| LONDON LESSONS: Katharine Birbalsingh
Should London be more like Calcutta?
Mamata Banerjee is on the right track, I think, when she says she would like Calcutta to be more like London.
For example, the rubbish is not allowed to rot outside my home in London whereas in Calcutta it is.
But after four nights of looting, the like of which I have not seen before in Britain, it is worth asking: Is there something London can learn from Calcutta?
The answer, I do believe, is a resounding yes.
One paper asked prominent figures: So what is behind the anarchy?
Calcutta was dragged into a glib comment by Katharine Birbalsingh, a former secondary schoolteacher who was born in New Zealand of a Guyanese father of Indian origin and a Jamaican mother and settled in the UK after studying at Oxford.
Poverty has nothing to do with these riots, said Birbalsingh, who lost her job after speaking at a Tory Party conference when her speech on the alleged dysfunctional nature of inner city state schools blew her cover as the author of an anonymous education blog which told home truths as she saw it.
If poverty caused such explosive unrest, Calcutta would be permanently in flames, Birbalsingh added gratuitously.
Birbalsingh, who has become a celebrity after turning her blog into a well-received book, To Miss With Love, condemns Britains state education system as an international disgrace.
That said, the council estates in even the poorest parts of London would qualify as MIG (middle-income group) blocks if they were located in Calcutta. Their toilets are much cleaner than most Indian toilets.
Poverty is relative: here, even the poorest of the poor do not have to put up with loadshedding or lack of running water. And, thanks to welfare benefits, even the unemployed pick up enough food for the family, buy cigarettes, go to the pub, have cars, fridges, TV sets and video games and access to a totally free National Health Service. They follow TV soaps, read about Wayne Rooney in tabloid newspapers but generally do not read books.
Millions in Calcutta would be delighted to have such poverty.
However, Calcutta probably has more of a warmer, community spirit. During Puja, a million people can inch their way from pandal to pandal without much in the way of trouble. It is hard to pin down why Calcutta, despite everything, still works, whereas, in London, what is disparagingly called the underclass is at odds with the rest of society.
There is no room for complacency, though. As London has demonstrated, there was a time bomb ticking away under the surface, fuelled by the poverty of human values.
| MODEL MUSLIM: Tariq Jahan with picture of son, Haroon
The father of one of the three young Muslims murdered in Birmingham by a speeding car, has won warm praise by appealing for calm.
Tariq Jahan held up a photograph of his 21-year-old son, Haroon, who was mown down, along with his friends, Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31, while they were apparently trying to protect Asian properties from possible looters.
Since the car was reportedly driven by a black youth, the incident had the potential to develop into a racial clash between Pakistanis and West Indians.
I cant describe to anyone what it feels like to lose your son, said Tariq, who was emotional when urging there should be no retaliation. Im a Muslim. I believe in divine fate and destiny. This is not a race issue. Blacks, Asians, whites — we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home — please.
This could be a turning point for British Muslims who have had nothing but bad publicity in recent years.
Man vs beast
A hungry polar bear which broke in at night into the tents of a British schools expedition in the Arctic region of Norway was shot dead but not before he had killed Horatio Chapple, a 17-year-old pupil from Eton, and savaged four others.
Polar bear attacks are not that rare.
I first heard of one years ago, in El Salvador of all places, when a young woman, a wildlife photographer, pointed to the scarf round her head half way through dinner.
The top of my head is missing, she volunteered, leaving me dumbstruck. Polar bear! I was taking pictures of some cubs in Alaska and didnt see their mother coming.
As animal sanctuaries are taken over for urban development, conflict between man and beast becomes ever more frequent: man-eating tigers in the Sunderbans and rampaging elephants in Assam. In Khandala near Mumbai, a friend had watched helplessly as a leopard carried away her pet dog clenched in its jaws from inside her drawing room.
The lush green state of Assam is familiar to me since I was born there on my maternal grandfathers estate in Goalpara, which was rife with wild animals when my mother was a child. I heard from her stories of tigers and cheetahs roaming the back garden but while they stole cattle and especially calves, there was a difference: human beings were generally not attacked.
Freida Pinto, on her fourth movie since Slumdog Millionaire — its called Rise of the Planet of the Apes — is doing better as a fashion model.
Indias hottest export, as she is described, has just been featured on the cover of an important fashion magazine, InStyle, in which Frieda has modelled gorgeous couture by Gucci, Chanel and Givenchy.
She lets on that she tries to look her best when getting in touch with her boyfriend, Dev Patel, on Skype.
Freida, who now affects traces of an American accent, is not likely to return to India in the near future although she has indicated she would like to go back one day to make her own films. Dev will probably have to make the switch to New York from living with his mum in Harrow in north London.
Freida is considered beautiful in New York, LA and London partly because of one God-given advantage — in Bollywood terms, she is not fair.
Right in the middle of the violence in London, we had a long-arranged family outing to the Imax Cinema in Waterloo to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in glorious 3D — and used a BlackBerry to negotiate the safest route there and back.
Lord Voldemorts lethal snake, Nagini, reminded me of Rudyard Kiplings wonderful tale, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, in which the mongoose confronts Nag, the king cobra, and his wife, whom the author spells as Nagaina.
After Nag is killed, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi realises that the real fight is yet to come: Now I have Nagaina to settle with, and she will be worse than five Nags.
Once again, Father Clearys English lessons at St Xaviers, when we studied Kiplings Jungle Book, prepared us for Harry Potter.
Once again, Mamata should certainly beware of changing West Bengals name to Bangla — in case that is taken as short for Bangladesh.
We should definitely be best friends with Bangladesh.
However, during the India-England Test at Edgbaston, a commentator on the BBCs Test Match Special asked: Are India Bangladesh in disguise?