The Telegraph
Sunday , January 24 , 2010
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Jyoti Basu Blue Salaam

Jyoti Basu’s politics may have been red but he could be honoured in blue. This is because his admirers in London are planning to propose his name for a “Blue Plaque”.

The plaques are made from tough, blue-coloured ceramics “meant to last for a hundred years”. They are put up on the outside of buildings where distinguished men and women have stayed as a way of honouring their memory.

Those who have merited plaques since the first was erected for the poet Lord Byron in 1867 include Clive of India, Lord Curzon, Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Rudyard Kipling, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vinayak Damoda Savarkar, Maharajah Duleep Singh, Rabindranath Tagore, Lokmanya Tilak and Swami Vivekananda.

Basu was introduced to Leftist ideology as a student from 1935-40 in London, where he took lodgings at 5, Belsize Park Gardens, which falls within the borough of Camden.

In an effort to get support for the idea of a Blue Plaque for Basu, a journalist friend, Manab Majumder — his own apartment is close to 5, Belsize Park Gardens — tells me: “I have already had a preliminary word with the Mayor of Camden.”

The choice of whether Basu should be honoured rests with English Heritage, whose Blue Plaque Administrator, Libby Wardle, said: “I would be prepared to open a file on him.”

It may be some time, though, before we can attend the unveiling ceremony clutching little red flags with the hammer and sickle.

This is because English Heritage, which erects plaques “to celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings that they inhabited”, enforces strict qualifications rules.

One of them is that “a figure must have been dead for 20 years”.

“This is to ensure that a person’s legacy is a lasting one,” Libby explained.

However, a plaque may also be considered when candidates “have passed the centenary of their birth” — which, in Basu’s case, will be after July 18, 2014.

“Someone should send us a reminder then,” added Libby.

The most difficult part is that Basu’s supporters will have to convince English Heritage that he “made an important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness”, which is another of the requirements nominated figures have to meet.

Gordon the great

Not for a long time have I so hugely enjoyed cookery programmes on television as Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape, a three-part documentary series on Indian cuisine. My wife is put off by the fact there are more four-letter words in his conversation than there are green chillies in a south Indian curry but I think it just goes with the Ramsay territory.

After only two weeks in India, during which he criss-crossed the country, from Delhi to Rajasthan, from Calcutta to Nagaland and Assam, from Kerala to Bombay, the celebrity chef has also come out with an illustrated book of recipes.

In Calcutta, which he applauds as “India’s ultimate foodie city”, he sets up a pavement stall and does a roaring trade with a fish recipe he picked up in Assam. The assembled Bengalis decree his creation, made with bamboo shoots, is superb, than which, Ramsay realises, there is no greater compliment.

In a village in Nagaland, he goes hunting with a local tribe and cooks a deer. In Rajasthan, he meets a podgy prince who shows him how meat is cooked with hot charcoal trapped under desert sands. In a forest, he learns how to make chutney with crushed ant eggs rich in protein.

Apart from luchis, which is work in progress in my case, the one thing I have always wanted to learn to cook is biryani. In Lucknow, Ramsay is shown how — by an old and irascible khansama who is preparing for a marriage feast. The marinated goats are stuffed with quails which are stuffed with quails’ eggs before the ensemble is cooked with Basmati rice over a slow fire.

Everywhere he goes, Ramsay engages with the locals with enthusiasm and a delighted stream of four-letter expletives. Indian food is big in Britain but Ramsay concludes it is a poor imitation of what he discovers in India.

I hope celebrity Indian chefs return Ramsay’s compliment by coming to this country, criss-crossing the UK and demonstrating that the claim by foreigners that British food is totally tasteless is a travesty of the truth.

One evening Ramsay uses the kitchens of the Moti Mahal in Daryaganj, Delhi, to cook for a private dinner party. One of the discriminating guests, Suhel Seth — trust him to be there — pronounces the food to be “outstanding”.

Ramsay is clearly a Bengali at heart for it all goes back to Mother: “My own love affair with Indian food started when my mother made me my first curry as a child…and I was hooked.”

Baracking Barack

There is a significant proportion of influential opinion in the UK — some of it among BBC correspondents in America and in the media generally — which has found it hard to be reconciled to Barack Obama becoming President of the United States.

His critics have been heartened by the victory last week of the Republican Scott Brown in the election to the Senate from Massachusetts which had been a Democratic stronghold under the late Edward Kennedy.

Opposition to Obama is not necessarily on grounds of race but nevertheless it is instinctive and visceral. Oba- ma’s efforts to provide healthcare insurance to the poorest Americans would seem to the world outside to be the actions of a civilised man, yet the BBC hardly ever questions those who disparage Obama as a “socialist”.

Getting Obama to the White House was a big battle. Keeping him there for a second term may prove a bigger one.

Wander lust

The forthcoming launch in October of Condé Nast Traveller, billed as “the world’s leading travel magazine”, recognises that the Indian middle class is going abroad for business, holidays and shopping in ever increasing numbers.

The bi-monthly follows the launch of Vogue and GQ.

First port of call for Indians should be home from home — London; then Yorkshire, which is England’s biggest county and quite stunning. Scotland and the Lake District, much favoured by Bollywood location hunters, are also not to be missed.

Those who can manage it should follow the example of the Bollywood crowd, take advantage of Britain’s open regime, buy apartments in London and lead “bi-country” lives — like Shilpa Shetty.

Tittle tattle

On the question of whether Jyoti Basu made others happy, I have had an unexpected contribution from Srichand (“SP”) Hinduja.

As West Bengal chief minister, Basu hosted a dinner for the tycoon and other potential investors many years ago at the St James’s Court Hotel in London.

“He called us the ‘crown jewels among NRIs’,” recalled SP, who retains fond memories of the Communist leader.

The anecdote is confirmed by Manab Majumder though he reckons the expression Basu used was more like Ratna.

One of SP’s main concerns these days is organising a mega-party in London next month to mark the Leicester Square premiere of niece Ambika Hinduja’s Teen Patti, starring the Big B and the Big Ben.

Both Amitabh Bachchan and Sir Ben Kingsley have promised to grace the occasion with their presence.

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