| TRIBUTE TIME: Badi Uzzaman in A Tainted Dawn in 1997
Badi Uzzaman was everyones buddy
The British Asian arts community feels that Claudius may have been perceptive when he remarked in Hamlet: When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.
First, it was Mala Sen, the author of Bandit Queen; then M.F. Husain; and now, they are mourning the loss of the fine actor Badi Uzzaman.
News recently came through that Badi had died in Lahore on June 13, while on a visit from his home in London to see his sister. He was 72.
Badi, who had been around for three decades on the British Asian acting scene and often portrayed the ordinary, elderly immigrant shopkeeper, was well known for his saying that he was everyones buddy — as indeed he was.
We would often bump into Badi at the Nehru Centre in London. I remember him best from the Tamasha Theatre Companys 1997 offering, A Tainted Dawn, staged to mark the 50th anniversary of Partition — I even have a poster from the play on my wall.
In Cannes last year, I sat up when he came on to play a bit part in Mike Leighs Another Year. I saw Badi in Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom (2004), a play staged at the Tricycle Theatre in North London. And I recall Brothers in Trouble (1995), a film directed by Udayan Prasad, in which Badi played Ram, an elderly immigrant.
Tamashas co-directors, Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith, said: All at Tamasha would like to express our deep sadness at the loss of Badi Uzzaman, a great artist, an inspiration and, in his own words, everyones buddy. He will be much missed for his inimitable wit and resilience and remembered for his prolific work that spanned continents and decades. We have fond memories of our special time together, creating A Tainted Dawn.
He was born in February, 1939, in Phulpur, Azamgarh, in the same Uttar Pradesh village that was home to the poet Kaifi Azmi. Indeed, the two families knew each other. At 13, Badi moved to Pakistan where his brother was a radio producer.
The director, Salman Peerzada, cast him in Mela, in which Badi played five characters. The film, an allegorical political tale about a military regime, fell foul of the authorities and had to be completed in London where Badi arrived in 1982.
The actress Shaheen Khan, who worked with him in Gurinder Chadhas Bhaji on the Beach, paid tribute to a marvellous actor, with a cheerful outlook on life but who had an irritating quality of always passing homilies to people. He told me, Dont cut onions and leave them in the fridge, because theyre poisonous. Whenever I cut an onion, I think of him.
| POLAND CALLING: Monika Mohta (front left) with her Nehru Centre staff in London
Those lucky enough to know Poland realise that among the former East European states that made up the Soviet empire, it was and remains a very special country. For one thing, its people love books and music.
But the real reason why Poland is so famous can today be revealed — its women are said to be the best looking in Europe.
I have assured Monika Mohta, who will be leaving London shortly to take up her job as Indias ambassador in Warsaw, that she will love Poland. Last week she gave a farewell party at the Nehru Centre where it seems she arrived only yesterday to take over as director of the cultural centre. But four years have passed.
So how will the Polish government react to an Indian woman ambassador?
Not a problem at all, I am told by Anna Tryc, deputy director of the Polish Cultural Institute in London.
Anna herself is moving to Delhi in mid-July to the Polish embassy and will help set up a Polish cultural institute. She hopes to solve the mystery of 500 Polish children who were shipped to India as the Second World War was ending in Europe.
It seems some never returned to Poland and settled in India and may have married local men and women and had children. That is as good a way as any of furthering Indo-Polish friendship.
Down to a tea
When is a coffee table book a tea table book?
Answer: when it is about Assam.
Last week, a fabulous book on the attractions of the verdant northeastern hill state, called simply Assam, was launched in London by one of its editors, Mrinal Talukdar.
Peace is coming to Assam after a troubled period, he hopes. The book is to correct the perception that Assam is just about bombs and bullets. As a journalist, I myself perpetuated that image.
Assam — and the other north-eastern states that make up the seven sisters — should certainly have a fairer share of Indias growing prosperity. Assam once had a big Bengali population — I have heard lots of stories from my mother who grew up in the village of Goalpara where I was born. Apparently tigers roamed the back garden when she was a little girl and the Brahmaputra was an even faster flowing river. I went back for my 21st and, at my mothers behest, even met the hunter who was summoned every time a tiger got into the rice godown or stole away with a calf in the middle of the night.
Cheerapunji then had the heaviest rainfall in the world.
And, coming to the present day, Mrinal adds proudly: More than half the world wakes up to a cup of Assam tea.
Now that the summer season has started, Ina Puri, the biographer of the Indian artist Manjit Bawa, is in London, catching up, like Karan, by having Koffee with friends.
After being in a coma for years, Bawa died in December 2008, aged 67. Ina and I talk about an amusing Bawa painting — you can tell a Bawa painting from a mile — which depicted a goat being seduced by a carrot.
Ina tells me she is editing a new book on Bawa. This is a collection of essays by different people and what they think of Manjit Bawa.
Ina also chats about meeting M.F. Husain in Dubai and finding he was excited by the purchase of a red Ferrari. Ina was privileged to get a ride — it confirmed MF enjoyed travelling in lifes fast lane. MF also had a Bentley in London, said Ina.
Yusuf Hamied, chairman of Cipla, tells me an odd story about M.F. Husain.
It seems that when Manmohan Singh was in London for the G20 summit in April 2009, he did meet MF and did try and persuade the artist to end his exile and return to India. So amid all the criticism some credit has to be given to the beleaguered Prime Minister. However, as we know, MF was not sufficiently reassured — though personally I think he should have gone back and taken on his detractors. Millions would have backed him.
The big question now is whether I should attend a dinner at Christs College, Cambridge, where a bust will be unveiled to honour Yusuf, one of its former star pupils.
Yusuf, I am happy to confirm, is alive and well and spoke to me from Spain.