The Telegraph
| Sunday, November 10, 2013 |


Eye on England

Eye on England
Amit Roy

Cameron makes the Calcutta connection

At his Diwali party at 10 Downing Street last week, David Cameron worked the rooms, meeting many of the 200-300 Indians he had invited. "I am going to Delhi and Calcutta," he said. "I haven't been to Calcutta before. I am looking forward to it."

  • Style icon: David and Samantha Cameron at the Swaminarayan Temple in north London

Since the Prime Minister will have a few crucial hours in Calcutta on November 14 before departing for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet in Colombo, the West Bengal government should seek to repair the terrible damage done to the state's economy by keeping Tata out of Singur.

Ceremonials should be kept to a minimum or dispensed with. Mamata should sit down with her top economic team, have a heart-to-heart with Cameron and emphasise: "I want to create jobs just like you do. Let's do business."

On a single A4 sheet, Amit Mitra should set out what Calcutta can offer Britain by way of practical economic engagement.

If time permits, she should show Cameron something of Calcutta — a fast drive along Red Road; a quick photo op outside the Victoria Memorial (tell Cameron that Lord Curzon was an "OE" — he will understand); in and out of the South Park cemetery, St John's Church and Eden Gardens; a round of Dalhousie Square; a brief boat ride on the Ganges; and a few minutes inside the Kali temple with the pandas requested not to hassle the PM.

For a meal, I would suggest luchi, aloor dom, kosha mangsho, sweet tomato chutney and pilau at Oh! Calcutta and a takeaway for the Cal-Colombo flight.

By way of gifts, Mamata should request Maina Bhagat at the Oxford Bookstore to pack, say, 50 of the best novels and books on India (including Geoffrey Moorhouse's Calcutta; Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy; various Tagore translations, including Shesher Kobita; Sankar's Chowringee). Someone should get Cameron's measurements — he is tall — and make him a Nehru jacket in simple dark blue, which I am sure he would wear.

Finally, a tip which the West Bengal government ignores at its peril — Cameron is incredibly proud of how beautiful his wife looked when she visited the Swaminarayan Temple in London. Someone with taste (Raima Sen and Sabya?) should choose perhaps a dozen of the best saris Calcutta has to offer. Nothing too gaudy; maybe include a typically Bengali cream silk sari with a red border.

Cameron will appreciate the gesture, as will SamCam, who is something of a style icon.

Diwali delights

Not that I have been into 10 Downing Street that many times, but I have not seen the place look prettier. There were flowers decorating the banisters, Rajasthani dolls located strategically and so many sweets heaped at one end of a drawing room that the place could easily be mistaken for the Ramkrishna Mishtanna Bhandar in Belgachia Villa.

Cameron has made a huge personal investment in India — this is his fourth trip.

"I do wish profoundly that we continue to do everything we can to build the relationship between Britain and India," he said at his Diwali party.

He spoke of "the co-operation between our universities... There's so much that we share together. And I very much look forward to making my third visit to India as Prime Minister, and seeing Manmohan Singh when I go. So let's all build this relationship together."

Now is the time for West Bengal to make its pitch.

Soft power

  • Calcutta calling: The Curious Incident... and War Horse; Pics: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Since Calcutta still remains India's city of culture — just — someone should talk to David Cameron about possibly getting a tour from War Horse, an innovative National Theatre production which I have just seen although it originally premiered in 2007.

War Horse is based on a 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo, who was inspired by family history. It tells the story of the World War I — but through the eyes of a horse called Joey and his relationship with a boy named Albert. The mock up of Joey and other horses is a triumph of puppetry. Incidentally, next year signals the 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

Another very successful National Theatre production, which I have also just seen, is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time — people will recognise the title is taken from the Sherlock Holmes story, Silver Blaze.

This is based on a 2003 novel by Mark Haddon about a troubled boy of 15, Christopher, who has Asperger Syndrome (many of us learnt about the disability from Shah Rukh Khan's My Name is Khan) but is brilliant at mathematics. When a neighbour's dog, Wellington, is found speared with a garden fork, Christopher sets out to solve the murder mystery but instead uncovers a web of complicated human relationships.

The National Theatre, which began life in 1963 with Laurence Olivier as its first director, is celebrating its 50th birthday. It has just appointed Rufus Norris to take over from its current head, Nick Hytner, from April 2015.

John Makinson, chairman of the National Theatre — he happens to be Nandana Sen's new husband — said: "In setting out to find a new director for the National Theatre, the board looked for an individual with a creative reputation that would command the respect and support of British theatre.... He is an exciting choice, someone who will build on the National Theatre's present reputation as one of the most admired and innovative performing arts organisations in the world."

The National Theatre represents that which is most effective about British soft power.

Garland story

Someone should advise British dignitaries about the politics of the garland. David Cameron keeps his on, as do the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Indians know better and immediately take them off. The Brits, who sit often with two three garlands — tough if you suffer from hay fever — believe their hosts would consider it rude if they removed them. So, being British, they continue to suffer in silence.

Party politics

  • Lighting the lamp: Ed Miliband; Pic: Raj D. Bakrania

David Cameron's Diwali party was not the only show in town. His reception was immediately followed by one hosted by the Labour Party, where its leader Ed Miliband lit the lamp.

"I understand some of you have come from another party," he joked.

To cheers, he announced: "I invite all of you to the Diwali party I will be holding at 10 Downing Street after (the general election in) 2015."

Indian origin MPs at No. 10 included Shailesh Vara, Paul Uppal and Priti Patel. The Labour celebrations were attended by Keith Vaz, Virendra Sharma and Seema Malhotra.

Tittle tattle

Why is it that Indian-owned hotels have become the destination of choice for high profile couples having affairs?

Joginder Sanger owns the Bentley in South Kensington where the now defunct News of the World tracked down former Australia leggie Shane Warne and Liz Hurley, who was then married to Indian businessman Arun Nayar in December 2010.

And now former England football manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, has revealed in his memoirs that he used the Leonard Hotel near Marble Arch in 2004 for his fling with the Bangladeshi secretary, Faria Alam.

The Leonard is owned by Hira and Barbara Sehgal. From now on, they could add a love surcharge for lunch at the Leonard ("as patronised by Sven and Faria").