Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Eve at Namaaste Kitchen

We tend to eat together as a family on Christmas Eve whether at home or out, wherever we are. Maintaining a Bangladeshi spirit while preparing to fly out for the forthcoming election in Dhaka, the boys and I came together for a Christmas Eve Indo- fusion special at Namaaste Kitchen in Camden, owned by Sabbir Karim. The restaurant, one of two he runs, has won plaudits from the Guardian and other newspapers, for its wonderfully - presented unique recipes, all served at a very reasonable price.

The service was excellent so we had the staff sit down with us and tell us all about themselves. Young Imran, who works a few nights a week,  is doing double masters degrees; in Refugee Studies as well as an MBA, and played in the junior Bangladesh national cricket team.

The fact that Sabbir is a BA cabin crew purser is reflected in his eaterie - the style is light and sophisticated with more than a touch of the business class end of aviation.

Sabbir himself has won lots of awards over the years in the catering industry. I will be watching his progress with interest.

Shunga at the British Museum

With just a few days left to visit,  My Qi Gong tutor and I took a look round this fascinating exhibition of Japanese art. I was struck  throughout by the humour.

Most of the pieces on display were highly valuable and rarely seen, and some of my favourites were tiny figurines just a few centimetres high.

The art was laid out in eras and so even the way in which faces and forms appeared varied from period to period; with foreigners always larger than life.

I found the exhibition curiously restful and relaxing; the subject matter is not often placed in such a traditional arena and opened up for all members of the public to view.

I also liked the fact that there was a cross - section of ages and nationalities among the viewing public, with a high proportion, of course, of Japanese. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Diwali at Neasden Temple

I was invited to the BAPS Shri Swaminaryan Mandir, popularly known as the Neasden Temple,  this  week to witness the 19.00 hrs. evening prayer known as arti and to witness its Diwali preparations. Many round the world celebrate the Hindu Festival of Light this weekend.
Security was airport-rigorous. In 2002, 33 temple devotees and visitors were gunned down at the Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar, India by terrorists.
Neasden is a magnificent building and is Europe’s first traditionally built Hindu temple, the first such outside India in some 800 years. The last similar places of worship were built at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. No steel or manmade material has been used, in keeping with Hindu scriptures. One stipulation of the planners was that English oak should be utilised  in addition to the imported Burmese teak. Over 220 oak trees were felled for the temple, and some 2500 saplings were planted in their place . There is now a flourishing oak tree forest in Wiltshire, England.
 Almost 3,000 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone 1,200 tonnes of Italian Carrara marble, and 900 tonnes of Indian Ambaji marble, were hand-carved by more than 1,500 skilled artisans at 14 different sites around India into 26,300 pieces. These were then coded, packed and sent on their final 6,300-mile journey to London where each piece was assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle over two and a half years. 
In the building known as the Haveli, a large hall behind which there is a similar-sized sports space popular with young people, there were peacocks placed around the walls as the Neasden temple Diwali has a peacock theme this year. For the first time in my life, I saw traditional rangoli pattern making being done by young and older ladies. This is an art form of design dating back centuries creating three-dimensional patterns of beauty. Watching the ladies at work on the huge coloured tiles laid out on the carpet was mesmerising and induced a feeling of calm. 
The temple has a fee-paying school attached to it that is in the national top five for points scored at GCSE, according to the Daily Telegraph. 
Neasden temple feeds 2,500 each weekend. The number is likely to jump to several thousand for Diwali.
In the temple complex is a great vegetarian supermarket and a reasonably priced vegetarian  restaurant; Shayona,  with an abundant and delicious menu. I enjoyed pani puri, chaat and masala dosa with a passion fruit drink.

The Mandir is open to everyone. More detail at 
Happy Diwali, Hindus around the world. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Hanging out with Indian Movie Stars Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra

To south London where a millionaire restaurant owner had persuaded Indian megastars Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra to set up for meeting with people like me as they launched their latest film Krris 3.

They gave a press conference followed by interviews and so I got to observe the two of them over a whole afternoon at very close quarters.

Their chemistry is great and there was lots of free, fast - flowing banter;  in fact they tended to intercept each others' questions a helluva lot.

They were polite and answered my questions really well. I asked them off diary stuff which will be seen in print next week.

Not only are these two stunning looking and two of the hottest film names in India as well as its diaspora, but Priyanka has broken the notoriously tough US market with her singing. The former Miss World has teamed up with  Pitbull and Will.i.am and told me she is really happy with her twin careers.

Hrithik may be a hot dancer and great looking but his vulnerable side showed yesterday;  aspects of his previous physical challenges surfaced from time to time.

With me, they were both charming and made sure we got a shot of the three of us by shooing everyone else off set.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Rhodes Youth Forum; Standout Speaker; Sandbox's Alex Terrien.

25-year old Alexandre Terrien, Deputy CEO at Sandbox Inc. London, was one of my finds among the  speakers invited by Youth Time to Rhodes 2013.

Educated in Paris, France, and Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, where he read American Protest History, Alex, polite and poised, has a great head on his young shoulders. He will go far.

He gave me an interview the last night we were on Rhodes with no notice and answered every question I asked him frankly and fearlessly.

Alex has a social outlook and is dedicated to community building. He published a book about Harvard when he was there. He led the startup, A Dozen Trees, A Dozen Trees, which he created with another Sandboxer, and led international business development for Harvard professor David Edwards.

Alex currently dashes around the world nursing his Sandbox hubs which exist in Europe, the US, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Through Sandbox, a community of extraordinary young leaders connects for free and receives mentoring, contacts and support. Read more about the company here. It is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Through this peer-to-peer accelerator, primarily embodied by the strong ties between community members, Sandboxers around the world can connect with other extraordinary leaders in a way that accelerates their work, pushes their ideas and helps them grow.

The company, led by Swiss investors, is making the best possible use of social media to build the group and give aid where needed.

There is skill-sharing, peer to peer advice and contact, dinners and fun events like bowling. The youngsters are drawn, many of them, from the brightest and the best in the conventional world, such as the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers. Altruism seems to be a watchword.

I like Alex's personal site. This gentleman travels so much at the moment he has the skill down to a fine art; packing light, and choosing seats that help him to be among the first to egress the plane.

He told me that each of the Sandbox hubs is led an ambassador who happens to be the best leader on the ground. I understand that the community has grown to 900 now and covers 28 cities. I met his Athens group led by the energetic and  personable Konstantina Zoehrer.

After a tough few days of investigation in Athens, I was heartened to see the enthusiasm with which Konstantina and her group are addressing local issues head on, doing what they can to find opportunity amid the Greek financial crisis.

What I really liked about Konstantina, and I believe this reflects the Sandbox  ideology of honesty and helping others, is that she had no desire to thrust her work at this curious journalist; rather she was happy to talk about well established projects that she thought would be good for me to look at.

As I write this, Alex is in the US and doubtless when I next see him he will tell me about all that's been happening there.

Examining Alex Terrien and interacting with other Sandboxers has led me to believe that I need to watch this group so I will be staying in close contact and wish Alex every success.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Rhodes Youth Time Forum; Day Two

Interviewing Dr Yakunin and 25- year old Youth Time founder Julia Kinash today along with other key speakers from around the world helps me to understand the premise and history of this young organisation. Julia is clear in her vision and undoubtedly sincere. Dr Yakunin, while happy to advance Russian interests, is genuine in his international vision. He has a deeply thought out attitude towards encouraging the young and while prepared to help kickstart Youth Time efforts, told me that he expects it to fly with a lot of hard work.
A stand out speaker, apart from the above two, is Dutchman Rob van Kranenburg. A complete technospecialist, he surprised everyone when I asked him about his driver by answering with one word; "Love."

Sobering food for thought today. A shout out for Valeria Bulavskaya who took photos while I was interviewing, and remembered to give me some ice to place on my sprained ankle when I sat still for a while.
Today we are joined by German and Italian journalists; we are now complete.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Rhodes Youth Forum; Day One

100 proactive young people have been brought together from all over the world by theYouth Time organisation based in Prague and Moscow. The journalists; one Dane, one Frenchman, one Russian and I are being ably looked after by Anna Kasimovskaya and her colleagues here and in Moscow. I have identified my target interviewees but the correspondent from L'Opinion and I are both intrigued by and interested in interviewing Vladimir Yakunin, Youth Time patron, founding president of the Russian "Dialogue of Civilizations" and confidant of President Putin.
Why is Mr Yakunin so keen on gathering committed and  interested young people together in the way that he does through Youth Time?
Is this more than soft diplomacy?

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Interview with 2013 Law Firm of the Year Taylor Wessing's India Group Co-Chairs

Taylor Wessing's India Group Co-Chairs Laurence Lieberman and Vinod Bange talked to me in their airy 10th floor offices in the City.
They were frank and fearless, and I have written here what was allowed on the record. What they said off the record was fascinating too!

Read the interview here

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sharukh Khan is a Lovely Guy...and Thin.

I was a bit narked at being kept waiting over an hour by the man Newsweek described as one of the 50 most powerful people in the world and consumed an unreasonable amount of delicious chocolate chip cookies while realising that however seasoned we are, it is our subject's prerogative to keep us waiting for interviews.

The more star struck of the youngsters around gazed longingly into his eyes and told him he had her undying love. Outside the Courthouse Hotel in central London fans waited expectantly, pens and paper in hand. I discovered one girl outside my interview room being held back by a security guard and crying her eyes out as she could not meet her hero, despite having come from Paris to see him. It was a bit disconcerting.

Interviewing Sharukh Khan about his latest release Chennai Express I was impressed by his gentle, laid back style and quiet thoughtfulness. He has a stillness about him and told me that he was quite shy about romance.

He gave me all his attention when I asked him my questions and gently corrected any preconceptions my editor and I had formulated while discussing topics around Chennai Express this morning.

There I was, sitting at my screen in my office contemplating private equity when the urgent call came through for this assignment. I've wanted to meet the guy the Los Angeles Times called "The world's biggest movie star" for months despite one of my editors -who put him on a front cover- telling me he was kept waiting for over four hours.

Shar Rukh Khan told me he was fit and enjoyed the action sequences in Chennai Express, and sure enough, when I observed his physique as he got up to leave, he did look really, really slim.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Forbes India Fourth Anniversary Special Issue; JX Board Member David Nash

Senior oil executives like David Nash usually like to stay under the radar so I was really grateful to my friend for agreeing to be interviewed at short notice for this annual event issue. David is the only non-Japanese member of any Japanese Exploration and Production Board and has been in the industry for 40 years. His relationship with Japan stretches back nearly that far too. David worked for Shell and BP for 18 years before joining Mitsubishi Oil in 1993. His narrative is inspirational and he deserves the place among international thought leaders that Forbes India and I have given him. David's insights into the oil and gas industry are revealing as well as informative and he has many more interesting thoughts that I didn't have space for. I really appreciated David's work to perfect and hone the expression of his ideas. The editor supervising this special issue actually sent David's "as told to" round to the rest of the editorial team as an example for colleagues to emulate. Given that out of all my outlets, Forbes India has the maximum number of draft-writing stages, this was high praise. In our line of work praise is a rare phenomenon -we are constantly giving, writing, producing so feedback time scarcely exists. Any appreciation therefore means a helluva lot to a hack. UPDATE; Within a few days of going online, David Nash is climbing the list of most read Forbes India articles -up to number six so far. You go, David, and by the way, my AP colleague took a great portrait of you for Director of Photography Dinesh Krishnan!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

"Sonia Gandhi" in the New Left Review

The New Left Review has just gotten round to reading my book, which the journal describes as "A primer on dynastic form." Ah well, since the Left and dynasties do not traditionally make the best bedfellows, no surprise there, then. But the journal has certainly devoted a lot of space to this review.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Inside Story Half Hour on Al Jazeera English; the Maoist insurgency

Al Jazeera English consistently examines in depth many of the big stories. It is the international television network that most nearly chimes with what concerns citizens round the world rather than just what matters to Europe and the USA. My colleagues in Doha, AJE headquarters, rarely give me a whole lot of notice, as is the case in the news world, but one hour to studio for this Inside Story half hour programme June 1st 2013 was a big ask from a standing start with me in my west London clothes and no make up when the car journey alone averages 45 mins. Still, Nick, my producer, we did it, didn't we; we linked up successfully with Delhi and we had a fairly civilized panel discussion on the Maoist situation in India.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Sunday Express; The Forgotten Tibetans of Nepal

Thanks to stunning access provided by Dolma Ecotours CEO, Tsering Lama 7.000 ft above sea level in the Langtang mountains of the Himalayas, a whole world of Tibetan culture has been opened up to me. It was a transformational experience to be in the village of Bridim, embedding with Bridim villagers -mainly Tsering's family and relatives since whole villages in this region are inter-related, learning about ground conditions for Tibetans. Tsering is a senior leader in the region, very knowledgeable about Tibetans and the Himalayan terrain. You need expert leaders and guides in these areas so he or his brother were with me at all times; climbing, descending, moving around Bridim. I still remember the mist surrounding the stone houses, set in a semicircle, the sun rising behind the village, the water-driven prayer wheels, the prayer flags fluttering in the wind. No broadcaster or journalist can get access into these hidden areas in the mountains without special ground guides who know what they are doing and are conscious of health and safety issues so I was in good hands. Tsering is committed to revitalising his village and the region, which is losing its young. He is creating opportunities for employment and utterly dedicated to empowering the Tibetans of the region. He is an extraordinary character who could easily have progressed a commercial career for himself in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Benefit of Hindsight Campaign

I am sure that there are things we all regret or wish we had done differently. Take a look at this campaign and see if you would like to add your thoughts.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Luxury brands at the Belgian Ambassador's residence

Interesting to meet with luxury brands like Godiva chocolates at the Belgian Ambassador's residence. Having opened widely in China, they are now heading for India. Fascinating to hear about the history of the family-owned chocolate company and others. One of my Leading Lights, Rakesh Rawal, organised and chaired very well. Excellent food was served and guess what was in my goody bag!

With movie stars Shabana Azmi, Waheeda Rehman and poet Javed Akhtar at 51, Buckingham Gate

Sitting inches away from screen legends Waheeda Rehman and Shabana Azmi with her husband Javed Akhtar whom I have interviewed for the BBC was magical, since it was in the intimate and surreal environment of the Bollywood suite at 51, Buckingham Gate, the Taj group's high end apartments located next to their London hotel. The suite has its own large viewing screen with an incredible sound system. Waheeda was entertaining, narrating stories of how she imposed clauses on her film producers through her career. Shabana was very good humoured, at one point sending herself up, and the three of them happily answered questions. The session was followed by a lunch cooked by the Michelin-star Taj chef. Watch out for 51, Buckingham Gate in one of my features soon.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Sky News and the Hyderabad Bomb Blasts

Great to be back in the Sky News studio after tracking the aftermath of the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad through the night and talking to international sources. Stephen Dixon was anchoring and we had a good briefing. A couple of points to ponder; the newly established National Intelligence Agency and NSG commandos still took around two and a half hours to reach Hyderabad, well outside the "golden hour" the British security forces talk of as being the most important time for gathering evidence and crime-relevant personnel after an attack of this nature. Just as serious, Rana Banerji made some damning statements to the Associated Press. "Rana Banerji, a former security official, said India remains vulnerable to such attacks because there is poor coordination between the national government and the states. Police reforms are also moving very slowly and the quality of intelligence gathering is poor, he said. 'The concept of homeland security should be made effective, on a war footing,' he said." Rana Banerji was tipped to become head of India's external security arm, the Research and Analysis Wing, before he retired. He was the RAW man in London at the Indian High Commission. The Sky Newsroom seems to have enough people for the various required tasks and they also have time to be quirky, funny and caring.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

BBC World Service "From our own Correspondent" from Bangladesh

Do take a listen to the first of my BBC radio reports from Bangladesh and tell me what you think!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Princeton TV; Bangladesh on the Asian Times TV show

We recorded this full half hour show live from Dhaka when I was there and it airs tonight 9.30pm US Eastern time. It plays five more times after tonight over the coming fortnight; see site for times www.PrincetonTV.org. The formidable Dinesh Sharma anchors, as always.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

London for Ultra High Net Worth individuals; Bizjet Advisor

Here are some ideas for what to do in London at the moment. I pen these pieces on request in my capacity as a BizJet contributing writer, not as a representative of a large international television network.

Dubai for Ultra High Net Worth individuals; BizJet

It was quite fun writing about Dubai and looking at latest developments there for BizJet magazine, one of the premier journals for the private aviation industry. Most of the publishing team in the USA and the UK are either pilots or mad about aviation!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Forbes India; my colleague's article on what you need to know to survive the modern age

Deputy Editor Forbes India and excellent colleague Shishir Prasad -he edited my Sir Richard Branson thought piece last year - has written this list of what you need to survive the modern age. Read it-it's good.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

UK Government on Algeria hostage crisis

FCO STATEMENT ON ALGERIAN TERRORIST INCIDENT “There is in an ongoing terrorist incident near the town of Ain Amenas at an oil installation near the Algerian border with Libya. “We can confirm that British nationals are caught up in this incident. “The FCO has political and consular crisis teams working on this incident. The British Embassy in Algiers is liaising with the local authorities.”

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Ten Most Expensive Shopping Streets in the World

Good to know that Cushman and Wakefield, who compile this list each year, agree with me (New Bond Street) as far as London is concerned. In at no. One; can you guess? Fifth Avenue, New York.