Wake up and smell the curry

Published: 28 December, 2012 10:12 IST | Amit Roy |

The famous, the infamous and the funny. Indians in London made news in different ways through these 365 days

For the estimated 2m Indians in Britain, 2012 has been a remarkably successful year despite the deepening recession. But the year began and ended with tragedies. It began with the parents of Anuj Bidve, the 23-year-old shot in the head for no apparent reason in Salford on December 26 last year, coming to the UK to take their son’s body for a funeral back home in Pune. His may have been a random killing but it sent shockwaves through the large Indian student population in Britain.

GRIEF: Keith Vaz (centre) with Anuj Bidve’s parents

The Labour MP Keith Vaz, who had supported Anuj’s parents, had to step in again this month to help the husband and children of an Indian nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, who worked at the King Edward VII Hospital in London. She took her own life after being hoaxed and humiliated by a prank call from an Australian radio station. Her husband, Benedict Barboza, 49, and her son, Junal, 17, and daughter Lisha, 14, escorted her body to the village of Shirva near Udupi in Mangalore, where she was laid to rest.

HOOVES WHO: High Commissioner Jaimini Bhagwati and his wife Rita set out for Buckingham Palace in the four-horse carriage

For Anuj, who had been in England only a few weeks, and for Jacintha, who had arrived in Britain with her family nine years ago, “home” was back in India. But 30m Indians scattered across the diaspora, especially those born and brought up in Britain, are redefining the concept of home. To be sure, India will always remain the “Mother country” but many are now comfortable calling themselves “British Indians”.

A LEGACY: England U-19 captain Shiv Thakor during his days at Uppingham School where he was also captain

Other than the two tragedies, what have been the most important events for Indians in Britain?

The times they are a changing, especially in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace earlier this month where Jatendarpal Singh Bhullar, 25, became the first guardsman in 180 years of tradition to wear a turban instead of the famous bearskin on parade.

RED IS THE NEW BLACK: Parmeshwar (l) and Adi Godrej talk to Gopi Hinduja (centre) at CII party 

One other appointment is worth a mention, given that both Mohammad Kaif, Virat Kohli and Unmukt Chand have all been U-19 cricket captains of India. England has just given the job to Shivsinh Jaysinh Thakor, for a tour of South Africa. He is an Indian, born in England (on October 22, 1993, in Leicester) and educated at Uppingham, a famous public school where he was the also the cricket captain until he left this summer.

MAN OF STEEL: Lakshmi Mittal (l) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, at the unveiling of the ArcelorMittal Orbit

The relationship with India is different for someone like Salman Rushdie who was born in Mumbai, made London his home after studying at Rugby and Cambridge and then relocated a few years ago to Manhattan. He was present when the Midnight’s Children premiered at the London Film Festival in October. The author had been in London a few weeks previously to publicise his memoirs, Joseph Anton (the name he assumed in hiding during the worst years of the Iranian fatwa).

SCIENCE OF ACTING: as Albert Einstein

Writing in the third person about himself, he explained how he had lost any sense of home: “He was a migrant. He was one of those who had ended up in a place that was not the place where he began. Migration tore up all the traditional roots of the self. Of these four roots, place, community, culture and language, he had lost three.

TRAGEDY: Order of service for Jacintha Saldanha at the mass at Westminster Cathedral

“He was a Bombay boy who had made his life in London among the English, but often he felt cursed by a double unbelonging,” he added.
In London, Rushdie was asked in one interview if he still saw himself as a Bombay boy. “Always thought of myself as a boy from Bombay who has travelled a lot,” he responded. But the Bombay of his childhood had “changed so much that the last so many years I have been trying to rediscover it because the Bombay I grew up in is now almost marginal.”

As far as the lives of Indians in Britain are concerned, here is a random selection of noteworthy or offbeat events from 2012:

SECRETARY OF STATE for Communities Eric Pickles, a key man in David Cameron’s cabinet, attends the Indian High Commission’s Republic Day function and trots out his one joke for Indian functions: “With a name and a figure like that, I've got to like curry.”

THE PARSI-ORIGIN HISTORIAN and Oxford don, Faramerz (“Fara”) Dabhoiwala causes a minor scandal by using a four letter word live on air when he goes on BBC Radio 3’s arts programme, ‘Nightwaves’, to talk about his bestseller, ‘he Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution’.

Fara unsettles everyone in the studio by quoting John Wilkes's great line from the ‘Essay on Women’ in 1754 about the meaning of life and the purpose of it and sex in that and that is, ‘Life can little more supply / Than just a few good F***s, and then we die.’ On the strength of his notoriety, Fara is invited to a literary festival in Mumbai.

BRITISH TABLOIDS urge the UK government to cut off aid worth £1bn to India after a waspish remark attributed to Pranab Mukherjee, then finance minister: “We do not require the aid. It is a peanut in our total development expenditure.”

That Pranab Babu reduced British aid to “a peanut” rather than “peanuts” the normal expression, must hurt even more.

BRITISH PHOTOGRAPHERS are fascinated by Tena Desae’s choli when the model turned actress attended the London premiere of The Great Exotic Marigold Hotel.

JEREMY CLARKSON, presenter of the BBC’s Top Gear, earns an official rebuke from the Indian High Commission by driving through India with a lavatory plus toilet roll fitted on the back of his Jaguar.

MADHURI DIXIT’S waxwork is added to the Bollywood corner at Madame Tussauds at a cost of £150,000. She expresses delight: “They have captured my look beautifully!”

IN CEREMONIES marking the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina, prayers are offered for the only Indian casualty, Sapper Pradeep Kumar Gandhi, 24, attached to 45 Commando, Royal Engineers, was killed by enemy aircraft.

LAURENCE BOOTH, the new editor of Wisden, upsets Indian cricket officials with this comment after India's 8-0 drubbing in England and Australia: “The disintegration of India's feted batting line-up has coincided with the rise of a Twenty20-based nationalism, the growth of private marketeers and high level conflicts of interest. It is a perfect storm. And the global game sits steadily in the eye. India, your sport needs you.”
DAVID CAMERON launches the “Conservative Friends of India” in London before an audience of 1,000 “British Indians”.

The new organization’s chairman and founder, Uganda-born Lord (Dolar) Popat, tells gathered Indians: “This is your home. Be proud to be British. We are no longer immigrants in this country.”

Cameron declares one of his proudest possessions is a cricket bat autographed by Sachin Tendulkar. Later, it is revealed he has flogged it at a charity auction.

TONY KOCHHAR, a Harley Street consultant orthopaedic surgeon, says that women who roll out too many rotis may suffer wrist pain without realising this is a form of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).

CHENNAI-BORN Anglo-Indian singer Arnold George Dorsey, 76, (better known as Engelbert Humperdinck), comes second last in the Eurovision song contest in Baku, Azerbaijan, with 12 points, compared with 372 for Sweden, the winner.

FAKE M F HUSAIN paintings emerge on the market a year after his death in London on June 9, 2011, at the age of 95.

RICKY SEKHON, a young Punjabi actor from Southall, is picked to play Osama bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty about the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader. He matches Osama’s 6ft 4in.

IT’S LAKSHMI MITTAL’S month at the Olympics, having put £16m into the ArcelorMittal Orbit, he is getting his money back. The Anish Kapoor/Cecil Balmond designed sculpture appears as the backdrop to the studio.

Balbir Singh, 88, triple hockey gold medallist from 1948, 1952 and 1956, comes to London from his home in Vancouver, and predicts India will do well at his old sport. India flops.

AT THE OLYMPICS, Freddie Mercury’s “We Will Rock You” almost becomes the theme song -- a documentary later in the year reveals he was born Farrokh Bulsara into a Parsi family in Zanzibar and grew up in Bombay.

AT A CII reception hosted by its president, Adi Godrej, for 300-400 guests at the sumptuous Whitehall Banqueting Rooms, wife Parmeshwar wears the brightest red dress at the party.

THE UK energy minister, Greg Barker, announces to guests that David Cameron has just appointed him "Minister for India".

VETERAN ACTOR Paul Bhattacharjee is to play Benedick opposite Meera Syal’s Beatrice in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Much Ado about Nothing, but transposed from Italy to a farmhouse outside Delhi.

Bhattacharjee also plays Albert Einstein in London's West End in the Donmar Theatre’s production of The Physicists, a 1961 German play in which three scientists in a sanatorium pretend to be mad to stop their research being abused in the pursuit of war.

SHAHNAZ HUSAIN, considered a “pesky nuisance” by the Indian High Commission, is confirmed as the most irritating Indian woman to visit the UK. Whenever a celebrity dies -- examples are MF Husain and Rajesh Khanna. she bombards journalists with photographs of herself with the dear departed plus promotional stuff on her “awards” and beauty products, sometimes with a price list and details of stockists.

ACTRESS SUDHA Bhuchar reads extracts from Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a grim account of life in a Mumbai slum, for BBC Radio 4.

AT AN Indian High Commission reception, everyone wants to be photographed with H N Girisha, the Paralympian silver medallist in the high jump.

A FOUR-HORSE CARRIAGE takes Jaimini Bhagwati and his wife Rita to Buckingham Palace for the formal presentation of his letter of commission as High Commissioner for India to the Queen. He is pleased to learn High Commissioners merit four horses, ambassadors only two.

KHUSHWANT SINGH’S son, Rahul, confirms that his father did warn Penguin that publishing The Satanic Verses in 1988 would lead to trouble -- and contradicts Salman Rushdie's assertion in his memoirs that no such advice was received. “Rushdie has got it wrong,” says Rahul.

DAVID CAMERON celebrates his 46th birthday by taking his wife Samantha to a Birmingham Balti. He orders a chicken bhuna balti, his wife a lamb rogan josh, with a side dish of saag paneer, two popadoms, naan and pilau rice. All for £25. He pays in marked contrast, Indian celebrities, especially Bollywood folk, usually say: “You sure you don't want me to pay...ok, next time....”

JAMES BOND’S Aston Martin DB5 breaks down just before the London premiere of Skyfall where it was due to be displayed. Lord Paul’s company, Caparo, speedily fixes the problem and the iconic car makes it to the premiere in time. The tycoon tells peers: “The name's Paul, Swraj Paul.”

LT-GEN Kuldeep Singh Brar, who led Operation Blue Star in 1984, survives an assassination attempt near his hotel in Marble Arch, London three men, Barjinder Singh Sangha, Mandeep Singh Sandhu and Dilbag Singh, have been charged with an attempt to inflict “grievous bodily harm”.

A COVER story in Tatler lists “150 people you might like to sleep with”. Only one Indian/Pakistani girl makes the cut, 30-year-old Fatima Bhutto. She is placed in the Top Ten.

BRITISH CRICKET writers seek to put Cheteshwar Pujara in his place. His 206 no and 135 in the first and second Tests against England are overlooked. Instead, he is go down in cricketing history as the man who dropped Alastair Cook at Eden Gardens, the 27-year-old (Cook) was given a huge stroke of luck on 17 when he was dropped by Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip off Zaheer Khan". Cook went on to score a winning 190, thereby bestowing immortality on poor Pujara. 

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