Monday, August 31, 2009

Goodbye, Ganpu!

When my children were much younger, they believed ( and still do!), that Ganpati was their BFF. Their pet names for the deity varied from 'Gannu' to 'Ganpu'. Well, later this afternoon, I'll be visiting the mighty Lalbaug Chha Raja with two of them, and praying for all of them.... and several other people I love dearly. I'll also be praying equally fervently for Mumbai itself. And India.... the world. What can I say? In the limited time one gets for the darshan, one tries sincerely to fit everybody and everything into the prayer.
After that spiritually uplifting experience, I shall watch " Quick Gun Murugan, " and share my reactions with all of you in the next post. Till then ... mind it.... the rascalla has already captured my heart.

Pudhchya Varshi Lavkar Ya…

Just a few days off from D-Day (Ganpati visarjan), and I am filled with anxiety. We are coming closer and closer to the dreaded 26\11 anniversary, and our city continues to be on red alert. Twelve long months have gone by, and what have we done to further secure our city and reassure its people? It is such a strange thing about us Mumbaikars – either we are far too fatalistic to bother about our own safety, or we are suicidal. There is such a puzzling nonchalance about our indifference to key issues ( evident in the disturbingly low turnout at the polls earlier this year), that I wonder sometimes whether we ask for it – on multiple levels. The state government’s utter apathy in most matters, be it civic affairs, mismanagement of crises and related lapses, we are all too ready to forgive and forget. But there is some hope – at least a few vigilant and concerned citizens continue to soldier on, braving the odds and keeping awareness campaigns going….at least in areas that concern our polluted environment . Kirti Oza is one such relentless person. I remember being introduced to her more than a decade ago as Mumbai’s ‘Kachra Lady.” Perhaps the man who described her thus was trying to be funny. But Kunti had no problems with the tag – she was a woman on a mission. It was her commitment to ‘kachra’ ( separating wet from dry ) and its disposal that made a lot of building societies sit up and follow the sensible practice. Today, it has become mandatory to do so all over the city. Did Kunti get any recognition for her initiative?? If she did, I am not aware of it. Well, she is still at it. This year she has roped in dabbawallas and other groups to try and ensure the Visarjan is conducted in as eco-friendly a manner as possible. Following the same principle of sifting through the puja ka saaman that is disposed off in the sea when the deity is immersed, the Nirmalaya group is trying to get various sarvajanik mandals to co-operate and sort out the flowers, garlands, leaves and other such material, from whatever else that has been used during the 10 days of worship. Colour coded bags will be provided, and all citizens have to do is use the gigantic bins at various immersion points , following simple instructions that will enable the BMC to do its clear up job more effectively. Is that too much to ask?

Mumbai needs many more ‘Kachra Ladies’, who work tirelessly for the causes they believe in… with zero acknowledgement. Often when I see the lists released by various social service organizations giving awards to pretty undeserving candidates , only because they happen to be pushy and well connected, I feel like recommending more deserving people like Kunti . And to think not so long ago, some of these same award givers would run in the opposite direction at the sight of Kunti, knowing she’d collar them and demand more civic responsibility! I ran into her the other night at one of those art events that attracts the same old kadka crowd evening after evening. There she was sitting quietly at Priyashri Patodia’s auction, watching other aggressive women hustling mediawallas and grandly hogging the credit for the initiative even though they had very little to do with it. And there were the talented kids from the Dr. Ambedkar School, largely left out of the frame, all on account of these preening, pretentious ladies walking around dishing out empty, self- promoting quotes. Priyashri herself was caught in a bind, since the whole idea was to generate sufficient interest in the works of these kids from under privileged backgrounds, so has to replicate the model and include several other municipal schools where kids do not get the exposure to art or the chance to explore their own creative potential in different ways. I hope Priyashri doesn’t get discouraged and goes after corporates and persuades them to come forward and support this movement in a more meaningful manner. Meanwhile, it is a pity, our mediawallas report such events so superficially and carelessly, preferring to focus on the same old vacuous attendees who go from one art show to the next mainly for the free wine, superior snacks,and those infernal photo-ops.
When I wrote about ‘Kaminey’ on my blog and voiced my utter disappointment, I received so much hate mail, it made me wonder why we create these sacred cows in the first place. There were those who posted comments comparing Bharadwaj to Tarantino and asking me cheekily if I’d heard of him ( Tarantino, that is). Of course, I didn’t bother to respond ( I never do), but being a Bharadwaj fan, alarm bells did go off inside my head. The day people put these sort of original and powerful directors on a pedestal, it spells the end of their creativity – they join the Bollywood bandwagon and start believing in their own mythology. I hope that never happens to Bharadwaj ( he has another film coming up), but I am not at all surprised ‘Kaminey’ didn’t set the box office on fire, nor the fact that audiences came away puzzled - had they’d watched a spoof or an action thriller? No such confusion with the uber clever ‘Quick Gun Murugun”, though. The rascalla has hit bull’s eye!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

BJP.... R.I.P???

I swear.... no more on this subject. BJP-RIP. Jai Hind!

This appeared in the Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle today.....

Humpty Dumpty had a big fall….

It is amazing how the aam aadmi has responded to the BJP- bombshell – indifferently and with a sense of sardonic amusement. If anything ,there has been a show of healthy irreverence, especially after Arun Shourie’s fiery outburst across countless tv channels. A couple of wicked observations at this point - Jaswant hogged more media time than poor SRK. Most channels switched scheduled stories and panel discussions from the SRK imbroglio in Newark to the ‘Jassu Jaise Koi Nahi’ royal scandale heating up across India. Jassu himself outdid top Bollywood stars who rush from one tv studio to the next before the launch of their latest blockbuster. Jaswant, at one point was everywhere…..simultaneously….like a Jack-in-the-box. He had his quotes and expressions perfectly worked out and he cleverly made sure not to repeat himself. Oh…. And the voice sounded better than Amitabh’s – could that have something to do with the magic potion laced with opium that he offers to his ‘subjects’ ? About Shourie – what can I say?? Those of us who remember Shourie as the firebrand editor of ‘The Indian Express’, were not surprised by his impeccable timing and the provocative choice of words. Sadly, there is a generation of ‘Twitter’ type people out there who have never heard of Arun Shourie!! Shocking! I was amazed by their ignorance, till I realized their sense of history stops at 2005. If one mentions the ‘Emergency’, they immediately associate it with a misplaced SIM card. And here I am not talking about uneducated, ignorant creeps but urban careerists – though, in real terms they may qualify as urban illiterates. I received hilarious responses when I wrote about the Jinnah-Jassu controversy on my blog, and quoted Shourie’s Humpty Dumpty remark. Said someone naughtily, “ Nothing new – that’s what politics is all about – humping and dumping!” I cracked up reading that comment. And then went on to the next one that stated solemnly , “ Shall we observe a two minute silence for the demise of the BJP?”
Such is the state of public opinion, it no longer matters who is getting thrown out of which party and why. The game of musical chairs carries on… and on… it’s Jaswant today, it should have been L.K. Advani yesterday, and it could be Rajnath tomorrow. Jaswant won from Darjeeling ( where’s the bloody connection?). He is currently being wooed by the Samajwadi party, and could join the Congress soon. Is anybody outraged?? Hell, no. It’s business and politics as usual! The happiest folks right now are Jaswant’s publishers – a fairly boring book is selling like hotcakes. The only interesting portion in the uninspiring tome does not exceed beyond a few paragraphs. And even those are turgid. He has said nothing startling or new that hasn’t been said before ( and better!) by others. By expelling him like one expels a naughty school boy for not doing his homework on time, the BJP has devalued whatever little equity was left, post-elections and the resounding defeat at the polls. By banning the book in Gujarat, Narendra Modi has further pumped up the sales. As we all know, the dry state of Gujarat is possibly the ‘wettest’ state in India – by banning alcohol, Modi has created countless closet-drunks who can’t get enough of the forbidden booze! Go to any of the fancy homes in Ahemedabad and the host is bound to sidle whispering, “ Drink?? Don’t worry… my bar is full.” So it is with the book. More copies got sold because of the ban and now it has become fashionable to flash it at visitors without reading the damn thing.
What next?? Well… with so many rats abandoning the sinking ship, it is getting increasingly difficult to figure out who’s in and who’s not. Age issues have raised new problems. New blood, say some. While the oldie goldies refuse to budge from the gaddi. Is it at all possible to clone Rahul Gandhi??War has been declared, but against whom? If the ‘bad guy’ is Advani, hey, come on, he’s the same guy who went to Pakistan and praised everybody not so long ago. The world didn’t collapse then! It is also being speculated that Manmohan Singh may be up for Pakistan’s highest civilian award soon. So?? Will the sky fall down if he accepts it? Jaswant’s book is being lapped up across the border, and his promotional tour there will undoubtedly be a huge success. The only person who could upstage him at this point is Sallu Bhai and his IPL dhamaka. Imagine, Jaswant even managed to outshine the Imran Khan-Benazir Bhutto love chakkar, which would otherwise have kept the chattering classes fully occupied on both sides of the border. But then again, one has to remember the attention span of the chattering classes these days. For most, Imran and Benazir are two has- beens with no relevance to their lives. Tell them that Shahid Kapoor is about to marry Piggy Chops, and there will be instant excitement. It boils down to the same blight that is destroying the BJP – youth issues.
There are things in life that politicians believe can be easily fixed ( “ throw out the bugger and all will be well again”), and some that simply can’t – youth icons are impossible to ‘manufacture’ overnight, especially in a party where the average age is over 70. Today’s voter regards veterans as Ancient Mariners - dodderingly old creatures who should be preserved as fossils in a museum, if that. Cruel, but true. In such a scenario, nobody cares whether the BJP commits hara-kiri, self- destructs or disappears without a trace. Even the Jaswant saga is a two day carnival – and largely because the media has played up the story and carried every sigh and groan. I’m pretty sure Jaswant is loving his current stardom – who wouldn’t? Here is a guy who’d been written off and his position diminished by party bosses who did not like his attitude ( and angrez accent?). He may have stuck it out for 30 years with the same parivar, but it was never the best or most compatible of relationships. Now that the divorce is official, it remains to be seen which new bed partner Jaswant takes up. As of now, he is playing the ‘single and ready to mingle’ game. It’s a good move and signals his availability. He claims he enjoys his independent status, and why not believe him? There’s nothing quite as liberating as getting out of a bad marriage. Jaswant has done just that. But bachke rehna, Sirji…idea achcha hai…. however you need to watch out for the kaminey in our midst.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Modaks... and more...

Andrea Costabir has become my new BFF. We have spent a considerable amount of time together last week ( reasons will be known on 7th September), and the more I see of her the more I like and respect her. Sober, observant, discreet and sensitive. Tell me, how many people do you meet these days who can lay claim to any\all of these qualities? She has been the hard working editor of 'Savvy' for 13 years. Well. She has been with the Magna group that long ( Btw, I've just seen the first issue of their brand new, chatpatta film glossy, 'Star Week', and it has the potential to really take the pants of all those smarmy, cheesy established film mags crammed with stale, thakela p.r. stories). Back to Andrea and her decade long association with the group - this is a record in a field where journos jump from one job to the next like they're switching autoriks at Bandra station. Andrea goes about her work with total commitment and admirable professionalism. She does not seek personal glory nor does she misuse the access she gets to the top women of the country. We bonded over tea (for me) and limbu paani ( Andrea). When I offered her a pastry, she politely declined saying she'd had modaks for lunch. That's when my eyes lit up! Modaks!!! Ukdi chhe modaks??? Yes, she confirmed. The steamed ones (like momos), with a fresh coconut and jaggery filling. My eyes misted over. As much for the modaks as for my mother who used to make them at home in a copper modak steamer. What happened to it? Who threw it away once she was gone?Now, not even a physical memory remains.... but the taste lingers. Perhaps sensing my feelings, Andrea offered to send some across. I gladly accepted.... but didn't want to sound too eager. Well.... as I write this, the modaks are on the way. I shall share them with my family ( brother, bhabhi, daughters, son-in-law, husband... maybe Kiara, our crazy Irish Setter) at dinner. We were planning to serve phirni and shahi tukra with the biryani. But modaks sound far better. Amazing co-incidence - Ganpati and Ramadan overlap this year. The biryani is coming from Zafferbhai's ( iftaar special), and the modaks from Andrea ( Roman Catholic), to be enjoyed in a Hindu home! If only all those guys bleating away on tv at prime time , digging up old ghosts ( Kandahar, Jinnah), would abandon divisive debates based on religion ,and break bread (gobble modaks!) together - wouldn't it be a far better world?? Here's to modaks! Ganpati Bappa Morya!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Art in recessionary times...

There are two sparkling young ladies in the art space that i like extending support to - Punita, who runs 'Hacienda' , and Priyashri Patodia who has set up a foundation that bears her name. Punita is a true bohemian who can be found serving masala chai to visitors at her gallery tucked into a narrow gully close to Lion's Gate at Fort. Her enthusiasm is highly infectious and I love her passion for plants ( I'm forever stealing hers). She is currently hosting a 'Postcards' show that is bound to find several takers. Never mind that Sunil Paudwal is selling his for 20,000. I've liked whatever I've seen, especially the charming postcards painted by young artists from Baroda. These are affordable and attractive, priced at a reasonable 5,000. Next up is 'Devis and Diyas' of Gujarat - a case of perfect timing, with Navratri round the corner. Over the years, I have bought some really great art from Punita - not big names, but big talents.
Priyashri is also hosting a worthwhile auction this friday. It's offering works created by under- privileged (class 8 and 9 ) children from a government school. The effort deserves to be lauded and supported since these children rarely receive this kind of exposure and encouragement. The idea is to raise enough money to set up scholarships for deserving kids to pursue their dreams later. Priyashri is another bubbly, vivacious art promoter with a good eye and an even better heart.
I just loved Arun Shourie's Humpty Dumpty comment. He is the master of repartee and it is great to see him back to his old feisty self - not sparing anybody and slicing through opponents effortlessly. We meet rarely since I avoid Delhi and I guess, he avoids Mumbai. But whenever we do run into each other, he invariably announces me as the person who got him sacked as the editor of the Indian Express!! We have a good laugh over this. But looking back at that candid interview with Shourie that I'd conducted for my magazine, I can see how it must have jolted his then boss, the indomitable Ramnath Goenka ( supreme maalik of the Express Group), into summarily dismissing his high profile editor.
Woh din hi alag theh.... tum rahey na tum.... hum rahe na hum....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jassu Jaise Koi Nahi....!

This is the biggest story in India right now. I am already sick of it. Khair.... I've said my piece.

Divorce - Desi style… Why Jaswant should demand alimony.

Jaswant Singh is behaving like an emotionally injured bride who has been thrown out of her ‘sasural’ and is back in the marital home, sulking away, while the neighbours gossip and speculate ( “ Bhai…. asli reason kya hai?”). Political divorces are no different from regular ones. In this case , nobody is sure on what grounds the papers have been filed - proven infidelity? Impotency? Dementia? Abject cruelty? Dowry demands? Irreconciliable differences? Or a plain and simple irrevocable breakdown of the shaadi? If it’s infidelity, the ‘other man’ has been dead and gone for decades. In fact, there are two ‘other men’ in the picture ( Jinnah and Patel ). Jaswant’s tell-all tome boldly names names, and provides ample fodder to the complainant to go ahead with the proceedings. In India, a great deal of value is placed on this particular virtue ( fidelity). An unfaithful wife is the bane of our society, and is frequently beaten\stoned\killed for her crime. In less drastic circumstances, she is given marching orders and instantly ostracized by family and friends.
In such a grim scenario, there are two options. The aggrieved wife can battle it out in court and claim alimony, or she can go public with her multiple grouses and expose her in-laws. Jaswant is in the happy position of a woman scorned – public sympathy is largely with him. What is the guy’s crime, the aam aadmi is wondering? He has written a book – and some would say – shot himself in the foot. Big deal. As an acknowledged intellectual with a track record of controversial actions and utterances, nothing that he has stated in his latest labour of love is all that radical or shocking. But in a country like ours ( hypocritical and judgemental), with so many sacred cows, even the mildest criticism of our national icons and praise for our declared enemies, is taken as blasphemy .Forget criticism, even an analytical assessment of history is considered sacrilege. We insist on sanitizing and neutering history to make it more palatable. This is such a bloody shame, particularly since we pride ourselves on our great democratic principles, free speech etc etc. And we can’t handle a few paragraphs that challenge popular perceptions? What has Jaswant written that is so terrible? He has certainly not made a huge hero out of Jinnah… nor a despicable villain out of Patel. But even if he had done so, does he not have the right to his theories and viewpoints? This is Jaswant’s individual take – he is entitled to it. You don’t have to agree with his views – that is your prerogative. But to reduce the whole thing into a ‘tu tu main main’ farce … or an episode out of the old ‘saas bahu’ serials, is to insult public intelligence…. bring out the dirty linen, but don’t wash it!
Let’s look at the worst case scenario – assuming Jaswant has indeed glorified Jinnah, does that alter history? Assuming he has vilified Sardar Patel, does that impact Patel’s elevated position in our minds?History depends entirely on who writes it. It has always been open to interpretation… it will continue to be written , re-written and re-re-written. An educated, mature society is willing to acknowledge as much and allow a thousand dissenting voices to be heard. Challenge opinion by all means, but don’t hang the opinion maker.Unless, of course, the entire expulsion natak is just that – a pantomime designed to distract attention from pricklier issues corroding the innards of the party. If ‘chintan’ ( introspection) was indeed the main agenda of the BJP ‘baithak’, there is little evidence of it in the hasty action taken against a stalwart. There can be some show of civility even in the bitterest of break-ups. Divorce doesn’t have to be this dirty. Warring couples in a civilized society speak through their lawyers and mutual friends. A 30- year-old marriage isn’t called off via a peremptory phone call made by a flunkey. Of course, Jaswant is appalled and hurt. And like most aggrieved wives, he has gone from playing martyr to attacker, with a li’l help from media buddies. It’s clearly beyond the scope of a competent Family Court to settle this dispute. The Padosis in Pakistan are going to town with the story. And Jaswant will have no trouble finding a fresh sasural across the border if he so chooses. In the meanwhile, he can hire a competent lawyer ( definitely not Arun Jaitley!), to represent him and fight for a big, fat alimony. Though, frankly, with all this masala and tamasha , the juicy royalties from his book (it is bound to become a runaway best seller), he should be in a very happy financial position.However, as any wronged wife will tell you – it’s not about the money. But like that old cliché goes – success is still the best revenge. Next time darling, stick to Teddy Bears’ Picnic!
I watched the Sarvajanik Ganpatis coming to their temporary homes late last night, and as always, my eyes filled with tears at the innocence of faith.
I ate puran polis at a friend's home, and broke my Shravan diet with juicy mutton chops, succulent prawns and tender chicken. Not forgetting the delicious kebabs with shredded mint patta. It was a small 'focus' group of powwrful and opinionated 'Thought Leaders'. Everybody was discussing just one thing - Jaswant Singh's explosive book. Well, my husband fell for the hype and bought a copy this morning. Tame stuff. The BJP should ask for a hefty share of the royalties - the tome may have gone unnoticed had Jaswant not been expelled by the party.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hare Rama Hare Krishna

These Iskcon people are just about everywhere... I took this shot in the Main Square, Prague, and tried my best to explain them away to the Brazilian couple at the next table, who were dying to know more about Hinduism and groups like this one. Janmashtami was celebrated all across India just a few days ago. I thought of this picture and my annoyance at the parody of Krishna that was being paraded across continents by these ridiculous bhakts, distributing prasad and demanding donations from the unwary. For one, they cannot chant or sing for nuts. They are so 'besura', one cringes at the sounds they create. The women look like gora hijras clad in garish sarees and jumping up and down in an ungainly fashion to convey 'bliss'. They give the saree a bad name! Sure they attract attention - but of the wrong kind. People mock and laugh as they watch this motley group clapping and chanting tunelessly ( poor Krishna! ). What can one do with this embarrassment?
I am feeling fluish. My driver Choudhary has been felled by the virus as well. Now I am praying this sluggishness will pass and it isn't the dreaded you-know-what! I have a bhaari shoot lined up tomorrow, plus another tv interview on the same ghasaa peeta topic ( srk and his outburst). I need my customary stamina! Last week , I was in Alibag having the time of my life tucking into a traditional Saraswat feast. Today, I can't bear to look at food. One more day to go before the holy month of Shravan ends. I'm seriously considering extending my Shravan discipline by another month. It's a great way to detox and destress and all that satvik food has kept my restless mind in check!
More tomorrow. But only apres the shoot. I'll be clad in Dior and feeling rather posh!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sarjano, the Italian Maestro...

Guys, this is an unusual post about an unusual man!! Sarjano made India his home more than 25 years ago. But he remains as Italiano as the pasta he lovingly creates from scratch. We have been friends forever. He is a fantastic photographer, writer and chef. In fact, he ran the Osho kitchen for a long time till the Ashram changed ( for the worse!), and became a sinister 'Spa' that keeps Indians out ( in their own country!!!). Sarjano moved to Goa and started this utterly charming restaurant in a thickly wooded glade. Sarjano is temperamental and totally crazy. But soooooo gifted, one forgives him everything! Even his star tantrums ( if he doesn't like your face, or gets a negative vibe, he won't cook for you, even if you have a reservation!)

I got the guy to write a book for Penguin. The then editor, Karthika, nearly suffered a nervous breakdown dealing with Sarjano. Even I can handle his intensity strictly at long distance. However, having savoured his impeccably presented ravioli, I can safely vouch for his abundant talent as a cook par excellence. One more thing - there is never a boring moment with Sarjano around. Chances are he'll sing, dance, and play the flute in between courses. That component comes gratis! It's worth the price of the meal, I can tell you! So.... sign up. And spread the word.



INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY OF ITALIAN COOKING ARTS Mastro Sarjano is opening the doors of the International Academy of Italian Cooking Arts at his My Place ristorante in Vagator, Bardez, Goa, to everyone who wishes to learn the subtle art of Italian cooking. The month-long course is for beginners as well as professional cooks, and chefs. Mastro Sarjano promises: "After this course your market value will double.”The course which starts on the first of September , is divided into four weeks. Each week is independent to itself. That allows you to choose according to your needs. You can also choose specific days. Ingredients will be supplied."Bring only a clean hand," says Sarjano.The cost is Rs 10,000 per week and Rs 30,000 for the entire course. Half price for women because Sarjano says "I want to encourage women, to empower them and make them more independent." He also plans on special classes for youngsters so as to groom them for a life in Italian food.Ninety per cent of the food will be vegetarian, where you will learn to work with "fake" meat and local ingredients and also how to make Italian food cheaply, something we would all like to know.Says Mastro Sarjano: "I'm not giving dead recipes, but a living understanding of what we are cooking."Sarjano is also available as a Food and Restaurant Consultant if it's authentic Italian cooking and food you're looking at. This service is available for Hotels/ Restaurants/ Resorts desirous of improving their Italian, Continental cuisine and kitchens, training kitchen staff, or designing and selecting the items for a popular menu which will be attractive to visitors from Europe. Training sessions/ workshops can be undertaken in the hotel itself.Attached is a Full Program of the entire Course.Contact - cell. 9326135721 or write at : swsarjano@hotmail.comMastro SarjanoMastro Sarjano is a widely travelled Italian chef who was in charge of the kitchen and food at the Osho Ashram in Pune for over 20 years. he is the author of 'Food is Home', a book on Italian cooking and food, which will be published in November this year by Penguin India. It has an introduction by Shobha De.Osho said: "Those who have been to his place have tasted Enlightenment in his spaghetti. When it comes to his cooking, there is only one way he goes about it, and that's the path of meditation."Cooking is a noble, loving, caring, alchemical activity, says MastroSarjano. "The greaetest secret about the alchemical art of cooking is this: It's love that is cooking. There's no way to cook foodwithout love. It's like making love; you can't do it without love."Students of the course will have an opportunity to imbibe some of Mastro Sarjano's cooking methods. Each day's session will start and end with Awareness exercises which Mastro Sarjano feels will help the student cook better food. FOOD IS HOME TRAINING PROGRAM Presentation of Students.Introduction to the Academy.The philosophy of cooking.Question & answers on the Book “ FOOD IS HOME”Introduction to HOME MADE PASTA.First samples : Anna sauce, Alberto Sauce: male/ female.Making of Fettuccine. Traditional.First pasta: Fettuccine with Anna sauce.Tasting. Feed back. Questions & Answers.LASAGNA DAYWe make pasta dough again, this time “traditional ‘ and green pasta with spinach.This will open the possibility of 4 different LASAGNA Dishes.TWO GREENS, TWO TRADITIONALSTWO WILL BE VEG, TWO NON-VEG.Theory & Practice of Variations on Lasagna subject.Tasting. Feedback. Questions & Answers.Differences between cooking in electric stove or in a wooden oven.CANNELLONI DAYAs for the previous day, we’ll prepare two kinds of dough, traditional and green. Again we’ll make 4 kinds of Cannelloni:GREEN AND TRADITIONAL, VEG and NON this Order:CANNELLONI DI MAGRO: Veg, traditional doughCANNELLONI DI VISSANI: Sardines green pasta, pesto sauce, etc.CANNELLONI DI FUNGHI: Mushrooms with béchamel-sauce (veg.)CANNELLONI DI CARNE: Green dough, tomato, mince-meat (beef, chicken,lamb, mutton.. etc.)RAVIOLI DAYThe enchanted forest of Ravioli cannot be explored in one day, hence Ravioli will be the subject of 2 days: From simple filling with home-made cheese & herbs, to more elaborate fillings: Ravioli with fish pulp, crabmeat, prawns…To Ravioli with pumpkin & cheese, with mincemeat, etc.We will explore the hundreds ways to fill Ravioli, and in different shapes too!As above, RAVIOLI DAY!!GNOCCHI DAY : Traditional, green (spinach) with pumpkin, etc.. The whole of Italian Gnocchi, from North to South will be explored without secrets!!Tasting, feedback. Questions and Answers.COMMERCIAL PASTA DAYWhy so many shapes? BARILLA itself has 12 different shapes on the shelves of Indian shops. Why? For What? One shape wouldn’t be enough? What’s the correct use for each of them? Which sauces are appropriate? And Why?THE CONSISTENCE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR.Tasting, feedback. A lot of Questions and Answers, this day!.SECOND WEEK(The thousand and one sauces from Italy)Starting from tomato again: the mother of all the Italian sauces. Variations: CARRETTIERA, PUTTANESCA, ARRABBIATA, CALABRESE, NORMA, etc. When tomato is too acid .When there is no tomato…Tasting, feedback, Questions and Answers.Pesto and other green Sauces. THE MOST DIFFICULT OF THEM ALL: SPAGHETTI AGLIO, OLIO & PEPERONCINO. Etc..Feedback, tasting, Questions and Answers.CREAMY SAUCES : ALFREDO, PAGLIA& FIENO, CARBONARA, PORCINI SAUCE, FUNGHI E PISELLI.. etc.Tasting, Feedback, Questions and Answers.FISHY SAUCES: CALAMARI SAUCE, PRAWNS SAUCE, SPAGHETTI CON LE VONGOLE, SPAGHETTI ALLO SCOGLIO,FARFALLE COL TONNO… etc. etc..Tasting, Feedback, Questions and Answers.THE BEST OF VEG SAUCES: SURPRISES & EXPERIMENTS. DAY OF FREE CREATION, IMPROVISATION, FOR STUDENTS !Feedback, Tasting, Questions and Answers.THE DAY OF THE CANNIBALS: All the sauces you can make with mince meat, bacon, ham, presciutto, speck, sausages, livers, pork, etc.Tasting (optional!), feedback, replacement is an art (Learning the use of “TOFU”, “SEITAN”, and “Soya-MEAT” as replacement for meat- bacon- ham- etc)Questions and AnswersHow to mix sauces.. AND WHEN! Some extravaganzas. Experiments with sauces: aka. "ATHENA PESTO" (they use CORIANDER WITH BASIL !)& other perversions !Feedback, Tasting, Questions and Answers.THIRD WEEKPIZZA & FOCACCE.PIZZA & FOCACCE.Pizza, as for Ravioli, is too vast a field, to be exhausted IN ONE DAY, hence a follow on, dedicated to “FOCACCE”, PIZZA TRAYS, and many variations on the subject.Tasting, Feedback, Questions and Answers.Since we are using the oven in these days, let’s see how Italians cook meat or Veg. (Eggplants Day!)Tasting, Feedback Questions and Answers.RICE IN ITALY/ RISOTTO DI MARE, RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE, saffron risotto, and all you wanted to know about RISOTTO and its secrets.Tasting, Consistency Feedback, Questions and Answers.POLENTA DAY:And how many things you can do with this simple cereal, available everywhere in India: Polenta with Tomato Sauce, Polenta & Cheese, Polenta & Fish, Polenta and Sausages etc. Fried Polenta, Grilled Polenta, Sweet Polenta, etc....Tasting, Feedback, Questions and Answers.Crespelle Day: Classic & Experimentations. With spinach. Or with Maple Syrup! With Fish or with Broccoli. With cheese, or with chocolate and flambé by Grand Marnier! (Or Rum)Tasting, Feedback Questions and Answers.About fish and other mysteries: Why Indians don’t know how to fry, and why Japanese do the best-fried food!Fish in Italy. The secrets of “CARTOCCIO”. FISH DAY, in one word.Including “King Fish al cartoccio with spaghetti.Tasting (optional) Questions and Answers.FOURTH AND LAST WEEK(Only for those who have attended the previous weeks)MOSTLY DEDICATED TO ADVANCED CREATIONS,DESSERTS, APPETIZERS ETC.APPETIZERS DAY will be dedicated to the preparation of an “Italian Food Festival”to be held a LAGUNA ANJUNA, sponsored by Barilla, Olitalia etc..And totally prepared by the students of the Academy, under the guidance of Mastro Sarjano.They will have the opportunity to show their talents and what they have learned.the most eccentric and Mysterious Sauces (Including Mayonnaise, Salsa Aurora etc.).ROLLONE. Soufflé ,and other advanced Creations MORE ADVANCED CREATIONS!!DESSERTS DAYExperimenting and Creating: Each student will be asked to create his own dish for the festival. THE MOST IMPORTANT, ABOUT COOKING, which is merely “ THE ART OF RECYCLING”. The whole day will be dedicated to this important aspect.. SALADS, DECORATIONS, PRESENTATIONS & other relevant items.SECRET TIPS!!LAST DAY: Rehearsal and Finalization of“ THE ITALIAN FOOD FESTIVAL” to be held by students.Mini-preparation & everything. END !_______________________________________________________________>

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kuch Kam tha Kaminey mein...

So what was missing?? I'm still scratching my head, trying to put my finger on it. I watched what is being hailed as the 'Best Film of 2009' ( come on guys, we are only in August!) on monday at Inox, 5.40 pm show. The hall wasn't even half full. Word of mouth already?? I met a friend in the lobby. She'd seen an earlier show. I could tell from her expression she wasn't exactly ecstatic. She smiled sweetly when I asked, " Liked it?" and said, " Theek, theek.... but I can't understand why it was given 4 stars by the critics." I told her these days every third film gets 4 stars - doesn't mean a thing. Georgia coffee and popcorn in hand, I went and took my seat expectantly. Opening scenes?? So-so. It will get better, I said. It has to. Shahid No.1 comes on looking like ... Shahid No. 2, 3, 4, and 5. The same floppy , coloured hair, the same cute smile. It will get better, I said. The popcorn was 1\3rd over. Priyanka comes on next. She is called Sweety. Oh Oh. Wrong name. Never met a Maharashtrian girl called Sweety. Now there are two Sweeties ( Shahid No.1 and her). Priyanka gets knocked up by the Sweety who forgot to wear a condom. He 's the one who lisps... no stutters... no, lisps. Stutters. Lisps. Stutters. Forget it. Does it really matter? Well, to the dumb cops it does.
It will get better, I said, through gritted teeth. Both the Sweeties are dancing. And someone somewhere is strumming a guitar that's filled with snow... you know... cocaine. The disjointed script trundles along at a lunatic pace.... and goes nowhere. Shahid No. 2 is a baddie. How do we know?? He scowls and wears blinkers as he tries to out race a horse during the Derby. It will get better, I said. My popcorn is running out. So is my patience. Sweety Priyanka's demented brother ( Raj Thackeray, do you love your ridiculous send- up or do you love it??), decides he wants the guitar and all three Sweeties for himself. There is news for him - some Black dudes from Angola want ditto ditto. Mr. Floppy Hair is still stuttering\lisping\sluttering, while the preggie bride is going berserk with a sten gun. By now I'm ready to accept it is not going to get better.
Gawd!!! Could this be the same man who made the brilliant and visually stunning 'Omkara'? Bollywood has FINALLY got to Vishal Bhardwaj. 'Kaminey' ??? Neigh, neigh.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grow up... Get a life SRK

My Name is (not) Khan…..and still….

I am not Muslim. My name is neutral-sounding. I don’t have a police record. Nor any terrorist links. But I am routinely stopped, searched and questioned at airports around the world, including American ones. Do I protest, yell and scream ‘Discrimination! Racial profiling! Yankee dadagiri! Religious persecution!” Nope. I hate what happens to me. I feel angry and humiliated. I resent the questions…. But I am keenly aware of the fact that there is nothing personal about it. Those guys at immigration are doing their jobs – that’s it. What may appear irrational and sadistic to visitors is nothing more than a strict drill security agencies have to adhere to – for the overall safety of the world. Come on…. get real. These are procedures that cannot be altered to accommodate anybody – even desi superstars. Reverse the situation – imagine a Mick Jagger or a Tom Cruise lining up in front of a local officer at Mumbai\New Delhi airport. Do you really think those guys would know or care who these mega stars were?? They would be treated like any other passenger… and if for any reason, the computer screens indicated a problem they would be asked to step aside and respond to a few tough questions, too. Their claiming friendship with Barack Obama, Sonia Gandhi or Priyanka Vadra would not cut any ice with our chaps. And rightly so. Anybody can claim friendship with anyone.

The point is, each country has its own set of rules – some are more stringent than others. Tried going to Israel?? No?? Well… that’s what I would describe as a truly nightmarish experience. But, given Israeli sensitivities and vulnerabilities, it’s perfectly understandable. A visitor always has the choice to either go or not go to a destination that makes him\her uncomfortable. America is known to be super scrupulous while screening tourists. In today’s times, it is far better to err on the side of safety than make exceptions for certain individuals and protect a few fragile egoes. People going to America are well aware of the punishing procedures in place there, especially after 9\11. Thousands of tourists are subjected to this on a daily basis. Not everybody feels victimized. Most visitors go through this painful process gamely enough and co- operate with the officers. Just a few months ago at Frankfurt airport, I was grilled for half an hour over a pair of perfectly innocuous sunglasses my daughter had given me. I was even asked to produce a receipt for them!! It wasn’t pleasant and I wasn’t amused. But hey – was anybody forcing me to visit Germany??

It is time our movie stars, politicians , cricketers and other ‘VVIPs’ woke up to a few international ground realities. This is the way the cookie crumbles. The outside world is neither interested in nor impressed by any individual’s local status. It is not about fans waving and asking for autographs. It is not about claiming friendship with Hillary Clinton. You may be India’s biggest business tycoon or Bollywood Badshah. But out there you are an anonymous nobody - nothing more and nothing less than a name and a number – deal with it. The officer who asks you to step aside is least concerned with your fame or bank balance back home. It is his job to make sure you are ‘clean’ – and he has the full and absolute authority to undertake as thorough a check as he thinks fit. It’s that, or his own butt on the line. Is that so tough to accept?Of course, it is irritating – but rather this level of scrutiny than facing the risk of another 9\11, or in our case 26\11. This incident should inspire our own guys to tighten up immigration checks. But not in the childish tit-for-tat way suggested by Ambika Soni. It is because we are so lax and relaxed about security issues that India remains a soft target and yet we continue to take umbrage when others go by the rule book. Too bad it happened to SRK. Too bad his luggage wasn’t loaded in London. But hello! … he did make it to Breaking News, and was on every front page. This is the sort of publicity no amount of lolly can buy. Was it a clever promotional stunt for his next movie?? I think not. But it certainly did take media attention away from Shahid Kapur and his ‘Kaminey’, which is likely to become the biggest blockbuster of all time. Smart.

Notes to a terrorist....

Guys.... this is far more important than Srk's rants.
The media should ignore this terrorist, not turn the spotlight on him.Remember the guy who got on a plane in the US with a bomb built into his shoeand tried to light it? Did you know his trial is over? Did you know he was sentenced? Did you see/hear any of the judge's comments on TV or Radio? Didn't think so.Everyone should hear what the judge had to say.________________________________
Ruling by Judge William Young, US District Court.Prior to sentencing, the Judge asked the defendant if he had anything to say. His response: After admitting his guilt to the court for therecord, Reid also admitted his 'allegiance to Osama bin Laden, to Islam, and to the religion of Allah,' defiantly stating, 'I think I will not apologize for my actions,' and told the court 'I am at war with your country.'Judge Young then delivered the statement quoted below:January 30, 2003, United States vs. Reid.Judge Young: 'Mr. Richard C. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes upon you..On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the custody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7, the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence on each count to run consecutively. (That's 80 years.)On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years again, to be served consecutively to the 80 years just imposed. The Courtimposes upon you for each of the eight counts a fine of $250,000 that's an aggregate fine of $2 million. The Court accepts the government's recommendation with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 toAmerican Airlines.The Court imposes upon you an $800 special assessment. The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply because the lawrequires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further.This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence.Now, let me explain this to you. We are not afraid of you or any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is too much war talk here and I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, we deal with individuals as individuals and care for individuals as individuals. As human beings, we reach out for justice.You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier, gives you far too much stature. Whether the officers of government do it or your attorney does it, or if you think you are a soldier, you are not, you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not meet with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But you are not that big. You're no warrior. I've known warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal that is guilty of multiple attempted murders. In a very real sense, State Trooper Santiago had it right when you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and the TV crews were, and he said: 'You're no big deal.'You are no big deal.What your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today?I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing? And, I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you, but as I search this entire record, it comes as close to understanding as I know.It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose. Here, in this society, the very wind carries freedom. It carries it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom, so that everyone can see, truly see, that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely. It is for freedom's sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf, have filed appeals, will go on in their representation of you before other judges.We Americans are all about freedom. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties. Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden; pay any price, to preserve our freedoms. Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. The day after tomorrow, it will be forgotten, but this, however, will long endure.Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done. The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag stands for freedom. And it always will.Mr. Custody Officer. Stand him down.So, how much of this Judge's comments did we hear on our TV sets? We need more judges like Judge Young.

Pass this around.

Everyone should and needs to hear what this fine judge had to say.

Powerful words that strike home.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday sermon....

I loved the 'Shobhaa chi Phodni' reference in the Comments space. I love tadkas - and can give you countless tadka recipes. But today has been a particularly mellow sunday. I have barely moved off the bed ( bliss!!) and have just finished watching an old favourite - Francois Truffaut's 'Jules et Jim' - that classic and complex Jeanne Moreau movie about a beautiful but doomed menage a trois. My husband has been reading aloud passages from Amartya Sen's new book on Justice, and generally raving over the economist-philosopher - it also helps that the brilliant professor is Bong!
Between all these cerebral activities, I have neglected food. Though after an inspired dinner at Indigo last night, I should go on a starvation dinner for a month or two. Arundhati , who landed in New York obviously didn't waste a single moment and went straight to Bagatelle last night. She and her gal pals threw in the Pink Elephant as well while they were at it. She reports that she didn't have a problem getting through U.S. Immigration, unlike our Bollywood Badshah ( I'll post my take on that episode tomorrow).
Swine 'Flu? Does anybody remember Bird 'Flu? Mad Cow Disease? Saars? Our politicians are the real swines. This over reaction to the 'epidemic' is to distract our attention from other more serious issues. Ditto for the drought alarm bells. These are nothing but diversionary tactics. More people die of TB in India than Swine 'Flu. Does anybody bother? Add Malaria and Cholera, Dysentry and Malnutrtion to the long list and you get the grim picture. Prices of sugar and other essentials are spiralling out of control. Blame it on the 'bad monsoon'. Famine, as Dr. Amartya Sen famously pointed out in his earlier book, is man made. It is never about not having sufficient food in stock, it is more about not reaching available food to the people who most need it, due to poor infrastructure and the lack of a political will.
About that picture - I shot it in Prague at a gigantic cafe on the ground floor of the historic Municipal House. The chandelier is pure Art Nouveau, and I fell in love with it. There was a 3 piece Jazz ensemble playing Brubeck, and I was transported to another, far more romantic era.Aaah.... for another chilled out sunday like this one. No 'phodni'.... but delicious nevertheless.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

India@62 - Delayed menopause....??

I am missing my father today. He was an old-fashioned patriot who used to urge me to make puran polis on the 15th of August, since he felt it was exceedingly important to celebrate 'Freedom'. Freedom, not just from foreign rule.... but as a basic human right . He also believed it was important for us as parents to convey to our children that this precious freedom was worth guarding with our own lives. His vivid description of what transpired at midnight on 14th-15th of August 1947, in the compound of the district court in Satara where he was the judge, still gives me goosebumps each time I recall his eloquent words.
Nope. There are no puran polis at home this year. It is yet another dull, uninspiring and listless day. I'm sure my father would have disapproved of this article which was carried in Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle today. I am glad he isn't alive to read it.... but I am equally glad I wrote it.
As always, I'm looking forward to your comments and reactions.
Vande Mataram !!
Is India @62 ready to appear on ‘Sach Ka Saamna’?

First things first – at the risk of enraging feminists – India at 62 is like a woman dealing with delayed menopause, trying strenuously to come to terms with drastic and dramatic changes she is not yet ready for. Think about it – sudden hot flashes ( Pakistan, China, Baluchistan), cold sweats, migraines, mood swings ( flirt with America? Court Russia? Ignore France?), hysteria ( the contoversial 1-2-3 treaty ), panic attacks ( 26\11),tantrums and more. That’s the downside. But as we all know, menopause doesn’t last forever. It is but a phase… and when it’s over, it’s over. And more often than not, women at this stage of their lives come into their own like never before. So it will be with India. Forget those fuddy duddy doomsday prophets making dire predictions about India’s grim future, forget the worst case scenarios. Focus instead on what lies ahead… it isn’t just swine flu, drought, starvation, corruption and more corruption. With some luck, it could be a ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ ending to this potential blockbuster. And with those words, I’m putting an end to the mandatory ‘Independence Day’ lecturebaazi.
In fact, there should be a media law that bans those boring Special Issues nobody actually reads or remembers. Why has it become mandatory to indulge in this meaningless annual exercise? Report cards are for school children. India is a senior citizen. Let’s begin by showing a little respect. For me, that includes a ban on bumper editions carrying erudite, unreadable, analytical pieces on ‘Where India Has Gone Wrong’ written by pompous gas bags whose views are completely passé. If at all anybody wants to indulge in this foolish exercise, let us convert it into a time pass tv show that gives us vicarious cheap thrills. Hire a hottie as an anchor ( Rajeev Khandelwal has the looks and experience) and let the cameras roll. India getting candid will be so much more fun than all this intellectualized baloney from self-styled experts.
In any case, far too much is being made of the current tv series that invites middle class India to perform the full monty in public. ‘Sach ka Saamna’ is getting countless knickers in a knot because, I guess, this form of public catharsis is considered a bit too much for India to handle Hmmmm. But is it really too much? Going by the astonishingly high ratings, I’d say not! I believe all that moral outrage is just hot air. We love to mind other people’s business. We are known for our obnoxious inquisitiveness. Come on, it’s only in India that complete strangers seated next to you in a train can turn around and ask the most intrusive, the most intimate questions without blinking …. and actually expect a prompt response. Which person has not had to deal with , “ Are you married? No?? Why not? Family problem or what?” Which young couple has been spared the embarrassment of responding to an inquisition that goes, “ No children? Howcome? Medical problem? I know a very good doctor…” That’s us.Nosey and tactless at all times. Which is why, I’m a little surprised by the howls of protest that have greeted the latest reality show which quizzes tv actresses on their sexual fantasies and asks about teenage abortions and school expulsions without mincing words. This is baby stuff compared to what we deal with in real life.
Similarly, Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamwar eats into our own fears and foibles, as we watch the bold and brazen lead character reveal the nasty minutae of her miserable past , frequently bursting into a flood of tears before adjusting her cleavage and carrying on. If we are riveted by this spectacle, it only establishes our insatiable desire to play peek-a-boo – a perfectly understandable, acceptable emotion. Especially in a country where the notion of personal privacy and space remains very sketchy. We believe we have the absolute right to know every little dirty detail about our neighbour’s ‘lafdas’. We also believe we have the same right to offer instant advice. This is as ‘desi’ as pure ghee – and we can’t get enough of either. When the canny tv channel hosting the show persuades Rakhi Sawant’s estranged mother to come on the set and give her version of their crazy relationship, we are urged to take sides and offer unsolicited advice to both. We fall for it!! This stuff is irresistible. We can’t get enough. We want more and more and more. Call that creative manipulation, if you wish. But are we putting up any resistance? Naaah.
The Rakhi Sawant phenomenon ( I use the phrase with care and after deliberation) has to be seen in the context of a rapidly changing India. I have been an early champion of this spunky woman, and hang on to her every bon mot. Her quotes are priceless and original – that’s what makes her stand apart in an over crowded field of wannabes. When Rakhi declares earnestly ( tears threatening to run down those heavily painted cheeks and ruin her mascara) that she has done several things for money during her difficult teenage years, including dance at stag shows, but one thing she has NEVER done for cash is ‘that’, nobody needs to be briefed on what ‘that’ stands for. By making such a statement, Rakhi lets the cruel, mocking world know that even she - bad assed girl that she is - lives by her own moral code. Hurrah.Paisey ke liye kuch bhi karegi?? Na baba… aur sab, par ‘woh’ nahi… kabhi nahi.Rakhi has defined her limits. Can the rest of us define ours? Can India’s politicians make a similar claim in public and spell out where they’d draw the line? Now that would be a scorcher of a ‘samna’.
Rakhi had once famously boasted about her silicon implants declaring naughtily, “ Joh dikhta hai who bikta hai.” Perhaps, without realizing it herself, she had accurately placed her finger on the pulse of the nation and provided a catchy phrase for the prevailing philosophy dominating Jawan India’s dreams.Do those out- of- touch- with- mass- reality men and women prowling the corridors of power in Delhi really get the message?? They’d better. For if they don’t , all this big talk about harnessing the youth of the nation and pushing India forward will remain empty rhetoric. The surprising truth is that there are far more Rakhi Sawants in our midst than we’d like to acknowledge. She makes us uncomfortable. She makes us blush – hey bhagwan – such gaucherie.But she is here, and she isn’t going anywhere. If India has to face the truth about itself, why not start with Rakhi Sawant and her brand of bindaas, in your face, outrageous and outré conduct that shies away from nothing, reveals everything, but is still clever enough to figure out the inbuilt commercial value of saying ‘no’ to ‘that’!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Invaluable Indians...

Guys.... this is the lead story in 'The Week.' More tomorrow. My daughter Arundhati leaves tonight.... my arm and a leg will be missing till I see her again.


People change. Values don’t. “Value” is such a loaded 5-letter word. Difficult to define, difficult to compute. Yet, this much we do know - certain ‘values’ are universal …. eternal. Those are the ones that cut across cultures and centuries and cannot be challenged – truth, loyalty, goodness, honour. When it comes to compiling a list of India’s Most Valuable, it is virtually impossible to draw it up in an all-inclusive fashion.

It is all about branding.Isn’t everything these days? Companies are brands, products are brands, shockingly enough, even people are brands . Perfectly sensible marketing professionals speak earnestly about Ratan Tata’s personal brand equity and I wonder if that makes him squirm…. or is he realistic enough to see it from a business leader’s perspective: personal brand equity = value addition to the company’s stock. True enough in his case. Just like one cannot separate Bill Gates from Microsoft, Ratan is TATA. And TATA is him.
It wasn’t always this way in India. Ratan Tata is in a unique postion given the Tata legacy. But there are countless other self-styled tycoons who believe business credibility is but a click away. Such ‘personalities’ walk around flaunting price tags , labels… brazenly boasting about their net worth … buying their way into and out of situations. Even a decade ago, such crass conduct would have been frowned upon, even despised. But in today’s far more upfront age of aggressive self- promotion, if a famous person does not cash in on individual equity, he\she is considered dumb … out of it. Media , of course, has played a key role in promoting personality cults.
In this context, those making the short list for the country’s Most Valuable People, are the ones with the highest profile. People who have impacted one billion lives directly or indirectly during the past one year. The same people watched by an awestruck nation giving nightly gyaan on tv channels , those whose mug shots peddle products ranging from cameras to condoms, those who bring glory to India in the sports arena and most significantly, those who influence policy, those who entertain the masses via music, cinema, tv. So long as the average Indian can put a face to the name, the fame game is on. Often , the actual achievements of the person being enthusiastically applauded by the masses is unknown even to those fans clapping away. But that’s a matter of detail…. nobody minds. We love our icons . We worship our heroes. We adore success.

It has often been said that the biggest marketing guru India produced remains Mahatma Gandhi. The man and his message are both alive and well a little more than six decades on. Gandhi gave Indians their spine back. His ‘product’ was independence. His ‘byproduct’ – self-respect. We have been patiently waiting for the New Mahatma to rescue us in the 21st century. We may have to wait much longer. But, why despair? There are several ‘amazing minds’ in our midst, who influence our lives on a daily basis. These are towering individuals … well, most of them. For better or worse, we need it identify and acknowledge their contribution in their chosen disciplines. The Editors at ‘The Week’ have done a comprehensive job of putting the list together. Whether it’s Kapil Sibal who will be shaping the minds of Young India by placing education right at the top of India’s priorities, or M.S. Swaminathan who will ensure no Indian goes hungry if he can help it, these are the two most important individuals on the list. A nation that accepts the existence of even one hungry stomach in a population of over a billion people, is a nation that must hang its head in shame.India cannot afford to boast about a single other achievement so long as there are starvation deaths .For every child who dies of malnutrition, there is collective responsibility involved. Since education cannot be forced down a gullet that is denied access to even clean drinking water, forget edible food, perhaps it is time to link the two most critical programmes of feeding and educating the masses in a more meaningful way. Everything else will fall into place, as it has in other countries that made both a top priority before launching space programmes , putting men on the moon or going nuclear.

India has led a pretty schizophrenic existence throughout its complex history. But never has that been as apparent as it is today. We know – or claim to know – what’s ‘good for us’. And yet, we seem paralysed to do something concrete about it. We ‘know’ religious differences get us nowhere ( main reason for the Congress win and BJP defeat in the last election), and yet we are afraid to move against those who foster hatred between communities. Narendra Modi, with his loyal and considerable fan base can be converted into a ‘valuable asset’ if only his mindset miraculously changes.That is one ‘conversion’ nobody will object to! He is dynamic and bold. His vision for a prosperous Gujarat has attracted unprecedented investments. And yet, his party received a resounding slap on its face when the voter snubbed them. Modi as P.M.??? Not for a long, long while. Rahul Gandhi’s immense appeal to the youth of India can be better harnessed if he frees himself from Dynasty and strikes out on his own. Rahul represents Tolerant India – forward-thinking and progressive. Growth-driven and ambitious.His secular stand has won him the hearts of the nation. Rahul could very well emerge as the People’s Politician.
So long as we remain passive bystanders and tolerate those fanning communal strife, so long as we silently endorse the merchants of terror, we cannot dream of real progress – the sort that isn’t measured by the GDP or Sensex swings. Perhaps the BJP has woken up to the country’s real compulsions, which extend well beyond mandir-masjid politics.
Market marshals talk about more transparency. SBI Chairman O.P.Bhat, super brains like Anil Kakodkar, along with the SEBI Chairman C. Bhave , control India’s financial destiny and positioning in the complex, volatile world of finance. Never mind that Pranab Mukherjee’s uninspiring Budget speech didn’t bring cheer to the aam aadmi, India is still far better off than several developed countries reeling from the economic meltdown . We need sharp strategists to manage our domestic economy during this tricky phase, and we are lucky to have them.But somewhere in this complicated numbers game, we cannot afford to neglect the two issues that directly affect each and every Indian – national security and terrorism.This is where Manmohan Singh’s vision and leadership could propel India into a more secure zone. Unfortunately, so far, his contribution has been either too subtle or too sage for it to have made the required difference. The most recent Balochistan Blunder has focused the nation’s attention on how ineptly and unconvincingly his appointee S.M Krishna undertook the crucial damage control exercise….much to the horror and embarrassment of the watching world. He fell flat on his face…. he is still there.
We like to believe Indians have made a fantastic breakthrough in International cinema, thanks to the publicity generated by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ which is NOT an Indian film to begin with. But what it has done is gift A.R.Rahman’s genius to the world. This modest musician has waited a long time for universal recognition. It is now his – Rahman is in a league of his own with no real competition, either here or overseas. He is a genuine, gilt-edged ‘Valuable’ – self-made and supreme.

Our sports stars largely remain indigenous phenomena, loved by a cricket-mad nation…. And furiously commercialized by their keepers. They are indeed valuable, but it is high time we looked beyond Brand Sachin or Brand Dhoni ( a little tarnished at present), and recognized the contribution of those incredible, small town boys from under- privileged, rural homes who have made the country proud on innumerable international occasions. Leander Paes , dubbed a ‘Tennis Statesman’ needs to be acknowledged for his grit and endurance. Right now, however , sports lovers are looking keenly at a new star on the horizon - Saina Nehwal, ranked number 6 in the world. This plucky 19 -year-old (who recently battled chicken pox), has single- handedly revived Badminton in India, and is expected to do well at the upcoming BWF World Championship.
The time has definitely come to honour our ‘Most Valuable’ citizens - those anonymous Jawans who risk their lives for us, guard our borders, defend us fiercely, and remain the most undervalued citizens of the country. Our grateful ‘salaams’ to our Armed Forces as we salute India’s unsung heroes on this important day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bring on the Botox... India at 62

This appeared in the Sunday times today...

How good are we looking at 62…??

If one buys the theory “62 is the new 42” ( I do! I do!), then India is definitely looking “hot’’ for her age. Of course, there are countless giveaways like crow’s feet , an untoned butt and cellulite all over,but compared to others dealing with age issues of a different kind, even our worst critic would give the country a glowing certificate. As our two beauty pageant contestants, Pooja and Ekta, vie for the international crowns , the words of a former winner, Priyanka Chopra, make sentimental sense. Advised Piggy Chops sagely, “We are blessed to be born Indian…believe you are the chosen one.” Some of our parliamentarians could benefit equally from similar advice. Though, most believe they are indeed the Chosen Ones – which they are! We chose them!!
It is fascinating to track the sea change that takes place in the lives of beauty pageant contestants. The grueling grooming sessions they endure often transform gawky, gauche youngsters into soignée swans. By the time they are done with the multiple make- overs ( hair, skin, teeth, weight and personality development), they are different creatures altogether – sleek, poised and ready to take on the world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do the same with India and its politicians?? Treat the country as a contestant and go for the crown?? It’s not that hard to achieve if we get enough experts on board. What we are suffering from at present is a serious image problem – we are looking kinda dumb in the eyes of the world. Particularly, S.M.Krishna and his team of naïve advisors.But theek hai… an efficient Mr. Fix-it ( but who?? How soon?) can be quickly inducted to sort out that mess.. Now , with the appointment of the erudite Dr. Shivshanker as our ambassador to Beijing, perhaps the border talks with China will proceed more constructively, minus bogus p.r. pronouncements that fool nobody. Till then , it is important to look good!
Unlike popular perception, it takes one hell of a lot to become an international beauty pageant winner – discipline, for one.Attitude, for another. I’ve watched those girls slog with single-minded determination. They have a single point programme and just one agenda – to win. Imagine an India where even ten members of the cabinet had the same level of commitment .One has to be present during the tough elimination rounds at these beauty contests to know just how exacting the selection process is.At that early stage itself, it’s easy to predict who’ll make the short list. Why not a similar format while allocating key ministries? India has fantastic people at all levels. These fantastic people stay miles away from politics. Why? For the same reason that thousands of seriously good -looking, highly accomplished young women avoid entering pageants – they believe the whole thing is fixed!
International contests have reformatted pageants to remain more in tune with changing times. The winners no longer talk exclusively about becoming Mother Teresa and saving the world. New social realities demand fresher responses, bolder stands. Same story with our ministerlog who need to move beyond boring platitudes from a bygone era and discuss contemporary deliverables.

Every country messes up . India has made it almost mandatory to do so! This is tragic given that at this very second, we are a whole lot better off than most of the world – at least on the economic front. As one never tires of repeating, our fundamentals are strong, our banking systems conservative and our domestic economy robust enough to ride the meltdown. This is much more than can be said about our nearest rivals. Despite these obvious advantages, we choose to focus on the downside. Suggestion number one : let’s roll in the experts. India at 62 needs a face-lift! Bring on the botox. Get those silicon enhancements in place.Liposuction? Why not…. we can do with trimming ministerial flab. Going under the knife? That too – starting with drastically cutting neta privileges, and reducing the size of the bulging cabinet. Laser eye surgery is also recommended for all those short- sighted leaders incapable of seeing beyond their noses. Plus, a strict diet plan for the fat cats in public life who gorge on the nation’s precious resources. Let’s not forget a punishing work out regime for pot- bellied elected representatives abusing the system. How about cosmetic dental treatment to polish up those fake smiles?And rigourous skin care routines for the thick -skinned rhino-politicos who don’t let anything get to them ? Once we get all this in place, we can confidently compete against the best and come back with the dazzling crown. Meanwhile, good luck Pooja Chopra and Ekta Chowdhry – jhanda ooncha rahey hamara.


I am off to Alibag.... back on tuesday. No laptop. Zero connectivity - even my Vertu has died on me!! This is not supposed to happen, right?? Not to a Vertu!! I spoke to my Vertu man, Sachin Kulkarni. He said it was a virus problem!!! Whaaaattttt? In a cell phone?? Apparently so. But, he assured me the service centre in Mumbai had the software to fix it. Great. The phone came back after a few hours. It worked for a few minutes. I am back to square one. It's going to be a hectic weekend - and nobody can reach moi? Hmmmmmm...


My Shravan diet is suiting me. All that 'satvic' khana has calmed my nerves greatly. Why, I could even deal with a fire scare at 4 a.m. without getting hysterical. These days in Mumbai, one just has to hear a distant siren\fire alarm, to think, " Bomb". Plus, I had watched a violent, grisly and frankly lousy movie 'Public Enemies' and even that had not shaken me up much. I'd watched it for Johnny Depp - let's attribute my thanda response to the hottie to sabudana khichdi and cut fruits. The countdown has begun. Shravan ends on the 19th. I'll survive. Even thrive!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Aah Taj.... Wah Taj

Yes. The high alert is still on. Mumbai is bracing itself for.... for.... I don't know. The cops aren't saying. The silence is ominous. And revisiting the venue that has become a ghastly symbol of the 26\11 terror attacks, is a little like self-inflicted pain. But nothing can keep me away from a hotel that has such a strong connect. The Taj is just not another gracious and grand hotel. It is an emotion. These were my words in an article I'd been commissioned to write by the editor of the Taj Magazine, Fatma Zakaria ( she's the same lady who'd given me my first break as a national columnist by asking me to contribute a weekly piece to the Sunday Times way back in the early eighties - an association that still continues!). Well, it was 'Raksha Bandhan' and my son Aditya did want to treat his sisters.... so, there we were at our old haunt, The Sea Lounge, ordering the best dahi puri, bhel puri and sev puri in the world. Looking around the spacious place we tried to figure out what had changed ( it reopened recently). Got it! It was the people. Sea Lounge was only half full. Before the attacks ( and the recession), it used to be difficult getting a table, especially at lunch. Entering the hotel these days is challenge number one - it is not a pleasant experience given the super tight security measures in place. I guess this puts off people. The Taj has been converted into a fortress, sand bagged extensively, fortified and barricaded, which spooks guests. It is old faithfuls like us, who gamely go along with the triple screening, knowing it is in our own interest.Even so, it is still disturbing to walk into a much loved meeting place and find sections of it closed ( lots of exciting openings and events in the offing later in the year, but as of now, it remains eerily empty ).
As we sat at our favourite table and Arundhati decided to indulge herself ( Cafe Viennoise - loaded with calories, but so irresistible!), we watched dozens of tourists on the footpath outside, taking souvenir shots of the hotel. I could see them pointing to the floors that were set on fire, and taking close- ups of the magnificent dome ( how can anyone forget the sight of that dome blazing?). While we were celebrating the festival, Qasab was wondering who would tie a raakhee around his wrist. I mean.... get real. Which woman in her right mind would want Qasab, a mass murderer, as a raakhi brother??
I've been asked why I have not written about the other Raakhi ( Sawant)? Frankly, she now bores me. Her old spontaniety has been replaced by a certain calculated cunning that I find most unattractive. Besides, I hate being manipulated by these absurd reality shows with their 'fixed' programmes and fake winners. I cannot bear to watch any of them. However, one must hand it to Raakhi - she coyly disclosed her own 'honour code' on camera when she said, she was willing to do anything for money, but she won't 'do that'! Wow. Does one call that a free ride ??

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Guns... but no roses!

Our beautiful and frighteningly posh guide in Budapest insisted on clicking me with 'those Russian guns' ( as she scoffed). It was obvious from her tone that she loathed the memory of the 40 year Russian occupation of her country. I abhor guns... any weapon.... any violence. I was a reluctant model, as you can tell from my scowl. Interestingly enough, at this impressive park on the Buda side of the city, there are a few statues from that zamaana.... but the Russian plaques have been removed , replaced by Hungarian ones that salute the soldiers who died during the many wars. Other gigantic Russian statues have been banished to a distant spot - a graveyard for old, hated reminders of an oppressive past.
On a more positive note, I received the sweetest call from a 'brother' across the border. He remembered it's 'Raksha Bandhan' tomorrow and wanted to greet me.Asif Noorani is a senior journalist\author who lives in Karachi. We have been friends for years. I do hope our calls are monitored because we speak of nothing else but friendship between the two nations. We also talk about the moral corruption that impedes this process - when both sides can boast of clean politicians genuinely interested in forging bonds, nothing in the world will be able to stop us from reaching out to one another in a loving fashion. Enough of hatred and terror. On this wonderful occasion when countless sisters tie 'raakhis' on the wrists of their brothers, all I can wish for his more Asifs and less Qasabs.