A young woman of Indian origin who has in the last 10 years become a big name in London’s high society is Surina Narula. Her husband, Harpinder Singh Narula (H.S. to his wife and friends) is among the new Indian multi-millionaires in England, Surina is the woman behind his rise to riches and fame. She is also into organising charities in a big way and is known for throwing lavish parties in her stately mansion Hyjer Hall, a listed historic home standing around acres of lawns and gardens in Hertfordshire about half-an-hour’s drive from North London. Her three sons went to renowned public schools, Harrow and Rugby. The eldest is now studying in the Imperial College.
Surina was born in Amritsar in 1958 and sent to school in Mussoorie. Her father was in the Railways. At 18, she married Harpinder Singh Narula on his assurance that he was looking for a life-partner who would help him in his business and not a housekeeper who would only look after his kitchen, household and children. She continued her studies after her marriage. She also took over managing her husband’s business.
H.S. Narula landed lucrative building contracts in Libya. Living in a severely segregated society was not very cosy, but there was handsome money to be made. The Narulas invested their earnings in buying real estate in England and India. They bought a chain of medium-sized hotels in London and a country home from Vijay Mallaya, (The liquor magnate of Karnataka) and shopping complexes in Delhi. Whatever they took on, they looked after with meticulous care and made it prosper. They liked living in style: one Rolls Royce in England, another in Delhi. They moved in high society but never lost sight of their lesser privileged fellow citizens.
Although Surina had lost several relations in the Partition massacres of 1947, she had no animus against Muslims or Pakistan. A lot of the valuable real estate was burnt down in the anti-Sikh violence of November 1984, but it did not turn her anti-Hindu or anti-Indian. However, they felt they could only prosper in a society free of violence.
A personal tragedy re-inforced their conviction. Surina’s elder sister who was a mother-figure to her was murdered along with her two children by their father in Bihar. It took 10 years to bring this man to justice and be hanged for triple-murder. England became their real home. One branch of the family continued to work in Delhi, a second in Libya and yet a third in the USA.
Surina heads the International Childcare Trust which looks after children of the poor; it has centres in India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. She also raised money for the exhibition of relics of Sikh Gurus to mark the 300th Anniversary of the Khalsa organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum: she hosted a fund-raising dinner — £ 200 for each meal ticket and raised £ 8000 (Rs 5½ lakhs). Another venture of hers was to raise money for a hospital in Lahore and for deprived street children in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Through this initiative, she succeeded in getting Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Brits together — on a joint enterprise.
Talking about her future plans, Surina says: “I want to settle my three sons in businesses of their choosing. Then I will return to India because it is there I belong. I have retained my Indian nationality and passport and not opted for British citizenship because I am and will remain an Indian citizen. I will keep my options open to help my husband and sons whenever they need me. But the poor of India will ever remain my top priority.”
Surina Narulahas devoted almost two decades to highlight the plight of street children globally and has even provided them a platform at the United Nations. An MBA and a Master’s in Social Anthropology at University College London, she has raised large funds for charitable causes through numerous high profile events. Combining her commitment to street children with her passion for the arts, she also produced a play to raise money for Salaam Balak Trust, a charity for street children in India.
A recipient of several awards for her philanthropic work, she was commended for The Beacon Prize for her contribution to charitable and social causes in 2003. Surina was honoured with the Asian of the Year Award in 2005 and with an MBE in 2008.She has held several key positions including being the President of the Consortium for Street Children (CSC) which provides voluntary consultancy to NGOs internationally to being a member of the board of directors of PLAN International UK, a patron of PLAN INDIA and honorary patron of PLAN USA, to being on the Campaign Executive Committee for University College London. Surina is also an Advisor to the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, a Trustee of ‘Unlimited’ which encourages enterprises in India and a Patron of several initiatives including Hope for Children, International Childcare Trust, Independent Film Makers Association, World Action Forum and Motti Rotti.