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Since 1st March, 1999
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A Maybach for Mr Naipaul

Who should turn up on a breezy, wet afternoon at the Hurtwood Park Polo Club in Surrey last week but an unlikely couple — Sir Vidia Naipaul and his wife, Nadira.

They had been fetched from their Wiltshire home in one of several Maybachs, which were being used to ferry celebrity guests free of charge to an India-Pakistan polo game (that ended, happily, in a draw).

The idea was to promote the Maybach, the Mercedes-manufactured limousine costing upwards of £250,000, to the Indian rich in the UK. Somewhere or the other, I have read that Maybach owners in India include Mukesh Ambani and Rasiklal Manikchand Dhariwal.

The Naipauls were accompanied by the author’s faithful literary agent, Gillon Aitken.

Naipaul should travel once more to India, I suggested to the 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Why should Natwar hog all the headlines with his intemperate outbursts' “It’s about time you returned and stirred it up by making a few more outrageous statements. We like you being rude to people, especially wives of diplomats.”

Ideally, Nadira would probably love to live six months in England and six months in India.

But Naipaul, who turned 74 last Thursday and who now supports himself with a stick, put on a pained expression: “I can’t walk very well, you know. I’m not very mobile.”

He took a surprisingly sanguine view of the current “Muslim problem” in Britain, considering he had written about Iranian fundamentalism in 1981 in Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey and about terrorism in Pakistan in 1998 in Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among Converted Peoples.

“It will all pass in 25 years,” he predicted.

Later, I spoke to Naipaul’s biographer, Patrick French, who confirmed his book “is coming along happily” and will be published in autumn next year. “It takes Naipaul until the death of his first wife in 1996. I have undertaken to show him the finished manuscript but I retain the right whether or not I change it.”

Incidentally, though I have no idea how Naipaul invested his 10 million Kroner (about £736,822) Nobel Prize money, it should have been enough to buy him three Maybachs. His, Hers and one for the holiday home in Delhi.

Polo princess

At 87, Gayatri Devi, the erstwhile Maharani of Jaipur, is an entertaining lady.

“I hope you are not going to talk to me,” she admonished one woman who sought to make polite conversation with the Maharani while she watched the India-Pakistan polo match (the Naipauls had left by the time Her Highness had arrived, also in a Maybach).

To another who greeted her, she said: “I would like to watch the polo match.”

Afterwards, though, as she handed out the “Jaipur Polo Trophy” , she chatted sweetly with each of the players.

The one thing that can be said about Ayesha, the former Princess of Cooch Behar who was 20 when she became the third wife of her beloved “Jai”, the Maharajah of Jaipur, is that she has been fiercely loyal about promoting anything to do with either Jaipur or polo.

Her book, A Princess Remembers, is still wonderful to read for it takes us back to a long vanished age. The Maharajah died in England while playing polo.

After the declaration of emergency in India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, who must have felt there could only be one queen in India, had Gayatri Devi locked up.

Every summer finds the Maharani in London, which must be full of memories for her. “I shall go back after opening the Jaipur jewellery exhibition,” she told me.

“Treasures from the Gem Palace Jaipur”, which includes both former items from the royal collection as well as copies for sale, runs at Somerset House in London from September 28 till October 22.

When she is gone, we will recognise that the Maharani was a gem herself.

HATS OFF: Indian captain Mithali Raj signs an autograph


This is the continuing tale of Isa Guha, who came into the England women’s cricket team at 17 and last week, now turned 21, played at Lord’s against India in a one-dayer.

After the performances of Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood against Pakistan, it was Isa’s turn to do her bit for England who won by 100 runs (thanks to 156 not out from Claire Taylor).

Isa took one wicket and, in the words of the match adjudicator, “three fantastic catches” as well. The electronic scoreboard will be one she will remember for this was the first time that a women’s international has taken place at the hallowed home of cricket.

At one point, Isa was bowling to Jhulan Goswami — one Bengali girl trying to get out another.

“They are very good friends,” said Isa’s mother, Roma, who watched the match with husband, Barun, from a box reserved for the players’ parents.

Isa’s fielding was certainly very impressive. The catch she took at square leg to dismiss Anjum Chopra for three showed very quick reflexes. Her pick up and throw were excellent, too.

The Indian captain, Mithali Raj, and Asha Rawat, were also caught by Guha for 59 and six respectively.

After the match, the Indian players, led by their captain, though dejected by defeat, still graciously signed autographs for many little girls, Indian and English, who had come to Lord’s.

I wish the Indian men, most of whom seem spoilt by too much money and attention or far too much time sending emails, could behave as well.

As for Isa, she is at University College London doing a degree in bio-chemistry, which she wants to follow with a PhD.

Jewel thief

A friend from Calcutta who came to Britain to attend the wedding of a friend’s daughter brought with her a certain amount of jewellery. This is something many Indian women do on their travels abroad but, for the immediate future, I urge them to leave their trinkets at home.

Not for nothing is Heathrow nicknamed “Thief-row”.

“I wonder if I should put my jewellery in checked-in baggage,” my friend wondered.

She had no choice under the new security regime at Heathrow and other British airports. But since it began, incidences of theft from baggage have also gone up.

In the caves of Tora Bora, the al Quaida have a saying: “A foolish Indian woman and her jewellery are soon parted.”

MIXED response: The cast of KANK

Tittle tattle

The bad news for Karan Johar is that friends who have been to see Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna have variously told me that “it’s ok, “he’s lost the plot” and “it’s rubbish”.

May be he should never have called his film, “Kank”.

Personally, I like Karan a lot so I will give him the good news. In its opening weekend, his movie got to number six — no mean feat — in the UK box office, with takings of £749,243. That is ahead of even M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water which took a disappointing £452,744.

With only 60 prints, the “site average” for Karan was a staggering £12,487 — way ahead of his nearest rival, Miami Vice, which took £1,186,987, in its opening weekend but achieved a site average of £2,881 with 412 prints.

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