"Touch a Life, " is an important initiative started by Parmeshwar Godrej to reach out to children with AIDS. Pediatric AIDS prevention is a very specialised programme spearheaded by Parmesh ( The Bill Gates Foundation partners her ) which reaches out to the most vulnerable segment of AIDS affected patients. I spent over two hours with her last evening getting to understand the complexities of what her organisation is doing in this area. Given her excruciatingly painful back, this tireless ( and super glam ) lady flies for a day to Mexico to attend a conference and then flies right back to Mumbai before jetting off to Vienna for another conference. She has managed to raise a great deal of money ( and has just won a prestigious award for philanthropy in America)... but as we all know, money is never enough when the cause is this critical and huge. Check her out on facebook....she'll soon be on twitter, too.
This appeared in the Sunday Times....
Naveen Jindal seems like a reasonably sensible chap – dresses hip and modern ( sharply cut bandgalas in textured raw silk). He appears to lead a modern life. Wealthy, educated and well traveled. He’s the kind of 21ST century politician urbanites feel comfortable around. He speaks our lingo, seems passionately ‘involved’ in issues that go beyond clubbing at the latest lap dancing hotspot in the capital. So what’s a guy like him doing in a mess like this? No matter how fast he backtracks, the thing is he did put his foot into his mouth…. and there it has stayed. It isn’t going to be all that easy for him to waltz away from the controversy now. Had those archaic arguments about ‘gotra’ ( what the hell does ‘gotra’ mean, ask most young people in total bewilderment?), come from some fuddy duddy uncleji representing an obscure constituency in the back of the beyond, nobody would have given them the slightest ‘patta’. But come on, here’s this suave, good looking chap blithely going into gotra terrain and instantly losing his ‘cool factor’. My guess is, he doesn’t really care! And why should he? He knows the sentiments of his core support base – and he is obliging precisely those medieval-minded folks who are gotra fanatics. Naveen knows he doesn’t have to bother about the rest – he is doing what most politicians would in his place – hanging on to his kursi.
Young India lives in a gotra-neutral zone – at least, that is what one would have liked to believe. Ask around – ask basic questions. When the census form arrived at home, I happened to be sitting with a lively group of collegians. When they saw me baulk at the box which said ‘caste’, they laughed initially and then turned serious. They actually started asking each other, “ Dude, do you know your caste?” More than half the kids present went blank! Some responded in such a silly manner – I was secretly thrilled! It was obvious from the way they’d converted the whole thing into a joke, that caste really didn’t matter a damn to any of them. They were vaguely aware of their own! Very vaguely. Just a few days earlier, I had met a retired police officer who could talk of nothing else! And if he was so obsessed by caste, how could his family of well- educated
professionals be free of bias? I wondered if his daughter ( clad in trendy denims) and working with a foreign bank would be ‘allowed’ to marry outside her caste. I met his married son, who works for an advertising agency…. met the son’s attractive wife and wondered – same caste, but different gotra? Same gotra but different caste? Same gotra, same caste? This was insane. Just then a school- going grand- daughter walked in jauntily( some more denim), followed by the cop’s wife ( not denim-ed, but wearing a salwar- kameez, not saree). I was asked my preference – limboo paani or chai?? I declined both ( too bloody hot to enjoy either). The cop looked most offended and asked peevishly, “ Why aren’t you having something in our home? Is it because of our caste?” I was so taken aback, I promptly demanded limbu paani instantly. The entire family looked vastly relieved and beamed approvingly as I sipped the drink. I told the cop I was surprised by his overreaction to my innocuous refusal. He told me he was most accustomed to visitors refusing his hospitality and making up some flimsy excuse. Seeing my skeptical expression, he added, “ Because of my caste!Yes, madam…. it still goes on, even in this day and age.”
Driving home, I thought about Naveen Jindal’s published remarks once again. The same night I caught him on a television show where he was being hauled over the coals by an incensed studio audience. He was grinning away regardless, as if to convey he knew something those idiots didn’t. Of course, he had come well prepared for the grilling and trotted out all the pet theories defending his position. It was hard to turn away or switch channels, even though the aggravation was extreme. I listened to the counter- arguments and his subsequent justifications . I thought about a blatantly caste- based tv serial that is being avidly watched, almost as if we are hoping to get some answers to our own deep seated confusions via the dilemmas faced by the protagonists ( Brahmin boy – Kayasta girl). Perhaps the serial will have a happier ending than the couples who have been hacked to death for daring to defy the elders, and horror of horrors, marry for love…. perhaps, even for sex!!
Something weird, very weird, is going on out there. Words like ‘Khaap’ were not a part of anybody’s vocabulary till a couple of months ago. Honour killings?? Those happened in the dark ages – why, even Bollywood movies didn’t touch that regressive subject any more. Everybody was convinced India had moved swiftly into the ‘caste, creed, no bar,’ situation – if not in our backward villages than certainly in our mall-obsessed, boom towns ( tier-1,2 and 3). Apparently, and very depressingly, not! We in media woke up when one of our own ( Nirupama) took a hit. That’s when the ferocity of the crisis sank in. Uptil then, this was the stuff smart kids routinely lampooned while scripting shows for music channels …. exactly the kind of material that went into making a small budget movie crazily titled ‘Love, Sex aur Dhoka’ . Critics told us it had worked because it accurately captured the zeitgeist of this restless generation. And now this!! Hard to believe we are dealing with ‘Khaap’ dominated headlines and ‘Gotra’ related stories on breaking news in an era where nothing was supposed to matter but love. With ‘honour’ itself on the rocks, what use is pyar?