Deccan Chronicle

London Diary: Of Golden Man Booker, Oxfam and absconding Nirav Modi

Columnist| Kishwar Desai

Published on: February 18, 2018 | Updated on: February 18, 2018

The reputation of the organisation has also been dented.

Nirav Modi

Nirav Modi

So its back to guessing if Salman Rushdie will once again bag a Man Booker — this time the Golden Man Booker award. This year the special prize is part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the hallowed award, and will be given for the best book among the winners of the past five decades. So which one will grab the top spot among the 50 annual Man Booker prize winners? Mr Rushdie is one of the lead contenders as he had already won the 40th Anniversary Best of Booker award for Midnight’s Children. That unforgettable book had introduced us to "magical realism" in contemporary literature — after which so many wannabes followed. Imitation is the best form of flattery! But of course each year has seen the competition get tougher — especially because in the past two years, the Man Booker prize has been opened up to, and won, by Americans. There are five judges for each of the five decades, who will select a short list: for the ’70s Robert McCrum, author, will do the picking; for the ’80s, poet Lemn Sissay will select his choice; for the ’90s it’s going to be novelist Kamila Shamsie, while Simon Mayo, author, and poet Hollie McNish will judge and select the best, respectively, from the 2000s and 2010 onwards.

Once the shortlist has been created there are plans to open it up to public voting as well — which is where the excitement (and the controversy) might arise. So get your fingers on the button for your favourite author. The winner will be announced at the Southbank Centre on July 8, during the Man Booker 50 Festival. This is the kind of cultural thrill that makes our London life interesting, I guess! Now we are also looking forward to an exhibition coming up in March on Vincent van Gogh and his relationship with Britain. The show will include the iconic Sunflowers — as well as some pieces which deal with the darker side of his life: for instance, his time at the Saint-Paul asylum. The two paintings from that period, At Eternity’s Gate and Prisoners Exercising have been borrowed from museums abroad, and will be new for many visitors.

While staying in London in his early 20s, Van Gogh was a trainee art dealer, living at Lambeth (very close to where we live!), and he loved the city, where he had a great time. He walked everywhere, said he had a "wonderful home", and he also had "nature and art and poetry", which was more than enough. The exhibition at the Tate Britain will showcase around 40 works of the artist brought from all over the world. Cannot wait to see! But one thing that is generating enormous concern here is the increasing number of reports of sexual harassment cases. Now old historical cases are also coming out — as many have realised how difficult it is for people to speak about it. In the latest revelations, the country is reeling from the accusations that even charitable organisations — hugely respected ones like Oxfam — have had sexual abuse cases, many of which were kept deliberately hidden. The media expose that people in the charity had used prostitutes while providing humanitarian help in Haiti, following the earthquake in 2011 — and also that there had been sexual abuse in some of the Oxfam shops, has forced a sharp dip in the donations to the charity, and celebrities have withdrawn their support.

The reputation of the organisation has also been dented. To rectify it somewhat, Oxfam has taken out advertisements apologising for what happened in the past — but the reality is that charities require much more professional management. The old days where you wanted to do some "good" and worked in a charity are gone. These huge organisations are multi-national and have to be run in the same way. I have not personally come across any Oxfam shops or work in India — but it will be interesting to see how it is faring. The fear now is that if it has been exploitative — and that there has been an attempt to conceal the charges — then perhaps we will never know the truth. The sad part is that in some cases children as young as 14 have been abused. While the aid work should not stop, one wonders at how organisations like this will ensure this does not happen again?

One Indian story that has caught the eye of all media in London has been the Nirav Modi scam. After all, he was the jeweller to the stars, including those from Hollywood — and he could have never, ever hoped for so much free publicity. Though perhaps not quite the kind he would have wanted: "Search for Indian Tycoon accused of $1.8 billion bank fraud." But alas — he has not chosen London (unlike other proclaimed financial offenders, such as Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi) but is holed up in a New York hotel. The question now will be whether the US law is better for extradition of economic offenders? And the other question is whether he was carrying all those diamonds with him?

About The Author

Kishwar Desai, is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the Partition Museum at Town Hall, Amritsar.

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