The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pratibha Patil’s letter to her son

A letter allegedly from Pratibha Patil to her son, Rajendra Shekawat, following the conclusion of the Indian President’s historic and hugely successful three-day state visit to the UK, is still awaiting delivery because of the continuing post office workers’ strike in the UK:

“Dear Beta,

I told your father not to wear his scruffy overcoat to the Lord Mayor’s banquet, ‘Whatever will the foreigners think?’ I said, but his reply was, ‘Gandhiji wore dhoti to Buckingham Palace, so why are you bothering!’ On last day we visited Buckingham Palace which was very nice. Very big also. I said to Queen, who is very kind like an Indian mother, ‘We have Rashtrapati Bhavan which is also very big.’ She said, ‘I am so glad you like it — only an English architect could have built it.’ The Indian journalists with me are not very happy. ‘Why you staying at Windsor Castle? Others stay in Buckingham Palace. You are Rashtrapati of India, biggest democracy in the world. You should be staying in Buckingham Palace.’ But palace people tell me there is no difference. Sometimes, leaders stay in Buckingham Palace, sometimes Windsor Castle. Privately I have been told Windsor is more special so I am very happy. This is an honour for India. I have told them Indians make up 2 per cent of British population but contribute 4-5 per cent of your GDP. I have said this in every speech. Some people say you should get new speechwriter. The Queen knew I was strictly vegetarian so she made special food for me — Courgettes Farcies, Carottes Glacées and Pomme Fondates. Very tasty. The Queen’s people, who are very nice, said, ‘Madam President,’ — they always call me like that, ‘Madam President’ — ‘can we do anything for you to make your stay more comfortable? I said, no, thank you, you have already done too much, especially the ceremonial welcome with horses and guns and phaetons. But your father said, ‘Do you have takeaway in Windsor where they do utthapam and dal?’ But I said no need to trouble as we will be back home in few days. The Queen knows a lot about India, very knowledgeable, Prince Philip also. He said to me, ‘Madam President, your people are achieving so much in this country. We are very proud of them, especially Shilpa Shetty. Have you seen Celebrity Big Brother? And also Sanjeev Bhaskar. Her Majesty loves Goodness Gracious Me. That’s why she has called him to the royal banquet at Windsor Castle. ‘One finds him so amusing,’ the Queen said. I was sad to say goodbye to the Queen. I invited her, ‘Stay with us next time and be homely.’ We will be home, soon, Beta. I hope you are taking proper meals. First, I have a state visit to Cyprus. Your father is looking it up on a world map, your loving mother and President of India.”

Life has to go on

Sangeeta Datta’s Life Goes On, which tells of what happens to a typical Bengali family in London when the mother suddenly dies, had a technical screening here last week.

This English-language film has been shot in London, with Sharmila Tagore playing the mother, Manju, Girish Karnad her doctor husband, Sanjay Banerjee, and Om Puri their family friend, Alok.

When Dr Sanjay Banerjee returns late from his surgery to find his wife collapsed on the floor after suffering a massive heart attack, her death forces him to re-examine his life and especially his relationship with his three daughters: Lolita, who is married to an Englishman; Tulika who is in a lesbian relationship; and Diya, the youngest and her father’s favourite (played very well by Soha Ali Khan in the first film in which she has acted with her mother) who finds herself pregnant by her Bangladeshi Muslim boyfriend.

Although Sangeeta has located her story in a culturally specific Bengali milieu, the tale could be about any family, for she has cleverly used Shakespeare’s King Lear to lay bare a father’s troubled relationship with his three daughters.

Sangeeta had initially considered pairing Sharmila with Soumitra Chatterjee. But Girish, who stepped in when Soumitra became unavailable partly because of health reasons, has turned in a fine performance as a father who is riddled with prejudices but is, at heart, a good man.

Life has to go on but for me Sangeeta’s movie brought back rather too many painful memories.

Indian summer

The trees in Hampstead Heath, where Sangeeta shot part of her movie earlier in the summer, look lyrically beautiful on film. In real life, an Indian summer is now over and the trees wear rich autumn colours — especially near me in Dulwich Park.

The changing of the seasons, as always, marks the passing of time, which Sangeeta has portrayed elegantly and sensitively in her film.

Lata lover

A very popular programme on BBC Radio 4 is Desert Island Discs on which famous people, asked to imagine they are marooned on an island, choose their eight favourite records.

A few days ago I had the radio on in another room when, among the English pop songs and pieces of western classical music, I heard a familiar Hindi film song.

Gore gore, banke chhore, sung by Lata, was the surprise choice of Jan Pienkowski, a well known illustrator of children’s stories.

He was born in Poland in 1936, came to England, aged nine, with his refugee parents and eventually won a place in the 1950s to read Classics and English at King’s College, Cambridge.

“When I went to King’s there was a little house by the Granta pub,” Pienkowski told Kirsty Wark, the presenter. “(There were) about five of us put together and I gradually realised that the reason we were all there was that we were all foreign. There was an Irish American, a Jewish South African, a Punjabi, myself and my great friend Dilip Dharkar who was from Bombay — and he used to sing this pop song over and over and over again.”

Then one day Pienkowski heard even the English landlady “coming up the stairs with the breakfast singing, Gore gore”.

The song, I discovered, is from the 1950 film, Samadhi, starring Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant and directed by Ramesh Saigal.

“Lata Mangheskar and Gore gore…still stuck in your head…you still know all the words to that…,” laughed Wark.

“Astonishing, yes,” responded Pienkowski.

Tittle tattle

Perhaps A.R. Rahman will consider sending a “get well soon” card to the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has started treatment for prostrate cancer after the disease was detected in its early stages, it has been announced.

In 2002 Lloyd Webber took a risk by putting on the musical, Bombay Dreams, on the West End stage, thereby introducing Rahman to a wider international audience. Three years later, it was put on in Broadway, too.

“In my opinion he is writing as good tunes as Paul McCartney did 30 years ago,” Lloyd Webber told me.

“Why don’t you call it Mumbai Dreams?” I remember a politically correct Indian once asking Lloyd Webber.

“Because ‘Mumbai’ doesn’t have any music,” he responded witheringly.

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