Had dinner with Cherie Blair last night and frankly, she didn't blow me away. Dressed in an ice blue salwaar kameez ( some Delhi designer called Jain - her favourite), the Blair lady came through as a competent , clever but cold woman. She is a successful lawyer, and she never drops her guard. She was in Mumbai as the star attraction at one of those high profile conventions where earnest, determined ladies talk about 'empowerment' and then go off to some wealthy person's mansion to take those discussions forward over chilled wine and hot food.
Of course, they mean well... and I am being cynical...
This appeared in Bombay Times on monday...
A good reputation is a little like pregnancy…or lycra( either you have it, or you don’t). Similarly, either a woman is pregnant or she is not. A woman cannot claim to be ‘ a little pregnant.’ The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous for those of us in media, with Barkha Dutt getting the worst of it! To extend the earlier argument – the Radia tapes furore was like a virginity test in which the ‘badnaam’ woman ( Barkha) had to ‘prove’ to the world that she is indeed ‘pure’ and untouched. A tough exam for a seasoned journo to undertake, given that everybody with even half an opinion had already jumped into the fray and pronounced her ‘pregnant’….. err….. guilty. She herself was ready for the agni pariksha, as is evident from the grilling she subjected herself to last week – a grilling by peers, at that. Never mind if the dramatic show yielded nothing of consequence and Barkha’s detractors crowed it was a load of baloney that did not salvage her tattered image. Her frequent references to ‘an error of judgment’ made it worse for her… after all, a person at her level gets there because he or she possesses an invaluable asset - credibility.The faith and trust of viewers is built on believing that their favourite anchor is like Ceaser’s wife – above and beyond suspicion. Once that delicate bond is broken – what remains? A face saving exercise? Barkha has been a formidable force in Indian journalism. She has expertly steered her television channel for years and established an image of a feisty, fearless journalist, unafraid of taking on the biggest and scariest in public life. She has carved out a fan base across the world… but equally, she has attracted her share of detractors ready to pull her down ( remember the vicious and sustained hate campaign launched against her post the 26\11 terror attacks?). Barkha is a pretty tough, exceedingly well connected person. She will ride this crisis out as well. And hopefully, vindicate her position… prove her critics wrong. That is not the point. The fact that she has found herself in this sorry situation in the first place, has shaken up the media world and led to the sort of public discourse about ethics in journalism, that has not been witnessed since the Emergency. If Barkha is squirming, she has every reason to. From being the Untouchable, she finds herself on the other side of the kind of fiery debates she has expertly presided over in the past.
Sympathetic colleagues and columnists are talking about ‘witch hunts’ and public lynching. To some, Barkha is the unfortunate victim, the obvious target, of a scandal which remains hazy even now. That’s how it generally goes… in any controversy, it is often one single individual who emerges as the face of that sordid mess. Pity that face belongs to Barkha and not any of the other, equally high profile players whose conversations on those debatable tapes are far more lethal and dodgy. To Barkha’s credit, it must be said, her comeback to all the accusations has been spirited (if not entirely convincing). She has taken the grilling on the chin, and continues with her life on camera, like a good professional. But larger questions still remain – when does a journalist sell out??? Is it only about scale ( a gifted designer bag worth one lakh is acceptable, but diamond jewellery or a gas agency is not)? Bribes are bribes – and frankly, everybody recognizes one, regardless of the price tag. In Barkha’s case, it isn’t about financial gains. It is about ethics. Power is indeed heady … how a person wields it, defines character. A journo may claim he or she is completely honest and has never accepted even a free pen from someone. But if that person has traded information or attempted to interfere in political decisions that impact our lives – that sort of influence peddling has far reaching implications which are worse than a gushy film review or a plug for an unworthy fashion designer.
We live in dangerous times.
There is something awfully sweet, old fashioned and loveable about Rishi Kapoor.Baap ho to aisa.