| SPEAKER TO SPEAKER: John Bercow with Meira Kumar
Meira and Meryl at Mother of Parliaments
It was an uncommon day at the Commons last week. Meira Kumar sat in on Prime Ministers Questions, not entirely convinced whether the raucous weekly sessions during which David Cameron is effectively rugby tackled by Opposition MPs ought to be reproduced in the Lok Sabha where she is the first woman Speaker.
Also observing proceedings for research purposes was Hollywood Goddess Meryl Streep who will be playing Margaret Thatcher in a forthcoming film, The Iron Lady.
Several MPs craned their necks to catch a glimpse of Meryl, with some sending out excited Twitter messages to announce that they had spotted her.
But Meira, elegant in a glamorous black sari with gold border, did not notice the star of such movies as Mamma Mia! and The Deer Hunter because the Hollywood star was relentlessly dressed down. She was wearing unusual spectacles, which looked not entirely unlike a Port Talbot welders visor, one paper observed bitchily.
Downing Street confirmed it had facilitated the stars visit to the Commons, though Meryl herself was not honoured with a one to one with Cameron. In the previous Parliament, Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister, was lucky enough to be granted a one to one by Bollywoods leading actress Shilpa Shetty, who had graced the Commons with her presence after winning Celebrity Big Brother.
Speaker Mrs Kumar, on the other hand, according to the Indian High Commission, was warmly received by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon. John Bercow, and the two had a one to one meeting.
Incidentally, Jagjivan Rams daughter, who came to the UK as Bercows guest, visited India House where she used to work from 1977-79, as a diplomat in its cultural wing, promoting, among other duties, the joys of Hindi poetry.
Bercow was invited to come to India so that he could witness for himself the impeccable behaviour of Indian MPs.
But how long will Bercow last?
Partisan Bercow has got to go, say ministers, warned a Daily Mail headline last week.
The Commons Speaker, who has upset some by dispensing with traditional uniform, is not everyones cup of masala chai.
Shockingly, one Conservative MP, Mark Pritchard, asked to step aside in a Commons corridor by the approaching Speaker, freaked out in an unparliamentary outburst: You are not xxxxing royalty, Mr Speaker!
Back in India, in contrast, I am told everyone thinks Meira is marvellous, as I am sure she is.
Say what you like about Vijay Mallya, but the man is public spirited.
When conservationists restoring a hut used by Sir Ernest Shackleton during the British explorers unsuccessful 1907-1909 Antarctic expedition found five long forgotten cases of whisky buried underneath the floorboards, the exciting discovery immediately rang a bell with Mallya.
The bottles were identified as Charles Mackinlay & Co, a now defunct brand that had belonged to Whyte and Mackay, the Scottish distillers now owned by Mallyas United Breweries. After being stored in temperature controlled conditions in New Zealand, the treasure needed to be flown to the firms Invergordon distillery in Scotland for scientific deconstruction by master blender Richard Paterson.
Rather than risk transfer by courier, Mallya, the occasional barrel shaped tycoon with a heart of oak, offered use of his private jet to move the precious consignment from Christchurch. The only other fragile object which has been airlifted in similar careful fashion, from London to Mumbai, is our old friend Shilpa Shetty.
The cases will be returned eventually to the Antarctic Heritage Trust but a sample has been extracted by syringe for analysis, raising hopes the brand — heavier and smokier than todays Scotch — could be revived one day.
Its that lovely rich golden colour and beautifully clear, is Patersons first reaction. Its telling you that its not contaminated — thats very important.
It is a fabulous story, enthused Mallya, an adventurous entrepreneur who should not be treated like any old Johnnie Walker. Shackleton is considered a hero, a great British explorer, and to us it might well be a huge marketing opportunity.
Admirers say Mallya, an aristocrat with regal manners who has blended well with British high society, deserves a royal salute.
| WITH THE MASTER: Gallery owner Tanya Baxter with S.H. Raza
It is worth making a note of the British art dealer Tanya Baxter, who was last week with Sayed Haider Raza in India.
At the age of 88, Raza has decided to return home from France but he will continue to be represented in the key UK market by Tanya, who established her Kings Road Gallery & Tanya Baxter Contemporary in Londons fashionable Chelsea in 1998.
Some of Razas works, owned by an unnamed Bollywood director, were offered for sale at the launch of Modern Masters at the Indian Art Summit at the Imperial Hotel.
Tanya has known Raza for many years, I am told by her spokesman. When in Hong Kong, Tanya was at the forefront of promoting Chinese contemporary art.
Can she similarly enhance Indian art?
In the last few years the Indian contemporary market has been flourishing and as the gallery works with some blue chip artists such as Jitish Kallat, M.F. Husain and Raza, they are in a strong position on the international stage, her spokesman adds. A glamorous mother of Jude, Fleur and Prudence, married to Pip Todd Warmoth, one of Britains leading contemporary figurative artists, art is a passion for Tanya.
Have talent, will travel
Gifted British Indian girls are on the move. Rising artist Natasha Kumar, who is dropping in on the Art Summit in Delhi, will be doing watercolours in Bundi in Rajasthan and elsewhere in India over the next couple of months.
First, she will also be making an emotional trip to Haridwar, carrying the ashes of my uncle, Vijay Bhagotra.
Natashas family on her mothers side, includes many distinguished painters — her artist uncle, Pip Todd Warmoth, is London gallery owner Tanya Baxters husband.
Meanwhile, the young actress Sheena Bhattessa, has returned home to London after a 14-week tour of America as a member of the cast of The Great Game: Afghanistan, a gripping play produced by the Tricycle, a north London theatre company.
The cast have been summoned back to Washington to perform at the Pentagon on February 9 and 10, reveals Sheena in front of an audience of American policymakers, military and government officials, service members and veterans.
America had everything but what Sheena missed more than anything was mamas home cooked rice and dal.
Eden Gardens is being robbed of big games these days (for reasons I dont understand) but high octane drama is guaranteed during the ICC World Cup clash between India and a resurgent England on February 27.
Please spare a thought for Indians who live in England for we have to show our faces the next morning to neighbours and work colleagues — no pelting foreigners with fruit, no burning newspapers or, worse, the benches themselves, no rioting, not unless we lose, of course, but, on second thoughts, may be not even if we lose. The crucial question is whether Sourav should be inducted for this one match to add further local interest. I think he should.