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Eye on England 06-03-2011

When Moore is more, much more Return to Calcutta Obama RIP 80 not out Lady’s lashings Tittle tattle

By AMIT ROY LADY LAMENTS: Shreela Flather on why rich Indians should do more STAR STYLE: Colin Firth — Oscars 1, Flunkeys 0
  • Published 6.03.11
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When Moore is more, much more

You never know when you are seeing someone for the last time. Such is the case with Derek Edmund Moore, who died in Orissa on February 15, aged 87.

“Derek’s the kind of Englishman I like,” said the journalist Rahul Singh. “He was willing to accept India, warts and all.”

Derek, who was born in Battersea, south London, on September 11, 1923, went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he read a subject that would stand up in good stead: anthropology. At 18 he joined as a captain in the Maratha Regiment of the Indian army during the Second World War and spent four years in Belgaum and Bangalore. The link with India was revived with the first of many subsequent visits to India in 1971.

I last saw Derek on November 25 last year when his friend, Prafulla Mohanti, the Orissa-born artist, gave a party for Rahul, who had come over from Mumbai on one of his regular visits to London.

Derek’s role at such parties was invariably to defend India, usually against the British, with characteristic dry English wit. Prafulla’s was to recall his rural idyll, Nanpur — it’s the subject of his book My Village, My Life — which has been overtaken, alas, by “progress” and bisected by thundering lorries and speeding trains.

Derek “loved India, Orissa and Nanpur — he wanted to live there,” Prafulla tells me.

Indeed, Derek learnt to escape the English cold by wintering in Nanpur. He and Prafulla built a school and arts centre in Nanpur “to help, preserve and promote the dying arts of coastal Orissa”.

Derek’s tall house in Pimlico, in central London, became a watering hole for visiting Indian artists, writers and poets. Over the years Derek’s circle of Indian friends grew to take in everyone from Mulk Raj Anand to Rabi Ray, the former Speaker, and the current one, Meira Kumar, Keshav Malik the poet, Sonal Mansingh, M.F. Husain and Jatin Das, another Orissa artist.

Last Christmas, when an increasingly frail Derek sensed the end was nigh, he asked to be taken back to Nanpur where his ashes now lie scattered: a true Englishman, born and bred, but who has now become an indistinguishable part of the soil of India (as Nehru might have said).

“He was cremated in the garden of the house that was his home in India,” adds Prafulla.

Return to Calcutta

Since first time author Aneesha Capur was passing through London on her way home to San Francisco, a friend at HarperCollins India drew my attention to the debut novel she had published.

What’s newsworthy about Capur’s Stealing Karma is that it is set in Kenya where she spent her childhood.

Indians have had an intense relationship with East Africa for more than a century. However, very few works of art have emerged from the whole experience with the possible exception of Mira Nair’s 1991 movie, Mississippi Masala.

“I think part of the reason is that most East African Indians are in business so that’s the focus,” suggested Aneesha. “Another factor is a cultural bias for subjects like science, economics and law.”

“There were two inspirations behind the book,” explained Aneesha, who was born in Calcutta on October 19, 1973, into a Punjabi family, moved at the age of five to Nairobi where she grew up and is now settled in San Francisco with her husband, an Irishman.

“One was my background in Kenya and the other was the interest in the US in the eastern and western notions of consciousness,” she said.

There are three main female characters in Stealing Karma.

One is Mira Chand: “Mira was completing her Bachelor’s degree in Loreto College in Calcutta when her aunt arranged for her to meet Prashant Sharma. There was an age difference of 15 years between Mira and Prashant.”

At the start of the tale, Mira is suddenly widowed in Nairobi. She becomes so depressed that her daughter, Shanti, has to be brought up by the African housekeeper, Wairimu.

After a trip to China, Aneesha is expecting to be in Calcutta during her book tour of India. Her own itinerant existence reflects the typical story of Indian migration.

“I am proud of my heritage, I am proud to have been raised in Kenya and proud to live where I am right now,” said Aneesha. “I am proud to be Indian.”

Indians in India, the UK, the US, Africa and the Middle East are different.

But at the beginning of her novel, she quotes Lord Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita to explain what possibly ties Indians across the world: “Many lives, Arjuna, you and I have lived, I remember them all, but thou dost not.”

Obama RIP

This kind of journalistic exercise, questionable in taste but entertaining nevertheless, may not be attempted by any publication in India but GQ in Britain commissioned seven writers to pen imaginary obituary notices on Barack Obama.

Unlike some others, Mathew d’Ancona, a former colleague from my Sunday Telegraph days, avoided the cliché of sudden assassination and instead imagined that “the 90-year-old was found dead in his bed at the Obama family compound in Honolulu” on October 4, 2051.

Matthew sees Obama winning a second term in 2012 when he “suddenly faced an unexpectedly moderate Republican opponent in the late Bobby Jindal, former Congressman and governor of Louisiana”.

The ferociously fought campaign would be “nicknamed the ‘goat curry’ election because of the candidates’ respective Kenyan and Punjabi origins,” Matthew predicts.

If perchance a similar project were tried in India, how might a famous Bengal cricketer’s departure to the great pavilion in the sky be reported in, say, 2082?

No doubt, he would be quoted as declaring: “This is clearly a plot by the late Greg Chappell to keep me out of IPL 75.”

80 not out

England’s top cricket writers, past and present, gathered for lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel in Hyde Park Corner last week to raise a glass (or was it two or three?) to one of their own: Dicky Rutnagur, who turned 80 on February 26, 2011.

Lady’s lashings

Baroness Shreela Flather, 77, combined great passion with anger at a function at the House of Lords last week held partly to launch her book Woman: Acceptable Exploitation for Profit (Whittles Publishing; £16.99).

The odds are stacked against women in India, where the rich don’t do enough to help the poor, she raged. She referred disparagingly to the ladies who shop for luxury goods in Delhi and yet never think of giving even Rs 5 to the impoverished. Britain, in contrast, she pointed out, has a tradition: “If you have, you give.”

“We have not learnt anything good from the British,” she observed.

May be if Mukesh Ambani had been present, the boss of Reliance Industries would have mounted a spirited rebuttal of her jibe that his glass palace in Mumbai was nothing more than a “phallic symbol”.

Tittle tattle

More on Brits carrying their own bags.

Although Colin Firth, star of The King’s Speech, brought glory to Britain with an Oscar for Best Actor, there was no flunkey waiting to carry his bags when he and his wife, Livia, landed back in London from LA.