By Amit Roy
FATHER CLEARY, our English teacher at St Xavier’s School in Patna, taught us never to use the expression, “return back” – “otherwise you will end up where you started”.
Still, the question is whether British Indians – those who came to the UK as first-generation immigrants and their children and grandchildren born here – ever think about “returning back” to India in retirement?
In the fourth series of The Real Marigold Hotel, inspired by the movie of the same name, it was heart-warming to see the mother country through the eyes of the actor John Altman; entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne; cricket commentator Henry Blofeld; actress Susie Blake; entertainer Paul Chuckle; singer and actress Barbara Dickson; former Swedish Bond girl Britt Ekland; and fashion designer Dame Zandra Rhodes. They spent three weeks, divided between Pondicherry in the south and Rishikesh in the Himalayan foothills.
I found “my dear old thing” Blofeld the most entertaining because I have always enjoyed his cricket commentary. He has been to India before and concluded: “I was delighted to have all my impressions of the charm, gentleness and friendliness of the Indian people confirmed. They are a real delight, nothing is too much trouble and, language barrier permitting, they fell over backwards to be helpful.”
Altman said, “The heart of India is the real India,” while Bannatyne commented, “I was most surprised by the energy of the people, the kindness of the people. And the feeling of being very safe among them.”
Chuckle was surprised by “how totally friendly everyone we met was, so nice” but admitted he realised “how lucky we are to be here in the UK. Not a lot of money out there and it’s too hot for comfort, but still very relaxing.” Blake was “very moved” while Dickson said, “What an ancient and magical place it is”. Ekland remarked on “the strength of the Indian women… they truly were the backbone of the part of India I saw”; while for Rhodes, “India is one of my most favourite countries to visit”.
It is curious that despite the experience of the Raj, Indians and Brits get on so well. The BBC should try bringing over a group of Indians in a Marigold Hotel experiment in reverse. After three weeks in exotic locations – say, Wembley and Leicester – it might have trouble persuading them to “return back” to India.