Undiplomatic departure from London

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 18.08.13
Eye on England

Eye on England
Amit Roy

Undiplomatic departure from London

  • Farewell: Jaimini Bhagwati (right) with Farida Hamied, wife of Cipla boss Yusuf Hamied

It seems only the other day that Jaimini Bhagwati arrived in London to take up his post as high commissioner after a seven month gap when the top job was vacant. This is because it really was only the other day — at the end of February last year, in fact.

He had to wait until October 2012 when a four-horse carriage clop-clopped its way from the Indian high commissioner's residence in Kensington Palace Gardens to Buckingham Palace so that Bhagwati could formally present his letter of commission to the Queen.

I don't know who runs India's external affairs ministry but Bhagwati is going home next month following his retirement after barely 18 months in the job. London is a key post where a new high commissioner deserves a decent run so that he can get to know the key people in government.

We journalists think Bhagwati has been a huge success and that he should be given an extension. An economist by training and a member of the 1976 intake into the Indian Foreign Service, he was previously the Indian ambassador to EU, Belgium and Luxembourg. He is leaving at a critical time when UK-India relations are going through a bad patch because of the £3,000 bondage scheme plus other visa issues.

Bhagwati is hoping for "one last hurrah" with journalists but last week he laughed off my suggestion that he should follow the example of the Indian ambassador in Switzerland and declare himself high commissioner for life.

Chitra Narayanan, daughter of the late President K.R. Narayanan, has been India's ambassador in Bern since August 2008. She has long retired from the diplomatic service but, sensible woman that she is, she has told Delhi she is not in good health and needs to stay on in Switzerland — indefinitely.

We all hope that Bhagwati's successor is neither a clapped out politician nor some disgruntled diplomat resentful at being passed over for the job of foreign secretary.

Pakistan calls

  • Book corner: Shaharyar Khan (seated) with Wajid Shamsul Hasan to his right

On Thursday last week, by the time I got to the Pakistani high commission, where a function was in progress to mark the publication of Shaharyar Khan's Cricket Cauldron: The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan, I had unfortunately missed the speeches.

There was an affable greeting from Shaharyar, who was seated by an open window, as though in a Noel Coward play, signing copies of his book.

The politics had indeed been turbulent since Friday the previous week when, at a lunch hosted by the Indian Journalists' Association, Shaharyar had said Dawood Ibrahim had been in Pakistan. All I will say is that Shaharyar is a man of integrity and that his detailed exchanges with us were candid, honest and grown-up. Nawaz Sharif had indeed picked wisely when he appointed the 79-year-old seasoned diplomat and former Pakistan Cricket Board chairman as his personal envoy to India.

A senior Pakistani asked me a rhetorical question: "Why is it every time we begin peace talks, something like this happens?"

"This" was a reference to the latest incursion on the Line of Control.

A couple of young Pakistani men came up to me and muttered the same thing: "We don't want Dawood Ibrahim. Wherever he goes, there is trouble."

Meanwhile, anyone who bought a copy of Shaharyar's book wanted to be photographed with him.

By and by, the Pakistani high commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, came and stood by Shaharyar. Wajid, who has been in the job since 2008, is a Pakistan People's Party man and is stepping down. He had also been high commissioner from 1994 to 1996.

His has not been an easy job. When I asked about his cigars, he tapped his top packet. His Havanas were in place.

As I left, I noticed a gallery with photographs of past high commissioners, including Shaharyar Khan who had done the job from 1987 to 1990.

Sexist secret

  • Chemistry: Yusuf Hamied (left) with Sunetra Gupta

At a lunch last week in London for Dr Yusuf Hamied — boss of the pharmaceutical giant, Cipla — hosted by the Indian Journalists' Association, one of the speakers, Sunetra Gupta, a novelist and professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford, spoke about her 25 years in science.

Her grandfather, a journalist with The Pioneer, based in Calcutta in the 1930s, would have been proud to see her today, she said.

Sunetra also recalled her mother's encouraging words when as a three-year-old, then living in Ethiopia, she had managed to repair her broken plastic toy.

"This is 1968 and a 27-year-old Bengali woman was telling her daughter, 'Maybe you will grow up to be an engineer.' As an undergraduate student at Princeton University I was shocked by the sexism that existed in contrast to the milieu in Calcutta where I had grown up. I never thought being a woman would impede me in any way in doing anything I wanted to do. I think that captures the spirit of India, in my case perhaps born out of the Bengali Renaissance and everything that followed."

At ease

  • Homeward bound: S.N. Gourisaria

After 61 years in England, Satya Narayan Gourisaria returned to Calcutta last Sunday to begin a new life — at the age of 84.

He looked endearingly relaxed when I called on him just before his departure at his North London house, which had been his home for 35 years.

Gourisaria was born in Dhanbad, Bihar, on May 7, 1929, moved with his father to Narayangunj in East Bengal in the early 1940s, returned to India in 1948, and studied at Scottish Church College, Calcutta.

After coming to Britain in the early 1950s, Gourisaria also hired theatres to show Hindi films. As the impresario S.N. Gourisaria, he brought over a number of film personalities for UK tours, including Lata Mangeshkar, memorably, for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1974.

What was his definition of home, I asked Gourisaria.

"Where you feel at ease," he replied.

Did he feel at ease in England?


Then, why go back to Calcutta?

"I have no one here," he said. "There, I have all my relatives. Come and see me in my house in Ballygunge."

Roe-ing back

Few would have thought of this but one of my favourite London-based historians, Kusoom Vadgama, has established the Indo-British Heritage Trust with a proposed programme of events.

She sets out Plan A: "As you see, 2014 will mark the 400th anniversary of Sir Thomas Roe accepting the invitation to become England's first ambassador to Moghul India in 1614 in the reign of King James I."

Tittle tattle

In the list of the most popular names for babies born in England and Wales last year, I could not find a single Asian one in the top 100 for girls.

This is odd considering immigrants are said to be responsible for the high birth rate in Britain. I would have expected Duryodhana, Chitrangada, Damayanti, Draupadi and Satyavati and the like to dominate the list.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the five most popular names for girls were Amelia, Olivia, Jessica, Emily and Lily. For boys, they were Harry, Oliver, Jack, Charlie and Jacob.

On the boys' list, Muhammad came in at 19, Mohammed at 26 and Mohammad at 60. I bet "George" is number one next year.