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#Compelling: The Asian Awards – Behind the Headlines

As usual the truly compelling stories were the ones that didn’t go “trending” and didn’t make it to the Daily Mail’s obligatory new celebrity haircuts/cleavage/curves/mid-riffs/nip-slip pages.

The Asian Awards took place on Friday and the internet appeared to buckle under the pressure after Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan (12.5 million Twitter followers) posed for a selfie with Zayn Malik (14.6 million), the scrawny British-Pakistani kid who apparently used to be a member of a boy band and whose departure from said band caused several million teenage meltdowns a couple of weeks ago.

I’m not too keen on award ceremonies “honouring excellence” but there’s something to be said about event organizer Paul Sagoo’s marketing savvy, not to mention his collection of outrageous dinner jackets. 

On Friday he rocked his signature black paisley-design jacket, this time with bright yellow lapels and a red tie.  Strangely enough, his recent weight loss didn’t do much to alleviate the assault on the eyes.

Bizarre sartorial preferences aside, Sagoo is a master at ensuring all eyes were on his doubtless lucrative event – not least by getting the aforementioned stars to attend, making the photographer’s pen on the Red Carpet look like a Mumbai train during rush hour.

It’s not just Sagoo staying up all night making a gazillion calls to the star’s reps.  His approach appears more calculated and nuanced.

The pot-smoking, foul-mouthed, marginally-talented Malik, for instance, is an “ambassador” for the British Asian Trust which was the official charity at this year’s Awards.  Connect the dots.

Shah Rukh and Zayne were given awards for taking the trouble to attend – the former a deserved award for his contribution to cinema (yes, yes, his films are rubbish but at least he’s consistent) and the latter for his “contribution” to music, an award that even ticked off comedian Paul Chowdhury who couldn’t stop saying ‘Bhenchod’ all night.

Malik wasn’t the only thing that Chowdhury was upset about.

The MC for the night was Gok Wan who took a break from plugging Activia yogurt pots to take up hosting duties – a definite step down from last year’s host Lord Sebastien Coe but apparently Sagoo’s attempt to show that the Asian Awards is a truly Pan Asian event.

The big story of the night – one which appeared to escape a vast majority of media outlets who fell over themselves to report on the SRK/Zayne selfie – was Sri Lankan cricket legend Kumar Sangakkara wading into the Kevin Pietersen saga, one which has now become even more nauseating than Gok Wan.

Sangakkara – who was deservedly honoured with the Outstanding Achievement in Sports award on the night – said it was “unfortunate” that Pietersen and England’s cricket management couldn’t see eye-to-eye.

“For a player of Kevin’s ability not to play international cricket for his country is a shame but also looking at the England side, I think he has so much to offer them”, Sangakkara said, as England captain – and Pietersen’s arch-nemesis – Alistair Cooke let out a cry of despair out in the West Indies.

Sangakkara twisted the knife a little bit more by adding: “I think the way forward is to come to an agreement that allows Kevin to have a very fruitful few years playing for England and they will reap the benefits of him playing.”

Battle of the Beards: Kumar with Danielle.  Sorry, Gary.

The Lankan southpaw, who became the first batsman to score four consecutive centuries in ODI’s at the recent World Cup, has signed-up with Pietersen’s county side Surrey where he continued his rich vein of form with a century on debut against Glamorgan this weekend.

Sangakkara, who has retired from international ODI’s and T20’s, is widely respected within the cricket fraternity for his extraordinary commitment and love for the game.  And for staying away from contentious issues.

It has stood him in good stead, especially in Sri Lanka, where politics regularly impinges on cricket administration. In fact, Sri Lanka Cricket’s shenanigans make the England board look like the Teletubbies. 

The likes of Sangakkara and his close friend Mahela Jaywardena have only managed to enjoy long and successful careers by rising above the din of politics and remaining aloof from any kind of controversy.

If and when Sangakkara – who enjoys Oscar Wilde and who gave up a career in law to play cricket – does speak out it is carefully planned and delivered, as he did with the Colin Cowdrey lecture in 2011.

Perhaps it was the Chivas Regal cocktails – the drinks company was a headline sponsor at the Asian Awards – or the fact that he is now semi-retired: whatever the reason, it was out of character for Sangakkara to air comments which, while they may not anger those in the anti-Pietersen camp, will doubtless surprise them.

Science and Engineering

A man who surprised many during his extraordinary life was posthumously honoured on Friday with the ‘Founder’s Award’ – the Asian Awards’ equivalent of the rather hackneyed ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ that is de-riguer at Asian award ceremonies.

The late academic and entrepreneur Dr Amar Bose – founder of the Bose Corporation – is known for turning acoustics into an almost-sexual science.

Ooh..I like the sound of THAT!  Dr Amar Bose.

However, his life was littered with achievements in the field of engineering that, whilst not landing him on the front pages, continue to impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Among those achievements is the electro-magnetic shock absorber – an innovation that took some time to gain traction but which will be an essential part of the electric/hybrid cars we drive/will drive in the future.

This year’s Outstanding Achievement in Science Award went to Sir Tejinder Singh Virdee – one of the world’s most distinguished physicists.  Sir Tejinder helped create a crucial mechanism within the Large Hadron Collider which in turn is attempting to find the fundamental building blocks of all matter.

Sir Tejinder Virdee. 

While that may not be as important as paying this month’s mortgage for you and me, the implications for science and, more importantly, scientific advancement, is more earth-shattering than all of Zayn Malik’s 14.6 million followers screaming at the top of their voices.

Another figure honoured at the Awards was Gopi Gopalakrishnan, a man suitably described by Bill Gates as an “impatient optimist”.

Mr Gopalakrishnan is the founder and chairman of World Health Partners (WHP), an organization that delivers health services to the world’s most deprived and marginalized communities – not by sending in truckloads of medical supplies but by making better use of existing resources to help people whose access to resources is severely limited.

Gopi Gopalakrishnan.

It’s an innovative model that relies heavily on innovations such as telemedicine and incentivizing healthcare professionals to reach out and help the most isolated communities in South Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

Engineers, physicists and philanthropists usually have a difficult time competing with the likes of midriff-baring reality TV stars and famous kids with new haircuts for headlines but when the photographers have left and the screaming fan-girls have grown up, the work of the likes of Amar Bose, Sir Tejinder and Gopalakrishnan will continue to fundamentally change the world we live in.

And that’s worth honouring.

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