An Indian summer is nowhere on the horizon, but India is bursting out of almost every nook and cranny of London, where even in the most dull and dreary times, India is part of its everyday life - with connections to its historical sites, food and music.
India-related themes and events are common in London’s academic and cultural calendar but the last week or two has been particularly busy. It promises to be equally busy later as 2017 is billed as the UK-India Year of Culture, with a large schedule of events.
Queen Elizabeth just hosted a lavish reception at Buckingham Palace to mark the UK-India Year of Culture 2017, attended by finance minister Arun Jaitley and a host of celebrities (“the usual suspects”, a wag said ). The Duchess of Cambridge turned out wearing fashion designer Anita Dongre’s earrings.
The palace was wrapped in a projection of India’s national bird – the peacock – while inside, the guests were treated to Indian-themed canapés prepared by chefs from Veeraswamy, London’s oldest Indian restaurant on Regent Street.
In cinema halls, it is Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Viceroy’s House’ that is drawing viewers of British and Indian origin alike. It is evoking mixed reactions: writer Fatima Bhutto called it a “servile pantomime”, while viewers of the partition generation are leaving the halls in a sullen mood.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has a busy schedule appearing at various events – from Oxford to the London School of Economics to Channel 4 – to promote his book Inglorious Empire (published in India as An Era of Darkness), based on his 2015 Oxford Union speech that went viral.
Another Congressman, Manish Tiwari, has just been to the International Institute for Strategic Studies to offer a “mid-term review” of the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy. It had some interesting points, but journalists were disappointed when it was termed “off the record”.
A host of Indian writers and publishers are due to appear at the London Book Fair in Olympia from March 14 to 16. Speakers include Amit Chaudhuri, Shrabani Basu and Anjum Anand. The event includes a performance of the Kama Sutra Ballad.
The British Film Institute made news with the announcement that it had restored Himanshu Rai’s 1928 silent film Shiraz (90 minutes long), to be set to music by composer-sitar player Anoushka Shankar. Robin Baker, BFI’s head curator, told HT: “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The film is to be shown in the UK and in India as part of the year of culture. The programme includes classics such as Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, as well as contemporary films under BFI’s “New Bollywood” theme.
It has been a while since an Indian writer won the Booker Prize or made a splash, but this is about to change with Arundhati Roy’s much-awaited book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness which will be published by Hamish Hamilton in June.
Indian visitors to London this year, particularly those interested in cultural events, will have much to dig in with a programme of events to rival those of New Delhi or Mumbai or Jaipur – for the first time, the Jaipur Literature Festival will be held in the British Library in May.