| IDENTITY CUE: Lord Popat (second from left) introduces David Cameron to British Indian VIPs
Can you be British and Indian?
If Indians who have been settled in the UK for a long time can now be integrated into society as “British Indians”, does it also mean someone like Sir Mark Tully can properly be called “Indian British”?
Or Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi “Indian Italians”?
In theory, yes.
David Cameron launched the Conservative Friends of India in London last week before an audience of about 1,000 “British Indians”.
According to the new organisation’s chairman and one of its founding fathers, Uganda-born Lord (Dolar) Popat, “the Conservative Friends of India is about building real understanding between the Conservative Party, the British Indian community and India”.
Popat, who introduced Cameron as “our Prime Minister”, had a message especially for British-born Indians who now make up 60 per cent of the 1.6m strong Indian community: “This is your home — be proud to be British. We are no longer immigrants in this country.”
But can you be British AND Indian?
“I am 100 per cent Indian and 100 per cent British,” Lord (Swraj) Paul often tells journalists.
To be serious, those who are born in Britain tend to say: “‘British’ is an inclusive term so we have no problem calling ourselves ‘British Indians’. But we don’t see ourselves as being ‘English’.”
However, if Scotland secedes from the union and the United Kingdom breaks up, more people in England will define themselves as “English” — a term which now conjures up a fair skin as in “an English rose”.
It may be possible one day for Indians to call themselves “English Indians”, “Scottish Indians”, “Welsh Indians” or “Irish Indians” but that is some way off.
India, in comparison, is both less and more progressive. Sonia Gandhi will never be accepted as an Indian but Rahul and Priyanka are not called “Indian Italian”.
| Global appeal: Cover of Inspired by Tagore
Tagore has not been lost in translation. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from an unusual book, Inspired by Tagore, that will be released in Calcutta on May 7.
“What does Tagore mean to you?” was the question that Sampad, a Birmingham-based Asian arts organisation, asked people around the world, using the good offices of the British Council whose global reach extends to over 100 countries.
The writing competition attracted nearly 1,400 entries from 37 countries.
Four judges picked 244 entries, some from children aged 8 to 15, for inclusion in Inspired by Tagore, which will be launched in Calcutta by actor Victor Banerjee. One of the judges, Guy Hutchings of the “cross-cultural” Moby Duck Theatre in Birmingham, will also be present and attend other launches in Ahmedabad on May 9 and Chennai on May 11.
“Like many Indians, and more so as a Bengali, Tagore has been intrinsically a part of my DNA,” says Piali Ray, Sampad’s director. “That he was an inspiration to so many across the globe to take part in this writing competition acknowledges the power and reach of Tagore’s words and the emotional response he can attract. It has amazed me to see how diverse the range has been.”
From Calcutta, Samarjit Guha, the British Council’s head of programmes in East India, acknowledges: “When we started this project, we had no idea how Tagore would be perceived beyond the borders of West Bengal.”
He is reassured by the “huge participation” that Tagore’s philosophy retains its relevance.
Most of the contributors — entries arrived from Serbia, Japan, China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, Australia, the UK and other countries — “came back to say that they were not aware of Tagore or his works but while searching for him in libraries or the Internet, they understood his vast repertoire and felt inspired to put in their pieces,” adds Samarjit.
The book, edited by Anne Cockitt and Miriam Pagano, of Sampad, has a poem, Old Age and Death, from Hugo Bennison, aged 11, of Manton, Rutland, which is a response to Tagore’s The Gardener 85.
I also enjoyed the amusing No Indian Knows English, from Eaton MacDonald, 14, from Stretton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire.
Cathy Bryant, from Manchester, who has written a poem, Song Necklace, explained: “I first heard of Tagore when I had a relationship with a Bengali man several years ago.”
Now that foreigners have seen something in Tagore, it’s possible Indians, too, will warm to him and perhaps use the ad breaks in IPL matches to read a verse or two. Or maybe we should welcome Twenty20 as the new poetry in motion.
| Quite the Tigress: Wendi and Rupert Murdoch
Many very good journalists worked for The Sunday Times when Harold Evans was its editor for 14 years, among them India-veteran Ian Jack.
So I invited Ian to comment on why Rupert Murdoch felt it necessary to sack Evans in 1982 as editor of The Times after barely a year in the job.
“I don’t know what to say about Murdoch-Evans exchanges, other than that I know which man I believe and it isn’t Rupert Murdoch,” reflects Ian. “But Murdoch is a great seducer. He seduced Harry for a while and this week, watching him on television, he partly seduced me. What a nice, straight-talking old gentleman, you feel. But you’d be foolish to believe it.”
In the last few days in London, Murdoch (accompanied by tigress wife Wendi Deng) and his son, James, have been cross-examined before Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into media ethics.
When Murdoch bought The Times and The Sunday Times in 1981, Evans moved from The Sunday Times to serve briefly as editor of The Times.
Today, The Times, though a readable newspaper, is a tabloid. But back then, some of the public school educated old guard who worked for The Times felt that although Evans had proved a very successful editor of The Sunday Times, he wasn’t upper class enough to be editor of The Times.
The Times was then “the top people’s newspaper”. The man who replaced Evans at The Times was Charles Douglas-Home, the Etonian nephew of Lord Douglas Home, a former Tory Prime Minister.
| Family ties: Sisters Pippa (left) and Kate
Today marks the first anniversary of the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Their family has grown by one with the arrival of their pet dog, a black cocker spaniel called Lupo.
Meanwhile, Pippa’s bottom, which attracted worldwide attention at the wedding, has had an excellent year. It has helped Kate’s younger sister on to Time magazine’s list of “the 100 most influential people in the world”.
As part of the plan to bring high Indian culture to Britain, Channel 4’s new Bollywood season has started with a screening of Dabangg, starring Salman Khan and Sonakshi Sinha.
The TV network took care to protect the majority of the British population from exposure to what is billed as the best of Bollywood by screening the film from 23:55 onwards.
A gripping interview with actress Zohra Segal was shown at the Nehru Centre in London last week to mark her 100th birthday. At the end of the very long interview, she was asked what profound thoughts were going through her mind as she reflected on her distinguished career in films, stage and TV.
She cupped her hands and whispered : “The lavatory.”