Eye on England 11-05-2008

Boris gets on his bike No Payne, no gain Royal Ramayan Cambridge returned Karat & Stick Tittle tattle

By AMIT ROY Epic tradition: Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar Turning a new leaf: Professor Jaideep Prabhu All that glitters: Asha Modi
  • Published 11.05.08

Boris gets on his bike

London’s new mayor, Boris Johnson, and his 42-year-old barrister wife, Marina, mingled with Sikhs at the Vaisakhi celebrations in Trafalgar Square the morning after his famous victory the night before against Ken Livingstone.

If Marina wore a red kameez with matching dupatta as though to the manner born, it is because she is the daughter of a Sikh mother. Her father, the veteran BBC journalist, Sir Charles Wheeler, who was once stationed in Delhi, was married to a Sikh, Dip Singh.

During the election campaign, when Boris was challenged by Sri Lankan radio presenter, Nihal Arthanayake, about his ethnic credentials, he responded, “You can’t out-ethnic me, Nihal!”, adding “my (four) children are a quarter Indian, so put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

When Boris’s brief first marriage to Allegra Mostyn-Owen ended in divorce in 1993, he married Marina Wheeler.

Whether Marina behaved in an Indian or un-Indian fashion can be the subject for debate but she chose not to dump her husband when he was editor of The Spectator and had an affair with his deputy, Petronella Wyatt, that ended in tears and an unwanted pregnancy for her.

Some predicted that Boris’s career was over when he was sacked from the Tory front bench by his then leader, Michael Howard, for “lying” about his affair with Petronella. For the time being, Boris, who steps down as MP for the safe Tory seat of Henley, appears to have rescued his second marriage as well as his political future.

He began his first day in his new job as he always does and in a way the Mayor of Calcutta could emulate — he cycled to work.


No Payne, no gain

BBC World’s Asia Today, necessary viewing for the political elite in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, will have a new editor from the end of July, when Rita Payne steps down from the post.

Although a cliché that BBC journalists avoid, this really is “the end of an era”.

Rita is a friend, as is her husband, Geoffrey, and their talented photographer daughter, Tania. Periodically, their home in west London has almost resembled a Howrah station milling with journalists linked with India.

Benazir — “call me Bibi, my friends do” — was always charming and polite with Rita, who, in her turn, was unfailingly charming and polite with all who sought invitations on to her programme.

She has been especially skilful in dealing with outsize Indian egos. For example, one journalist in Delhi threw a fit because the van sent to ferry him to the studio was not air-conditioned.

She expects to undertake a farewell professional trip to India, do freelance projects for the BBC and build up the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association. If there is one hope she expresses about Indian attitudes, it is that the Indian establishment should be less nationalistic about criticisms of India on the BBC.

Rita, born Rita Borgohain in Dibrugarh in Assam, came to Britain in 1971, and has worked for the BBC for 30 years.

As one of her senior colleagues remarked, “her departure will leave an enormous gap. As Asia Editor, she has built up the channel’s reputation, and maintained an amazing range of contacts. We can be quite certain we’ll never find another Rita — because she is one of a kind.”


Royal Ramayan

Who better to inaugurate the British Library’s new digital version of its illustrated 17th century copy of the Ramayan than Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, who took over as ruler of Udaipur in 1984 as the 76th generation in a dynasty stretching back to 566 AD?

Shriji, 64, keeper of arguably the most beautiful hotel in the world, the Lake Palace in Udaipur, is the descendant of the royal who commissioned the lavishly illustrated Ramayan — Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar (1628-1652).

The British Library is introducing cutting edge technology, Turning the Pages, where “interactive animation allows the user to leaf though the pages of a rare book or manuscript virtually in a highly realistic manner”.

The British Library has digitised 18 titles, including Sultan Baybars’ Qur’an. That was made possible by a donation from Sir Gulam Noon, the businessman also funding the Ramayan project.

Having met and chatted to Shriji, I am impressed with his actor’s voice and bearded, expressive face. He is keen to play King Lear on the London stage, though if he had to pick his ideal role, it would be that of Malvolio in Twelfth Night.


Cambridge returned

Professor Jaideep Prabhu already lives in Cambridge with his Spanish wife, Angeles, and their seven-month-old son, Gabriel, so he won’t have to move home when he takes up as an important new appointment in September as the first Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business and Enterprise at Cambridge University.

The professorship, funded by a £3.2 million Indian government grant, will be based at the Cambridge Centre for Indian Business at the Judge Business School.

In his latest avatar, Jaideep will commission research on how the Fortune 500 western companies are championing the cause of innovation in India, how Indian firms are doing the same abroad and how cutting edge technology is fundamentally changing business practice in India, even among the poorest (eg. Kerala fishermen using mobile phones to check fish prices).

Jaideep was born in Bangalore into a Mangalorean family (“the same community as Aishwarya (Rai)”), and studied at IIT Delhi and in California. His mother, Rani, head of the Dhirubhai Ambani School in Mumbai, grew up in Calcutta where she went to Loreto College.

At present, Jaideep does not mind commuting from Cambridge as he currently specialises on India as director of Research and Professor of Marketing at the Tanaka Business School at Imperial College, London.

Surveying the glories of Cambridge on a glorious spring day, he enthused why he had wanted a local job: “I will be able to take my son to nursery.”


Karat & Stick

Leaflets from Art Karat used to go straight into my bin but I shall mend my ways now that I have met the jeweller behind the design — Asha Modi.

In London with her wares, she tells me she has done the jewellery for a number of movies, including Devdas.

But now that her business is apparently booming, particularly among rich Indians — a Calcutta store in Forum 2 is coming — “I am not interested in Bollywood anymore,” she says dismissively.


Tittle tattle

Despite a ubiquitous poster campaign, Salman (“the buck stops with me”) Khan failed to materialise for the Zee Cine Awards in London last Saturday, with no explanation or apology offered to his fans.

They were not consoled by the appearance of Shilpa Shetty who was escorted by businessman Raj Kundra, now referred to as her “boyfriend”. He is believed to be the same fellow with whom she once insisted she was not having an affair in a 1000-word statement because she was not the kind of girl who messed around with married men and in any case his marriage had ended before she had even met him and his sponsorship of her perfume and her Bollywood musical had nothing to do with how she felt deep down as woman who was lonely in a foreign country and……(contd. page 94)…