|For a cause: The Aga Khan with daughter, Princess Zahara
Its all a matter of degree
Ever since the Metropolitan University of Leeds singled out the well-known scholar Shilpa Shetty for services to reality television, it has been instructive monitoring the people universities pick for honorary degrees.
This week Leicester University is awarding honorary degrees to 14 people, among them my favourite author, the American Bill Bryson, who commented: This is a wonderful occasion for me because it is a great personal honour, but also because my son David is graduating at the same time, after spending five years at Leicesters Medical School.
Leicester is also honouring Sue Townsend, author of the very funny The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Age 13 ¾ , and Councillor Manjula Sood for being an Asian woman.
I jest. Councillor Sood is a very accomplished lady who has not stopped doing worthy acts since she arrived in England in 1970. She is also Lord Mayor of Leicester, the first Asian woman in Britain to hold such a post.
Meanwhile, at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, the Aga Khan, described as a renowned race horse breeder and spiritual leader of the worlds Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, has received an honorary degree for his work against poverty and in promoting religious understanding. He came accompanied by his daughter Princess Zahara.
The Aga Khan is the first Muslim to be honoured by the university. There is a small but influential Ismaili community in the UK. The men wear dark suits, are mostly professional and dont cause any trouble at all.
| Journeys end: Ajit Medtia (left) at polo with Prince Charles
Memories of Medtia
A few years ago on the way to a theatre in Oldham, which had put on a production of Ayub Khan Dins East is East, I read a newspaper article about an Indian property developer from Oldham who had married a Rajasthani princess after a fairytale romance in India.
It so happened that during the interval, I met the very couple — Ajit Medtia and his bride, Princess Shruti Kumari, the sister of the Maharajah of Karauli, in Rajasthan. She had exchanged palace life for a four-bedroom house in Oldham, the city where her husband was born — Ajits barrister grandfather had emigrated to England during the cotton boom years.
As a passionate polo player, the tall and handsome Ajit was proud that the sport of kings allowed him to play with members of the royal family, including Prince Charles. Occasionally, he would e-mail me large jpeg pictures of himself playing polo with royals.
Once we all attended a lavish Indian dinner in Cheshire held in a richly decorated tent where the theme was Maharajahs and Maharanis. Ajit enjoyed the occasion immensely, especially when others told him: Your wife does not have to pretend to be royal because she is royal.
It has come as a shock to his friends that Ajit recently passed away, aged 39, after the cancer, he thought was cured, returned. He leaves behind his wife and two young children.
There have been warm tributes to him in Oldham, which he always thought of as home even though he bought a home in Grosvenor Square, London, six years ago.
A local councillor, Kay Knox, told an Oldham newspaper: He was a great character and we appreciated his very great commitment to Oldham.
| Breaking taboos: Bireshwar Gautam (left) with Sangeeta Datta
Man into woman will go
Gays and lesbians in the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations in Britain have not had an easy time, even though homosexuality between consenting adults has not been an offence for four decades. On radio and television, Muslim spokesmen always make it clear that that, in Islam, homosexuality is considered plain wrong.
As for Hindus, they prefer not to discuss same sex relationships.
In the wider society, the government has brought in legislation that places civil partnerships almost on par with traditional marriage. Nevertheless, gays complain they continue to be the victims of violence.
Last week while watching the musical dance drama, The Dying Song, produced by the Asian Music Circuit and directed by Sangeeta Datta, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, audiences were introduced to the Hindu concept of Ardhanarishwara, the hermaphrodite or androgynous deity that combines the God Shiva with the Goddess Parvati.
Gays and lesbians can expect a deeper understanding of human sexuality from those who have seen The Dying Song, which has been touring Britain.
As the central character in the drama, the thumri singer (portrayed movingly by Mumbai-based Bireshwar Gautam), explains: I am half man, half woman. At times, he is Kumar, a man; at other times, Suraiya, a woman.
This took me back to the Elephanta Caves, a short boat ride from Mumbai, which houses a famous carving of Ardhanarishwara — half Shiva, half Parvati.
The Dying Song does suggest the thought that human beings can occupy any point on the sexual spectrum between the theoretical extremes of 100 per cent male and 100 per cent female. I was reminded, too, of the scholarship of Alain Daniélou (1907-1994), a French nobleman who converted to Hinduism, wrote many learned books on Indian culture, music and religion, and spent years in Benaras as a professor at the Hindu University.
Daniélou argued that homosexuals, hermaphrodites and transvestites could be considered sacred beings since they were images of Ardhanarishwara, the half male, half female deity.
The Dying Song does not go quite that far but is likely to make gays and lesbians of all races feel better about themselves.
|Being gracious: Sachin Tendulkar with Rina Agrawal
Sachin Tendulkar has been a celebrity almost since he started playing First Class cricket 20 years ago — when I first interviewed him in Bandra he was a chubby boy with pink cheeks and carried an excessively heavy bat with ease.
Whats nice about him is that he now carries his stardom with even greater ease. He was guest of honour at a dinner hosted for him at Indali, the new restaurant that offers butter chicken without the butter, opened by businessman Kartar Lalvani.
Sachin actually talks to people and appears genuinely interested in what they have to say. This is a quality rare among celebrities, especially Indias star cricketers.
| Courting cameras: Sophia Hyatt
To gain celebrity status in Britain, young women in Britain now follow an established if desperate route — achieve notoriety on a TV reality show, pick up a footballer boyfriend at a nightclub, and then dress as provocatively as possible for the paparazzi at events such as film premieres.
For Asian girls, all this is doubly hard but Sophia Hyatt, a Pakistani girl, appears to be making it, mainly because she is public spirited enough to share her collection of underwear with the populace at large.
At a Gujarati function a couple of years ago, I recall she tried to cause a stir by wearing a see-through skirt.
Now, a jealous woman has protested to a paper: Who is Sophia Hyatt? That seems to be the question on everyones lips. She makes a living from attending premieres in eye-catching frocks.
That is precisely Sophias aim for she has Britains most extensive wardrobe of translucent skirts. Last week, she was photographed in a backless outfit at the premiere of the film, Mamma Mia.