Okay... so here's a pic of TopGun Ravi just before we took off on the first leg of our chopper ride across the emerald isle that I so love. This was right next to the Galle Fort, which is truly magnificent. We had spent two incredible days at The Dutch House ( a converted orphanage, built in 1712 and now run as a boutique hotel by Geoffrey Dobbs, who had generously given me the same suite as the one Sting had occupied). Our Indian cricketers may party there when they play in Galle - it is a jewel of a place, with a great resident chef. But to get back to Ravi, he is a man with nerves of steel, I can tell you. Throughout that ordeal flying in the blinding rain, he kept up a cheerful banter with three nervous ladies on board, and joked about our co-piloting skills being terrible! Now that he has us as founder members of his fan club, I am sure his repertoire of wisecracks will get still better!
The other pics are taken in Colombo. The first one at 'Barefoot' where I met readers and signed books. It is much more than Colombo's very stylish lifestyle destination, I can tell you. It has a great cafe attached, and the most beautiful cotton sarongs in the boutique. The saree pic is at the Galle Face Hotel just before my book reading and 'in conversation'. The gentleman in the pic is one of the oldest employees of this historic hotel ( older than Mumbai's classic Taj Mahal Hotel, and equally beautiful). I make it a point to meet him each time I'm in Colombo. I love this property, and the gracious owners, Sanjeev and Surekha Gardiner, who host the most elegant dinners ( would you like to see those pics?), in '1864', their fine dining restaurant. Oh.... I have more images which do NOT feature me. Perhaps you'd prefer those.....?? Say the word , guys.... I can handle it! Swear!!
This appeared in The Asian Age today...
Small town India hits the big time….
It’s all about the numbers.And right now Dhoni’s numbers are looking just great! Signing a staggering Rs 210 cr endorsements’ deal isn’t exactly small change, particularly in these tough times when even international superstars are accepting paycuts. What cricket fans are getting all excited over is the fact that Dhoni at age 29 has gone past the 37 - year- old Tendulkar’s record Rs180 cr deal which ended in 2009. Come on guys…. haven’t you heard of that old saying which goes….the old order changeth yielding place to new? Shakespeare sure knew a thing or two about jawaani deewani…and the premium attached to it. Dhoni is on top of his game ( and I am not restricting that to cricket). He has displayed the sort of robust common sense that has seen him through various crises, professional and personal. And now as a newly minted bridegroom, even his previous romantic chakkars with assorted Bollywood\Fashion lovelies are taken care of. Dhoni is the ultimate symbol of aspirational\inspirational India. What is there not to like and love about this guy? He is handsome, self made and successful. His entry into the big ticket world of international cricket has been entirely on merit, without the benevolent hand of a powerful godfather over his head. He has seamlessly negotiated the murky political cess pool that is cricket today, winning the Captain Cool tag in the bargain. The man is a bloody modern day marvel ! He can act, he can sing, he can dance…. who knows … maybe he can walk on water, too. For all that, Dhoni remains a small town guy – and that’s where his real strength lies.
Something major is underway in small time India that most big city folks have paid scant attention to. One can sense it each time a journey into the hinterland is undertaken. This goes beyond malls and money. But hey – why not begin with the malls and money? Wasn’t it a dumb Mercedes dealer who stupidly ignored an order for 83 swanky Mercs, because he couldn’t believe that farmers from Aurangabad would be serious about such a gigantic purchase? But guess what? That’s where the actual lolly is…. in dem hills. And those guys in shiney suits living in India’s Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are the fat cats shrewd advertisers and marketers should be aggressively chasing – instead of the comparatively kadka urban socialites sporting designer logos on their bums. Logos, that in all probability have their origins in the fake goods factories in Taiwan. Talking to the Delhi franchisees of the most prestigious luxury labels in the world, I was told that most of their sales are generated by farmers from Punjab, who make special ‘trousseau trips’ to the capital to pick up the priciest ‘It’ bags and designer gear for their darling daughters. It’s a strictly ‘Cash-and Carry’ crowd of dedicated shoppers and these guys justifiably believe money talks. Bundles of thousand rupee notes carried in inconspicuous plastic bags are poured on to the counter, much to the horror of the snooty sales’ team , accustomed to bowing and scraping in the presence of Bollywood stars looking for freebies. Not that this lack of so-called ‘class’ matters to their bosses in Milan, London or New York. Those foreign number crunchers rub their hands in glee as the euros, dollars and pounds roll in – from rural India, of all places! Given the dismal economic story dominating Europe, what would these snob stores do without the patronage of our richie rich kisaans and shetkaris?
And so it goes on other levels as well. Small town India has come into its own, be it in Bollywood or in big business. When I read about the 23 year-old Kangana Ranaut from Himachal Pradesh booking a sprawling four bedroom apartment in Mumbai’s tony Bandra neighbourhood for a whopping Rs. 15 crores, I fell off my chair! Here’s a girl who gate crashed into Bollywood less than five years ago, hooked up with a much married, much older Aditya Pancholi, broke up with the same bloke after a few well publicized spats, made a couple of small budget films, got noticed, got fame, got new boy friends… and… and got rich. Seriously rich. Today, she zooms around in the latest Audi, wears the best designer labels, signs countless movies, and is right up there in the showbiz pecking order.
One would imagine that Dhoni and Kangana would have nothing in common - but they do! It is the fascinating journey of two young and daring people to the top of the heap that makes them interesting. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I got talking to a hugely successful businessman ( you could call him the beer king of the island), who said he was not interested in the pursuit if either money or admiration. Loftily…. very loftily, he added such a chase was for the under-privileged and the hungry, who need both. But for someone like him, born into one of the wealthiest and most privileged families, his dream, he said airily, was to appreciate beauty and enjoy life! Lucky bugger, I thought to myself, as he picked at his gourmet lunch in Colombo’s smartest restaurant. He pointed to a brand new and very gaudy high rise apartment close by. “ It’s expensive …. even by Indian standards. But would I live in it? Never! It’s for the peasants who have made money and are stupid enough to move to the city.” Earlier that day, I had met a tea garden owner whose exclusive ‘ Virgin White Tea’ retails in fancy tea boutiques in New York and Paris for $1,500 per 10 grammes! I kid you not. What makes this tea so special? The publicity claims it is picked by virgins (“ But I don’t certify them,” he chuckled wickedly) who cut the leaves with a pair of gold scissors and collect them in a gold bowl. Well, that’s a part of the myth.But the extraordinary success of his limited edition tea has made it possible for his workers to dream technicolour dreams. One of those fit and handsome boys playing cricket in the field close by, could well replace Kumar Sangakarra, the dashing captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team, in the near future.
There are versions of Dhonis and Kanganas being born every day in some small, relatively obscure part of our world. Who knows – the Commonwealth Games may throw up a few right here in our backyard.May the best underdog win …. and all that rot. While we are at it, let’s ask Oracle Paul what the odds are of India winning even a single measly medal?