Guys. I am off to Paris in an hour to launch 'Les Nuits aux Etoiles," which is the French translation of an early novel, 'Starry Nights'. The book is being published by France's most prestigious imprint, Actes Sud. And the event is being hosted by Yves Carcelle, who is the President of the LVMH Group. I am fortunate to have two such powerful brands for my French debut!!
All set for the soiree . And all set to answer questions on the luscious Carla Bruni ....plus, anything else the press throws at me. Wish me luck!!
This appeared in the Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle :
Ji haan.What Soniaji wants, Soniaji gets! God is also great, ji! He likes Sonia. What a bhet! That too one day after International Women’s Day. Am I thrilled to bits?? Nope. I have never been pro-reservations. And that cuts across the board. I don’t believe in subsidies and quotas. But my far worthier sisters say, I am being silly about this. Super sensitive and even selfish. Theek hai. I guess we should be rejoicing, and eventually I too may get co-opted. But till such time, I’m keeping the bubbly on hold. My biggest and main concern is that the bill does not remain a naam ke vaastey grand gesture, in the same tradition as our Jai jawan! Jai kisaan! programmes, which sounded terrific as slogans and won elections for the then leaders…. but left those poor jawaans and kisaans exactly where they were…where they still are.
I am in distant Dubai, attending the Emirates Writers’ Festival,and it seems slightly surrealistic to be talking about the women of India being on a collective high, especially to the ladies here, who look away uncomfortably and change the subject when the topic of womens’ rights comes up. A lovely woman who has written her first book based on a true story of a thirteen year old local girl who’d been married off to a much ,much older, much ,much married man, lowers her voice to confess, “ We have to be careful what we say… and who we say it to. I would have preferred to write a stronger book, but I also knew it wouldn’t get published.” A poet seated at the same table, nods his head sympathetically, but says nothing. His own poems on exile are filled with yearning for a different life. But even poets know when to hold their tongue.
Later, the same evening, I listen to Martin Amis, the star of this festival, talk about dealing with age. He discusses vanity and fear, insecurity and loathing. I wonder whether his talented wife is in the audience listening to him, and where she fits in,especially when he reads a passage from his latest book ‘The Pregnant Widow.” My mind is only half here. It has been a tumultuous two days in India. We’d like to believe the world was wearing blinkers and not watching the disgraceful Rajya Sabha drama… the shame and chaos … those demeaning demonstrations of protest from so-called ‘netas’. I cringed at the images and wondered whether Lalu is so used to dealing with cows, he can’t tell the difference between his farm animals and us ! As for Mulayam, what is it they say about taking the man out of his mohalla but not the mohalla out of him? Hours of unbearable suspense later, came the historic voice vote. Strangely enough, the world remained somewhat impassive and indifferent to India’s ‘Mahila Moment’. When the topic did come up over dinner here in Dubai ( in a vague and distracted way), a few British journos said something like, “ Splendid! Splendid! Jolly good show.” That response depressed me still further.
Earlier in the week I had attended a panel discussion on the subject and come away disheartened by the shallow and superficial reactions from some of the participants who seemed to believe all it takes to alter the destiny of our women is a piece of legislation. A magic wand waved by India’s fairy God mother, Sonia Gandhi, and voila ! we’ll be singing, ‘Aall eez well.” I wish I could share their optimism. I wish I could believe India will witness dramatic change on account of a percentage in parliament that is meant to take care of its most neglected resource – women. ‘Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Joy’, was the poignant title of an exhibition featuring the works of several women artists. The driving force behind the show (which was a fund raiser for ‘SPARROW’, a valuable archival centre), is the committed and dynamic Dr.Laxmi who is trying to preserve the oral and visual histories of women. At the elegantly presented function on the lawns of the jewel-like Bhauji Lad museum, Laxmi spoke about the house sparrow in India, which faces imminent extinction and when she mentioned how it was possible for that sparrow to create a ball of rice out of each painstakingly picked grain, it said it all. Through that single image, it was possible to predict the future of our women. Even as Laxmi and the artists present celebrated the successful start of the initiative which had managed to raise over ten lakh of rupees via a raffle, the aftermath of the rowdy, disruptive scenes that had interrupted the smooth passage of the bill a few hours earlier, were being played and replayed on news channels across India. We were left to console ourselves that with any luck, perhaps ten years down the line, Songs of Joy would outnumber Songs of Sorrow, at least for those women who would directly benefit from the bill. But despite our feelings of hope and cheer on that mellow evening, perhaps most of us knew in our heart of hearts, it would be foolish to over-invest in the instant magic promised by this breakthrough legislation.
About the same time as we were coming to grips with the euphoria of the moment, history was also being at the Oscar’s ceremony, with the first woman ever to win the most coveted statuette ( the award for Best Director). And oddly enough, I thought to myself, “ Why the hell are we making such a big deal out of this? Doesn’t that say something? Something not terribly impressive? If we need to draw attention to the winner’s gender, and make it into a battle of the sexes, we are guilty of continuing the stereotype… of segregating winners and losers, not on the basis of merit, but according to the male-female divide. This is astonishingly passé, even embarrassingly old fashioned. Ms. Bigelow’s win had nothing to do with her being a woman. At least one hopes so. For if it did, it would be yet another strike against feminism in its more evolved avatar – ooops, wrong word!
Back home in India, Lalu is still waiting for the cows to come home.