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Tories are swinging to Kathak

Eat your heart out Delhi: we’ve just had our own little Indian opening ceremony here, and pretty uplifting stuff it was too.

world Updated: Oct 05, 2010 00:04 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Eat your heart out Delhi: we’ve just had our own little Indian opening ceremony here, and pretty uplifting stuff it was too.

Rather than somnambulating our way into a grand inauguration, we planned it out — months in advance.

Entirely appropriately for a nation in love with dancing, we chose something rather more turbo-charged than yogis in slow motion to open the Tory annual conference in Birmingham.

It was a performance of Kathak dance. No need to fall off the chair, you read it right: the annual conference of the Tory party was opened by Kathak dancers.

Why? Because here in Britain, we are like that only. What do we love to eat? Curry. Which country does our dashing new Prime Minister visit after the US and Europe? India. What do our athletes wear at the Commonwealth Games opening? Pyjama-kurta.

Since you ask, the preparations couldn’t have been better, with the result that unlike the gigantic queues at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (we hear you had to go through 19 check points?), the ones in Birmingham were short — and that’s because entirely because security was being handled by Gurkhas.

As Gordon Brown discovered some months ago, you do not mess around with Gurkhas.

Not every Tory, apparently, was impressed with the choice of Kathak. A newspaper quoted one delegate as saying: “I would have liked some Beethoven.” German music to open a Tory conference? Surely not. Better stick with Indian – some 21 per cent of Birmingham, after all, is estimated to be composed of South Asians.

And so we did. While you replaced sitar maestro Ravi Shankar (who composed the melody for the 1982 Asian Games) with A R Rahman, we stuck with glorious tradition.

And so the opening recital, led by British-born Punjabi dancer Sonia Sabri, was performed to Prashanti, composed by Shankar and Philip Glass in 1990 featuring Shankar’s vocals.

As to preparedness, “the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt approached us a few months ago,” Sabri told me from Birmingham.

“The Tories have never done anything like this before. We are the first cultural company to open a Tory conference.

“It was great to see the Games opening feature Kathak dance, and not Bollywood alone. Bollywood is the glossy wrapping paper of India: there’s so much more underneath.”

Oh yes. Deep Indian culture: we do that too.