The arrival of spring is signalled by clocks going forward for summer time. But instead of bright sunshine and daffodils — we have had showers, and snow-covered trees. The Easter weekend promises more snow and even more traffic chaos than normal on this long weekend when everyone hits the highway. It looks like that we are going to return to winter every few weeks! Having just completed writing a book, it has been the best time to be in London, with rain and snow — and very little temptation to go anywhere. Great to be indoors, to write and read. Now one understands why the UK has so many authors! Nothing like a cold and windy day to make you do productive work indoors! Time to get a nice log fire blazing as it seems we may never have a summer again! But the bad news for couch potatoes, or laptop addicts or authors is that too much sitting can seriously derange your body metabolism! Just in two weeks! According to new reports, life on a sofa can be bad for the waistline. The only good news is that one can get back to being healthy again if one can just increase the amount of exercise, within a fortnight! But for me — it will be only when they create a treadmill with a laptop attached!
The real excitement here is about the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Fifty-five countries will be represented and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend. The last time an Indian Prime Minister attended was in 2010. There is much interest in the PM’s visit, as he retains a fan base in the UK, but more importantly the UK is now looking at all its friends outside Europe. It will need them after Brexit, and relationships will have to be built stronger. We remember Mr Modi’s last visit three years ago when the Wembley Stadium was packed out. This time might be the last we see the Queen as head of the Commonwealth — and questions are being raised if it will be Prince Charles the next time? Or some other head of state?
So almost as a run-up to CHOGM, Friends of India in Parliament got together for a dinner at the Taj. MPs and peers from all political parties were there. High commissioner Yash Sinha used the occasion to tell some home truths to the hosts about India’s expectations from the UK. The occasion was also pulled together by Virendra Sharma, the MP for Ealing and Southall — but it was heartening to see the cross-party interest in India — as every MP I spoke to wanted to visit. After all, many have a substantial population of Indian origin in their constituency! But the constituents better watch out, as MP Bob Blackman revealed — he understands Hindi and Gujarati and so if anyone wants to keep a secret, don’t think the “goras” only know angrezi.
Last Thursday, March 29, marked the day we start the countdown of one year before we Brexit. There is still a raging debate in Parliament and outside as to whether it is a done deal or can it be somehow reversed. Arguments on both sides continue and we will not know till later what kind of deal we have. Then Parliament gets to vote on it and it could very well throw it out. If this happens in December, then we will have to scramble through a brand new deal, and time is running out. And honestly, it does seem that a divorce is far more complicated than a marriage!
And so the Remainers are still looking around for an excuse to halt Brexit in its tracks. In the meantime, Cambridge Analytica has reared its head here as well. It is alleged that the Vote Leave campaign broke the rules on spending limits by organising a donation of £650,000 to the coffers of another organisation, BeLeave, as they could not accept it. It so happened that the two people running the two outfits were a gay couple and they fell apart. The whole story has come out and Cambridge Analytica was involved in one way or another influencing the vote. Does this mean the referendum result was illegitimate? Who is responsible? Lawyers are ready to take the matter to court. By the time we end up it is quite likely that this mysterious firm fixed just about every election you can think of! Including that of President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, London remains a place where you can always find interesting places to visit, but still, it is rare to stumble across a well-preserved ruin indoors on a rainy afternoon. This is the Roman Temple of Mithras, seven metres below the pavement level, situated in a very modern building — the home to Bloomberg’s European headquarters. This is the location for an ancient river Walbrook as well, which marked the limits of the Roman city of Londinium. And in the 3rd century AD, a Roman Londoner set up the fascinating Temple of Mithras. Unfortunately, not much is known about the cult to Mithras. But, based on the existing information, a short sound and light show has been created inside the ruins about what the cult could have been about. Outside, they have displayed a variety of large and small artefacts recovered from the site in the 1950s when the building was being constructed. I often think that in India we have a variety of cultural heritage — in ruins everywhere that we rarely use or visit because we have rules about its preservation. And here a private company has stepped in to make a magical experience. Why can’t we do this in India too?