Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bilawal-Hina: Ishq Vishq

Yes. Like the rest of the world, I have gone Gangnam mad! It is sly, clever and totally insane. Addictive, too! The other image? Simbly! Was looking for something else. Found this.... and the rest, as they say, is vanity. ***************** This appeared in Sunday Times today Why Asif Zardari hates this luv story…. Oho! Love happens. And it has happened. That the love birds happen to be Bilawal Bhutto and Hina Khar, makes this particular ishq-vishq saga most riveting, especially to those of us across the border who have recently been exposed to Ms.Khar’s irresistible charms. So irresistible , in fact, that our dapper Foreign Minister, S.M. Krishna who went totally latoo over the lovely lady , behaved like a smitten schoolboy, drooling in her alluring presence and forgetting all about the Indian agenda.It’s possible he is nursing a broken heart even as Young Bilawal (23) and Hina (34) deal with the storm that has been unleashed in Pakistan after a Bangladeshi tabloid (Blitz Weekly) ran a juicy expose on the scandal. Bilawal is a bachcha Majnu to Hina’s seasoned Laila. Reports suggest that President Asif Zardari is far from amused by his son’s dangerous liaison with his External Affairs minister. Not only is Bilawal the Chairman of the ruling Pakistani People’s Party, but he is also the nominated heir to his mother’s and father’s respective legacies. If the lovestruck chap does indeed push off to Switzerland to begin a fresh chapter in his life with the begum he adores, the repercussions of such a drastic decision could prove very costly to the government. Amidst spicy speculations and racy rumours , the buzz in Islamabad is that old boy Asif plans to rein in his handsome son , and perhaps sack the seductive Ms. Khar. Spoilsport!What a fuddy duddy thing to do. Really Asif Miya… we expect you to be far more understanding,given your own personal history. Look at it this way - Bilawal is seriously cute. And loaded. Hina Khar is seriously gorgeous. And married to a loaded guy. Feroz Gulzar ,Hina’s smart husband, has rubbished the scoop and called it ‘social media gossip’. Yes, there is an eleven year age difference between Asif and Benazir’s boy and the luscious mother of two. So what? Some of the most enduring love stories in the world have been similarly scripted. Think about it – Hina is keen to take the relationship forward, as her love notes to Bilawal establish. Perhaps her husband’s naughty affair with a junior staffer was what made her turn to Bilawal . Now that their secret is out, there’s no stopping this pyar ki Jodi. ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ is how we put it in Bollywood lingo. Hina, Pakistan’s tempestuous minister has apparently told Asif, her future father-in-law, to keep his nose out of her ‘personal matters’. This is remarkably gutsy of her, considering it was Zardari who found the two in what is delicately called a ‘compromising position’. Known for his fiery temper and a happy relationship with guns, it’s a miracle that the President didn’t reach for his favourite weapon when he walked in on the lovers at his official residence. Instead, he tamely asked for Hinaji’s mobile phone records!What a pussycat! No point in such a silly exercise considering the lady has not bothered to deny anything! The real fun starts now. Will Zardari have the guts to fire his Ministersahiba? What charges can he frame against her? Will he send Bilawal into exile? Where will that leave the PPP? More importantly, since Bilawal is the one with access to his mother’s considerable ( but undisclosed) wealth, how can Daddyji kiss the impressive funds goodbye? Unfortunately,the most dispensable member of the cast is Hina’s ex- Firoze Gulzar. But blowing him away serves no purpose – it will be one more body in an overcrowded morgue. There is however, one solution: India could immediately step in and offer a safe haven to the lovebirds.Why go to Switzerland when there is India? We can create an attractive destination nikaah for Bilawal and Hina. Maybe thrown in a luxury houseboat on Dal Lake for the honeymoon. Sarpanchs in Omar Abdullah’s State may not be safe. But he’ll take good care of his mehmaans from across the border. After all, when it comes to matters of the heart, Omar knows a thing or two about unbridled passion . Apart from asylum in India, we could make life a lot more fun for this good looking couple. As neighbours, we owe them this much.Cross border romanticism is so much more civilized than cross border terrorism. Hina can happily shop for pearls and more Birkins in our luxury malls. We can get her to host a talk show and perhaps, design a signature fashion collection. Bilawal could consider Bollywood. He has the looks. And a surname every Indian recognizes. This is a fabulous, heaven- sent opportunity to strengthen bi-lateral relationships between the two nations. Hina Khar has already charmed half the country, and reduced S.M Krishna to putty in her presence. If India can manage to bag two for the price of one, it will rank as a major political coup. Come on over, you two. Your Honeymoon Suite is waiting!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Go Veggie in Monaco... it's possible!

These are images I clicked during my memorable stay in Monaco at the famous Hotel de Paris. And that is the interior of the extraordinary restaurant, Le Louis XV, where my daughter Avantikka and I enjoyed what I rate as the best dinner ever! ************************************** GO VEGGIE IN MONACO..... Consider this extraordinary factoid: There are no less than seven Michelin-starred restaurants in the tiny ( just two square kilometres!), jewel-like Principality of Monaco. While you chew on that, digest this as well: Alain Ducasse, arguably one of the greatest chefs of our time, was once entrusted with a truly daunting task by none other than the late Prince Rainier 111 of Monaco himself! This was in 1987, and Ducasse was 33 years old at the time. His culinary challenge was to earn three Michelin stars ( tough, tough, tough) for Le Louis XV restaurant housed in the magnificent Hotel de Paris. Ducasse was given four years to achieve this feat(it was in his contract!). He succeeded spectacularly in beating all odds in exactly thirty three months! There has been no looking back since then. This superlative dining experience has few rivals in the world. Thankfully, knowing a little about the impressive background, had prepared us sufficiently for the grand, memorable experience that followed. After pulling out the stops and dressing up in all our ethnic finery, my daughter and I wafted into the restaurant (that routinely hosts Kings and Queens, Heads of State and mega Movie stars, Sportsmen and other super celebrities), filled with high expectations.We took our seats at the tastefully decorated table (the restaurant seats no more than 50 diners at a time)and were greeted by a darling little silver sparrow crafted especially for the restaurant by Christofle ( the reputed silverware company established in 1830). The perfectly colour- coordinated roses, old fashioned silverware and crockery urged us to experience ‘the hush’. The hush is something that happens rarely, but when it does, you know you are in a magical place where only delight and nothing but awaits you at every turn. Here at the Louis XV, the indulgent staff is used to greeting awestruck diners from across the world who react like they have just been granted a special audience in heaven with God himself. We were no different. My daughter urged me to put away my camera and stop behaving like a desi tourist. But that’s before we looked around and saw flashes popping from every other table! Dining at Le Louis XV is a pretty big deal – and people like to remember it... cherish every moment. Encouraged, I clicked away happily, even persuading the butterman to pose. Butterman? Yes. At the Louis XV, there is a fancy butter service and you get to choose your butters. The Butterman brings a mound of freshly churned, unsalted butter ( what we Maharashtrians call ‘lonni’) from Normandy, covered by a blown glass cloche designed by Jean Claude Novaro , and serves it in pats, after shaping it with a spoon and it into a special marble dish. There is a great deal of drama involved as the bread trolley simultaneously draws up bearing bran michette nicoise flavoured with olive oil to the small baguettes(3oo are kneaded everyday), some of which are almost too pretty to eat! We are reminded gently that the food served here is ‘respectful of its environment.’ As we nibble on what are referred to as ‘frivolous nothings’( chefs the world over create whimsical ‘amuse bouches which epitomise the very essence of their individual cuisines), we realise just how seriously Chef Ducasse takes his mission. It is pretty evident in the menu we are presented, which heavily emphasises the use of fresh local produce. Since Monaco nestles comfortably between land and sea, amongst the hills of hills of Nice and Liguria, Ducasse has faithfully stuck to his original mission statement which is “to exalt the truth in all produce without impairing them, searching for the source of the flavour.” This original simplicity and fervour are being carried forward twenty-five years later with the creation of the Anniversary Menu, that respects green grocers, farmers, breeders, butchers, fishermen, mushroom gatherers whose unique stories are reflected in the dishes that are presented with such elegance to humbled diners. Ducasse’s dishes are a feast for the eyes before they get to the tongue. With his focus on splashing colour on the table as a visual treat,it is not uncommon for diners to gaze at the paper- like breads ‘printed’ with transparently thin sheets of carrots, zucchini flowers and other attractive vegetables.... wondering all the while whether or not to eat from the Mini Pan Bagna, which is more a bouquet than a bread basket! You also have to remember that each diner here has 40 people at his/ her service, to clear more than 50 pieces of cutlery, china and glassware! Despite these numbers, at no stage do you sense anyone hovering around making you feel hemmed in or self conscious. The seamless service is the hallmark of the restaurant – non-obtrusive, silent and yet attentive to your smallest need. Ducasse, who runs 27 restaurants world-wide ( three of which have earned the ultimate accolade of 3 Michelin stars) has recently written ‘Nature’ which encapsulates his feelings about food. He said in an interview that we must not ‘demonize’ haute cuisine. Towards that end, he offers dishes from $10 to 400 Euros! He sums up his cuisine in three eloquent sentences, “ Ïf it were a colour, it would be blue just like the Mediterranean Sea. If it were to be defined by just one taste, it would be that of extra virgin olive oil... subtle and aromatic. If it were to be described in just one word... it would be Ëssential”.The menu is described lyrically as a Mediterranean Symphony. It is designed to soothe the senses, not intimidate diners. The choices are simplified and do not bewilder the unwary : 4 courses, 1 cheese platter and 1 dessert. The chef and 20 cooks work in a state of the art basement kitchen. If you are the favoured one, Ducasse himself receives you in “l’Aquarium’, which is a mini dining room inside the kitchen. While the food menu has been refined to an attractively lean one, albeit with an impressive palette of fine fare, the rest on offer is mind-boggling!Let’s talk about water for now! You have a choice of 18 different sorts of bottled water. There are coffees from Brazil to Africa, 15 types of tobacco, and of course, the perfect cigar to end the meal.As for the selection of wines from the Hotel’s legendary cellar, you get to pick from 400,000 bottles, 950 different wines, 40 rare and great vintages, and 16 “fine and exceptional bottles”. Magnums and jeroboams play starring roles here, as connoisseurs will readily confirm. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We greedily demolish the tiny, it’s on to Ducasse’s internationally renowned “Cookpot of ‘Haute-Provence” This is the sort of inspired vegetarian dish that is worth taking a long flight for. I’m not even a shudh vegetarian, but was I glad I opted for the Cookpot over the lobster tails ( which my daughter was sweet enough to share with me – and they were indeed scrumptious). Bet you’re dying to know what exactly goes into the Cookpot. Since it is Ducasse’s signature dish, let me just say it is bursting with fresh and surprising flavours. Seven seasonal vegetables ( carrots, artichokes,turnips,peas,baby broad beans, asparagus and morels) are meticulously sourced from local farmers. They are coated with Asparagus jus and cooked with a slightly oily but entirely delicious cereal which tastes like cracked wheat but is called ‘small spelt’. To dub it an earthy dish would be a gross understatement. It is a dish so complete, I longed to linger over the after- taste and was actually prepared to skip dessert. Our charming Maitre d’ dissuaded me from even contemplating such an absurd act. Sacrilege! For who can refuse Ducasse’s other masterpiece – the famous Warm Piedmont Hazelnut soufflé? Presented grandly in signed fine china by Pieter Stockmans, the delicately flavoured soufflé rises majestically and gradually melts in the mouth, as the hazelnut gianduja disc placed on top blends smoothly with a side dish of hazelnut ice cream, that induces diners to sigh with pleasure. Sigh deeply. Eyes shut! That’s not where it ends. There is the selection of regional goat cheese which relies on the knowledge of local herdsmen who create the range from whole,unpasteurised milk. The cheeses are served with fennel, baby beans, olive oil and crystal salt There’s also a jaunty sorbet that takes you into the heart of the gardens of the Riviera with its tangy , tantalising flavours of bitter citrus fruit, lemon jelly, grapefruit and Campari. This is pure genius... only a true artist could combine these flavours in as masterful a fashion. Just as we were gathering our senses ( the friendly,local wine had done its work by then) and replacing our respective dropped jaws into their original place, I spotted what resembled a mobile garden going past us on four wheels. Surely, I hadn’t drunk that much of the Dom Perignon(2002), or the Chateau de Bellet (2010)? I was enchanted and flummoxed, so I asked the garcon to kindly explain. “Oh”, he answered suavely, “that’s just the fresh herbs trolley.... our guests can pick their favourite herb for the after- dinner tea. What would you like ? We have citronella from Madagascar to verbena and sage on our fresh infusion trolley”. I turned to Avantikka and stated with complete authority, “We are in the Garden of Eden – take your pick.”She responded sternly, “No more champagne for my mother!” And marched me out of the restaurant and up to our suite. I held on to my flowing caftan and sailed out with a slightly silly smile on my face. Later,as I lay satiated and blissed out on my king size bed, my head light and loopy, I wondered how on earth I would be in a position to recall one of the most memorable meals I had ever consumed? Aha. Even that detail was taken care of. If the chef has created the menu for you, it is presented as you leave, bearing the date and printed on a personalised Louis XV card. Like many before me, I shall preserve this memento for years to come.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why we love Mary Kom...

A lone and lovely hibiscus blooms on the balcony. I take it as an auspicious sign. Tonight is my Summit Meeting with the Lord. Each year I visit the world famous Lalbaug Chha Raja, and place my head on his feet, daring to look up and into his eyes, if time permits. What an awe-inspiring, majestic presence he has! There is much to thank him for... and little left to ask. That's how it should be. For years, I have been a bit too greedy.... always demanding... always begging.... for more and more and more. Since last year, I decided to give up on all those selfish wants. It has made me feel kilos lighter! ********************* This appeared in The Week.... Why we love Mary Kom…. When a hugely successful woman’s husband declares to the press that his wife is “ too good to be true,” it actually says much more about the man than the lady he is referring to. By now, all of India has fallen in love with Mary Kom. Her proud husband Onler Kom, will just have to get used to it. After all, Onler married a world champion. She had two mighty titles in her kitty in 2005, when Onler popped the question. That didn’t change a thing, for he says he married ‘an angel’. As a sportsperson ( footballer) himself, perhaps Onler understood his wife’s grit and determination to excel in her chosen field. Not only did he keep his own sporting ambitions on hold, he sensibly decided to become Mary’s manager and mentor. He has spoken about his decision in several candid interviews since Mary’s ascension. Today, his wife is India’s number one darling . After winning her Bronze medal at the London Olympics, Mary’s regulated and uncomplicated life has undergone several, rather dramatic changes. Apart from being a national Sports’ hero, she is a much admired youth icon and role model, drawing crowds of admirers wherever she goes. Check out the standing ovation she received at Shabana Azmi’s Bollywood fashion show for charity where Mary shared the ramp with the likes of Priyanka Chopra, and walked away as the biggest star of them all! Someone who was present that night explained why Mary stole the show despite the stellar line up of Bollywood biggies on the catwalk. “ She was so herself, so natural…. her simplicity scored over all those preening Divas batting their fake eyelashes.” Aha – that was the secret – simplicity . In as high profile an existence that Mary will be a part of henceforth, she will need to tap into that very simplicity to stay grounded. To stay happy. So far, none of the attention or adulation has gone to Mary’s head. She comes across as a delighted child playing with new baubles. Those ‘baubles’ happen to be medals, trophies and global accolades. Whether Mary subjects herself to a fashion makeover and graces the covers of glossies, from what her husband says about her, it would appear as if Mary remains untouched by the overnight glamour and glitz that is swamping her right now. She herself says she is happiest strumming the guitar and singing for Onler, cooking pork and rice for the family, and playing with her 5 year-old twins. As a woman from Manipur, Mary insists she has faced no discrimination, despite belonging to a patriarchal society. Women across India, and possibly the world, are cheering for this spunky individual who to this day, cooks , cleans and looks after her kids without a trace of self-consciousness. Compare her matter-of-fact attitude to the one displayed by other successful women who foolishly look down on what they call ‘house work’. That Mary’s husband has opted to take on several domestic responsibilities without making a song-and-dance out of the decision, is to his credit. How it to all goes from this point on is going to be critical. Mary is on a roll right now. She will get endorsement deals galore. A movie is being planned on her extraordinary life. There will be countless invitations to travel and address international conferences. Celebrity is a seductive addiction. Mary has gone seamlessly from being an athlete of renown, a genuine achiever, to a Very Famous Person. Apart from several national honours and awards that will inevitably come her way, her life will be overtaken by the accoutrements of fame – the wardrobe that goes with being a recognized person, the paparazzi shots each time she steps out, the high profile public appearances … the barrage of requests to participate in reality shows on television…. yes, it’s all happening to our Simple Mary from Manipur. Will this adulation go to her sensible head? Will she be co-opted into the tinsel world of flashbulbs and photo shoots? How will it affect her life with Onler and the twins, one of whom has undergone heart surgery? The thing about this kind of fame ( as opposed to the one she has enjoyed all along), is the superficiality of it all. Mary Kom is the flavor of the day – everybody wants a piece of Mary. But what is it that Mary wants? For herself? Her family? Her future? “ She has been a giver all her life…” Onler was quoted as saying. Once a giver, always a giver. But shall we also reserve a medal for Mary’s wonderful husband, Onler? It is because he gave, that Mary could achieve her dream. He deserves our congratulations, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Madhur's Heroine...or Kareena's?

This was the mellow view from my suite at Ganga Kutir. Lovely, isn't it? A gently receding monsoon... Baul singers in the courtyard, and pretty fishing boats making their way up the narrow creek. *************** This appeared in Bombay Times today..... What went wrong with ‘Heroine’…. “I feel happy when you hate my film….then I know it will be a hit,” said Madhur Bhandarkar to me recently… and we both laughed at the irony. I like Madhur a lot - he is gutsy, self made and his movies are his own.Importantly, he doesn’t clone anybody else’s style. Madhur has created his own genre, his own brand - take it or leave it. Madhur’s movies follow a simple, or rather, a simplistic path – he picks a field ( fashion, society, corporate life, bars ) and constructs an unwieldy narrative around the central character – generally a luscious lady. Sometimes, this singular approach, devoid of complexity or insights, works big time ( ‘Chandni Bar’), sometimes it collapses on itself. In his latest, ‘Heroine’ , Madhur has overplayed his card, in that he has cannibalized his own. Dangerous! Very dangerous. You don’t devour your contemporaries and not pay the price… remember the old dog-eat-dog theory? This, in an industry that is known for its lopsided loyalties and absurd protectiveness. Fraternity is fraternity, howsoever hypocritical that sounds. Madhur has ruffled far too many feathers in ‘Heroine’. No problem… had the movie been a super hit. Success silences detractors like nothing else. Since the boast was that ‘ Heroine’ would be the first female-driven Bollywood movie to crash through the 100- crore ceiling, its lukewarm box office performance has Madhur’s rivals on a rampage. The knives are out … and that is how the cookie crumbles in this business. Madhur’s a tough guy and he’ll take the attacks in his stride. He has seen worse. But it would be worth asking himself where he went wrong. The starting point for the required introspection should be the clumsy script, the loose story line, the lack of attention to details ( Chateau Margaux on ice ???? Ouch!), and an over indulgent , almost arrogant approach to the subject. Had it been any other actress but Kareena Kapoor, the film would have collapsed on the first day itself. If people are still watching it with interest, it is for Kareena. Her stellar performance as Mahi keeps viewer interest afloat and frankly, it is too heavy a burden for any single individual to bear. The rest of the characters are almost laughable in their one-dimensional, caricatural monotony.Take away Kareena’s incandescent beauty and passionate, almost flawless interpretation of a really poorly written role, and what do you have? Cartoons babbling away in a movie that’s defined by incoherence and ineptness. By the end of this over long, over wrought,tedious exercise, one feels like groaning, “ Babes…. please spare us further torture!” *************** After a really bad spell of cop baiting, our Mumbai Police have finally redeemed themselves a little in the eyes of citizens. On the fifth day of the ongoing Ganesh Festival, several people called to compliment the efficient handling of traffic and other arrangements. It goes to show that with the right leadership, our vardiwallas are capable of excellent results. Well done! *********** The best way to celebrate Gandhiji’s birthday on 2nd October is to put on your running shoes and head towards the BKC complex for Mumbai’s first 10 km walkathon ( fitter individuals are free to jog the distance). ‘Footsteps4good’ is driven by the diminutive Jill Beckingham, who has succeeded in benefitting several NGOs through this initiative. 700 supporters ran last year. Many more are expected this year. All it takes is a big heart and a small donation to a charity of your choice. Go for it, Mumbaikars!

Autumn Leaves...

This is creativity and devotion coming together neatly... a Ganpati crafted out of leaves! I have been singing Dhakku Makum all day. It's now close to midnight. I have gobbled up the best modak I have ever tasted! A fresh batch of modaks was thoughtfully sent to me by a friend of Aparna's called Chitra Phadke. God bless her! My modak moment arrived after a lavish dinner. This is a bit too disgusting to admit.... but I had also indulged myself at the Sea Lounge earlier, and polished off half a portion of bhel (minus sev and aloo,I might add). Is this what they call nervous eating? Or plain greed?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

High Tea with Ashatai....

These images encapsulate the spirit of Ganpati - Mumbai's adored deity. That's Anandita bidding goodbye to Aaliya and Jehangir's Ganeshji who was given a wonderful send-off in a decorated Jeep. The other image is of Ukdichhey Modak - a delicate, steamed prasad that is so well balanced in terms of flavours and textures, it merits an article of its own.Our Blogdost Aparna Velankar sent me this image with a promise to deliver the genuine article later this week. Aparna.... I am waiting! **************** Earlier in the evening, I had spent a mellow evening enjoying High Tea with Asha Bhonsale and her lovely daughter-in-law Anuja at Sea Lounge. Modaks were avidly discussed, along with several other Maharashtrian specialities that Ashatai cooks so expertly. She not just loves food, she loves feeding people. It goes back to her childhood when she used to cook for the family along with Meena, her sister. Asha was just 9 years old at the time! But this evening, she was in the mood to dig into scones and clotted cream, salmon sandwiches and mini chicken quiches. Knowing how particular she is about her diet and exercise, I was delighted to observe her eating heartily and saying sweetly.... "it's okay to indulge once in a while. And I won't eat dinner tonight." I reminded the 80-year-old Diva of the time she had come over to our home on her 60th Birthday and brought her unbeatable shammi kababs ,which we had pounced on! But by far the best part of the High Tea was when the pianist Jokim Crasto switched to playing old Asha Bhonsale numbers, adding his own Jazzy twist to ''Çhuraliya..." and other hits. What a warm and wonderful evening.... as Ashatai hummed along softly, avoided the imli chutney of the bhel, and talked fondly about her grand children, I felt I was in the blessed presence of an extraordinary woman whose amazing life has been so very rich.... and who has equally enriched countless other lives for decades with her golden voice.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Didi-giri... Cholbey na! Cholbey na!!

Don't you just LOOOOOOOOVVVVEEEE these two images? I clicked them at Sonar Tori (Golden Boat), a magnificent restaurant on the banks of the Ganga at Raichuk. Anandita and I were invited by the Neotias (Harsh and Madhu, whose brainchild it is) ... and am I glad we took them up on it!The art you see is by a talented young painter, Narayan Sinha, who has also created the artistic interiors. The Zamindaari Feast of West and East Bengal ( now Bangladesh )was an absolute treat.... and I was in great company, sitting across the erudite Governor of West Bengal. The conversation was as fascinating as the cuisine.... who could ask for anything more? ******************* This appeared in Asian Age today.... Didis and Dadas of Desi politics… I happened to be in Kolkata when Mamata Banerjee made her dramatic announcement to pull the plug on the UPA. Nobody was surprised. There was a bus strike in the city, and people were rejoicing! It meant there would be far less traffic on those clogged streets, less pollution in the atmosphere, and more time to focus on the Dengue outbreak that is obsessing Kolkattans. Every time there is even a hint of a mosquito buzzing within a five foot radius, locals duck for cover or start flapping the air frantically with anything handy – even a sturdy handbag. Didi’s latest stunt doesn’t cause a single ripple. “ It was expected,” says a corporate honcho tiredly. Apparently, anything and everything is ‘expected’ from the mercurial Didi. And no, people don’t want her to leave her hard won gaddi. Not yet. “The commies are waiting to get back into the saddle… but that’s not happening,” announces an industrialist as we nibble on exquisite salads. Life appears to be looking up for those who have embraced Didi’s extraordinarily eccentric and imperious style of governance. There is a great deal of hope invested in her ability to somehow get things moving in that sluggish state. While people wait for the miracle, those close to her are reaping the myriad benefits of being Didi loyalists. Their projects are getting cleared phataphat, and money – a great deal of it – is being made. In such an upbeat scenario, it is foolish to argue with the converts. Didi is their savior. She has rescued them from the maws and jaws of the previous regime and granted a carte blanche to go forth and mint money – no questions asked. In the process, her party hasn’t done too badly either. There’s something to be said about friends with benefits in these difficult times. Like Didi’s faithful followers who argue (rather unconvincingly) against policies Didi refuses to endorse , there are the non-believers, albeit in a conspicuous minority, who articulate their misgivings over watered down Scotch, while reeling off glories that once were Bengal. They are least bothered about the neighbourhood kiranawalla’s future and what will happen to his shop once the biggies enter the market.Walmart politics are for those who live in Delhi. Diesel prices affect interstate truckdrivers, not them. Didi’s got it all wrong, they sniff dismissively, as the old bearer in their favourite club, pads around getting refills. Similarly, the young, rich and restless are worried about Kolkata’s non-existent night life, given the early curfew and the absence of lively hang-out places. One of them was earnestly urging a high ranking official to ‘reconsider’ the spoilsport policy since shutting bars at 11 p.m was such a downer… a barbaric ruling, he called it, without a hint of irony. A disconnect this deep is hard to bridge. It is happening all over India. And those who refuse to address the growing divide are going to pay for their resistance eventually. Most people are living in a fatalistic zone, worried about day to day adjustments and compromises. They are totally disengaged from the bigger political picture that, in fact, does impact their lives on every conceivable level. I watched the images of Vishwakarma in Kolkata and asked around how the preparations for the annual Durga Puja celebrations were progressing. Was there a sense of panic at rising prices… did the escalated cost of diesel dampen their enthusiasm? Was their confidence in Didi shaken? What about the prospect of a mid-term poll disturbing the tempo of their lives? Were any of these issues of any significance? Bilkul nahi! The Vardan Market was full of shoppers making early purchases from small boutiques that specialize in selling designer knock-offs. Speaking to a few women haggling over an Anamika Khanna fake, they stared at me like I was crazy. Roll back or no roll back, they were going all out to enjoy a great Pujo, minus any cutbacks. Whether it was the aggressive art mart or the gold mart, going by the enthusiastic shoppers crowding bazaars, nobody could possibly have believed Didi had just dropped a bomb shell. How things unfold after the flop Bharat Bandh, will be interesting to monitor. The key word being flung around is ‘consultation’. Assorted netas are going purple in the face about not being consulted by the Congress Party before taking such a momentous decision. But hello! Since when did the Congress ever consult anyone…. Allies included?Countless ad hoc decisions have been imposed on the nation in the past… been weakly debated and eventually junked . Most times, the aam janata has seen through the charade, shrugged and gone on with life. This time too, the pantomime will be ignored till a staged ‘resolution’ is offered and instantly accepted by the Opposition and Allies. The Prime Minister, emboldened by the positive market sentiments to last week’s googly, will once again disappear behind the purdah and wait for the Didis and Dadas to calm down… which they will. Our political masters have read us well. They know all it takes to buy time and get on with business as usual is to make a big noise and threaten to withdraw support. The natives are satisfied that at least someone is doing something. It’s hogwash, of course. But everybody goes to bed feeling happy. Meaningless threats and protests have a way of dulling our senses and making us believe we actually count. So, has a new era of Didi-giri and Dada-giri dawned? Will the latest flexing of political muscle make even the smallest dent in the status quo? Or will we – stupidly and passively - stay mum even after the 12,500 crore Teddy Bear’s Picnic erroneously referred to as ‘Bharat Bandh’? As always, this expensive joke is on us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Birthday ,Ganeshji !

What a sweet Ganpati! It belongs to our Blogdost - three guesses - I bet you know who.
On the way back from Kolkata, as we drove to catch our flight back to Mumbai, I watched hundreds of Vishwakarma images being taken for visarjan. When we landed , it was close to midnight, and our Ganpatis were winding their way to countless temporary homes in the metropolis. It felt great to be back! From the air , I could see the shimmering lights of several Sarvajanik pandals gleaming in the dark wetness of the monsoon night. Driving home, I joined worshippers as they shouted, "Ganpati Bappa, Morya..."
There were no ukdichhey modak waiting for me, though. That delicacy ended with the passing away of my mother.
This appeared in Bombay Times yesterday....
Remembering Gautam ….
When Madhuri Dixit broke down during a book release function in front of a vast , pre-dominantly Maharashtrian audience at the historic Ravindra Natya Mandir last week, there was pin drop silence. She took her time to compose herself, tears flowing down her alabaster cheeks. When she spoke about the late Gautam Rajadhyaksha, it was with genuine love for a man whose goodness had touched the hearts of so many people. Gautam referred to Madhuri as his daughter ( the other daughter being Kaajol). And Madhuri’s was the face Gautam picked for the cover of his superb book, aptly titled ‘Faces’. Dixit, looking ravishing and Goddess-like, was accompanied by her husband, who sportingly came up on stage for the audience to get a good dekho of the man blessed enough to be married to Madhuri. His appearance was greeted by a roar of approval.
Once we had finished wiping our tears, it was time for Asha Bhonsle to speak. Before she did that, the presenter read out a moving tribute to Gautam written by Ashatai herself ( she is nearly done with her autobiography). This was such a gut wrenching effort, it was impossible to listen to it without audibly sobbing. Ashatai herself, kept wiping her tears with a corner of her saree pallu. Yes. It was that emotionally charged.They were close, Gautam and Asha. And shared an extraordinary relationship. She confessed she used to sulk and get possessive about Gautam often taunting him to go spend time with Madhuri or Kaajol…. his ‘ladkis’ ( favourites), after a difference of opinion. Ashatai’s secret recipe for ‘Fish Biryani’ ( her signature dish), was shared exclusively with Gautam ( an equally accomplished cook)…. but, she added with a wry smile, it never tasted the same. They shared common passions for music, food, beauty, and much more. Their daily conversations must have been scintillating. She expressed her enormous regret that Gautam isn’t around to see her movie debut at 80 years of age in ‘Mai’. Unbelievable! Perhaps it marks a first in the world …. a legendary singer decides to try her hand at acting in the eighth decade of her incredible life! Would Gautam have approved? No! Said Ashatai firmly. He refused to photograph her as an old woman… and wept when he saw the early stills. In his eyes, Ashatai was the perennial Diva…. one beyond age.
What a fine evening it was. Two extraordinary women ( Madhuri Dixit and Asha Bhonsle), sharing the same platform to honour an extraordinary man!
Green Ganpatis…. an excellent initiative that’s being aggressively promoted. Eco-friendly murtis of Mumbai’s favourite deity have finally caught on with more and more devotees are opting for them.It was always a heart breaking sight to see the beaches after Visarjan day. Let’s all endeavour to make this year’s Festival, the biggest, safest and cleanest…
Fascinating to see the growing trend of item numbers picturised on hotties playing Marathi Mulgis in Bollywood movies. After Vidya’s energetic lavni, it’s on to Rani Mukherjee’s Aiyaa. But before that comes sizzling Bebo’s Halkat! Raj Thackeray must be in heaven!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Aseem Trivedi - one day wonder....?

That's my birthday boy Aditya, with Avantikka....what a party!


Am off to Kolkata after a really long time.... excited! Lovely time of the year to be there...till mid-week.... I'll be missing from this space

This appeared in Sunday Times....

The curse of celebrity…
Mirror,mirror on the wall… who’s the ugh-est of them all? That’s the question Aseem Trivedi seems to ask in his latest cartoon. Errr…. Aseem? Yup. The same. This is what happens when an utterly nonsensical sedition case is filed against a maamuli cartoonist ( high on anger, low on talent) – it’s called a one-day phenomenon.But here’s the upside to the controversy .The recent furor has drawn public attention to the growing antipathy against the Ugly Politician. It sure looks likes this is going to be The Winter of our Discontent. First came the brutal attack on traffic cop Mohan Lal by a minister’s security personnel. Lal’s crime?He had dared to stop the minister’s convoy for jumping a red light. Then came news of some obscure cartoonist’s arrest in Mumbai. In both these seemingly unrelated cases, the strident howls of protest from the aam junta were similar in nature – they were more against the abuse of power by the high and mighty than in support of two wronged individuals. The big question in both cases - how long before we move on? Mohan Lal may end up nursing a bloodied and bulbous eye all by himself, once the media pounces on an even grislier story. After all, Mohan Lal has not announced his intentions of joining a citizens’ movement or turning into an activist. There is nothing ‘sensational’ about Mohan Lal’s predicament.This beastly incident is just another tragic case of an earnest government servant paying a huge price for doing what he’s paid to – his duty.Congress Minister Taj Moiuddin, will carry on… unapologetic, unscathed and unmoved. His repeated chant that he doesn’t have eyes at the back of his head , will also be filed away indifferently and soon forgotten.
But what happens from this moment on to young Aseem Trivedi will be far more interesting to monitor.Here’s a likely scenario: As of now, Aseem is the newest darling of the media… he has been completely co-opted by those crying hoarse against an archaic law. So far, it reads like a meaty story. Aseem, with disheveled hair and wearing the mandatory black kurta , lends himself perfectly to the darkness of the moment,as he plays to the gallery, spewing contempt and talking freedom of expression. He is also producing cartoons on command as apt photo-ops. That is, when he isn’t posing for shutter bugs, hugging well-known people like Dr.Binayak Sen. Aseem’s minders may have taken over his image building , going by how swiftly he undertook an expeditious damage control exercise when the Dalit heat was about to get to him.Once out of jail, what did our cartoonist friend do – he rushed to Buddh Vihar to pay his respects to Babasaheb Ambedkar, adding he had the ‘greatest respect” for the Dalit leader and the Constitution. He also grabbed a quick lunch at Mayank ( India Against Corruption) Gandhi’s office, before addressing a packed press conference.
What does the future hold for disgruntled young people like Aseem when they are suddenly propelled into the limelight and converted into overnight martyrs? What happens when an Aseem becomes a pivot, a symbol… even a hero? Does collective anger find the outlet it seeks? Or does the initial emotional outpouring get dissipated, leading to absolutely nothing but a few dramatic media clips? Political parties are quick to swoop down on people like Aseem. Any person who can grab headlines is worth courting. In such a cynical scenario, someone like him is a catch. So far, he has presented himself as a somewhat naïve but reasonably sensitized young man, using crude cartoons to express his disillusionment. His life has undergone a 360 degrees change after the misplaced Sedition charge. He is now owned by the media. He is hot property. He will make it to international publications and global channels. For a short while at least, Aseem Trivedi will gobble up publicity and share front page space with movie stars and sports heroes. Someone smart will ask him to walk the ramp – for a cause, of course. He will be wooed to play show stopper during the unending Fashion Weeks. Reality shows will chase him. He may enter the Big Boss house. Get a publishing deal. His career as a budding cartoonist may end abruptly. But so what? For another fifteen minutes, or perhaps fifteen days, Aseem Trivedi will be hailed as a bona fide celebrity… a star. The ravenous media monster isn’t done with him yet. And yes, he also draws cartoons for a living.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mount Mary's blessings....

I was most touched when my good friend Rashmi Uday Singh sent me this uplifting image she'd clicked when she went to pray at the historic Mount Mary's church in Bandra. She said she had lit a candle for me and my family.... and I got all teary!
It has been that kind of a day.... sentimental and a little weepy. It is Danesh's birthday today.He is one of my oldest friends, and I love him dearly.He lives in Paris, but I still feel we are back attending Summer School in St.Xavier's College, every time we meet. The last time was a few months ago. We were both mourning the death of Gautam Rajadhyaksha. It was raining buckets on the Champs Elysee, as we sipped hot chocolate at Fouquet's, held hands and shed silent tears. I said a prayer for Danesh during my Ganesh puja. And I thought about the death of Dr. Verghese Kurien - an extraordinary man, a true visionary. I remembered vividly the time I had interviewed him in Anand more than 30 years ago. I had called him India's Doodhwala.... and the title had amused him greatly. It was such a special era.... you have to watch Shyam Benegal's 'Manthan' that was inspired by the Milk Revolution started by Dr. Kurien. At 90. Dr.Kurien slipped away knowing he had accomplished a singular mission. What a life! What a man!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bechara Manmohan....

Two feline beauties shot by our Blogdost, Nitin Rai....
This appeared in Asian Age yesterday....
Bechara Manmohan…
Bechara Manmohan is a beleaguered man these days. We should really get off his back and let him resign with some dignity… after Madam gives him the green signal to do so, of course.Poor chap, here he is getting it right left and centre, at home and abroad, with nobody standing up for him and saying, “There,there… it’s okay. We all make mistakes… we all screw up big time. Don’t sulk. Everything’s gonna be alright….” But that’s not happening. The reason it’s not going to happen either is because we all know nothing’s gonna be alright. And there’s no point in pretending a tooth fairy is going to drop by with a magic wand, wave it around and – voila – India will get back on track. The rather dismal truth is that India ki railgaadi track se phisal gayi hai. To get that train to huff and puff again as it steams towards a great and glorious future seems highly unlikely. But, hello! Why do we need a Washington Post to tell us what is so damn evident? And even if the Post has put it all in a manner so blunt and unambiguous, it made us squirm, the point is, Manmohan Singh had lost the plot ages ago. Today, if he does indeed cut a ‘tragic figure’ it is of his own making. At 79, one expects a certain distilled wisdom to kick in. True, age is an unforgiving and harsh factor for most mortals, but in the case of politicians, it can be a gigantic attribute. Especially in Asian societies that still venerate and respect age. No matter what social scientists have to say about India’s love affair with youth ( irritatingly dubbed ‘Youngistan’), we remain deferential towards elders ( well… for the most part) and do yearn for a wizened old Pitama of the epics, to show us the way out of a bottomless abyss. Someone who has a vast and varied experience of life, who can guide and mentor others, who can be relied on to resolve a series of big and small crises. Manmohan Singh could have been… should have been… India’s father figure. But he blew it – for India and for himself. Today, he faces the ignominy of being described as a weak, ineffectual, cowardly puppet who refuses to quit… and worse… who refuses to do his job as prime minister of a vast and unwieldy democracy.
What are the options in front of him? If he yields to pressure and does indeed resign, does it solve even a single problem? If he quits, what happens next ? Will Sonia suddenly emerge in a new avatar as Ma Kali, and take charge of a chaotic, headless country? Will the BJP seize the moment and gain control over the reins of power? Or will we witness an outbreak of anarchy the likes of which we have not seen before? Which is the better, more sober option? A silent, weak prime minister waiting mutely for orders from his lady boss, or a state dominated by opportunistic players ready to pounce on the rapidly deteriorating situation?The Post has referred to a ‘deeply corrupt government’ and warned Singh that he faces the ‘danger of going down in history as a failure’. Rather a failure than a despot or a tyrant - that’s one line of argument. But a failure at the cost of the country’s progress? Never.
In all this finger pointing, perhaps the root cause of this malaise has been overlooked. Endemic corruption has gone unchecked for over 50 years of our country’s existence. It is only far more in your face and brazen now. Or,more accurately, it is only in today’s more transparent times that we talk about the extent to which corruption has corroded our system. One just has to examine the daily charade that passes for parliamentary proceedings to know what a cruel joke is being played on the people of India. Yes, let it be said loudly and clearly – the Congress Party has fostered and bred corrupt practices across the board for the longest time. But can we single out even one other political party with an untainted, blemish free track record? The Post tells us somewhat sanctimoniously that several things went disastrously wrong under Singh. So they did. The Post goes on to list what those are… stalled economic reforms, the rupees collapse etc. But according to the paper, what is equally damaging to Singh’s reputation is that ‘he looked the other way and remained silent as his cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets.” Oh dear. That is just so unfortunate. His silence. His compliance. His passivity. Par dekho toh sahi - that is the real Manmohan Singh. The essential him. That is the man he has always been…. always. It is our mistake that we bestowed him with exaggerated attributes he never possessed. We labeled him an economic wizard who’d lead India into the Brave New World. We expected him to almost single handedly make us into a global superpower, quite forgetting the inbuilt weaknesses of our own system. It is really not Manmohan Singh’s fault that we read him wrong! As the Post reminded readers, he had famously told broadcaster Charlie Rose in 2006, “I am a small person in a big chair.” Truer words were never spoken. Can we just leave the guy alone now and look for other scapegoats for our collective failure?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Keep those clothes off, Harry!

That's Arundhati in Delhi - a city she loves! Especially because it is so green and clean!

And that's Nayanaa Kanodia's invitation. I like Nayanaa's work - naive and telling. Years ago, I had picked Nayanaa to collaborate with on a canvas that was up at a charity auction, some years ago. She has her fans - I am one of them....


The Prince and the Vegas Girls!

What’s wrong with the world? Why is the otherwise slutty British press frothing at the mouth and getting moralistic? Who doesn’t want a sneak peek at the Crown Jewels? All that big fuss because Prince Harry did what any hot blooded young man would in Vegas – got naked at a wild party? Puhleeze – stop! Prince Harry is not your average Joe the neighbourhood plumber. He may be third in line to the throne. So bloody what? He is a man, first. A very naughty man, at that. Track record ko dekho! Take a look at the scenario. Princey goes to Vegas with a bunch of rowdy mates for some much-needed R and R. Why do people go to Vegas? Not to pray…. not to behave like they are at a funeral… not to save the world. Vegas attracts hard core party people from across the world. And high rollers who are mad enough to think they’ll beat the casinos and make money. Why was the Prince there? To have fun. How did he land up in a fancy suite with ‘hot chicks’ for company? Oh come on… he is Prince Harry. Not the Dalai Lama. Hot Chicks are a part of his environment. He just has to breathe – and there they are. Well… the buck naked part of the story kicks in after the reckless and recklessly handsome Prince decides to play a few dicey games with these adventurous ladies. Adult games. Games that involve stripping. Getting nanga. Till this point, the story reads just fine. The Prince and his lads are starkers, as are the luscious girls. The stakes must have been as high as the party goers, for nobody noticed the cameras. This is the seriously dumb part. Clearly, the Prince was aware that pics were being clicked, since he assured a naked female companion that he would gallantly guard her modesty with his own body! That’s class….however Harry forgot to cover the royal butt when the cameras went click- click. In one photograph, he is seen hanging on to the crown jewels with his hands…. even so, a few glimpses of Little Harry have already set the internet on fire.

My question is broader in scope :The British establishment is outraged and feigning shock. Why? The Defence Ministry is threatening to strip the 27-year-old pilot of his Apache duties , claiming he is not cool headed enough to fly this big, destructive machine. Really? The guy was set for a second round of duties in Afghanistan. Are all those soldiers fighting a useless war in Afghanistan really cool headed? His father has apparently banned him from future ‘boys only’ binges, according to reports. The irony of it all! Prince Charles had an equally wild reputation in his time … he can hardly afford to discipline the boy! Even sis-in-law Kate Middleton has been roped in to keep Prince Harry home and occupied. Her strategy? She’s giving him cooking lessons. So far, Harry’s grandma, the Queen, has wisely not uttered a word. She has raised quite a family herself, and seen a lot of hairy stuff along the way. This is the 21st century, not Victorian England. Harry is young, wicked, rich, single and good looking. Yes, he drinks more than he can handle. He parties hard with dodgy debutantes. He staggers out of night clubs. He throws up. He changes girlfriends as frequently as his socks. He’s normal. Hota hai! He hasn’t killed anyone or otherwise behaved in a violent, unbalanced, dangerous-to-society manner. Perhaps, his latest romp can be dubbed conduct unbecoming for a member of the royal family. But unlike his indiscreet grandpop who routinely makes racist and sexist comments and embarrasses the Palace, this guy’s lifestyle is that of a spoilt brat… a pampered rock star. Nothing worse. Let him cavort naked in Vegas… what difference does it make to world affairs? Let that hot chick make her millions out of selling those stolen pics. There’s a whole world of opportunity out there. It’s a fair free- for- all. The Vegas party is over. We have all seen Harry’s butt and privates. We have not fainted. We understand it’s all in them genes. How can the younger son of Lady Diana and Prince Charles be expected to behave like a monk?

Give the lad a break. Crown him King!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kat is out of the bag....!

The beauteous Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was kind enough to grant an audience to the Parikrma students and hand over her signed jeans for the scheduled auction. The kids in turn, presented her a special painting created by them... and confessed later that their hearts were still pounding hours after meeting their favourite female star. Let's just call it the Ash effect....


This appeared in Bombay Times today...

Golmal at Customs… Kat is out of the bag...

Bashing our Customs’ officers is a popular sport. Let’s face it, being a much feared Customs’ officer is a pretty dicey job to do….but someone’s got to do it! Passengers the world over detest the entire process of clearing Immigration and Customs on arrival. Air travel is no longer a relaxing, much anticipated journey. If anything, it is tiring and tedious. Add to that the long delays, lost luggage, tampered bags and several other irritants. Yup. And those forms, too. Bleary eyed travelers have to rub their eyes, squint and pay close attention to what they are declaring, before sailing past the Green Channel. Mistakes happen. They shouldn’t. But do.Especially with high profile people and super celebrities who delegate such ‘minor’ tasks to assistants. Huge error. As so many of our Bollywood stars have discovered. As Katrina Kaif experienced on her return from Chicago ( Mumbai Mirror, front page story) on Sunday. Katrina zoomed off nonchalantly, leaving Chaddha and Sharma, her personal staffers, to deal with the nitty gritty of getting her bags cleared. Yes, there were a couple of booze bottles, some cash and an Apple iPad. This was not the tough part. Had Katrina declared what she was carrying and paid the duty, there would have been no problem. Unlike a lot of other stars who come back with bags crammed with pricy designer goods ( watches, bags, shoes , outfits, jewellery) which they hope to get in undetected, Katrina’s misadventure looks more like a careless lapse. What was far more alarming in this case was the easy access given to her staff. First, those two guys left the airport with her, ostensibly to see off their madam to the car . Now comes the tricky part – minutes later, they walked right back in to get her bags! This shows just how lax security is at our international airport. It’s not about Katrina’s bags at all. It is about shocking security breaches like this one. Several questions have been raised in the past about the arbitrary functioning of some of our Custom’s officials. Either they go overboard and give our stars a really hard time. Or they conveniently forget the rules and allow celebs to sail past , leaving lackeys to collect their bags – this irregular practice has to be stopped . Not only because it represents a major threat in terms of security, but also because these double standards send out the worst signal to other, less privileged citizens.

I’d say the main problem lies in a lack of awareness. Most passengers don’t read the forms they are filling in and signing, as diligently as required. There has to be a more sustained campaign to let international travelers know what is and is not permissible. Why not display prominent boards in the Customs’ area that spell out the basics? And why not a specially designed crash course for the film industry? Let’s give our stars the benefit of the doubt. Not all of them have criminal intentions. Most would prefer to go by the book. Let’s not pounce on them and brand them potential smugglers, conspiring to cheat the government each time they step out of the country and step back in with suitcases crammed with goodies. Nobody likes to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Like Katrina, there have been several other stars who have received flack for flouting Customs’ laws. By the same token, let’s not demonise our men and women in sparkling white who are following the law as Customs’ Officers. If you want to stay out of trouble,it’s really pretty simple, folks – read the form, fill in the information as accurately as possible, sign the form yourself, carry your own bags, and if the goods you are bringing in are dutiable, co-operate with the Customs’ personnel and pay up! No jhanjat. No bad publicity.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Narendra Modi's Diet Plan...

Here's the promised image of the gorgeous yellow roses shot by my daughter Arundhati. My heart soars each time I spot them.... even the birds outside her window have been eyeing them since they were placed there...


This appeared in Sunday Times yesterday....

Narendra Modi’s Diet Plan….

Move over Kareena Kapoor. Narendra Modi’s Size Zero is the new mantra for a leaner, meaner and definitely sexier silhouette. You may be the hottest ‘Heroine’ in tinsel town with the best bod in the biz. But there’s nobody to beat Hero Narendrabhai. Especially when it comes to nutrition and diet. He is poised to revolutionise the world of wellness with fresh definitions of what it takes to look awesome. So awesome, that the entire world is compelled to take notice of this unique weight loss programme. For starters it involves turning vegetarian. No problems with that. Vegetarianism is a rapidly growing food trend, as is evident from the number of fancy veggie gourmet options available worldwide these days. Eating ‘ghaas-phoos’ is now considered pretty cool and celebrities who shun meat are seen as role models for the movement. Then there are the Vegan diet freaks… macrobiotic food fanatics… vaghera, vaghera.The… ahem… bottom line remains the same – effective and healthy weight loss. But trust our Narendrabhai to give a new spin to all these fads and beliefs. Modi gives a new spin to almost everything in any case. Why not food?

In a recent interview to the Wall Street Journal, Modi was in a particularly expansive mood. Perhaps it was the diet dhokla he’d eaten for lunch. Or an oil free thepla. Asked about the high rate of malnutrition in the State of Gujarat, Modi glibly assured the interviewer that the problem was not one of a food shortage. It was more an aesthetic issue with the State’s middle class. Apparently, middle class Gujaratis were more concerned about being beautiful (read: thin) to bother with health. It gets worse, Modi then went on to suggest that appearance conscious middle class mothers in his State eat the wrong food or eat less, so as to compete with today’s standards of female attractiveness. This outrageous statement had women across the board up in arms. Leading the protest was Ambika Soni who huffed and puffed about Modi’s insensitivity towards women who ‘sacrifice’ their own food to feed families. As we well know, a woman who starves herself in our society for the sake of her children, is seen as the ultimate mataji. Modi really should have known better.

Making malnutrition a vanity issue , is adding insult to injury. It is the poor in Gujarat who are suffering. As it is the poor across the world who are the real victims of malnutrition.Social Scientist Professor Ghanshyam Shah pointed out in a newspaper interview, “Bluntly speaking, it appears that either he does not know what he is speaking or he is terribly unaware of the ground reality. This issue is prevalent among poor and weaker sections like minorities,tribals, dalits and rural OBCs.” Clearly, figure conscious, middle class ladies do not fall into this category. And someone needs to tell Modi there is a difference between fashionable anorexia and actual malnutrition. In fact, had Modi cared to pay some attention to a report tabled by his own health and family welfare department, he would have been more responsible while making those facetious comments to WSJ. According to the report, every second child below the age of five in Gujarat is underweight. An NSSO survey indicates that the average Gujarati diet has deteriorated due to poverty in the State. Modi’s aggressive attempts to position Gujarat as a land of milk and honey are unfortunately not matched by statistics. Despite these depressing findings, a startling 42% of urban Indians are ready to accept Modi as the next Prime Minister. India is clearly starved in the leadership stakes.

Given Modi’s radical views, his latest malnutrition missile should also be seen in the same context. Perhaps, the next beauty contest can be hosted by Modi in Gujarat. Our lovelies can benefit greatly from Modi’s diet tips, since he is now a self declared expert on weight loss and nutrition. Publishers would happily give Modi a big, fat advance for a book on ‘Thin is In – Modi-style’. The Modi Diet could become a global best seller. Let nobody ruin Modi’s unique theory by pointing to the WHO report that states malnutrition is responsible for 54% of child mortality.Right now, Modi’s on a roll. Ladies of Gujarat, do watch those waist ( not waste) lines. As for the starving folks of the State. Modi, the Marie Antoinette of the Bens and Bhais of Gujarat, may just roar, “Let them eat cake…. Err… make that mohan thaal.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

In full bloom....

I am seriously tempted to use our Blogdost Nitin Rai's stunning images as gigantic posters! He shot them in Portland at the Farmer's Market.... and when I saw them, I felt instantly upbeat. I love the many varieties of Hibiscus I grow myself. Each new bloom becomes an offering to my Ganpati,
Last night, after the grand Parikrma function at the Taj Land's End, I noticed several unwanted bouquets lying in a corner. The roses were perfect - yellow and red. I brought mine home and asked Arundhati to photograph them in the slanted, golden evening light. I presented another bouquet to my grand-daughter Anasuya Devi... but she preferred her new baby strolley!
Tonight, I am taking my girls out to dinner at our favourite restaurant, Wasabi. What a day! Dosas for lunch and Black Cod for dinner.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Amitabh Bachchan at Parikrma Event...

The Big B is holding up the trendy jeans he donated to Parikrma's global initiative, Jeanaration, which kicked off in Mumbai this evening with Amitabh Bachchan's signed denims. These, along with 24 other pairs of jeans belonging to superstars, will be up for auction on e-bay shortly. This marks a first in India. And who better than our global icon to launch a global programme designed to benefit disadvantaged kids from school to junior college and beyond.
Seen in the picture, taken by my daughter Avantikka, are four bright youngsters from Parikrma, Madhumala, Diwakar, Vinod Kumar and Phatila, along with the founder of Parikrma, the dynamic Shukla Bose. During a lively interactive session with the children, Amitabh spoke candidly about his own life, and paid a rich tribute to his teachers, and of course, his illustrious father.
I cannot thank Amitabh enough. Not only did he give us a generous amount of time, but he spontaneously donated 11 lakhs to Parikrma.
We are so grateful!