| Cuba calling: C. Rajasekhar
Ek Tha Our Man in Havana
When we meet C. Rajasekhar, the new Indian ambassador to Cuba, we talk about the most important development about to take place in the island’s history in recent decades — the release on August 15 of the Salman Khan-Katrina Kaif starrer, Ek Tha Tiger.
Rajasekhar, who was in London briefly last week, is excited about the film’s release.
“The month of June saw the release of the Batman film (The Dark Knight Rises); then comes Spiderman (The Amazing Spider-Man); August is Salman,” he emphasised.
“He is coming out with Ek Tha Tiger — that was shot in Old Havana,” added Rajasekhar.
Salman and Katrina dropped in the Indian embassy and posed for photographs.
Until June this year, Rajasekhar was minister with dual responsibility for political affairs and press in the Indian High Commission in London. He had to rush to Havana to assume immediate charge as Indian ambassador since the external affairs minister, S.N. Krishna, was due to arrive for an official visit.
Rajasekhar hopes that Ek Tha Tiger will make Indians curious about Cuba. “That is what I am banking on — I hope when it is shown in India the publicity, the controversy, the fact it is already banned in Pakistan (apparently because of an unflattering reference to the ISI), will capture the imagination.”
He hopes that will encourage “more Indians to come to see what is this Ek Tha Tiger location”.
“Tourism is a major stay of the economy,” explained Rajasekhar. “We get about 3 million tourists a year. Most of them are Western tourists. Cuba has a romantic appeal.”
At present, only 5,000 Indian tourists come to Cuba every year. Rajasekhar is encouraging the Taj group to take a hotel franchise in Havana.
He characterises India-Cuba relations as having been one of “hugs and kisses” right from the time Raul’s elder brother, Fidel, now a very frail 85, ousted the old regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
“Last week, our minister of state (for commerce and industry), Mr (Jyotiraditya) Scindia visited (Cuba),” said Rajasekhar. “There is tremendous goodwill — the mission is how to provide economic content to the relationship.”
A note for cigar-smoking Indian tycoons: Cuban cigars remain a crucial part of the local economy “but these days people are more health conscious”, said Rajasekhar.
| Return to roots: Indian version of The Snow Queenfast time: Hashim AmlaBike beckons: Bradley Wiggins in Paris
The “desified” version of The Snow Queen will be staged in India this summer, making some wonder what Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author of this much loved children’s classic, would have made of his story’s transposition to India.
The Snow Queen, a story of good versus evil set in the northern reaches of Denmark, is traditional fare during Christmas in England.
But last winter, the Unicorn Theatre in London commissioned a new version of The Snow Queen. It was written by Anupama Chandrasekhar, a Chennai-based journalist-turned-playwright who explained why she had moved the setting to India: “Hans Andersen set it in a very white world; since I don’t live in a white world, it was not something I could relate to, so I said I would set it in India.”
In Anupama’s retelling of The Snow Queen, the boy and the girl, Kai and Gerda, become Kumar and Gowri. When Kumar disappears in a freak snowstorm in south India, Gowri begins her rescue mission from her home in Kanyakumari and travels through Kerala, Mumbai (excuse for Bollywood dancing) and the Chambal Valley (dacoits) on her way north. The Snow Queen remains the Snow Queen but her residence gets changed from Denmark to the Himalayas, where she is a “war widow who is not completely evil”.
The set designer, Sophia Lovell Smith, tells me: “We are visiting Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore and returning for three UK showcases.”
Supported by the British Council, the play is being taken to India by a theatre company in St Albans, Hertfordshire, called Trestle. It usually uses masks and says its mission is to “deliver cross art form collaborative experiences that connect with young people, inspiring them to use their creativity to live better lives”.
Last winter, as Anupama returned home from a freezing London, she told me: “I hope The Snow Queen travels. I really hope it comes to India.”
At this rate, don’t be surprised if Shesher Kobita is transposed to a very English village in deepest Devon and then exported back to Calcutta.
While examining what happened in Kenya during Britain’s brutal suppression of the Mau Mau movement of the 1950s, BBC Radio 4 discussed the proposition: “Should we really hold the present government accountable in the law courts for the history and morality of the British Empire?”
The context is that three elderly Kenyans, one of whom was castrated with a pair of pliers, have been given leave by the High Court in London to pursue claims for compensation.
Though Britain is refusing to give compensation, the foreign office’s QC, Guy Mansfield, acknowledged: “I wish to make it clear that the British government does not dispute that each of you suffered torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration.”
With India, the plus-minus of British rule is more complicated.
The question to ponder is whether life in Calcutta would be tolerable without the Calcutta Club. More to the point, if the British hadn’t come, would we have had Calcutta — or, for that matter India as we know it?
| Fast time: Hashim Amla
Hashim Amla’s record 311 not out at the Oval, the highest by a South African, has raised questions about how Muslim athletes at the Olympics will cope with fasting during the current holy month of Ramadan.
Amla faced 529 balls in an inning that spanned almost 15 hours and contained 35 fours.
Amla is a devout Muslim whose grandparents came to South Africa from Gujarat in India. He has indicated he will fast after he returns home to Durban.
Among the Muslims who have come for London 2012, Algerian Khaled Belabbas will fast while competing in the steeplechase.
“I will fast like I always have,” he said.
| Bike beckons: Bradley Wiggins in Paris
The cycling scheme introduced by Boris Johnson, mayor of London, is now well and truly established. The cycles for hire, positioned all over central London, are nicknamed “Boris bikes”.
Following the success of Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France, London will become even more of a cycling city.
In a similar vein, perhaps Calcutta is ready for “Mamata mobiles”. A Calcutta on wheels would do wonders for people’s health. And generally it is quicker to get from point A to point B by bike than be stuck in traffic.
Boris cycles, so does the Prime Minister David Cameron, the chancellor of the exchequer David Osborne and an impressive number of members of both Houses of Parliament.
Maybe Mamata on a Hero or a Raleigh should usher in pedal power.
Question: What is the best known Indian brand in the UK?
Answer (according to those buoyed by the success of Jaguar Land Rover): Ratan Tata.
The betting is that even after he retires as chairman of the Tata group, he will, like Sourav Ganguly, become a “mentor”.