Saturday, January 30, 2010
Our cabbie here definitely did not speak Marathi - he spoke the local lingo - Singaporese ( not to be confused with English!!!) . Take it or leave it. This 'uncle' ( all elderly cabbies are called uncle by the locals) was a really, really talkative chap ( most of them are), but he blew us away by discussing Goddess Durga at length. " I am half-Hindu and half- Chinese", Lim Choon declared happily, and went on to no narrate a series of extraordinary events in which Durga had played a key role! Next came Sai Baba in a cameo. Our man Lim is now convinced it has to do with his past life and is planning a visit to India soon.
Other than Lim, Singapore remains like a blancmange with cherries on top. Walking along Clarke Quay, and past the Ruppee Room ( Bollywood hits blaring), it was almost surrealistic. A great big full moon hung over our heads and the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ( yummy on a night as sultry as this one), definitely heightened the experience. I love blancmange - errrr - Singapore. It is safe and anti-septic, quite unlike any other destination on earth. It lulls me and I can handle its pristine pleasures for between four to five days - max. In this hospital -like ambience,it has to be some genius who came up with a bar called CLINIC. It is designed for people with a morbid sense of humour - people who get their kicks seated in wheel chairs around tables that have I.V. drips as decor and wardboys ( bar tenders ) pour 'injection shots' straight into waiting mouths. 'Nurses' ( nubile waitresses) rush around taking orders, and operation theatre lights add to the display which includes a long bar featuring a neon sign that reads 'Dispensary'. There is also a 'doc' on duty for patients requiring immediate and urgent attention.Why tempt fate - life is dangerous enough!
More Singapore stuff tomorrow. I received frantic calls and text messages from various tv channels based in Mumbai\Delhi last night - something about Balasaheb threatening Mukesh Ambani and SRK. Fill me in, you guys. Even though I am strictly 'off duty' till mid-Feb, it does not mean I am THAT disconnected \indifferent to happenings back home. Keep the news rolling, okay??
Ciao for now!
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Jaipur vignettes keep coming up. I was narrating juicy tidbits from the trip - what exactly happened in the Pink City over a sumptuous dinner hosted by the sweetest husband on earth ( no, not mine! Mita's .... sigh!) - to David Davidar and Mike Bryan ( my best buddies at Penguin Books). Our conversation took place over dahi puri and lassi at the Sea Lounge this afternoon. At the end of it all, they refused to believe me! Well... perhaps I had proved to be a particularly dangerous catalyst that night, for I was told by these worthy gentlemen that they would never associate the sequence of events as I described them , with the people who were present at the table. Aah well.... a good time was had by all, so who the hell is complaining? All I can reveal is that I sang a duet (" Besame Mucho") with Biddu (whose autobiography aptly titled 'Made in India' was launched at the book fair earlier), and rather enjoyed myself!
It's a pity I couldn't accept Ameena Saiyid's invitation to participate in the Karachi Literature Festival, since the dates were clashing with my book launch in Paris. I love Karachi and have good friends there ( yoo hoo Nadya, Abbas and Nasreen). Perhaps next year.... inshallah.
Oh, and for those who may want to watch the re-re-telecast of 'The State of the Nation' on cnn-ibn ( Kiran Bedi, Sharmila Tagore, Vinod Mehta, Mr. Subramaniam and moi), ably anchored by Sagarika Ghosh ( gosh! she sure has grown into her job after a shakey-shrieky start), you can catch it on the 30th of Jan at 8pm. And 31st of Jan at 12pm. Worth watching!
The Republic celebrates its 60th birthday tomorrow and I hope we’ll be able to blow out 61 candles on that gigantic cake with confidence,joy and optimism.The overall scenario is looking pretty good, and even the worst cynic will have to admit India’s report card is not all that bad… definitely well above just ‘pass marks’. While it isn’t exactly time to chorus, “ Aall eeez welll,” compared to most of our neighbours (distant ones included), we are doing just fine, thank you. At 60, the Republic is going strong, enjoying reasonably good health, and is financially secure. India’s senior citizen status should be seen in the right context – the slight graying at the temples is quite attractive, and so long as the knees remain stable, India does not have to buckle down. Stamina and staying power do need to be worked on…. but India enrolling at a high-tech gym can go in for some serious cardio exercises and emerge with an even sturdier heart in future.
In Mumbai, the story is more mixed. On one level, we have a youngish, educated Chief Minister attempting to woo the electorate with populist moves that seem to backfire on the poor guy. But in his defence ( for a change!), I have to say there is nothing fundamentally wrong in his suggestion that local cabbies should know Marathi. Of course they should!! Isn’t that how it works all over the world? Imagine a London cabbie not knowing English, or a cabbie in Rome not speaking a word of Italian. Why go that far?? Try giving directions in Hindi to a cab driver in Kolkata \Chennai \Kochi. Chances are he’ll throw you out of the cab! Would a Maharshtrian cabbie who only speaks Marathi be given a license to ply a cab in Delhi? Yes, the constitution of the country does guarantee freedom of movement\employment across the nation. But in purely practical terms, aren’t we missing something here? By all means let cabbies from Meghalaya ( frankly, I have yet to come across a cabbie from the North East anywhere in India) or any other state, come in droves to Mumbai. But let them learn not just the local language but local roads before they get that license. That is such a basic requirement, I am surprised it has been converted into a political tinder box. Ashok Chavan’s wording may have been wrong, but in principle he is absolutely right. Perhaps we need to get fundamental issues out of the way, before we twist this into an ugly ‘outsider\insider’ war. More taxis on Mumbai’s choked streets are going to be bad enough ( the city is gasping for breath), but more taxi drivers who don’t have even a working knowledge of Marathi?? Sorry – that is unacceptable. We know how easily unqualified drivers acquire instant licenses ( by bribing as little as 3000 bucks), often without appearing for the mandatory test. It’s a gigantic network of touts that makes this possible in record time ( 3 to 5 days). These are the men we often entrust our life and belongings to. When things don’t work out for any of them, they go back where they’d come from, disappearing without a trace. We talk about terrorist attacks from the skies – perhaps we need to think about threats posed by dodgy men parading as cabbies, whose antecedents are unknown. Learning Marathi is the easy part - why, even Qasab is cheekily responding in Marathi to questions in court ( he can get a job as a cabbie quite easily!), but scrupulously screening drivers from other states and ensuring they are technically qualified to carry passengers, is a far more crucial security task.
Just as an experiment, do hail a cab one of these days and speak to the guy in Marathi. Give him directions to take you somewhere close…. and see the fun.
Happy Republic Day!
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Sorry about my long absence... I was away at the Lit Fest in Jaipur.
And..... hear this .... I am going to be away once again from the 28th onwards. This is going to be a longish break. Am planning to visit Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, plus a few days spent with our son Ranadip in Singapore. Not sure I'll have internet access at these destinations since I'll be leaving my best friend ( the laptop!) behind. However, I promise I shall try my best to at least 'mini-blog' from wherever I am. I miss this space more than you can imagine!
The Jaipur Lit Fest has GROWN. That's an understatement. It is soooooo huge now, that it is entirely possible to get lost at Diggi Palace (the official venue), where the resident royals look after guests - why, right royally, of course! William Dalrymple runs the show splendidly with his army of White Mughals. Co-promoter Namita Gokhale deals with mounting, minute-by-minute stress the best she can. It IS a moveable feast. And how lucky is Jaipur to play host to what Tina Brown calls ' The Greatest Literature Show on Earth." And how lucky am I to be only the second writer invited back for yet another feast ( Hari Kunzru, is the other one).Each time you turn around, you get blinded by the dazzle of literary stars rushing from one courtyard to the next, intellectual gems pouring out of their mouths as fans greedily hang on to every word. This is how it should be, dammit!!
I enjoyed my session with Marie Brenner, the award- winning journo ('Vanity Fair'), who exposed Enron ( remember the movie 'The Insider' based on her book?). I'll tell you what made this special and memorable - Marie's professionalism. It was a class act. Our journos have a lot to learn from seasoned and celebrated writers like Marie, who don't take a thing for granted. She had read my books, done her homework scrupulously and structured the one hour session sensibly. She conducted the proceedings seamlessly, devoid of personal ego.There was zero attempt at one upmanship as she allowed a free flow of questions with the audience. We met a brief half hour before our pre-lunch session, and struck an immediate rapport. " Let's keep the mood lively and intimate, " Marie suggested, adding, "Let's chat like girl friends." And this is exactly how it went. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, especially when Marie quoted Sartre and asked me whether I thought it important to throw metaphorical bombs at society in order to disturb the peace! Me as a Molotov Cocktail in Mumbai and elsewhere? Why not?? I hate complacency. More of us should disturb the peace. I hadn't really looked at it in this context, but thank you, Marie. You have planted a fantastically subversive ,highly attractive and potentially lethal idea in my head! Watch out, readers. There are some serious explosions coming your way!
Sorry, but I really don't understand why we fell all over ourselves when it came to Hanief Kureishi. He was supercilious and condescending at the best of times, twitching his nose and being more Brit than the British! I loved 'My Beautiful Laundrette," but that was because I love Daniel Day Lewis. Hanif wrote that terrific book based on his family ( his uncle ran a laundrette). I am sure Hanief has done some wonderful stuff after that - but WHAT???
Friday, January 22, 2010
There can’t be another ‘Catch -22’, ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ or even a ‘Gone with the Wind’. Some books, some authors are like that, only. One memorable book and khatam. Place in history guaranteed. They are the blessed ones. For the rest, it’s a slog. One book follows another, follows another, follows another. Till it’s all over. Author gone, books gone. But Arundhati Roy belongs to that elite league of one book wonders. She doesn’t need to pen another. As a matter of fact, she shouldn’t. What could possibly top the spectacular success of ‘The God of Small Things’? Arundhati rewrote thwe rules of the game with her very first book. And with that, she walked into history. Admirers say gushingly, she was probably born with a golden quill in her hand. She is that gifted. It doesn’t matter a jot whether or not she writes another novel or even another line. Her spectacular debut into the literary world will forever remain one of the strongest, most defining moments of the early English writing\publishing scene on the sub-continent . And it has a lot to do with fortuitous timing, a canny literary agent and India’s 50th Anniversary. That’s fate. Fame and fortune meekly followed!
But beyond the Booker – well beyond the Booker – Arundhati would still have made her mark as an original. A very attractive original. It was always there. Today, she may have chosen to step off the conveyor belt of controversy and concentrate on the music of grasshoppers or the dance of spiders, but whatever she chooses to put her petite self behind, is touched by magic – and she is smart enough to know it.
Arundhati breaks rules in style. Starting with punctuation. While lesser writers ( everyone else, stupid!) struggle to get those p’s and q’s in place, here is Arundhati ignoring – no, defying – those silly diktats of some antiquated grammarians, to create her own rhythms, her own unique sentences with capital letters arbitrarily strewn around in unlikely arrangements that challenge common usage. But hey – that’s the whole point! ‘God…’ was a carefully crafted work that scrupulously avoided clichés and forged a brand new language from the same old words – only, Arundhati’s way with them changed everything. She knew exactly what she was doing, even why she was doing it. That book was no accident. It was genius. Nothing about Arundhati is accidental – not even the throwaway acceptance speech at the Booker Awards (“….I was in the loo.”). And certainly not the burgundy coloured silk saree ( looked great in photo ops) she wore for that glamourous occasion. Arundhati’s clever construct is a brilliant marketing device that has been put to great use by her to draw attention to all that she finds wrong with the world ( pretty much everything!). Her passion for the many causes she espouses is not fake even if critics wonder how her focus shifts from the Narmada dam to nuclear proliferation to expressing her sympathy for Maoists ( current concern). The one common thread remains a consistently pro-Left, anti-establishment position that has won her an international audience of like- minded supporters who loyally hang on to her every pronouncement and utterance.
In India, her fan following seems to be dwindling, but blame that on the ATS ( Attention Deficit Syndrome) afflicting Gen-Y.This generation doesn’t read – it tweets. For them the Maoists could be the name of the latest rock group. If it’s not on Facebook, it doesn’t exist. Not that Arundhati cares. Her constituency lies elsewhere – mainly overseas.Seen more as a political activist than a writer these days, Arundhati picks her wars\adversaries very well. She takes it this far, and no further. If she courts arrest, she spends a night… not years… not even a week, in jail. But the international press is invariably around to record these dramatic moments and flash the images to the world. The image becomes the message. It works!
For all that, there is something most compelling about Arundhati Roy. Critics find her calculating, others call her naïve. It is hard to tell whether it is the head or the heart that propels her into taking controversial positions vis-à-vis the state. At one point she had sweetly declared herself a “republic” and threatened to secede from India. That didn’t happen. The guess is she still belongs to the Union Territory and has not raised a personal army so far, nor printed her own currency. But nothing can be put past this ball of fire. India needs an Arundhati Roy. So does the rest of the world.
About 'Avatar' - excuse me for saying this and shattering several illusions - it is no better\worse than any cheesy formulaic commercial desi film. Take away the special effects and huge budget - what do you have? Yet another soppy love story with zero depth . The only thing missing was a rain dance. I also found it condescending and racist, offensive and bigoted. The 'superior' but exploitative white man Vs the nature worshipping natives who are so 'pure' and ... and.... primitive! Good fighting evil...come on, Cameron.... we do it better in India. At one hundreth the cost, too. The dialogues were a joke , rarely going beyond, " Holy shit! Let's go! Let's go. Go. Go. Go!" If it was Cameron's way of sending out some sort of an eco-friendly message via those weirdly conceptualised blue 'savages', I didn't get it. Rather, the package was so obvious and naive, it certainly didn't justify that indecent budget, which, if better employed might have saved many more forests. As for that clumsy kiss between Jake and the blue chick - help me, while I gag. Couldn't the two have just touched tails and connected as they'd been doing all along with those banshees and other bizarre creatures?
Not worth the 3-D glasses - mind it!
Thursday, January 21, 2010
This appeared in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle.
Am dying to share my views on 'Avatar' with you guys. Perhaps in another post later today.... inshallah.Till then... read on...
I am writing this on one of the most auspicious day of the Hindu Calendar – Makar Sankranti. While there are countless, carefree teenagers flying kites across India, there are also those traumatized and troubled kids who feel life is no longer worth living. Something weird is going on in our society and ‘Aall is NOT welll’, I’m afraid. On the contrary, all is falling apart, going by the scarey statistics. Just this morning, I received a call from a senior psychologist who counsels teenagers. She talked about her daughter’s friend , an Indian student at a top American university, who has written a book about his own suicidal feelings. The young man’s life was saved by his caring and sensitive grandfather in Ahmedabad, with whom the student spent time when he was at his lowest. It was entirely through his grandfather’s efforts that his young life got saved. The psychologist wanted me to guide this student and help get his book published. I thought to myself, this boy is blessed – he had a loving person in his life who didn’t give up on him. What of the others who feel isolated and desperate enough to kill themselves? And how can one possibly explain this phenomenon which is seeing a spate of teen suicides?
In Mumbai, the Municipal Corporation has roped in Aamir Khan for an awareness campaign (“ Life is Beautiful”) which is aimed at making children feel more positive about themselves. Several workshops are in the pipeline, which are also designed to train teachers to look out for tell tale signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.Aamir has been picked after much thought, since students like his personality and it is believed that if Aamir appeals to the young to ‘appreciate the beauty of life’, his message will get through. 25706000 is the number of the helpline that has been created to cope with a crisis that has taken society entirely off guard. In Pune, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker talked about the power of Indian classical music and spirituality to heal the wounded souls of our teens. He also talked about the power of yoga and praised the government’s agenda to teach yoga in schools. Some would say, there is nothing new in any of this. But at this desperate point in time, whatever we think can work, has to be given a chance. Whatever.
Perhaps the key to solving the current sad situation lies in this – we no longer know who we are. People take ‘identity’ for granted, even though it is at the core of our lives. If we don’t know who the hell we are, it is safe to assume we are lost – emotionally and spiritually. What the young in India are facing today is a loss of identity ( 42% of India is under 18). Since we are such a young nation, where we have failed is to connect with our own youth. Even Aamir is 44- years -old, and we consider him ‘young’. Rahul Gandhi is the youngest politician to reach out to this segment and he is 40-plus as well. Our other netas are geriatrics whose mindsets are stuck in another century. In any case, their priorities never did include the young – till statistics caught up with them. Today we are dealing with an emergency- like situation that has to be tackled on a war footing if we are to pre-empt and prevent further deaths. Are we upto it?
A metropolis like Mumbai can be exceedingly indifferent, even cruel to anybody seen as a ‘loser’. This explains the success of a movie like ‘3 Idiots’ which deals with the pressures faced by Middle India – the sort of compulsions to compete fiercely and win at all costs, that can completely break a youth’s morale and lead to suicide ( as it does in the film). There is a silly attempt to link recent student suicides to the movie and put the whole thing down to a ‘ trend’ ( ‘Babes, suicides are just so ‘in’ this season – think I’m going to try it. Just for fun!”) with a cascading effect. There is no denying the overwhelming effect of popular Bollywood movies on audiences, but that is not the solo factor responsible for the suicides. However, since movies in their own crazy way do reflect social realities, it isn’t a mere coincidence that along with ‘3 Idiots’, another movie ( this one flopped miserably!) titled ‘Pyaar Impossible’ also focused on failure ( the hero is a geek who nobody but his dad loves or understands), and being dubbed a ‘loser’ by contemporaries. Whether in love or academics, today’s young are unhealthily obsessed with success and winning. The pressures on them are so unrealistically steep, that unless we modify those outdated school\college systems and get them more in tune with today’s requirements, we will be mute witnesses to more such tragedies.
The reason why Rancho ( Aamir Khan’s charismatic character in ‘3 Idiots’) connected big time with audiences is because there is a Rancho in all our lives. Think back on your own school and college days and you will recall a character like Rancho – someone who challenged the system, subverted authority, instigated others to rebel, was hated and persecuted by teachers, and yet managed to emerge a topper – a winner. Such a character is not mythical at all – every generation has a Rancho – which is precisely why the movie has done brilliantly across generations. The trouble is, everyone wants to be Rancho these days! At the end of the movie, even ‘Chatur’ ( the detestable chamcha-student who hates Rancho and wants to be one-up on him in the final analysis) has to concede “Rancho jaisey koi nahi.” If only every classroom in India could be filled with Ranchos, then we’d not have to face the grim reality of yet another youth found hanging from the ceiling fan . The Rancho Effect has only just begun to seep into our consciousness. Now, with Aamir spearheading a multi- media campaign , there is some hope.Life is beautiful, indeed, but alas, it is not a Bollywood film with a happy ending. Here’s hoping our kids recognize the difference.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Khushwant Singh has made a long and ‘sexciting’ career out of dirt. I entirely approve. I can hear voices saying, “ You would!” Khushwant understood the power and potential of peddling sex in a nation consumed by the subject in private, but in total denial in public. Let’s face it, Indians do have pretty grotty minds and are obsessed by sex but unlike other nationalities, continue to pretend it is ‘dirty dirty’ and ‘not a part of Indian culture.” I can hear Khushwant snorting and guffawing at that. Sex was a tool ( pardon the lousy pun!), that Khushwant shrewdly employed to shock a hypocritical society and knock the socks off those who played prudes, while hanging on to his every word. He was brash, when others were coy. Rude ( his cruel obituaries!) where others were diplomatic. Outspoken ( taking the dhotis off Godmen and other fake gurus) where others were pious. As the best editor of the now defunct ‘Illustrated Weekly of India’, Khushwant’s mission statement was to debunk sex, religion and politics. And did he succeed! Gone were the earlier erudite but essentially boring essays written by his predecessors on our scriptures, gone too, the mind- numbing lectures on pre-Aryan whatever. Khushwant changed the rules of the game by running provocative stories on subjects that were derided for being ‘too sleazy’. Khushwant liked it hot – I guess, he still does. There were no sacred cows in Khushwant’s book ( Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi apart ). All that he considered ‘humbug’ was exposed boldly and brazenly in his weekly. He crowed and gloated in print as the circulation figures zoomed upwards, doubling and trebling during his tenure. He boasted about his unbeatable formula, with good reason. But his ‘maaliks’ were clearly not impressed. Khushwant was given his marching orders. And a short but very lively era in the annals of magazine journalism in India came to an abrupt end.
Khushwant proved Controversy is indeed King.
Khushwant had tasted blood. By now, most of literate India knew about the Sexy Sardar, who had breasts and buttocks on his mind and didn’t feel ashamed of admitting it. All this upfrontness was very new for a young nation that was still coming to terms with a new desi morality that had just begun to emerge in a tentative, confused way. Khushwant tapped into the confusion aggressively and built his fan base on not just his own libido but other people’s too! His outrageous public pronouncements often camouflaged the essential Khushwant, who was disappointingly ‘normal’ and ‘tame’ in real life. So busy was Khushwant playing to the galleries and pandering shamelessly to the prurient tastes of his loyal readers, he managed to murder his own early work - people conveniently forgot his scholarly tomes ( ‘History of the Sikhs’), and paid little attention to his only worthwhile novel, ‘A Train to Pakistan’. He himself was so busy enjoying his unprecedented popularity with the ladies, that he almost succeeded in burying his own earlier reputation as a well-read, well-informed, worldly-wise intellectual with a sharp, incisive mind. His nightly salons after he shifted to Delhi, attracted interesting people from across the world. People flocked to his Sundar Nagar home – visiting dignitaries, ambassadors, dancers, painters, writers - where the country’s best known sardar presided over his durbar and chuckled wickedly into his Scotch at the absurdity of it all. But even as Dilli’s socialites fawned over the man, it was the lady of the house, Khushwant’s formidable wife, who actually called the shots. This remains one of the best kept secrets about Singh - he was an adorably hen- pecked husband throughout his married life, till Sardarni , passed away .
I haven’t met Khushwant recently. But I continue to read him religiously. Even now, in his autumn years, he never fails to engage readers with his wit and the vast repertoire of subjects he tackles in his column. Most of his journalistic peers are dead, or worse, nobody knows they are alive. A few stalwarts continue to churn out largely unreadable columns full of hot air. Khushwant used to dismiss them as gasbags during his hey day ( forty odd years ago). They remain gasbags even today. Today’s young Indian has no idea about any of them. But chances are , the young Indian has heard of Khushwant Singh…. perhaps from a toothless grandparent who still experiences shock at the memory of the nation’s original Dirty Old Man. Perhaps, this is not the legacy Kamasutra Singh would wish for himself… but in a way he has become a victim of his own carefully constructed image over decades. I hope his sense of irreverence, his wicked sense of humour – the two qualities that made him the literary rascal, the incorrigible iconoclast he has always been – remain with him till the end.
Now, if only we can persuade him to write his own obit – that would be the real piece de resistance from India’s most readable writer. And I also suspect the joke will be on us!!
Alas, for Khushwant, the pen – for which he had once naughtily recommended a condom -- proved to be mightier than the penis.
If nothing else, Khushwant Singh has staying power ( errr.... I swear I didn't mean it as a pun!). I wrote this column for a special issue of The Week ( 25 Most Controversial Indians), and it elicited a fair amount of comment. I thought of KS ( the man , not the condom) once again this morning, when I read his views on Osho. Khushwant has written the introduction to a new volume of Osho's teachings ( 'Life's many mysteries..."), published by Penguin India ( can't wait to get my hands on it). I am an unabashed admirer of Osho, and believe he is one of the most underrated thinkers of our time. What he said about love, sex, God and several other subjects many decades ago is more relevant today than ever before. Twenty years after his death in Pune, Osho lives again. I hope he is having the last laugh, wherever he is...
Monday, January 18, 2010
It was one hell of a day - all good, though. So.... no complaints. I was photographed for a foreign magazine by a compact, cheerful Italian named Chiara Goia.... with a Hasselblad! After years and years...a 'real' camera to pose in front of! Digital photography has made ace photographers out of amateurs, but top professionals from the old school still prefer cameras like the boxy Hasselblad with its square format- the Rolls Royce of cameras, according to me.Chiara was efficient, relaxed and competent. Chiara now lives and works in this competitive city - she has the right credentials, and more importantly, the right attitude to make it big here.
Earlier, I was invited to a supremely elegant afternoon carefully put together by Tikka Shatrujit Singh for the LVMH President, Yves Carcelle , who flew in from Paris just for a few hours to visit the old store at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which was totally destroyed during the 26\11 attacks, and to say 'Hello!" to the latest Louis Vuitton store that opened this evening at the Taj Land's End, Bandra.He has been with LVMH for twenty long years and has some fascinating stories to narrate about the world's number one luxury brand. But let me reveal just one 'secret' for now - LVMH has decided to celebrate Diwali in all its stores worldwide this November, and putting these spectacular displays in place across all the store windows globally, is my old buddy, the immensely gifted Rajeev Sethi from Delhi! Look out for the Festival of Lights in all the countries that retail LVMH products. I got so carried away with the fantasy, I promptly suggested the creation of a 'Lakshmi Bag' from LVMH, to mark the occasion. Mon. Carcelle seemed to like the idea! What could be more appropriate than the Goddess of Wealth inspiring a gorgeous bag that can be stuffed with money by ladies who lunch?? Talking of which ( lunch ), Chef Oberoi had excelled himself at this one. His Seabass Kapurthala was memorable. Paired with vintage Dom, it made heavenly music on the tongue.
This column appeared this morning in the Bombay Times. I am happy to report Ramakrishnan sold most of his paintings....
"I am writing this a few hours before the Mumbai Marathon sees the city putting its best foot forward. I confess to a small level of nervousness since I’ll be attempting the Dream Run for the second time for CHILDLINE 1098, with a whole bunch of enthusiastic bachchas. With each passing year, the Marathon just gets bigger and everybody says, better too.It has been said before, but bears repetition – this is one day of the year, when all differences melt into nothingness in this humungous metropolis and Mumbai runs as one – no ‘outsiders’ and no ‘insiders’. Just people who share the same sane, democratic outlook and are participants in something far bigger than any individual agenda or achievement. The last time I ran ( shamefully, minus any preparation or training – ditto this year as well ), I actually felt like there was some mysterious force that was propelling me ahead and ensuring I kept going. I’m counting on the same to come to my aid this year as well. For anybody who has been there at the starting point, it is one of the most electrifying and exhilarating moments that is powerful enough to get you on a high, without artificial stimulants. I’m looking forward to that thrill once again, and feel lucky to be a small part of such a gigantic effort.
But it was my meeting with an extraordinary person called Ramakrishnan on the eve of the
After meeting him and admiring his paintings, I came away thinking to myself how petty and absurdly stupid ‘normal’ anxieties and problems seem in comparison to what Ramakrishnan has to live with for the rest of his life. We crib and complain constantly when the smallest things go wrong, and we protest vociferously if our personal plans don’t work out satisfactorily. Here is a man trapped in a wheelchair , his limbs painfully contorted, every small movement a huge effort, but his eyes – what eyes! - shining with enthusiasm as he energetically paints birds taking wing with no trace of bitterness or irony. And I wonder – who is truly blessed – Ramakrishnan with his undaunted spirit … or people like us??"
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I 'ran' too... well, sort of. As a 'Dream Run' participant, my aim was to raise awareness and funds for CHILDLINE 1098, and we exceeded our targets on both scores. It was a super exhilerating feeling to be a part of something this big - but am glad to report Mumbai pulled it off with aplomb. Hats off to the cops and all the other civic bodies involved in ensuring it was a huge success. The Bandra Sea Link got its due and will henceforth become an integral part of Mumbai's architectural history - an iconic symbol that will be recognised globally. It was a brillaint move to shift one segment of the marathon to the Sealink - a sea of people running across the sea. What a photo op! As for me, I loved every minute of the Marathon... and am gearing myself for the one I hope to run next year.
Milind Soman in the morning... Salman Khan in the afternoon, with John Abraham thrown in between. Sigh!!! It's such a tough life for some women.... hard work.... but someone's got to do it, right? John A is the brand ambassador for the Marathon, so he was right there cheering the runners. I caught up with him in the marquee and since we were meeting after a longish gap ( I remember presenting the 'Model of the Year' to him years ago!) there was much to discuss.He remains the same bloke - a pretty simple and relaxed chap minus those awful starry airs. Today he is in a different league from the rest of his male model contemporaries ( Dino, Arjun, Milind) and has received good reviews for 'New York' - good enough for the likes of Vishal Bhardwaj to notice his potential. " Let's talk," is the current status between these two guys. Which in movie parlance is a pretty positive signal. We discussed the 'objectification' of John in 'Dostana' and he laughed, " I was cool with it. My attitude after hearing the brief was, ' Okay... you want a body... I'll give you a body!" Today Johnnie Boy is in a good space career-wise and otherwise. Since he is a good guy, I'd say he deserves all this and more.
Salman Khan always looks like he has just stepped out of some extraordinary spa after enjoying some amazing pampering! How the hell does he manage to look fresh as a daisy, with his kind of life and schedule?? He was at the Hello! Million race at the race course, and was promoting his film 'Veer' in Salman style. While other heroes shave their heads, distribute dolls\gold, dance in malls, display their resculpted bods, this guy creates mini- history by turning into a jockey and racing with the best. That takes guts. Sure he is a good horseman... but that's for the movies. On the racecourse, he was riding with professionals in front of the public ( no stuntmen around to save his butt if he fell off that mare!). Let's hand it to the guy. I introduced him to the sponsers of the race, David Morris and his wife ( top end Bond Street jewellers who are checking the waters in India ) by saying, " He is much bigger than Brad Pitt." Replied Mrs. Morris, " And far better looking , too!" Salman simpered, pouted and gave her the Salman look, while Jacqueline Fernandes ( just lovely in a pale green Cavalli), tried discreetly to grab his attention. Hmmm .... isn't that how Katrina did it, too??
All in all, it was a pretty hectic day... my muscles are sore, but my brain is in overdrive. More masala tomorrow... it's been a looooooong De!
Friday, January 15, 2010
I had yet another frenzied day today, but am not complaining. The two interviews I did were both interesting, starting with the one conducted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the popular Channel 4 news anchor. The ITN team has been in India doing a series of interviews covering a wide range of subjects. And yes, they did get to meet India's Twitter King, Shashi Tharoor.
The second interview was with Jason Orgdof, who is a free lance writer based in Delhi. He was doing a profile for a British magazine called 'Monocle' - very niche and comparitively new. It's for a slot called 'National Icon'. Well.... I'm flattered to be featuring in it. Whether I deserve to be there or not ???? Hell.... that's not my call!!
The Bangladeshi fruit seller right outside the Segur Metro station in Paris offered me pineapples at a discount. He was the sole human being on the street, apart from my daughter Arundhati and me. Was it the beastly weather( -8 degrees?), a Sunday syndrome … or both? “ It’s just Paris,” Arundhati explained. The Parisiennes take their Sundays seriously. They also take their breaks ( X’Mas, for example), equally seriously. Nobody works. The city comes to a standstill. And God help you if you need something desperately – something as basic as milk , veggies, bottled water. Nothing stays open, not even your friendly , neighbourhood grocer – unless that person is Korean\Desi. I looked at the scrawny Bangladeshi dressed like an abominable snowman, shivering in his inadequate , thin winter coat, with a tattered muffler around his neck, the icy wind cutting easily into his threadbare gear, and wondered what could have driven him so far away from home? If it was poverty and hunger, well, he looked undernourished and poor standing forlornly on that pavement, waiting for a stray commuter to pick up a pineapple or two. He was a regular there, my daughter told me ( she lives in Paris), and she often bought fruit from him, more out of a feeling of kinship than even the competitive pricing ( how much can one save on a pineapple, anyway?). Strangely enough, they spoke French with one another. I heard the exchange and was most amused. The man knew Bangla, but no English. His French, as it turned out, was pretty good. I was curious about his immigrant status and wanted to ask him whether he had his paper work in place, but my daughter’s fingers were beginning to turn purple in the cold. “It is none of your business”, she hissed, and we swiftly moved on with a pineapple we weren’t going to eat.
A couple of blocks away, I had frequently spotted two homeless drunks who had taken over a small corner of the pavement and made it their personal space. Whenever we passed them, they’d be swigging from a bottle of wine, smoking cigarettes and chatting happily. They looked like they had not a care in the world – perhaps they didn’t! The state paid for the booze and ciggies ( indirectly), and if they needed medical attention, the state paid for that as well. There are thousands of such people living on the streets of Paris at government expense. The tax payers hate them, but there’s little anybody can do with the growing numbers of these shelterless people. Beggars don’t fall into this category – and there are many of those, as well. At least, the Bangladeshi was trying to earn a living.
‘Le Crise’ (The Crisis) as the recession is referred to, is talked about constantly, but going by the hordes flocking into Galleries Lafayette and buying, buying, buying, there was no evidence of this ‘crise’. “ Tourists,” sniffed a BoBo ( an amazing category representing a subculture known as the ‘bohemian bourgeoisie’). “ Tourists,” in French, is almost an insult. They bring in the bucks, but locals shun them and the places they frequent. Most of the old -fashioned traditional French restaurants cater exclusively to these despised creatures, since the French themselves cannot afford these pricey places ( remember, le crise?) any more. This leads to much resentment, even at small bakeries which serve the best breads ( bread, is a religion in France), which are steeply priced ( Marie Antoinette was right – cakes are cheaper!). For the same reason, nobody takes taxis. “Too expensive….” the locals shrug, while freezing their butts off waiting for the metro. Pennies, sorry, centimes, are diligently counted before buying even a single macaroon. Oh…forget about owning a car. Especially an expensive car. “ People here are too jealous,” explained a beautiful tv anchor over a New Year’s day dinner, adding, “ They see a fancy car, and something happens inside them – they’ll go to any extent to damage its sides with keys, or even slash the tyres.” She rolled her eyes skywards before concluding, “ The French love to suffer and like feeling guilty about wealth.” Other guests at the table nodded in agreement and looked exceedingly morose. What an admission!
What about the celebrated ‘Joie de Vivre?”. What about the Great French Lover? What about excess and hedonism, for god’s sake?? That question led to much shrugging and sighing. I prepared myself for another round of ‘Le Crise’ conversation. I almost refused the next glass of champagne. But just as suddenly, everybody cheered up – a basket of freshly baked bread had arrived. We cooed over the loaves and chorused our approval. The lights show at the Eiffel Tower was on right outside the French ( what else?) windows of the apartment . Even though our hosts felt the hourly illumination was a colossal waste of tax payers’ money, it was agreed the wretched tourists (me!!) loved it.
As we trudged home ( didn’t dare take a cab, in case the hosts were watching!), I thought of the shivering Bangladeshi fruit seller once again. I sincerely hope Le Crise treats him better in 2010.C’est la vie…
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Blogdosts, I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, and just this morning I saw lovely pics of Ms. Sen leaving the Mumbai High Court, with her new baby. Sushmita looked jubilant and was quoted as saying she hoped to adopt more kids down the line. Little Alisah's eyes were wide open as Mom met the media outside the court. Welcome to the world .... and the spotlight, Baby Alisah!!
It is customary for columnists to write a year- ender that reviews the months gone by (notice how EVERYONE exclaims, “How time flies! This year just whizzed past my ears.”) and come up with a report card based on supposedly dramatic milestones that define the rapidly fading annus horribilus ( thank you, Queen Elizabeth!). Frankly, what’s gone is gone and nobody really remembers or cares once the countdown to the next year begins at midnight, come 31st December. That’s my experience.So, forget journalistic conventions and read on… I want the last column of 2009 to be upbeat and peppy. Cheerful and jaunty. Like Sushmita Sen. My kind of woman! No. Why be sexist? My kind of person. I mean… look at what she pulled off recently – two beautiful, bouncy babies in one go! One, a human – Alisah, a three- month- old infant she adopted this month. The other, an important beauty pageant franchise that she bid for and now owns – the Miss Universe (
I distinctly recall Sushmita’s triumphant ‘Welcome Home’ party at the Taj Mahal Hotel,to which she’d arrived like a warrior- empress in a horse drawn carriage, grandly greeting the crowds and acknowledging their adulation with a royal wave. She was on top of the world , and there she has remained ever since, through all the turbulence in her personal and private life. Sushmita has the mindset of a born winner, regardless of the circumstances that would daunt the faint-hearted. Formidable and imposing , Sushmita has worn her successes and failures with the same degree of equanimity. This is the quality which makes her special. Which is also why when I was looking for a chief guest to launch my tween book, ‘S’s Secret’ recently, I didn’t think beyond Ms. Sen.Unlike a lot of Bollywood super novas with idiotic attitude, Sushmita has unfailingly engaged with people at all levels with the same degree of warmth and graciousness. Let’s put that down to her sensible, middle class upbringing. Today, she plays the unchallenged Bollywood Diva with aplomb ( her old rival, Aishwarya, has settled a bit too comfortably into the domestic Bachchan Bahurani groove) but continues to remain appealingly grounded and accessible at all times. This level of ‘good behaviour’ is indeed unusual in eccentric\erratic\arrogant showbiz. Her refreshing openness has set new standards in an industry that thrives on subterfuge and fibs. As someone who has survived in showbiz without letting her flops affect her standing, Sushmita represents the new breed of power women in Bollywood – there aren’t too many of them around, no, not even in
2010 is likely to be a pretty sizzling year on all fronts and in all spheres. Who better to represent the mood than our Sush?
Here’s to awesome beginnings, readers. Happy New Year!
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I was not in
Most of the comments are based on the man’s advanced years. A lot of them ( mainly from far younger men) are tinged with envy - “ What does Tiwari eat for breakfast - Viagra?” There is an incredulous, almost jealous tone to those remarks. What that suggests is pretty obvious – howcome he is still getting it up and I am not?” Hardly anybody bothers about the women who have serviced Tiwari – what they feel about their bodies being used by a man old enough to be their Daadu. Sickened ? Or is it just a case of business as usual, and to hell with the fellow’s doddering years? Our revulsion has a lot to do with the fact that at a time of his life when Tiwari ought to be looking towards meeting his maker, he is actually thinking of making out with the neighbourhood wench. Indian society being as rigid as it is, men and women have their life spans cut up neatly into appropriate compartments. Tiwari’s delayed ‘vanvaas’ upsets us. We feel the man has no business to be indulging in carnal affairs when his mind, body and soul should belong to God. Our imposition of these arbitrary ‘laws’ is so peculiarly rigid, that we find it impossible to accommodate an older man’s libido. Come on….let’s be honest, women are revolted at the thought of sleeping with a vintage model. And men are way too jealous of his performance! Everybody hates Tiwari for not conforming to society’s set definitions and standards.Period.
Strange and annoying as it is, we have ourselves to blame. There will always be a neighbourhood Tiwari leching away at nubile girls. And there will always be a set of highly offended auntyjis and unclejis ready to condemn such a person. Rarely will we spare a thought for the man’s unwilling bed partners, or even his wife and family. It is as if they are nothing more than bit players who don’t really count. We choose to obsess over the ‘pervert’s’ sexapades instead and wish him a terrible, painful end for committing all those sins. We assume morally superior positions and debate endlessly on what a terrible example he is setting. We talk about the guy’s depravity and decadence. But the bottom line is slightly different. The unspoken emotion is one defined more by awe than shock. In an almost perverse way, there are those who may be secretly saying, “ That dude rocks…!” Horrible, but true. Deal with it.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Oh, the movie I watched the previous night was 'Pyaar Impossible' and you are going to hate me for saying this, but I enjoyed it a whole lot more than this over hyped blockbuster. For one, I like Priyanka Chopra - she is by far the most versatile and intelligent actress in Bollywood. Compare her role as Alisha in 'Pyaar' to the maharashtrian character she played opposite Shahid Kapoor recently. Is it the same person ?? Well... it doesn't matter a damn to me that 'Pyaar...' is a super flop. Or that 'Sherlock ...' is a super hit. Personal opinions should be separated from box office returns or even other people's reviews. At the end of the day, a movie is about an emotional experience - if that experience is satisfactory, even on an illogical level, well then, who can contradict or challenge it?? The pundits?? And who are these pundits anyway? People like you and me , whose jobs it is to assess and critique movies for a living. Alas, not all pundits are independent thinkers. There are various considerations at play when reviews get written, at least that's how it is in India. 'Pyaar Impossible' had an appealing premise - geeks\losers can win the girl of their dreams after all, in the face of stiff competition ( if Dino Morea can be considered competition!). It was pretty brave of Uday Chopra to write such a role for himself. He is a star son, and the way it works in Bollywood is to prop up a beta even if that beta is a dead horse that can't be flogged any further. Sensibly, Uday came up with a script that didn't require any 'herogiri' of the cliche kind. The songs were well picturised... and as for Priyanka - I thought she looked like a million bucks and delivered her lines with finesse. Yes, the story is ludicrous and completely annoying in parts ( hello! do ladies in Singapore go half -naked to work?). There are holes as gigantic as Mumbai manholes in the story line, and it is obvious nobody in that set- up has ever experienced modern corporate life. It gets from absurd to pathetic... but you know what?? It hardly matters. This is Bollywood, folks! Sab chalta hai..... even something as impossible as this dud.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Boman as Virus hams it up to the hilt, but compensates for it all when he dances a spontaneous jig much to Kareena's delight. Enough of all that. Having said all this good stuff, here comes the bummer - the hospital scenes featuring Sharman Joshi in a coma, went on forever. And that ludicrous bachcha delivery scene in which Aamir brings a baby into the world using a vacuum cleaner as a suction pump was the absolute pits! I also hated the sequence of the paralytic father being rushed to the hospital sandwiched between Kareena-Aamir on a scooter. Why so many hospital scenes.... and has Kareena taken a vaada to play a doctor in every film? Does parking a pair of trendy\nerdy spectacles over her pert nose convince audiences?I could have done with less toilet humour too, and all the underpants featured in the movie look like they were bought wholesale from the same supplier.
Now comes the BIG one, since I know some of you want my take on the issue: Did I think Chetan Bhagat's charge of being denied appropriate credit (which he went to town with against the film makers) , justified?? Totally! A big 'Yes'. And no, I haven't read the book. But I refuse to 'shut up' like Chopra wanted that reporter to. Since I was away and have missed the fireworks, let me just say this is no way to treat the author - blink and Bhagat's name was gone! Even Dia Mirza received more prominence, and I could have sworn she wasn't even in the film!! Was she?????
Chetan's name should have been right up there where it rightfully belongs when the credits rolled at the start of the film. The line could have said, " Based on Chetan Bhagat's book 'Five Point Something'." That would have been fair. Instead I noticed the credit for 'story' went to someone else. Story, not screenplay. That's not on. Perhaps Chetan should have got himself a sharper lawyer . For, if I know how Bollywood works, Bhagat will be instantly blacklisted by the Biggies who run the show, and get a bad reputation as a 'troublemaker'. He can go to town declaring his love for Aamir and the rest of the gang now. But the damage is done. Chetan may have to kiss his big Bollywood dream goodbye. Or kiss a** bigtime. Both, lousy options. That would be a real pity. His concept was fresh, original and a winner. Unlike most of the filched, recycled stuff Bollywood banks on. Which leaves me wondering who the real idiot is. Bhagat has been short changed. Period. And no amount of money can make up for what he has suffered as a writer. What could be worse for any creative person than to have somebody else steal the credit for a hugely successful project? Such a bloody shame. But maybe aallll eeeeez well, after all???