Yesterday, I was invited to lunch by Mr. Ashok Hinduja. He is, as everybody should know, the Bombay end of the famous Hinduja brothers, sometimes known as the most prosperous and successful Indian business family. The brothers have a nice working system: one brother operates from Geneva, another from London, the third is in transit, and Ashok Hinduja is in Bombay. The rest of their business eneterprise they control by fax.
I do not know if Ashok Hinduja is the youngest among the brothers. They all look alike, they dress alike, and they all look young. I think he looks after their various philanthrophies and public services, the Hinduja College and the strikingly modern Hinduja Hospital. He must also be looking after various publications: he presented me with a large volume of biographical sketches of all the Nobel laureates in all the disciplines since the time of the inception of the award, and a recent publication of the newly-opened Indian wing of the Victoria And Albert Museum.
A car was sent to take me to luch, air-conditioned but not foreign. A driver who looked like the family priest and talked softly about the rains in Bombay and how parched it was in his native UP. He drove me to Hinduja House, which is the office at Worli, a deceptively spacious building with tall wide windows that look out on Hornby Vellard.
Two Gurkhas opened the gates, moving with matching precision, like a curtain being lifted on both sides of the stage for the start of the play. The main office doors opened smoothly and electronically, and inside everybody seemed to know about by arrival. Not once did I have to go through the exercise of:
"I want to see Mr. Ashok Hinduja?"
"You have an appointment, sir?"
"Yes. In fact, he had rung me up."
"What name, sir?"
A receptionist pointed to the lift and said third floor. A secretary was waiting at the third floor and escorted me to the office. Come to think of it, the entire third floor was the office. Marble floors with Persin carpets. Anybody can have one of the other, if you have both, that is class.
There was an excuctive desk, conference table, sofas, low tables, telephones, flowers, a bowl with almonds, pistas and cashewnuts, the best quality that money could buy and absolutely fresh. I would not be surprised if, like fresh flowers, a servant was changing them every day.
Our conversation, apart from the delicensing of the Indian economy (a subject which I am rather ignorant about and Mr. Hinduja extremely knowledgeable), as mainly about the press. "Why do so many businessmen want to start newspapers?" he wanted to know.
"Probably for political clout," I said.
"Yes," said Mr. Hinduja, nodding his head, "that must be the reason. Because economically they are quite unviable."
Lunch was upstairs, in a large and empty dining room, immaculately served: red pumpkin soup, canneloni, pea and potato cutlets, and kulfi. I have to complaints anout the menu; it is not the food that matters, it is the company.