don’t want to subscribe to anything that English people are doing for Indian charity. Only Lord (Swraj) Paul came on board.”
Getting thrashed for 20 in the opening over on tour, as happened with left arm spinner Monty Panesar in Sri Lanka last week, is enough to drive anyone to drink.
But Monty does not drink, which is a bind because getting plastered in a pub with your colleagues in the evening is part of the English way of life.
For a boy who needs to be big and strong if he wishes to keep his place in the England side, Monty needs to eat well. But Monty, who still lives with his parents in Luton, is also a strict vegetarian.
“I can’t think of anything more disgusting than meat in my mouth,” he fumes.
Tycoon Srichand Hinduja, who always refers to meat as “dead flesh”, would approve.