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Ratan Tata’s Jaguar smile

At 18, though I had not passed my driving test, I went hunting for my first car with an indulgent brother-in-law and was prepared to put down a deposit on a £400 Jaguar with sleek lines, a walnut dashboard and deep leather seats. Since then, partly or possibly mainly because of poverty, I have had a succession of very old cars, each more disreputable than the previous.

However, if Jaguar is confirmed as Ratan Tata’s new acquisition, I might seriously be tempted to go for an Indian takeaway. Both Jaguar and Land Rover, offered for sale by its present owners, Ford of America, remain much loved British brands.

Tata really ought to revive the E-type Jaguar, which at school we thought the most beautiful sports car in the world. As for the Land Rover, Queen Elizabeth is shown driving one in the film, The Queen.

The Sunday Times in London and the New York Times have predicted that Tata will beat rivals Mahindra & Mahindra and the American One Equity Partners. The British unions also favour Tata.

The only hitch is Tata’s construction of a $2,500 “people’s car” — “about one-twentieth the price of the least expensive Jaguar” — may alienate the status conscious of Beverley Hills.

“Jaguar dealers in the United States have expressed concern about an Indian buyer, which they believe would devalue the luxury brand name,” warned the New York Times.

New Jaguars in Britain cost £30,000-80,000 but I have spotted a “pre-owned” model near my home for £6,995 — which means I may have to set my sights on a second-hand “people’s car” that has seen a bit of action around the pot holes of Belgachia Villa.

007 in 2008

The publishing world is eagerly awaiting the release of the new James Bond novel, Devil May Care, which has been written by the author Sebastian Faulks in the style of Ian Fleming whose birth centenary is to be celebrated next year.

Penguin are delighted that Faulks reads like authentic Fleming but should the publisher have ignored the claims of another manuscript, “007 but to you 006½”, that has been circulating among Indian shopkeepers in London?

Whether this 15th Bond novel was indeed written by Fleming is unclear but some experts are baffled by its multicultural feel:

“James Bond’s head was throbbing. He had woken up late in his luxury semi-detached house in High Road, Ealing. That last lassi had been one too many but that girl who had won a reality television show had proved so persuasive. Bond had been looking forward to spending Sunday morning shopping for fresh dhaniya but the red scrambler by his bedside had kept on ringing.

M’s order was curt: ‘11am. My office.’

Bond barely had time to smoke a quick Charminar, rub some coconut oil into his sleek hair, have a shower, don a crisp kurta, do a hasty Puja, pick up a stuffed paratha and masala chai and catch the Jubilee Line to Waterloo. After 7/7, some big changes had been introduced in the service. Routine MI5 and MI6 work had been outsourced to Bombay and an ethnic recruiting drive had brought forth welcome restructuring in personnel.

Miss Moneypenny, he was pleased to note, was still there. She looked sexy in her sari, and this morning radiant in a red bindi.

‘James, you’ve been promising to take me to that new vegetarian place in Wembley,’ she sighed, stroking her Om brooch. ‘It’s Bollywood night on Saturday.’

Moneypenny had built up an enviable collection of Hindi DVDs, to which he had added a pirated Subhash Ghai compilation from his last trip to Kerala.

‘I hope you’ve brought your calculator, James,’ added Moneypenny. ‘Station X in Forest Gate has picked up some intelligence on double book keeping among the cash & carries. The CIA are switching Felix from Guantanamo as back-up.’

Bond’s lips pursed. He sensed this could be even more dangerous than the matchfixing scandal that had seen Bangladesh beat Australia 5-0 in the last Test series in Australia.

‘M has finished his prayers so you can go in now,’ smiled Moneypenny.

After Dame Judie Dench had taken early retirement to write her autobiography, M had been personally appointed by Dave Cameron as the new head of the department.

Bond admired his own reflection in the polished nameplate which bore the legend: ‘M.’

M’s informal approach from day one had won over 007: ‘My title is M but you can call me Mohammed.’”

Pulling power

Kamal Nath’s star status is on the rise in the UK. When the commerce and industries minister turned author launched India’s Century: The Age of Entrepreneurship in the World’s Biggest Democracy (McGraw-Hill; £15.99) recently in London, Mukesh Ambani jetted in for four hours.

Other Indian captains of industry at what felt like a movie premiere at Marlborough House, the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat, included Sunil Bharti Mittal, Lakshmi Mittal with son Aditya (who gave me the news he is the proud father of a second daughter, aged three months), Arun Sarin, Vijay Mallya, Naresh Goyal, Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, and Sir Gulam Noon.

The vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Dr Alison Richard, who is visiting India next month and was probably the only one in the congregation who actually read books, came, too.

In the middle of this love-in, Peter Mandelson, the European union trade commissioner, injected a slightly discordant note by observing: “India is getting there but, if I may say, minister, getting there but not quite arrived”.

He joked: “The question all of us are asking is how exactly you found the time to write this magnificent book.”

Kamal Nath managed his own dig at Mandelson who wants the EU to have greater access to India’s agricultural sector, ignoring India’s complaints that European agriculture is heavily subsidised.

He recalled an enlightening train trip from Paris in the company of Mandelson: “We looked at the fields and the agriculture I saw, Peter knows, were some very fat cows fed on subsidised food. And that’s my argument because these were really fat cows, (they) couldn’t stand on their legs, their legs were giving way, (they were) force-fed. That subdued Peter a bit. He did not know how to defend that.”

Judging by corporate India’s loyal laughter, it was now Mandelson who did not have a leg to stand on.

Jobs vacant

A massive skills push to fulfil a promise of “British jobs for British workers” has been launched by Gordon Brown’s government.

Such a policy, a wit observed on radio, would have the full backing of England’s new coach Fabio Capello. The Italian will be able to express his solidarity fully once he has learnt to speak English.

Tittle tattle

This being the season of goodwill, Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, has been public spirited enough to return to Clifton, her old primary school in Southall, west London, to direct 11-year-old pupils in their Christmas Nativity play.

Sources close to the production say that the heart-warming result, due to be broadcast by Sky Movies on Christmas Eve, ought to be called Balle, Balle! Bethlehem to LA.

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