Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Our man in the Maldives….
Surprises start at the Male airport itself! I was in the Republic of Maldives last week to attend the first ever Hay Literature Festival, which in the words of Festival Director Andy Fryers, was to ‘celebrate the archipelago both as a global treasure and as a rich and diverse heritage drawing on two thousand years of poetry, music and art.” The lovely lady who met the flight looked like a model ( she blushed when I asked, and confessed she did indeed model as a teenager).Now her sights were set slightly higher - she was looking at a career in politics, while working closely with the 42- year-old President Mohammed Nasheed . As we waited in the VIP Lounge for other writers from Britain (‘Atonement’ author Ian McEwan, and Peter Godwin ), she filled me in on what was going on in this unique nation made up of over a thousand islands that dot the vast, startlingly blue ( fourteen shades – I counted!) Indian Ocean. The current President is hugely popular she said ( others beg to differ ), and is savvy enough to attract world attention to the plight of his nation that just may disappear from the face of this earth due to global warming and rising water levels. Yup. He’s the same bloke who had scheduled an underwater cabinet meeting during the Copenhagen Convention in order to underline the gravity of the situation. Oh dear, I thought to myself as I stepped out of the airport and straight into a waiting speedboat at the jetty which was less than twenty metres away. What if the airport sank while the Lit Fest was on ? What if the island where the swish Soneva Gili Resort( an eco friendly, but pocket unfriendly at $1,000 a night) is located, went under during my short stay? Shudder, shudder. Durga! Durga! I prayed as the speedboat’s dashing captain ( surely a can of gel went into spiking his hair into those impressive peaks?), took off jauntily, hitting top speed in under a few seconds. Soon we were in the middle of the choppy waters and I could swear the levels were rising even as we slapped the surf hard and my spine felt like it would snap into several pieces if this insanely rough ride carried on much longer.
That was some introduction to these mysterious and magical isles, where locals sound like they are conversing in Tamil, look Malayali, but insist they are Indo-Aryan. At the world famous resort, with its ‘Robinson Crusoe Villas’ ( built on stilts over azure lagoons and only accessible by boats ), my Man Friday Nawaz pointed helpfully to a cycle balancing against the bleached wooden door and said, “ Remember – no news, no shoes. That’s the rule here.” The cycle stared back cheekily challenging me to give those stiff calf muscles an instant workout. I definitely needed a drink. A gallon of champagne. My nerves were seriously on edge. I looked towards the horizon and saw storm clouds gathering. An ominous sign. The tsunami had claimed 86 lives, and 26 more are still missing. Tidal waves were not unheard of in this part of the ocean. There were sharks in dem waters… and I don’t swim. Nawaz grinned wickedly and said, “ Relax… you are perfectly safe here.” Oh yeah?? Then why was the cabinet meeting held underwater? Big fat raindrops fell over my head as I tried to follow Nawaz’s advice and relax. In this scrupulously eco- friendly resort – the brain child of Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, the emphasis is on nature and open air living…. the shower area is a small walk away over wooden boards and you can technically wave out to passing fishermen as they haul the tuna into the nets. I can see why this resort is so popular with Europeans in search of strong sun and complete privacy. Imagine my distress – the only other guests besides the pale Europeans were paler Japanese honeymooners canoodling in shady corners. India’s ‘official’ honeymooners ( Shashi T and Sunanda P) were expected but backed out at the last minute. So…there I was rattling around in this vast space all by myself… and sorry to say, I wasn’t thinking about global warming. I was looking at those menacing clouds and wondering how I’d survive the night with the wind howling through that thatched roof ( what if it blew away?).As it turned out, after a splendid solo dinner at the main restaurant ( a couple of glasses of New Zealand White, and I was ready to swim with the sharks) my nerves had settled sufficiently to handle a crowded day at the Lit Fest…. then on Male. But first there was the time difference to figure out. For some really odd reason, most islands operated on their own sweet time which varied from an hour to two hours from Male time. Visitors have to adjust and re-adjust their watches three times a day if they do go island hopping.
I decided to hop on to my guide Yasser’s bike in what is considered one of the densest cities in the world. With a population of 1,20,000 on a tiny island that can be covered at a leisurely pace in under an hour, the natives are getting restless. Very restless. Democracy is alien to this 900- year- old Islamic Republic which has actually been built by several friendly countries over the years. The Chinese have donated a spacious mosque next to the main square that accommodates 5,000 believers, the Japanese have built the schools, the Germans have contributed a stadium , Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and others have done their bit, while India has given them the Indira Gandhi Hospital. We have also trained their Coast Guard and army , and will be building two out of the three new airports. Lucky guys, these Maldivians. Sab kuch moofat! Yasser told me proudly there were no ‘poor people’ in his country. No dogs, either, I commented. He shook his head and stated emphatically, “ Dogs have never existed on these islands. We don’t allow dogs … they are un-Islamic. But people can keep cats.” Phew! Dogless. But not Godless. That’s a relief.
By the time I reached the residence of our man in the Maldives , Dnyaneshwar Mulay ( High Commissioner), I was dehydrated and ready to head home to Mumbai. Shri Mulay is a Sanskrit scholar and the youngest ambassador in South Asia. This bright IFS guy from Kolhapur is obviously doing an efficient job of keeping the Maldivians in good humour while safeguarding India’s interests in the region. He has big plans. One of those involves making sure all three new airports are built by Indian companies. He also spearheads inspiring programmes ( Project DynanDeep and Gram Parivartan) to provide quality education to under privileged kids, and an ideal village, back in his hometown .After a quick coffee and chivda at his home, I had to rush back to my Robinson Crusoe existence. But at least my Man Friday was around to make sure I didn’t fall off the jetty and end up in those amazing waters as a pre-dinner appetizer for those hungry sharks.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
This was my first hand experience of the really, really swanky lifestyle of Dilli's billionaire 'farmers' who own as many Ferraris as tractors! Those amazing 'farm houses' are more like Italian pallazzos - decadent and gorgeous. How the super rich suffer! I agreed to be designer Ritu Beri's 'show stopper' at the ongoing fashion week - which must qualify as a fashion first ( am I the world's oldest show stopper on the cat walk - do check , guys). Did I enjoy myself? Hell, ya! Fashion is fun - don't take it or yourself too seriously!
Dr. Raghu Ram from Hyderabad may be equally wealthy, but his lifestyle is somewhat more restrained! With four FRCS degrees to his name ( yes, you got that right - FOUR!), the good doc left a cushy life behind in Edinburgh, to come home and set up a unique initiative for women suffering from breast cancer. This was after his mother Ushalakshmi was diagnosed with the disease a few years earlier. Since that turning point, 'Raghu' as he is popularly called, has made it his life's mission to generate awareness for the second biggest killer in the world. Every minute, a woman dies of breast cancer somewhere - that's a pretty chilling statistic. I was there to support this worthy cause and spread the word - early detection saves lives.
Between the event and interviews, I did make the time for the best biryani on earth, to say nothing of the mirchi ka salan. No matter what chefs across India claim about their version of Hyderabad's signature dish, it has to be eaten in Charminar City for the real gourmet experience. Everything else is synthetic - like the people of Delhi!
This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday and has elicited lots of wicked laughter!
Never a dull moment in Mumbai…..
Really…. this infuriating, frustrating and stinking megapolis drives you insane! But we , who live in this hell hole, can’t get enough of it! Call us Masochistic Mumbaikars…. but this city has an insidious way of crawling under ones skin… and staying there. Take a look at the past week’s happenings – action replay all the way. We have a miffed author ( Rohinton Mistry ), advising young Aditya Thackeray to read Tagore. Why Tagore and not Mein Kampf? We discover the Vice Chancellor of the Mumbai University has bluffed about his academic credentials. Terrorist Kasab goes on a spitting spree….nobody ducks. Kalmadi continues to waddle around claiming he was too ‘busy’ to attend the P.M.s felicitation function for medal winners. Sangeeta Jindal ( described as an ‘activist’ - that’s a hoot!), waltzes through Immigration and Custom’s with a crore of serious jools she ‘forgets’ to declare. Oh well… what’s a few solitaires here and there? Bebo and Saif offend presswallas by turning up two hours late at a promotional event. Mumbai traffic gets the rap for that one. Abha Singh, General Post Office Director, discovers a 200 year-old secret tunnel under the heritage structure. Wonder who played hide-and-seek in it? Balasaheb threatens a Burqa ban. Ouch! Robert Vadra boasts he can win any poll in India but prefers to sell brassware abroad. A historic movie studio ( Kamalistan) gets sold for a pittance. The lovely ladies of cricket ( Shilpa and Preity) refuse to hang up their gloves, insisting owning a cricket team is a passion and not a profession. Mallika hisses and hisses but the naagin finds no takers. Her fans prefer her kissing to her hissing, clearly. Niranjan Hiranandani says the CBI has victimized him. P.F. (poor fellow, not Provident Fund). Bipasha Basu confesses she weighs 58 kilos but was willing to don a 50 kilo outfit ( for 50 lakhs???). Ali Zafar, the hottie from across the border boasts he was going to make a rock star of his co-star Katrina Kaif. Err…. wasn’t she made one by someone else? The Ladies who Lunch, continue lunching and munching without ever gaining a microgram . Yes, even at some outrageously over priced restaurants featuring a great chef at an even greater price (cheaper by far to fly to London and sample his cuisine at his signature joint). Ekta Kapoor sort of announces her intention to find a suitable boy (NOW!!!) by turning up in semi-bridal gear at a soiree.Akshay and Twinkle make it known they won’t be hosting their Diwali taash party this year ( leaving all those who had spent hours and zillions on their taash outfit, feeling really dumb). But there is hope – Jumping Jack and wife will probably go ahead with theirs.Fresh forensic evidence found under Viveka Babajee’s nails suggests she had gotten into a violent fight before she died. But who’s saying it was with boy friend Gautam Vohra? Definitely not Gautam Vohra himself. Babies ( male , of course) continue to disappear ( a few reappeared as well) and the cops remain clueless ( what else is new?). And Arnab Goswami single handedly demolishes all arguments on every conceivable issue on his nightly panel. India shuddered and shook.
Now for the big news : Bombay Times turns sixteen over the Halloween weekend and every witch in town is getting that broom ready to zoom into the Taj and create havoc. Fortunately, most invitees, especially the society ladies, won’t have to try too hard. They look and behave the part perfectly. As for costumes, darling…. why not raid your own horrific wardrobes and scare the day lights out of the unwary?? Trick or treat, anybody??
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Star chauffeurs on the catwalk next??
Strange… and not so strange! I received a longish text message from an international bon vivant, one of India’s sharpest dressers and a total man about town. Of course, he shall go nameless. This was a day after one of the countless fashion weeks ( I have lost track). It read : “My driver wants to walk the ramp ever since his friend who works for a big star, was told by his boss that he’d give him a chance at the next show.” The longish sms expressed anguish and concern at the mockery that is being made in the name of fashion. His lovely and lissome wife agreed. Both these individuals take fashion – international couture in particular - most seriously. They are regulars at showings in Milan, Paris, London and New York, so one can take their word for it when they say what passes for ‘couture’ in India is nothing but a bridal collection…. with a great deal of tamasha and drama thrown in for good measure. I love tamashas and dramas, on and off the catwalk, so I am not complaining. Designers who jump into the pool with their models, others who roar on to the stage on vintage motorbikes…. why not? How dull fashion would be if all we saw on that ramp were great clothes ! Fashion in India is like a headless chicken or a riotous carnival, take your pick. And that’s the way we like it. Ditto ditto for our amazing Bollywood films which make no sense ( two senseless biggies coming up soon ). This is us – illogical and absurd. I told our morose fashionistas the same thing, but they remained unconvinced. ‘Why should we attend couture collections that feature Bollywood stars and not professional models? Is Bollywood that bored?” the nattily dressed gentleman demanded. I thought he was pleading on behalf of the professional models who are facing pay cuts and even joblessness because of the influx of Bollywood on the hallowed catwalk. It doesn’t matter whether those starlets on impossibly high stilettoes stumble, fall, giggle, wave, blow kisses or pop out of their gowns. They still receive catcalls, taalis, seetis, even a standing ovation from their cheer leaders in the front row.But no, my friend was not pleading the models’ case, he was merely stating the obvious – designers who rely heavily on their Bollywood buddies to bail them out during these killingly competitive shows, display nothing more than their lack of creativity. When there is an ideas -crisis, get your glam pals to strut the stuff, is how discerning people are beginning to view these occasions. But frankly, I rather like the idea of star-chauffeurs on the ramp. Some of those fellows are better looking than their employers and throw serious attitude, too. Bring them on!
Now that the Common Wealth Games are behind us, we can start planning for the festive season ahead in right earnest . The endearing Indian ‘Jugaad’ came to our rescue yet again, and deserves a huge gold medal to itself! Our ability to improvise in and adjust to any and every situation , has been lauded by the world. Pulling off these Games with only a couple of minor hitches, has been nothing short of a miracle. That we also managed to collect a respectable number of medals , is another miracle. But let this remain an important lesson for us before we get carried away and start bidding for the Olympics. A sober assessment of what exactly we gained, and whether those crores of tax payers’ money that were spent on what is after all a great big party, were worth it in terms of returns. Are we saying India’s pride comes with a 73,000 crores price tag??
Monday, October 18, 2010
Is the Bigg Boss in the House….?
Oh God!! So much hot air – not just in that 40 crore helium balloon floating over the stadium at the closing ceremony – but all over India. There are those who’ll be saying, ‘Thank God the Games are over…. and India’s pride is intact’. Just like they’re saying, “Naak nahi kata, yaar.” All those horrible people who had criticised the blessed Games ( villains and vamps in media, please stand up!),should now curl up and die, eat their words, suffer! India is crowing, “ Look world - we did it! We put up a great big show – kya kool hai hum”. Well… okayyyy guys. Sure we did it. What exactly that ‘it’ is, don’t ask. Our medals haul? The way our beleaguered athletes jumped, ran, stretched, punched, lifted and shot their way to glory? Of course! Our grand finale which once again relied on tribal dances without a trace of irony? Hmmm… why not? Don’t we want to watch Zulu dancers when in Africa? Red Injuns and Cowboys in Amrika? Maoris in New Zealand? Aborigines in Australia? Buddy, best to give the duniya what it wants – glimpses of incredible India, Kalaripayatu, Naga land dancers, why…. let’s also bring on those bagpipers in kilts as a bow to our Colonial Cousins across the seas. This is us – we are bhel puri and dahi misal, chorchuri and avial, a messy but irresistible mix that celebrates the country’s diversity. Sanskrit chants, drummer boys, mantras and tantras, lasers and techo trance – the closing ceremony had it all, even as a grim faced Sonia Gandhi sat through the proceedings like she was presiding over a public hanging. Oh dear. Perhaps that was a taste of things to come? Though, knowing how we generally deal with a successfully executed national event ( shock and awe, followed by euphoria ), chances are we’ll remain on a high for a while, congratulating ourselves on something we actually managed to pull off. That’s the good part. The understandable part. If India is taking a collective bow right now, it is well deserved. God knows there is not all that much we do with any level of excellence, so a little chest puffing is essential, given the sleazy background to the Games.
Now comes the hard part.
Will there be a post mortem ( mind you, the correct term is just that – post mortem, not witch hunt) now that the party’s over, and the track suits have been moth balled for a while? Or are we going to say philosophically ‘All’s well that ends well – full stop.” One certainly hopes not. Last week’s drama involving The Czar, Commissioner, Emperor – whatever it is that Lalit Modi calls himself these days - unfolded like a vintage Salim-Javed script. How so? The Modi-Kalmadi episode is like a classic story of brothers separated at birth. But there’s a small twist this time. Instead of a good brother (cop) and a bad brother ( dacoit), there were just two bad boys ( no prizes for guessing the other baddie’s name). Both were given a carte blanche by someone( we still don’t know the identity of this mysterious person). James Bond had a license to kill. Modi and Kalmadi had a license to make a killing! Will the average Joe ever get to know the dirty details? Naah. A lot ( seriously… it’s one hell of a lot) of lolly was made – no questions asked. We were told there was a Bigg Boss on the scene monitoring the stash. Who were the other inmates in the house? Now, that’s asking! Were there any Pakistani molls involved? Local thugs with criminal records? Ex- beauty queens and trashy models? Drugs, sex and rock’n’ roll? Come on, guys. Grow up. Boys and their toys go together. We can keep digging, and some foolish journos can keep hyperventilating. But the Mystery of the Missing Millions will never be solved. You know why ? Nobody really wants to know. Most importantly, nobody cares. We confuse efficiency with morality. We are so sick of incompetence, so embarrassed by our inability to get things off the ground, that anybody who is seen to ‘deliver’ suddenly becomes a demi- God. Right now, even Kalmadi’s most trenchant critics are shaking their heads and saying, “ Maan liye… he did it!” As if that feat nullifies the rot that preceded it . Modi’s sworn dushman willingly concede, “ Boss…. only a Lalit could have pulled off the IPL.” All true. We adore bulldozers and bull ****ters equally. We worship people we believe are “capable”. Capable of what?? Don’t be stupid. We know the answer.
Kaun Banega Crorepati? A bit late in the day to be asking such a dumb question.
Ab jaaney bhi do, yaaron. India won. We lost.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
I am keying this in from the airport at Male, in the Maldives. It is a surrealistic setting , to say the least! I am rushing back to be with the family.... I was missing everybody a bit too much, and couldn't surrender to the charm of these islands ( over 1,200 0f them at last count). Of course, the resort ( Soneva Gili) is eco -friendly and breath taking, and of course I was exceedingly well looked after ( pampered!). The Hay Lit Fest ( the first one in the region) was perfectly organised, the sessions well attended etc. But Dusshera is special - very special. And I was lonely! Thanks to the good offices of our erudite High Commissioner, Dnyaneshwar Mulay ( from Kolhapur), I managed to get a ticket on Sri Lankan Airways. It involves a nine hour stopover in Colombo, but do you hear me complaining? I am going to rush into one of my favourite cities, eat, pray and love - ha ha!
More on the Festival and Maldives in my next post. The fresh tuna is the best in the world. The people, friendly. But there isn't a dog in sight!!!! Why? I asked my well- informed guide Yaseer, as we zipped around Male on a motorbike, and he said , " We have never allowed dogs on our islands! We are an Islamic nation, and dogs are banned. But you can keep cats." Go figure!
Am I wrong in guessing you want pictures??? They are gorgeous ... and designed to make you seriously jealous! Say " Oui" !
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
This appeared in the Times of India, Baroda, yesterday.
Am watching a marathi film, Mani Mangalsutra , this evening. More on that tomorrow.
I'll be away at the Hay Literature Festival till next week - no laptop. But before I jump on that flight, I'll visit the Tejpal Durga Badi for aarti and bhog , tomorrow being the seventh day of Puja, Saptami. Shall ask the Devi to bless the world. Let there be peace...
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Back to Baroda and the frenzied Navratri celebrations. My only precondition to the organisers of the 'Master Talks' series ( ABS - short for Association of British Scholars) was that they should schedule my talk during Navratri since I wanted to catch the Garbas. I was lucky. We were escorted to the gigantic United Way of Baroda Garba ( they're aiming for the Guinness Book of Records) where my jaw dropped .... and remained dropped! Over 22,000 dancers in the most creative and colourful traditional gear ( chaniya cholis for the girls and dhoti -kediyas for the guys ), swirled and twirled to the insistent beat of the live orchestra. No Bollywood naach-gaana, no item songs, no disco dandiya. Just wonderful singing and a mass of young people dancing away under the stars . The best part? Hindus and Muslims swaying together to the in Narendra Modi's Gujarat. The heavens were smiling.... and so was I.
This appeared in Bombay Times on monday....
The Magic of Numbers….
This week has been all about numbers. Starting with yesterday’s once-in-a-lifetime occurrence at 10 seconds, 10 minutes past 10 a.m. on the 10th day of the 10th month, during the 10th decade of the century. Did the world stop spinning? Did something miraculous happen? Will babies born\ conceived at that precise moment be born as angels with wings? Numbers are as exciting and relevant as you want them to be. People often wonder why I added an ‘a’ to my first name so many moons ago. All I can say is that I like the addition… but I have still to crack the Forbes’ List! Other than celestial configurations, we also kept a track of the CWG medals’ tally. But like someone joked – since most of the top athletes had pulled out anyway, and the rest were sick with a Delhi Belly, India was sure to collect a rich haul! Then came the numbers for recently released movies and how many crores each one had picked up over the weekend. Even though with Rajni Saar around, nobody else stood a ghost of a chance, we still got those full page ads boasting about record breaking box office collections of some absolute turkeys. Rajni also created new records for the number of sms es and tweets ‘Robot’ generated. The one I liked the best stated that Rajni’s next film should be titled ‘Twitter’ in which he gets to play all 140 characters! Couture, such as it is in India, continued to rack up the numbers, if not in sales than in the basket of movie stars on the ramp. This obsession with numbers will continue through till Diwali – the number of taash parties in Bollywood and similar figures, while the Sensex jumps up and down randomly and the price of gold\ silver sets new records and gets heads reeling in disbelief.
This week’s foreign films’ established one thing : even the biggest Hollywood names can’t salvage terrible scripts. My heart went out to ‘Pretty Woman’ Julia Roberts as she grimaced her way through this utter embarrassment of a movie, which needs to be retitled ‘Eat, Pray, Love…Sleep.” The segment shot in India ( packed with stereotypes – from ashrams to elephants) was by far the worst. While Julia finding love in Bali, after a takkar on a cycle, is worse than the stupidest Bollywood cliché from the distant 70’s. Javier Bardem has got to be the most attractive male on Planet Earth… and yet this silly cow ( Julia) is ready to walk away from him. Insane! Bardem is also a phenomenally good actor, and in this dud he shines in every scene, every frame, but most so when he’s saying an unabashedly weepy goodbye to his lanky, young son before kissing him full on the mouth, Brazilian –style!
George Clooney displayed nothing beyond his vanity and megalomania in ‘The American’, co-produced by him. Endless close- ups of the man frequently described as the ‘Sexiest Guy Ever Born’ ( in reality, it is Bardem, but he doesn’t have p.r. people to propel him to this position), only allow the audience an intimate glimpse up the man’s nostrils… perhaps they could have thrown in more shots of him doing push-ups to get the drool levels going? Slow, pointless and unremarkable, it was one wasted Sunday afternoon!
From the mundane to the divine – watching Alarmel Valli perform at the NCPA after several years was to waft away into another zone as the lithe and scarily confident dancer enchanted her Mumbai admirers with ‘nritya’ that more than lived up to her claim – “ When I dance, I sing with my body.” Did the combo of English poetry and bharat natyam work? As the connoisseur behind me commented, “ It was jarring and discordant.” I second that.
Just as I second the right thinking position taken by Father Frazer, Principal of my alma mater, St. Xavier’s College. By putting up a notice challenging Mumbai University’s decision to withdraw Rohinton Mistry's superlative book ‘Such a Long Journey’ from the curriculum, the University has caved in to political pressure and sent out a wrong message to those who value freedom of expression in a democracy. Father Frazer Mascarenhas has pointed out the obvious – civil society must resist such attempts to suppress and muzzle voices . Young people in particular, should show their solidarity and support by backing the well respected Principal and demanding an end to this arbitrary ‘emergency withdrawal’.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Evening is the new De
She grows old but refuses to age. That's Shobhaa De for you — prolific author, one-time editor, long ago model but all-time icon. She turned 60 around the same time India celebrated its 60th Independence Day, and that's when she came out with “Superstar India”, a saucily appropriate title to sum up the parallel she was drawing between her personal experiences and the trajectory of a young nation.
And now at 62, she has turned to more personal matters. In her recently published “Shobhaa at Sixty: Secrets of Getting it Right at Any Age” (Hay House India), she looks back at her own six decades and shares advice about enjoying one's time as a senior citizen. Advice is never welcome if it comes from someone who has done everything right the first time round. Luckily, the author is frank about her own mistakes and drawbacks, and in coming to terms with them inspires others to be as frank. In this e-mail interview, the Mumbai-based author answers questions on the concept of age and ageing in her own sweet-62 style.
Do you think traditionally in Indian urban society people didn't feel the pressure to remain young as they do now? After all, there was a pattern to life — studies, marriage, job, children, grandchildren. Within that, growing old was accepted, just as it was accepted that women never got to retire. Yet there was no superwoman tag to live up to.
What an interesting perspective! But you must remember, the mortality rate for women used to be very high those days. Most didn't survive beyond 50! Today, we eat better, live smart, are fitter — it's a worldwide phenomenon. The old pattern is no longer applicable. Women have broken through the mould. But yes, the ridiculous superwoman tag has generated a new kind of neurosis and unfortunately, too many are succumbing to the pressures of looking ‘hot'!
In India, the official retirement age is 60 or 58, whereas people's lifespan is increasing. Do you agree that we have a fictionalised impression of 60 as being ‘old'? Is it something like teenagers' horror of turning 30, with its connotation of being boring and staid?
Well.... let's be realistic — 60 is not young! But 60 today is not the same as it was during my mother's era. Our mindsets have changed. Women view themselves differently... more positively. Sixty is no longer the end of the road. In fact, 60 can be liberating on several levels. I have never felt this free from pressures — certainly not when I was 30. There is a wonderful acceptance that comes with age. One more thing — age and ageing are two different stories. Women are victims of a society that pigeonholes them.
You write that women “over invest” in their physical selves, and often don't develop their inner lives at the same pace. With everyone trying to cover their grey hair, and with new brands available, the national hair colour seems to be auburn. How important do you feel it is for a woman to look good in the conventional sense — good figure, dressing snappily, etc?
These are really vanity issues. It is a matter of choice — to remain grey or not. I believe if a woman feels more confident about herself if she uses a suitable hair colour and camouflages the salt and pepper, so be it. The problem starts when women and men begin to obsess over their appearance, neglecting every other area of their lives. That can get unhealthy. But there is nothing wrong in looking after one's appearance in a sensible way. If you believe you look good, chances are you'll FEEL good too!
You have given some comforting advice about 60s being ‘me' time? What are the things you would like to do and are doing that you were not able to do before?
Frankly, I have doled out excellent advice that I believe in completely ... but don't always follow! My life is busier than it has ever been. I am always short of the one commodity that falls into the ‘priceless' category — time! I would love to attend summer courses on a stimulating campus where I'll be able to learn and interact with like-minded people. I'd love to grow a kitchen garden. And dance the tango — preferably in Buenos Aires.
Youth, as you have pointed out, is a time of insensitivity. Do you ever look back at experiences in your life and think you would have liked to do things differently had you then had the wisdom the years have gifted you?
Oh yes! Several instances of gauche conduct... impetuous decisions... idiotic behaviour. But really! Who needs ‘wisdom' at 20? I am a risk-taker. Have always been one. A certain amount of recklessness is essential in life — how dull it would be otherwise! Who needs ‘safe'?
Your prolific writing record and your self-confessed workaholism have us wondering what will next flow from your pen. Anything on the cards?
I am always working on something new. But ssssshhhh — let's not spoil the fun by discussing it!
Thursday, October 7, 2010
The CWG Opening Ticket marked ‘Complimentary’ with ‘Rs. 50,000’ written boldly and “void if sold” in small type came to my friend Rajeev Sethi and he sends me the first hand report...aankho delha haal...
Wanted to share this interesting piece with you all.......
The Games We Play
by Rajeev Sethi
The Sportifs aren’t at the finishing line and my prayers continue. May India come out a winner, despite bureaucratic bungling, political ineptitude, greedy opportunism and the vagaries of weather. Time and again I have been privileged to serve the cause of the Arts in big public events like the Festivals of India, Apna Utsavs etc. in the last century and in the last decade smaller theatrical happenings or relatively large manifestations like the Anniversary of 1857 and Sanjha Safar celebrating Federalism. Each time I have tried to position traditional artists at the centre within the context of who they are and what they do. How they feel about being presented or the politics of re-presentation has been the tenacious anchor for creative endeavours I have chosen to align with.
Of late, however, I have been watching from a distance the unfolding of modern day “tamashas” camouflaged in tokenism of tradition with a degree of concern and some detached amusement. Whether it be the Annual Republic day floats and pageantry, folk dance festivals at one end or Art and Crafts in the Metro and mini cultural forays in foreign countries, there is an increasing power play of patronage from those who know less and less to those who are more and more in the public eye.
Each high official in the Government has become a curator and every politico a patron. Hold out a post or purse for a public office or event and a multitude of whiz kids impresarios, aging gurus, event managers and such like will swoop in, swarm like, to grab. Not bad for a country where culture after all is still a cosmetic affair and not even considered a creative Industry ! But on that front I have a 1200 - page treatise that has been entombed as a Report, gathering dust in the tomb of all tombs – the Planning Commission.
For now I was egged on by the sound byte-bitten media, that barely lets one to complete a sentence, write about the mother of all opening events for the CWG that portends to become the trend setter for legitimate promos of Brand India for at least till when the next shift and shove of paradigm occurs.
The CWG Opening Ticket marked ‘Complimentary’ with ‘Rs. 50,000’ written boldly and “void if sold” in small type came to me from friends on my request. I managed to get to the Fortress geared up in the tensile design of Frie Ottos’ Munich Stadia vintage 1972 in a swish bus for athletes. After being shuttled from Gate to Gate by ‘not-a-clue’ volunteers I found myself seated in a block far away from the royal box, chock-a-bloc with a zillion people in between, also waving the ubiquitous complimentary Rs. 50,000 ticket ! No wonder the organizing committee went broke !!
The show started with doubtlessly the Biggest Star of the evening the helium balloon with a golden hemline and polka dotted belly – 100% imported and like all foreign models the ultimate show stopper. Foreign it remained, barely used to its inherent potential. The mirror discs constituting the underbelly didn’t perform and I am told will turn into a Disco for the closing event. The burgeoning balloon’s surface became the potent seed of a robust banyan bursting at its seams with images. Clearly a great device for New Delhi where unlike the stadium at Beijing, the structure lent no defined surface to project the moving image and no hanger mid-arena for lifting or hanging much else.
First the Rajasthani kathputli arose into the air manipulated by people on the ground, with pullies anchored on the balloon. WOW, but what else ? Then came the Tree of Life lifted from a pit shaped like a Havana kund in a massive stage dressed like a yantra, (all evocative impressionable stuff – don’t look for more meaning.) The tree looked sadly like a trunk made of ribbons – drab in colour, formless, lacking a craft. The videos on the balloon did not complement the vast vocabulary of a ‘Shajar-E-Hayat’ with evocative cross-cultural iconography on interdependence animating it with all diverse forms of knowledge. No Show.
Then emerging from the pit rose a lit up Yogi in padmasan, as a contoured shell within which a pixilated row of chakras rose kundalini like – quite Fabulous ! Thereafter a banner dropped with Gandhi ji depicted in a rude rendition of Imtiaz Dharkar’s linear and minimal sketch marking his spectacles and bald head. Weak, but accompanied on the balloon with an animation of Bapu being led by a child, created by shifting sand ; those brilliantly dexterous fingers of Oriya artists making waves on India’s Got Talent Season II.
What came next ? Actually I can’t remember – and that’s the problem ! The eye couldn’t take it all and the mind refused to retain.
What was projected on the balloon and what transpired on the ground was another matter. Sometimes it came together and linked beautifully and at other times it fell apart while layering imagination with inappropriate graphic design talent.
On the ground the act that took my breath away was executed by school kids and conceived by the Britisher called Bryms who used it in Beijing to create magical calligraphy. I loved the open palms with mehndi emerging like a welcoming Rangoli. Totally low tech…least intimidating and glamorous !! Did the close circuit videos on the balloon show the kids on the ground painting on “the sky stretched over their heads” ? If so, Hussain M F would definitely have smiled had he seen it. The Yoga on the ground with sweaty youth in lycra fabric was a little foolish but the videos on the balloon were as beautiful as the contoured yogi.
The train sequence was a great plus but only as an idea since it was executed with a tacky sense of contemporary Indian scenography. The white Ambassador car laden with loud speakers and Khadi Clad politicians was delicious, the Dhobi ghat lost in execution, the kids on a bicycle pile reminded me of rickshaws seized by the Municipality and dumped on the Yamuna Ghat. The turban tableaux on the rickshaw were limp…err not potent. The rickshaw cracker display was fun, but pretty much all else was inept. More particularly the jazzed up handloom float paying lip service to the poor weavers of India, looked as doomed as their disappearing livelihood. The take off on labourers carrying bricks on their heads running helter-skelter was in poor taste. Remember they were the true heroes who slogged to build the stadia.
The classical dance forms of India – hugely ignored by Indian media and pedagogues alike got a teaser as a visual metaphor. Sonal Mansingh says she has had SMS’s since the opening from parents wanting their kids to learn! But are we not de-valuing the most venerable time honoured forms thematically, stylistically and choreographically by clubbing them together as an assembly line presentation? The melting pot puree syndrome of mega shows hard pressed for time can get away with murky murder.
I think we need to be as careful as the West is about their classic forms. No Opera and Ballet can be trivialized or messed around with. Nor did we at the opening, but our great masters may need a crash course on economy of scale and visibility if they have to be a part of Mega Shows. This sector, I feel lacked the eloquence of silence – desperately needed – perhaps it should have been paced with the quiet grace of a solo performer commanding a grand presence. Video links on the balloon could have helped to etch elusive details but were totally absent on nuances such as for ‘Abhinay’ or the expression of an ustad tuning in. I still recall the sole presence of a ‘Nayak’ from a village in Gujarat singing from on top of the Eiffel Tower mesmerizing million in Paris at the opening of the French Festival of India.
Modernity ? Oh please …spare us the Neon LED’s on ply board sitars and tablas ! What then constitutes New India ? I believe the evergreen spontaneity of our ancient people, reinventing, adapting, moving on with dignity while acquiring an original edge. The knowledge economy has myopically ignored their capacity to create non-imitative content.
Do the Theyyam Masked dancers of Kerala - as part of their profound ritual performance feel comfortable when pulled out of context and used as mere props for colourful pageantry ? Do they get a better sense of themselves being part of the whole we call India ?
The popular so called “Folk Artists”, derigour in such ‘hold all’ ‘bistar bandh’ productions, are being increasingly exploited as mere fillers (when ever in doubt – put a drummer in feathers!) The Siddi Goma, of African descent who used to dance in white costumes as part of a ritual celebrating trance are no exceptions. It is another matter that they have chosen (with a little prompting from an over zealous official in the Apna Utsavs of 25 years ago) to dress up as Bollywood Hubshies complete with peacock feathers doing a Zhinga Lala, Zhinga Lala number just to be noticed. But 30 years later does this become their routine for recognition ? Another dance form introduced ? Perhaps, but little else.
In my experience this token Tribal component is a No No. These proud people don’t need to be so appallingly regimented and belittled with urban choreographers starved of exposure to India’s diversity. Rural Artists are more than mere visual fodder to be structured ridiculously like a school PT drill or Soviet style promo. If of-course they want to be a part of your National mainstream – do ask the artists and performers themselves about how they feel about being a part of extravaganzas. Take your cameras to them and they will tell who they think they really are and how they are used and abused to fill stage or screen space. Talk to telecasters if they really understand the meaning of “our ancient civilization” and could we also orient Doordarshan with the huge responsibility of communicating on the subtitles of ‘Pehchaan’ for an uninitiated audience ready to accept a lot.
I have seen too many obnoxious pre-recorded shows requiring lip synching from folk singers who grow with improvisations and audience participation. Drummers become an animated medley of actors, ‘playing’ on card board drums to pre-recorded beats far away from seminal rhythms acquired in the womb. Ask the ‘Shankh Vadaks’, who navigate intricate reverberations blowing on conches, whether their entry and exit in the grand show of CWG was even seen or heard. A few casualties in an overall triumph ?
The part that left me cold like many others was the Athletes March Past, that had the potential for the largest emotional impact and infotainment outreach. Country delegations led by glitzy girls in ritzy saris, was a lack lustre parade without the signage on the balloon engaging us with meaningful information on the countries participating. A little homework through cleverly edited videos on the balloon would have helped more with more than one hour of the production made tiresome with monotonously repetitive soundtrack and display of flags.
The audience response to the parade however, was spontaneous and hugely revealing but typical of what we know about the world and from where we get to know about it. Our South Asian neighbours were applauded warmly and that made me feel very proud. Small countries slipped into oblivion – Sadly.
And so I came out after four hours, ready to walk to my car parked miles away, high on the spirit of an evening … well … delivered. I didn’t foresee writing a piece till I heard someone say “Nau chuhey kha ke billi Haj ko challi”. The glitz will blind everyone and no one will notice the lapses in the way we played with our games.
This appeared in the Asian Age
Aren’t you just sick to death of CWG and everything connected to it? I am. It’s come to a point where I really and truly don’t give a flying err…. javelin… whether we win gold, silver, bronze, tin, copper, brass medals. The opening ceremony that we are crowing about was ummm…impressive but hugely ‘inspired’ ( like our Bollywood films and music ), but what the hell – you want a tamasha, you got a tamasha. I no longer care if Kalmadi can’t tell the difference between Camilla and Diana ( so long as the bonny prince Charles doesn’t make the same mistake, aall eez well). I for one, can’t wait for the khel to get over and asli life to resume. Mumbai, of course, remains totally indifferent to what’s going on in Dilli. Mumbai has its own games to focus on - and those don’t involve athletes. All this came into sharp focus as I boarded the last flight to Aurangabad and noticed the bored expressions of passengers in the lounge as they turned their attention away from television screens showing the Games ( live), and focused instead on sexier options on their Blackberries and iPhones. Sad but largely true. Even Dilliwallas aren’t chuffed about these momentous Games, preferring to flee the Capital or stay back cribbing about various inconveniences. Toba, toba, even C.M. Sheila Dixit’s seetis and impromptu gigs weren’t enough to inject the much needed josh into the dheela\marela Games.
As I emerged from the airport in Aurangabad and was swept away in an S –Class, fully loaded and impressively customized Mercedes, I looked around me in utter astonishment. We were on the main and only big road in this sprawling city of 20 lakh people, with a history that goes back to 3rd century BC. My local hosts told me India’s biggest, flashiest shopping mall is soon coming up to challenge the glory of the historic Ajanta and Ellora sites close by. Imagine that! A shopping complex to challenge a World Heritage complex. A sign of our amazing times. In any case these are the last three years for tourists to rush to these magnificent caves and temples before they shut down for the much needed restoration and face lift. In anticipation of an unprecedented rush of visitors from overseas, hotels are gearing up and hoping to make big bucks. Along this stretch which extends through the city, our fancy car is frequently overtaken by even fancier cars. I am told a staggering order for 28 more S-Class Mercs has already been placed with the car giant. At over one crore a pop, these numbers are pretty damn cool. But hold it – that’s nothing! This is also the city that had got the Mercedes guys back in Stuttgart to turn somersaults with glee when local chaps got together and placed an order for over 150 Mercs - yup, 150 - in what became a record breaking deal that had the auto world talking. So, who were these anonymous fellows who happily put down serious money for spiffy German wheels ( I remembered there were 500 industries in what was described in the seventies as one of the ‘fastest growing cities in Asia”)? I met a couple of them during my short stay. They are young, hungry and ready to take on the world. The Merc is but one of the cars in their collection. I saw Porsches, BMWs and Bentleys cruising Jalna road, and behind the wheels were the proud owners and their designer clad wives. Looking at some of them, it’s hard to imagine the quantum of wealth at their disposal. But clearly they have it – loads and loads of it. Some are first generation tycoons who jet around the globe from Zambia to New Zealand, selling everything from steel to seeds. They belong to a super exclusive club of richie rich Aurangabadis, and party hard at one another’s sprawling villas , with 7 star resort level pools and other luxurious facilities. They rarely feel the need to come to Mumbai or Delhi, since they love their local lifestyle – and who wouldn’t? These guys are brash, confident, global citizens – a far cry from the country hicks envious city slickers imagine them to be.
But for me, the real Aurangabad story of change and transformation, was the one I witnessed at the Maulana Azad College For Women, established by the late Dr. Rafiq Zakaria in 1968 ( at the time, it was a separate, segregated section of the main college, created so that girls from conservative sections could access higher education if their parents were averse to co-education). In 1991 the college became a separate entity. While Rafiq was the visionary, it is his widow Fatma, who has injected life and dynamism into this scrupulously clean college where even the gardeners are women. Fatma is a revered figure in Aurangabad. At 75, she works tirelessly to ensure that the poorest section of society gets a shot at quality education. It starts at toddler level - a pretty daunting challenge. But Fatma has licked the problem by providing a free bus service to pick up these kids and bring them to school. I spent some time on this campus on a searingly hot afternoon. Over 900 students, along with their teachers, had gathered under two gigantic Neem trees, their heads covered with traditional scarves. I met their principal, an elegant, soft spoken lady, who’d earned her doctorate in computer sciences from this very same college years ago. Fatma was glowing with undisguised pride at having realized her late husband’s dream and taken it forward in such an inspiring way. Along with her son, the stupendously famous Fareed Zakaria ( a trustee) , Fatma presides over a college complex with 15,000 students, a lot of them toppers in their chosen discipline. She also personally screens and supervises all interviews – students and staff alike, to ensure there is no hanky panky. I was told the going rate to get a teacher’s post at other colleges is a staggering 15 lakh of rupees.
I was meeting Fatma after several years ( she was one of my first editors). It was with absolute delight that I noted her glowing skin and actively ticking brain that is constantly looking for ways to serve the ‘flock’ better. Since she also presides over the Taj Catering College ( IHM) and edits the Taj Magazine, hers is an admirably full and fulfilled life. Fatma presides, okay? She is the undisputed Grande Dame of all she sees.
What next, Fatma, I asked her. Promptly, she reeled off a list of programmes , starting with a national level workshop on Women, Water and the Environment. My kind of woman. A total babe!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I got back late last night after a hectic trip to the IIM - Bangalore. I was there to participate in a media conclave, aptly titled, 'Scripting the Future'. What blew me away was the campus! Was I in a rain forest or at one of Asia's top B-Schools? How can anybody possibly concentrate on STUDIES in an environment this lush and gorgeous? Young Abhimanyu from Delhi met me at the airport and we chatted for the next two hours ( that's how long the trip takes. The topics ranged from politics to bollywood. He told me how ridiculously tough it is to make the B-School cut. Once there, students start behaving like sharks in a small pond! There are 75 girls in his batch, and if anything, they are even more lethal when it comes to competing for top honours. Good on you, gurrrrrls! Lagey raho...
I stayed at the brand new Gardenia (ITC- owned), and once again, I felt I was in a forest - a tropical paradise. It is a gorgeous property designed to resemble Tipu Sultan's summer palace. The main motif is the tiger and it has been imaginatively incorporated - from chairs in the lobby, to wall hangings on each floor. What really took my breath away was the exceptional Japanese cuisine, under the able supervision of Madhu, a talented chef with a huge fan following. Course after course was meticulously served at 'EDO', and the moist black cod convinced me there was something rather inspirational going on in those kitchens. As V.Prakash made sure the sake flowed ( I stuck to an Australian Chardonnay), our conversation got increasingly animated. I forgot Bangalore goes to sleep by 11 30pm. I was still on Mumbai time!
I am leaving for Aurangabad in an hour. This is going to be a lunatic month for me. It's Delhi, Hyderabad, Baroda and the Maldives next. I shall make every effort to stay connected. But kya karoon ? Mazboori hai! That's what book promos are all about.But it's all good. The book is flying off the shelves... and that's reward enough.
This appeared in Sunday Times...
What in God’s name , is going on…?
This is going to be a really tough letter to write. I mean…. the world has like, changed dude! Most young people don’t believe you exist. When in doubt, they google you… and you know what? Your p.r. guys need to be sacked for complete and total misrepresentation…. check out the rubbish thrown up by the search engine. Depressing stuff, man. Totally not cool. It’s about time you got smart and joined some really hot social networking sites. Tweet away, darling. We want the real thing. Gyaan in your own words.And no special privileges for being God – 140 characters like everybody else, okay? Set up a face book account – don’t you want to know how many ‘friends’ you have on earth? Get your own interactive web site – and then watch the fun. Business first – where were you when we in India needed you the most? I mean, the country was holding its collective breath on the 30th of September, waiting for ‘The Verdict’. Anything could have happened – who can restrain our hot headed netas but your good self? But you were MIA - nowhere on the scene, leading to much confusion, as various groups fought over your official residence. Silly people! Every child in the world knows you prefer to live in the hearts of believers…. what’s the fuss over a monument? Do you really need one? Have you ever needed one? You are a free spirit, a nomad, a gypsy… you hang around in places where the vibes are good, that’s it. And how can vibes be good if there are angry, hostile people behaving like your estate agents and fighting for higher FSI?
As for the haalat of those three judges… oof oh…. they were landed with the toughest job in the world. Imagine being asked to decide which grand abode is your personal preference – a new temple or a demolished mosque? Nobody thought of asking you! If the monument is meant to please you, surely you should have a say in the matter? Is this khichdi what you want for yourself? Be frank, yaar. We’re having an informal , friendly chat…. we can always ask for an sms poll later. Speak your mind while there is still some time. The three wise men have suggested a three month pause. Three months is enough, right? It’s called a cooling off period , and we are hoping those who are in such a state of agitation right now, will calm down and think this through carefully. They’ll say 500 years of thinking has already gone into this debate. So what? Let 500 more years go. You’ll agree what’s most important at this point is sanity and calm. Status quo is not such a bad option. We human beings can be so stupid… here we are frothing at the mouth and making all sorts of claims over 2.7 acres of land. Agreed, land prices are going through the roof, but this is ridiculous. Fortunately, young people are more in tune with sensible solutions. They are all saying the same thing – give peace a chance. Not for them the futile exercise of proving and establishing that this is indeed your favourite hang out. This generation is pretty smart – no faltu time-waste for them. Whether they party in this disco or that one doesn’t really matter. So long as they have a good time. With fundas like these in place, they are laughing at all those old fogies hyperventilating on television and telling them , “ Get a life, you guys.” These kids are absolutely right. But will anyone listen? No. Because it suits netas of various hues to turn a deaf ear… it keeps them in business. What will politicians do if everybody was to agree with everybody else, especially on a red hot potato like this?
This is your moment, God. Get up and do your thing. Strut your stuff. Throw attitude.Tell those feuding fellows you’ll have none of it. Just tell them off! They may ignore you completely since in any case you are incidental in this man-made controversy. But speak up, you must. There are so many worthier issues that need immediate and urgent intervention. Our bachchas need schools, colleges…. toilets! Mandirs and Masjids do not help their cause, but temples of learning definitely do. Drill some sense into those chaps who are preparing for Round 2 with so much suspicion and hatred in their hearts. Advise them to open their eyes to India’s new realities… our restless youngsters are least interested in the politics of religion. They’ll settle for jobs and a better life, anyday. Let the netas co-opt the desires and dreams of the majority – India’s youth – into their future agendas, before launching into another protracted legal battle, that could go on for the next 18 or even 80 years. This is really too much, and as everybody was chanting that dramatic day, “ We need closure.” The verdict is out. Three bravehearts had taken on the unenviable task of decoding the sentiments of a billion plus people. The judgment is apolitical and bold. Who can possibly please and appease almost one fifth of humanity? Not even you! There is talk of ‘reconciliation’ but nobody is saying what exactly that means. Besides… can there be a board meeting without a Chairman – you??? Better that we put this centuries old issue behind us as quickly as possible, before a foreign hand gets into the fray and stirs up trouble. What say? Till then , you can chill. Pity you aren’t on BBM…. there is just so much important stuff that needs to be communicated to you directly at this point…. so many messages that people want to post on your wall.
Tell you what…get yourself a better manager\lawyer to represent you. Then we’ll talk.
What an idea, God-ji!
Your devoted bhakt,