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Indian curry is a Bangladeshi invention

The words “Indian” and “curry” go together but in a way this is very unfair. Were it not for the very hard work that has been put in over decades by Bangladeshis slaving in hot kitchens up and down this land, chicken tikka masala would not have established itself as the favourite food of the Brits.

Enam Ali, who runs the annual British Curry Awards — last Sunday’s at the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, London, was the sixth — phrased it more diplomatically: “India created curry, Bangladesh globalised it and the British have glorified it.”

Enam, who was born in Sylhet in 1960 and came to Britain in 1974, runs his own restaurant, the Le Raj, in Epsom in the heart of English Surrey, where he has entertained and won over powerful people in British public life.

I would put it differently. The high profile curry restaurants, a few with Michelin stars, are Indian, to be sure. But were it not for the Bangladeshis, who have sometimes been physically attacked by tanked up “lager louts” after pub closing time, Indian food might have remained a niche cuisine.

The industry is now worth £3-4bn and “employs 1,00,000 people directly”.

Last week, so many people wanted to attend the award ceremony that there was no room to put any more tables in the vast Ball Room of the Grosvenor House and the overspill had to be accommodated in the balcony. In all, 1,300 guests came to the black tie event which Enam calls “the Oscars of the catering industry”.

David Cameron, chief guest at the ceremony last year when he was still opposition leader, “loves curry, his whole family loves curry”, says Enam.

This year the Prime Minister was represented by his communities secretary, the aptly named “Mr (Eric) Pickles”.

There was even a note sent from Buckingham Palace on behalf of the Queen: “Her Majesty was interested to learn about the growth of the curry industry.”

Some secrets are carefully guarded but it is possible she and Prince Philip relax in front of the tele of an evening when there isn’t another banquet to attend with some takeaway “CTM” (chicken tikka masala), pilau rice, onion bhaji, mango chutney and popadom. Most of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects certainly do.

My only regret is that the Bangladeshis have not introduced the best in Bengali cuisine.

Achchha sa larka

As Monika Mohta, the current director of the Nehru Centre said when introducing Gopalkrishna Gandhi last week , he has held many posts in his life.

He was India’s High Commissioner to South Africa and to Sri Lanka, ambassador in Norway, secretary to the President of India and, most recently, Governor of Bengal, in which capacity he is generally reckoned to have done well.

But what impresses me most was Gopal’s work in translating Vikram Seth’s blockbuster, A Suitable BoyKoi Achchha Sa Larka —into Hindi while serving as the first director of the Nehru Centre in London from 1992-96.

“That title is not mine,” admitted Gopal “in conversation” with the journalist Ian Jack before a 100-strong audience.

“I have been many things but I don’t want to be a plagiarist,” joked Gopal, as he recalled a meeting at the centre when he and a group of friends were trying to come up with a suitable translation for A Suitable Boy.

Among those present was Vikram Seth, author of the 1,366-page novel (5,91,552 words), which many think is probably the longest in the English language if one discounts Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady, with 9,69,000 words, originally published in nine volumes.

Filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir, who often chooses Hindi movies for screening on Channel 4, was also present as the assembled cast around for a Hindi translation of A Suitable Boy.

“I don’t know what I thought of it — what would be a good appropriate title,” Gopal remembered. “Munni Kabir said, ‘(Imagine) two elderly women talking to each other across a garden. One woman would ask the other, “Behenji, koi achchha sa larka dekha do.” ’ That was how I got the title. Applause for Nasreen.”

Peer pressure

Four years ago, “curry king” Sir Gulam Noon was denied a peerage when he became an innocent victim of Britain’s “cash for honours” scandal.

He and some others, who had been nominated for elevation to the House of Lords by Tony Blair, stood down and said they did not wish to be considered for the honour after a scrutiny committee alleged they had not declared all the money they had paid in party political donations.

In Noon’s case, the charge was that while he had declared the donations he had gifted, he had made no mention of his loans.

Actually, Noon had.

It emerged his accountant had put down in writing both the donations and the loans but that on the advice of Downing Street the loan figures were deleted — “you just need to put down the donations, there’s no need to include the loans as well,” was the guidance he received.

And so Noon was punished for not including the loans, which the scrutiny committee held was another way of helping a political party.

Now, that the full story has emerged, British justice has prevailed.

The latest honours list reveals Noon is to go to the House of Lords after all where he is expected to speak out against the radicalisation of a section of the Muslim community in Britain.

Accused of an offence he did not commit, “I did not blame anyone, I maintained a dignified silence,” Noon told me.

If the title is available, he would like to call himself “Baron Noon of St John’s Wood”, after the north London area where he lives with his otherwise easygoing wife, Mohini, who has banished her husband’s beloved collection of more than 100 cricket bats to his office (“either the bats go or I go”).

Pity foreign titles are not allowed otherwise he might have chosen a name that would reflect nostalgia for his boyhood home — “Baron Noon of Bombay”.

Quote unquote

Is David Cameron going too far in his pursuit of a “new special relationship” with India?

The Prime Minister has appointed the hitherto unknown Ameet Gill, aged 28, as his chief speechwriter.

Gill, who is of Indian origin, has been working for Cameron for four years. He was once a researcher for historian Niall Ferguson, attended a school in Warwickshire and an Oxford college.

Watch out for Cameron’s possible exhortation to Indian voters in the UK in the style of Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen: “Ask not what I can do for you — ask what you can do for me.”

Tittle tattle

Britain is proud to be a multiracial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country — save in one respect.

The Sun, which gifted “page 3” to journalism, is “celebrating” 40 years of topless pictures but, as far as one can tell, Britain’s best selling tabloid daily newspaper has so far been unable, despite promises of untold riches, to persuade an Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi girl to do the needful.

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