The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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When “Doms” become touchable, “Non-Doms” not

Children can be very cruel. Certainly, some of us were at St Xavier’s in Patna when Fr Cleary was taking us for The Jungle Book. We detected a vulnerability in one boy and teased him by suggesting he belonged to the “Bandar Log”.

He spat back: “Your parents are Doms.”

This was our first introduction to the politics of caste.

Last week in fair England, the subject of “ Doms” came up again, but this time it was the “Doms” who were considered touchable, the “Non-Doms” most definitely not.

Lord Swraj Paul is a “Non-Dom”.

I hasten to make it clear that for tax purposes, “Dom” is an abbreviation for Domicile, “Non-Dom” for Non-Domicile. Anyone born abroad, such as Swraj, can choose to register as Non-Domicile.

The UK’s liberal regime on taxation, which has proved successful in encouraging wealthy foreigners to base themselves in Britain and turn London into the world’s financial capital, can be summed up as follows: “In simple terms Non-UK Domiciles do NOT pay tax on income retained overseas unless they bring it into the UK. This is much more favourable than the tax rules for UK Domiciles who are taxed on worldwide income whether or not they bring it into the UK.”

Swraj, who has lived in Britain for over four decades and has a British passport, once explained to me that he pays tax — and “quite a lot of it” — on all his earnings in the UK. On money earned in India or the US, he pays local taxes. But if he repatriates any of his foreign earnings into Britain, he is taxed on the sums brought in.

Last week, the rules were tightened so that from April 1, 2008, all foreigners will have to pay a £30,000 fee (fine?) for the privilege of being Non-Doms. This follows a campaign by the Conservative Party as well as some Labour MPs and sections of the media, who depicted Non-Doms as fat cat foreign businessmen who were getting away with paying no tax at all.

“A fuss about nothing,” Swraj tells me.

My attention was distracted when Swraj appeared on television to complain that “it isn’t nice” that the treasury had not allowed a grace period before rushing in the new rules.

I was lost in admiration of his natty yellow waistcoat, though the colour cut no mustard with his best friend, Gordon Brown.


Jet set Rahman

India’s most celebrated Bollywood composer, A.R. Rahman, was at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London last week. This was for the launch of the original cast album of the stage version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, for which he has partly composed the music.

On a previous occasion his baggage had gone astray so I asked whether this time his suitcase had arrived safely.

It had, he assured me.

“I travelled Jet,” he grinned.

His endorsement of Jet may not be entirely unconnected with the “15 million rupees” — that sounds a bigger number than £200,000 — that Jet Airways have invested in the album in an effort to gain a higher profile in the UK.

“Making music for this very complicated show has been a great challenge,” said Rahman. “The best part has been making a record. Each song has 100 to 200 people participating. It’s a great experience — thanks to Jet. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. They paid money for the album.”

As a huge admirer of Jet’s domestic services, I am pleased the airline is now offering tough competition to Air India, British Airways and Virgin on UK-India flights. But maybe its fares need to come down — in fact, all return fares need to come down to no more than £300.

“Air India is cheaper than Jet — and flies directly to Calcutta from Heathrow,” I pointed out to a Jet executive, in my usual attempt to be helpful.

“Different product,” he sniffed.

Two Jet Airways stewardesses, perhaps taking a cue from Lord Paul’s waistcoat, looked graceful in bright yellow jackets.

Rahman looked happy, relaxed and confident as he worked the room. Though he was always big in Bollywood, his international career blossomed after Andrew Lloyd Webber commissioned him to compose the music for Bombay Dreams in 2002.

“It completely put me on a different road,” he acknowledged. “I still remember the first room on the fourth floor of The Palace Theatre — Andrew gave me that room — where I started composing The Journey Home. Bombay Dreams was a great idea at the right time.”


Mahabharata, the musical?

Can the Mahabharata be turned into a musical?

Matthew Warchus certainly thinks so.

As director and a lyricist of The Lord of the Rings, Warchus supervised the technical wizardry on the 2-hour 40-minute musical.

The action occurs on a computer-controlled stage floor, weighing 40 tonnes and equipped with 17 independently operated elevators.

Warchus, who enjoyed Peter Brooks’ landmark nine-hour stage version of the Mahabharata in 1985, likes technical tricks and would love to turn the Indian epic into a musical.

“I think, for thousands of years, theatre has always been able to tell epic tales of fantasy and adventure — indeed, cinema is a late arrival in this field,” he says. “Theatre employs the imagination of the audience to ‘complete’ the story; it abstracts and poeticises and is not bound to a literal or ‘realistic’ interpretation. On stage anything is possible. This is the reason The Lord of the Rings succeeds on stage. I think the time is ripe for other epic tales to reach a new audience in this way. The Mahabharata is a prime example.”


Never too late

More news from Drury Lane. Rohit Khattar’s Pan-Asian restaurant, Tamarai, has been named Best Late Night bar, beating competition from such famous establishments as Bungalow 8. It’s like India beating Australia by an innings and 300 runs.

Apparently, there are rich young Indians who think nothing of spending £500 to book a table for four and £1,000 for a table for 10.

“Indians and Russians are the biggest spenders,” says Rohit, who is knowledgeable about such matters.


Dubai delights

Dubai has many rich Indian and Pakistani residents (plus passing trade from English footballers) but do they love art?

We will soon find out because Bonhams of London is holding its first auction of “Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian, Indian and Pakistani Art” in Dubai on March 4.

On offer are works by Jamini Roy, M.F. Husain and Francis Newton Souza.

“I am also hoping some of my clients will fly down from India,” says Bonhams consultant Mehreen Rizvi-Khursheed. “Indian dealers are starting to set up in Dubai.”


Tittle tattle

The US presidential election is the best show in London town. A panel discussion I attended at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square appeared to predict the following outcome: Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate, will be beaten by John McCain but if Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, he would beat the Republican.

After much talk that, at 71, McCain’s age was a disadvantage, I had to point out that political elders in India would consider him far too young for the top job.

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