An invitation to dine at the first Asian dinner ever hosted at the Carlton Club, that prestigious bastion of Conservatives since the 19th Century, seemed quite a scoop. My host, Rami Ranger, Chairman of the British Asian Conservative Link welcomed us with a warm Punjabi smile and apologised for the absence of some of the dignitaries who had decided not to turn up.
I was seated opposite Mrs Kuldeep Riat, a self-confessed Labour supporter, her giggling acquaintance, and Dr Kamal Chandok. Dr Chandok was a rather stern looking lady who looked like she would have felt more comfortable admonishing erring students with a cane than sitting down at a Conservative Party dinner.
Rami Ranger introduced his guests, and explained that the dinner had been hosted to apprise us of the deteriorating law and order situation in Britain. The Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin delivered a rather long-winded speech about five things the government should have done to improve law and order. I must confess I don’t remember much of what he said, but vaguely recollect a reference to the Americans who cut street crime in New York by increasing the number of police patrolling their streets. The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ian Blair
replied and invited questions from the guests.
Just as the guests started asking questions in pronounced Punjabi accents, Mrs Kuldeep Riat’s face convulsed into a fit of consternation. She closed her eyes as if undergoing some great Chinese torture. Her complaints to her giggling companion about the ‘atrocious accents’ of her fellow guests did not go unnoticed. Dr Chandok, looking sterner than ever, suddenly gave the two women a pointed look and said “Quite, Quite”, and shook her head. A visibly offended Mrs Riat, made a grimace, ignored Dr Chandok’s request for courtesy, and continued speaking.
As if all this speaking was not enough, one gentleman ventured to ask the Deputy Commissioner a question, but ended up giving a lecture. Finally the facilitator interrupted him and said, “Can you please ask your question in a few words, rather than going into such great details?”
But the gentleman in question showed greater perseverance and after a further five minutes of lecturing, paused and said, “Now I ask my question: is what I said true?” This immediately sent Mrs Riat into peals of laughter, while Dr Chandok watched her with undisguised grief, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water.
Just as I thought things couldn’t get more interesting, the waiter dropped the remains of a dead fish on to my plate. When I informed him that I was a vegetarian, he seemed quite irritated and claimed that my hosts had not mentioned I required a vegetarian meal. He returned back a few minutes later with a scowl on his face and a sliced melon on a plate, both of which he placed in front of me. All the other waiters scuttled around with beaming smiles and helpful words, while I was saddled with Whistler’s Mum.
Shailesh Vara, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, spoke eloquently about the need for more Indians in the political process. “I am feeling quite lonely up there,“ he said, “and I want more people from our community working there with me.”
Peter Luff, MP, and Chairman of the Conservative Friends of India repeated the same point when he met me later. Venilal Vaghela, a Committee Member of the British Asian Conservative Link told me, “Look at what happened in Uganda. We had economic strength but lacked political strength. Ultimately, we got thrown out. Its high time we learn from our past experiences and encourage our youth to join any political party of their choice. We need more Indian councillors and Parliamentarians in this country.”
As I was saying my farewells, Dr Chandok glared at me and clucked, “Quite!””
I made an immediate attempt to keep my mouth shut. Silence, as the wise always say, is golden. Shhhhh!