It was December 2008 and I was having lunch with Mark Boston and his wife Milly at the Four Seasons hotel in Mumbai. Mark and Milly had moved there after the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel, where they usually stayed.
The Bostons had been through an unbelievable ordeal. They were in their room when they heard a series of explosive reports. One frequently hears these in Mumbai, as many people celebrate weddings and festive occasions by publicly letting off crackers.
“But these explosions didn’t sound like crackers,” Mark told me. “They were too regularly spaced. I told Milly they actually sounded like gunfire.”
Despite this, Mark was skeptical himself and looked out of the window that overlooked the terrace that where the Taj served barbecued food.
“I was surprised to find it deserted,” Mark said. “It’s usually a bustling place. And then I saw this man with a slung carbine making his way across the terrace. That’s when it hit me — it really was gunfire!”
Remarkably, Mark said, there was someone still at the switchboard, and he learned that terrorists had attacked the hotel. He was advised to stay in his room as the terrorists seemed to be shooting people at random. Things got worse when their daughters called from Spain, where they were holidaying, to say they were watching the attack on television and had learned the terrorists were opening rooms and shooting people.
The explosions got worse as Indian security forces engaged the terrorists and grenades were used. The floor above them caught fire. Should they try and hide in the room or make a break for it? Would the fire engulf them? After a tense time, they decided to head out. They crept out into the corridor and made their way to a staircase, where they found another guest also trying to sneak out to safety.
They made it down safely, and exited by a side door, only to be confronted by a side gate that was chained shut. After a desperate few moments, they were able to prise the gate far enough apart to squeeze through and run to safety.
I would have understood if Mark never wanted to come back after an experience like that. And yet, while we were talking, Nik Gowing, the BBC news presenter walked into the restaurant and Mark immediately went over to tell him not to take too negative a view of the situation. I was truly amazed.
That was Mark Boston for you. I first met him some 30 years ago in London, when I was picked to launch the GJEPC’s magazine Solitaire International. I went to London and Antwerp for my initiation to the diamond industry. He and I immediately hit it off. Our contact and relationship developed over the years.
Some time later, when the UK government’s Developing Countries Trade Agency (DeCTA) was trying to get a jewellery design and development program off the ground in India, Mark offered to help. He asked me what could be done. I suggested a design competition with an exposure to European design studios as a prize, could be just the thing to kick-start such an initiative.
Mark immediately offered to sponsor a design competition. He offered flight tickets and a month’s internship with a London design studio for the two winners. That fledgling competition has, over the decades, become today’s Solitaire Design Awards.
Mark as everyone knows, was perhaps the most persuasive voice in the early 1960s that convinced a then reluctant De Beers to look at supplying rough diamonds to India. He never lost his enthusiasm for India and more importantly, he never lost his enthusiasm for the diamond industry.
But all this apart, I really liked Mark for who he was as a person. He was a kind, considerate and decent human being. He also had a terrific sense of humour and could deliver side-splitting one-liners with a deadpan English gentleman’s face.
I’ll miss that wonderful human being and his droll humour.
RIP old friend.