| Willow winner: Charles Fry
Praising the best batsman of all time
Who has been the best batsman of all time? Bradman? Lara? Tendulkar? My personal opinion is that Ranji was probably the greatest batsman that ever lived, according to Charles Fry, chairman of the MCC.
Frys legendary grandfather, Charles Burgess Fry (better known as C.B. Fry), played alongside Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, for Sussex and for England.
Fry, now 69 and chairman of the MCC, having once served as its president, made his declaration at the Nehru Centre recently after Robin Marlar, president of Sussex, had delivered the inaugural Ranji Memorial Lecture on how to protect, preserve and make prosperous Test cricket.
My grandfather would have been extremely proud of the lecture you put on tonight and would have approved of it absolutely, commented Fry. He was a great friend of Ranji.
Marlar, also a former MCC president, was especially hard on the current leadership of Indian cricket, hitting the BCCI with the equivalent of six sixes in an over.
If the leadership is wrong and if the leadership is motivated by personal needs and especially the need for money — because money is power — if leaders go down that route, the rest are doomed, said Marlar. They are not fit to be leaders. And I am not satisfied that the present leadership of Indian cricket is sufficiently motivated by the old ideas of service without which the administration of cricket simply cannot continue in the same rational and mistake-free manner. Thats a heavy thing to say, but I believe it very profoundly indeed.
During drinks later, Fry and I were joined by London property businessman Jay Thaker, who disclosed: We are setting up a committee with a plan to build a statue of Prince Ranji. You see my wife, Jyoti Jadega, is a great great niece of Prince Ranji.
| First cut: Sharmila Tagore; (right) A poster of the film Fish Tank
Fish Tank fan
This is by way of a memo to Sharmila Tagore on Fish Tank, a film which has just opened in London.
Fish Tank is such a beautiful film, I really loved it, said Sharmila, who saw it in Cannes while serving on the jury.
Fish Tank is about a problem girl who lives with a problem single mother on a problem estate and finds she has an even bigger problem after she has sex with her mothers boyfriend on the sitting room settee while the mother is drunk in bed upstairs.
Sharmila is surprisingly fond of hard-hitting, contemporary films, I discovered during a post-Cannes conversation in London.
I mention Sharmila for a reason since I want to contrast the mature and intelligent manner in which she talks with the way another great Bengali actress of our time, Rani Mukherji, undersold herself with a puerile performance last week at a press conference in London.
Sharmila also liked Antichrist, which features explicit sexual violence and which she would not pass as chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification.
I dont know how far Sharmila has progressed with her idea of asking the government to allow special theatres in Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi to screen adult movies to restricted audiences. That could be a way forward.
Rani run out
Rani Mukherjis press conference was a bit of a disaster. The format for it was that she would first be in conversation with a local DJ, Bobby Friction, before taking questions from journalists who were greatly looking forward to the occasion.
Bobby, a nice enough fellow in private, took up much of the time focussing on himself and what it meant to be Punjabi.
Rani, struggling for a hit, had come to promote her new movie, Dil Bole Hadippa, in which she dresses up as a man to get into a cricket team skippered by one Rohan, played by Shahid Kapoor.
Rani kept repeatedly calling out, Hadippa, Hadippa, as though she was addressing a rustic crowd in deepest Punjab. Sorry, if that sounds a trifle snobbish but Rani, who got more and more irritating, appeared lost without a script.
Sharmila should really take Rani aside and give her a few tips: eg, please dont wear dark glasses at a press conference inside a hotel. Its not at all fashionable and also not very polite.
Compensating for Rani Mukherjis press conference was a splendid debate at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, an amazing organisation which dates back to 1799.
All tickets were allocated within 90 minutes when it was announced that Lord Paul Drayson, the governments science minister, and author Dr Ben Goldacre, who writes a column debunking Bad Science for The Guardian, would discuss the following topic, Science Reporting: Is it good for you?
The speakers stood on hallowed territory which the great Michael Faraday had once occupied.
Drayson took the view that there is an awful lot of good science reporting by dedicated science journalists in the British press; Goldacre presented the opposite case by giving scores of examples of reports — usually health scare stories — which bore little relation to the truth. In a funny way, both were right.
Just for a little while, I felt nostalgic for the lectures of long ago on particle physics and the laws of thermodynamics. I am looking forward already to another debate at the Royal Institution in November that will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of C.P. Snows famous paper, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, which had expressed concern about the growing gulf between those studying science and the arts.
Murli Deora, petroleum & natural gas minister, who brought a road show to the UK with the aim of encouraging British companies to invest in oil exploration in India, shared a dosa with a group of journalists in London.
Listening to him and his impressive top officials, I was reminded of a book I had once read on the power of the worlds biggest oil companies, The Seven Sisters, by Anthony Sampson.
Its sobering that India currently imports 75 per cent of its crude oil requirements but this is expected to escalate to 90-93 per cent by 2030.
This means India has to remain on good terms with oil producers such as Iran.
We have very good relations with Iran; the Iran President and their energy minister have come to India and personally I have been there five times, the minister reassured me.
But if India was a member of the security council, it would be under pressure from the Americans to vote against Iran and take a stand on other issues.
As Amartya Sen has argued, there are advantages in India not being a member of the security council.
What made Nandan Nilekani accept the chairmanship of the Unique Identification Authority I do not know. This morning, however, I bring him glad tidings.
The 15 books which were on the longlist for the 2009 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year have been whittled down to six — and his Imagining India (Allen Lane UK, The Penguin Press USA) is one of them.
The winner, who will receive £30,000, will be announced at a gala dinner on October 29. The others will each receive a cheque for £5,000.