If you've read James Clavell's Tai Pan and Noble House, you might know that the books were based on the story of Jardine Matheson, the Fortune-500 Hong Kong business group. But you probably don't know their Calcutta connection. Dr William Jardine (the model for Dirk Struan of Tai Pan) started out as a Calcutta doctor on an East India Company ship that plied to Canton and back in the early 1800s. He had a profitable little side business, carrying a chest of opium from Calcutta on each voyage, and selling it in Canton. Finding that his opium trading was much more lucrative than his medical practice, he started a trading house (in partnership with an enterprising Indian passenger, Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy—but that's another story). In time, Jardine teamed up with another Calcutta boy, James Matheson, who, having been thrown out by his uncle in Calcutta, went to China to seek his fortune (he was the model for Tai Pan's Rob Struan). Together, they dared to lead the campaign to deprive the all-powerful East India Company of its monopoly of the China trade and, later, played a remarkable, visionary role in the founding of the trading hub of Hong Kong.
Today Jardine Matheson is a $22 billion Asian powerhouse, with interests in everything from property and financial services to the celebrated Mandarin Hotels group. An interesting counterfactual: what would have happened to Messrs Jardine and Matheson if, instead of Canton, they had decided to start their business in Calcutta? Good question. They apparently still have a small Calcutta connection though, in Jardine Henderson, best known for its pest control service, with its office on Dr Rajendra Prasad Sarani.
Portraits All A' Twit-ter
Reading Patrick French's wonderful India: A Portrait, I was surprised to find myself being quoted in it. French says, "Deductions about different Indian communities tend to be made in private, rather than in public, but few, even within the communities themselves, would deny their accuracy. Take a popular e-mail that's making the rounds...." French then goes on to quote from a humorous piece I had written some years ago, which somebody seems to have turned into one of those e-mail forwards: "1 Bengali = poet, 2 Bengalis = film society, 3 Bengalis = political party, 4 Bengalis = two political parties; One Tam Brahm = priest at the Varadarajaperumal temple, 2 Tam Brahms = maths tuition class, 3 Tam Brahms = queue outside the US consulate at 4 am, 4 Tam Brahms = Thyagaraja music festival in Santa Clara...." French says, "In each case, the depiction is close enough to reality for the stereotype to work...." There are further examples quoted in the chain e-mail but to ensure that the book is not burned in the streets of Patna or Lucknow, or the Outlook office is not attacked, I will leave out the entries from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, here are a few others you might find interesting: 1 Hyderabadi = rickshaw-wala, 2 Hyderabadis = one cup of chai at an Irani hotel, 3 Hyderabadis = shaam-e-ghazal, 4 Hyderabadis = the queue for leftovers outside Paradise Biryani every night; 1 Andhraite = chilli farmer, 2 Andhraites = software company in New Jersey, 3 Andhraites = accounting fraud, 4 Andhraites = song-and-dance number in a Telugu movie; 1 Kashmiri = carpet salesman, 2 Kashmiris = defunct houseboat on Dal Lake, 3 Kashmiris = jehadi outfit, 4 Kashmiris = shoot-at-sight order. These started out merely as bad jokes, but if Mr French sees some larger sociological significance in them, who am I to argue?
Bugle Boy For Bengal
How do you create a brand for West Bengal? That's one of the things that Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has apparently been thinking about, with a view to positioning the state as a place to invest, work, holiday and study in. And the person he appointed to do that was Wally Olins, one of the world's leading brand consultants, who's been responsible for branding places like Poland. Well, with its negative imagery, Poland may be a tricky problem to solve, but not as tricky as West Bengal, caught as it is between the devil of the old-guard Marxists and the deep sea of Mamata. Olins apparently recommended that the key to the problem is to bring back a sense of pride in the people (which seems to make eminent sense) and to reach out to Bengalis living outside the state. But now, of course, everything's gone into the deep freeze—if not forever, then until May 13, at least.
In Case Of...Play An Action Hero
At Calcutta airport I saw a large sign saying, "In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass". But the funny thing is, it was printed on a glass door leading to the outside. Er...wouldn't it be simpler to just put a functioning handle on the door?