Eye on England 09-01-2011

Rich Indians make it into Tatler Language, please Weighty problem Picket princess Bhajji beware Tittle tattle

By AMIT ROY PRESENT PERFECT: A slimmer Margaret Balneaves with a cardboard cut-out of what she was FIGHTER: Jayaben Desai (right) on Grunwick picket line
  • Published 9.01.11
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Rich Indians make it into Tatler

Ahead of her wedding to Prince William on April 29, Kate Middleton has been given the Andy Warhol treatment in the latest cover of Tatler.

The previous issue of the monthly magazine, which monitors the social scene, carried a cover feature on rich Indians in London — “From Mumbai to Mayfair: The Rise of the Indian Empire.”

“Many predict this will be India’s century,” says Tatler. “Many rich Indians are enjoying that fact here in England.”

This would have intrigued my late colleague, Nigel Dempster, who felt very few UK Indians merited entry in his Daily Mail gossip column.

Better late than never but Tatler has swept up four billionaires, Lakshmi Mittal, “aluminium tycoon”Anil Agarwal, Naresh Goyal of Jet Airways, and Vijay Mallya.

The latter is described as “a flashy peacock” who owns 260 vintage motors, a 311ft yacht, Indian Empress, four private jets and a home in London, Stowe Castle near Silverstone, an estate in Berkshire and a castle in Scotland.

Personally, what I like best about Mallya is that whenever he is in London, he takes his mum with him everywhere, nice Indian boy that he is.

Also thrown into the mix are other “Bollygarchs”, a contrived derivative of Russian oligarchs, represented by Lord Karan Bilimoria of Cobra beer and his wife Heather; Cyrus Vandrevala (“the dashing and urbane CEO of Intrepid Capital Partners, a US-based private equity firm”) and his wife, Priya; Vilas Gadkari (“one of Europe’s top hedgefund managers”) and his wife Reita; and Raj Gill (“renowned as the Square Mile’s most extraordinary lone trader”) and his “glossy wife” Priyanka.

While on the subject of wealth, it is worth pointing out that the Grosvenor House in Park Lane has just been bought by Subrata Roy’s Sahara group for £470m: the hotel is frequently used for Indian charity balls.

Meanwhile, I have heard an encouraging anecdote about my former best friend, Lakshmi Mittal, who went into a restaurant with a group of hangers-on. Aware that Indians have a habit of humiliating waiters to demonstrate how important they are, the steel tycoon spoke up for the serving staff just as the less important were preparing to issue exacting orders: “Just order once and think before you order.” Perhaps there is hope yet for Lakshmi.

Language, please

When chaos descended in Britain in the old days, people would invariably invoke “the Black Hole of Calcutta”.

Now, the “Third World” is wheeled in at the slightest pretext. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Pope’s representative, said landing at London’s Heathrow Airport was like arriving in “a Third World country”.

The Sun headlined last month’s snow chaos thus: “Heathrow? It’s like the third world.”

Lest Indians get too giddy with the Tatler testimonial, it is worth looking at the Daily Mail’s report on the recent uncleared rubbish in Exeter: “It’s like Mumbai slums, not Devon.”

We will know the old world order has reversed when people, eyeing the rubbish piling up outside the Milk Colony in north Calcutta, turn up their dainty Bengali noses in disgust: “This is just like Mayfair!”

Weighty problem

Post the year-end holiday season, when people have indulged on turkey and Christmas pudding, papers are full of tips on slimming.

“Avoid chocolate and biscuits between meals,” advises “fitness guru” Rosemary Conley, who also urges “more exercise, walking, swimming and eating a small piece of fruit during the day”.

Slimming magazines award prizes to readers who lose the most weight and photograph winners next to cardboard cut-outs of themselves as they were.

Margaret Balneaves, a 51-year-old widow from Edinburgh crowned 50-plus Slimmer of the Year after she dropped from 21 stone to 9st 12lb, declared: “I have got so much more confident now.”

These days when calling a person “fat” is deemed offensive, I recall how cruel we were as children in Patna. Partly inspired by Toomai in Kipling’s Jungle Book, we dubbed a hugely obese batchmate “elephant” and his kid brother “baby elephant”.

Perhaps the antidote to rosogolla and increasing incidence of middle-class obesity in India is brisk cycling, say, on designated safe lanes from Belgachia via Shyambazar along Central Avenue to Chandni Chowk — in London, thanks to mayor Boris Johnson, 6,000 bikes for hire are scattered across the city.

Picket princess

The obituary columns of British newspapers are truly institutions.

“They are the first thing I read in the morning,” an English gentleman once observed. “If I am not in there, I get up.”

Recently, the obit columns paid tribute to two people I knew — Anthony Howard and Jayaben Desai, who have died, aged 76 and 77 respectively.

Howard, a wonderful political commentator, was once editor of the New Statesman. A callow youth instructed by my father to go to Bihar and interview his friend Jayaprakash Narayan in 1975, I did so — the story was spiked both by my own paper, The Daily Telegraph, and the New Statesman. After the declaration of the Emergency, Howard came up to me at a party and mollified ruffled feathers with a single word, “Sorry.”

Jayaben was a remarkable Gujarati lady who came to prominence during a vicious dispute over trade union recognition at Grunwick, a north London film processing laboratory owned by George Ward, an Anglo-Indian.

From 1976-78, she stood on the picket lines as the conflict turned violent and polarised the Left and Right in British politics.

One morning I climbed into a bus carrying “scab” workers, went past the pickets, entered the heavily fortified factory — and came out with a pro-strikers report. The trade unions were shocked when the pro-management Daily Telegraph defied party line and carried the report on page one.

Jayaben came to be recognised, rightly, as a true heroine who fought for the rights of Asian women workers. The truth is Jayaben felt badly let down by Britain’s trade union leadership, who then, as now, had little time for the grievances of Asian women.

Bhajji beware

Australian sledging has been outdone during the current Ashes series by the sonnets devised by the English “Barmy Army” to undermine the Aussies and lift the England players.

England paceman Tim Bresnan inspired a song which a sniggering Michael Vaughan recounted on air: We’ve had a garlic naan,/ We’ve had a butter naan,/ We’ve had a plain,/ We’ve had a keema, too/ But our favourite naan is Tim Bres-naan/ All because he hates the convicts, too.”

I hate to think what heights of literature will be provoked by Bhajji and the over- excitable Sreesanth when India tour England in the summer. A worrying number of songs with the word, “monkey”, can be adapted. Years ago, a banner at the Oval, when India was batting, carried words worthy of the Bard: “You need more than curry to give you runs.”

Tittle tattle

Forget Mario Testino. For making a woman look stunning, photographer Karan Kapoor appears in a class of his own.

Shashi Kapoor’s 40-year-old son, who lives in Chelsea, London, with wife and two kids, has done a series of remarkable portraits of Davina McCall, presenter of the Big Brother reality shows on television.

Davina is nice looking enough, to be sure, but the hugely talented Karan has made her glow with beauty.