Cyrus Poonawalla (extreme right) with Karan Billimoria (extreme left) and Gautam Kotwal (second from left) at the garden party.(HT Photo)
Cyrus Poonawalla (extreme right) with Karan Billimoria (extreme left) and Gautam Kotwal (second from left) at the garden party.(HT Photo)

Malavika’s Mumbaistan: Oxford Honours

Hindustan Times | By Malavika Sangghvi
UPDATED ON JUL 08, 2019 12:54 AM IST

It was a select group of his inner circle that accompanied Cyrus Poonawalla, founder and chairman of Serum Institute of India, when he received an honorary degree from the University of Oxford for his work in the field of life-saving vaccines and philanthropy, recently. Besides his daughter-in-law, the glamorous Natasha, there was Karan Billimoria (Baron Billimoria of Chelsea), the British-Indian entrepreneur who is a life peer in the UK House of Lords and founder of a popular global beer brand; Mumbai-based Gautam Kotwal, Poonawalla’s old friend and bloodstock advisor; Rusi Dalal, head of London’s Parsi community; Mrs and Mr Pervez Grant, owners of Pune’s Ruby Hall hospital; James Underwood , international racing authority and celebrated Mumbai-based criminal lawyer Satish Maneshinde. “Cyrus was at his very best dressed in traditional robes at the garden party held at Worcester college,” said Kotwal, who is back in Mumbai, when we spoke yesterday. “Later that evening, he threw a party at one of Oxford’s Michelin starred restaurants.” Following the billionaire philanthropists’ honor, Natasha had posted a picture of the two together, saying, “Spent the day conversing with some incredible faculty, discussing ways to further our global health impact through our vaccine work at Serum Institute and even more interesting to me was their in-depth knowledge of issues relevant to India for the Villoo Poonawalla Foundation to further our philanthropic endeavours.” And then, in customary style, we are informed that the workaholic septuagenarian caught a chopper to an airstrip near London from where he flew out in his PJ to Pune, and straight to his office!

The Return Of The ‘Princess’

Sturdza with Vineet Bhatia at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva this week.
Sturdza with Vineet Bhatia at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva this week.

A few years ago, Australian ex-convict and celebrated-writer Gregory (Shantaram) David Roberts and his wife ‘Princess’ Françoise Sturdza were familiar faces on Mumbai’s social scene. The tall, strapping Australian with braided hair, astride a motorcycle and the delicate middle-aged divorcee who ran an NGO in Chennai, cut an attractive figure combining as they did equal amounts of Mumbai street cred and European glamour. Society hostess in Mumbai would queue up to host the duo and gush about the obviously smitten Roberts’ love for his wife and his insistence that everyone always refer to her as ‘The Princess’. Added to this delectable cocktail was the upcoming Hollywood production of Gregory’s blockbuster book Shantaram, with names like Johnny Depp, Amitabh Bachchan and Mira Nair in the heady brew. Such was the mystique they commanded that the city’s Four Seasons Hotel had created a special suite dedicated to the Shantaram legend, replete with memorabilia from the book which guests could book for a premium when the couple was not staying in it, while in the city. And then, like often happens, both Roberts and Sturdza had disappeared, amid rumours of a break-up and them going their separate ways. So it was good to see pictures of Sturdza this week with erstwhile Mumbai boy, chef Vineet Bhatia in Geneva. Bhatia, as is known, had been involved with an arduous and challenging expedition for which he’d undertaken to cook a sit-down dinner for a few fortunate donors at the Everest Base Camp, a couple of years ago. Turns out it had been for none other than Strudza’s ‘Heart For India’ foundation. “Hopefully, we will do some more exciting popups to raise awareness and charity,” Bhatia said, about this week’s encounter. As for Roberts, last heard of the rights for his best-selling book now lie with Apple Inc which is developing it for a television series, soon to come to a portal near you.

What They Say
“No, no, it is not right to say this. I don’t think India lost because of us. England played well to win.”
-Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed to reporters about allegations that India had dragged its heels against England to stymie Pakistan’s chances in the ongoing World Cup

What They Mean
“How can you suggest such a thing? In fact, India put in as much of an effort as our leaders do while fighting Pakistan-based terrorists.”

Tender Loving Khar in New York

Bina Sarkar Ellias with Sharmistha Ray.
Bina Sarkar Ellias with Sharmistha Ray.

Word comes in that Sharmistha Ray, the artist who had made her home and studio in Mumbai, before returning to New York last year, will be teaching at the Parsons school of Design (The New School) from later this year. “Yes, it’s official. I will be teaching critical theory to graduate students, starting this fall,” she said about the upcoming teaching gig. Her stint in Mumbai had seen Ray introduce a vibrant slice of New York into the city’s art scene with her regular open house, wine and cheese art jamborees, which she’d host at her well-appointed apartment in Khar for a grab bag of artists, patrons collectors and gallerists. Often, these would include music sessions and feature the likes of folk music composer and singer Gitu Hinduja, regaling the audience on an acoustic guitar, while below, the quotidian Linking Road traffic ebbed and flowed. This sense of community and mixing things up hasn’t deserted the TED fellow and alumni of Pratt who’d grown up in Kuwait. Her current address regardless, she remains actively engaged with the art scene and its denizens from back home in Mumbai. This week will see her join Mumbai-based publisher and poet Bina Sarkar Ellias, read from the latter’s book of poems at a Manhattan gallery. “Friends out there, do join us for an evening of poetry and visuals and perhaps, music and songs. Happily, my dear friend Sharmistha Ray will be reading with me and perhaps we shall have some music and song!” announced Ellias on social media.

Just like the good old Khar days.

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