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Pravasi Bharatiya Samman: Meet the winners

Sir Gulam Noon

Sir Noon, Chairman of the Noon group in Britain, has been nominated for a Pravasi Bhartiya Award. And, although he has been awarded twice in the UK, he says today's award is special for him.

A food industry millionaire known for his frank views on Islam, he recently said that Muslims should abide by British values or leave. He is the only Asian on the Board of Transport for London, responsible for the city's public transport. Some years ago, he became President of the London Chambers of Commerce -- an outstanding achievement because he was the first non-white after 126 years to get elected. His list of achievements are many, but another that deserves mention is that the UK government, by act of Parliament, put him on the Board of Covent Garden Marketing Authority, the largest fresh fruit and vegetable marketing authority in the United Kingdom. He was recently nominated to the committee that advises the Home Office on immigration and nationality, and is currently engaged in Bhavani Mandi Rajasthan, where he is building a hospital for the poor.

Speaking exclusively to rediff.com, he said, "I am delighted and humbled. I don't want to dilute my UK Knighthood, but when the country of your origin recognises you, it really means much more. When I was in Rajasthan, my home town, I got a call from the Indian Embassy in London. 22 members of my family who were with me almost screamed with joy."

"I think I have reached this point because I dream. And because I am focussed. Whether it is charity or business, I dream and pursue it with great determination until I realize it. When I went to London 35 years ago, I had no idea God or my adopted country would be so kind to me. They honoured me twice. I was honoured by Her Majesty the Queen as a Member of the British Empire. In 2002 , at the 50th anniversary of the Queen's reign, I was given a Knighthood. It was the most surprising, satisfying moment."

"Earning money is not a big deal. A lot of people earn money, but when people recognise you, when a community recognises you, it is a delight. I was awarded by the community, by the British government and by Her Majesty the Queen, which meant something to me. The missing piece in that jigsaw puzzle was this award!"

"Today, my only regret is my mother is not alive. My father died when I was 8 and my mother, Safia, was both my father and mother. She was my guiding star. I still carry values given to me by her. I am not unhappy in one sense because she is still watching me from above."

"I would like to share my delight with a belief that, having earned money abroad, God has given me wisdom to plough back wealth into society. I have learnt that one should give an essence of one's experiences to institutions and work for a few hours a day without taking any money. People who achieve success and wealth should ask themselves if they are giving time to their people."

"I have lots of problems in building a hospital. Government regulations are slowing me down. I have formed a trust that gets money and there are some problems. The bureaucracy is always there and I have to break that. I am determined. I am not going to stand here and criticize the government of India. Unlike a few NRIs, I am not screaming about the corruption. I tell them to forget about the corruption and do what they want to do in life. Corruption is a matter of degree. Just because you live in the West does not mean you can say what you want. I tell people who complain that corruption is there, yet look at where India has reached!"

"Today, when Prime Minister Blair or British ministers speak, they use India and China as examples. India is at a stage where it's like a rocket that has just taken off. A take-off is good in view of a peculiar problem India has -- it is a country of one billion people. Still, it has taken off well."

"I am a Muslim. And I would like to say just one thing -- to take care of our country's future, we should harmonise relations between Hindus and Muslims. A person who does not respect another community is disrespectful to his own religion."

Also See: PBD meet: India welcomes its own

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda | Text: Sheela Bhatt

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