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Since 1st March, 1999
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To see or not to see

The new year will, I hope, soon bring the release in India of the best film (for me) of 2005, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was an unexpected delight, especially as a colleague who had seen a media screening of the film ahead of its UK release had been lukewarm about this latest adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s 1950 novel.

I should have realised I was going to enjoy Narnia after I had read a diatribe against the movie ' “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion” ' in the Guardian.

“Children won’t get the Christian subtext, but unbelievers should keep a sickbag handy during Disney’s new epic,” it said.

It warned that “Lewis weaves his dreams to invade children’s minds with Christian iconography that is part fairytale wonder and joy ' but heavily laden with guilt, blame, sacrifice and a suffering that is dark with emotional sadism”.

For those who haven’t yet read the novel, it recounts the adventures of four children from Finchley, north London ' Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie ' who are evacuated from blitz-hit London during the Second World War. During a game of hide-and-seek in a rambling country house, the brothers and sisters wander into a wardrobe and tumble out into the magical snow-covered land of Narnia where the two “sons of Adam” and the two “daughters of Eve” find themselves doing battle against the wicked White Witch.

Without giving too much away, the hero of the novel, a lion called Aslan, is said to represent Jesus Christ ' he is humiliated and killed by the Wicked Witch but rises from the dead. Edmund, who turns out to be a traitor, is the Judas Iscariot figure. But it is possible to enjoy the film without getting too paranoiac about its alleged hidden proselytising message. And what if it does preach the Christian notion of good and evil'

Lewis, an Oxford don who became a believer in his 30s having found Christianity distasteful in his youth, made his Jesus a lion ' in Turkish, Aslan apparently means lion ' because “the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts” and also because “Christ is called ‘the lion of Judah’ in the Bible”.

However, it has also been suggested that Lewis was influenced by an Indian holy man, Sundar Singh, a Sikh convert to Christianity who mysteriously disappeared during a trek to Tibet in 1929. It is “Singh” who gave him the idea of a lion, it is claimed.

Since the Hindi film industry is forever ripping off Hollywood, it should accord Narnia special attention. When it comes to making clean, wholesome family films ' sorry to sound so old-fashioned ' children’s stories hold great potential. And, surely, India has a grandmother’s basket full of wonderful tales.

Book wise

This falls into the category of “funny but true” stories. By the time I arrived at school in England, I had the principles of J.C. Nesfield’s English Grammar (literally) beaten into me. Grammar, I discovered, wasn’t much taught at school in England; teachers expected you to absorb it through usage. Now, it seems, they don’t bother at all with English grammar in many British schools.

There is a body of opinion, even among teachers, that an obsession with the correct use of the comma, semi-colon, and especially the apostrophe inhibits children from freely expressing themselves.

This is the background to the amazing success of a little book called Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which explains how a misplaced comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Its author, Lynne Truss, is pleasantly surprised that her campaign to promote correct punctuation and, in particular, prevent abuse of the apostrophe has turned her book into a bestseller.

She likes telling the joke about a panda, which walks into a caf', orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why'” asks the confused waiter.

Tossing him a badly punctuated wildlife manual, the panda walks out of the door with the words, “I’m a panda. Look it up.”

Sure enough, the entry for panda reads: “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

English is a dynamic language. Nevertheless, Truss’s point is that if the comma after “Eats” is removed, the sentence has a somewhat different meaning.

CELEB CALL: Faria Alam

Dying for fame

Among the 200 new entries in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, there isn’t a single British Asian name.

“You have to be dead to be included,” explains a spokeswoman for the dictionary, which costs '7,500 for the 60-volume print edition.

Listed are 50,000 people from all over the world ' “good, bad, popular and infamous” ' who have “influenced Britain”.

Five Gandhis are included ' Indira, Rajiv, Sanjay, the Mahatma and the “Frontier” (Abdul Ghaffar Khan). Motilal, inexplicably, is missing.

The number with Indian connections, including Brits either born in India or who were involved with the country, is huge. Anyone with time can work out the intricate mosaic of the Indo-British relationship stretching over several hundred years.

Going batty

It’s good news that Cricinfo Magazine, a “monthly title aimed primarily at an Indian readership”, will be published in India, under a licence between Infomedia India and the UK’s Wisden group.

Although Indians are catching up, much of the best writing about cricket in the past has come from the pens of English writers. In those days, batsmen were not called “batters” or “master blasters”. It would be useless to pretend that cricket coverage is as literary as it used to be, possibly because so many of the correspondents are former cricketers who have been brought in for their intimate knowledge of the players and the game. Also, there is as much coverage of personality clashes as there is of the actual game.

Perhaps in the marriage between India and England, a new Neville Cardus will be born.

One wonders what Cardus would have written on seeing Sachin Tendulkar for the first time as a boy of 17. Of Ranji, he wrote: “When he batted a strange light was seen for the first time on English fields.”

Later, he observed: “When Ranji passed out of cricket, a wonder and a glory departed from the game forever.”

Tittle tattle

Faria Alam is to be a contestant in a forthcoming edition of Channel 4’s reality television show, Celebrity Big Brother.

This means she was confined to a house with other celebrity contestants ' controversial US basketball star Dennis Rodman and anti-Iraq war MP George Galloway are among the other nine ' and monitored round the clock by television cameras for the entertainment of the masses. Viewers vote out contestants until a winner is left.

But what is a “celebrity”'

There has been one Asian woman before who voluntarily quit after a few days. Faria is the second and the first Muslim. She is deemed a celebrity because she slept with Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England football manager. The poor girl had previously complained in an interview that her life had been wrecked by intolerable media intrusion into her private affairs.

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