Saturday, December 29, 2012

R.I.P Nirbhaya - Fearless daughter of India!

No. We will not forget!
What a tragic way to end 2012.
Au revoir, injustice!
 2013 will see a changed India.

Blogdosts. It's time to say good bye to our shared space for now.
Till next year.... and new beginnings.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Just to take my mind away from the young woman hanging on to life  in Delhi, I am posting this image of Skittles - a proud and beautiful mother. Her littlest one, will be mine soon...I have named her Gong Li! Merry X'Mas.... stay positive. Believe in life...
                                The rape of  Delhi…
I refuse to pack chilly powder in my hand bag each time I step out of the house. I will not advise my daughters to master martial arts or acquire cans of pepper spray - ‘just in case’. I will encourage them to wear what they want, when they want. And I certainly won’t be looking over my shoulder constantly when I leave home. This is no way to live. This is no way to deal with a crisis. We are making an even bigger mess of an already horrific reality by running scared. By hiding. By diving for cover. The streets, stations, subways, buses, autos, trains, over bridges, cabs belong to women as much as they do to men. We should reclaim what is rightfully ours, without being browbeaten into scampering away in fright. Why retreat at this stage? If anything, the moment to go ahead and change the rules of this dastardly game is now. If we weaken our resolve and move even an inch from the position taken, we’ll have surrendered a basic right. The right to freedom. The right to safety. Worst of all, we will be passing on a nasty message to our daughters and their daughters that all men are potential rapists – it’s only about opportunity.
It takes one incident to galvanise people. Nobody can predict which that incident could be. Why this particular rape? Newspapers carry worse reports involving equally brutal acts of violence against women on a daily basis. Often, there are as many as six blood curdling stories on the same day, each one as grisly as what happened to the brave 23- year- old  girl in Delhi earlier this week. Yet, it was this gruesome rape that   has outraged and shaken up India. One can only hope this case won’t become another played up tragedy that goes nowhere once something ‘more important’ hits the headlines. But what can be more important than the lives of our women? Or am I asking a stupid question? We know the answer. A female foetus is not safe even in a mother’s womb. And we are discussing the safety of women who are ‘allowed to live’.  But this is not the time to feel martyred. There is no room for self pity. This is the time to demand real change. And by that, I don’t mean the death penalty. Ironically, it is other hardened criminals locked up with the accused in Tihar jail, who have decided to teach the beasts a lesson that goes beyond beatings. Reports say, one of them was made to eat his own excreta. Humiliation can’t get any worse.
But that is not a ‘solution’. It is merely a reaction. The solution lies in our hands. And those hands need not reach for chilly powder. If we adopt defensive strategies to ‘protect’ ourselves, we are admitting weakness and anticipating defeat.How many women in scary circumstances will have the physical strength and the presence of mind to reach for those chilies ? The onus of staying safe was never on us. Let’s not foolishly take it on ourselves at this critical stage and let the real culprits off the hook. And those culprits aren’t  the rapists. Criminals take their cues from society at large. A society that condones and looks the other way when politicians rape, loot, kidnap and murder with impunity, is a society that is inviting trouble from the lumpen. Men like the Delhi rapists who must have believed they’d get away with the crime – just like all those netas whizzing around the Capital,followed by a convoy of security cars to ‘protect’ them. It is this blatant abuse of power that we need to put up a fight against. Until that changes, our women will remain soft targets.  Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of  Delhi has displayed very little real concern. The top cop has been shockingly blasé, resorting to platitudes and excuses to cover up his force’s lapses.Through all this, an extraordinarily courageous woman continues to fight for her life and let the world know she wants to live. It’s a poignant war cry from what could soon become her death bed. Yes. The situation is grim. And this is a national emergency which must be recognized as one. No woman in India should ever be told to arm herself with chilly powder. No woman should even feel the need to do so. This is what the fight is about. Get real, Sheila Dixit.Women must be able to take safety for granted. Just like men do.  For, when Delhi gets raped, India gets raped.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Santa Arundhati...

Both images are wonderful, don't you think???
The Penguin tree of Classics is superlative...
Arundhati and friends walked around a few areas of South Mumbai distributing sweets....and a few goodies.
As for us, we attended a traditional and beautiful X'Mas dinner at the warm and hospitable Kuruvilla home - great food, terrific people and genuine friends. Perfect!
We also made it to our neighbour's spectacular Silver Wedding Celebrations which saw the launch of the newest jewel on the Mumbai luxury hotels landscape - the Shangri-La, headed by our good friend Farhat Jamal - one of the most dynamic hoteliers in this region.
All in all....a lovely, mellow way to wind down... and gear up for 2013!
 We are leaving for a short break in Alibag.
I'll be back with my Blogdosts on Sunday...
If you guys are interested and free to watch a good show, try and catch Sunil Sethi's 'Just Books'today on NDTV Profit at 6 p.m. The repeats will be on NDTV 24X7, Sunday 8.30 a.m.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What an outstanding professional! Every single person present at Crossword last evening went away singing the praises of Manoj Bajpayee. Here's one actor who could teach a thing or two to several of his contemporaries - acting skills, of course, and more importantly, just basic good manners. His reading from Sethji went off swimmingly well. Author Namita Devidayal provided able support, as she stayed ''ín character'( Amrita's) and confessed she had come bra-less to the event! Manoj spoke with transparent sincerity and responded to audience questions with candour and good humour. It was a terrific session.... after which my husband and I headed out to Amadeus for a celebratory glass of wine ( Chilean).
The weather is great in Mumbai right now... and we are planning to make the most of it!
From tomorrow, I shall take a break from this space for a few days , and chill at our home in Alibag.
 Catch you soon.
 And have a wonderful X'Mas, blogdosts! 

RAPE is just a 4 letter word?

And to think I wrote this before the horrific rape in Delhi....

By now we have trained ourselves to shrug and take it in our stride. What choice is there? I am talking about the stepped up violence against women in our major cities. This is happening on a daily basis. Women are getting hammered,assaulted,clobbered,stoned,belted,whipped,chained,smothered,gag-ged,slashed,stabbed, maimed, raped,bludgeoned,burnt,stripped…. how many more descriptions does one need?Why is this happening? At such an exaggerated, accelerated pace? Any answers? Well… here’s a theory. Women were once entirely dispensable. One or two dead, here and there, didn’t matter. Nobody counted. Nobody cared. And we aren’t even talking villages right now. City women were considered useful, upto a point… but also replaceable. Our metros were full of recycled women who were expected to play their bit parts and then melt into the sunset. If, for any reason, that did not happen, and the women rewrote the script, they were disposed off efficiently and quickly .Their disappearance was barely noticed. Which was also understandable given that there were dozens of others ready to take their place. Assembly line women – our big towns were crammed with them. That part hasn’t changed. But one thing definitely has – today’s urban female is fighting back as best as she can, with the one weapon she now possesses – her own money. She is earning well.  But here’s the paradox -  her pay check, which should have protected her, has become the noose around her neck. Men are finding it exceedingly hard to like this person. They like what she brings to the party  ( money!). They like the fact that she pays her own bills ( Oh, yes!). They like not having to subsidise dates ( Amazing!). But they still don’t like her! She makes them feel redundant. Even worse, she makes them resentful. They ask themselves, “ Is the bitch going to take away our jobs? Will the boss fall for her wiles and promote her out of turn? Will she outsmart us yet again at that important conference?”       Unable to deal with this new ‘threat’, they do what any cornered animal does – they snarl and bite!
Am I over dramatizing the situation? Maybe a little. But I have seen naked hostility in the eyes of several men as they observe female colleagues working hard and managing several other areas of their lives without fuss. There is unmistakable envy written all over their faces. Sometimes, that envy refuses to go  away. It begins to eat up the most insecure of those men. They start imagining things… that the woman who has done brilliantly during the sales’ conference, is out to grab what rightfully belongs to them - the men. A feeling of persecution sets in. Every woman is seen as a predatory, aggressive creature. She has to be tamed. She has to be fixed. She has to be taught a lesson. If she fights back, or displays attitude, her ‘punishment’ has to be more severe. If she apologises for her wayward ways and promises to behave herself… then  maybe, they can work on a more acceptable solution to the ‘problem’. The problem being gender.
It is only going to get worse. If that sounds alarmist, so be it. The genie is out of the bottle. The she-elephant is very much in the room. And she isn’t going anywhere. As for those coveted jobs , given the tattered state of most economies, the scramble  to grab whatever is going will get still more aggressive. Shrinking jobs across the globe mean heightened levels of frustration. Everybody is fighting for that single piece of juicy bone. More and more women are managing to reach it first. Men are not at all happy about this development. Their anger and rage find avenues that are frequently volatile enough to lead to random attacks on the first woman who crosses their path. Any excuse will do – her skirt’s too short. Her breasts too large. She’s smiling more than required. She seems HAPPY! That’s the bloody limit. First, she takes away our jobs. Now she invades our space ( what business does she have enjoying a drink at a bar?). At the rate she is going, soon she’ll tell us what to do. Who wants to take orders from a woman? Why can’t she stick to her place? Go back to being obedient and duty bound? If she hasn’t got the message so far, it’s time she was taught a lesson. And that’s pretty much the way it is. Men will protest and say this is utter rubbish. But there is really no other explanation. Men react when their pockets hurt. Right now, their pockets are hurting.
And their heads are exploding with anger. So, what do we do? Reaching their hearts is the obvious answer. Even the most demonic of men have hearts. As always the onus is on women – find a solution. Or perish.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Jacintha's tragic tale....

This appeared in Asian Age today....

                                              What really happened to Jacintha?
A couple of days after the news of  nurse Jacinta’s tragic death in her quarters near the King Edward VII’s  Hospital in London, I was having dinner with two very bright Australian ladies. What began as a light hearted gossipy session involving  Liz Hurley and Shane Warne, soon transformed into a serious discussion on ‘The Prank’ that cost Jacintha, a mother of two her life. Since that prank was the brainchild of two Australian radio jockeys, inevitably the conversation took a sharp turn. One of the ladies couldn’t stop chortling over how the RJ’s had embarrassed the Queen by mimicking her voice and accent, while the other applauded the genius of the RJ who pretended to be the Queen’s pet Corgi barking noisily in the background. The ladies also mocked the lax security at the London hospital and laughed at the ease with which the pranksters were connected to the nurse on duty ( Jacintha), who naively believed she was indeed talking  to the Queen of  England. Before our conversation was further reduced to a monumental joke, we quickly got back on track and spoke about Jacintha. The ladies were slightly confused. It was a perfectly harmless trick which went terribly wrong, insisted one. The other said it was all the fault of the silly telephone operators at the hospital for putting through a supposedly ‘royal’ call that had not been screened. Both these opinions are largely acceptable. But that still leaves a dead woman, with  grieving family members who are unable to make the slightest sense of what really happened. Why did the forty-six year old hang herself three days after the hoax  hit the headlines? The answer is pretty simple : it was a cultural thing. Perhaps , even a deeply Indian or Asian one. This ‘thing’ has a name. It’s called ‘sharam’. And ‘sharam’ really does not translate well. It is more, much more, than mere ‘shame’. Sharam is such a complex emotion , it defies transliteration . Sharam goes well beyond ‘disgrace’. It encompasses family honour. Just as ‘naam’ and ‘izzat’ do not mean just ‘name’ and  ‘self-respect’. Had Jacintha been an English nurse, her response to the scandal would almost certainly have been different. Perhaps,she would have shrugged and laughed it off. She would most certainly  have worried about hanging on to her job. Or, she would have jauntily phoned a tabloid and tried to make some money out of the story. She might also have received offers to pose topless , enter Big Brother’s house, host a talk show, appear on prime time… write her memoirs. She would have been converted into a grotesque mini-celebrity…. and cashed out. But our Jacintha saw the whole episode through a desi filter. It filled her with sharam…. and  she paid for it with her life.
That filter is hard to understand if you aren’t Indian. There are those who’d argue it was really very foolish of Jacintha to commit suicide for something that wasn’t even her fault. All she did was transfer that bloody call to a colleague. No big deal, right? Well, clearly Jacintha saw it differently. It was a big deal for her. Such a big deal, in fact, that she preferred death over the ignominy of facing the world as ‘the nurse who fell for a prank call’. One wonders what she must have gone through during those three days after the story hit headlines across the world. Did she feel that humiliated, that devastated, over what was nothing more serious than a tiny human error? Was she over sensitive as an Asian person? Another woman , even an Indian one, may have brazened it out and waited for the tabloids to pounce on another sensational story.  But Jacintha held herself solely responsible for the gaffe. The troubling aspect of this sad story is again connected to cultural cross signals.There are those who’ll ask howcome neither Jacintha nor her colleague could figure out that the persons they were talking to were not the Queen and Prince Charles in the first place? Shouldn’t that have been obvious from their accents? Aha – this where the problems kick in.  Jacintha really couldn’t tell between a posh British accent and a fake Aussie-trying-to-be-posh one. She simply did not know the difference! An English nurse may have seen through the joke and disconnected. But sweet, trusting Jacintha fell for it . We shall never know the depth of her self-degradation as she created a noose with a scarf and hanged herself, rather than face the taunts and jeers of her colleagues.
It all boils down to identity and a sense of belonging. Jacintha may have been a superb nurse (or else she would not have been working in such a top drawer hospital). But her training as a nurse didn’t include some other training –  which includes the ability to deal with situations that are peculiarly English or in this case, Australian. Nobody takes such calls seriously. Young people from different parts of the world make similar ones all the time. Jacintha’s upbringing didn’t prepare her for this. She thought she had failed, and failed miserably. Eventually,the ‘sharam’ of  it all would have killed her anyway. She preferred a shorter cut. Jacintha opted for instant death.Bechari Jacintha.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Aayush Goel who works for The Week, shot this image at the Health Summit in Delhi , a few days ago. I was there to talk about Women and health issues.... an area of special concern.

This appeared in The Week....
                                        Power and sex….
At a recent Festival of  Erotica , I was asked to speak about Power and Sex. I wanted to alter the title and call it ‘Power IS sex.” And this power is not supposed to be gender sensitive. One sees the connection between the two ( power and sex) wherever one looks. So it has always been through the ages… throughout documented history. From Cleopatra’s time to now. When a mighty , and highly naughty American General has been caught with his camouflage pants down and a money man called Dominique Kahn Strauss has paid a lowly chamber maid a hefty ‘Keep your trap shut’ fee ( partly borrowed from his understanding wife) all we can do is laugh at these two fools.. These men are the most recent examples of extraordinarily powerful fellows who have behaved in an extraordinarily idiotic way. And one wonders : are the brains of such people actually located in the groin and not inside the cranium? Or, do they do what they do (stake their wealth, position,marriage,family life and career), because they start believing in their own infinite power ?Do they behave like pre-pubescent, callow idiots with zero control over those raging hormones in the hope that they’ll get away with it – because they are who they are? Really! Isn’t that seriously dumb? Instances of women misusing high office are not unknown, but how many such women exist in the world? And let’s not start counting. We’ll be able to compile the list in under fifteen minutes and count the ladies on the fingers of our hands. While it is true that there have been documented instances of sexual harassment at the work place where a woman is the boss lady, these are again pretty scanty given the pathetic number of boss ladies floating around to start with.
I have an interesting theory : men who taste a huge amount of power get an equally huge sexual kick out of it. They acquire confidence in abundance. In fact, in such abundance that  even their own reflection in the mirror lies to them. They see themselves as Hercules, Atlas, Bradley Cooper,Brad Pitt,Salman Khan, Adonis, Shiva all rolled into one. Their self image goes into stratosphere and after that happens, there’s no stopping them. I mean, look at Dominique… or  General David Petraeus. Neither is a Greek God. Sorry to say this, but which woman would willingly want to bed either of these two sad specimens? Are they that stupid to think gorgeous ladies are falling head over in heels with their… err… personality? Prowess in bed? The startling answer is - yes! I have watched absolute toads in action, hitting on women across the board, convinced it was their physical attractiveness the gals were succumbing to. I have noted the contemptuous expression in the eyes of the women playing this dangerous game as they flatter these toads and lead them on…. to their eventual ( and deserved) doom. I have sympathized with the long suffering wives cringing on the sidelines. That’s how power affects certain men.
Funny, but powerful women generally pay for success with their sexuality. They swiftly lose it! They cannot afford to be seen as sexually active creatures once they are in that hot seat. For such women, power provides those elusive orgasms. They no longer need a man for that basic pleasure. It is rare to come across a really serious Power Lady who regards power as an aphrodisiac. Most such women wind down sexually and focus all their energies on getting ahead in their chosen fields. There is also that little statistic that has to do with age. Women who get to the top are generally on the other side of thirty five, if not older. Their sex drive at this critical stage is not at its most aggressive, in any case. If they want ‘it’ and don’t have the time or energy for it, they are not about to curl up and die of frustration. Men who are in a position to get it up and get ‘it’  even at the age of seventy and over, will rarely pass up…. or lie back and think of their country instead. Are things about to change? Who knows? There is all that useless talk about Cougars on the prowl. About predatory women who behave like Strauss Kahn and worse. I am not convinced. When was the last time we heard about a majorly successful female executive attacking a butler in her hotel suite? In her position, what she’s likely to want more – much more – than instant sex with a stranger, is some quiet time and sleep! Both are in short supply. And a whole lot cheaper, too!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Politics Of Sleaze

 By Anuja Chauhan for India Today

Shobhaa De is to sordid reality what Yash Chopra is to designer romance. He makes things way more wispy, dreamy, mushy and epic than they could ever be. And she makes things way more gritty, slutty, grimy and slimy than they ever could be. And here she is writing at her slimy best.
So we have Sethji-head of the absp, a crucial coalition partner in the government, a toad of a man who scratches his groin whenever he's thinking hard, and has "warts, moles, discoloured patches, infected hair roots, summer boils and a pink stain on his groin that is steadily growing". Then there's his luscious toad-kissing daughter-in-law Amrita, who is "so hungry for power that she would gladly change her FIL's soiled adult diapers to achieve it". In this surreal, parallel De-scape, whenever Sethji gets it on with Amrita (which is often), she finds herself, inexplicably, sexually aroused. Maybe this is because Amrita has a wimpy husband dealing with borderline impotence? She also has a bed-wetting nut job of a brother-in-law whom she finds attractive, except for the fact that, when the book begins, he has just brutally raped a 'pahadi' girl and become a major embarrassment to his politician father, who is facing some kind of crisis in the party (it's never clearly explained what the crisis is) while also trying to get a big highways contract allocated to his industrialist pals.
Amrita is put in charge of putting everything right, which she proceeds to do, with the help of a fixer with a fixation for pretty servant boys and a Bollywood producer-cum-slick lawyer ex-lover called MK. The baddies (as in enemies of Sethji) are Mumbai based, and led by an ailing, religious old man who wears saffron, calls bandhs, and has two loser sons. Any resemblance to people living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Shobhaa De
Author Shobhaa De.
The book zips along at a great pace, it is genuinely unputdownable-and, rather in the style of Joseph Heller's Catch 22, a new (sleazy) character gets added on in each chapter. There is Simran the starlet who has bushy armpits; there is a mummy-obsessed industrialist called Jaiprakash, who can't get over the fact that his mother had an affair with her own nephew; and there is a maalishwalla called Himmatram and a maid called Phoolwanti. There is kidnapping, murder and gratuitous amounts of sex and violence, as Q from the Bond movies would put it. There are also (slightly forced) quotes from Kautilya at the begining of every section, spouting crooked Sethji-type wisdom, and seeming like statutory anti-tobacco warning of sorts. "The arrow shot by the archer may or may not kill a single person. But stratagems devised by wise men can kill even babes in the womb." When the dust finally settles, it's a happy ending of sorts, even though a few major characters wind up dead.
De works hard at making Sethji slimy (even citing Sitaram Kesri as her inspiration, who, God rest his soul, had a face only a mother could love). And the book's biggest achievement is that, at the end, you can't help applauding the old man when he comes up tops. As for Amrita, who, as the book ends, "is planning to make Delhi nestle in the palm of her hand", she may well feature in a book of her own soon-titledBhabhiji, perhaps.

Memorial Service....

Jodhpur image at the Dom Perignon brunch.... nice???

This appeared in the Sunday Times....
                                         Memorial Service
This is all terribly confusing. Especially if you live in Mumbai. Between Babasaheb,Balasaheb and any other future Saheb, our overcrowded Minimum City is going to find it difficult to accommodate the living, forget the dead. There will come a time (sooner, rather than later), when a single extra person showing up will sink these seven narrow islands we call home.Then what? But before that disaster takes place, we have to make room for permanent memorials. Obviously,dozens of  strategically located statues aren’t good enough. We need acres of public space, preferably in the very heart of the city, to erect memorials that can pacify hard core followers. Mine is bigger than yours, gets an entirely new meaning in this context. Location, as any canny real estate developer knows only too well, says it all. And that’s where the actual problem arises. If  Babasaheb has bagged a spot in the compound of Indu Mills, why shouldn’t  Balasaheb grab Shivaji Park? This is , of course,  a crude way to put it, since it’s their devotees who are clamouring for these prime plots…. and it is election time. Maha netas of maha parties are entitled to God’s little acre ( or several acres). It is a question of respect. Of sentiment. Whose? Don’t ask!
While the nation’s focus is on the tussle for memorials in Mumbai, it’s strange that very few commentators have mentioned the sprawling ‘Sthals’ of  Delhi. Four of the most expansive ones belong to the Nehru-Gandhi family. These well- tended memorials with manicured lawns, are obligatory stopovers for visiting dignitaries. ‘Paying homage’ is a national past time in India. Several work days in the calendar are reserved for this past time. We have more national holidays dedicated to the birth and death anniversaries of our deceased leaders than possibly any other country. One gets the feeling, Maharashtra will soon be adding another date in November  to this jam packed schedule of  zero work and lost man hours. If things go according to plan, Mumbai will also get two brand new tourist spots, which will attract the faithful in droves. Where will they congregate, for what purpose and how that will add to a better life, is anybody’s guess. Nearly all such aggressive demands , turn out to be nothing more than land grabs by another name. Opportunistic politics and shrewd emotional manipulation often work wonders. Poor Prithviraj Chavan. First, he got talked into the state funeral and now his back is against the wall  regarding the demolition of the make shift platform in the corner of the historic Shivaji Park in central Mumbai. Damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. Renaming the park is another demand he’ll find hard to negotiate with the likes of  Manohar Joshi who has brazenly urged party members to ‘take law into their own hands’ if their demands are spurned. With such blatant threats, Maharashtra’s beleaguered C.M. finds himself between a rock and a  hard place. It’s a tough call. There will be many more deaths and high profile funerals in future.  Supporters  of other netas from across the board ,may also decide to  light funeral pyres in public places, so as to make it easier for followers to participate in the rituals. What if every party and every neta starts claiming the same rights for themselves? What if every free space in the city is blocked off to appease different factions? Who is to decide which dead leader ‘deserves’ such a great and permanent honour? Hey Bhagwan.
Perpetuating personality cults is an Asian disease. We need these ‘sthals’ and memorials for our own selfish needs. For the survival of the successors and followers. Where does this sort of sycophancy end? Well, it should end on the funeral pyre or in a designated grave, as it does elsewhere in the world. Grief stricken party workers  pay their respects at the funeral of the personality and  go home. End of the story. But here, we need to keep the family business up and running as long as it’s possible. We need to rename streets, avenues airports, bridges, stadia and any other landmark, so as to keep the memory of the person alive. But surely, true legacy goes beyond statues and chowks? Wouldn’t it be far better to follow the ideals of those one looks up to? Or if we need to remind ourselves of the inspiring leader’s good and wonderful deeds, why not create public hospitals, schools, shelters, sustainable projects that actually benefit ordinary people in real terms? The  rest is pure humbug.  Let’s be honest - it is nothing but encroachment , but with a far a grander name. It’s time to let VVIP squatters across India know exactly where to get off.

De-lightful portrayal of a neta’s life

This appered in The Sunday Tribune
Reviewed by Aruti Nayar

shobhaa Deshobhaa De’s novel, after a hiatus of 10 years, claims to do for politics, what Starry Nights did to Bollywood. For everyone fed up of the scams and scandals, the credibility quotient of the political class is at an all-time low and the dedication right at the beginning of the book, "To our beloved politicians. May their tribe decrease," is bound to strike a chord with the middle class.

The same is true of the saying "The arrow shot by the archer may or may not kill a single person. But strategems devised by wise men can kill even babies in the womb, by Kautilya. De shows us the varied shades of a politician’s life. As she traces the career graph of Sethji, a prototype of an average neta, who has a set of skills that he hones assiduously to come up trumps, it is vintage Shobhaa De. Visual descriptions and a dexterous moving back and forth with an elan marks the manner in which De manages to flesh out the central character Sethji, his daughter-in-law Amrita and sons Srichand (Amrita’s laid-back husband) and the profligate Suraj.

Portayal of wheels-within-wheels and machinations make the narrative racy. To avoid monotony, there are sub-plots that intersect the main thread and are interwoven with it.

The businessman-politician nexus is defined with the relationship between Arun Mehta, Jaipraksh and MK who has a strange relationship with Amrita. Sethji, of course, remains the protagonist and just as the reader thinks, he has been "decoded," one discovers a new trait about the wily man who is not quite the main character, even though the novel is named after him.

The main character who is also the one through whose voice the narrative unfolds is Amrita, the beautiful daughter-in-law (and mistress) of Sethji — the fulcrum of the book as well as of the lives of the characters. It is in the delineation of the character of Amrita that Shobhaa De excels herself. Be it her latent sexuality, her razor-sharp intelligence and the "mind of a man," that makes her organise, plot and use and throw people with ease. In the portrayal of Amrita, Shobhaa De breaks all stereotypes and one can sense she is close to the author’s heart. As Sethji says, "Unlike most women, your brain functions like a man’s, it is capable of hard, unemotional decisions. It is ruthless when required." Here is not an archetypal woman but an atypical one who uses her thinking function much more than the feeling one. A stunner, she knows how to use her body to her advantage and is almost an alter ego of the manipulative Sethji. No wonder, they together generate tremendous synergy. Running the household with a clinical clockwork precision or plotting a murder or lying with elan even in the full glare of the TV cameras about her delinquent brother-in-law, Amrita can pull it off convincingly. One wonders why the author did not call the book Amritaji! De’s use of a language that is a mixture of colloquial and street language, peppered by Hindi cuss words makes the narrative raw and gives it an energy. Overuse of abuses and expletives do jar and interrupt the flow at times.

The two parts, Delhi and Mumbai, seeks to highlight the way politics works differently at both the places. One can see the inspiration for the man who controls Mumbai, Bhau, has shades of the late Shiv Sena supremo. Also the premium on giving contracts, the world of contract killers and the politicians- film directors-financers nexus is etched.

De’s Sethji is sanitised, not fleshed out with a reality check when it comes to capturing the essence of a politician’s life along with the rough and tumble, sights and sounds. In fact, the neta’s portrayal appears photoshopped and airbrushed and also ". It’s obvious, despite Sethji being in De’s head for more than a decade, she has never experienced politics first-hand. Starry Nights was home ground but politics is a different ballgame altogether. At times one gets the feeling that one is watching a potboiler and style overwhelms substance and makes the book almost surreal. A "confession" in the acknowledgments towards the end leaves the reader startled. De admits being fascinated by the late Sitaram Kesri and wants to thank him for motivating her to create Sethji. One wonders how. That, of course, is another story

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bangalore Lit Fest...

It was a Fun Fest.... with several 'serious' moments... as I am sure you'll be able to figure out from these write-ups. Well, the BLF got off to a good start. It can only jump up to a higher level from next year, now that the local fat cats have seen its potential. Given the emphasis on Kannada... perhaps a parallel Lit Fest for Kannada writers is the answer.
As for me, I had a wonderful time at the Fest, and at the Authors' dinner hosted by one of the most beautiful hotels in the world - the Taj West End, on the lovely lawns called Mynt. The pastry chef outdid himself by creating a veritable library of edible books in chocolate and beyond! Let's call it real food for thought!  I was happy to eat my own words.... for once!!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paris meets Jodhpur.....

When Paris meets Jodhpur - magic happens! As promised, the images from the magnificent Dom Perignon evening hosted by Bapji, Maharajah of Jodhpur ( in the pic above)... in the grand Art Deco salon. But just look at the attention paid to detail. Particularly the choice of flowers and candles! It was definitely a 'wow'moment when the doors of the salon were thrown open and we walked into this amazing space, bathed in a beautiful glow....I had a wonderful time.... as I'm sure you can tell!
Off to Delhi tomorrow , for a Health Conclave organised by The Week
 And then to Bangalore for the Lit Fest....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Penguin Car on the prowl....

What an interesting grab shot of the iconic Penguin Car as it cruises around Mumbai. And guess who that is in the background? Yes, Sir! Cést moi! Sethji has the mega window at Crossword.... and wow! It's a big deal! I am thrilled.

This appeared in The Week recently.....

                             Women and funerals
Mumbai has limped back to normalacyl after the mammoth funeral of Balasaheb Thackeray. I watched his final journey with a great deal of interest… especially the composition of the cortege. All eyes were on the members of the Thackeray family as they clambered on to the flower bedecked truck that would carry Balasaheb to Shivaji Park for the first public cremation at the historic venue since 1920 when Bal Gangadhar Tilak was granted the same privilege. While most observers and journalists focused on the presence of the estranged cousins ( Raj and Udhav) , desperately looking for signals to decode (“ will they, won’t they… hug and make up? ”) their current equation, I concentrated on the women of the family… the two daughters-in-law ( Rashmi and Smita), plus, Sharmila, Raj’s wife. Their body language was even more fascinating to monitor. There is something about the nature of our funerals that is unambiguously macho, in that women are almost always excluded from active participation in the proceedings. That may have had relevance in another era, when the supposedly delicate, fragile nature of grieving ladies was given due consideration and their tears were shielded from public view. They were expected to mourn their loved ones in the privacy of their quarters. They could beat their breasts publicly only when allowed to do so by village elders.
The story has altered  but a little. It is still the men of the family who take full charge and conduct the all-important last rites. It is they who light the funeral pyre and ensure the ashes are strewn in a holy river. Women remain on the sidelines, passively watching the ceremonies, holding back tears and consoling young children, mainly daughters. Little boys are sometimes required to become men within minutes of   losing someone precious – a parent. It is heartbreaking to note at such times that the ‘man of the house’ is an alarmingly young lad, forced to confront tragedy head on and fulfill his duties at the funeral. In traditional societies, this is how it is, this is how it remains. But there are progressive families that have boldly defied age-old traditions and literally taken matters into their own hands. I remember the spirited  Mallika Sarabhai performing the last rites of her father , the legendary Dr.Vikram Sarabhai, much to the astonishment of the conservative elements within Ahmedavad society. It was a pretty strong statement to make at the time and expectedly, it generated a great deal of comment.
The Thackeray ladies were discreet and dignified through the long ordeal, that saw both Raj and Uddhav breaking down and sobbing. Balasaheb’s grandchildren put on a brave face and it was left to young Aditya (Uddhav’s son and the leader of the youth wing of the Sena), to console his father and take charge of  arrangements, even as his female cousins stayed close to their mothers, away from public glare. Apart from Sushama Swaraj, Maneka Gandhi and Supriya Sule, there were hardly any women present near the pyre, as four priests chanted the final prayers and logs of sandal wood were arranged over Balasaheb’s frail body.
Weddings and funerals are excellent indicators of how women are placed in that particular society. While the modern Indian wedding has been rapidly and attractively democratized during the past two decades, with women playing dominant roles, our funerals are  stuck in ancient times, still excluding women from the many rituals involved. Elders insist this practice has something to do with ‘impurity’ ( read: menstruation) that ‘defiles’ the sanctity of the solemn ceremony.This is so depressingly retrogressive! Women, no matter how educated, how liberal, how successful… eventually have to deal with that Great Leveller – menstruation! I have discussed this delicate issue with progressive priests ( yes - they exist!), and they plead helplessness. We can’t change the shastras, they point out. To which I argue, it may not be possible for them to change the shastras, but surely, even the shastras are open to interpretation? Concepts  of female impurity must be thrown out of the window once and for all. Especially during occasions that demand an intense emotional engagement. Like funerals. Here’s a confession: I have attended several funerals of loved ones – too many, alas. And have organized a few personally. I have broken and bent a few rules while performing the last rites. This, I have done, with full faith in my actions, knowing that my abiding love for the dearly departed would overcome whichever lapses the officiating priests would later discover. And yes, years ago, I have done this while I was menstruating. My private pact with the powers that be in heaven above, provided the required protection. Sure ,I defied. But I neither defiled nor felt defiled. I did what I had to for the person I loved.So help me God.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Retirement for Aapla Sachin?

This appeared in Asian Age yesterday...
                                The Dreaded ‘R’- Word….
Why is it that super successful individuals cannot but cannot call it quits when the time is right? Formula One had just one God on the tracks for the longest time – and that was Michael Schumacher. My husband was his ardent devotee. Perhaps, devotee is an understatement. Race days were sacred, regardless of any other commitments or compulsions. I shan’t mention the compulsions of a rather intimate nature – but, yes – those too. Everything was put on hold till Schumi (of course, we had our very own pet name for his hero) was on the podium spraying magnums of premium champagne on his hysterical fans.It’s an unforgettable image… mainly because of how cold it really was. There’s the great F1 champion, a tight little smile on his face. In his hour of triumph and glory there’s no real exuberance on show. Just Germanic smugness at his own unbeatable competence. I always found Schumacher robotic , mechanical and distant. “That’s what you women don’t seem to understand…” explained my husband, using that annoying tone men adopt when they are about to reveal a deeply cherished all-male trait. “ To be a world class winner – which Schumi is, you need to be focused and unemotional. Schumi does not need to jump up and down on that podium after claiming the championship. That sort of a display is for amateurs – excitable kids. ”
I was thinking of all those comments when Schumi bid his (I hope) final farewell to the sport on Sunday at Sao Paolo. Of course, he didn’t shed tears. Of course, he remained gracious but determinedly robotic. That’s him. Compare the sigh of relief that greeted his over delayed goodbye, from the sobs that had marked his original ‘last lap’. Even that adieu was a bit late in the day, considering he had not been at his best for a while. But there was still some dignity left. And when he waved to his devastated fans, there was genuine regret to watch him leave the very tracks he had burned up while driving those killer cars.This time round there was jubilation. Hota hai….fans are the same all over the world - heartless.  Especially sports’ fans. They tend to get fanatical about their heroes when those heroes are on top of the game. The same fans become scarily unforgiving when the hero quits the sport.For those ruling the roost right now,one can see it coming for a few…. starting with David Beckham. He continues to have a great butt. But! His days as a top level footballer are clearly numbered. Today, he’s being bought and sold across clubs like so much chana. What a comedown!
Which brings me to our Cricketing God, Shri Tendulkar. Nobody but nobody in the sports’ history of  India  has enjoyed the staggering level of mass adulation as Aapla Sachin. Alas,those same admirers are getting nervous today. The question on everybody’s mind is the same : When will Sachin retire? Cruel. But there it is. This is a question India has been asking for a while now. Things have finally come to a head with his abysmal performance during the recently concluded Test match in Mumbai against England, provoking Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar sufficiently to issue unambiguous statements that left no room for interpretation. Sachin has to go. Whether Sachin himself takes his cue and quits instantly, remains to be seen. As is his style, he has thrown the challenge at selectors, making it really difficult for everybody. In effect, he is asking to be dropped ( fired, sounds horrible, but that’s the more accurate word). It’s now a contest of who blinks first. Will Sandeep Patil and gang have the guts to say, “ Thanks bro. But guess what? It’s time to walk.” Sachin has shrewdly lobbed the ball into their court, insisting the decision has to come from them. This is really not cricket, his many admirers are admitting reluctantly. Gavaskar, the smartest player of all time in every sense of the term, is saying Sachin will not go quietly, but go with a roar. How many more roars does Sachin need? The first big roar was the World Cup. Sachin didn’t go after that historic win. Then came his milestone century( which took ages). He stuck on. Now comes this embarrassing public debate. Kapil, as always, has been more blunt – “The problem is Sachin does not speak about it ( retirement) openly….” Of course, Sachin doesn’t… and won’t. His line has been consistent (and tedious). “ I play for India. So long as I can contribute to my country, I see no reason to stop…” Excuse us, but don’t the other cricketers also play for India? Is Sachin the only patriotic player we have? But it’s a statement that has reinforced his image as a committed player India cannot do without. Never mind the track record (153 runs in 10 innings – the lowest by any Indian top player during the same time frame).Never mind the age factor Sachin turns 40 next year. This is one call Sachin will have to make himself, difficult as it is. Being a living legend cannot be all that easy. Along with the considerable perks (and let’s not forget staggering monetary ones), there is the larger-than –life existence that dominates every waking moment. Legends never have it easy, particularly sports’ legends, whose shelf life is determined by the level of fitness. Once the peak physical form passes, rapid decline follows. It happens to everyone – from prize fighters, footballers, racing car drivers, swimmers, track athletes, basketball players. How can it spare cricketers, no matter how gifted?
Sorry, Sachin…India will love you forever and ever. Promise. But for now… for your sake and ours …quit while you are ahead. Ricky Ponting se kuch seekhlo…..that’s how it’s done, bro!
This appeared in Hello! Let me know how you feel about it....
Spent an enchanted evening hosted by Dom Perignon at the magnificent Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur. I have some great pics which will tell their own story... let it be said, there was magic in the desert air, as sixty lucky guests were transported to another zone, while Bapji Jodhpur ( the erstwhile Maharajah) played the gracious host in a salon built by his grand mother, and rarely opened to the public... and what a grand salon it is - the only portion of the superbly maintained palace that borrows heavily from the Art Deco era.