The Telegraph
| Sunday, June 8, 2014 |


Eye on England

Eye on England
Amit Roy

Adding to the spice of life

  • Home turf: Yusuf Hamied points out the room he occupied in Christ's College as a fresher in 1954

Only a handful of Indians have received honorary degrees from Cambridge over the past 800 years and fewer still for science. So Wednesday, June 18, will be a proud day for India and for Yusuf Hamied, who will be made an honorary Doctor of Science in an ancient ceremony at the Senate House.

The plant scientist, Gurudev Singh Khush, received an honorary Doctorate of Science in 2000. Doctor of Law has been conferred on Ratan Tata (2010), Amartya Sen (2009), Manmohan Singh (2006) and Shankar Dayal Sharma (1993). V.S. Naipaul got Doctor of Letters in 1983 and Mother Teresa Doctor of Divinity in 1977.

Yusuf's credentials are summed up by the university as: "Pharmaceutical chemist and philanthropist, Honorary Fellow of Christ's College, Chairman of Cipla Limited, recipient of the Padma Bhushan."

Born on July 25, 1936, Yusuf came up to Christ's College in 1954 to read chemistry, got a First, and stayed on to do a PhD which he completed in 1960 at the age of 23.

A documentary film, Fire in the Blood, highlights the way Yusuf insisted on selling anti-AIDs drugs to millions of suffering Africans at "a dollar a day", thereby undercutting Western companies who saw death as a way of maximising their profits.

When I rang Yusuf last week, he was in Valencia in Spain and about to engage in a very important activity.

"My very good friend, (the conductor) Zubin Mehta, is taking me to lunch at the aquarium — there's a restaurant there," said Yusuf.

I refrained from asking him about the restaurant's supply of fresh fish but he did settle a debating point about the way some Indians add spice to otherwise bland life in the West.

"Yes, Zubin always carries a small pot of chillies in his pocket — and so do I and so does (my wife) Farida," revealed Yusuf.

Fear in the fort

  • Houston calling: Deepika Ahlawat

"Houston, We've Got a Problem," is the new mantra in the life of Deepika Ahlawat, the museum curator, historian and author of her bestselling debut novel, Maya's Revenge.

The saying, based on the 1974 film about how Nasa controllers brought the crippled Apollo 13 space capsule back to Earth, reflects the reality in Deepika's life.

She has been appointed co-curator of an exhibition that will open in 2017 at one of America's largest museums — the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

"It's called 'Art and Identity in Rajput India' but I would like to call it, 'Love and War in Rajputana'," says Deepika, whose home is in London, but who has been living in Jodhpur since she was assistant curator in London in 2009 on the V&A's very successful exhibition, "Maharaja: The Splendours of India's Royal Courts".

Houston has a link with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodphur, where Deepika has been doing her primary research. Deepika herself has been allocated quarters right inside Mehrangarh Fort but professes not to be even a little bit scared when the wind rattles the old windows at night. She has been going through old documents and uncovering fascinating new material on suttee, for example, which will find its way into the scholarly catalogue being prepared for Houston.

She says it is a city with a "highly educated, highly cultured" Indian population — "some of them work for Nasa".

Deepika has just arrived in London to do a bit of research on the Rajput-Raj connection at the British Library.

Deepika has also been working on her second novel, which refers to Shah Jahan's son who was murdered by his own brother, Aurangzeb.

"It's called The Treasure of Dara Shikoh," Deepika tells me. "It's Fifty Shades of Grey meets Games of Thrones in 17th century Rajasthan."

Zilli story

  • Delhi disaster: Aldo Zilli

The 58-year-old Italian celebrity chef, Aldo Zilli, who opened a restaurant, Zerruco by Zilli, last year inside the Ashok Hotel in Delhi, has admitted defeat and returned to London.

"India was a complete disaster — it was the worst six months of my life," Zilli told The Daily Telegraph at the Waitrose summer party in London.

"It turns out, Indians don't like Italian food — not authentic Italian food anyway," complained Zilli. "They don't like subtle flavours, everything has to pack a punch."

"I didn't realise so many were vegetarian," he added. "They have Italian food in India but they Indianise it and I didn't want to do that to my menu so I got out."

Wishing to check the Zilli season story, I contacted his PR lady who got back after consulting the great man: "I am sorry Aldo is in the middle of filming, so he can't help on this occasion."

Perhaps he was with his best friend, Indian chef Atul Kochhar, enjoying a curry.

RM's priorities

Ranjan Mathai's party trick to deal with protestors — and there is no shortage of such folk when you are Indian high commissioner in London — is to invite them to take tea with him inside India House.

Last week Mathai had a luncheon briefing session for the Indian Journalists' Association, when he set out the top priority of the new government — "getting the economy back on track".

Mathai, who arrived in the UK late last year, is a former foreign secretary who had once also served in London as deputy high commissioner before going to Paris as ambassador. Since there will be a high degree of continuity in India's foreign policy, especially in the UK-India relationship, there really wouldn't be much to be gained by replacing Mathai with a new high commissioner at this stage.

Foyle's war

This sounds excessively sentimental but I was very fond of the old higgledy-piggledy Foyle's bookshop at 113-119 Charing Cross Road which I would visit with my father and reserve school prizes (yes, I am being boastful again). Now, the old place has been closed and the shop relocated to a flashy new flagship a few doors along at 107 Charing Cross Road. This will have a 200-seat theatre and become a "cultural hub".

It's like replacing the Oxford Bookstore in Park Street with a fancy new premises. Call me old fashioned but I was happier with the old Foyle's.

Tittle tattle

  • Howzat: Jos Butler run out by S. Senanayake

When the Indian cricket team arrives for a five-Test series, it will have to be prepared for the artful new practice of "Butlering" — as championed by England batsman Jos Butler.

This is backing up well outside the crease as the bowler strides in to deliver so as to be prepared to steal a quick single.

When Sachithra Senanayake ran out Butler in the deciding 5th ODI last week at Edgbaston, after having given him a couple of warnings, the English cricket writers accused the Sri Lankan bowler of infringing the "spirit" of the noble game. His bowling action has also been questioned because Senanayake (like Murali before) has made the fatal mistake of taking English wickets.

But "Butlering" has succeeded "Mankading", so named after Vinoo Mankad who similarly twice ran out Australian batsman Bill Brown in Australia in 1947.

Later this summer the Indians will also get it in the neck from English cricket writers, who are mostly aggressive former players, if they attempt to do anything other than be gracious losers.