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Let the post mortem begin

One should never underestimate the capacity of Indians to behave badly — as, for example, over the insistence that it should be President Pratibha Patil and not Prince Charles who should declare the Commonwealth Games open.

It is a bit like inviting a guest to your house and then insulting him by saying: “No, no, I will eat first because in my own house I am more important in protocol terms.”

India should show a little gratitude to the British government which weighed in at a critical juncture when many members of the England team were minded to pull out so bad was the publicity that the preparations for the Games had generated.

For another, the British royal family — especially Prince Charles — is very pro-Indian. Allowing the world to see Prince Charles open the Games would be an exercise in damage limitation. Sadly, some Indians still remain chippy about our relationship with Britain in general and the royal family in particular. There is a tendency to demonstrate our independence by behaving as boorishly as possible to the Brits.

“Atithi devo bhavah (the guest is God),” I am told every time I have a briefing from the tourism ministry in Delhi.

Even if the Games prove to be successful, India’s image has been so dented across the world that there has to be a “night of the long knives” afterwards.

Kamal Nath, in London last week to sign an MOU on road transport co-operation with his opposite number, Philip Hammond, at Lancaster House, mounted a spirited defence of his colleagues when asked whether the fiasco would have occurred had he been in charge.

“Well, my colleagues are equally competent in their own areas,” he lied cheerfully, adding, “Let the Commonwealth Games start.... I don’t want to minimise the delays which have taken place... but I do believe... we will make a success of it.”

Significantly, he raised the possibility of a post mortem. “What has been criticised and what blame has to be apportioned, we must keep this, if at all, till after the Games and as a post mortem to see how we could have done better.”

Well spoken

Emma Thompson, one of Britain’s most highly regarded actresses, has invoked the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi to help her campaign against women’s magazines which inflict much damage, in her opinion, by promoting the concept of physical perfection.

Emma, now 51, won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1992 for her role in the Merchant Ivory production, Howards End. But unlike many other stars in Hollywood and in Bollywood, she would like to grow old gracefully and not be tempted by plastic surgery.

“I simply cannot imagine making that decision and dealing with my own shame,” says Emma. “It really does seem to me to be quite psychologically dysfunctional and part of this ridiculous culture of perfection.”

“I mean, there are people, women, who Photoshop pictures of their babies!” she almost rages. “I can’t even look through a woman’s magazine without wanting to hurl it across the room, screaming. And it’s no good just saying, ‘Oh, but I don’t want to be part of that,’ and then giving in. As Gandhi said, you’ve got to be the change you want to see happen.”

Emma has also declared war on sloppy speech.

“I went to give a talk at my old school and the girls were all doing their ‘likes’ and ‘innits?’ and ‘it ain’ts’, which drives me insane,” admits Emma, who was a pupil at the prestigious Camden School for Girls in north London before going up to Newnham College, Cambridge, to read English. “I told them, ‘Just don’t do it. Because it makes you sound stupid and you’re not stupid.’ We have to reinvest in the idea of articulacy as a form of personal human freedom and power.”

Soft soap

Shobna Gulati, who has acted in two of Britain’s longest running soaps, Coronation Street and EastEnders, is now enough of a celebrity to be photographed when she attended the television soap awards in London last week.

This is an occasion when actresses, young and mature, teeter in on high heels and tight skirts past the massed ranks of photographers.

These days the storylines reflect the subtleties of multicultural Britain. There is even an award for Best Wedding, won this year by Syed Masood and Amira Shah from EastEnders.

Shobna, who is 44, was born in Britain of Indian parents. Her fame stems from the period 2001-2006 when she was cast as Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street. She returned to the role at the end of last year. This is allegedly that of a typical Indian woman — an ex-wife whose cheating former husband has fathered a number of children with various women.

There is always a price to pay for being a soap celebrity. Shobna’s personal life has been subjected to tabloid scrutiny — she had a son by a boyfriend when her marriage to an Indian husband was ending in divorce but she also broke up with the boyfriend just as she discovered she was pregnant.

In an interview, she has explained why full-length mirrors are banned from her house.

“I’ve always suffered from low self- esteem,” she confessed. “To this day, I can’t bear to look at myself in a full-length mirror. I don’t like any part of my body. My legs are too thin, I’ve got knobbly knees, my boobs are saggy and I’ve got cellulite on my legs and bottom.”

Perhaps Emma Thompson does have a point.

Raja’s return

Cricket writer Kishore Bhimani, who found time last week in London to catch up with veteran Dicky Rutnagur, is hugely entertaining on the subject of match fixers — they tend to be smooth, good looking operators, especially the Pakistani ones, and are always surrounded by beautiful women, he says.

But Kishore was in London to give moral support to his wife Rita, creative producer of a new 35-minute documentary, In Search of the Rajah: A documentary on Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833), which was shown at the Nehru Centre.

Ahead of the Ayodhya verdict, the heroic Raja’s message seemed more relevant than ever. According to professor Amiya Dev, the Raja was trying to establish common ground between Hinduism, Christianity and “a lot of Islam” and find “a basis of tolerance”.

It was a thoughtful documentary which ought to lead to part II — Rammohun Roy’s time in England from arrival in 1831 until death in 1833 and burial in Arnos Vale cemetery in Bristol.

Tittle tattle

One unfair advantage Ed Miliband had over David in the Labour leadership battle is that unlike his elder brother, the younger is not married.

Ed and his barrister “partner”, Justine Thornton, have one child and are expecting another.

According to a woman feature writer (who admits she was also not married to her husband when their child was born), “not being married may resonate with a growing sector of the electorate — those who choose never to walk down the aisle”.

But my prediction is that before the next election, Ed, who is Jewish and declared he does not believe in God, will tie the knot — just in case...

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