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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Jun 2023  Kishwar Desai | Padma Shris for 2 British friends; ‘poor’ Boris can’t come to House

Kishwar Desai | Padma Shris for 2 British friends; ‘poor’ Boris can’t come to House

Kishwar Desai, is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the Partition Museum at Town Hall, Amritsar.
Published : Jun 26, 2023, 12:25 am IST
Updated : Jun 26, 2023, 12:25 am IST

The Indian high commission had an impressive ceremony to bestow Padma Shri awards on two British friends of India.

UK MP Barry Gardiner was conferred the ‘Padma Shri’ award. (Photo: https://www.barrygardiner.com/)
 UK MP Barry Gardiner was conferred the ‘Padma Shri’ award. (Photo: https://www.barrygardiner.com/)

Just when the Indian tourists were getting used to our scorching summer, it rained.  Not much — but enough to restore our faith in the whimsical English weather.  Rain did not prevent the Indian cricket team from losing. But then the English team lost as well to Australia. So normality was restored.

There was a lovely open air gathering at the Taj in London to meet the delegates from the CII with a full-fledged presence from the UK side as well. The Indian high commissioner, Vikram Doraiswamy, was there, as was the House of Lords Foreign Office Minister, Lord Tariq Ahmad, who told us about his visit to Jodhpur where his grandfather came from. Another Partition narrative!

We have also had a lecture by Shashi Tharoor, MP, as well as a visit by Karan Johar. These events were both held in the committee rooms of Parliament and well attended. So, it is all systems go. It is an Indian summer out here, yet again.

The Indian high commission had an impressive ceremony to bestow Padma Shri awards on two British friends of India. They were the late Peter Brook who was a theatre genius and producer as well as a film maker. Peter Brook also made the memorable dramatisation of the Mahabharata 25 years ago. The high commissioner introduced Simon Brook, son of Peter Brook who received the award on his father’s behalf.

The other Padma Shri was given to Barry Gardiner, MP, who has been promoting Indo-British friendship in the UK Parliament. Barry, a Labour MP, has been our friend for some years. He gave a nice speech on the appreciation he has for India and the brighter prospect for the friendship as Labour Party is expecting to win the next election in 2024.

The programme also had excellent music on the violin, sarangi and tabla.

What is it about the tragic Titanic wreck that keeps the imagination going — and for people to try to find more answers about it?  The ship sank in 1912, more than 110 years ago and 1,500 lives were lost. But the recent explorative trip in the Titan during which British businessmen Hamish Harding and Shahzada Dawood died in an implosion has its own romantic horror. To add to the irony, they paid $ 250,000 each to be on that journey. An expensive and needless death leading to hours spent speculating over what their last moments may have been like, two miles below sea level. Many have now stated that this was a horrible misadventure, a catastrophe they could have predicted, but as the investigations proceed — will it stop others from being fascinated by the original Titanic and now the Titan? Probably a film is already in the offing linking the two disasters.

But our economy and politics are also in trouble over the last few months. Inflation is persistent, interest rates are high and somehow it is difficult for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to give any good “bad” news, except when it concerns former Prime Ministers. Strikes continue in rail transport and now even among doctors. Inflation has put up the mortgage rates people pay for their houses and this has caused much trouble.

And now we have, as a distraction, the astonishing and sad saga of Boris Johnson, a former Prime Minister, being charged with having lied to Parliament and suspended for 90 days. This was linked to office parties held as is often the case on Fridays, at the end of work hours and birthdays and farewell occasions for colleagues.

The problem was that these were held during the pandemic when the government had asked all people to observe social distancing. So the Prime Minister not only broke his own rules but then said he had not done so when asked in Parliament. This was a serious breach. A parliamentary committee was tasked to examine this and concluded that the Prime Minister had indeed lied. Anticipating trouble, Mr Johnson had already resigned as MP. It was a rare piece of political theatre. No doubt someone will make a play out of it and — it will be in the West End perhaps as a musical before long! We have not had a Prime Minister expelled from Parliament ever before.

He has even been denied the parliamentary pass which ex-MPs automatically get so they can revisit their old haunts. Somehow this last seems far too vindictive — as many who attended the parties are not being treated in the same manner. But then, they were not asked in Parliament about it.

We have had a very unusual anniversary to celebrate this week. Seventy-five years ago, a large ship, Windrush, brought many people from the West Indies to settle and work in UK. They were all, of course, Black. They arrived full of hope. They had been loyal subjects of the Empire and some had even served in the War. But the first 25 years were difficult for them as racism was rife. Now — they have settled and London as well as the rest of the country has become much more tolerant. The Caribbean presence is everywhere — in Parliament, in the arts, in universities. The same can be said of Indian immigrants who came from East Africa 50 years ago. London is a multi-racial, multi-coloured city.

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