Lon­don’s Big Fat In­dian Sum­mer

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - PEOPLE - By Malavika Sang­ghvi

Why do our coun­try’s rich and fa­mous move to the Bri­tish cap­i­tal this time ev­ery year? Here’s a voyeuris­tic look into high life’s party cen­tral

THERE WAS a time when it was said that if you wanted to meet ev­ery sin­gle high net-worth vis­it­ing In­dian in Lon­don, all you had to do was park your­self out­side the lin­gerie de­part­ment of the Marks & Spencer near Char­ing Cross Sta­tion.

“Ter­ri­bly grand pub­lish­ers, A-list in­dus­tri­al­ists, Bol­ly­wood stars – you’d bump into all of them, fever­ishly stock­ing up on their year’s sup­ply of lin­gerie,” swears a fre­quent vis­i­tor to Lon­don from Delhi, con­firm­ing, among other things, what was al­ways sus­pected: that no mat­ter how big or im­por­tant, the same elas­tic holds up most of In­dia’s rich and pow­er­ful.

“The snob­bish owner of

Browns once told me that there was a time when Amer­i­can and French tourists were their most pre­ferred clients. That changed to Arabs after the fi­nan­cial crash,” says Bina Ra­mani, whose fam­ily was one of the early set­tlers in Lon­don and fea­tures promi­nently on its ex­pat so­cial scene. (Her brother Gulu Lal­vani, who had once flam­boy­antly bought him­self a gold-plated Roll­sRoyce as a sign of ‘ar­riv­ing’, is said to have dated Princess Diana.)

“Ap­par­ently, there used to be a sign lan­guage be­tween the staff at Browns to keep In­di­ans out,” says Ra­mani. “But now In­di­ans are their no. 1 cus­tomers. The owner told me re­cently, ‘We love them! They come in clus­ters and shop a lot, and are so beau­ti­ful!’

“Ev­ery­thing’s changed,” says uber restau­ra­teur Camel­lia Pan­jabi, whose clus­ter of trendy Lon­don eater­ies, in­clud­ing Chut­ney Mary, Ameya and Masala Zone, ser­vice the leg­endary Bri­tish ap­petite for okra and und­hiya at var­i­ous price points.

Pan­jabi should know. In the late ’60s when she came to Lon­don from Cambridge, the In­dian pres­ence in Lon­don was al­most neg­li­gi­ble.

“You must re­mem­ber that thanks to the strin­gent for­eign ex­change reg­u­la­tions of the In­dian gov­ern­ment, we were all so very strapped for cash,” she says. “Ev­ery­one was poor and scroung­ing for meals. You hardly saw In­di­ans at the top ho­tels, restau­rants and clubs. Which is why the hand­ful of In­di­ans who lived in large homes and had chauf­feur-driven lim­ou­sines, like the Chel­larams, Shiv­dasa­nis and Hin­du­jas, stood out.”

“To­day, there are 200 In­di­ans who live just as well in Lon­don as the Chel­larams, Shiv­dasa­nis and Hin­du­jas. Go to any of the top restau­rants, not only do most have an In­dian con­nec­tion as in the case of Ar­jun Waney who has ma­jor­ity stakes in some of Lon­don’s most trendy eater­ies such as Zuma,

Roka, La Pe­tite Mai­son, Coya and the mem­bers-only The Arts Club, but they will be packed with In­di­ans,” says Pan­jabi.

“These in­clude In­di­ans who live in Lon­don, In­di­ans who live in In­dia but own apart­ments in some of Lon­don’s posh­est ar­eas, and of course, In­di­ans who visit Lon­don. It seems as though the only peo­ple who have money to spend and can be seen do- ing it with aban­don in Lon­don are In­di­ans.”

A SUM­MER SOIREE

Wel­come to Lon­don’s big fat

In­dian Sum­mer, where it’s hard to es­cape the shop­ping, din­ing, par­ty­ing and gen­eral liv­ing it up in high gear and full throt­tle.

“I dropped in to the Aud­ley, the late Vic­to­rian pub in the heart of May­fair, last month and it was packed with In­di­ans!” says AD Singh with pal­pa­ble glee. “I don’t think it would be easy to find as high pro­file a group in Khan Mar­ket at my own So­daBot­tleOpen­erWala! There were se­nior coun­sel and In­dia’s cur­rent at­tor­ney gen­eral, Mukul Ro­hatgi, Saf­fron Art founder Di­nesh Vazi­rani, Sula’s Ra­jeev Sa­mant, fash­ion de­signer Pria Kataria

Puri and mar­ket­ing guru Suhel Seth, all at the same time.”

“I think there’s the push as well as the pull fac­tor,” says Pan­jabi about the In­dian in­flux, or as some­one put it, ‘In­dia’s High Sea­son’ in Lon­don. “In­di­ans have al­ways pre­ferred to travel abroad to es­cape the sum­mer months back home. Lon­don, be­cause of fac­tors like lan­guage and fa­mil­iar­ity, is the nat­u­ral des­ti­na­tion,” she says. “The lo­cal In­di­ans have pros­pered and are an at­trac­tive en­tity for their com­pa­tri­ots who visit. Lon­don has be­come a great net­work­ing point for all kinds of busi­ness and per­sonal in­ter­ests. Which is why so many In­di­ans have in­vested in homes in Lon­don, or have placed their kids in schools here,” says Pan­jabi.

“May­fair, Park Lane, St Johns Wood are where In­di­ans like to live when they’re in Lon­don,” says Ch­hi­tra Gid­wani, an ex­porter of high-end gar­ments to Eng­land. “They go there to shop, play golf, watch plays and movies. Each year, it’s al­most like a rite of pas­sage when they ar­rive. The same faces in the same restau­rants, clubs and de­part­ment stores, and of course, the same par­ties thrown by the same lo­cal In­dian hosts,” she says.

“High net-worth In­di­ans tend to flock to Bel­gravia and May­fair of late. A cer­tain part of Hamp­stead was their first pref­er­ence

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