As we go into a seriously cold spell — there will be a huge warmth of welcome for the new Indian high commissioner, Ruchi Ghanashyam.
There is a real mystery about the meetings planned between stars from Bollywood and their very ardent fan, Bahraini Sheikh Hamad Isa Ali Al-Khalifa, who is being sued for $33.5 million (around Rs 22 crores). It is reported he defaulted in payments to Ahmed Adel Abdallah Ahmed, who was fixing for him to meet 26 Bollywood stars. This fascinating case of a genuine Bollywood fan is in the UK courts, as he had, according to reports, expressed “unbridled desire and fantasy” towards these Bollywood stars.
The Sheikh had promised $1.5 million per meeting with a Bollywood star plus a $500,000 bonus for every third meeting with a star. As some of the meetings were going to be as brief as 15 minutes, it would have cost him a paltry $100,000 per minute.
The sheikh allegedly backed out after four meetings, paying just $4 million. The court case is ongoing — but I am frankly curious to know what do the stars get when these meetings are planned? Could the chance of meeting a genuine fan be enough? He had allegedly met four stars, including Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Ranveer Singh, and paid Ahmed in cash packed in suitcases (how Bollywood is that!). In the list of 26 proposed stars was also Aishwarya Rai. Surprisingly, no Indian TV channels, while happily chasing down the latest wedding destination of the stars, is examining this curious case more thoroughly. It carries all the ingredients of a Bollywood film — except that in the film the sheikh would have done more than just pay the money for a handshake, and there would have undoubtedly been some henchmen settling scores, and a few kidnappings and shootouts — instead of the matter being rather tamely discussed in a London court.
But frankly, would we blame the sheikh if he thought $1.5 million was a bit much for a face-to-face encounter with a Bollywood star, and changed his mind after just four or five meetings. He may have even stopped watching Hindi films by now. One can only say that the Bahraini sheikh was rather naive: He only had to host an award ceremony, and all of Bollywood would have arrived at his doorstep!
As we go into a seriously cold spell — there will be a huge warmth of welcome for the new Indian high commissioner, Ruchi Ghanashyam. There has not been a woman high commissioner to the UK since Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, and as women power is being projected more sharply than ever, this is a very welcome step. The UK of course has two women in top positions: the Queen and the Prime Minister. And right now one of them is very preoccupied with Brexit. It has been often said that Brexit will bring a new closeness to the India-UK story, and so Ms Ghanashyam has arrived at a timely moment.
But the storm around Brexit refuses to go away and more squalls are predicted as the proposal will be voted upon soon in Parliament. Breaking up is never easy, but it is a disaster when one of the partners is receiving little support from her own family — and that is Prime Minister Theresa May’s real problem. Even when her party members rally around her, they do so under duress.
Meanwhile, Labour Party members have also started lobbying for a fresh referendum if the Brexit vote does not pass through Parliament. It may end up being a rather chilly Christmas if there is no resolution. Be prepared for yet another political typhoon to swirl around us. But May has stuck it out thus far, and outwitted her worst critics.
The short list for the DSC South Asian fiction prize was announced as usual at the Shaw Library (named after Charlotte Shaw, the wife of George Bernard Shaw, who gave London School of Economics its first building to begin teaching)! Prof Rudrangshu Mukherjee was the chairman of the judges panel. Surina Narula, the spirit of generosity behind the prize, spoke at the occasion, as did Mukulika Banerjee, director of the South Asian Centre at LSE. Six works of fiction were shortlisted, including two which were translated from South Asian languages. It was good to see well-known Indian and Pakistani authors like Kamila Shamsie, Manu Joseph, Neel Mukherjee and Mohsin Hamid make the shortlist. Ms Narula has been supporting the prize right from the days when it was first associated with JLF. Now it has been moved on, but it is well established and maintains its Asian identity.
This time the top award will be announced in Kolkata next year.
Meanwhile, the housing problems of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are now in the headlines. Where are the poor things going to live — with such a wide assortment of properties to choose from? This is a real concern for the British public and the gossip-hungry tabloids. Their choice of moving to the royal Windsor estate where Wallis Simpson (the American divorcee for whom Prince Edward abdicated his throne) is buried along with Prince Edward, made everyone leap to draw parallels between the new American divorcee and the old one. Meghan certainly seems to have stepped out of a TV series into a long-running reality show. But perhaps this move may actually take her out of the immediate orbit of the “paps” (as the paparazzi are known) — since Frogmore House is set in the midst of the Windsor estate, far away from Kensington Palace, in the heart of London. Good move?