July is a distant memory

There is a touch of wistfulness about an English summer, because you know the most blissful of days will pass all too quickly

By Amit Roy
  • Published 6.10.18, 1:18 AM
  • Updated 6.10.18, 1:18 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Chelsea Flower Show 2018 Herry Lawford / Flickr

When it comes to the seasons, there is nothing as perfect as an English summer’s day. There is the smell of cut grass in the air, the pitch is rolled and the gardens are in full bloom. For me, the symbol of the summer of 2018, possibly the hottest on record, has been the giant yellow dahlia which has been plentiful in our garden.

It was the summer when Virat Kohli and his men came, saw but did not conquer, the Royal Academy held its stunning 250th Summer Exhibition, the Chelsea Flower Show included an Indian garden, and the royal family changed forever after embracing an African-American actress. Meghan Markle, now rebranded as the Duchess of Sussex, has become the new face of multicultural Britain. Amal Clooney attended her wedding wearing a dress as brightly yellow as our dahlia.

But now summer has slipped into autumn. There is quite a chill in the air and July is already a distant memory. Politically, the country is tearing itself apart over Brexit and whether there should be a second referendum to reverse the decision to leave the European Union.

There is a touch of wistfulness about an English summer, because you know the most blissful of days will pass all too quickly. William Shakespeare summed it up in his sonnet: “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,/ And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

Adil Akram as Patol Babu in Aks Arts' production of the play 'Taramandal', based on Satyajit Ray's short story, 'Patol Babu, Film Star'
Adil Akram as Patol Babu in Aks Arts' production of the play 'Taramandal', based on Satyajit Ray's short story, 'Patol Babu, Film Star' Aks Arts

A love of listening to stories

It is pleasing to see Satyajit Ray remembered in London for work other than his Apu trilogy. His short story, “Patol Babu, Film Star”, was adapted into a play, Taramandal. The latter is now being performed at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone by Aks Arts, a theatre company made up mostly of young Indians working in the financial sector. The story centres around the unfulfilled dreams of a Bengali gentleman, Patol babu, who had once loved doing amateur dramatics but had not acted for 25 years because he was too preoccupied making a living. Then along comes a tiny film role which involves Patol babu bumping into the hero at a pedestrian crossing and uttering just one word, “Aah!”

Neha Jain, who acts in the play alongside directing an eight-member cast, tells me why she picked Taramandal: “I loved the universality of the theme, the tenderness and fragility of human ambition... Struggling with ambitions and failures currently in my own life meant I could really relate to it.”

Neha’s parents, whom I met outside the theatre, come from Delhi to watch all of her performances. Neither has been involved in acting. However, Neha’s father spent years in Calcutta while her mother was educated at St Joseph’s Convent in Patna — which, going from memory, gave even little children a love of listening to stories.

Rather long wait

Boris Johnson is working on his biography of William Shakespeare in spite of his many preoccupations, such as trying to replace Theresa May as prime minister of Britain. He was meant to deliver it in 2016, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, but pulled out after being appointed foreign secretary. Hodder & Stoughton have now announced that Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius will definitely come out soon. “Boris Johnson explains Shakespeare’s genius in a simple and readable way,” according to his publishers. “What makes Shakespeare Shakespeare? That, as the man once said, is the question.”

The question is, what will Boris make of treachery as reflected in Julius Caesar’s anguished “Et tu, Brute?”, or Macbeth’s “Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself”?

Tug of war

What if Winston Churchill were put on trial for war crimes, especially the death of millions during the Bengal Famine of 1943? Andrew Roberts, the British historian whose Churchill: Walking with Destiny is out, would probably lead the defence, supported by Zareer Masani. Meanwhile, the prosecution case would be put forward by Shashi Tharoor and Madhusree Mukerjee.

Roberts concedes that Churchill was guilty of misjudgments, “such as his contempt for Mohandas Gandhi”. But that is unlikely to be enough for Tharoor, who argues that the British wartime leader “is really one of the more evil rulers of the 20th century, only fit to stand in company of the likes of Hitler, Mao and Stalin”.

As in 12 Angry Men, the historian, Ramachandra Guha, would probably play the part of Henry Fonda and get Churchill off. At 1,129 pages, Guha’s Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World — 1914-1948 is as weighty as Roberts’s 1,152-page book. In being blindly pro-Churchill, “Andrew Roberts is one extreme,” says Guha. “He attacks Gandhi at any opportunity. And it comes from a sense of insecurity that Gandhi is competition to Churchill for the title of ‘greatest twentieth century figure’... Churchill was a racist when it came to India and Indians. But that does not make him a war criminal. Zareer Masani is too soft on Churchill, Shashi Tharoor is too harsh on Churchill. To call him mass murderer is pure hyperbole. As a historian I wouldn’t go that far.”

Abhilash Tomy poses on his boat
Abhilash Tomy poses on his boat "Thuriya" in Les Sables d'Olonne Harbour, ahead of the solo around-the-world sailing race for the "Golden Globe Race" ocean race AFP

Footnote

Even as the injured Indian yachtsman, Abhilash Tomy, was being rescued 2,000 miles off the coast of western Australia, the Royal Academy in London was unveiling its new exhibition, Oceania, devoted to the art of the islands scattered across the South Pacific. The exhibition map indicated that Tomy, in his yacht, was following the same route as the explorer, James Cook, in 1768. It was the latter encounter that opened up the idyllic islands to Western influence, much of it, sadly, corrupting.