The Telegraph
| Sunday, June 25, 2017 |


Eye on England

Eye on England

Eye on England
Amit Roy

Around the Reform Club in 80 minutes

  • India first: (Top) Daljit Sehbai; (right, second from left) David Niven as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days

The journalist and publisher, Daljit Sehbai, who came to the UK from India in 1955 and died last Sunday in London, aged 85, loved to show his guests around the prestigious Reform Club, where he was the first Asian to serve as chairman from 2000 to 2002.

His oil painting will remain on permanent display in the basement along with portraits of previous chairmen.

The Reform, at 104 Pall Mall in London, was famously the starting point for Phileas Fogg's journey, triggered by his £20,000 wager, in Jules Verne's 1873 novel, Around the World in 80 Days.

In the 1956 film adaptation, which won five Oscars, Fogg was played by David Niven, his French manservant Jean Passepartout by Cantinflas and Princess Aouda, the "daughter of a Bombay Parsi merchant" rescued by the Englishman from sati, by Shirley MacLaine.

Shortly after the Reform was founded in 1836 as a gentleman's club by like-minded souls who supported the Great Reform Act of 1832, Charles Barry, a leading architect, built a new clubhouse in the style of an Italian palazzo.

Daljit became a member in 1987, following in the footsteps of J.M. Barrie, Henri Cartier Bresson, Winston Churchill, E.M. Forster, Henry James, Lord Palmerston, William Makepeace Thackeray and H.G. Wells.

One of the early Indian members was Satyendra Prasanno Sinha, the 1st Baron Sinha of Raipur (1863-1928).

The Reform, which admitted women members in 1982, has "reciprocal arrangements" with elite establishments in various parts of the world.

In India, librarian Simon Blundell tells me, it is the Tollygunge Club in Calcutta.

"Daljit loved the Reform Club," said Hitesh Tailor, another Indian who was chairman last year and acknowledged it was "a door he opened".

Hitesh is also joint secretary of the National Council of British Indians, which Daljit set up as founder chairman "to promote and protect the legitimate and special interests of people of Indian origin in the UK".

Hitesh looked up some of Daljit's old correspondence, including a letter he wrote to David Cameron on September 10, 2012, scolding the then Prime Minister: "Although there are many Conservative MPs of Indian origin who are extremely able and capable of inclusion in your government, you have not found it possible to consider their merit for playing a part in running the government of this country."

His wife, Subhadra, to whom he was married for 59 years, said: "He was very proud to be Indian."

Daljit, who was also president of the Indian Journalists' Association last year, is survived by his wife, two daughters and five grandchildren.

Arresting cricket

  • Booked: A corner of England that is forever India

• Nineteen cricket fans arrested in India for celebrating Pakistan’s win against India in the ICC Champions Trophy “should be released immediately”, according to Amnesty International.

This was a report in The Guardian. Indeed, the arrests made international news and got into even the New York Times.

Were the arrests wise?

If the British were similarly to bring sedition charges, we'd be in deep trouble. Pakistani fans roared their approval when England were knocked out by Pakistan at Cardiff - even though the home team included two Pakistanis, Mooen Ali and Adil Rashid.

This time India did not play England but Indian fans invariably back the touring India side without fear of being arrested by police.

But when Bengali girl Isa Guha is in the BBC commentary box, she does her best to be neutral but her sympathies are understandably with England, since she once played for the women's team.


• Just remembered the evocative Marvin Gaye song, I Heard It Through the Grapevine .

Here's something I heard through the diplomatic grapevine.

The government in India was mightily relieved that even though the election in Britain produced a "hung parliament", Jeremy Corbyn didn't win.

Delhi was not overjoyed with the Labour party manifesto which, influenced presumably by Pakistani origin MPs, said: "We will also urge negotiations towards a political resolution in all other regions currently experiencing conflict, including Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen...

"Labour remains committed to an independent inquiry into Britain's military role in the 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar," it also pledged.

A senior Indian source summed up angrily: "It would have led to a rupture in relations."

Tittle tattle

• When it comes to choosing India's next president, UK Indians would probably prefer Meira Kumar. This is not a reflection on Ram Nath Kovind, but he is an unknown factor in England. This is in marked contrast to the poised Meira, who was stationed in London as a junior diplomat at India House and made a favourable impression in recent years when she returned as Speaker of the Lok Sabha.