The Telegraph
| Sunday, July 27, 2014 |


Eye on England

Eye on England
Amit Roy

India and Israel: testing the new friendship

  • Jewish ties: Eitan Na'eh (left) with Ranjan Mathai

Until now I had thought the initials "IJA" in London stood only for the Indian Journalists' Association but I have just discovered there also exists an Indian Jewish Association.

Last week the latter held a reception which was addressed by the Indian high commissioner Ranjan Mathai, the former foreign secretary who had once served as Indian ambassador in Israel.

Mathai, who revealed he is known as "the lighted-hearted ambassador" because he likes to tell jokes, recalled the Indian embassy's cricket team in Israel was "thrashed" by a home team whose members consisted substantially of Indian Jews who had emigrated to Israel.

At my school in London, a third of the pupils were Jewish: some became my best friends. I was also much moved when Ian Zachariah gave me a tour of Calcutta's beautiful synagogues and its Jewish cemetery. And one of the Jewish speakers last week stressed that in 2,000 years in India, Jews had never faced discrimination — something that make Indians proud.

Mathai was followed by Eitan Na'eh, Israel's deputy ambassador in London, who spoke of the "sombre times" through which his country was passing and of Israel's right to defend itself. Even as he was speaking, Israeli jets were killing 15 people sheltering in a UN-protected school in Gaza.

Since the latest offensive began on July 8, some 800 Palestinians, including many women and children, have died, compared with 34 Israelis, 32 of them soldiers.

Afterwards, I had a long talk with Na'eh and pointed out that Israel was losing its friends — in an article that same day in the Daily Mail Max Hastings had summed up, "I've always loved Israel but this brutality breaks my heart."

The British government supports Israel but the new foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, was in Tel Aviv that same evening and had warned: "As this campaign goes on and the civilian casualties in Gaza mount, Western opinion is becoming more and more concerned and less and less sympathetic to Israel."

The same point was made by the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who is Jewish himself: "I simply cannot justify what we are seeing unfolding in Gaza: the mounting death toll of innocent Palestinian civilians."

Na'eh is unimpressed — he insists tiny Israel is fighting for its survival. "It's something a huge country like India will not be able to understand."

Equal rights

This morning's scholarship essay for Oxbridge entrance is: "Discuss with reference to the film Casablanca whether 'a kiss is just a kiss'."

During last week's opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, John Barrowman, an "openly gay entertainer", kissed a "male bride" in a mock marriage ceremony.

Britain now allows "gay marriage" but Barrowman wanted to make the point that in 42 out of 53 Commonwealth countries, homosexuality is still a criminal offence.

The Queen, who opened the Games, appeared unfazed by Barrowman's flamboyant gesture. Meanwhile, Britain's powerful gay lobby used Twitter to heap praise on Barrowman.

Fergal McFerran tweeted, "John Barrowman's kiss was important beyond symbolism", while Nicola Coles enthused, "Watch Glasgow snub homophobic nations".

Liberal Democrat leader and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who will pay his first visit to India shortly, urged fellow Commonwealth countries to respect everyone in society, "regardless of their faith, background and sexuality".

The other day two Indian men sitting in front of me during an Indian Film Festival screening of Anup Singh's Qissa snogged through the entire movie. I said nothing for fear of being accused of being a Baba Ramdev supporter but Gurinder Chadha, the director, declared I should have tapped them on the shoulder: "Excuse me, you are distracting me."

Being English

  • Ground reality: Home-grown potatoes

The expression "Oh, you're so English!" is usually meant as a mild insult when levelled by a fellow Indian.

Thus, I took it as a compliment when the remark was made by an English friend when he learnt I quite like pottering around in the garden — I generally do what I am told by my wife.

Instructed to get some potatoes, I went out and dug a few from the small vegetable patch. The fact is Britain's gardening industry is worth tens of billions of pounds. One of the highlights of the season is the Chelsea Flower Show, where it is dangerous standing between an elderly middle class woman and a plant bargain.

Given so many Punjabis in Britain came from rural backgrounds it is surprising so few took up gardening, especially as an antidote to working in soulless factories. Today, I can almost always tell an Indian household by looking at the front garden — nine times out of 10, it is unkempt. I think we could do with importing some good malis from India.

Wrong degree

Several Asian businessmen, awarded honorary degrees by universities (sometimes in return for their financial generosity), have started adding the prefix "Dr" to their name.

Perhaps I am wrong but my understanding is that in order to be called a "Dr", a person needs to be either a qualified medical doctor or have a PhD from a university.

One businessman I admire gives money to a great many organisations and worthy causes but he bullies everyone into addressing him as "Dr" though he qualifies on neither ground.

Meanwhile, you need a PhD — plus a Bengali translation — to make more sense of a Tagore "Time for thought" quote on the London Underground: "Faith is the bird which feels the light when the dawn is still dark."

Good Lord

  • What next? Ravi Jadeja (left) and James Anderson at Lord's

Over the years, Lord Swraj Paul has collected a great many honours, including International Icon of the Decade at the Global Indian Excellence Summit held at the Marriott Grosvenor Square last week.

But the good Lord's real achievement can now be revealed — it was in ensuring India won the second Test at Lord's.

Finding himself with a little time on his hands on Monday last week, he went round to Lord's where he has been an MCC member since 1970. Since there was a flurry of wickets after lunch, which Swraj attributed quite reasonably to his own presence, he muttered, "This is interesting," and sat down.

"Someone said the last time India won at Lord's was 1986 — when I was also present," Swraj told me.

The moral of the lesson, he quipped, was that "if India want to win, they should make sure I am present".

Tittle tattle

  • Director's cut: Kabir Khan with Saif Ali Khan in Wembley

The director Kabir Khan, an old friend, did very well to take over the entire Oval cricket ground in south London last week where he was filming a sequence from his new Bollywood thriller, Phantom, starring Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif.

I dropped in to see the impressive shoot where over lunch Kabir said he would have preferred to have filmed the scene at Lord's "but they were much more expensive and, in the end, they said it wouldn't be possible".

In terms of PR and revenue, Lord's have missed a trick. Next time a Bollywood crew should negotiate using the good office of Lord Paul — nothing like filming on a day when India are actually winning at the "home of cricket".