This Xmas embrace British frugality

The message being sent out to parents in the UK is to cut down on Christmas presents. But for the retailers this is not the message which will ring in joy and laughter...

M.F. Husain and Dev Anand both died in London this year, in very different circumstances. The well-known artist was in forced exile from his own country, while the actor had come for a checkup and a holiday. Dev Anand’s stay was meant to be brief when, suddenly, tragedy struck. Yet, both were familiar to us in London — as they, and especially Dev saheb, made a determined effort to

mingle with the diaspora. I remember the first time I met him over a quiet cup of tea at the Nehru Centre — organised by the then director, Monika Mohta. Dev saheb was very relaxed and completely without any airs about being a film actor. Like my father, he was also from Government College, Lahore — a place I have learnt to have huge respect for, as over the years I have met a wide assortment of very talented and erudite people from that institute. Luckily we continued to meet Dev saheb and get news about him.
And one particular rather more public event was when the BBC organised an interview with him. The auditorium overflowed with fans of all ages as they sang songs and recollected little instances from his films and his past that no doubt even he, with his wonderful memory for detail, would have forgotten. Yet his worshippers — now also older but perhaps no wiser — unabashedly narrated wild stories of how much they adored him. One man even said that he had a tooth pulled out in his youth because he wanted to emulate Dev Anand’s gap toothed smile… Throughout the private and personal interaction Dev saheb remained completely engaged and gave each person due consideration. He even answered my difficult question on his romance with Zeenat Aman with good grace and honesty.
Taking the kind of affection he continued to receive here into account, dare I say it should be no surprise that (as with Husain saheb) destiny chose him to remain in London, for ever… Ironically, though, his death had little impact on the mainstream British media. However, I am sure if a British actor had died in India, it would have made
the front pages of all Indian newspapers.

Meanwhile, the informality of the top leaders and their wives in the UK never fails to astonish me. So recently, we had Samantha Cameron (yes, our very own Sam Cam) who earns a more-than-respectable six-figure salary at Smythson, actually stepping into Ikea — the Scandinavian budget home store, to buy a rug and flat pack shelves for 10, Downing Street. It was an astonishing and almost unbelievable sight as she picked up several items, many of which were worth less than £10 — including white plastic drawers and white shelves.
Of course this could have been a public-relations-designed confidence building measure targeting the recession-hit British public… The Prime Minister’s wife steps out to shop at bargain stores like a regular housewife! And moreover, she lugged the furniture around all by herself, refusing help from those who offered it. And when she left the store (after no doubt winning the admiration of those around) there was only a single pick-up van to ferry the stuff, and no retinue of lackeys. What’s going on here ? Unless it was body double, obviously Sam Cam needs lessons from Indian politician’s wives on how to behave like a precious diva. I am fairly certain that Gursharan Kaur, (Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife) is also very self-sufficient and down-to-earth about her shopping — but would those around ever allow her to simply stroll into a department store and carry her own shopping bags? And further, would they allow her to go into a bargain shop, and openly endorse thrift?
But, in the UK, that is clearly the spirit of Christmas this year. Not only is the PM’s wife being thrifty — the message being sent out to parents, even by a so-called “childhood czar”, who is a special adviser to the Prime Minister, is to cut down on Christmas presents. But for the retailers this is not the message which will ring in joy and laughter for the season. They would like consumers to spend their way out of recession and help the staggering economy. Because, as yet, no one thinks this Christmas Santa Claus is likely to be laden with gifts.

However, while the Indian government is doing everything it can to appease its allies — the British government seems to be hell-bent on infuriating its coalition partners. Right now the feud between British Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is consuming the nation — as Mr Cameron by exercising his “historic veto” in Europe has shown that for him upholding his own party’s largely Eurosceptic view is far more important than pleasing his Lib Dem partners. Indeed one important figure, Lord Ashdown, on the Lib Dem side has called the outcome in Europe“catastrophically bad”. This is a tricky tightrope walk — and so far Mr Cameron appeared to have won the gamble. But things may not be calm for long as Mr Clegg is beginning to speak up against the Tory leadership in the media.
However, many think Mr Cameron has called Mr Clegg’s bluff and ultimately the latter will be reluctant to pull the plug on the government as the Lib Dems are enjoying their tryst with power…

And now a footnote. When earlier in the year the Libya war was looming large there were many demanding that Saif Gaddafi’s Ph.D. degree be revoked, alleging that his thesis was plagiarised and connected to a donation made by him to the London School of Economics (LSE). Now that the University of London and the LSE have both conducted separate inquiries and found that the award of the Ph.D. was entirely legitimate, there was no plagiarism involved, and neither was it connected to the LSE donation, there are no apologies for the erroneous reporting. However, it is reassuring that in-depth but meticulous inquiries into politically contentious issues can be conducted speedily. Any lessons for India?

The writer can be contacted at

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