Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is Amitabh being paranoid....?

You know what?? I think not! Amitabh's fears are for real. You know why?? I received a strange request from the editor of a daily that is not doing all that great. I was specifically asked whether I'd like to do a 'hatchet job' on Amitabh. I was totally taken aback! This is the first time in my long career that someone has had the audacity to make such a preposterous request. I said, " Why don't you do it yourself? Why are you asking me to perform your dirty job?" This was because I needed to get to the bottom of this nasty plot. The person admitted candidly that it would serve no purpose writing the piece since his\her opinion doesn't count! But, added the editor smoothly ".....if it comes from you, people will believe it." Flattery at its most dangerous! What a waste on me, though. Of course, I told the person to go to hell .... but it made me think about Amitabh's anguished response to the deliberate slights and snubs he and his family have been at the receiving end of recently. This isn't cricket. It isn't even hockey. So, what is it? How about a 'conspiracy'?
Consider this : All the attacks have been emanating from the same camp. It is obvious from the key players involved that there is a strategy at work. While I do find it bizarre that Amitabh should dole out his 'ambassadorships' so generously and randomely - I will not challenge his right to do so.
Gujarat today, Kerala tomorrow, maybe Mizoram day after. So what? If those state governments believe he has the power to project them favourably, that's their prerogative. As it is his - to take up the offer or not. Someone else in his position may be more selective, far more discriminating ( credibility counts, too, doesn't it?) but then again, it's his call. What cannot be disputed is the fact that someone's out to get the guy. And get him good. But why??? Ahaaa - now that's the interesting question. Those in the forefront of the battle are merely the foot soldiers. The main players remain behind the scene. Is it another repeat of the old 'raja aur rankh' story? What has gone wrong and who is instigating these attacks?
At a dinner party last night, a couple of canape intellectuals said they wouldn't be at all surprised if Amitabh too is chased out of our country ( like M.F.Husain) and forced to accept the citizenship of another. I don't see that happening. But what I do see, is not pleasant. It is Amitabh today. It could be someone else tomorrow. Should we become silent witnesses to this new, covert form of terrorism ?
Civil society must speak up. Not necessarily for Amitabh Bachchan. But for itself. Survival ka sawaal hai.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

M.F.Husain - Uncut in Dubai

“ I have lived my entire life in exile….” M.F. Husain

“ Baba Uncle’’ , as residents of M.F. Husain’s posh apartment complex near the Dubai Creek, call him, is getting ready for his lunch date with a mystery lady at his favourite trysting place, the popular Noodle House in Emirates Towers.He has a tough choice to make – The Bentley or the Bugatti? He opts for the more stately Bentley, even though it is the sleek, low slung, super sexy Bugatti that attracts crowds ( it is one of five in the Middle East, and bears his initials on the headrest). Dressed in traditional Emirati gear, the painter is wearing socks , but no shoes. Mustafa, his handsome third son explains this is to respect local sensibilities regarding bare feet.Even the mighty Maqbool( shoeless for decades) has finally had to compromise and make a few key concessions. He laughs sardonically, “ After watching 3 Idiots, I am proud to call myself an idiot. I am a fool. It is good to be a fool.” The previous night, Dubai’s ruler and his fetching wife, had singled out M.F.Husain at a gathering of over 500 celebrities from across the world who were their to attend Sheikh Mohammed’s spectacular World Cup Race ( and a coming out party of sorts). “ How are you, Sir?” the Sheikh asked the newly minted Qatari citizen. Husain smiled benignly. Dubai’s loss has become Qatar’s trophy. Too bad for Dubai. But Husain insists he was not offered any money to make that move to Doha, no matter what critics believe. What he was given generously and freely by Qatar’s Sheikha Mosa, was space. And the special facilities he requires to go ahead with his ambitious, scaled up projects. “ She just phoned one day and said, “Please come here… I will take care of everything.” Everything was done – home, staff, cars.” The move has not been easy. Husain shrugs philosophically and says that in any case he has lived his entire life in an exile of sorts…. “ I have never really belonged anywhere or to anyone.” But Mustafa said later that the moment his father surrendered his Indian passport was a deeply poignant one for Husain. It felt like one very important era of his long life had ended abruptly and he experienced acute pain. Something was over within him. Husain himself says he felt ‘hurt’. But even that hurt was not enough to ask for favours, not even from Manmohan Singh when they met in London some time ago. What about Sonia? Husain shook his head, “ We have not spoken. Had Indira Gandhi been alive, she would have taken an instant decision to get me back. It would have happened in one minute. She was that bold and dynamic. She wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything.”
What Husain misses the most these days is conversation…. someone to talk to… someone with whom he can connect… someone who understands him, his work. He says he misses his old friend Gaitonde the most. “ We would spend hours in total silence and complete understanding. Now there is nobody.Here in Dubai, it is a cultural desert, people come here to make money. They only understand money and more money.There is no appreciation of the arts.” But come September, and even clueless Dubai will see forty of Husain’s magnificent , life size horses galloping across the cityscape. “ My horses are my own. I don’t need to look at other horses ”, he says simply when asked why he wasn’t attending the racing event which features the best race horses on earth. More interestingly, a Russian admirer has commissioned a show in New York later in the year, and Husain has picked the Ramayana as his theme. Twenty gigantic canvases will be on sale, but, he chuckles mischievously, all the female figures will be fully clad this time! Then there is the hundred years of cinema exhibit in London , which consumes him totally, given his passion for films. He is being experimental and adopting mixed media images for the poster-like canvases he is half way through.At present they line the walls of his apartment, which also doubles up as his studio. Where does he sleep in that crowded space? Husain laughs, “Ever since my wife died, I have no bedroom – only a drawing room!” Prolific, productive and more, when he isn’t working on his own pictorial autobiography with stray text dotting the powerfully drawn images, he is on a plane. His summers are spent in London, where he prefers to cruise the English countryside painting water colours from the back seat of his Phantom! “ I am the master of one liners,” he jokes, as he quotes Ghalib, and compares himself to the man who was misunderstood by his peers but revered ever after. Even though there is neither time nor space in his busy life for nostalgia, it is evident from all that he says, that the umbilical chord remains firmly attached to his motherland. He has more money today than he perhaps knows what to do with. Rumours in Dubai have it that he walked into the Bentley showroom, picked a car , wanted it instantly, and paid with a swipe of his credit card. Senior managers rushed out of their cabins to see who this person was, considering even the Sheikhs of Arabia pay via instalments. Husain and EMIs?? Forget it! The Bentley was soon joined by a couple of Jaguars, a Ferrari, another Mercedes, a Rolls, and now the Bugatti ( which can hit 420 kmh in seconds, as his loyal chauffeur Hassan tells gawkers). Husain himself enjoys his new toys and gets a huge kick out of his multi crore gizmos. Ironically, nearly everything in his life is customized and easily available these days – from the awe inspiring sportscars that hit dizzying speeds in micro seconds to the fittings in his palatial new home in Qatar. Everything – but the one thing he longs for – home. One gets the feeling that were he to be given the opportunity to swap all of this, for just a single last chance to come home and walk the streets of Mumbai, stopping to drink chai at his favourite dhaba, he would abandon everything in a second and take the next flight back to India. Like he keeps repeating, it is only ‘mohabbat’ that matters to him now. He wants to gift love freely to the world. It is one original ‘Husain’ which can’t be auctioned for a record- breaking price – not even by the sharpest art dealer.
“ But clearly for M.F. Husain, love means never having to say you’re sorry!!


Guys.... as you can tell, I worked hard in Dubai, even though I was there for a heavy duty 'Leisure and pleasure' luxury weekend, hosted by the ruler himself. He is quite a guy, Sheikh Mo. And I had the pleasure of meeting him at a pre-event banquet on the sands of the Burj Al Arab. More about that in another column.

To say the Sheikh had pulled out all the stops would be an understatement!

But for me, the meeting with my old and precious friend, M.F.Husain, was the real icing on the cake. I was delighted to see him in reasonably good spirits, frail of health, for sure, but the mind is as strong as ever, and the strokes of his brush remain steady and powerful. His unbeatable sense of humour is also intact! But all his wise cracks shall remain strictly off the record.

Who looked the hottest at the super fantabulous World Cup ( which is the world's swishiest horse race and NOT a cricket match, as a senior journo in the Times of India thinks!!!!)? Liz Hurley in a lemon yellow chiffon summer dress, no hat. Ascot is tacky, tacky, tacky, say those who go and those who know. I was there in Dubai for the thoroughbreds .... the ones on the race course, not the comical wannabes in the special boxes, please note. Bet you'd like to know what I wore.... it was an off -white Mukhaish saree that Hurley instantly wanted. The empire strikes back???

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Meltdown in Mumbai??? You must be joking!!

Here's the good\bad news..... I am off again. Dubai beckons. Yup, after you read my column later, you'll figure. But I am keen to go back and swoon over the musical fountains at the foot of the Burg Khalifa and eat a scrumptious Thai meal at 'Mango'. However, it is hard to disconnect from my current Paris mode ( Paris is such an addictive city!), but I must, if I am to enjoy Dubai fully , and on its own terms.


Before that, a date with the lovely Aishwarya Rai Bachchan awaits. Each time I saw her on billboards in Paris ( Longines ), especially a huge one at Gare de Lyon, my heart filled with pride. She is exceptional. And exceptionally special. As one of her directors accurately stated, "Aishwarya is bigger than any of her movies." That's stardom. Mega stardom.


A sweet and simple phone call from a lady called Shobha Rao, brought a big smile to my face. She has been a 'phone friend' for years. This time, she was on the line just to say she'd completed a 3- day course in self awareness and acknowledged my contribution to her life!!!! Frankly, I was taken off guard and a little embarrassed. She added, "You have influenced so many lives without even knowing it." Now.... it was my turn to blush!!! As I am doing right now!!

More from or after Dubai.... au revoir.

This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday...


The malls are alive…. with the sound of silence. I am talking about the township- sized malls of Dubai. In particular, the super fabulous Dubai Mall, which needs a mini train to get around its vast ( but empty spaces). Even the fish in that monumental aquarium look weary and bored, posing for stray tourists who walk in to gawk.I can safely bet on this – Mumbaikars are splurging more than all those label addicts in Shopoholics Anonymous, also known as Dubai. In fact, no visitor to Mumbai would believe India is still pulling out of the global meltdown and coming to terms with a fresh economic order. Pranabda’s budget may have brought a little cheer, plus spared us the much feared (and definitely anticipated) pain. But going by Mumbai’s mad buying spree and the non-stop partying mode everybody seems to be in, the funniest topic by far to raise with anybody, is about the recession and ummmm …. aaah…. the economic meltdown. Most Mumbaikars look bewildered when people ask them about belt tightening exercises and other equally boring subjects. Event organizers eagerly tell you about their fresh multiple, multi crore bookings running into the end of the year and beyond. New restaurants are opening practically every second week, and as for the fashion frat – come on, when did they ever complain about a slowdown?
The glam of the IPL continues to draw mobs and throngs. One would have imagined the big romance with cricket in this avatar was waning in the third season. Absolutely not! From fashion week to IPL parties in one smooth move, is the way to go in Mad Bad Mumbai. Bollywood is in euphoric spirits as well, with the success of ‘3 Idiots’ and a couple of other genuine hits. Anil Ambani’s ambitious plans have also sent out an aggressive message to moviewallas on both sides of the Atlantic - all those hungry people looking for mega deals. Who does that leave out? Travel agents report healthy bookings this summer… and beyond. Real estate is set to boom once more, and it’s great to monitor prices that are crawling up after hitting rock bottom. Nobody but nobody is looking back at last year or moaning and groaning about spiraling prices. Does that also hold for the rest of India?
I must confess to feelings of smugness as I drove around Dubai, checking out familiar malls and meeting old friends. Doom and gloom. That’s the current story there. But all is not lost. The spectacular World Cup ( racing’s biggest event) is round the corner. And Sheikh Mohammed has sent out lavish invitations to 500 celebrities across the globe. Dubai is bound to put up a magnificent show that is designed to send out a strong message to investors that ‘aal eeez well’ in the desert kingdom. And may it truly be so. We need a strong, moderate , reasonably independent and cosmopolitan emirate in the region. And Dubai has been just that for decades . The stronger our ties, the better for both nations. But at least as of now, India doesn’t have to feel like a desperately poor country cousin. I for one, can’t wait for Dubai to get its glitter and groove back.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sonia....Tussi God!! And More.....

Guys.... don't say it!! I have been utterly wicked.... played truant....gone missing. C'est la vie! Not that you were absent from my thoughts. Main, non!! But my short and tres sweet trip to Paris and Montpellier left me ( oui, moi aussi!!!!!!) breathless. The adventure began at the airport itself when my bag didn't arrive. This was a disaster. It was 8a.m. and my hectic press schedule kicked in at 12.30pm. Plus, the launch of my book was the same evening. No bag. No clothes. I had nasty visions of myself looking like a character out of ' Les Miserables' , clad in rags at my own party. Okay, let's not get over-dramatic - clad in travel gear ( jeans and boots ). My husband offered to take me shopping instantly. Good of him. But.... my mean reaction was , "Oh yeah? And where would I get an antique Banarasi saree in Paris??" He did the next best thing - phoned Bharti Mongia of Air France in Mumbai. Two hours later, my bag got miraculously delivered to the hotel. Izzat bachch gayee! Saree mil gayee! Vive La Bharti!!!

You want to know about the rest of the trip.... the launch.... my speech etc.etc. right? RIGHT???? I didn't hear you......

Assuming you love me enough, and are dying to read the dirty details, I shall keep you holding your collective breath just a bit longer. A woman's gotta work when a woman's gotta work. Like right now. Besides, I am on a high.... and it has nothing to do with the champagne.


This appeared on sunday in the Times of India.

I was away in not-so-distant Dubai when Sonia’s Bill was pushed through with a voice vote. I say ‘Sonia’s Bill’ because it will eventually be known as that. Had Madam not bulldozed the Women’s Reservation Bill during this dramatic session, chances are another twelve years may have passed and our daughters would have been agitating for it somewhere down the line. Mind you, I have never been pro- reservations, believing, perhaps a little too idealistically, that focusing on educating our women en masse was a smarter route to take than reserving seats for a few in Parliament. Slower, for sure. But infinitely more worthwhile, if we are talking about a level playing field. Subsidies and quotas lead to a mindset that seeks concessions and favours. I loathe the idea of handouts. Women don’t need patronage. They need opportunities. And those can only come if we empower them via education. Sorry to make this a boring, single point mantra. But one just has to travel a little outside our teeming cities to understand how desperately disenfranchised ‘other’ really women are… and how hopeless it all appears …. yes, despite the historic Bill and the magic it promises to unleash, abracadabra ishstyle.
I don’t want to ruin the party and behave like a wet blanket while the euphoria is still on. But the truth is, we still have a majority of women who don’t have the foggiest idea that their lives are about to get transformed, thanks to India’s fairy Godmother, Sonia. The intentions of Team Sonia are great. But hello! Someone obviously forgot to tell the men about this startling development.
The same day as the Bill made its uneasy passage through the Rajya Sabha, I read a story about a man in Orissa who refused to take his wife ( and the mother of five children ) back after her three day trip to Delhi, where she’d gone to receive a very special award. She is a highly successful mushroom farmer whose name was recommended by government officials for the honour which she shared with a hundred other farmers from across India.According to reports, her labourer husband doubted her character after the trip , and remains adamant about his decision not to take her back .As for the award winner, she is bewildered and apologetic, insisting she had sought her husband’s permission to go to Delhi for the ceremony. Her mushroom cultivation will have to be on hold, till the poor woman sorts out this nonsense with her obstinate husband. What sort of a message does that send out to their kids??
I was on a panel discussion at the Dubai Literature Festival last week, during which this tricky issue ( Women’s Reservation Bill) was raised by the men sharing the panel. When I spoke up about the grim, ground realities and the sorry plight of our women, author and co-panelist William Dalrymple chortled and said he was surprised to note my comment since he’d only met ‘extraordinarily ballsy’ women in India! Wow! Lucky him.But which women was he talking about? Those divinely groomed ladies dotting Delhi’s salons? Mumbai’s soignee memsaabs? Kolkata’s coiffed mashimas? Chennai’s Kanjeevaram-clad Maamis? Or Bangalore’s foxy babes?? Sure. If one restricts progress to urban women professionals, the story looks pretty awesome. Mr. Dalrymple is spot on to label this tribe and describe us ( of course, I include myself) as ‘ballsy’. So we are. So we are. But this isn’t about just us, is it, Willy? And Soniaji?? And it certainly isn’t about the path breaking M.P.s who will make up those numbers and hit that percentage in parliament as and when.We are the well- heeled, well-groomed , supremely privileged few. We’ve always had it good. When was the last time, we sought our husbands’s ‘permission’ for anything? Or went without a meal? But yes, there are those even amongst us who put up with beatings, verbal and physical abuse and a lot else. But those are the choices we make. And eventually live with. This Bill has little or no relevance to our pampered lives. Which, ironically, makes it all the more important .No more tokenism, ladies.
Soniaji was uncharacteristically candid when she asked Lalu about his wife, and pointed out to the Neanderthal man that he himself was the father of seven daughters ( an entire mithai box). Why would he of all people , oppose the Bill?? Because he is Lalu. A politician first, a husband and father next. This is what we are going to be up against, no matter whether that person is a desi politico or a celebrated British author. Mindsets do not change because of a piece of paper.
I wonder about the award-winning farmer from Orissa. What will happen to her from this point on – will she say ‘to hell with you’ to the man who is questioning her character, and go back to her mushrooms? Will her children be taken away from her? Will she be ostracized by her community… other villagers? Will she lapse into depression, stop farming and beg her husband’s forgiveness? Will a modern day version of ‘vanvaas’ and an agni pareeksha be forced on her?
Will someone please tell this woman she is supposed to be ‘ballsy’?
Has anything changed since Valmiki wrote the Ramayana??
You tell me….

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jai Jawan! Jai Kisaan! Jai Mahila!!

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, 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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dubai Lit Fest

Guys, I have been in Dubai for the past few days. Much has changed since my last visit a few months ago.But much remains the same. The Emirates Lit Fest is wonderfully structured, and it is a pleasure to be be a part of something this well organised and glitch free. My own session last evening was delightful because of the moderator, Rosie Goldsmith, a BBC Lit Fest veteran.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I want to be my mother.....!

Blogdosts.... this is supposed to be our day..... yaaney ki, a day reserved for us gals. In india, the much delayed Women's Reservations Bill is likely to be passed today, which will make this particular Women's Day, almost miraculous! Jai ho!!


This is one of the columns I wrote to mark the day.

Oh..... and I was pleased to see my name featured on DNA newspaper's list of ' 50 Most Powerful Women in India." That's pretty cool!! Now, what the hell am I supposed to do with this so-called power??? Any suggestions, guys??

Just last week I happened to come across two black and white photographs I had only a dim memory of . The images were of my mother and me on a family holiday in Shimla. She was dressed in a silk saree, her hair neatly tied in a low nape bun, her face devoid of any make-up , and yet her entire persona radiated good health, happiness and an inner peace. She didn’t need designer wear, diamonds or a Gucci bag to define her identity. She didn’t need a power job to show the world how far she’d come in life. She didn’t have to flash her myriad achievements on her sleeve. Or worry about her appearance on Page 3. She was a proud home maker whose ‘achievements’ lay in her husband’s well- being and her four children’s scholastic success. She didn’t give her family ‘quality time’ – she simply gave us ALL her time. She remained a graceful , fulfilled and beautiful woman till the very end.
I swear it – my mother and her generation of women were in a far better space than me and my contemporaries. I often envy her …. more and more as I hurtle towards yet another ‘milestone’, perhaps, a new book, a fresh and amazing opportunity, exciting travels… oh, all those impressive trophies our goal-driven society tells us are a requirement for today’s ambitious woman. It’s a question of self-esteem, we are informed. And we foolishly fall for it. The cost we pay for this exercise is steep – very steep. But this is the 21st Century. And women like myself are expected to bat for precisely such goals, so as to ‘inspire and encourage’ our less privileged sisters to follow in our footsteps… and shine.

This may turn out to be one huge folly.

But, let me not spoil the party by bringing such a perspective into the picture.
It is, after all, International Women’s Day. And we are programmed to celebrate it… without asking what exactly it is we are celebrating!
Go forth, ladies. It is your day. Don’t look back on happier times, stress free childhoods. We surrendered that privilege decades ago. Focus instead on what lies ahead – stress and success. Or should that be success and stress?? But at least, there’s the latest Louis Vuitton tote to hug and take to bed when there’s no one else around to see those tears.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

If I were in Husain's shoes....

Guys.... I know, I know.... don't say it. I have gone missing. Pity I am not Amitabh Bachchan. He is one dedicated-to-the-blog dude.... he is at it day after day, no matter what!! I love this space as much as he does , and would love to do the same. BUT!! Last week has been particularly beastly. Next week looks worse. I leave for the Emirates Lit Fest in Dubai, get back on Sunday. And leave for Paris on Monday. Why Paris? Well.... for a book launch. It promises to be super special. Have to keep details under wraps for now. Watch this space...

This also means my blogging will get erratic. But blog , I will!!

This column appeared today. I am bracing myself for more lewd mail.


Nobody can ever be in M.F.Husain’s shoes, mainly because he doesn’t wear them. Perhaps that’s where it starts – at Husainsaab’s unshod feet. Most of his countless critics believed this was an affectation, even an attention seeking device. I have been present when people have attributed all sorts of silly motives to the artist’s resistance to footwear. He has been labeled a poseur and worse for refusing to trap his restless feet in anything –even chappals. A snooty South Mumbai club famously denied him entry seeing his bare feet ( this was at the height of his popularity in India, and made headlines). The truth is Husain likes to feel the earth under his feet and insists he gets a tremendous amount of energy from that physical contact. But if you imagine Husain never ever wears footwear, think again. Even he is not such an extremist as to walk barefoot while loping around the globe during winter. Meet him in New York, London, wherever during those harsh, bitterly cold months and you’ll find him wearing smart boots to protect his toes from freezing. He knows frostbite does not spare painters – no matter how great. That’s Husain - a pragmatist first and everything else next.
The reason I’m stressing on his shod\unshod feet as much is to establish one incontrovertible aspect of the 95- year- old’s fascinating life – Husain may live on his own terms – but he is perfectly flexible when it comes to his own survival. All his widely publicised interviews this week made one thing abundantly clear – if he has to choose the survival of his art over almost anything else, he’d pick art. Why?? Because when it comes to his work, it is his life . Nothing but nothing else matters. We, in India, foolishly asked him to provide an ‘explanation’ for accepting the citizenship of another country. He could have told us to get lost. He didn’t. He knew the implications of his bold decision and realized this went beyond just him. He stated succinctly that he wanted to continue painting in peace. In an environment that gave him abundant love and respect. Period. The projects he’d undertaken were monumental, he needed monumental funding for them and Qatar came up with the right package . Most importantly, Qatar offered him a stress free environment in which to create. He pointed out that tax breaks and monetary considerations were also given their due importance by him. But the bottom line had mainly to do with his personal sense of safety. Surely, at 95, he is entitled to make such a choice without everybody jumping down his throat,denouncing him for turning his back on the country of his birth. A country he insists he will love till his last breath. Is that so tough to accept…. understand? Not if you are ready to switch places with M.F.Husain and ask yourself what you would do in his situation.
Let’s face it - India didn’t leave him with much of a choice.
One just has to examine the hate mails doing the rounds in cyber space to get an idea of the venom behind the focused campaign against the painter. I was appalled, ashamed and embarrassed to receive several such letters which asked me whether as a Hindu I was so ‘weak’ that I was ‘allowing’ such attacks on our Gods and Goddesses to go without protesting? Some mails carried twenty or more images of these ‘offensive’ paintings which the senders claimed were maliciously painted by Husain to denigrate Hinduism and display his contempt for Hindu deities. The arguments were as shallow as they were cowardly. Given the closed minds behind these emails,there was no point in defending his works . I tried. And received a record number of nasty, abusive letters lewdly demanding, “ How would you feel if he painted you, your mother and daughters in the nude?” Some of the anonymous writers went beyond mere questions and went into explicit, graphic and violent sexual content that is too vile to repeat. If these so called defenders of Hinduism thought nothing of sending pornographic threats to a woman, how could they accuse Husain of insulting Hindu Goddesses?
We live in super touchy times. And these are super touchy issues which will be animatedly debated for years to come – much after Husain himself is dead and gone. This unhealthy, awful state of affairs is not new. It has gone on through centuries and will not stop with Husain’s work. As of now, the man has spoken. He is happy with his decision. Why not leave it there? He has the right to live and work in whichever corner of the world he chooses. He has chosen Qatar. Qatar offered him the best deal – monetarily and emotionally. End of story. If we want Husain back all that badly, let’s match the deal…or better it, if possible. That’s how it works, doesn’t it? It’s business, baby. But even if we can come up with the money ( ha!), can we also come up with the level of protection M.F.Husain requires?
In one stroke, India’s greatest living artist has proved one thing categorically – he is priceless. Let’s deal with it. India and Indians can no longer afford Husain. Our loss, entirely. Lucky Qatar!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Like the Interim Interim column!

Guys... stupid, super-conscientious me!! We were taking a flight to Bhuvaneshwar at the crack of dawn on the 27th. And there I was keying in this column at close to midnight on the 26th.. Today is Holi - not my favourite festival - I refer to it as ''legitimised leching." Yesterday, We were in a totally different zone, reliving the enchantment of looking at a jumbo sized full moon rising above the magnificent Jagannath Temple at Puri. Just a few hours earlier, I had addressed 10,000 tribal children in a school a few kilometres away from the city centre at B'War. It is the only such school in Asia, and is run by an extraordinary individual called Dr. Achyuta Samanta. These children from the poorest of poor areas of Orissa will never be the same again - their lives have been transformed forever. Would you believe it, thanks to the intervention of an enthusiastic rugby coach from England who came to B'War to teach the game to these kids , they now play rugby across the world - and hold your breath, have won the under-14 world championship! I met the respective captains of the Boys' and Girls' teams. Their body language said it all! Confident, upright, ready to take on the world. These kids live on a fantastic campus and the entire funding for their education is taken care of by Dr. Samanta's incredible revenue model. If you want to find out more about the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), you can log onto www.kissorissa.orgn

I desperately want Dr. Samanta's highly inspirational story ( from penury to creating two outstanding institutions KISS and the impressive KIIT University) to be made into a film by someone like Vidhu Vinod Chopra. I had sent all the material on him to Vidhu's wife Anu, a few weeks ago. But this is when divine signs kick in - last night at Anil and Tina Ambani's glittering function to announce BIG Films ( studded with BIG stars - Mr. B with his parivar, SRK, Rekha, Sridevi .....)I ran into Vidhu and Anu again. I spoke to them about what I had seen and experienced at KISS first hand the previous day. They looked impressed... and interested. The rest is in Lord Jagannath's hands.


Pranabda – Superstar!

Amazing how rapidly perceptions change about people in power. People like Pranabda who is the reigning Superstar of the Financial Box Office right now. India was going gaga over just two individuals last week – Sachin and Pranab – in that order. Sachin created cricket history, while Pranab knocked the socks off corporate India with a Budget that was universally ( if one can overlook that unnecessary walkout by the Opposition) dubbed progressive and pro-growth. The India story is suddenly looking pretty good, thanks to these two men. In a strange way, both their respective achievements are very much for the ‘aam janata’ and their constituencies are the same . Brand Sachin has no equal. It is extraordinary how fine- tuned that brand is. Unlike others striving to get into the elite list of top brand ambassadors, Sachin has picked his ads meticulously, even brilliantly. Not a single endorsement is out of sync with what he stands for in the minds of a billion plus Indians. I cannot think of anybody who would dare challenge Sachin’s supremacy in his chosen field. As a sports’ star he has no equal.Ditto for his private life. With his squeaky clean reputation, all he now needs is a halo.
In Sachin, one can see the perfect balance between tradition and modernity. This was on my mind as I had participated in a lively debate on the subject in Bangalore, and shared views with Karan Johar, along with other eminent people. Take Karan. Another wonderful example of someone who has managed to marry tradition and modernity in his films and life. He has taken several startling and bold decisions, when he could have stuck to a safe and lucrative trajectory, making mushy romances his loyal audiences adored. But something within him changed all of that and he put his money where his heart is by making films like MNIK and KANK. I was fascinated with the narrative, since we took the same flight back to Mumbai, and managed to cover a lot of ground, most of it about the perplexing but entirely enticing world of movies. During the panel discussion, Karan had candidly and transparently admitted that his earlier films embarrassed him as they were rather ‘silly’ and ‘illogical’. It takes confidence and guts to say so in public. He also said he took criticism in his stride, which is one hell of a bonus in an industry filled with thin skinned people, suffering from delusions of grandeur. I watched as he willingly signed autographs at the airport and posed with complete strangers who gushed and cooed about how much they admired him and how they’d adored MINK. At one point, he turned to me and grinned , “ See….. this is why we make movies.” If he is aware of his considerable star value, he doesn’t show it.Significantly, he remains on great terms with practically everybody in Bollywood, with not a harsh thing to say about anyone. His insights into people, especially Bollywood’s leading ladies (I’m not telling!) are sharp and incisive, but never malicious. This is a fine art and Karan has mastered it instinctively. He confessed he was nervous about his latest avatar – Karan has just turned into a B.T. columnist ( welcome to the club, honey!) . Nervous and Karan?? I half-believed him! When Karan takes on something, you bet he has thought it through. I told him he’d be great at it, given that he is essentially a writer – a bloody good one, at that. But he was wondering about an entirely different problem - would he be able to keep it up, week after week after week?? Sustain a column and hold his readers’ interest, the way he does his viewers’? Aaaah – now there’s a challenge for you KJO. Tell me about it five years down the line. Then we’ll talk!