Monday, November 29, 2010

Break ke Baad? Boredom, yaar!!

Enjoyed an arty Sunday after a long time. First halt was at the Jehangir Art Gallery where Viveek Sharma was hosting his one man show. I have been following this young man's work for over five years and have enormous faith in his future. Today, he is represented by top galleries in Europe and is in residency programmes at various international universities . I am really happy for him. Recognition has come to Viveek at the right time. The current show titled 'My City.... My Dreams', is his tribute to Mumbai. Viveek, a nocturnal creature, captures the city after midnight in a series of 'electrifying' paintings - almost neon. Born in 1968, Viveek resembles a modern day Christ, speaks fluent Marathi, and is good looking enough to make it as the global face of a top fashion brand.He values his work but is realistic about pricing it right. I told him to rechristen himself - "Why not Gandhi-man?" I suggested, after he told me about his Gandhi paintings which sell very well across Europe. And we all know how hot the Mahatma is right now!


The other art experience was less direct. I was talking to Margaret Mascarenhas, my coolest friend from Goa. She has just finished curating Prison Art - a show she has been diligently working on for more than a year. Inmates of the Aguada Jail in Goa have produced the most unexpected images, writings, even performance art, that goes on display in Goa on 9th December. I'll be right there. It is a part of Raj and Dipti Salgaocar's charity- linked art initiative, and frankly, anything Margaret undertakes, has to be pretty damn good!


"This appeared in Bombay Times today...

Jaago Mumbai, Jaago….

Strange how impassive and unmoved the average Mumbaikar was during the second anniversary of the 26\11 terror attacks. A foreign journalist who had come over for an interview the same afternoon, mentioned she had gone to Marine Drive in the morning to watch the Police Parade. Shocked at the miserable attendance, poor participation and obvious indifference of citizens, she asked why we are such an apathetic lot in a city that remains as insecure today as it was two years ago ( latest scam involves state ordered speedboats that aren’t bullet proof!). She also mentioned her disappointment at the parade itself which was listless and far from impressive. If anything, it showed our cops in a shabby light. They looked ill equipped and far from smart… hardly an inspiring image to project in a vulnerable city. But then, that is how we are. Accompanying the journo was another person who was staying at the Taj ( she’s a regular there) and talking about feeling spooked with all the gunmen ( security forces) prowling around in the corridors while the windows in her room were being covered with black out papers. Obviously, no chances could be taken that crucial day, especially since aerial attacks had been mentioned in the past. Even at this sensitive venue, our cops were just about visible.Unless they were in plainclothes and pretending to be guests. Perhaps our apparent lack of interest in our own safety has to do with frustration and deep disappointment . The average Mumbaikar is a highly disillusioned person, who believes his\her fate is now in the hands of the Almighty, since clearly, nobody in government ( state or at the centre) is treating Mumbai’s security as a top priority. C.M.s come and go – they change as frequently as the unpredictable weather. The brand new Mr. Clean has yet to do or say something of any consequence. He seems more particular about keeping his hair neatly combed during photo ops. The deputy C.M. is being watched closely by those who aren’t sure about his moves, given the history ( Uncle Pawar and Cousin Supriya looking over his shoulder). While all these political and family dramas are being played out, the Mumbaikar waits for some good to emerge and may even have started to actually envy Nitesh Kumar’s Bihar and the Biharis!!! Who knows…. if things continue to deteriorate at this speed in Maharashtra, soon we’ ll see a reverse migration – out of job, angry Maharashtrians heading to Bihar in search of better opportunities!! Now that would be something. Right, Raj?

I like Bhansali’s ( SLB to you) attitude. He claimed in a recent interview, “ I don’t make money, I make movies.” Spoken grandly like a great master with an authentic oeuvre a la Fellini. Antonioni.Polanski.Ghatak.Ray. If there are besotted financial fans of a film maker out there willing to shell out crores for someone’s monumental ego and self indulgence, nobody should grudge the generous gesture. But I always thought commercially released movies were about attracting an audience, recovereing the huge investment involved, and heaven help us - even raking in profits!Movies are a shared
experience in which the filmmaker draws the audience into his \her world.If it’s personal cinema Bhansali is referring to, then you make home movies for family and friends. In which case, money ( someone else’s at that!) is not the objective . Bhansali reminds me of authors who claim airily that they don’t write ‘commercial books’. If a book is published, put into book stores, and has a price tag on it, it automatically becomes a ‘commercial’ book. Or else, why not write memos to yourself, keep diaries?

Break ke Baad? Boredom, boss. Break ke Peheley, bhi.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Awesome Ambani Mansion - first hand!

This appeared in the Times of India this morning. Since it was on the front page, it attracted an insane amount of attention from world media. I was away for the day in Pune... and the calls kept interrupting my much needed break. Are you surprised????

Valhalla? Xanadu? No. It’s Awesome Antilia that’s Mumbai’s newest landmark!

“ This is not a home – it is a statement!” gasped an invitee ( one of eighty hand picked guests), standing on a windy terrace garden in the world’s most expensive private residence. There was shock and awe in his voice. Absolutely no debate there. It is indeed a major statement! The same guest continued, “ Some cities are known for their spectacular airports, Mumbai will be known for this landmark Ambani house, which is bound to become iconic.” It is already one of the most controversial buildings in the world, for reasons that go beyond its unconventional architecture. Mukesh and Nita Ambani played hosts to an interesting mix of people at their lavish housewarming party put together at short notice on the 25th night, in order to pre-empt an anticipated paparazzi attack on Altamount Road on 28th November, where ‘Antilia’ , is located. Smart move. After months of speculation and even published reports last month of the ‘party that never happened’, guests at this super exclusive dinner, were requested not to reveal the date for the official unveiling of the most opulently appointed residence ever created. Rising dramatically, 300 metres above sea level , and built at a staggering cost of over a billion dollars, ‘Antilia’ ( the name is likely to be changed to ‘Anandam’) can be described as the Taj Mahal of the 21st century. Cantilevered and colossal, it easily dominates the skyline of the city. From the exquisite Krishna temple on the ground floor to Mukesh’s personal library on the top floor, it is a staggering feat! As Shekhar Kapur, one of the few Bollywood invitees ( the others being Preity Zinta, Aamir Khan, Karan Johar, Karishma Kapoor and Vidhu Vinod Chopra) commented from the roof ( no, there isn’t going to be a helipad here, the new plan is to transform it into a lush terrace garden), “It’s great to breathe fresh air at this height and leave Mumbai’s pollution down below.” A telling remark that can be read on many levels! From that impressive height and with those panoramic vistas, Mukesh and Nita are clearly the undisputed masters of all they survey – east, west, north, south.
But as the proud owners of this coveted property pointed out, this is their one and only residence, and unlike some other industrialists (nameless, of course!), the Ambanis insist they do not have villas tucked away in exotic destinations across the world. Point taken by Corporate India and critics! Representing the big biz segment Deepak Parekh, Kumarmangalam Birla, Anand Mahindra and Gautam Singhania were seen walking around on the mother of pearl floors and taking in the marble Mughal style canopies in the middle of lotus pools, as the dulcet strains of Rahul Sharma’s santoor wafted across the lawns. “Welcome to India…. welcome to our home,” said Nita to internationally renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor and Yves Carcelle of the luxury brand LVMH. The artists’ community was headed by Satish Gujral (accompanied by the entire Gujral clan), Subhodh Gupta, Atul and Anju Dodiya, Jitesh and Reena Kallat, Bose Krishnamachari ( Nita is keen to support emerging artists). Sipping her favourite red at the bar, Parmeshwar Godrej in trademark black, held court with the likes of Abu Jaani and Sandeep Khosla ( who had designed the traditional chikankaari outfits worn by all the Ambani ladies). Champagne and conversation continued to flow till dinner in the ballroom ( yes – that’s right, ballroom!)was announced by Nita. High speed elevators manned by polite, bandgala–clad attendants, took invitees to what has got to be the biggest, glitziest ballroom in India ( Versailles Palace is a poor cousin!) with a single, dazzling chandelier ( shades to cut the glare recommended!) that covers the entire vast ceiling .Gliding down the gigantic stairway leading to the expansive space, it was possible to believe for one mad moment that we were all at Cinderella’s Ball. Buffet tables ( shudh vegetarian fare) lining one of the unending walls, offered Gujarati specialities along with unusual desserts like ‘sitaphal halwa’. Dominating yet another lawn ( there are three main gardens, plus a bird park) outside the Ballroom, a gigantic Vishnu sculpture by Satish Gupta, looked on benignly at Sachin and Anjali Tendulkar, while Uddhav and Rashmi Thackeray chatted with Hema and Milind Deora.

It was good to see Kokilaben Ambani ( who has an entire floor to herself), arrive in time for dinner, perhaps after attending her other son Anil’s parallel party which was being hosted at the original Ambani residence ‘Seawind’ ( where she also has her own floor). Here’s one mother who has a great deal of commuting ahead of her – just like other Mumbaikars. What great levelers our pot-holed roads are!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jayabrato's poem on politics....and more on media's glam-sham

This poem was sent to me by my Bondhu, Jayabrato Chatterji from Kolkata.....

We are children of our era;

our era is political.

All affairs, day and night,

yours, ours, theirs,are political affairs.

Like it or not,

your genes have a political past,

your skin a political cast,

your eyes a political aspect.

What you say has a resonance;

what you are silent about is telling.

Either way, it's political.

Even when you head for the hills

you're taking political steps

on political ground.

Even apolitical poems are political,

and above us shines the moon,

by now no longer lunar.

To be or not to be, that is the question.

Question? What question? Dear, here's a suggestion:

a political question.

You don't even have to be a human being

to gain political significance.

Crude oil will do,

or concentrated feed, or any raw material.

Or even a conference table whose shape

was disputed for months:

should we negotiate life and death

at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile people were dying,

animals perishing,

houses burning,

and fields growing wild,

just as in times

most remote

and less political.
This appeared today....

Writers Bloc…. Journos go where angels fear to tread!
Is journalism going glam –sham…?

Come on, guys, let’s cut the crap and say it like it is - we are up excreta creek! By ‘we’ I mean our tribe. Journos. Hacks. Commentators. Opinion makers. Thought leaders. For once, the shoe is on the other foot, and it is pinching like hell. We are not used to this. Us!! Self righteous and smug! Lofty creatures, who are forever sitting in judgement over the world and puffing out our chests for saving it! Suddenly, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence, at the receiving end of serious flak, and we don’t like it at all! In fact, we can’t handle the heat, and we are in a state of either defiance or denial. Guess what? It is time to square our shoulders and take it on the chin. Same as we expect others to, when we run our explosive exposes. Are we mature enough to do that? Are we ready to turn the searchlight inwards and ask ourselves the one question we have been dodging : What went wrong and why?
Something is clearly amiss, and the time to address that ‘something’ is now.

Let’s get a few things straight : Journalists are not demi-Gods, even if they like others to think of them like that. They are as human, as vulnerable, as greedy as the next person. Some more than others. Journalists have always brokered power. Always. Not just in India but all over the world.As power brokers, they have frequently played a key role in exposing corruption, mainly because they’ve had access to privileged information. Morally upright journos ( and they do exist!), have used this information towards a greater good and not as a means to either blackmail others or enrich themselves . The line is thin – most don’t realize they have crossed it till it is too late. Sure, power is an aphrodisiac ( thank you, Henry!), and some vain journos have taken the aphrodisiac part literally, to errr…. screw their detractors ! Others have limited themselves to soaring high on ego trips…. but strictly sans price tags. Either way, it has made a lot of heads swing… and swell. Being close to the centre of power in Delhi has been both, a curse and a boon to scribes who live there. Capital cities are like that ( think Watergate and Washington), and nobody remains immune to that heady proximity to politicos – not even self declared, hard bitten cynics. Delhi journos are a breed apart. Gone are the days of the slouchy jholawalas pounding the pavements, or prowling those corridors of power in search of a scoop. Delhi has spawned a generation of super glam Designer Journos – they dress sharp, talk sharp, are sharp. Well traveled, urbane and sexy as hell, these hotties are as much in the limelight as the people they grill in print and on television. They have their counterparts worldwide – the nature of today’s media business is such .We love our celeb journos… we are their devoted groupies. These people are legitimate stars .Why not? They write well, look great and party hard. Nobody grudges them their perks . Their lifestyles rival those of Bollywood stars – but then again, they have as vast a fan following, too. It’s all good.
Or…. is it?
Readers and viewers were in for a shock last week when the Fearless Radia tapes revealed more than was anticipated. The biggest jolt was not about the lobbying per se. It wasn’t about money either, since there is zero evidence of any financial gain. It was the unbelievable naivete of the main players. They sounded alarmingly amateurish as they discussed their modus operandi with Radia. That such seasoned journos would blab so much over open phone lines ( given how porous every aspect of personal security is these days), was the absolute shocker. Political lobbying is an entirely legit career and Ms. Radia was only doing her job. That job involves courting friendly journos and getting them on board to influence public servants and public opinion. It’s about working ones buddy network. Journos are used to being approached by touts whose job it is to plant stories on behalf of their clients. This is the tricky part : How a journo responds to such overtures is the acid test. There are those who show touts the door, and then there are those who let them in. Canny lobbyists are quick to zone in on the latter - like minded scribes - and get down to business. Big business. This is how the game is played, folks. The rules are known to all.

Who benefits?
That depends. Broadly speaking, everybody in the food chain. Manipulating policy , pushing agendas, blocking rivals, disseminating ‘news’, misinformation and even blatant lies – it’s all a part and parcel of the game. Non-alignment is only a theoretical concept. All opinion is necessarily subjective. Often prejudiced. Sometimes mischievous and frequently malicious.A good journalist knows when to step back from landmines. And frankly, every journalist knows the difference between compromise and the truth. Either you are on the make and take or not. Either you are one hundred percent honest or not. Either you display professional integrity at all times or you don’t. Unless the person is dumb. Seriously dumb. In which case, journalism is the last place to be in…. though , going by the latest revelations, it would appear some of journalism’s best and brightest may have been had.
Ab hamara kya hoga, Samba???

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who will bell the media cat??

The media world is on fire ! The wildest and weirdest rumours are doing the rounds, about the unlikeliest of people ( I want to believe them all - that's what rumours are for!). Let's call it 'Silence of the Lambs - Part 2' . Or better still, 'Sleeping with the Enemy's Enemies." But mediawallas have suddenly turned coy and principled about delving further into the dirty controversy ( potentially bigger than 'Watergate'), even though by now it's a khullam khulla' affair. Let's just call it an 'Open' book ( take a bow, Manu Joseph!). It's out there in the public domain - and nobody has denied the contents of the (planted?) transcripts so far. Amazingly enough, even the usually belligerent and\or shrill tv anchors are soft peddling the issues raised ( senior journos pimping for corporates and political parties ). But... worse, much worse than anything on those incriminating tapes ( how I love that Roberto Cavalli gown tid bit!) is the scarey scenario involving wholesale and entirely illegal\unconstitutional phone tapping of citizens. Despite the seriousness of this scandal,suddenly, scoop hungry mediawallas have discovered a conscience and claim to be hugely conscious and aware of 'ethical' issues while waiting to 'authenticate' those damaging tapes. No such reservations in the past while going ahead with other sensational exposes involving non-journos. Could it be a case of everybody being nanga in the hamam? Who will bell the cat? Who can afford to ?


This appeared in the Bombay Times on monday.

Forward March…. one- two, one-two…

Here’s the good news first …. to my vast and eternal relief, after my FB column last week, I have been ‘unfriended’ by loads of people who weren’t my friends to begin with. This week I plan to lose a few more internet pests…. the ‘Forward-wallas’. I’m sure there are many of you reading this who feel the same way about those infernal ‘forwards’ that crowd the inbox and eat into precious time – forget about reading the stuff, deleting all that unsolicited rubbish takes hours as well. Besides…. It seriously affects my blood pressure! I definitely don’t want to read idiotic, mainly sexist jokes ( which jerk thinks them up?). I don’t want to acquire instant ‘knowledge’ through processed info, I have zero time for nostalgia and listening to a compilation of songs from the ‘sixties, I feel totally bugged when someone sends chain mail featuring kitschy images of Gods and Goddesses ( “ forward this to 15 friends and wait for the miracle”), my stress levels cannot handle alarmist faux medical stuff ( with grisly images of shredded heart muscles, pulped brains, mashed up limbs), warning me about all the stuff that could go horribly wrong…. if I didn’t pay close attention.Morbid and badly written poems ? I’ll live. ‘Then and Now’ homilies? Keep them. ‘This is a good one’ – generally isn’t! ‘Don’t miss this one!’ screams , “ Hit ‘Delete’ instantly!” And to think most of these useless emails are sent by people you know! Maybe, even like!! Admire!!!
I am all for setting up a ‘Ban those Forwards’ Club. I wonder about the compulsive ones who send out ten or more of these nuisance value mails per hour. Don’t they have a life? Worse, do they think you don’t? Do they also have nothing better to do but hit those keys? Would they bother to send out these horrible, intensely annoying communications if they had to pay for them? I doubt it. Bhejo, bhejo… because it’s free, boss! In my experience, men are guiltier than women in this department. Perhaps it is their way of bonding\ flirting… but there are far many more men out there, spending valuable time, effort and energy forwarding and re-, re-, re- forwarding junk. The same chaps recycle gyaan from all sorts of obscure sources and bombard the unwary. Male columnists more than their female counterparts, carpet bomb the unsuspecting with their pearls of wisdom week after tiresome week. There is just no escaping the onslaught. Come X’Mas and remote acquaintances from across the globe begin the annual torture – sending a month-by-month newsletter informing mainly indifferent, unfortunate recipients about Cathy’s tooth extraction and Uncle Eddy’s prostrate problem. Do we want to know? Do we care a rat’s err… bum? The time for making New Year resolutions is upon us. Come on everybody… let’s be nice to one another. Let’s stop this nasty anti-social activity in the coming year. But I am making one exception : Rajni jokes. Keep them rolling.Why? Don’t you know? We are, because Rajni is. Mind it.
It’s all about timing. I’m talking about ‘Guzaarish’. I’m sure it’s a terrific film – deep, dark and allegorical. But give us a break, Bhansali. Had it been pitched as a ‘X’Mas release ( Hrithik as Jesus, Aishwarya as Mary Magdalene ), at least the believers ( in and out of Goa) would have watched it, curiosity ke vaastey. Euthanasia? Most people can’t pronounce the word, much less understand what it means. Tough subject to pitch to an audience still high on ‘Golmal -3’. Brave man, our Bhansali. But he needs that magic wand more than his hero for a box office miracle to happen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Nizam and I....

Remember that ancient movie starring Yul Brynner called 'The King and I..."
Well... here I am with Mukkaram Jah, the elusive Nizam of Hyderabad. It is my very own 'royal' moment. He has a majestic presence, and it required a little strategic positioning to get this shot to happen. We were at the spectacular opening of the Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel ( richly and lovingly restored by Princess Esra Birgin of Turkey, ex-wife of the Nizam saheb ). It has taken the Taj Group ten long years to reopen this magnificent palace that was lying abandoned and neglected since 1911. With its countless Venetian chandeliers and priceless antiques, is it any wonder that its themed , opulent, and wildly extravagant suites go for 5 lakhs a night, making this one of the priciest palace hotels in the world?
'Falaknuma' means 'Mirror of the Sky ."
Some sky! Some palace!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Interesting coverage..... yes?

Since some of you have been asking.... here it is. I have received the sweetest comments on this particular story. Would welcome yours...
Couldn't make it to Arnab's show tonight. Nor to Rahul's ( Headlines Today). The topic on both was the same - it's the big story about Raakhi Sawant's show timing getting changed to a later slot. If you ask me, by doing that, the show will attract more eyeballs, not less. But hopefully kids won't be awake to watch this rubbish. So... it's all good.
I had to go back and sit through 'The Social Network' again - this time to feast on Justin Timberlake's performance. He reminded me so much of Ness Wadia... I had to pinch myself several times and say, " Aw.... come on... Ness is hotter.... better.... but maybe not cleverer." What a terrific acting debut! What inspired casting! Napster Justin was almost as good as Jesse ( the role is better scripted and nuanced, too). When will we make movies that are even half as good? When will this be butchered in a remake? And who'll play the desi Mark Zuckerberg? Let's get a poll going.... my money is on Imran Khan. Do send in your nominations.
P.S. Whosoever is responsible for that truly terrible commercial on Kerala ( " God's Own Country.... Devil's Own People" is how this gorgeous state has been projected), should be sacked instantly. More 'Out of Africa' than Kerala. Misleading and misconceived. Simbly awful, unggle!

Hello! Awards...

Sometimes.... just sometimes.... we get to do some fun , non-stressful 'jury' duty, that actually turns into a mini-celebration 0f talent, beauty, style. As it happened during this particular meeting.

It's been a rough ride for our P.M. who seems to have taken a permanent 'maun vrath'. The Silent Sardar is under heavy duty fire from the Opposition. But is he opening his mouth to clear his 'good name' ( in India, we all have 'good names' - ha ha ). All this is just such a total sham and charade.... as if those BJP guys are any different. Every desi neta is cut from the same cloth. So.... let's drop the pretence and get on with the business of ruining ... oops.... running the country!

Meanwhile , all kinds of keedas are crawling out of the OPEN can. Media keedas, at that. God knows what lies behind this expose - but since we live in a dog doesn't eat dog, and bitch doesn't eat bitch duniya, I'm guessing the lid of this particular can will be firmly shut and soldered by tomorrow. 2G.... HELLOJI!!! There are several more 'G's'.... kyon, P.M.ji??? You know who they are... we also know who they are..... but where is the blessed proof? Raja ki aa gayee baraat....

Who's afraid of Pam's boobs...?

Thanks to our common blogdost and my special friend, Aparna, I have been able to share some of the 'Shobhaa at Sixty' coverage in this space.
This appeared in the Asian Age on Saturday

Who’s afraid of Pamela’s boobs….?

Poor Pamela Anderson. Imagine the woman’s plight…her entire identity is located in her mammary glands. The world largely knows her for the size of her breasts. It is as if the rest of her doesn’t exist… doesn’t really count. Pam is a woman attached to the world’s most talked about boobs. And most people talk to her chest. Good sport that she obviously is, this famous Playboy Bunny is not complaining. She admitted candidly to a Mumbai reporter, “My assets get me in the door.” That’s truthful. But that’s also smart. Here’s a woman who has made a small fortune flaunting her twin peaks. Her cup size is what has taken her places. She is not embarrassed to admit as much. If anything, her bouncies are her best friends. The ‘Baywatch’ star is finally in the land of the Kamasutra… clad in a clingy, diaphanous white saree, Pam richly deserves the nearly 1 crore of rupees a day she’ll be earning as a participant in a much watched reality show. With her entry, all the other Bigg Boss bombshells ( past and present) appear totally pheeka…. under developed. Perhaps, it is the arrival of Bazooka Pam that prompted the Indian government to suddenly wake up to the ‘X- Rated’ content of some shows and clamp a few meaningless restrictions on them. By pushing back the slots of shows that beam ‘objectional and vulgar’ content to 11pm, some prudish babus must be patting themselves on the back for saving the country from moral degradation.Give us a break, fellas. The I & B ministry officials should get a few basics in place first. Bared breasts and crude abuses no longer send shock waves across the nation. We in India are used to the sight of uncovered bosoms ( women happily breast feed their babies in crowded train compartments) and the gaalis Raakhi Sawant spouts on her show are mild compared to what one hears from politicians and members of parliament in public. Balasaheb Thackeray spares nobody when he decides to lash out – his abuses cover generations and involve animals, sisters, mothers, brothers, friends and enemies. So what? Does that lead to rioting on the streets? If this silly directive is designed to protect our children, someone please tell those fellows, desi children rarely sleep before midnight. We are not British. Our kids are seen and heard. Annoying but true. In which middle class Indian family are the bachchas packed off to bed at 7pm after supper at 6pm? Television time largely remains unmonitored and unrestricted. It is considered bonding time. Families that watch heaving bosoms and hectic pelvic thrusts together, stay together. Big deal. What kids watch (or aren’t supposed to) ought to be the parents’ and not the government’s responsibility. Going by this new ‘Adults Only’ ruling, what about commercial Hindi films that feature the most provocative ‘item songs’ and are peppered with abuses with actors screaming ‘Bastard’ routinely? Kids watch those and worse… so why the double standards? One set of rules for television programming, another for cinema?
Our society is schizophrenic and confused. News bulletins carry detailed reports about a villainous cop called S.P.S. Rathore, who molested Ruchika Girhotra, a teenager, but are not allowed to carry clips from reality shows that are deemed offensive. What could be worse or more obscene than the smug smile of a sexual predator whose defenceless victim ( Ruchika) committed suicide? There are rapist cops on the loose in nearly every city of India. The tv reportage of such cases is anything but coy, restrained or discreet. Sensationalising news while focusing on the gory aspects of crime has become the rule, given the unhealthy TRP wars being fought fiercely by the big players. So called ‘talent hunts’ on television, featuring precocious kids indulging in the most risqué dance moves, remain unmonitored and accessible to any and everybody. In any case, what’s the internet for if not to surf? How many parents check what their precious bachchalog watch obsessively for hours on end?
This new government diktat is meaningless and unfair. All reality shows are phoney , most are fixed. This is the space in which appalling taste meets eager eyeballs. So be it. The ultimate power remains in the hands of viewers. The person who holds the remote control, is the sole decision maker as to what is acceptable viewing and what isn’t. Indians are not sheep. Let us , the viewers, be the ones to take a call on whether or not we wish to ogle Ms. Anderson’s ample assets or clean our ears after Ms. Sawant is done with her raving and ranting on camera. Whether it is the bleeped out cuss words on ‘Emotional Atyachaar’ or the aggro attitude displayed by Roadies on a rampage – this is the 21st century, folks. Anything goes! So long as it sells. Before the government gets into the act and dictates what our kids can watch and when, how about a thorough scrutiny of what constitutes actual pornography in today’s transparent times – like the live telecast of parliamentary proceedings? That is perhaps the only time concerned parents feel like shielding the eyes and plugging the ears of impressionable kids. Pamela’s boobs harm nobody. But the atrocious behaviour of some of our netas definitely damages the delicate psyches of India’s youth. Pamela will pick up her pay packet and jet off to Malibu to be with her two sons Dylan, 13 and Brandon, 14. We, in India, will be left panting for more. Unless , of course, those amazingly canny tv bosses locate an international has- been with even bigger body parts, or a local starlet with a filthier vocabulary than our Raakhi’s.
Toba! Toba! What will those moralistic masterjis in the I & B ministry do then? 3.30 a.m may become the new slot for prime time viewing. Even at that ghastly hour , our pesky kids will be wide awake and watching.Bottoms up, everyone.

All quiet on the Manmohan front. And Fearless Radia is busy sending out 'clarifications'.
Dekho, na? A compromised judiciary, a compromised army, a compromised political system, a compromised police force.... and now, a compromised media! What remains???
I know : Rajni!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Face off on Facebook, anyone??

Have said it before, am saying it again.... I have very, very few friends - thank God!!!
Am planning to watch 'The Social Network' all over again tonight.... just to catch those rapid fire dazzling one liners I missed the first time. The mood is somewhat low ( five out of six kids not in town). Besides, on the political front, I am seriously sick of the charade of 'nabbing' the wrong culprits.... and letting the big fish get away . Scamster Raja needs an interpreter. Why can't these chaps just stick to their mother tongue? I'd much rather read the ticker than strain to decipher what they are struggling to say in their brand of English. Kapil Sibal is an inspired choice - he is the new miracle guy on the block - the man for all seasons and portfolios. Meanwhile, no Chinese torture for Kalmadi in sight.....only patsies get caught in India. The others merely 'step down' and enjoy the spoils of their looting and cheating the nation. We deserve them!
This appeared in Bombay Times ...
How many ‘Friends’ do you need….?

This is a sheepish confession: I do have a naam ke vaastey ‘Facebook’ presence. It was created by my canny publishers a few years ago since they believed it was important for their authors to have a presence on social networking sites (“ It is the future…’’ I was assured by the marketing team). I took their word for it and withdrew my protest. The children were aghast and alarmed (I was seen as an intruder into their space), till I assured them I had zero intention of being active on that site . Relieved but not totally convinced, they went back to FB, hoping and praying I’d stay out of their hair and turf. I did. But would my publishers have any of it? I was told my FB account would be managed by someone responsible… and that was that. Or so I thought. Weeks later I found myself in an elevator with people who were total strangers. One of them extended his hand and greeted me familiarly, adding “ We are Facebook friends! You accepted my friends’ request recently… thanks a lot.” I gulped, recovered a little, smiled weakly and hastily got off on the wrong floor. This became a ridiculous routine till I asked for help. “ Take me off the damn thing,” I pleaded with my minders. But would they listen? I finally managed to access the home page only to discover to my absolute horror that I now had over 5,000 new ‘friends’ and several ‘friends’ waiting for a green signal to go ahead. There were hundreds of ‘common friends’ and God knows how many people in different categories pushing products, ideas, paintings, poetry, themselves!!! This was the world’s biggest flea market… and I was one of the fleas!
Terrifying, right? Precisely . I was so traumatized by the discovery of all these newly minted friends, I promptly went into denial and refused to access my account after that. It’s a terrible admission, because I know it is still there – active, alive and kicking. I meet people who tell me they’ve read my columns on Facebook… and I smile vaguely. Obviously those marketing chaps are on the job, updating, chopping, changing, responding, ignoring, ‘unfriending’, poking, gifting… and generally indulging in whatever it is Facebook addicts are hooked on to. I’m out of it…was never on it… and after watching the absolutely brilliant film ( ‘The Social Network’) currently running at a friendly neighbourhood multiplex, I am mighty glad I resisted the temptation to lose my mind and steered clear of what has become a global social disease that spares nobody. People my age coo and gurgle with delight after tracing some long lost creep from their youth or connecting with old school friends, decades later. “It’s amazing! I’ve found soooo many long lost friends after years,” they declare proudly. I don’t have the heart to say , “ If they’d meant anything to you , you wouldn’t have lost contact in the first place.”
And to think it was one crazy genius from Harvard named Mark Zuckerberg ( a billionaire at 25 – top that!) who started it all. Culprit? Devil? Angel?
‘The Social Network’ will do for Facebook what ‘Wall Street’ ( the original) did for insider trading. Move over Oliver Stone. David Fincher is the main man now. As for Jesse Eisenberg’s eerily authentic performance as Zuckerberg – what can I say? Oscar??????

Monday, November 15, 2010

Amma Knows Best!!!

I am in a zombied out state. Just back from a magical trip to Hyderabad and the opening of the spectacular Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel. Yes, the Nizam made it to his own party!! Nothing short of a miracle, exclaimed the overawed Hyderabadis as the old boy ( with two exceedingly handsome, gracious sons) made a slow but majestic way up to the stage to receive a handsome book chronicling the history of this jewel of a palace from a modern day emperor - Ratan Tata himself. It was a historic moment - almost like the meeting of two eras, different centuries, differing ethos.... but oh so sweet.... like the famous 'meetha' of Charminar City. It was such a pleasure being in the company of truly cultured, old fashioned aristocrats dressed in their antique finery. I have been 'adaab-ing' away for the past two days.... and am planning to make it my greeting for the season ahead. It is a refined, graceful and elegant way of showing respect and humility. Just like 'Namastey'.
This appeared in the Sunday Times...

Why ‘Amma’ always knows best…

Let’s hand it to Amma – she is nothing if not a force of nature. J.Jayalalithaa with her calm, Buddha-like expression, and the slow, measured speech, is a phenomenon in the murky world of desi politics. And…trumpets! bugles! – the Caped Wonder from Tamil Nadu is back in the game once more…with her entrée, the stakes have suddenly gotten sexier. Written off, diminished and lying low for a while, she made a dramatic reappearance in the political arena by offering an exclusive interview to Arnab Goswami on Times Now. If her calibrated quotes were designed to cause major ripples in Delhi, they certainly scored big, with partners in UPA’s assorted bread basket scrambling for cover. Ostensibly, Amma was after Scam Meister 2G Raja’s head. But was that her main or only objective? Analysts think not. The 2G scam has been around for a while. Amma had refused to get drawn into it at that stage. Raja brazened it out and laughed all the way to various banks, even as his countless critics thought the nation was diddled out of something close to two lakh crore rupees. It is a number most people would find next to impossible to fathom. How much those 122 licences issued during the auction could have fetched… should have fetched… remains in the domain of conjecture. By demanding his sacking at this critical point (when the Congress party is sweeping its stables clean of notably corrupt netas), Amma caused a mini-quake. Her serene and controlled demeanour as she outlined her plan to save the UPA and India from a possible mid-term poll, was perhaps this ex-actor’s most convincing performance to date. Not a muscle moved on her face as she went through her game plan emotionlessly, listing out her reasons for going public with her outrage. She spoke impassively while expertly crunching numbers and assuring everybody she could produce the 18 MP s needed to fill in the gap if the DMK withdrew its support to the UPA. She refused to reveal the identify of the ‘friendly parties’ on stand by, but it was abundantly clear Amma was on a roll! And there are very few politicians left who can match Jayalalithaa in full flow. She speaks eloquently and with complete authority that does not tolerate a single interruption ( for once, the garrulous Goswami was rendered speechless). She refused to get cornered on a single issue, including the prickly one involving her far from cordial relationship with Sonia Gandhi (Amma’s response was mild and philosophical). Jayalalithaa stayed resolutely focused on corruption – mega corruption - and didn’t shy away from naming names ( Ashok Chavan, Suresh Kalmadi). The message got through - when Amma means business – watch out!
What was remarkable about Jayalalithaa’s scintillating interview ( monologue is more like it), was the politically incorrect content she opted for. Blunt. To the point. And refreshingly outspoken, she delivered punches that were perfectly on target. Her bombshells had very little to do with Raja per se. This was Amma telling her admirers and opponents she’s done with sulking in the shadows and licking her wounds. She’s done with being pushed around and marginalized in her own state. And most importantly, she’s done with being petulant vis a vis the Madam in Delhi. Jayalalithaa is ready to rock! And people who know the lady insist she is one tough customer. Known to be ruthless and unsentimental when it coming to decimating those who stand in her way ( loyal friends included), this is Jayalalithaa’s moment to recover lost ground and reposition herself at the state and national levels. She candidly admitted she’d taken a few hits in the past, but asserted quickly she was ready to go into battle with renewed ferocity. She spoke about ‘weak leadership’ ( Oh- oh…. Manmohanji!), and our soft stand while dealing with Pakistan and China ( hear! hear!). She also mentioned her desire to pump up defense budgets since our army was nowhere close to China’s in terms of strength and sophistication ( too true). When was the last time we heard a politician state something as explosive on a national channel ? Jayalalithaa’s decision to go public with her politics is a staggeringly bold one. In a single shot, she conveyed several messages that will be hard for the Centre to ignore. She also issued veiled threats in the bargain – suggesting the rise of people power that could trigger off an unstoppable protest movement. Amma grandly offered to lead it if Raja’s head was not delivered on a platter soon.
While DMK bosses go into a huddle, and others wait and watch, Amma has already achieved her objective. “ I am back!” is Jayalalithaa’s war cry. Weak hearted ninnies are busy ducking and looking for places to hide. Oh…. about Raja and the multi-zulti crore scam… all lines are busy on this route. Aap qatar main ho…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A 'Rakhel' by any other name.....

This appeared in 'The Week'....

A ‘rakhel’ by any other name….

In this, the so-called Age of Enlightenment, when the Dalai Lama himself is sending out a powerful message to the world regarding gender equality by declaring, “ I am certainly not the best Dalai Lama of 14, and certainly not the worst…. if a female reincarnation is more useful, why not?” But is anybody listening to this wise soul? It doesn’t seem so, going by the shocking description used by a senior legal luminary while referring to a live-in girl friend as a ‘keep’. What a nauseatingly old-fashioned and archaic term that is… and how obnoxious, the put down! What was the man thinking? I was vastly relieved and proud when my old friend, the feisty senior counsel Indira Jaisingh, spoke up strongly against the usage and asked a few tough questions. ‘Rakhel’ is the Hindi equvivalent of ‘keep’ and sounds nastier still, even though it is merely a literal translation. It has an abusive ring to it and is frequently hurled at women in relationships outside marriage as the worst insult ever.Designed to denigrate and humiliate the shameless hussy who has dared to defy society by sharing a bed with a man not her husband, it is the sort of word that popular television soaps adore since it is bound to evoke a strong response – mainly from other women. The convention- obsessed moralists who feel sanctimonious and smug about their own legally recognised partners ( same dolts who have tied the precious mangalsutra round their necks). All these absurdities were floating around inside my head while watching a Marathi film that deals squarely with the subject. Based on a true story, it narrates the rather sad tale of a young woman who lives with the village school teacher for thirty years but can never win the respect of the community because she is seen as a ‘rakhel’. Worse, when the upright master dies, leaving her behind in their one room tenement, the old landlord resurfaces to throw out the hapless woman insisting she has no locus standi being just a mistress of the tenant and not his wife. She bravely challenges him in court… and wins. One has to understand the happy ending in the context of when the incident takes place (decades earlier) . Given the fragile status of women at the time ,her victory indeed qualified as a progressive landmark judgement.
But the crude comment we are talking about here is less than a month old. And was made by an erudite judge, no less. Was it just the terminology that sent shock waves throughout the country? Yes, of course. Terminology can never be interpreted in isolation - it is an apt indicator of a person’s mindset. Ms. Jaisingh had raised an important counter question when she’d boldly asked what a man is called when the situation is reversed? Is he also disparagingly dubbed a ‘Keep’ in court? If not, then why not? Why the double standards? As I write this, countless ‘virtuous’ women in North India have just finished fasting for their men. ‘Karwa Chauth’ has become one of the most important dates in the calendar of certain ladies, clearly inspired by the over romanticized portrayal of this ritual in popular cinema. From those melodramatic shots of Kaajol fasting for Shah Rukh Khan ( not yet her husband) in the immensely popular ‘Dilwaley Duhaniya Le Jayengey’ many moons ago, millions of misguided wives have taken to observing ‘KC’ in a big way. This involves not just starving in style , waiting for the moon to rise and the husband to return, but also applying mehendi, dolling up in bridal finery, receiving extravagant gifts and generally bonding with like minded girl friends over music and other distractions. Since ‘KC’ has become such a huge annual farce, it is worth asking why there is no known equivalent that requires a husband to fast for the long life of the long suffering wife! I don’t know of a single custom in our culture that makes any such demand on men. The onus of keeping a marriage going, the children and spouse happy, ensuring prosperity, good health and success for all, rests squarely on the woman’s delicate shoulders. She’s the one who starves, fasts, prays, punishes herself in various ways ‘for the sake of the family’. All that is expected from the man of the house is his mighty presence. So long as he feels like Hercules and is treated like Superman, everyone is pleased, especially the Gods. And guess what? Women who are official ‘Rakhels’ and ‘Keeps’ observe Karwa Chauth, too !


We are fooling nobody. Congress 'sacks' Kalmadi .... and seals several mouths. Ashok Chavan steps down as chief minister ( Wow!) and guess who's likely to stroll in?? Vilasrao! Whether it's Deshmukh, Shinde or Wednesday.... they sail in the same boat. If the High Command is serious about tackling corruption , arrest the scamsters.... go the whole hog. Merely asking tainted fellows to resign is nothing but a sham being made out of a mega scam. Sure, they'll step down.... buy time... fix files... and step right in again. Meanwhile the Raja of all scams is still out there.... scot free and shameless.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Obama:Stumped by a student!

Mumbai is heaving a sigh of relief! Nothing matters as much as dhanda - not even the mighty President of the United States ( POTUS sounds awful!) turning up for a whirlwind visit that so far has yielded very little - for India. Michelle won hearts and even has a baby named after her ( the mother had to brave barricades to make it to the hospital on time). But sorry.... Barack didn't really cut it the way Bill ( Clinton) did with the Mumbaikars. Brand Obama - a bit too slick, a bit too smart.... but sadly, no heart!

All it took to 'hilao' POTUS was a straight off the bat question (" Why is Pakistan so important as an ally that America has never called it a terrorist state?") from Afsheen Irani, a 19- year-old student from Mumbai's H.R.College. Obama played for time, stuttered and stammered a really dumb ass reply that said precisely nothing! If only our journos could be as bold and direct while interviewing the high and mighty.


This appeared in Bombay Times today.....

Nothing ‘adarsh’ about our Babus and Netas…

I sure as hell didn’t want to ruin my Diwali by focusing on last week’s depressing revelations. In fact, for me, it was next-to-impossible to disengage from the scandal, since all I had to do was step out into my balcony. ‘Adarsh’ - India’s Tower of Shame is located across the small bay near my home… it is hard to miss. My one small consolation was that on Diwali day, it was the only building in the area that remained in total darkness, even as the headlines revealed one scandal after another associated with ‘Adarsh’. Some of the names involved were surprising – these were people we knew quite well. Bureaucrats one met socially and actually liked! People ‘like us’. And to think they were implicated in something as murky… as slimy. In any other country, the top man\ woman would have instantly lost his job. But that doesn’t happen in India. And the reason it doesn’t is as sickening as the crime itself. The ‘setting’ goes all the way to the very top. If even one person squeals, several biggies fall.Nobody wants that – right? Something on such a scale can only be pulled off if several departments and agencies are in caho

ots and getting their pound of flesh from the juicy deal. The ‘cuts’ go across the board – which is also why the question of belling the cat does not arise. The ‘system’ protects everyone – and the rot originates in Delhi. In the old days, there was a different sort of understanding between politicians of all hues . The expected thing to do in the wake of a major scandal was for the main villain to take the rap for his mentor , put in his papers and wait for the enquiry to exonerate his ‘good name’. This is the classic ploy that allows all the players to buy time . The scamsters then set about their work which is to destroy evidence, fix files, fix enemies and critics, and wait for public memory to fade. Generally, this ruse works. Though occasionally the fall guy never recovers ( as it happened with Antulay). In the case of ‘Adarsh’, the shame is multiplied many times over since so many highly respected Army guys are involved. Citizens expect politicians to be venal, despicable, corrupt and capable of low down deals that don’t spare even our war heroes. But this is the first time in our country that so many armed forces’ honchos have been exposed. That is the most worrisome aspect of the current mess. But nobody except our ‘evil genius’ bureaucrats can create the complex maze that is systematically constructed around such scams - this is the exclusive work of our Babus. It is they who now the laws and bye laws inside out. It is they who have mastered the art of manipulating various loopholes. It is they who show the way to interested parties as to how those rules can be bent to accommodate any and every requirement. It is the Babus of India who have turned the country into a gigantic swamp of corruption.
‘Adarsh’ may see a few heads roll if the media keeps up the pressure. But will any of the charges stick given the lack of evidence? Assuming an F.I.R. is indeed filed, what will the outcome be? Zilch. The case will drag on for decades, while those implicated will merrily continue with heir lives, safe in the knowledge that the super deluxe ‘Adarsh’ flats (valued at a whopping 8 crores), although illegally built and grabbed by them, will not be taken away, nor will any of the powerful residents be jailed for criminal conspiracy . A few months down the line, all the culprits will resume their ‘normal’ lives and we will foolishly… tiredly move on. ‘Corruption Fatigue’ has finally set in.
There are countless hidden ‘Adarsh’ societies in Mumbai itself. Someone blew the whistle on this one. That’s the only difference.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Diwali Blogdosts!

This rates as one of my best Diwalis ever! I'll spare you the details...
I'm off tomorrow at dawn. Have received a super cool Olive Pad from the Hello! team but have still to get the hang of it. Besides, I think my daughter Anandita has already staked her claim.
This is just to wish all of you a brave and brilliant Diwali, minus pollution of the mind, heart , body and soul. Let there be light, said God. And there was.....! Go forth and enjoy... eat, drink ( lots!), swim with the sharks.... and live to tell the tale. Preferably to me!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Power and Pull of Page 3...

This appeared on monday in Bombay Times.... just as the city's tireless party- goers were recovering from a LOOOOOOONG , hard night of net- working and grabbing attention at the Bombay Times Halloween-themed bash of all bashes . Does nobody have any plain simple fun these days?????
As for me, I was away in distant Chandigarh enjoying the sharp nip in the air, plus, the company of intelligent, uncomplicated, real people. I was there to launch 'Shobhaa at Sixty' - and what a memorable launch it turned out to be!! More on that once I get the pictures. But just to give you a small jhalak - over 1,100 balloons with a strong message were launched by the students of the Vivek High School ( started 26 years ago and going strong!), to mark the occasion. The kids welcomed me with a vigourous Bhangra performance that was the asli, not naqli Bollywood performance. Energetic, robust,colourful - I was enthralled. And yes, I had the creamy, thick, ice cold lassi in a mitti glass at Gopal's, ginger and ajwain flavoured chaat at Garg's Gol Guppa House and a splendid Chinese meal at The Black Lotus in the Taj Hotel where I was staying. I didn't spot any witches and ghouls, though. Guess they were all at the Bombay Times party in Mumbai!!!!

The Power and Pull of Page 3…

Since I have been travelling extensively over the past month, I have been doing my own ‘Page 3’ research in every town and city. The findings are fascinating! Since the entire Page 3 Phenomenon started right here, sixteen years ago, and just grew and grew into this mammoth-sized monster devouring every wannabe in its path, it is a subject that requires closer scrutiny. Nearly every local paper now has its own version of Page 3 – including all those holier- than- thou establishment papers that used to sniff derisively and claim they would never succumb! A quick trip to Aurangabad opened my eyes still further. For one, this is the city that got the world talking by placing a single order for 151 Mercedes cars in one dramatic go! Since then, another order for 28, top of the line, S- Class Mercs ( over a crore each) has also been placed – that’s what I call a real Diwali in Stuttgart, the home of Mercedes. Local papers regularly cover the lives of those richie rich car owners and their incredibly lavish life styles. They are happy being super celebs in Aurangabad even if the rest of India hasn’t heard of them. Ditto in Hyderabad, which boasts of over 10 Phantoms, as many Maseratis and countless Bentleys. Who owns these fancy wheels? Who knows? But they cruise around the throbbing city with posh owners at the wheel… the same ones who feature morning after morning on Page 3 partying with one another in palatial homes that resemble Italian \ Balinese palaces. Same story in Pune, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Bangalore. That’s where the wealth is and that’s also where a new generation of Page 3 regulars is being spawned. I was pretty amazed by what I saw in Chattrapur last week – bet you don’t know where Chattarpur is, right? It’s about an hour and a half outside Delhi, and is rapidly becoming the Alibag of that part of the world. This is where those sprawling farm houses are located. This is also where the latest Porsche scrapes past a smoke spewing tractor on a narrow dirt track. And village women wearing grubby ghagras gather firewood as memsaabs clad in glam gowns rush off into the still night driven by haughty chauffeurs at the wheels of blood red Ferraris. This new breed of Page 3’s neither knows nor cares who rules the social roost in Mumbai. They are smug and happy in their neighbourhood being Queen Bees of their own party set. They preen and pose for friendly photographers they’re on first name terms with and airily take their places on the front rows during fashion week as if it’s their birthright. Which is why it becomes doubly embarrassing when desperate for recognition Mumbai socialites crash Delhi parties and shamelessly network with people who wonder how they are there in the first place! This happened right in front of my eyes on the lawns of the French Embassy, but the host was too polite and well mannered to throw the woman out. On her part, she had flown in that morning and muscled her way into the soiree, determined not to be left out of such a high profile, high powered evening. Being a fixture on Page 3 in Mumbai did not guarantee her an entrée into society in Delhi. But let’s hand it to her for brazenly trying! Next time, she may even succeed.
Such is the power and pull of Page 3.
Take a bow, Team B.T. Or, better still….. HIDE!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mumbai Masti for the Obamas....?

Guys.... impossible to get away from Diwali Dhamakas.... but I'm determined to escape. Have been upto my eyeballs in work and some engaging distractions as well.... more masala khabar... but break ke baad. Gotta run!!!
This appeared in Sunday Times....

Just how big is The Big ‘O’…?

Welcome to India, Obamaji!
Now, now…. calm down everyone. The Big ‘O’ isn’t what your wicked mind is thinking. The reference is to ‘Obama’, but yes, his virgin visit to Bharat Desh can definitely be dubbed orgasmic. When was the last time Superman flew into town accompanied by a designer clad Lois Lane? Bill Clinton’s visit in 2002 doesn’t really count – he was a disgraced, Lewinsk-ed ex-Prezzie at the time, and even his embroidered, bandmaster-style bandgala could not salvage the tattered image. This one is the real biggie. The most powerful man in the world ( take a walk, Putin, and don’t forget your black belt) is all set to wow the most powerful democracy on earth – it is likely to become the ultimate power fest. A team of 1,500 honchos, U.S. warships in our waters, fighter planes in our skies. God knows what else, where else. Let’s see who blinks first. As the Americans would put it , “ We have issues.” Nothing all that serious, nothing that cannot be resolved, nothing that could embarrass either administration. But. And that’s an important ‘but’. Obamaji has to ‘get’ India. That needs a certain instinct, a certain mindset. India is unique. And it’s high time world leaders understood and accepted our uniqueness. It is also high time we stopped over explaining ourselves, or apologizing for being ‘like that only’. If Obama listens to his mind and heart rather than his minders, perhaps the dialogue that emerges will be more meaningful. He is an astute and clever man. Right now, his ratings are tanking almost as dramatically as Tiger Woods’. Yes, his image is taking a battering back home. And yes, Biwi No.1 Michelle is loved and adored while he is watched and judged. But that’s how it goes – it ain’t a fair world.
The India he will air drop into may delight and surprise him, if he allows himself to respond and react to the country minus political blinkers. We really are good guys…. annoying and impossible… but essentially good. Our openness, our over garrulous nature and that seriously annoying penchant for making faux pas after faux pas lands us in hot water frequently. But looked at another way, rather us across a negotiating table than the inscrutable Chinese or the wily Pakistanis. Not that Obama has to pick at his point, but a visit on this level says a hell of a lot through non-verbal communication. Obama has not been perceived as a ‘friend of India’ . His harsh comments about outsourcing have not gone down well, even though we know they were made for domestic consumption. His position on Pakistan sponsored terrorism has been more wishy washy than we would have wished. But the timing of his visit couldn’t have been better. And it is upto us – not him - how we leverage it. At the time of writing, his exact programme remains unclear ( security concerns ). People in South Mumbai are starting to mew a little about the inconvenience his visit will cause them. They should be told to shut up and put up. It’s a small price to pay if the trip pulls off a coup or two. Strategically speaking, his visit is expected to send out a strong and powerful signal to our neighbours. But more than that, it is expected to boost our morale via a couple of juicy commercial deals.
Obama’s visit comes at an auspicious time – Diwali. We should pull out all the stops and let the guy experience The Festival of Lights in all its dazzling glory. Instead of marching him off to predictable and boring destinations to ‘pay homage’ to assorted oldie goldies, let him hang with the young of India. Mumbai is one of the most buzzed cities on earth – a city as much about survivors as achievers. Let’s hope someone up there has the imagination and guts to get the Obamas to meet the asli Mumbaikars once he’s done bonding with the usual suspects. The Obamas are young, hip, cool and very today. They should definitely experience a bit of Mumbai Masti.Let them check out the electric scene for themselves – show them the real illuminations – the earthen diyas that light up the entrance of every humble shanty in Mumbai’s throbbing slums. Why make our poor invisible? Leave that trick to the Chinese. Why not let Obama look into the shining eyes of our street urchins at traffic lights – share a few genuine smiles with them rather than schmooze with the fake smileswallas?Not likely, right? No matter. The Big O is coming to woo India. Let us co-opt him into the Great Big Indian Family…. Bollywood –style, with naach gaana, band baaja and an ‘item number’ composed in his honour…. and no, the lyrics definitely can’t go, “ Barack Badnaam Hua, Darrrrrling India ke liye.”