Mission accomplished!” This celebratory moment for Donald Trump might have a rather deleterious impact on the UK. The question here is whether the escalating Cold War freeze will embolden Russia to launch a stealth attack on the UK? Not everyone in the UK is sanguine about the recent joint missile attack on three chemical plants in Damascus by the US, UK and France, to prevent the Bashar al-Assad regime from “gassing” its own people.
Yes, while Prime Minister Theresa May might personally be more popular than Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, some uncomfortable questions have begun to be asked. After all, Parliament was not consulted before the missile attack took place. Some ministers have questioned whether the attack should have happened at all. Initial polls show that a majority of people believe Ms May took the wrong decision. There is a growing consensus that the PM must consult Parliament before any attacks are planned or launched.
Moreover, fears have now been expressed that Russia could retaliate with a cyber attack of its own on national services — such as the health system, the water supplies, the financial services or even the energy grid. This is worrying as the Kremlin is perceived as ruthless, and with a barrage of daily media reports, Islamic State is being replaced as Enemy No 1.
Now most of the news stories are about Russia and Vladimir Putin. The latter has been on TV channels in the UK ever since the nerve gas poisoning took place… Which by the way, may not have been as deadly as initially thought since Sergei Skripal, the retired double agent who was poisoned, and his daughter, are recovering, with the latter having gone home already.
The British Museum remains the most visited space in the country and has an annual footfall of nearly six million visitors! And we all know that its major collections come largely from the loot (to put it politely) from its colonies. There is no intention of course in giving any of it back. But it is nice to see a tiny religious appropriation on a personal level on the part of German art historian Hartwig Fischer, who runs the museum: he has a small sculpture of Sai Baba on his desk. This was given to him by some friends. Interesting! However, this will not encourage him, I am sure, towards returning any of the glorious material taken in the hoary past from India. From this week onwards a musical festival will be on at the British Museum, in different galleries called a Symphony of Cultures, a very apt name for a repository of material from all over the world.
And now Mr Fischer is thinking up ways to renovate the museum, which may cost anything up to a billion pounds, because it has more than 3,000 rooms! Think of what would happen if the Commonwealth summit were held there… quick, hide the plunder!
Alleged slander by the media is something many celebrities have got used to, but nonetheless, the shock is immense, especially when the issue is about sexual harassment or the abuse of minors. And then, if the so-called misreporting has come from a well-known and respected media house such as the BBC, the shock is greater. One of my all-time favourite singers, 77-year-old Cliff Richard, recently wept in court describing how terrible he had felt, in October 2014, when he was accused of a sexual offence against someone who was less than 16. The offence dated back to 1985.
While waiting for the police investigation to be complete, Richard was depressed, and sometimes thought he would have a heart attack. Even the release of his autobiography was stopped. Now as the case has finally come for hearing in the courts he is hopeful of a win… which might lead to some compensation as well. While the police has apparently apologised to him, BBC apparently still has to do so. The problem in all these old, historical cases is that evidence will always be an issue. And yet, in the process, reputations can be destroyed.
While a lot of preparation is now on for the Commonwealth summit, and the Indian community is gearing up for the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there are also (on the sidelines, no doubt!) issues that many hope will be discussed. Such as the long-pending problem of gay rights in some countries where homophobia still exists, and homosexuality is criminalised. In fact, 37 of the 53 members of the Commonwealth still outlaw homosexuality. A best practice guide was meant to be published, specially for CHOGM, on sexual orientation and gender identity. But as always, already attention is moving away from social issues to economics as the UK is looking for trading partners in the run up to Brexit. It might not want to distract attention or upset potential partners. So, yet again, it might be status quo for gay rights.
A legend passes
In Ram Kumar’s passing, India loses a legendary artist who was among our leading modernists. Learning his art in Paris in the immediate post-colonial period, he went on to present his passion in an art language that would be as easily understood in Paris, London or New Delhi. It was by chance that Ram Kumar stumbled upon his passion at an art exhibition while walking aimlessly on New Delhi’s streets while studying economics at St Stephen’s College. He went to Paris to train under Andre Lhote and Fernand Leger from 1949, and later blossomed like his contemporaries in the Bombay Progressive Group and Delhi’s Shilpi Chakra in the 1950s. He was an understated member of the quartet of artists who were to become legends like M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta and S.H. Raza.
As Indian art progressed rapidly in the early days of Independence from the earlier plain landscapes and portraits, the consciousness of being Indian also flowed to create a unique branding that was Indian and yet saleable internationally. A million dollars may have been the most that a Ram Kumar painting was to sell, but then he was a writer in Hindi and drew satisfaction from his being able to project the human condition as his main concern. A pivotal journey to Varanasi in the 1960s saw him take to abstract art and he excelled in it, never to return to figural painting again. His contemplation of the cosmic cycle and the brilliance of his landscapes straddling abstraction and naturalism made him an artist who added vastly to the lustre of modern Indian art.