Friday, November 30, 2012

Festival of Erotica...

Just back from a rushed trip to Delhi. This was to attend the India Today 'Sexposition' as they called it. The Festival of Erotica is a brave attempt... and marks 10 years of the definitive sex survey India Today has been conducting with such vigour! Those surveys were pretty seminal and told us a great deal about our mixed up. schizophrenic attitude to sex.
I kicked off the Festival, in conversation with the sexy, foxy Koel Purie. It was fun and frothy!
The real sizzler was Bipasha Basu, accompanied by 6 tough bouncers, a hair stylist, make up person and companion. She looked super fabulous and spoke sensibly. But who can stop an inebriated ass in the audience for asking cheekily, "But.... why are you in this gown? Why aren't you wearing latex?"' Boorish creep!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'I can't think of one politician worthy of respect '

Unfortunately for India's politicians, Shobhaa De has trained her sights on them in her 18th book, Sethji, whose protagonist is a wily, old-world, Delhi politician.

De discussed the murky world of Indian politics with's Savera R Someshwar and Vaihayasi Pande Daniel.

Sethji, Shobhaa De's latest novel, reflects years of observing and interacting with Indian politicians of all hues. The novelist feels the timing of the book's release could not have been better.
India, she says, is suffering a serious leadership crisis, with not an able leader to be found among its bumbling cast of politicians.
Incisive, razor sharp words slash through the rarified South Mumbai air, underscored by a knowing smile and a raised brow when's Savera R Someshwar andVaihayasi Pande Daniel met De recently.
Sethji, she says, has been in her head for over a decade; her readers will find many parallel in the current Indian political firmament.
De's 17 previous books – all bestsellers -- have covered everything from romance to sex to Bollywood to the Page 3 lifestyle with Sethji, she walks a different road.
The first of a two-part interview:
There are so many politicians in India today... Who do you think is most like Sethji?
(Laughs) Well, there's so much to pick and choose from... it's such a rich cast of characters.
I took elements from many more people (to write Sethji), but I would say Amar Singh because he represents the old school, much more than say a Jyotiraditya Scindia.
For readers who yet have to pick up a copy of Sethji, could you tell us a little more about the similarities that you see between Sethji and what you call an old style politician?
It's not based on Amar Singh, so I wouldn't really want to draw those kind of parallels.
It's just that, like Sethji, Amar Singh too was never mainstream; he could have never hoped to become prime minister. But he was still seen as a player.
His methods were crude, but they were upfront. He made no effort to make them appear better, more sophisticated. He spoke a certain bhasha (language) that was extremely representative of a certain generation and how they conducted political business.
His connections were interesting, but they all have connections. He just didn't bother to disguise it. This also made him more endearing because there was such transparency.
What you saw was what you got.
In that sense, I thought Amar Singh was much more -- if I can use the word -- honest about his ambitions and his modus operandi compared to the slick operators of today.
In your acknowledgement in the book, you mentioned Sitaram Kesri, a politician most people have forgotten today. I found that very intriguing.
Sethji has been sitting in my head for 13 years; he refused to go away.
At that time, Sitaram Kesri (who was then the Congress president) was the Amar Singh of his time.
There was something about him which was (pauses for a while) very disturbing.
Had we dealt with the Sitaram Kesri in our midst then, had we addressed it as something that is horribly wrong with the political system, we wouldn't have had so many clones.
Today, there are so many Sitaram Kesris. At that point, he was a little unique.
There was such outrage over so many of his dealings; there were so many rumours floating around him. We failed to recognise it for what it was; we are perhaps paying the price for that today.
You wrote Sethji much before what has recently happened in politics. It suddenly seems so prescient.
It's almost prophetic. I had goose bumps when so many things happened post Sethji being written and signed, sealed and sent off to the publishers.
The (Mumbai) Sea Link suicide (scene), for example, was written almost one-and-a-half to two years before the (first) Sea Link suicide happened.
I chose to name the model, Simran, much before Simran Sood was anywhere on our landscape.
Also, the kind of real estate wheeling and dealing, and the fight over prime property in Mumbai, was almost scarily prophetic. Now, when I read the book, it really does send a chill down my spine.
How do you see the future of India's oldest political party?
Sonia Gandhi seems to be determinedly pushing her son, Rahul, as her successor, while it is clearly Priyanka is who is the more charismatic Gandhi scion.
Priyanka's probably the magic card that will be pulled out when needed. Right now, they probably think they will be able to ride this out with Rahul; no one else, however, seems to have the slightest faith in that happening.
We witnessed what happened in Amethi; neither Priyanka nor Rahul could deliver even as a combine. The writing is on the wall.
Right now, things are at a crossroad -- either we are going to opt for a continuation of dynasty, and politics that are driven by dynasty, or we'll be able to make the big leap to the 21st century and modern day politics where the person who is the most competent and the most qualified will win the race.
But since we do not have an alternative yet -- a charismatic young leader has not presented himself or herself -- we are going to be stuck with the two Gandhi children. That might change if there's yet another magic card that we don't know about at this point.
I think crises of different sorts throw up leaders in a most unexpected way. People who you least expect rise to the job, come out of the woodwork, claim their space, become stakeholders...
Who would have imagined that a Kejriwal (Arvind Kejriwal, the activist-turned-politician) would be a player at all? Two years ago, who even knew who he was?
It's interesting to monitor change from the point of view that, with circumstances being as tumultuous as they are, we could have someone very young, very charismatic, someone who is a moral leader as much as a political leader.
Do you see somebody like that? Do you think it's time for a leader from the middle class?
(It is time for) a moral leader who stands for something that is a complete contradiction to the way we have come to accept politics as being driven by amoral people.
And I don't mean a Baba Ramdev, who I don't respect.
I don't mean a moral leader of that kind, a spiritual leader; I just mean someone who represents something that the young of India, the middle class of India can actually look up to and be inspired by and feel more proactive (about).
Unless the middle class wakes up and engages itself in a more dynamic way with what is going on in the country, there's not going to be the kind of change we expect.
The tipping point is likely to come six months down the line. If we don't recognise it, we are going to lose out and then we'll be set back for another 50 years.
What that tipping point is, where it will come from... I'm not a prophet, I can't say (when) but we are moving towards it. It could be the winter of our discontent which leads to something very major in terms of change.

Coming back to the Gandhis, why do you think Priyanka Gandhi's mother has kept her away from active politics despite her obvious appeal?
Is it a case of a typically Indian mother pushing her son over her daughter?
I think it is a collective decision, quite honestly. Not that I am a Gandhi insider, but I have my ear to the ground. I listen closely to what people who know the family have to say.
It was a collective decision at the time because it was felt that Priyanka is not technically a Gandhi. We must remember she is Mrs Vadra, Vadhera, or however they pronounce it. Her kids too are not Gandhis.
But if Rahul marries, and if he produces an heir and a spare, then that would be the logical way for the Gandhis to continue to rule the country for the next 100 years.
Since that is not the case right now -- I would say, earlier, Priyanka's children were much younger and she was perhaps hysterically in love with Mr (Robert) Vadra. It was her decision to stay out of active politics and focus on her family, which may have been the right decision then, which her mother respected.
I do feel all three of them are in this together.
But she (Priyanka) is clearly the more political animal; she is more charismatic; she is better cut out for politics. And, going by how weepy and sentimental we get about dynasty, she is the one who most resembles her famous grandmother.
It would make perfect logical sense for her to be nominated and for the Gandhis to just get on with it and do it if that's the plan.
I mean, don't keep India on tenterhooks like this; it's crazy.
What is your impression about Mr Vadra -- you don't seem to like him too much?
It's not that at all. I've met him. He's a charmer and his muscles do all the talking. He loves his muscles! And, you know, why not?
Here's a guy who's worked on his body and he realises the body's going to help him much more than, perhaps, the brain. He has no issues about... flexing his muscles metaphorically and literally.
That he has suddenly decided he wants to play a more active role in politics was a slightly unfactored aspect of Mr Vadra's career.
But it's a democracy! Who says he can't ride into the sunset on his motorcycle saying I'm going to lead India?
Nothing will stop him; nothing can stop him; nothing should stop him.
What advice would you give Rahul Gandhi?
I would say do what you think you are best suited to do and if it's not politics, just say it. If it is something you are being pressurised into by Mummyji, (remember) you're a big boy now. You can certainly assert yourself and walk away from it.
But don't play this dilly-dallying, keep everybody guessing, sitting on the fence game. It's unfair to the country; it's unfair to the party; it's unfair to the next election.
We still don't know where Rahul Gandhi stands, what his views are and whether he has a vision for India.
If he's going to be propelled to a position of enormous power all of a sudden, in a role that he's clearly ill-prepared for or unwilling to take on, then I think it's time for him to say 'Ciao guys, I'm out of here.' We'd respect him more for it.
Do you feel he is being forced into this role? That it's not really something that he wants to do? Will he make a good leader or is he someone walking the political path because he has no choice?
I don't know the man, so I can only guess from what is in the public domain.
He seems like a reluctant prince to me and, at this point, we don't need a reluctant prince. We need someone who can actually take charge.
Has your anger towards the Gandhi family abated? Maybe five years ago you were willing to give it a try; now you feel enough is enough.
I was not willing to give it a try even five years ago! I always thought there was something wrong and skewered in the fact that we couldn't think beyond the Gandhis.
It's a cultural tradition in India, whether it's in politics or in Bollywood -- fortunately not in cricket because you actually have to deliver; you can't just be the son of a cricketer and hope to then make it to the India team.
For Bollywood and politics however, the only qualification you need is to be born into the right family.
I thought five years ago, even 10 years ago, that Young India would raise its voice and say we really don't need this; can we just please get on with our lives and elect a leader who we respect and look up to, who doesn't belong to any dynasty or any political family? But that didn't happen.

Let's talk about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Unlike Sethji, he seems to be a man who is unable to play the political game.
Would you agree and is that good or bad for India?
We are underestimating Mr Manmohan Singh by saying he has not been able to play the political game.
I think he's been a superstrategist in the political games that he has chosen to play. That he's played these games very silently is again the sign of a very astute politician.
A person who talks too much, I would say, talks themselves into a corner. He has never done that.
So we don't know. We don't know what he stands for, but the fact is he is still there and he's still the prime minister. Nobody has been able to get him to abandon his kursi (chair).
If he's there, he's there with Madam's (Sonia Gandhi's) blessings. He's there because (Finance Minister P) Chidambaram wants him there; he's there because (President) Pranab (Mukherjee) wants him there.
He's there because all the people who call the shots today in our country, and have been doing so over the last many years, want him there.
That he can withstand the harshest criticisms thrown at him by the international press -- calling him the weak prime minister, etc -- and still not resign shows he's a political animal. We should never, ever underestimate that.
Nor should we ever underestimate the fact that he's part of the World Bank tradition dominating and running countries; that he is surrounded by people who are ex-World Bank; that perhaps what we see today, the agenda that is being dictated to our country, could well be a World Bank agenda that we have not been able to identify for what it is.
I wouldn't write him off as a useless prime minister, not in the least.
I think he's been extremely strategic. We can give him brownie points for 1991 and take away a lot of brownie points for being 'Maun'mohan Singh and keeping his maun vrat (decision to not speak) for so many years. But that also takes a lot of deep thinking and strategising.
What advice would you give Dr Singh?
If we were to hear his voice more often, as citizens of a democracy it would really help. But I guess he is under strict instructions to not speak up.
Resignation, however, is not the answer; it's not going to solve a thing.
If he were to send out strong signals to the international community that he is in charge, even if he isn't, it might be good for our economy, if for not for anything else.
It will also be a good signal to send out to our neighbours. It will be a good signal to the young of India that there is someone there who is in a position to take charge of the country even though he may have abdicated in favour of Madam and others.
But he's still there, he's still our prime minister and he should start behaving like one.
What would your advice be to the politicians of India?
To resign en masse would be a good point to start because I can't think of a single politician today who is worthy of any respect. I think I speak on behalf of most right thinking Indians.
But that was just a facetious response.
What I would say is that the writing is on the wall. They should not ignore it.
They should not ignore the anger of the people they should not take it for granted that their political careers are assured; that they will win the next election based on the old formula of paying for votes, creating vote banks and everything else be damned... I hope and pray that doesn't happen in these elections.
It is a very critical election for us, for India, for our future. It will also be a critical election for those politicians who continue to display contempt to the very people who have put them in power by being so blatantly indifferent and brazening it out with the way they conduct business.
I hope and pray that they do, in fact, review themselves because if they don't, the country will, and then there may be a lot of people in jail.

What is your advice for Arvind Kejriwal?
Who am I to advise him? I don't think he seeks or pays the slightest attention to advice.
But Kejriwal has been the catalyst India needed; he's a wake-up call.
I don't personally endorse his politics. I think his decision to start a political party was not thought through and very naive.
He is, at best, an activist who raised the kind of questions that others have not dared to raise, who named names the others have not dared to name and that in itself is commendable.
Having performed that service, he can disappear back into the woodwork and continue whatever he is doing in a missionary way in the villages of India, because that's where they really need him.
Whatever he has triggered off is for others to take forward in a more meaningful way because he can't do it.
He's not a political leader. He's just a well-meaning guy who's shooting his mouth off night after night on television and, God bless him, but that's all. That's how I see him.
Is Mr Kejriwal good or bad for India? And 'Anna' Hazare?
At this point, definitely good, because, like I said, there are so many sacred cows in India and he has boldly gone ahead and named every single sacred cow (laughs).
He has performed a huge service, so he is good for India right now.
Whether he's good for India down the line, I don't think so. He simply does not have it in him. There's nothing statesman-like about him. There's no vision for India. He has not said anything that is concrete.
He says the people will elect the candidate. Listen, we are in a democracy, we've always elected candidates so what is he talking about?
In that sense, he's school-boyish and naive. I don't know how well-meaning he is, but he has performed a service and we must acknowledge that.
'Anna' Hazare is essentially a peasant with no real political thought, no statesman-like qualities, no leadership qualities...
He's just a little old man who tabled the C word.
Again, that's a service he performed. Now, he can go back to his village and flog those people and cut off hands and do whatever he was doing before he became a symbol for national change.
It may sound rather unforgiving, but I have met him. I respect the fact that he did bring corruption into the public arena on a mega scale. We owe him a big one just for that.
What is your advice to the Opposition parties?
What Opposition? Where is the Opposition? What advice?
They are all cut from the same cloth. They just call themselves by different names.
There is no Opposition in this country. We've all flattened ourselves and said, 'Roll all over us, guys, it's fine.'
So, I'm sorry, I have no respect for anybody in the Opposition -- they are all the same creatures with different masks.
Do you believe Narendra Modi is a gamechanger in Indian politics?
Not at all! If he has any such illusions about himself and his 'vast' following believe he is a gamechanger, they are deluding themselves.
I think he has done enormous disservice to how politicians are viewed, particularly in the international arena.
That he's somehow back in the fold -- they are going about reinstating him in the international community, giving him a visa, calling him to their countries -- has more to do with economics. They will be using him as much as he will be using them.
He has offered Gujarat with all the infrastructure and all the advantages for investors, which perhaps makes Gujarat an attractive destination to them.
They are not doing it because they love Narendra Modi. They are doing it because they think it will be a good way, and the fastest way, to make money in India.
Modi will probably fast-track everything that comes from whichever country, regardless of what his politics are and what their politics is and how they view him.
But there is no taking away from what Godhra did in terms of the way India was seen; it was a huge disservice to the party he claims to represent because everybody was painted in the same colour.
There is no way one can justify that. There is no way one can say, 'Can we move on?'
We can't and we mustn't.
If Mr Modi becomes prime minister, as he is being projected now, what will that augur for India?
Who is projecting him as prime minister? He himself? His followers? His band of merry men? Who is projecting him?
Polls in India have roundly, soundly rejected any plan to propose him as prime ministerial material.
Why don't they say he is our nominated candidate? They don't have the guts to do it. They are testing the waters. And I can tell you the waters are not saying, 'Yes, India will endorse Narendra Modi as prime minister, no matter what his record as the chief minister of Gujarat may be.'
Go to places outside of Ahmedabad and see for yourself what that 'progress' is all about. A lot of it is eyewash.
Yes, he has served the rich of Gujarat very well. What he has done for the poor of Gujarat is something worth tracking.
Who are the politicians who should retire today?
Most of them.
It's not just about age. I am not ageist when I say this, but we saw what happened with S M Krishna. We can hardly afford to have a person like him, who messed up every time he opened his mouth, in charge of a portfolio that's that sensitive.
So, without going into age as the determining factor, I would say all the politicians who had had their shot at most of the portfolios and have not delivered should move on and give a chance to fresh blood.
Who do you like as a politician?
That's probably the toughest question in the world to answer right now in the Indian political scenario. But if one had to pick -- and it's a pity because she's the Speaker -- I like Meira Kumar. I like what she stands for.
She was my nominee for the President of India, not Pranabbabu.
If I had to pick at gunpoint between a Narendra Modi and a Sushma Swaraj; I would pick Sushma Swaraj.
From the Congress party, I really don't see even a single person I can confidently endorse...
(Bihar Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar?
He hasn't done a thing he promised!
Much was expected from Akhilesh Yadav, from the other band of very promising young politicians, but he crashed even before he took off.
Nitish Kumar has done a lot for his state but, as a prime ministerial candidate, I don't know.

If I may quote a line from your book -- 'a major news channel had done a report on Sethji's 'extremely' close ties with industrialists and how he had compromised his position as minister of road transport.'
That seems to be a direct reference to BJP President and former Maharashtra public works minister Nitin Gadkari.
But look at when this was written... it was written when none of this was even known.
There are several such parallels; it's just that my characters who are fictitious are playing out their roles in ways that I could never have imagined.
Is there a reason for that? Because you can't miss the references in the book.
The guessing games are inevitable. But, at the end of it all, (Life Of Pi director) Ang Lee said it fabulously when he said 'Fiction is the only reality.' You can't have a better line than that.
The kind of people we are surrounded by... how can you not be 'inspired' or cannibalise bits and pieces of their lives. They are so in your face; there's no escaping it.
When you switch on the television channels, it's there; when you open the newspapers, it's there; you go to any Web site, that's all you're actually witnessing.
How can a book about contemporary politics be devoid of the parallels and people you are bound to put names to?
But I am not helping and saying yes, that's the one because, actually, it isn't. My characters are people who are composites. They are not any one individual, but they are certainly inspired by the people we are living with, and tolerating, right now.
I thought you had split Mr Thackeray between Sethji and Bhau.
(Laughs) Am I supposed to be answering that?
What will you do when you see the Thackerays next? How will you answer if they ask you the question.
(This interview was conducted before Mr Thackeray's death.)
Well, I don't expect that they would come and ask me a foolish question.
At any rate, it's not directly about them.
Maharashtra politics has always been extremely complex and it has always had a chieftain. Why not Sharad Pawar in that case?
Why not so many chief ministers who had full control and ruled the state in a way that was almost tyrannical? What about all the supremos we've had?
Apart from that, I think the Thackerays have been remarkably cool even about the movies that reflect their lives and (the movies) do so in a way that is pretty brutal and pretty direct.
They are very close to Amitabh Bachchan who played Balasaheb -- there is no ambiguity there -- in Sarkar.
And there was a Marathi film called Jhenda, if I am not mistaken, which even had look-alikes. There was an Uddhav and a Raj; the Uddhav character was a photographer and the Raj character was a Raj character... And there was Balasaheb.
I think they had a special screening for them and the Thackerays had taken it completely in their stride, as they should.
Today, we live in an era where there are movies about Queen Elizabeth. There are movies about Margaret Thatcher. There are movies about Princess Diana and her children are not tearing at anybody's hair.
Kate Middleton's butt is all over the Net and the world hasn't collapsed and the sky hasn't fallen... There are several movies on Obama, on the elections in the US, on how the election games are played out...
There's nothing secret any more; it's an era of such transparency. And, like they say, hamam mein sab nange hain (Everyone's naked in the bathroom).
What is there to hide? It's all there in the public domain anyway!
You've seen Mumbai grow, both in the positive and negative way. How have the Thackerays, and the Shiv Sena, impacted Mumbai's growth and development?
If they had not been there, how different would Mumbai have been today?
I cannot even think of Mumbai right now without the Thackeray presence, particularly Balasaheb. He has had an overwhelming impact on the Marathi Manoos; there's no taking away from that.
What that impact has been, as seen by those who are not or don't consider themselves Marathi Manoos, is different.
Balasaheb did restore a tremendous sense of pride.
There was a kind of a gung-ho 'We should be proud to be Marathi, we should be proud to belong to Maharashtra' feel which could have been leveraged into something much more impactful from the point of view of the state and its growth and development.
That it didn't happen was such a pity, because he lost a huge (opportunity). It could have been a movement that could have got the Marathi Manoos to do something beyond burn buses and lament how the city had been taken over by outsiders.
The message in itself was not terribly off -- every regional leader cashes in on regional sentiments, whether it is a Mamata Banerjee or a Jayalalithaa or Lalu Prasad or Mayawati or Narendra Modi.
But the Shiv Sena could have led to greater employment, for example, or could have had aggressive programmes to educate women and educate their own rank so that they wouldn't be left out in the tremendous competition that exists.
In a city like Mumbai that is so cut-throat, you have to be out there, you have to be competing.
It's a bloody unforgiving city.
If the Shiv Sainiks couldn't match the spirit and the dynamism of the city, I think they lost out!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunny days are here again!

A bend in the river - remember that marvelous book? Well.... this spot in Rishikesh reminded me of the book, and I thought to myself, I would have undertaken that river rafting experience along with Arundhati, had I been thirty years younger! Today, Arundhati and Anandita are  in Hong Kong, discovering one of my all time favourite destinations .... but on their own! They are big girls now.... I keep forgetting!
And Rana is back in Singapore.... after a jaunt in China. He called to congratulate me from Shanghai. And I asked him 'for what?"' He said it was because my web presence was entirely blocked in China, and I should take that as a huge compliment! He couldn't access my mail, blog, twitter account or FB page. Okay, Rana. I am flattered.... but what a bloody bore!


Clearly, I had forgotten to post this earlier... it had appeared in The Week...

                                       Sunny days are here again…
India with all its crazy contradictions, still manages to surprise. Our broad acceptance across the board of Sunny Leone, an adult content films performer ( porn star, to put it bluntly and crudely), continues to baffle. Not only has Sunny gone mainstream with a starring role in a Bollywood movie, she was invited to ‘grace the Navratri celebrations’ in ultra-conservative Narendra Modi territory – Gujarat. Durga! Durga! On one level, this new openness is a great big leap forward for a nation that has earlier remained obstinately stuck in a pseudo-moralistic morass.But the  Navratri  invite  to Gujarat has definitely sent out mixed signals. Navratri is considered a particularly auspicious period for Hindus, preceding Dusshera and Diwali. Gujarat virtually explodes with elaborately staged Dandiya Raas nights during the nine day Festival . Navratri’s unwanted pregnancies used to be Gujarat’s worst kept secret. In such a confused cultural hot pot, it was inevitable that a canny organizer came up with the Sunny Leone masterstroke. There is big money riding on these  colourful nine nights. Youngsters spend extravagantly to deck up for the festivities, often saving up chunks of their income to buy nine sets of  fancy costumes. Quick to cash in on the occasion, organizers invest in hiring Bollywood and Television stars to perform on the vast grounds that  attract thousands of dancers night after night. Even by these OTT standards, hiring a porn star was an inspired move indeed!
Sunny herself, is attempting a serious makeover after brazening it out in the Bigg Boss house. Sunny wants to go respectable ( but why, honey?). This transformation is worthy of an independent reality show, if only an enterprising producer would  get Ms.Leone  to cooperate, which shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s a great India story! Here’s a hot Punjabi kudi from Canada, who has established herself in the highly competitive international porn movies market with steamy films directed by her husband. Her liberal parents know about her day job as an adult film performer, and are fine with it.They respect her choice of career and encourage her to excel. But aha, look at what happened once she came to the country of her origin ( India).She swiftly figured her future is here, given the extraordinary amount of publicity she generated from day one. Opportunities galore came her way, and soon Sunny became a brand. And, since every brand comes with a price tag, she smartly decided to cash in on hers.She also went in for some timely strategies designed to make her old job look better. For one, she insisted she would not kiss her co-stars in Bollywood! F or another, she talked of being a devoted and faithful wife, lucky enough to be married to a progressive, liberal guy who understands her line of work. The message is loud and clear : Hands off, guys! It seems to be working. She is now referred to as Sunnyji. Soon she’ll be Bhabhiji. And her transformation from a liberated Canada-based porn star, to a saree clad Bharatiya Nari will be complete. This sort of a fairytale ending to an unconventional life, is possible only in India. We’d seen it earlier with Raakhi Sawant. We saw it with Pakistani starlet Veena Malik. And now we have Sunny Leone living the dream. That’s a pretty remarkable breakthrough in our prissy, judgemental attitude and it has taken place in under a decade. Poor Silk Smitha was not as fortunate. Sunny Leone’s  transition is a fascinating account of India’s love-hate relationship with women who run with the wolves. Despite our pretensions and protestations, we are  at a significant cultural cross road that will determine where we go from here.
My own feeling is that the fake and exaggerated Devi complex (“We worship women…. because we worship Durga”) men in our society project, is finally ready to get a decent and overdue burial. Today’s Indian woman is neither a Devi nor a whore. She is herself. A Sunny Leone is free to participate in porn films that titillate millions across the world, and yet retain her right to re-invent herself at will, as a loving wife and dutiful daughter, doing what a gal has to do to make a living in these recessionary times. Clearly, large segments within India are willing to give her that chance – no questions asked. That, to me, represents a remarkable shift which grants the required space to a woman to exercise choice, even if that choice happens to be radical.So far, I have not come across any protests from those self-righteous groups that take it upon themselves to guard us from ‘evil influences’. In that context, the Sunny Leone saga does indeed represent a moral bastion being successfully stormed and torn down.
The only downside? Heavy breathing will never be the same again!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hang... and be damned!

 I was vastly amused when a male friend sent me this....that 'he' and not a 'she' sent it, displays confidence and a great sense of humour....

This appeared in Sunday Times today.....
                              Hang…. and be damned
Qasab’s died a mangy dog’s death.Yes,it was pathetic.But his short life was even worse.Here was a young man who’d never lived. No wonder it hardly mattered to him when he spent his last few hours singing a Bollywood song, nibbling on a tomato. This image is so apt for a man whose 25 years on earth had no value to anybody. Disowned by his country, shunned by his village and forgotten by his family, Qasab’s existence was worth absolutely nothing. Whether he rotted in a jail in Mumbai or faced the gallows in Pune, Qasab lived and died a zero. In a way, one almost feels sorry for him. Ever since the dramatic announcement of his secret hanging was made public, there have been the expected reactions complete with the standard scenes of people expressing relief, jubilation and gratitude. That over used and rather annoying word – closure – has been repeated ad nauseum. But the one thing most of us have overlooked in our haste to congratulate Pranab Mukherjee, Sushil Kumar Shinde and R.R. Patil, is the wisdom of the decision. Why Qasab and not Afzal Guru first, is a very valid question to ask. Perhaps the real answer is far from palatable. Perhaps, we shall never know it. It’s also worth recalling that Qasab was the only witness who could have been summoned to testify in the David Headley case. But these are all nothing more than wild conspiracy theories. And we love them! Since everybody today has become a self styled authority on conspiracy theories in any case, why not table the current favourites? It is commonly conceded that in himself, Qasab was a nobody. He was just the ‘Butka’ who was programmed to go across the border and kill as many innocents as he could. He came to India to die, as he confessed. And we obliged him and his handlers by hanging him, in what can be described as unseemly haste. A haste that apparently took our own Prime Minister by surprise! Or was that just Sushil Kumar Shinde jumping the gun and making a monumental gaffe? As a former cop, Shinde says he knows how these games are played . Sure. But if around 80 people were involved in this key operation, howcome Manmohan Singh  was kept in the dark? Given the vast amount of paperwork such a complex procedure entails, it’s nothing short of a miracle there were no leaks this time. It’s been the high season for leaks, remember? Now that it’s a done deal, and Qasab lies buried in one of the six unmarked graves in the Yerawada jail compound, how smart a move is that, given the threats of retaliatory action issued by the LeT and the Pakistani Taliban? Should we ignore them? Should we also ignore ‘Im the Dim’s’ outburst demanding the death of our Sarabjit Singh languishing in a Pakistani jail? Qasab alive was our biggest bargaining chip. Was hanging Qasab in India’s interests at all? Or will we be paying a huge price for our action in the days ahead?
Poor Qasab. I never thought I’d be saying this. But looking at his close ups in various newspapers, one instantly recognises the eyes and face of a loser. A lost and listless wastrel like thousands of other disenfranchised, hopelessly impoverished, uneducated and frustrated young men with nothing at stake and nobody to call their own. Qasab’s is a classic story. That of a rootless,jobless desperado willing to try anything – even terrorism. Lured by false promises of financial security for himself and his family members, Qasab signed over his life to those who continue to be free…. in all likelihood training other Qasabs even as we in India rejoice over the death of an entirely dispensable cog in the much larger terror wheel. Haunted and hunted, Qasab went to his grave dealing with the blood of innocents he’d  systematically slaughtered for a handful of rice and a fistful of money , both of which were never given to his father. Ironically, he died in vain… used and abused by the masterminds who had brainwashed him into believing he’d be hailed as a martyr. His sisters may still be waiting for the promised money for their marriages. But their foolish, misguided brother will only be remembered as the coward who killed defenseless people. Not so surprisingly, when he finally found the noose tightening around his neck, he lost his voice, but his bowels opened up.What an inglorious life! And what a dirty death. The man, who shot people in cold blood, did potty in his pajamas in the end. Cheee chee, chee! Bechara Qasab.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Better believe this!

Okay Blogdosts.... read it.... and react aaram se... but do react!

I am still wondering why I didn't adore Life of Pi? Was I just tired? Should I have kept myself awake with strong coffee and ignored the family sitting next to me , gobbling samosas? It's hard to concentrate on deep, allegorical images when the man to the right is burping noisily through dramatic scenes. Besides, I had forgotten to pick up my 3D chasma. A few early moments were blurred. Not that I wanted to look the tiger in the eye at all. Then I had major problems with Irfan Khan's peculiar accent which went from Denver to Dombivali. It was particularly odd when he spoke about finding 'Gaad' everywhere. What exactly was he looking for? It took me an hour to figure out he was looking for God. Frankly, highly simplistic lines that advise viewers to 'let go'etc sounded plain dumb. And which desi family speaks the way the Patels from Pondicherry ( if you please!) do? Those dinner table conversations were stilted and as fake as Pi's soul searching in the middle of a violent electrical storm. Come on, Ang Lee. India is so much more than a gleaming golden reclining Vishnu floating down a river. Or Tabu playing Yashoda and deconstructing the legend of Krishna as a bed time story.
 Sorry... I wasn't enchanted. I was just bored.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Women and wheels...

This is just one of the many press interviews I've done to promote Sethji. In case my Blogdosts are interested in reading the rest, just ask!!! I'll post them here one interview at a time....
Don't ask... but this column has generated a great deal of comment. Kyon? Any explanations?
                    Women and wheels….
I don’t drive. Cars, I mean. It is simply not an aptitude I possess. Fortunately, this appalling inadequacy was discovered pretty early in life. But at  an enormous cost. Not just in monetary terms, but emotional ones as well. I totaled a car that did not belong to me. It didn’t belong to the young man who had been besotted and reckless enough to allow me behind the wheel. It was his father’s company car. How he explained the axle breaking into two, is something I never did find out. We broke up at the site of the accident itself. I managed to wreck a couple of other cars …. and hearts. But we shan’t go into that here. The price has been paid. Many times over. It was a hard and expensive lesson to learn. But I was sensible enough to back off while I was still ahead. And lives had not been lost.
This sounds like an insanely sexist remark to be making, but I do believe gals should think a hundred times before taking the plunge and hitting  the accelerator. During the past few months, there have been some really nasty accidents in and around Mumbai. Most of them involved women. And most of the women were inebriated at the time of the crash. Some of the gory details from police records suggest that the fast cars these ladies were driving , belonged to their richie rich dads and were birthday gifts. One of the accused has just been given a five year jail term. Her shocked dad died of a stroke a few months after the drunken daughter’s picture had hit the headlines after the accident which claimed the life of a young cop. Today, the girl is pleading with the judge to reduce her sentence, even as the cop’s widow is insisting 5 years behind bars is far too lenient a punishment for such a heinous crime. This is but one such case. And it attracted more attention than some of the others because the rather fetching young woman is known in Mumbai’s social circles.
 Three out of four of my daughters possess a driving license and insist they are skilled, calm and in control behind the wheel. I am the nervous wreck, they mock, as we pull out of the parking lot, and I start issuing instant instructions. They promptly plug their ears with headphones and start listening to favourite tracks on the iPod. Grrrrr. Meanwhile, I hang on to my seat, as the car takes off and flies over the innumerable speed breakers at top speed, like those  cemented obstacles don’t exist. Generally, the girls are smiling to themselves, lost in song, as pedestrians leap nimbly out of the path of the killer car. This has been going on for a while. Their father is not pleased. He wants me to “stop this nonsense’. I plead helplessness. It’s a mess. I tried talking to the girls about the way female brains are wired. I mentioned foolish stuff, provided statistics which talk about the left side, right side of female brains, and which side controls what. Driving skills are thrown in to this argument. I shamelessly fib as we negotiate a sharp and abrupt turn that nobody noticed till we took it. My heart lurches into my mouth. The daughter at the wheel grins and asks, “Isn’t Adele just too cool?”
My superb research has convinced me that most women should leave cars alone. Of course, this is a nasty theory, based on nothing more than personal experience. Psychiatrists would label it as a direct result of   an unresolved trauma, at an impressionable, vulnerable time of my life. They’d be one hundred per cent right. But, thanks to that trauma, I am alive. More importantly, so are other, innocent people. Angry women drivers tell me I am perpetuating a stereotype and falling into a male trap. Men are possessive about their cars and other modes of transport. They are even possessive about their wives’ and girl friends’ cars. Men feel proprietorial about machines. Let them keep the bloody machines, is what I say? Why waste our time behind the wheel when we could be doing other stuff? Stuff that doesn’t endanger life, our own included? So far, I haven’t succeeded in convincing anybody. Not even my daughters. The last time one of them offered to drive me somewhere, she helpfully gave me a cheerful T-shirt that read ‘Tension mat le, yaar.” I huffed, ‘I am not your yaar, I am your mother.’ She was already in fourth gear…. and we hadn’t left the garage!

Saturday, November 17, 2012


                             POSTERAMA - Affordable. Inspirational.Art.

Blogdosts, this is my son Ranadip's brand new venture. And it's doing very well - God is great! Posters on canvas are flying off the shelves.... great gifts for the coming season. These are the two I have booked for myself. If you want more options, log on to
There's a Tiger in Maharashtra's tank! 

           Balasaheb is a phenomenon. A force of nature.Period. At the time of writing, he is struggling for his life, and as an apt newspaper headline put it , “ Thackeray remains critical,keeps city’s heart pounding.” Well, so far, both hearts are still pounding – his and the city’s. Balasaheb will go ( as all of us must) when he is good and ready to. Not one second earlier. That’s the kind of man he is. For the past few days we have been hearing several people across popular television channels paying pre-mature tributes to Maharashtra’s Tiger. If this seems somewhat inappropriate, indelicate and insensitive, that’s how the media works. I recall being asked by a leading channel to record my feelings about Balasaheb nearly a month ago. When I wondered aloud whether the enthusiastic anchor was jumping the gun, he answered smoothly, it was far better to have all the sound bytes and footage in place well in advance, rather than air an amateurishly put together tribute when the worst does happen. He had a point.Internationally, this is an old and common media practice. Obituaries of public figures are written months and even years in advance. And those public figures don’t have to be either ancient or ailing. This is a cold but far more professional approach which we in India find cringe-making. It’s true we  handle such matters with  a  highly exaggerated sense of sentimentality. We refuse to let go. We resist closure. And the imminent death of a ‘maha purush’ is a calamitous proposition, even if the person is what we call ‘serious’ and close to 90. In the case of Balasaheb, this refusal to accept the inevitable has been so pronounced as to be thought ridiculous. It was left to young Aditya Thackeray, Balasaheb’s grandson, to put things in perspective when he tweeted ‘Let us stay optimistic.’ Contrast the maturity of that comment with the reactions of  other, far older people speaking on behalf of the family, who kept insisting Balasaheb’s condition is ‘stable’ and that he is ‘improving’. Come on!
Then came the question of protocol. As VVIPs rushed to Matoshree on Thursday, breathless mediawallas reported each sighting with the sort of  excitement one reserves for red carpet arrivals at the Cannes Film Festival. Fortunately, the stars who turned up ( Amitabh, Abhishek. Salman and Aamir) were not asked the standard red carpet question by idiotic tv reporers, “ Who are you wearing?” Anything is possible when there is no other ‘news’ to fill those hours earmarked for something that does not take place on cue. This was largely true across the board, when Mumbai more or less came to a stand still, as offices hastily shut shop, store owners downed shutters and sensible people stayed home. The point is, none of the above was required , in order  to display profound grief and respect for someone who is , after all, a mere mortal, an octogenarian and a very sick person. Why should the public have feared a backlash for what is a natural cause , and not  a gory assassination? Why did the cops convert the area around Matoshree into an impenetrable fortress, instead of reassuring citizens that Mumbai is calm and functioning as usual? Why should Mumbaikars  have cowered and run for cover fearing an outbreak of violence? Violence is misplaced in this situation, even if loyal party workers wished to express their concern and anxiety. This sort of  fear psychosis only reinforces the stereotype and does no good to anybody. Least of all to the reputation of the political leader with a mass following in Maharashtra. It also leads to widespread panic and confusion, with citizens worried about the safety of their life , limbs and property. This is no way to ‘honour’ a revered leader. But that’s us. It is again our over sentimentality that compels us to beat our breasts and make a theatrical public display of  love.All this, while the cops stand around helplessly , insisting they cannot ‘interfere’ for fear of escalating the violence. That generally provides an excuse to potential arsonists  to go right ahead and burn  buses, taxis, cars…. anything inflammable. It’s hard to figure out how these wanton acts of destruction become demonstrations of asli sorrow. It is almost as if those who do not take to the streets and throw stones are not loyal enough to the great leader.
How can we change this mindset and bring more dignity to such occasions? When will a show of shameless sycophancy replace sincere sympathy? Why are there so many distinctions when it comes to meeting the families of those in precarious health conditions? Why the class system? The hierarchies? The power play? And the ongoing extension of what we call the VIP culture in India? Celebrities are ushered in instantly and given access to other celebrities waiting with the family. Plebs, who may have far more real admiration and love for the  leader, are subjected to a lathi charge. This is terribly lop- sided. And an annoyingly desi trait that we keep perpetrating. I was asked in hushed whispers by several Important People when I’d be visiting Matoshree. As also how well I know Balasaheb.
Frankly, my dear, that’s nobody’s business but mine!
Here's wishing Balasaheb a speedy recovery and an even longer life....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Phatakis enjoying phatakas!

Bubbly on the terrace..... lights, sparklers and beauty everywhere..... what a gorgeous Diwali it has been!
 Saal Mubarak, Blogdosts!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mumbai Ki Diwali

                                        Mumbai ki Diwali
I was in Delhi last week and was surprised when someone told me that Diwali started in Delhi more than a month ago. I scratched my head to figure that one out. Were we looking at the same calendar? Had I missed something? My Delhi friend clarified with a laugh. “All I meant was that the famous taash parties started a month ago.” That was funny. For most Dilliwallas, Diwali only means  cards. And parties are carefully structured around gambling tables. Everything else is incidental. As the same host put it, so long as there is enough daaru, nobody cares. The stakes in Delhi are always high – metaphorically and literally! The Festival of  Lights is now officially known as the Festival of Cards. Mumbai has its taash fanatics as well, but they are nowhere as hardcore as their counterparts in the Capital. In fact, this year in Mumbai has been mercifully brighter but not noisier, thanks to stepped up vigilance that has inhibited those over enthusiastic phatakawalas from lighting ear shattering pre-dawn bombs loud enough to wake the dead. Mumbai is at its prettiest during Diwali, and it’s a treat to drive around streets that are ablaze with diyas and kandeels. I went to Girgaum as usual for my Diwali shopping and was distraught on discovering a few significant changes in an otherwise lively locality. Two of my all-time favourite stores had changed hands. The laddoos simply did not taste the same. And the fragrant oils I used to buy from an old ittar shop, are not available any more. But the old gajrawalli is still there, even if her beautiful shevanti gajras are now priced at thirty rupees. It’s really quite incredible how Mumbai miraculously gets it all together for a few short days, and every person participates joyfully in celebrating Diwali -  India’s answer to X’Mas.Let’s hope this spirit of bonhomie and good will spills over to the days ahead, which may be rocky, given the rapidly changing political equations. What is still more amazing is the quantum of money floating around , despite spiraling costs and absurd prices of everything  - from diesel to diamonds. Did anybody foolishly mention inflation?
Bollywood is at its glittering and most glamourous best during Diwali. As always, Sunita Kapoor’s Diwali  tofaa was declared the uncontested winner by all those fortunate enough to receive it. I still have the spectacular candles she sent two years ago. And her gigantic, hollowed out wooden ‘Books’ this year are equally impressive. To make a Diwali statement  year after year, requires not just an abundance of resources but an equal amount of good taste, imagination and an artistic vision. Anil is one lucky man! And so are those of us who enjoy their generosity year after year.
I’d say one of the most fun evenings during this festive period was meticulously structured by ‘The Boys’ ( Abu-Sandeep) for ‘The Girls’. What a novel idea! And how supremely well done! Mumbai and Delhi…. a tale of two cities that couldn’t be more different. The contrasts become even more glaring during Diwali. Discretion over vulgarity. Taste over excess. But ….hey – who cares? Diwali hai! Maja karo!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nitin Gadkari flunks his I.Q. test.....

This is my Laddoo eating her laddoo , while Aditya, her proud
''Mamuji"' looks on....
 Happy Dhanteras, Blogdosts! May Goddess Lakshmi step into your home tonight, and never leave...
This appeared in the Sunday Times today....
                                                                      Nitin Gadkari flunks his I.Q. test…
I was having my usual Sunday morning chat with Dawood Mamu,while he was enjoying a spa treatment in Dubai. He sounded rather annoyed. And when Dawood Mamu gets annoyed ,as we well know by now, hotels and stations blow up in Mumbai. Sensing the dangerous mood, I tried to divert his attention by discussing the latest James Bond movie. Had he watched ‘Skyfall’ and ordered a couple of Komodo Lizards for himself? Just to break the monotony of crushing bones manually? He was not amused. He witheringly reminded me that all those absurdly exaggerated 007 feats were nothing but amateurish screen  acts. Real men didn’t go for such childish stunts. Or high tech special effects. Real men did what real men had to – 26/11 ki yaad hai? Besides… he was now a changed man concentrating on giving back to society. Oh dear! That  sounded  ominous.And seemed even more menacing than his old, wonderful plots to fix those he didn’t particularly like. With ‘that date’ round the corner, this was not the time to jest with Dawood Mamu. So, I switched gears and asked in my sweetest tone why he was upset. And I could hear my friend instruct the masseur to stop pummeling his strained neck muscles while he bellowed, “Who is this man I am being compared to by that chap Nitin bhai?” I said, “ Please don’t refer to our highly respected leader as a ‘Bhai’. Nitin Gadkari is loved and admired by millions of people in India. And the rest, don’t count. The person he compared your good self to, is Vivekananda. Often referred to as Swami Vivekanand.” Dawood Mamu paused momentarily before demanding, “ Uska mobile number de do… woh.. woh…Viveka… jo kuch bhi hai. I want to talk to him. Is he an actor or a cricketer?” I hesitated before clarifying, he was neither an actor, nor a cricketer. And it was not possible to pass on his mobile number. Dawood  Mamu roared and refused to let me carry on . “ Everything is possible! Samjhi?  I am giving you an hour. Swamiji ka number dhoondo… varna.”
When we resumed our interrupted chat a little later, he seemed  calmer. He said he had found out from his khaas sources why he couldn’t reach Vivekananda. But was now keen to have a small tete –a- tete with Nitin Bhai ( he was still calling him ‘Bhai’). For starters, he wanted to know what the meaning of I.Q. was, and whether the initials were a code for something highly confidential only known to our agencies but not to the ISI. “ I.Q. ka matlab?” I attempted to decode the initials. But Dawood was on his own trip. “ I want to meet this man who is comparing me to some dead Indian person, I am not aware of. My izzat is damaged. I only know and care about Bollywood stars and Cricket khiladis. This comparison is not good. Mera bahut bada insult ho gaya hai. And when someone insults me so directly, I have to react equally directly. Give me Nitin Bhai’s mobile number.” I mentioned it was Diwali in India. And Nitin Gadkari was not available… he was busy defusing several bombs. As were most of his colleagues, regardless of the party they belonged to. Dawood Mamu offered to send a few specially created bombs across the border. It was his contribution, he said, to make sure there were enough fireworks during this season. But he still wanted a private chat with the heavyweight who had dared to make such an odious comparison. “Today, it is some Indian saint…. tomorrow it could be Gandhi. Not the bachcha. But the Mahatma. This has created a problem for me with my friends and allies across the world. My position becomes dheela with such talk.I want to explain that to your Nitin Bhai… before it’s too late. For him, I mean.”
I tried to tell Dawood Mamu that in India we don’t spoil anybody’s happiness during the Festival of Lights by bringing up unpleasant topics. Gadkariji has clarified and the matter of his own I.Q. has been settled. But, if Dawood Mamu was interested, I could set up phone calls with Nitinji’s core team of advisers, consultants and business associates, like his driver, cook, car washer, dhobi, barber, peon. When Dawood Mamu laughed, I told him to relax. This was no joke. He could verify for himself. We respect share holders and company directors in India. And only a person with a staggeringly high I.Q. would make such inspired appointments of and create companies for those he admires and trusts – like his personal staff. Dawood Mamu was not entirely convinced. “Ask your Nitin Bhai to meet me in Dubai. I’ll give him a Diwali tofaa he won’t forget. And just by the way… who is this chap called Kejriwal?  Assange ka brother hai, kya? Why does he whistle so much??? Do you have his mobile number?”
What a Diwali! Bombs,bombs everywhere… no place to hide!