The Telegraph
| Sunday, September 7, 2014 |


Eye on England

Eye on England
Amit Roy

Atithi devo bhavah on the BBC

  • Team Taj: Executive chef Hemant Oberoi (centre) with GM Gaurav Pokhariyal to his left

Indians who come to Bombay — let's not use the word "Mumbai" here — and want an elegant five-star hotel divide broadly into two categories.

There is the Oberoi lot and then there is the Taj crowd.

But what makes the Taj the Taj?

I will declare my prejudices by admitting I think it's the best hotel in the world — or least, I used to like it a lot more when I was 18 and first stayed there in the old wing. I liked the fact they indulged me when I asked for six papers. I used to love the breeze coming into the open lobby from the Arabian Sea, and I loved meeting friends in the Sea Lounge. And even today I am happiest in the Nalanda bookshop looking at the novels published only in India.

"There's no way I'm letting you pay for that," I heard a voice say after I had managed to locate a copy of Harivansh Rai Bachchan's autobiography, In the Afternoon of Time.

I turned round to find Ajitabh Bachchan.

The question is how do you capture what is special about the Taj in a film?

The BBC is making a brave attempt in a four-part documentary series, Hotel India — we have had the first two. It has been full of bossy women plus senior hotel executives holding up wine glasses to the light and saying they needed to be cleaned a bit more. This was to demonstrate the hotel's attention to detail. It is all part of India's atithi devo bhavah philosophy — guest is God.

We see the Tata suite (�9,500 a night) being prepared for a VVIP but it's irritating we don't actually discover who the guest is — it would be reassuring to know President Obama flings his socks all over the place or that David Cameron ordered masala dosa from room service. And we have yet to come to the sensitive bit — the November 2008 massacre.

Episode two last week featured the super rich of Bombay participating in a Christie's auction of Indian art — and a Gaitonde breaking the Rs 20 crore barrier. Let me put this delicately — portraying the wives of very rich men in a sympathetic way on television is a challenging business.

Master Mitra

  • It's Never too late: Dillon Mitra

If you want a career in acting, there is nothing like starting early — as Dillon Mitra did at the age of four months in a promo for the Discovery Channel.

Since then he has done ads for numerous clients, including Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Dream Toy, Shell and Early Learning Centre.

Ten years on, Dillon Mitra, from Muswell Hill in north London, has just made his debut in The Hundred-Foot Journey. He plays Mukhtar, the young kid in the Kadam family. He apparently kept the cast, including Dame Helen Mirren and Om Puri, entertained with his card tricks.

We are told that Master Mitra, who "has always wanted to be an actor and is passionate about films", currently attends the prestigious Central School of Speech & Drama on Saturdays.

Well, it is nice to meet a Mitra who does not want to be either something big in Ficci or a minister in the West Bengal government.

At the rate this boy is going, his dad should soon be able to afford a holiday home in Ballygunge.

Tolly's secret

Tollygunge is where my maternal grandparents settled after Assam, so this was a gathering point during school and university holidays in England. What I hadn't realised was that during World War II, Tollygunge was used by the British as a sort of Indian "Bletchley Park" for "sending and receiving secret coded messages to covert allied operations behind the Japanese lines in Burma".

Marsali Wood, 88, from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, has just returned from an emotional trip to Tollygunge to mark the 69th anniversary of VJ Day (Victory in Japan).

Marsali and her daughter Karen visited the station where Marsali had once served as a Morse code operator attached to Force 139 of Britain's Special Operations Executive. She had been called up in May 1944 at the age of 17 and sent on a training course before setting sail for Calcutta in January 1945.

"The longer you were transmitting the more dangerous it was for those behind the lines," revealed Marsali. "There was always a slight worry that the Japanese would invade."

This time Marsali managed to avoid something even more hazardous — Mamata's storm troopers on the march.

Still waters

  • SPIRITED: Lord Karan Bilimoria

Indians in the UK divide broadly into two categories — those who have developed a taste for sparkling water and the rest who stick with still.

The subject came up when Lord Karan Bilimoria, best known in Britain for having founded Cobra Beer, told me he has just started a new venture selling Belu bottled water from Wales.

It will be distributed mostly though the 8,000-10,000 Indian restaurants in the UK — and "100 per cent of the profits" will be donated to WaterAid, the charity which strives to bring clean water to 26 poor countries.

I asked Karan (recently appointed chancellor of Birmingham University) what he drinks when thirsty — still or sparkling?

"Still," he says.

Backing BCCI

  • Loyal: Sunil Gavaskar

Sunil Gavaskar was remarkably loyal to the BCCI last week when asked by moderator Mark Nicholas during a panel discussion at Lord's whether India pays enough attention to Test cricket.

"Yes, they do," responded Gavaskar.

This was after Sir Ian Botham had spoken of his dislike of the IPL and the need to curb its corrupt practices — "To kill the serpent, you must cut off its head" — during his MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture.

"If you talk to the Indian players they know whatever they are doing at the 50 overs or T20 level. For them to be recognised in the history of the game as good players or great players, they need to do well at the Test level," Gavaskar continued. "They do care about Test cricket. It's just they have been hammered by an England team that recovered, was rejuvenated and thanks to some splendid swing bowling from Jimmy Anderson just beat them outright. But I do believe that India's Test cricket..."

Nicholas cut in: "Do you believe that the BCCI..."

After India's 0-4, 0-4 and 1-3 defeats in England and Australia, not everyone will be convinced by Gavaskar's defence of the BCCI: "They are not neglecting Test cricket — wherever the schedule allows they will always have a three Test series or a two Test series. I think it is not the correct impression that BCCI are not interested in Test cricket."

Tittle tattle

Sarat Bose, elder brother of Subhas Bose, was born on September 6, 1889 — which means yesterday was his 125th birth anniversary. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn which is where Dr Vince Cable, the current business secretary, was due to deliver the Sarat Bose Memorial Lecture yesterday on "consolidating Anglo-Indian economic ties".

Sarat Bose strongly opposed the partition of Bengal. Perhaps he would have had some sympathy for those who now oppose the partition of the United Kingdom in the Scottish referendum in just 11 days' time on September 18.