| Moving on: Ratan Tata
Suicide in Singur, joy in West
Witnessing a man tumble off his motorbike on the way to the City Centre in Salt Lake in Calcutta last week luckily, the mans wife and child were unhurt reminded me of the words of Ratan Tata during an interview I had with him in June, 2006, at Bombay House, his headquarters in Mumbai.
The word, Nano, which was to achieve notoriety in Singur, had yet to be uttered but Tata explained to me why he wanted a peoples car costing one lakh rupees.
Something must be done, he decided, after noticing an entire Indian family, consisting of the husband, wife and two vulnerable children, perched precariously on a scooter on a wet night in Bombay.
He became committed to building the car and in West Bengal, whose chief minister he much admired.
I remember I asked about the land, which was uncharacteristically perspicacious of me. Tata told me that 1,000 acres had already been set aside and we moved on to other topics.
Tata came across as a civilised and soft-spoken man who struck me as being entirely genuine in his desire to do some good for the ordinary Indian family and for West Bengal, in particular.
Since competition for high profile investment such as Tatas is intense, it is no good pretending that progress in West Bengal has not been set back perhaps by 50 years.
The suicide in Singur will probably give secret pleasure to Indias competitors in the West and possibly to Narendra Modi. West Bengals loss has been his gain.
The other day at a global conference in London, held by chartered accountants to discuss, How to do business with India?, HSBCs very impressive CEO, Naina Lal Kidwai, assured the gathering: Its not as though the Nano is not going to come out of India its just that it will not come out of West Bengal.
The fact is that the tragedy could yet prove to be a blessing in disguise if the people of West Bengal are chastened by the experience, learn who their real friends are and decide to move on.
Keeping your shirt
Its ridiculous but shirts are being sold in India for anything between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,200. This was the case at a mall in Bangalore that I visited and also at one in Shoppers Stop at the City Centre in Salt Lake in Calcutta.
Four of us had an excellent family meal nearby at Caught N Bowled (a good name for an Indian restaurant). The bill with tips came to Rs 1,650 that is, equivalent to one shirt.
Even before the collapse of the retail market in the West, it was cheaper to buy shirts and other garments in London and New York. Given differences in salary, the prices being charged in the glitzy new Indian stores can only be characterised as murders in the mall.
Though I am not yet convinced that supermarkets are good for Indians on modest incomes, I accept they will proliferate in the name of progress. Trolley shopping will be convenient for double income, middle class Indian couples (as is the case in London). However, despite all the hype, I am not sure they will not do to meat, vegetables and other basic food items what the malls are doing to shirts.
| Art mart: An untitled painting by Julian Schnabel (Pic: from Ranbir Singhs collection) (below) Julian Schnabel
Judge of art
Indians in India see and buy almost exclusively Indian art. However, one man determined to expose Indians to the best of world art is Amit Judge, who is bringing the celebrated New York artist and film-maker, Julian Schnabel, to an exhibition of his paintings and movies in Mumbai on December 12.
Judges spokeswoman in London, Sheena Bhattessa, says that Schnabel, like Warhol and Koons, remains one of the giants of the New York scene. In the light of the universal praise for his films, including The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Schnabel has become a pivotal figure in the discourse of art and film.
Educated at Mayo College, Ajmer, and St Xaviers College in Calcutta (where I lived for 25 years), Judge has established Bodhi Art spaces in Delhi, Mumbai, Singapore, New York and Berlin with the aim of transporting Indian art abroad and Western art to India.
Schnabel will come for a week for his retrospective (his paintings, including a striking one of Shiva, will be offered for sale for $400,000-900,000). I chose him because I find him very exciting, Judge tells me. Schnabel has been to India before and is very influenced by India.
Perhaps Schnabel should cast the beautiful Sheena, who is also an actress in the mould of the young Diana Rigg, in his next movie. Saif was lucky enough to play Sheenas elder brother in a forthcoming Bollywood movie which was shot in London earlier this summer.
One very gifted artist who is now based in London and whom Amit Judge may consider worth bringing to India is Suchi Chidambaram, whose strokes of thick oil paint applied with a palette knife have always reminded me of the French impressionists.
Suchi, who is originally from Tamil Nadu, says she is self-taught but later took formal training from K.C. Murukesan, a senior artist. She explains, a little sadly for one so young, that her work has been inspired by the strength, courage and motivation of people who have been through trials and tribulations.
She admires that quality that they possess to stride forward, unfazed by the numerous obstacles that they encounter in their journey.
One of Suchis oils currently on display in her one-woman exhibition in London is called Unfazed.
Bengal in Britain
When Mizan Rahman, a Bangladeshi immigrant, was ill in hospital, his British-born daughter, Zoe, and son, Idris, sought to cheer up their father by transferring 1950s Bengali music by Tagore, Hemanta Mukherjee and others from cassettes to CDs.
In the process, Zoe, who studied music at Oxford University and is a Mercury Prize nominee, and Idris, who plays the clarinet, discovered their own cultural roots. They visited Bangladesh, have made a CD, Where Rivers Meet, and are currently on an extensive concert tour of London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Chichester (where Zoe was born) and other cities in Britain. We wanted to learn about our family heritage by delving into this rich musical source, says Zoe.
Idris adds: This album represents a very personal journey that Zoe and I have taken into our own culture through music taught or recommended by our father, cousins and other close friends and musicians. In doing this, we have learnt more about our fathers background and our Bengali roots.
Their father says proudly: I have been inspired and amazed at the music Zoe and Idris have created.
The Unicef goodwill ambassador, Sharmila Tagore, will introduce Satyajit Rays 1961 classic, Devi, on October 15 in London at the Nehru Centre which is highlighting landmark movies from six decades of Indian cinema.
The head of the Indian film censor board is the star of Devi but might have earned a bit more goodwill if the Nehru Centre had chosen something a bit more cheerful to represent the best of Bengali cinema.