Shameful chapter; Undeniable connection; Staggering sums; Close ties; Footnote

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By Amit Roy
  • Published 30.06.18
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Shameful chapter

Dark side

A documentary on the Bengal famine of 1943, Bengal Shadows, has been shown as part of the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival, with one screening held at the South Asia Centre of the London School of Economics. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, was present to discuss the film.

According to the filmmakers, "several historians, researchers and scholars" have argued that the role of the then British prime minister, Winston Churchill, and, more generally, Britain's imperial war-time policies, was critical in what was in effect a 'man-made' tragedy, in which close to five million people perished. The fact that there were two sides to Churchill is still a revelation to most Britons, for whom he remains, according to opinion polls, "the greatest Englishman who ever lived".

Will schools ever risk the wrath of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph by showing Bengal Shadows to young children? One day, perhaps, but not just yet. The history of British India is considered too problematic to be included in school history syllabi.

Undeniable connection

A wonderful new exhibition on Mexico's most famous artist, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, has just opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. According to the V&A's director, Tristram Hunt, "The landmark exhibition explores how one of the most recognized and significant artists and women of the 20th century fashioned her own identity". "Disability shaped Kahlo's life - contracting polio at a young age, and suffering catastrophic injury from a bus crash at the age of 18," he emphasized. "She empowered herself through her art and dress."

Perhaps it is just my imagination, but there seems to be something Indian about Kahlo, especially in the many self-portraits that she painted as well in the 'incredible' images of her caught by some great photographers. She has sometimes been compared to Amrita Sher-Gil. Both died young - Kahlo in Mexico City in 1954, aged 47, and Sher-Gil in Lahore, aged just 28, in 1941.

In 1947, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit's daughters, Nayantara Sahgal and Rita Dar, were visiting Mexico City and were taken by their host to meet Kahlo at her home, La Casa Azul. They put Kahlo, who loved dressing up, in a sari - much to her delight -- and took a group photograph that has since become iconic. After her death, Kahlo's husband, Diego Rivera, sealed her home, which stayed shut for 50 years until it was reopened in 2004. Kahlo's letters, jewellery, cosmetics, medicines and medical corsets have been included in the exhibition.

A possible explanation for the Indian resonances was offered by Maria Vazquez, of the Mexican embassy in London: "I recently went to India and I think there is some similarity between India and Mexico - India feels like Mexico from the east. Perhaps there are some similarities between the colours."

The exhibition's Mexican co-curator, Circe Henestrosa, who is the head of the School of Fashion, Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, confirmed: "A lot of my students come from India. Why is she so popular in India? Because of all the messages she conveys as a woman, a female artist, a Mexican, disabled; in this time of so much political turmoil [it is fitting to] have this exhibition celebrating life."

Staggering sums

The Treasury Committee of the House of Commons has come down heavily on bigwigs from the Bank of England for their allegedly exorbitant travel expenses. Inviting special disapproval was a Chicago-London flight costing £11,084.89, taken by Anil Kashyap, a member of the bank's Financial Policy Committee. Kashyap is the Edward Eagle Brown Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In the last 2.5 years, Kashyap and another FPC member, Donald Kohn, "have incurred £3,90,000 in travel expenses, which is simply a staggering sum," raged the Tory parliamentarian, Simon Clarke, who is a part of the Commons committee.

Close ties

Not wearing ties, even for formal meetings, has become 'cool'. But is it a good idea for senior Indian businessmen? "What can I do?" lamented Sumit Mazumder, whom I found suited but conspicuously tieless last week. "We were ordered by the organizers not to wear ties." Mazumder, who is the chairman and managing director of TIL Limited, and former president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, likes to add to his already extensive collection of colourful neckties whenever he is in the United Kingdom. But he was not wearing one at a party hosted by the CII at Latimer House in Buckinghamshire. Neither was Chandrajit Banerjee, the CII's director general, nor any member of the delegation led by the current CII president, Rakesh Bharti Mittal. This is a matter of personal choice, of course, but I think it is better for Indians to err on the side of formality.

Footnote

Before the Fifa World Cup started, British ministers cautioned English fans that Vladimir Putin was staging the event as a propaganda exercise. But after England's 6-1 triumph over Panama, there was not a peep against Putin. It is the same with the Indian Premier League- it was derided by the English cricketing establishment and press in its early days. Then Jos Buttler's unbeaten 110 helped England - floundering at 114 for 8 - to overtake Australia's 205 at Old Trafford a few days ago. It was said Buttler benefited greatly from playing in the IPL. Now, there is little carping about the IPL.