Eye on England 17-07-2011

Mala memorial Queen and tie What crisis? Liz’s lip lock Tittle tattle

By AMIT ROY ROME CALLING: Woody Allen on the setsy shooting in New York GOSSIP GIRL: Liz Hurle
  • Published 17.07.11

Summer busting out all over

Christ’s College, Cambridge, already has the bust of one Indian — the eminent scientist Dr Jagadish Chandra Bose.

To that, last weekend, was added the bust of another distinguished old boy — Dr Yusuf Hamied, chairman of Cipla, the pharmaceutical giant, who was being honoured for making relatively cheap anti-HIV/AIDs and malaria drugs available to Africa in defiance of the wishes of western companies.

“He has made more impact (than most people) on human happiness and individuals — there could be few people in Cambridge’s history who have had had such an impact,” said the Master of Christ’s, Professor Frank Kelly, unveiling the bust last weekend, at a ceremony where Yusuf and his wife, Farida, were present.

“Yusuf is an honorary fellow of the college and that is not to do with his philanthropy towards the college — that has to do with his impact on the world in what Yusuf has done in making inexpensive drugs — generic drugs — available in developing parts of the world,” emphasised Kelly, a mathematician himself who has returned impressed after a lecture tour of India.

Yusuf came up to Christ’s in 1954 from Bombay to read natural sciences, graduated with a First and completed his PhD by 1960, all by the age of 23.

As India and the European Union try to finalise a crucial free trade agreement, Western drug companies are urging the Indian government to scrap Section 3D of India’s Patents Act.

“Section 3D stops frivolous patenting, it stops patents which have no novelty, it stops patents on incremental innovation,” explained Yusuf. “In Europe and in America this kind of patenting is allowed. In India, it’s not allowed — 90 per cent of all the AIDs drugs produced in the world comes from India which is a hell of an achievement.”

“The $100m that I export to Africa, if I sold the same volume in America I would earn $4bn,” he reckoned. “So indirectly a company like Cipla is doing more humanitarian work than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett put together.”

Present at the unveiling with Yusuf, who will be celebrating his 75th birthday on July 25, were several of his contemporaries from 1954.

“Old friends bring back many memories of Christ’s College,” remarked Yusuf, who announced he intends donating £2m to his college over the next 10 years. “I am very happy to be here. And every time I walk in I feel 18 again.”

Mala memorial

A dignified memorial for the author Mala Sen was held last week at the Nehru Centre in London.

The author of the 1991 book, India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi, on which Shekhar Kapur based his film three years later, died in Mumbai on May 21, 2011, aged 63.

But there was another side to Mala.

A retired Bangladeshi worker, Rahim Baksh, said he could not forget the racist attacks the community had faced in the 1970s. It was Mala who galvanised the Bangladeshi community in the East End of London into fighting off the racist thugs.

Before Mala came, he admitted, “we had no idea how to face it. A lot of people will remember her for the good work she has done.”

“The skinheads didn’t come back,” was the understated comment from Farrukh Dhondy, who remained on close terms with his wife even after their divorce in 1976 after eight years of marriage and even accompanied Mala to India earlier this year for her final operation.

Some had written poems. Actress Sudha Bhuchar read extracts from Bandit Queen, as did “a friend for 40 years”, filmmaker H.. Nazareth, though the latter focused on the land issue which “is still with us”.

From the British Asian arts fraternity, which turned up in strength, there were actors Bhasker Patel, Harmage Singh Kalirai and Rehan Sheikh; director Faris Kermani; actress and author Leena Dhingra; producer Parminder Vir; and artist Jeroo Roy. Mala’s first literary agent Margaret Busby, an Englishwoman, came, too.

Mala’s friends from the Afro-Caribbean community, including the distinguished poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and the broadcaster Darcus Howe, were well represented.

“Mala did not judge anyone,” commented playwright Ash Kotak. “She did not care about nationality, nation, duty, family. She cared about the person.”

He confirmed Mala was prone to making long telephone calls.

“The longest was four hours,” recalled Ash.

Queen and tie

The Bombay-born sculptor Anish Kapoor, who received a Japanese arts prize, the Praemium Imperiale, met the Queen last week at a Buckingham Palace reception at which Prince and Princess Hitachi of Japan, the sponsors of the award, were present — as was Dame Judi Dench, another recipient of the honour.

I know Britain is a less formal country these days so that even BBC news readers don’t feel the need to wear a tie on television. So we had the “artist manush” Anish Kapoor, wine glass in hand, chatting to the Queen about the sculpture he is making (with Lakskmi Mittal’s £6m) for the Olympics.

Maybe the prize money, £1,15,000, will allow Anish to invest in a tie.

What crisis?

Like Greece, Portugal and Spain, the economy of Italy is now said to be in trouble. However, the gloom and doom has been lifted by the arrival of Woody Allen, who has now started shooting a movie set in Rome, The Bop Decameron.

One of Allen’s favourite actresses, Penelope Cruz, will act in the film.

Rome is the latest city to get the PR treatment from Allen who has “done” London (Matchpoint), Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Paris (Midnight in Paris).

Gianni Alemanno, Rome’s mayor, invited the film director to his office last week and presented him with a small statue of a she-wolf, the symbol of Rome. “We are collaborating with him in every possible way to give him all the help we can.”

Allen might be intrigued enough to accept if Mamata invites Allen to consider Calcutta next but what to give him as a gift if he does come — perhaps a working model of Writers’ Building which doesn’t quite work?

Liz’s lip lock

In New York, taking a break from her relationship with Shane Warne, Elizabeth Hurley, 46, has been in a “lip lock” with 25-year-old actor, Chace Crawford, on the sets of a teen soap, Gossip Girl.

Hurley plays a media moghul named Diana Payne. Critics, who have previously said Hurley’s strong point has not always been her acting, would probably argue “Pain” would have been a better surname given what she is likely to inflict on viewers.

Tittle tattle

Once upon a time, in the bad old days, the International Monetary Fund was the organisation that lectured India and told its leaders to learn fiscal discipline.

How times have changed.

Now we have an Indian, one Ajai Chopra, deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s European division, urging the Irish Republic, to behave and learn fiscal discipline, otherwise its sweeties (a multi-billion pound handout), would be confiscated.