Cambridge: In a historic first, Abdul
Arain, an Indian-origin local grocer whose customers include
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, is among four individuals
nominated to contest the election to become the 108th
chancellor of the University of Cambridge.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has been the
chancellor since 1976 and is due to retire from the post at
the end of June.
Voting for the constitutional head of the
802-year-old university will take place on 14 and 15 October.
Arain, 46, was born in Kenya and has family roots in
Jalandhar, where his father was born.
Arain told a news agency: "I have received lots support from
Indian academics and students at Cambridge, besides senior
members of the Senate. Lot of people in Cambridge know me, and
know what I stand for. I have support from both, the town and
Arain has received "well in excess" of the required
50 nominations that enable him to contest the election.
The other three candidates are Lord Sainsbury (the
official candidate), actor Brian Blessed and high-profile
barrister Michael Mansfield.
If Arain is elected in October, he will become the
108th chancellor of the university since Hugh de Hottun was
first elected to the post in 1246.
The principal public role of the office is the
conferment of Honorary Degrees at an impressive annual
Arain recalls that Amartya Sen, who was Master of
Trinity College from 1998 to 2004, was a regular visitor to
his popular grocery store called `Al-Amin` on Mill Road.
Arain describes the store as a "melting pot of
cuisines and cultures."
He said: "professor Sen would come in with his
family and stock up on Bengali hilsa fish, dal pulses,
chillies and turmeric, curry leaves.
The store caters to Indian, African and Mediterranean
cuisine, so lots of people from Cambridge visit us."
Arain moved to Cambridge from Kenya in 1980.
He has an MBA degree from Cambridge, and worked as an
auditor before starting the grocery store.
A popular figure among people inside and outside the
university in Cambridge, he said the local people "wanted
someone who could relate to them."
Feeling "honoured" to receive the required support
to stand for the election, Arain said his nomination was
achieved mainly through "word-of-mouth" by academics and
former students who lived in the area and used his shop.
Arain, who has family in Mumbai and visits India
often, said he was running for the post because he felt
passionately about his family and the local community he
worked in, and did not wish to see supermarket chains
"depleting the area".
The sub-text of the contest is Arain`s opposition to
retail major Sainsbury`s opening a giant store on Mill Road,
which would adversely affect his business.
The Sainsbury`s chain across the UK is owned by Lord
Sainsbury, the official candidate.
Arain said: "It is about local pride. One of the
reasons I am standing is to highlight the opposition to a
Sainsbury’s opening in Mill Road. My worry is that Cambridge
will end up like a clone town and this must be stopped.
Big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s and the others are
damaging independent traders and pricing them out of the
market and it has to stop."
His grocery store, Al-Amin, is described thus: "It
is a passionate, compelling bazaar of multicultural
ingredients and inspiration where you can witness food
demonstrations by ethnic culinary experts or feel confident to
bring it all back home and experiment in your own kitchen,
using the same ingredients that you would buy in some
This makes Al Amin a truly authentic experience, and
much more than simply a place to shop."