Saturday, April 30, 2011
This memorable day belonged to the radiant bride. From Plain Kate to Catherine the Great - what a fantastic ending to a decade long prem kahani. I think this shaadi will last - both of them looked genuinely in love, and the double whammy provided by the bonus chumma, only added to the magic.
I get back to Mumbai tomorrow. But only after watching a performance of 'Waiting for Godot' staged by 'Applause' in Vizag. No, it's not a Telegu version, one of the 'tramps' played by Surya, tells me seriously. Pity!
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Opinions in Kolkata are mixed. As for me, anybody who could scream , " Oye, you BBC! Chupp karo!" to a particularly annoying BBC reporter, gets my vote.
This appeared on the front page of The Telegraph today, and I have received some hilarious reactions....bhalo bhalo ones, as well!
De’s Date with Didi – Mamata Mania at its giddiest!
Things are about to change in India’s “worst governed state,” going by the hysterical crowds greeting Didi as she races from one rally to the other on the last and final day of campaigning in Kolkata. It looks like a done deal. Fans shout out ,“Congratulations, Didi!” and pelt her with marigold petals as the Scorpio we are in zips past hundreds of people lining the route on a particularly muggy weekday afternoon. “My voice is choked,” Mamata says somewhat grumpily. But she is obviously very pleased by the turn out at Jadavpur, her bete- noire’s constituency. Her candidate, Manish Gupta is beaming as she briskly clambers on to the shaky dais and begins her speech. Speech done, she clambers off and we get back into her campaign car. Mamata is clearly on a roll and in control, seated on the front seat next to the driver, waving to school kids on cycles while pointing out, “The chief minister was here on Sunday… he stayed for five minutes… no crowd… so he left.Today is a working day and yet so many people have come . Elite people. Society ladies. Intellectuals.Writers. Film makers.Artists. A to Z, they are all with me. The C.M. is going to lose by 30,000 votes…. his party will win no more than 10 out of 54 seats in North Bengal.” She pops a couple of Cadbury’s ‘Shots’ into her mouth. “Have a lozenge,” she offers generously before pumping up the volume of the car stereo. She turns to businessman Shivaji Panja who was earlier introduced as , “Didi’s Man Friday… no… Man Tuesday, Man Monday, Man Everyday…” She instructs him to translate the words of the song for which she has written the lyrics. Shivaji assumes an appropriate expression and does Didi’s bidding : “ Return my sindhoor to me…..” wails the singer, as Shivaji soldiers on with the translation. Mamata was inspired to pen the song after a particularly brutal murder that widowed a young woman, he explains. Everybody in the crowded vehicle knows the context.The mood is somber as Didi says, “Over 75,000 people have been murdered by the CPM…. this is the Second Freedom Movement. Our fight…. West Bengal’s struggle… is even greater than Mandela’s fight in South Africa.We have independence but we are totally oppressed. It is nothing but state-sponsored terrorism. Atrocities are committed everyday.” Didi has got her choked voice back after a shot of a magic cough syrup and some more chocolate ‘Shots’. Her minders say admiringly, “She hardly eats anything … she has not eaten the whole day.Just some tea and a few biscuits.” I discover to my delight we have something major in common - Didi is a night bird, who surfaces at noon. I wish I could, too. Surface at noon. She sleeps around 3 a.m. but is working hard on changing her obstinate bio rhythms. The only calls she takes before 9 a.m. are the P.M.’s or Sonia Gandhi’s. But as she prepares for her new role as C.M. Didi is training her body clock to eat dinner by 7 p.m. and wake up earlier. Does she cook? She squeals with delight and says she loves to! What does she like eating? Alloo chaap, Pyajju, Murri, teliya bhaaja. When does she get the time? “ I do many things,” she boasts like a school girl. “I knit. I play the Casio, I sing, I paint, I write poetry. Creativity is my third eye… that is how I relax.” She does have a delightfully dulcet voice. Does she think women in politics are somehow judged differently? Mamata answers boredly, “I am not interested in all that. I don’t think of myself as a man or woman. I am a human being.” Her indifferent response reminds me of a rather startling question a senior journalist had posed to me earlier : “Do you find Mamata sexy?” Ummm, depends, I’d dodged, countering that with, “ Do Bengali men find her sexy?” It was his turn to dodge. A younger journo had admitted regretfully, “ The problem in Bengal is that we want our leaders to be beyond such things – we prefer them sexless.” Oh dear. What a pity.I’d also been told Didi hated rich people. Did she? “ There is no difference between rich people and poor people. They are all people”, she snaps, adding, “I am not bothered by such things.” How will she attract those fat cats to invest in her State after the several debacles that have seen funds steadily flowing out ? More so after Pranab Mukherjee’s telling comment about the ‘lamentable financial health” of West Bengal? “ They will all come,” she states confidently “ They will invest money… and also enjoy their money…. shareholders will be happy.” Didi mops her face with an embroidered white stole that is draped over her off-white , green- bordered tangail saree ( neatly ironed, with a fall attached at the hem). Her feet are shod in her trademark blue Hawaiian flip flops. U.P.’s chief minister Mayawati has her purses and Didi, West Bengal’s chief minister- in- waiting , her flip flops. For all her projected indifference to matters of personal vanity, she is clearly particular about her appearance and image. At 53, her jet black hair tied into a nape bun, appears to be professionally dyed. She’s wearing gold studs in her ear lobes, an HMT watch on her wrist and a ring with a shining red stone on one of her fingers. She works out on her treadmill every day. And eats frugally. She is pretty techno savvy and owns several gizmos such as an iPad, an iPod, a Blackberry. There are several fan pages on Facebook, but she has yet to join the Twitterati. I cheekily ask her about marriage.She dismisses the question saying, “ I didn’t get the time…I didn’t think of a personal life. My life was for the people who needed help.” So much for the rumors that she had in fact, opted for a brief marriage years ago before opting out. I ask her about the ten rupees she takes daily from her mother.Pocket money? “No. Blessings…” she says shortly, before waving to the fawning minions. Is it true even the mosquitoes in Bengal are too lazy to bite anyone? I tease. Didi snorts, “Bengali people are not idle people .We are not lethargic. The Bengali brain is very good. But for so many years the CPM denied a good education to people – one generation with no English, no computers. I have promised 10 lakh jobs in 2 years. Read my manifesto… it is all there.” This is the cue for Shivaji to hand me a glossy book with a kiddish illustration of two colourful flowers on the cover. The men in the car tell me proudly it has been designed by Didi. She explains, “ These are grass flowers… we work at the grass roots level.” The men nod and say, “ Didi is an artist. She loves doodling. She has designed everything…. written all the slogans… she comes up with the ad campaign personally.” Figures.
Mamata is clearly on a terrific high. It has nothing to do with the cough syrup. She has sensed imminent victory and the gloves are off. A somewhat risky strategy, say observers, especially since she is taking on the BJP. “What if the scenario does not pan out the way she thinks? What if Rahul Gandhi doesn’t deliver in 2014? What if the BJP comes into power? She has not factored that in. She gains nothing by attacking them.” Mamata is in no mood to listen to such carping. “The minorities are with me. My job is to create employment for all. I am with everybody. Muslims, Christians, everybody. I keep rozas. I have read the Koran. I go to Church. It is the so-called Leftists who have tried to influence people in the wrong way. And now the BJP is trying it. There is nothing wrong with Marx and Lenin. But let us not forget Vivekananda and Tagore. Our culture, our traditions, our pride.”
Mamata’s much discussed modest personal space is interesting. Her office and home are located one lane away from the historic Kali Ghat temple. The place is an absolute dump. A shabby garage with abandoned taxis stands in front of the lowly structure she occupies ( air conditioning is reserved for her brother’s bedroom) , but it’s easy to conclude an important person lives there going by the number of police vans and men in uniforms lounging around the place. “I get no protection from the State, but I belong to Z-plus category,’’ she says. Not only is the lady fearless, she appears pretty reckless, too. Silly about security. As we clamber into the car and clamber out at rallies, she doesn’t bother about her own safety even as crowds push past those tough looking guys in safari suits who are trying in vain to keep them at bay. People grab her, touch her, push her and ignore all attempts to stop them. A foolish young mother attempts to shove her infant into the car through a narrow gap in the window. She wants Mamata to bless the baby. Nobody discourages her. From Didi to Devi – it’s happening. “Is there anything at all that you are afraid of?’’ I ask the woman who has 46 stitches on her skull, and several fractures. “No… nothing!” she answers firmly. “Cockroaches? Lizards? Snakes?” She shakes her head. I think she is beginning to regret this interview and thinks I’m pretty crazy. She has just finished delivering a thundering speech to a rapt, besotted crowd of over four thousand people. There are several pit stops en route to Howrah.And she doesn’t want to waste her choked voice on dumb questions. Like what she thinks of Anil Basu and his crass comments . She says disdainfully, “These are small, petty matters. They (CPM) know only one thing – how to abuse and accuse.” So, we get serious. How will she combat Congress goons after she comes into power? The ones who will attempt to muscle in , Mumbai-style, and strike deals with local builders – that’s the feeling on the street. Mamata declares, “ We will not allow land grabbing by any political party – not even the Congress.We want proper development. People are tired of atrocities committed by the CPM. They want development and education.” As a quick after thought, she adds, “Nobody cares about the Nano going from here.Everybody will invest… people used to be scared earlier.Not anymore. People are coming out after Singur… speaking up.” What had stopped them earlier? “People had no confidence… they could not protest. Administrators were functioning like party members… not allowing people to vote.Even journalists were scared. Because the police worked for the party in power.” I make no reference to talk of mass scale corruption at the panchayat level that she apparently turns a blind eye to. Her admirers point out Mamata doesn’t possess a magic wand. But people’s expectations are pretty high after all her tall promises of creating so many jobs. Will she deliver? Can she? How? Didi states very emphatically, “ There will be no interference from anyone. Not even family members. I trust everybody. I listen to everybody and then make my own decisions.” Is this kind of tough talk really going to sound like music to her new BFFs in Delhi ? What about her equation with Sonia. What did she think of her? Didi paused and answered carefully, “ I maintain good relations with Sonia.” Then she said something rapidly to her minders in Bengali and they reminded her that I do understand the language! So she adds, “ They ( the Gandhis) are very sensitive people. I don’t want to say anything more.” And yes, Manmohan Singh need not worry about his job. Nor should anybody else. To the question, “Do you see yourself as the Prime Minister someday?” Mamata giggles , “I am just a social worker. I want to help people. Many other big, big people are there – let them do that job. I want to remain a commoner. An LIP, not VIP.” Errr… I didn’t get that. “Less Important Person!” she chortles. ” Her minders join in the laughter. No comments on Binayak Sen , either. “ Meet me after the elections and we’ll talk freely then,’’ says the future chief minister of West Bengal before jumping out of the car and greeting her delirious subjects.
And oh…. did I find her sexy? Well, sexier than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, for sure!
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Kolkata was krazeee. But I enjoyed hanging with Mamata Banerjee and driving to Howrah with her. Didi is something else! I'll be writing the story for 'The Telegraph'. Do look out for it. Pity it was such a rushed trip with zero time for 'phuchkas' or 'sandesh'. Imagine going to Kolkata and eating a tuna sandwich! Ki mushkil!
What’s wrong with Delhi men…?
Ask any woman ! Go on… take the challenge. Regardless of age, shape,size , temperament or any other factor, Delhi men unabashedly, lewdly ogle women . Any woman. The visual assault begins at the airport itself with lecherous loaders giving every female passenger the prolonged once –over. Up down ,up down…stop at the breasts, and go on leering. Bags on the console can keep spinning, but that does not bother these awful chaps. In any case, for all its cosmetic merits ( barring the spectacularly hideous carpet), the fancy terminal 3 is a nightmare for weary travelers who are forced to trudge a couple of kilometers before they get to their gates or the parking lot. If the traveler happens to be a single woman, chances are she’ll trigger off a familiar response - men will instinctively grab their crotches.It is a reflex action. If the crotch- grabbing does not grab the marked female’s attention, they’ll sidle up to her and ask , “Taxi? Hotel?” Since there is never a cop or security guard in sight, the female under scrutiny will be forced to handle the situation any which way she can. Ignoring these men is a bit too subtle. Challenging them involves a prolonged exchange of angry words, besides attracting some more men who ‘join the fun’. So, the woman is forced to quicken her pace , look straight ahead and march on, hoping it ends there. Once she reaches her car, it’s the driver’s turn to stare shamelessly through the well positioned rear view mirror. His job is to ask, “Water? Cold towel? Newspaper?” if it’s a hotel pick up. In Delhi, they take the word ‘pick up’ very literally! If you indicate your total unwillingness to engage in any form of conversation,the driver starts humming old , romantic Bollywood songs and smiling to himself. So much for interaction with strangers on arrival in the Capital.
Once you get to your meeting, the organizers behave in an equally strange way, unless you know them well. The first assumption is that Mumbai women are ‘bold’ ( yes, of course we are bold, but not in the way implied ). This so-called boldness means they’ll invite you to join a room full of the most dead boring, idiotically pompous and foolishly opinionated fellows who are busy name dropping in the most childish way. If you look obviously unimpressed, they assume your mind is on shopping or partying. They turn to you and ask in ‘jovial’ tone, “So….. how’s Mumbai?” It’s such an absurd ,time-pass question. As if Mumbai is an individual and one can provide a health report ( “Not doing too well…. kuch sardi-bukhaar problem…change of weather…. vaisey, theek thaak…”). Everybody converses mainly in Hindi, and the few women present stick to ‘safe’ topics – ‘Kya haal hai?’ Nobody waits for an answer. They are far too busy looking over your shoulder to spot some big shot mantri walking in with an entourage. If a bonafide VVIP does arrive, all hell breaks loose and protocol is promptly forgotten as the scramble to get ‘face time’ with the person begins in earnest. If that person is Sheila Dixit or one of the Gandhis, the crowd goes orgasmic. Full blown chamchagiri takes over…. and that’s your cue to beat it!
There! I am feeling so much better after venting my spleen. Let’s blame it on the foul weather… and the bad movies . Whatever happened to those holiday season blockbusters? Here we are – suckers, all – forking out 350 bucks per ticket to watch junk. It’s time to think of some ways to fine film makers who promise big and deliver phoos. Like the zero-dum film which is so amateurish and clumsy, it gives the drug lords running Goa a bad name. But it has given Bollywood ( and Bipasha) a new hero – Rana Daggubati. Meanwhile – watch that girl! Which girl? Mallika Sherawat! She may have become President Obama’s new BFF. Hissssssssss!
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Two days ago, I 'air-dashed' ( how I love this strange desi term! It's only in India that people are forever 'air-dashing' idhar-udhar) to Delhi and back. Believe me, it is always a pleasure to catch that flight back to Mumbai. I had quite a few VVIP s on board - mainly boring netas, demanding masala chai five minutes before landing!Two corporate honchos behind me were trading 'solid' biz gossip. My ears were flapping! But my lips are sealed! In case I don't catch you guys in this space tomorrow - Happy Easter! I have got my bunny suit ready! Do you?
This appeared in the Asian Age today....
Paani Puri Politics….!
Hey Bhagwan! Now street snacks are being targeted in Mumbai. Suddenly Paani Puri ( gol guppas to you), one of Mumbai’s all time favourite munchies has been declared a health hazard, and paani puri vendors are being chased out by the newly -minted , over zealous health police of this totally unhealthy metropolis. Mumbai is a city so embarrassingly filthy, even self-respecting rats have moved out of the garbage heaps. Mumbai stinks! To high heaven. Especially at this time of the year, when mercury levels soar and humidity goes up. Mumbaikars have lived with the stench for years. The first thing that hits the unwary visitor to the city at the airport itself is the peculiar stench that says perversely, ‘Welcome to Mumbai!” It is all pervasive…. clingy, fetid… a combination of rotting fish, uncleared garbage, clogged drains, and piles of human excreta that lines railway tracks, streets, pretty much any available free space. As of now, Mumbaikars are battling pre-monsoon malaria. The bugs in Mumbai have developed their own mutant strains – nothing can eliminate them. Our cockroaches are a breed apart – literally! They are the size of the endangered sparrows, and can fly faster than any of them! Once the rains arrive, the garbage heaps grow into mini- mountains and block pedestrians from using those absurdly narrow foot paths. In any case, footpaths are used as open air lavatories by the slum kids and are impossible to walk on without stepping into some bachcha’s poo. Given these overall conditions, what’s all this rubbish about paani puri being a serious health hazard? Since when? Of course, paani puri is dirty. But, boss, our stomachs are zinc- lined. Of course, the paani used by vendors isn’t mineral water. More likely, it is gutter water - contaminated and gross – but no worse than the brown water that runs through our taps. Paani puri enthusiasts know that… but they still want their regular fix of this foul indulgence. Let them have it! As they say in colloquial terms, “What goes of anybody’s father?” Why pick on poor paani puri alone? What about those luridly coloured ice golas that are peddled on carts during the long hot summer? Typhoid is just a gulp away when you suck on those disgusting concoctions made out of synthetic syrups, crushed ice and enough artificial colour to paint a bill board.. What about the improvised juice stalls selling ‘maara maari’ ( I am not making the name up. This is what an orange and mosambi juice combo is called in Mumbai). What about bhel puri – that is symbolic of Mumbai, not just in the culinary sense, but on many other levels? What an incredibly satisfying snack it is. I can do bhel puri, any time , any day. And I do know it is a potential killer. That’s the attraction … and thrill. Standing at a crazily busy traffic intersection, with underage millionaire brats driving pappaji’s Porsche just beyond ones toes, and instructing the Bhaiyaji to hold the imli, but pump up the kothmir, is an experience that is quintessentially Mumbai. I wouldn’t want to give it up for anything in the world – not even at the risk of missing a couple of toes as a consequence. I can’t profess the same level of commitment to the other Mumbai favourite – vada pav. I know it is cheap, filling and wonderful. It is our answer to the Big Mac and so on. But frankly, it is a calorie bomb that I prefer to avoid. I like to pick my calorie treats and O.D. with care. If I am going to pig out, I’d rather do it on bhel puri ( not that bhelpuri is diet food, but come on…. compare puffed rice to vada which is a deep fried patty of potatoes). To make it worse , the lethal potato patty is squeezed into plump squares of bread with a layer of bright red garlic chutney? No chance! Ditto for that other killer – pav-bhaji – which, in addition to the potatoes - squashed and mushy – has half a packet of butter going into it. How else can one get that irresistibly gooey texture? But these far-from- healthy concoctions are spared the wrath of local political parties. Why? Because they are seen as being ‘Maharashtrian’ snacks. Made by Maharashtrians for other Maharashtrians.Which is hog wash. The only authentic, freshly cooked Maharashtrian snack is kanda poha – and it doesn’t have too many takers. All other food in Mumbai’s countless informal eateries, has been introduced by ‘outsiders’. From Udipi restaurateurs serving idli dosa, uttapam and upma, to the ubiquitous ‘ Punjabi-Chinese’ and Jain Pizza joints catering to their loyal clientele. Nearly all these dodgy joints are dirty and do not deserve a license or health certificate. So?
We desis take our khaana –peena very seriously. Whether we gulp down gallons of gaaney ka juice ( 100% impure!), or choose to eat roadside fruit chaat with dozens of flies sitting on the sliced papaya – it’s our call, our stomach, our health. If authorities are serious about protecting citizens from various health hazards, why not start by cleaning up the roads? Making sure public hospitals maintain some level of sanitization? Providing public loos? Why go after those paani puriwallas who have been such an intrinsic part of Mumbai’s vibrant street food culture for decades? Take your battle somewhere else, you guys. Leave us to slurp , gag and choke while gulping that perfectly crisp puri filled to the brim with sweet and sour , over spiced water, that travels like liquid fire down the gullet, bringing instant tears to the eyes… and a gigantic smile to the face as soon as the tin plate containing those six, paper thin puries has been licked clean. Oh… how could I forget the post-paani puri burp? Aaaah – paani puri! Stay where you are. Stay the way you are. We’ll love you regardless.
Thinggu to you, politicos!
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Trust Aamir Khan to ask the most provocative question with a totally straight face ( he isn’t the sub-continent’s most accomplished thinker-actor for nothing!). As the star moderator at the Yale educated Dr.Firuza Parikh’s book launch held at the historic Convocation Hall last week. Aamir kicked off the session wanting to know whether it will be possible for a man to get pregnant in the near future ( “ Could a man become a mother?”). Unflapped and cool, Firuza, one of the world’s top fertility experts , smiled and said, “Why not? Given the strides in technology, anything is possible.” Before, Aamir could ask the next question, Farah Khan who was also on the panel, asked Aamir whether he’d like to carry a baby, adding, “knowing what a perfectionist Aamir is, he won’t deliver in nine months but stay pregnant for nineteen months till the baby is fully grown inside… and meets with his approval.” She then read out a wonderful passage from the book ( her triplets are Firuza’s ‘babies’) about her own IVF experience. Farah was 42 when she conceived, and bang in the middle of directing, “Om Shanti Om’. She shared the jokes made by members of her unit when they found out she was carrying triplets. “She can call her babies Om Shanti Om.” Farah wondered exasperatedly why any mother would give the same name (“Om”) to two of her kids . The male members of her crew also asked her teasingly whether she’d grow a third breast to feed her three babies.
After a really, really long time, I attended a book launch that was perfectly orchestrated . Firuza lavishly praised her husband Dr.Rajesh Parikh, a renowned neuropsychiatrist , who had put the high profile function together, and pulled off a feat of sorts by installing air conditioning just for the evening, in this high vaulted building, besides making his wife rewrite several times and run throughfive drafts of the manuscript before submitting it to the publisher. It was wonderful to see the hall filled to capacity with genuine well wishers and admirers of the couple…. from old college professors, school friends, colleagues and relatives, to just enormously grateful men and women whose lives had been transformed by the miracle of birth, when all hope of becoming parents had been abandoned. Firuza spoke passionately about her work, especially in the Kashmir Valley, which she visits regularly since there is such a high incidence of premature menopause in the troubled region. Besides stress ( an important cause ), it is one of the ‘x’ genes that’s responsible for the condition that affects even young brides in their early twenties! That both Rajesh and Firuza choose to devote their time to the welfare of these women is admirable. As Firuza’s best friend for decades ( and the chief guest for the evening), Nita Ambani paid rich tributes to Firuza ( who is the godmother of Nita and Mukesh’s three children ), there were several moist eyes in the hall, including those of humble parents who had traveled long distances to show their appreciation for the gentle, sweet, kind woman responsible for bringing boundless joy into their lives. Well done, Firuza!
Madhuri Dixit could well become the female Amitabh Bachchan, going by her career moves. If she pulls off such a feat, she’ll be the only Bollywood woman to keep rocking at 50, 60 and who knows…. perhaps beyond that as well. She has re-established her credentials on television – much like Bachchan with KBC. And if her strategy works, this mega success could also translate into screen roles especially scripted for her (again, like it happened with Bachchan). If Madhuri succeeds in her second shot at a movie comeback, she will make history. And who knows, that may also open doors for other actresses who get written off when they hit 30. Our Maharashtrian Mulgi turned out to be quite a ‘shaani’. Good for her.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Remember : Even the Berlin Wall came down suddenly. Without any prior warning. Everything is possible.Lagey raho!
This appeared under 'Opinion' in Hi! Blitz....
I am a seriously worried parent. I have several children still in the marriage mart – and the way weddings are being celebrated these days….chances are I will die poorer than a church mouse if and when they tie the knot. Pity I couldn’t convince any of them to elope and declare themselves man-and-wife after a hasty exchange of garlands in a temple deep in the forests. There is no better ‘sakshi’ than Bhagwan, I kept repeating. Adding, ‘You don’t really need to cart 3000 of your closest and dearest friends as witnesses to some exotic and ridiculously pricey destination overseas. Besides, Mumbai is as amazing as Monaco…. errr…. almost!” Is anybody listening? Naaah. Is discreet no longer sexy? Does nobody do small any more? Clearly not! And I am doomed….
An 80-page book arrived last week. Guess what? That was no book. It was a wedding invitation. And it was so detailed, it has to be preserved for posterity. Let’s call it a mini-reference booklet that provides every, possible factoid associated with the happy occasion – from the names and contacts numbers of the event managers, internationl dj’s, flower people, decorators, hair and make- up artists, beverage and food consultants, lehenga designers, carpenters, lightmen, vanity van suppliers, media partners, chartered accountants, bankers, airline and hotel partners…. I swear. Okay… I’m exaggerating, but just a little. Let me assure you these are not Bollywood types but society people. And there is zero embarrassment attached. It goes without saying that the Wedding Book, arrived on an impressive salver, with a box of hand crafted Belgian chocolates ( does nobody send boxes of mithai these days?). A chosen few received pieces of jewellery, while the middle-rung invitees were gifted Lladro figurines. There were helpful suggestions enclosed – such as what would be the appropriate outfit to wear at the sangeet, which would be celebrated at a secret destination somewhere in the Aegean Sea. Cocktail Swim Wear?? Oh… how could I forget the elaborate recreation of family trees (both parties ), going back four generations?Then, the respective company profiles ( complete with bizarre names for all those shadey companies)?And I’m willing to bet there were balance sheets tucked in there, plus, the annual company report in a separate brocade cover. The ostentatious, gilt-edged invite looked more like a prospectus for an IPO than a shaadi invitation. But , who knows? It could also have been that, too – a dual purpose document leading up to an actual public offering of shares.
I have stopped attending these carnivals a long time ago. What difference does it make to anyone if a few hundred out of the thousands on the long list, don’t show up? Does anybody really miss you? Is your absence noticed? It’s all about cramming the venue with ‘names’ from every field. The recent 250 crores wedding in Delhi took the cake. But I actually overheard a father of the bride in Mumbai saying, “ Is shaadi mein 30 crore lagaya hai…” like he had ‘lagaoed’ 30 crores in the share market with a long term view on profit booking!
I thought wistfully about the days when a wedding invitation was called a ‘Kankotri’. It was first offered to the family deity by the ghar ka purohit. Only then was it personally delivered to the homes of relatives, after rigourously checking the auspicious hours in which to hand it over. The wording was straight forward, to the point and simple. The card was decided as per the family tradition going back a couple of generations. It was issued by the head of the family, and mentioned nothing much more than the venue, date and the time of the ‘hast milaap’. Is there no chance at all of going back to the simplicity of that era? When weddings were ceremonial occasions for genuine celebrations, and not networking venues for the rich and powerful? When an ‘alliance’ meant just that – a coming together of two families, and not a merger of business interests, or a signal that a takeover bid was in the offing? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone ultra- daring decides to break this newly imposed social dictatorship that insists on a display of gross vulgarity when two people decide to hitch up? Which may be why I was charmed by the recent marriage of Varun Gandhi. It seemed solemn and meaningful, understated and elegant. If only they’d kept the press out, it would have qualified as the ideal shaadi…. Band, baaja, baraat and all.
Monday, April 18, 2011
This appeared in the Sunday Times yesterday....
What Manmohan Singh can learn from Dhoni and his Boys… My aandawala ,is a bent old man in his seventies with a serious heart condition. He is originally from Lucknow. Yes, he confesses tiredly, he’s a long way from home and longs to retire there someday. But he says with a philosophical shrug, he can’t think of it. Not at this stage of his life. Why can’t he? His two sons are doing well, his grand- children are healthy and happy, his wife is willing to look after him in his autumn years. So, what’s his excuse?He leans forward, looks over his shoulder surreptitiously and whispers, ‘Bhrashtachaar! I can’t handle it any more. Mumbai has its corruption. But Lucknow! Hadd ho gayi.” He seems resigned to the thought of spending the remaining years of his life cycling from building to building, delivering bread and eggs to his regular customers. Over the years, I have seen the bright gleam in his eyes reduced to a sad flicker when he says, “Purana zamana hi theek tha.” By that he means life under the British! The first time he said that, I wasn’t sure I’d heard right. So, he repeated it a few more times. And we left it at that.It’s a pretty damn depressing comment for any citizen of India to be making sixty three years on.But there it is. I met my aandawala ( Raeesmiya) the morning after our historic World Cup victory and asked him if he’d watched the match on tv. Indeed he had… his eyes were shining again. Just like old times. And?What did he think of the match? Dhoni? The team? He shut his eyes and exclaimed, “If only Manmohan saab could learn from these jawaan boys! Just look at how they have enhanced our desh ki shaan. Wah! Allah ki dua!” After a brief, euphoric chat, he picked up his heavy basket and left. His eyes were still shining. Well… countless eyes were shining for at least a week after Dhoni lifted the magnificent Cup … along with the spirits of a disillusioned and angry nation. Comparisions and conclusions between our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and our cricket captain, were inevitable. It was all about effective leadership and leading from the front. Something poor Manmohan Singh has never been able to do ( his hands and feet being tied). Sachin ( the Legend of Legends), called Dhoni the best captain he’d played under. That is a huge compliment coming from the Master Blaster. In the political context,can Pranab Babu say that in all honesty about our P.M. ? One wonders what Manmohan Singh’s takeaway was from the final game against worthy opponents, Sri Lanka. Surely he must have noticed a few of the bold, unconventional, individualistic and risky decisions taken by Dhoni ( changing the batting order, being just one of them)? And surely, he must have applauded the manner in which the entire team played as a tightly knit, well oiled winning machine, supporting one another’s strengths, covering up weaknesses, all the way? How did Dhoni do it? Not by waving a magic wand. Not through bull dozing and badgering. And certainly not by looking the other way when his Boys were tripping up or losing heart. Everybody agrees only Dhoni could have pulled it off. And as convincingly, too. Because Dhoni has shown over and over again that he plays with a straight bat. Simple. And expects the same from his team. Dhoni also doesn’t play favourites and treats every player with the same respect. Dhoni is smart enough to realize he doesn’t have all the answers and seeks the guidance of seniors, even juniors, besides listening attentively to the team manager. Dhoni audaciously puts himself on the line when he has to ( Sreesanth!) and takes his chances when he needs to ( making Sachin bowl). He’s a man with his own mind and speaks it ( no mincing words, not even about his earlier lackluster performances). He has licked what was considered a good team into a world class one through strategic planning and total commitment. This spectacular win was no fluke. The first people to admit as much are his critics, and they do so ungrudgingly. There is much to learn from Dhoni. And if Manmohan Singh keeps his eyes, ears and heart open, it’s still not too late to start reversing the damage done to a bruised nation. A leader who’s good at his job, instinctively realizes when to push ahead and when to back off. A leader also knows whom to give credit to… in Dhoni’s case, that one person was clearly Sachin, but he made sure all the other key players in India’s win ( Gautam, Virat, Zaheer and of course, Yuvraj) were duly acknowledged, as was every player in the team. Dhoni demonstrated admirable restraint ( that’s one powerful trait he shares with the prime minister) all through the dramatic season.Perhaps, that’s the key common attribute that Manmohan Singh should capitalise on and adopt - Dhoni’s Mr. Cool attitude. No matter what the provocation. Tough, but achievable. Team India has shown the world what it’s capable of on the cricket field. It’s high time the other Team India scores a similar victory in the global arena. Come on, Manmohan Singh – go for it! If all else fails, induct Dhoni into your cabinet! For all our sakes.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Here in Bangkok, the city is officially shut for three days. The restaurants are empty - including The Long Table last night. But the shopping malls are overflowing. I don't know how the Thais do it, but the prices are shockingly low at say, the Platinum Mall, where it's possible to buy trendy cotton tunics for 300 rupees - I kid you not. Then of course, one sees those ghastly , glittering gowns so adored by our TV stars, who then grandly pass them off as designer wear when asked by equally ignorant fashion reporters. The fake markets are a world apart... and it's fun to see so many 'Ferangs' pouncing on 'solid gold' Rolexes studded with diamonds that cost 2,000 bucks!!
Aaaaah..... one more day to go. Then home. And daal chavaal! Bliss!
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I’m sure the lady who gave birth to this extraordinary man must be extraordinary herself. Not in a flamboyant way. Not in the public space her son now occupies…. but determinedly, quietly, steadily and surely. It is not often that mothers of male super achievers are given their due. Even Sachin Tendulkar, looks skywards and thanks his late father when he hits yet another milestone. We know Sachin has deep regard for his mother… but not much is known about the lady who gave birth to this living legend. Yuvraj’s mother is more upfront while claiming her rightful place under the sun. Shabnam Singh doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind when she thinks her precious son has not been appreciated enough. She even goes so far as to write a strong letter to an international fashion magazine that had dared to comment on Yuvraj’s girth last year ( they loved her feisty style, and printed it). After this victory, she is has been both visible and audible talking about her ladla beta. But since this is Dhoni’s moment as the captain of the victorious team, it’s more relevant to track his antecedents. Besides, Dhoni’s story is so much more dramatic… in fact, it reads like a tv soap. This young man from
If I were in her shoes, I would have insisted on getting some exclusive ‘Mommy –time’ with the guy, before the world grabs and monopolises him I would put in a pre-condition - no managers, lackeys, fans, hangers on, endorsement chaps, deal makers, cricket officials, body guards, stylists, advisors, chamchas, dieticians, bankers, physical trainers… not even his lovely bride Sakshi . Just me and my boy, bonding over comfort food and conversation that has nothing to do with cricket. Over chai, daal chaaval and his favourite guilty snack, I would make him laugh, even cry… and forget he is MSD – the most successful cricket captain in the world right now. I would tell him over and over again that he’s a champion – my champion. A permanent hero in a mother’s eyes, regardless of wins and losses. I’d restrict my comments to light hearted banter and remind him of his carefree childhood, running around
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
There was just one marvelous (published) ‘family’ image after the Indian Cricket team’s spectacular win at the historic World Cup, which looked romantic and intimate… it featured the Captain Dhoni’s young bride Sakshi, resting her head against his broad shoulders, her eyes shut , and a big, blissed out smile on her face. He himself looked slightly preoccupied and distant, with the (replica?) Cup held lightly between his knees, his freshly tonsured head reflecting the last rays of the setting sun. This picture was taken at the disastrous, hastily put together reception for the team on the lawns of the Raj Bhavan. Other than that, zilch! we had countless photographs of our hirsute, burly ‘Boys’ smooching the Cup – the blessed Cup! Not wives, not girlfriends! How peculiar. Sachin, the idealised Father , was allowed to take his victory lap with his two kids ( strictly, no spouse). But being the reticent, restrained husband in public, he also did not blow kisses to his wife nor pose for lovey -dovey pictures with Anjali at all the countless photo shoots that followed. Even the biggest players in the team ( and I’m not talking about their performances on the field ), Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh, behaved coyly on and off the grounds, especially regarding the late, late, late ‘after party’ dawn hi-jinks at the Taj Mahal Hotel. It was only after starlet Neha Dhupia posted a picture partying with Yuvi, and dj Sophie Choudhary tweeted about the same fella at the same event, that fans found out Yuvi was indeed on a double date with two buxom glam gals that glorious night. Disappointingly, Bhajji was his lonesome ownsome self during the revelry – no wonder he drank gallons of champagne to boost up his flagging spirits. About the others – well, if there was something sizzling to report, we’d have known it by now.
What’s with us? Look at the sex appeal quotient of the current team – they are all serious hotties – himbos, even. Great bods, great attitude, proven performance. Testosterone- in- motion. And yet, when it comes to hook- ups and scandals, they behave like virginal school boys with stern principals looking over their shoulders at all times – even in the boudoir. Compared to these Goody Goody guys, an older generation of cricketers appear far more rakish, daring, dashing and lust worthy. All those juicy stories, all those link- ups….wow. The Noob and his Begum ( Pataudi and Sharmila, if you must know), Imran Khan and Zeenat Aman. Then later, Azaruddin and Bijli. What’s the point of being a God- like, macho sports star with swooning fans, if you are going to behave like a village school master or a head priest? These guys are young, some are single and free to mingle, and others are married to good lookers…. come on…. loosen up! Look at those English footballers, or the soccer\ baseball stars in