From Galileo Galilee to Steve Jobs, history is littered with individuals who have profited from the ideas and/or graft of others.
The hijacking of ideas, concepts, theories etc has, in fact, become worryingly acceptable, particularly in this age of instant messaging and Social Media, when GDP-sized fortunes can be made on the sale of marginally useful smart-phone apps or when you’re trying to be noticed above the din of the multitude of others who aspire to the same fame and fortune.
To many the practice is a disgrace, particularly when the victim is an 82-year-old writer and historian who has devoted a large part of her life to nurturing and developing an idea.
Social Media networks were abuzz on Monday with a number of heated exchanges between several members of the British Asian community – including Poonam Joshi, the outspoken Entertainment editor of this web portal – and Neishaa Gharat, a London-based Indian expat, about an initiative variously called “Beyond400”, “Project400” and a lady by the name of Dr Kusoom Vadgama.
Here’s the background: I first met Dr Vadgama, an 82-year-old North London-based author, campaigner and optometrist, in late 2013 when we discussed adapting a book she had written in 1984 – titled ‘India in Britain’ – into a series of events celebrating the 400th anniversary of the start of formal relations between India and Great Britain.
The book described the rich history between the two nations beginning with Sir Thomas Roe’s passage to India as ambassador at the court of Emperor Jahangir in 1614 and featured an anthology of news reports published between 1852 and 1947 in The Times and the Illustrated London News about the contributions made by Indians in Britain.
Dr Vadgama’s passion for the history between the two countries was matched only by her dismay at the lack of recognition of those contributions: Jeremy Paxman was recently moved to write her and express his own regret at the BBC’s inadequate coverage of the Indian contribution during the Great War.
‘India in Britain’ – featuring forewords by Prince Charles and the then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – thus gave birth to the idea of ‘Project 400’.
Dr Vadgama’s passion belied her age. Above all, it was utterly infectious.
A host of volunteers came on board with the project and the first meetings were held in February, attended by a number of journalists, authors, correspondents, society figures and Neishaa Gharat: a flamboyantly-attired lady originally from Mumbai.
I had run into Ms Gharat several times over the previous 12 months and she described herself variously as a fashion designer, director/co-founder/founder of a string of companies with fashionable names like ‘Chalo India’, ‘Karma Ventures’, ‘Art + Fashion Collusion’ as well as being something called a ‘Catalyst’ for an NGO, the favoured venture of ambitious NRI’s looking to more successfully straddle east and west.
Prior to the Project400 meetings Ms Gharat had met with Dr Vadgama during which she had promised every support to the project.
At the meetings however, the garrulous Ms Gharat’s ambition was evident as was a distinct lack of little appreciation for the historical context of Project400. When she was appointed to the organizing committee of ‘Project400’, she protested, demanding that she be made an Executive Committee member.
Nevertheless, her proposals to explore and celebrate the fashion-related elements of this 400-year-old relationship between Britain and India were well received.
Meanwhile, Project400 received the backing of Labour MP Virender Sharma, Chairman of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group, among others.
Progress on the Project however, was snail-paced. The British establishment – understandably enough – is preoccupied with the 100th anniversary of the Great War and has not been particularly warm towards celebrating any other anniversaries, even one relating to what is arguably Britain’s most important ethnic minority.
Then, on Saturday 12 April, Ms Gharat shared a Times of India editorial on her Facebook page about a “Diaspora” initiative called ‘Beyond400’, backed by “David Cameron’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office” (I didn’t even know that the Prime Minister exercised such power!) which “marks the 400th year of a landmark in Indo-British ties”: the arrival of Sir Thomas Roe at the court of Emperor Jahangir.
‘Beyond400’, the article intriguingly added, was backed by Tory MP Priti Patel, the vice-chairman of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group.
Ms Gharat was keen to highlight a section of the article in which Lord Bilimoria (another supporter of ‘Beyond400’) is quoted as saying that a “Key Feature” of the project is to provide a platform for promising young “fashion designers”.
‘Beyond400’ is reportedly implemented by ‘Arts and Culture India’, an initiative founded by Ms Gharat and Sudip Roy, another ‘volunteer’ who attended meetings at Dr Vadgama’s house in relation to ‘Project400’. The article also goes on to mention a whole host of other groups and individuals ‘associated’ with Ms Gharat’s venture.
No mention is made of Dr Vadgama.
Soon after the editorial appeared, some of the Project400 volunteers expressed their shock – some publicly and many privately: unsurprising given the small size and close-knit nature of the British Asian community.
Hours after journalist Poonam Joshi publicly chastised Ms Gharat about hijacking Dr Vadgama’s initiative, the fashion designer wrote to Dr Vadgama from India. In a perfunctory email, Ms Gharat explained that ‘Beyond400’ was an “open platform for people to collaborate and is a national UK event with many organizations joining hands”.
It was probably several weeks too late to explain her outrageous conduct.
I admire ambition and drive as much as the next person but to seek fame and fortune while trampling on others – particularly one who has devoted a large part of her adult life to nurturing better understanding between these two great nations – is shameful.
Alas, what is perhaps slightly more shameful is that such behaviour is fast becoming the norm and there is precious little one can do other than to expose such duplicity.