Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Mubarak!

It has been an overwhelming Easter weekend at our farm house in Alibag. These pics say it all.... or... wait a minute.... do they? Getting my half-a-dozen children together under the same roof was challenge number one. But it happened! Making sure my grand daughter made the most of the pool and beach was a cake walk! She is a natural water baby.
 The sea was rough and choppy. But the moon, Orion and Great Bear in the clear night sky made me forget the rough ride.... it goes without saying, the champagne helped! I hope all my Blogdosts had a good weekend, too!
This appeared in Sunday Times today.....

                                     If I were Zaibunissa Kazi…
 Question:What is the one thing Zaibunissa Kazi seems to have done right in her 70-plus years? Answer: She has produced one hell of a smart daughter! Listening to Shagufta Kazi arguing her mother’s case across countless television channels,it  became abundantly clear that here was a young woman who knew how the media game is played. Tutored or not, her presentation was faultless. She stuck to her script and refused to budge from her “My mother is not guilty,” position. Shagufta’s timing was impeccable as well. And her emotional pitch must have touched countless soft hearts – including Markandey Katju’s. Suddenly, the focus shifted from Sanjay Dutt and his Bollywood buddies, to an ailing old lady’s tragic condition. She was sick… she was dying… she had suffered for a crime she had not confessed to…twenty years later, she was being sent back to jail… prison life would definitely kill her… besides, she was innocent! It was a brilliant strategy – and it worked! Sorry for the cynicism. But the way this entire saga is going right now ( one sob story after another), makes one wonder whether we need a Supreme Court in India at all! If verdicts are there to be questioned and challenged by any and everybody, why bother with the long drawn out judicial process in the first place? What we are witnessing today, is nothing but staged high drama involving high profile public figures, playing on the country’s emotions. Certainly, asking for pardon is the prerogative of  every citizen.And one must hand it Sanjay Dutt ( it’s really pretty obscene to keep referring to a 54- year- old man as ‘Sanju Baba’ ) for making his position clear on the issue (“No thank you,” he says). But this particular case is not an ordinary one. The horrific terror attacks on Mumbai, left 257 dead, and 713 injured, making this one of the best planned and most devastating terror attacks in the world. Those implicated have had 20 years to think about their involvement… and express remorse. One hasn’t come across an apology so far. It seems incredible that the accused expected fellow citizens to forgive and forget what took place in 1993, considering it was fellow citizens who were under attack in the first place
Markandey Katju is an enigma. Or maybe, he is just another retired Judge seeking political office like several others before him. He insists he has examined the case thoroughly before offering support and intervention. Most citizens would have problems with the learned former Judge’s stand. It is hard to find ‘sympathy’ for those who were willing to endorse the killing of innocents in cold blood. It is harder still to accept the argument that a man in his thirties at the time ( Sanjay Dutt), thought it fit to keep an AK-56 for  “self-protection”! One assumes he would have used the deadly weapon against fellow Indians, had such a need arisen? Dutt has an entire army of supporters working for him right now – and good luck to the actor. It is hard not to like this affable  man mountain . But hello! A verdict is a verdict, no matter how adorable the accused and regardless of  how much money is riding on him. Dutt has taken it on the chin and is being a man about it. That leaves Zaibunissa and her smart daughter. If I were in Zaibunissa’s place, I would leave it to Shagufta to fight my battle. Shagufta is far more savvy than a battery of  lawyers. She can also teach the cleverest P.R. professionals a thing or two about pitching a story that tugs  at millions of heart strings. All that remains for this duo to do is to hire a high profile celebrity – and fire the rest of their advisers ( assuming they exist). Celebrities these days rent by the hour and can be easily convinced to come on board, when the case is this media-driven. Zaibunissa’s projection as a seriously ill, tormented victim with a failed kidney condition, has already worked in her favour. And Shagufta has shrewdly taken the ‘Trial by public opinion’ route.As for  the bleeding heart Judge Katju, one can see where he’s coming from, and more importantly, where he is going.
That leaves the families of the dead and injured. Aaah – them! Well… ummm… yes. Poor things. Something must be done for them soon.But before that – how about pardoning Sanjay Dutt and Zaibunissa Kazi?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Limone! Italian Alps

Blogdosts.... that's Arundhati and moi pretending to ski! What a glorious day it was at Wonderfall in Limone! Unfogettable in every which way...
Have a relaxing Easter Weekend, guys. We are off on a heavy duty family retreat at our home in Alibag.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Historic Hermitage Hotel, Monte Carlo

Blogdosts, remember.... you did say  "Öui"' when I asked!
So... here are a few early, first day/night images shot by moi on my faithful Leica ( Thank you, Gitaaaah - it remains one of my most cherished birthday gifts!).
 From the top: Roses (white - in case you thought they were red, ha ha ha), Champagne (Pommery) in the chiller, chocolates ( Hediard - the best, after the Japanese brand Royce). Now - that's what one calls a royal welcome! Nobody does it better than the Hermitage.
And the ceiling view of the chandelier is of our lovely, blue themed suite.
That's the magnifique Belle Epoque breakfast room which opens out to a terrace. Followed by a lobby view. And an incredible early evening vista of the yachts- jammed harbour as seen from our balcony. F Finally, the farewell bow and last curtain call at the Opera "Ámica'' ( written in 1905, and just revived).
There's more where those came from. All you have to do is give me a thumbs up!
Happy Holi. May the good times roll. And may Holika do her job tonight by destroying evil forces, as the Holi fires burn across India and hungry flames lick the sky.

Monday, March 25, 2013

No time for funerals...

This picture sort of says it all??? More to come...
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                           No time for funerals and condolences…
To the best of my knowledge, my mother had never gone anywhere close to a crematorium – electric or otherwise. It simply was not done in those days for women to be present at funerals. It was a strictly male thing. A masculine ‘duty’. Women were meant to be protected from having to deal with the nitty gritties of death. They involved themselves with other social obligations at such times. Like my grandmother  would say after hearing about a death of a relative or family friend, “ Let us pay a visit and meet the grieving ladies of the house.” Women mourned privately. They said their final goodbyes from a distance as the body was taken away, wiping their tears  discreetly and  hugging the lady closest to them for comfort. I had asked aie and aji why women were not allowed to join male mourners and they had replied evasively. The ‘smashaan’ was no place for ladies, they’d said.  Traditionally,women had no role to play during the last rites. I had found this custom strange and unfair . But had kept mum.Since when did grief get divided along gender lines? I was fed some mumbo jumbo about menstruation, pregnancy and defilement.Absurd!  I made a personal pact with God and convinced myself  it was okay to break rules and say ‘goodbye’ properly to someone I loved deeply without worrying about divine repercussions. By the time it was my turn to see off loved ones, the social environment had changed sufficiently to ‘allow’ women into the crematorium…. and even light the funeral pyre.
Today, women don’t have the time to attend funerals or even offer personal condolences. I am ashamed to say it happened to me last fortnight. I was travelling when I heard the tragic news about Viren Shah’s death in Jordan. I had known Virenbhai for close to forty years . I remembered the twinkle in his eyes and the many happy evenings my husband and I had spent gobbling sev puri and other Gujarati snacks at his home in Mumbai, and later, in the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata when he was the Governor of West Bengal. I recalled listening to Virenbhai regaling his rapt audience with hilarious stories of his many political adventures. I couldn’t quite believe he had passed away in a distant country. While my husband made it to his funeral, I couldn’t. I said a prayer for Virenbhai in my heart, thought fondly about his lovely wife Anjuben,mentally reached out to my good friend, his son Rajesh…and that was that. Till… I could bear it no more. This was truly pathetic… disgraceful! I sent a heartfelt text message to Rajesh, and felt better. But only a little. I should have asked for time from Rajesh and his wife Bansri, gone and met them and done what is the appropriate thing under the circumstances. But I was travelling again (lousy excuse!) . This was just so unfortunate. Now, it will be weeks again before we can connect in a meaningful way.
And that’s how the cookie crumbles. But it really shouldn’t. Surely, we can all make time in our frenzied and hectic lives to honour the memory of those we have shared wonderful moments with? I was away when another stalwart - Kekoo Gandhi, died. And more recently, Kali Modi. All three were exceptional men – and true bon vivants – loved and adored by countless admirers. I knew them. I loved them. But I wasn’t there. This is going to be one of the tragedies of our times. Births and deaths will happen. Some of us will pause and note both. Some will make it a point to visit the family and express joy / sorrow. Some will say ‘Later.” And that ‘later’ will never come. I am feeling guilty. I am feeling ashamed. No, I am feeling truly terrible.
What should guilt ridden women do under such circumstances? I’d say try and make up the best way they can. It’s never the same thing. But it sure beats self-flagellation or going into denial. It’s a tough one. The next  generation of career women is going to get busier still.Work harder.Travel more. Soon, we may forget what it means to pay a condolence visit.There will be no one  left to pass on the protocol.Teach others how to behave at besanas , uthamanas , shraddhs and wakes . That will be as big a tragedy as the death of the loved one itself .
And then… who will mourn us when we go???

Monaco was magical!

Here I am at the Dubai International airport, waiting for my flight to Mumbai. I have still to recover from the magnificence of the charity ball organised by the Grimaldi family in Monte Carlo. Ever since Princes Grace started this tradition, The Rose Ball, as it is popularly called, attracts the top international names across the board and is one event that  strongly marks the  crowded Monaco social calendar (over 600 events in 365 days!) and heralds Spring. Well... we all know what happened to Spring in Europe this year! But I was lucky to enjoy two very sunny and glorious days at a destination that defines glamour. The Ball itself ,was designed by a legend - Karl Lagerfeld. And was his tribute to the Belle Epoque. Naturally, it was opulent and creative, extravagant and magical. I tried hard to meet Monsieur Lagerfeld, but the security cordon around him was impoaaible to crack. I also tried to grab a few shots of the exqisitely stunning Princess Charlene - same story! Toh kya hua? The India table was well represented. We wore our beautiful sarees with pride. Our Ambassador looked pleased. Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur looked splendid in red.And we also had a  wow-wow Bond Girl ( Casino Royale) at our table, all thanks to Patrick Medecin, Monaco's Ambassador to India.  I have a feeling, India and Indians will be the new darlings of this jewel of a Principality soon. As of now, I spotted several Chinese billionaires. And of course, the Russian Oligarchs clad head to toe  in Sable. Mink. Silver Fox. Chinchilla.
Great pics coming up. Raise your hands and say, "Oui!"

Monday, March 18, 2013

Jump! And save yourself!

 From the arid sands of the Dubai desert to the salubrious Cote DÁ off for a few days.... zipping to colder climes. Monaco and the super glam Rose Ball beckon....more on my return next week, post -Holi. Till then, au revoir... mes amies.
This appeared in The Week...
                             Jump! And save yourself…
I had no idea that the Mumbai Police had started a  17 member Hostage & Crisis Negotiation Team last year, till I read about the timely intervention of Shalini Sharma, a team member, who talked a 17- year- old girl out of jumping from the seventh floor of her building in Bandra. In her interview with a local tabloid, Shalini recounted the two-and-a-half  hour ordeal, during which her training (  at  Scotland Yard, no less) was tested. She said the team specializes in decoding the body language of the ‘target’. In this case, she found the suicidal girl looking angry and confused. There was no time to waste. Shalini launched into what is termed ‘calculated bargaining.’  Over an hour of skillful negotiations later, Shalini came up with a brainwave and managed to hand over a cell phone to the panic stricken girl. After that, it was comparatively easy.
 The thing that struck me about this incident is how vulnerable our young are today. And how we have failed to recognize their fragility. As Shalini pointed out after the girl was rescued, “ All she wanted was someone to talk to…” Obviously, nobody had been listening to her cries for help for a long, long time… not her family, not even her friends. Loneliness is going to be the new killer in urban India. But we have yet to wake up to the seriousness of the condition. The bald and sad truth of the matter is that there are more and more terminally lonely people in our cities than ever before. And nobody has the time for them.We used to pride ourselves on providing support to those most in need of  it – our youth and the elderly. Today, both are in the same boat – marginalized, neglected and ignored. The young feel diminished and degraded. The elderly, unwanted and useless.  Clinical depression is on the rise, but we fail to identify it for what it is – an illness. We get impatient and angry if someone close to us withdraws and sinks into a deep, dark well of negative emotions. Especially if that person appears fine in all other respects – physically fit, energetic and educated. We accuse such people of faking their condition. Of  being lazy. Of  seeking attention. Of  behaving ‘badly’. The elderly have little choice but to put up with the taunts of those around them. But the young demonstrate rage and give vent to frustration. That is when suicides happen. Cornered and filled with despair, only one solution presents itself – instant death. How tragic!
We remain unsympathetic and callous even when faced with such a drastic situation. Rarely do parents of disturbed teens turn the spotlight on themselves to ask, “Where did I fail my child?” Sometimes, this introspection comes a bit too late in the day. In the case successfully handled by Shalini Sharma, I  continue to fear for the girl. She may have been saved this one time. But who’s to say she won’t attempt something similar in future? And if that happens,  Shalini Sharma may not be around to negotiate with the troubled  teen and persuade her to  get off that dangerous ledge. We don’t want to bother with the delicate state of such a person’s mind. We don’t know whether or not her family is happy to see her alive after the ordeal. What if she is told as much? Imagine the irony of it all. To start with, there was nobody to talk to. Leaping off  the ledge seemed  like the only way out. Then came a savior. But there was still nobody to talk to! What happens in such a grim scenario? I shudder to think.
For the young, unhappy children of our society, family still remains the primary source of love and comfort. Friends follow. But all that is rapidly changing. Friends have replaced family in a lot of metros.Friends seem to have more time and better understanding of problems. Working parents often need therapy themselves, unable as they frequently are to cope with their own problems. Grand parents no longer live with the family. The larger circle of aunts, uncles and cousins does not exist. Teachers of the old school who actually cared about the emotional state of their students , disappeared with the dinosaurs. An abiding sense of rejection (“ Nobody sends me Friend requests on FB” ) supersedes virtually everything else . The world appears hostile and dangerous. What does a young person do in such a nightmarish situation? Look for that welcoming ledge. And jump.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My darling and highly creative friend Chanda Narang who runs Frazer & Haws, is always ahead of the curve when she inspires her team to come up with new concepts and designs in silver. I was in Delhi this week for Spring Fever and was delighted to have dinner with Chanda at Tres ( Delhi's latest, smartest and uber hip bistro). Her store at Khan Market happens to be cheek by jowl to Tres. I checked out Chanda's latest creations and fell in love with these two. What do you think of them? Beautiful or what????
And yes.... do contribute to a good cause....the campaign has just kicked off. Remember , even 500 rupees can change a little girl's life forever.
This appeared in Sunday Times today...
                                Viva Italia!
What is there not to love about Italy and the Italians? Errrr…. we’ll get to the Marines later.  Let’s start counting first : We  have flipped en masse for  Italian cuisine.Eating Italian has become a big, fat food trend across the country. And this generation of Indian bachchas would rather pack pasta  for their nashta than parathas. Every nukkad has a pizza parlour  these days. Gelatos may soon replace kulfi. We also love Italian wines and cheeses. Italian olive oil and tomatoes. Parmesan and Mozzarella have more takers here than the humble paneer and  chhana. We listen to Italian opera – aah Pavarotti! Oh Domingo. We love their movies and movie stars. Our film buffs have watched Fellini,Visconti.Antonioni and worshipped Mastroianni ( Marcello, to you) for decades. Generations of desi men have fallen in love with Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida and Monica Bellucci.While women have swooned over De Niro and Di Caprio. Will the wild female fantasy of the Great Latin Lover never end?How can we overlook Italian design? Italian shopping? The unmatchable leather boots and saddles? Handbags and shoes? All those impeccably crafted objects of desire, guaranteed to make shopaholics go weak in the knees season after season? Have we forgotten their silks and gowns? Fancy frocks and haute couture? No, no, no. How can we not recognize the obvious – ‘Made in Italy’ means ‘Made in Heaven’? No wonder planeloads of tourists from India land up in Rome, Pisa, Venice,Napoli, Capri, Milano in search of the perfect vacation. Well- heeled travellers book their favourite villas in Tuscany months in advance and talk knowledgeably about the joys of eating al fresco at their favourite neighbourhood bistro. Si,si si  –  it’s true -  Indians do go gaga over all things Italiano. But…all that may be a thing of the past now.
So, why has India’s love affair with  Italy suddenly ended, not with a bang but a tantrum? Well, there is that nasty little business involving two maddeningly attractive Italian Marines with maddeningly melodious names (Salvatore Girone and Massimillano Latorre). They have been really, really naughty. In our part of the world, we’d call them murderous. But in Italy, these things happen. Guns go off. Innocents die. Bad stuff  takes place And then finito! It’s all over. It happens like that in India as well. But what happens in India, stays in India. In Italy, things work a little differently. Promises are made. Assurances given. Lawyers and governments get involved.Two naughty Marines are locked up . And everybody waits for a fair trial. Then the Italians work on our soppy sentiments and play the X’Mas card. Awwww! We say. Poor guys. They want to spend X’Mas with their families. Let them go. They’ve promised to come back. And they will! Surprise, surprise! They do come back! And all of us heave a sigh of relief and say, “See! Those Marines kept their word.” We relax a little. The families of the murdered fishermen don’t. They know something we refuse to acknowledge. The Marines are not to be trusted. Nor is the Italian government . But, we allow the  accused men go back to Italy once again. This time to cast their votes. “They’ll be back. Just like the last time…” we say. Ooooopps! That doesn’t happen. They change their minds. They are not coming back in a hurry. In fact, they are not coming back at all! Deal with it! Our chaps look terribly foolish as they tch!tch! and take the Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini, to task. He remains as cool as those gelatos we love and makes all the right diplomatic noises. Italy is our friend, we say, somewhat unconvincingly. But this is an act of hostility, someone pipes up. Contempt of our courts, roar those who don’t particularly like Italians…. especially one Italian lady who lives in Delhi. Blood is thicker than water, snipes a neta. Whose blood? What water? There is anger and confusion all around. Women who love their Italian bags, shoes, clothes and jewels, wonder whether it would appear unpatriotic to flaunt them in public now. “We must stand by our country,” they declare virtuously, and promise to boycott the Fashion Week in Milan this year. Roadside vendors of pizzas switch to selling dosas. It’s time for solidarity, we insist. Forget olive oil, it’s about time the Italians extended an olive branch, declare apoplectic politicos. La Dolce Vita does not look all that ‘dolce’ any more. And the Italian lady in Delhi is in no mood to get into this mess. Arrivederci! Ciao! It’s time to say goodbye to the absconding Marines. As for the dead fisherman and their grieving families… they will probably be taken care of the old fashioned way. For a few Euros more… of course. And they should remember to say ‘Grazie’ nicely when that happens!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Women: Get in touch with your inner tycoon NOW!

 Still in Dubai mode, as you can see! That's Anandita enjoying her camel ride ( I don't have the stomach for it). 
Penguin's Spring Fever in Delhi started off on a high note with Mahesh Bhatt in conversation with me. It was warm , lively and wonderful. I was deeply touched that Mahesh took the time to fly into Delhi, do this for me, and fly out. That's what makes Mahesh, Mahesh...
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today.....

                                    Women : Get in touch with your inner tycoon!

I am a fairly recent FB convert, so forgive me if I sound confused. For the longest time my FB account was  handled by my publishers who wisely believed it was a great marketing tool. I had no idea what went on in that space, but when total strangers began accosting me to say cheerfully “We are your FB friends,” I became somewhat alarmed. And decided to log in to find out who these ‘friends’ were. It was a deeply embarrassing , almost scary experience. I checked with my children who bluntly told me to stay off  FB (“It’s not meant for your age group,”). They were right. And also a little wrong. Women across the world NEED their FB fix. More than half the one billion users of FB happen to be chicks. Now, I am one of them. It has become my best stress buster. And I do get a vicarious kick out of  following the lives of people I barely know through their manic updates. Having tasted blood, I decided to open my own, personally driven FB account. I was such a novice at it and so very clumsy, I had to finally seek help from my youngest (and kindest) child. I am still pretty hopeless, but I am having so much fun!  Today, I’d call myself  a marginal FB  player. I am hooked. But not a hard core addict. I actually brush my teeth before logging on. All these thoughts were running through my head as I read the TIME cover story, teasingly titled  “ Don’t hate her because she’s successful,” on Sheryl Sandberg, the uber smart COO of FB. Sandberg’s got a book out (“Lean In”) through which Sandberg is trying to ‘reboot’ feminism. After reading the lengthy profile filled with clever quotes, I started to feel a little sorry for the 43- year -old woman who took FB public and has recently cashed out about $90 million worth of shares (she is still hanging on to 18 million shares). Interestingly, the most revelatory chapter of  her book claims : amongst the most important career choices a woman makes is whom to marry! It is significant that the man, Dave Goldberg, Sandberg herself  picked. is described as ‘genial and laid back’. She claims he manages their money, since she has no interest in it.He claims they share kiddie duties 50-50. Fair exchange !
Gloria Steinem has extended public support to Sandberg’s take on 21st century leadership roles for women. Other feminists are less ecstatic. Sandberg insists  “We hold ourselves back in ways, both big and small,”. Sandberg’s boldly printed motto – RUTHLESSLY PRIORITISE – says it all about her working style.She talks about the invisible barriers in women’s minds that stop them from aiming high.This mother of two says she is aware that success and popularity don’t go together ( “Female accomplishments come at a cost).” Her thesis is alienating women across the board, especially because it underlines a common fear - Sandberg suggests women don’t aspire to senior positions and spend far too much time on housework and child care duties. Critics point out she’s a fine one for saying this, considering how wealthy she is and how much house help she employs ( she refuses to talk about it).According to the article, Sandberg works very hard, but hardly parties, unless it is to network. Is most of this sounding familiar? So, what is the core message Sandberg is sending out to career women? Frankly, I am stumped. Feminists of the old school believe she is exhorting women to be more like men if they want to succeed. Is she, really? Sandberg ( who sits two desks away from CEO Mark Zuckerberg) is in a great place right now. As the COO and only woman on the board of the company, she has her targets in place. Zuckerberg calls her “unique” for having both, an extremely high I.Q. and E.Q. Sandberg has been officially dubbed ‘Confidence Woman.” But guess what, even she wonders why women such as herself don’t generate too many ‘likes’ on FB. I’m not surprised. Are you?
As for me, I am searching for my inner tycoon. And thinking of  becoming  a BFF of  every single person I meet on FB! Taking a cue from Sandberg, I shall be tracking those ‘Likes’ closely henceforth! So, hit that key, guys!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Who pays?????

 Sorry about the pics being agdum-bugdum. Am still in a trance after meeting Steven Spielberg last night!
 I particularly like the way my books were displayed at the Lit Fest. And as you can tell from my beaming smiles in all the pictures, I had a super fabulous time in Dubai. I am seriously considering wearing the head gear more often. Your verdict???
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...                                
Who pays…..?
“ I don’t believe in ladies’ first,” declared the young man clad in a too-tight shirt  as he tried to snatch the bill out of the hands of a young woman wearing a too tight skirt.  Obviously,both were in a tight spot. But the person in the tightest spot was the poor server who clearly didn’t want to take sides. So, he shrugged and waited for the attractive and affluent couple to slug it out for the cheque. Both were flashing impressive credit cards as they jumped up and down, she on her high heels, he on his ( yes, men do wear high heels a lot these days). Other diners in Mumbai’s toniest restaurant ( hint: the same one which witnessed an ‘exchange’ between a Nawab and a pleb not so long ago), watched this little drama with much amusement. Soon this couple was joined by another couple. They were also wearing tight garments and flashing credit cards ( Platinum? Black? Gold? Diamond studded?). It now looked like all of them wanted to pay the bill. The ladies in particular, were getting pretty agro about it. I wanted to butt in and suggest they pay for everybody in the restaurant while they were at it. But my husband kicked me under the table. The server was totally forgotten by now. And the four of them attacked the cashier minding his own business and staring fixedly at the computer. A loud and spirited conversation ensued. It had to do vaguely with women’s rights and how these chicks could afford to foot their own bills, and how the men were behaving like old fashioned uncles by offering to get the tab. The poor men were beginning to cut tragic figures as they shuffled their feet ( the heels made it a little difficult), and shrugged a lot ( the tight shirts didn’t help). Finally, the women won. And the two fellows slunk back to their table to order another drink. This one, they declared, was definitely on them. The girls exchanged high fives, winked and asked for a bottle of champagne.
So, who do you think won this round?
This ‘aunty’ (me!) was with her ‘uncle’, and inevitably we started discussing ‘our times’. There was never a debate on this issue – the men paid. Period. And that did not necessarily mean it was a ‘date’. Or that the women were expected to sleep with them in return. Women took men out on special occasions like birthdays. And it was understood it would be her treat. How? She told him so. Zero embarrassment. No fake nakhra. If both were kadka, there was always Bade Miya’s. It was okay to scrounge around for that crumpled tenner and add it to the kitty. But if the guy had a few bucks on him, he got the ice cream and pop corn at the movies. And the girl booked the tickets with her pocket money. There were rarely any ego issues to deal with. When the relationship progressed to the next level and they became boyfriend-girlfriend officially, all dates happened via consensus. The person who had the money that particular night, picked up the tab. And nobody kept hisaab-kitaab. Of course, all that has changed. And it is almost mandatory for women to arm wrestle the bill out of the server’s  leather  folder and make a number out of settling at least ‘her share’. I have watched couples checking phone calculators and splitting the total to the last loose change. This is really most inelegant. Bringing money into romance is the surest way to kill it . If after a lovely, relaxed evening under a moonlight sky, the guy turns to the woman and comments, “ Drinks are really, really expensive these days…. Guess how much I just paid?” that’s the end! Phut! Goes the mood. Khatam! says the woman mentally as she tries not to feel too guilty about the kharcha-paani. So… what’s the solution? I’d say the old fashioned way ( man pays) works far better on a first date. Woman offers to handle the tricky moment on the second ( he declines, even if he is stretching himself). Third time round, the woman insists ( he doesn’t resist).After that, you talk about it in a casual way and arrive at an arrangement that works for the two of you. Keep it civilized, polite and transparent, guys. It’s only money!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Never a dull De....!

Spring Fever.... catch it! I am so looking forward to interacting with my old friend Mahesh Bhatt! We go back a long way..... do any of you remember the path breaking TV serial, a daily soap titled 'Swabhimaan'? Guess what? I was the writer. And Mahesh, the director! Wonder why we never teamed up after that??
This was written for the Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle....

                      Does Sunila know it’s International Women’s Day….?
Year after tiresome year, women the world over believe the 8th of March is ‘their day’. That some sort of miracle will take place and hey presto! It will be a beautiful world for women. This past year has been particularly awful for us. From Malala in Pakistan, to Nirbhaya in India, defenceless, innocent women were used for target practice…. used, abused, raped, beaten and murdered in cold blood. And yet, isn’t it amazing that women can still find it within themselves to smile and carry on? Take our Sunila. She is twenty and pregnant. She may or may not be married. But she refers to someone as ‘mera pati’. She is part of the Bai Brigade of Mumbai. The hard working, incredibly resourceful women who toil in tony homes and go back to their men late in the evening,  to continue  toiling and slaving some more. Her mother works in the same complex and guess what ? She is also pregnant. The two women run into each other sometimes as they rush from apartment to apartment… and their faces instantly light up when that happens. I recently asked Sunila what she’s so happy about? I asked her mother the same question. They exchanged glances and patted their swollen bellies - “This!” they replied in unison. Both said they wished for girls! Now, that was a real eye opener! In a culture obsessed with producing a male child, here were two women actively wanting baby girls. Why? The mother Sarikatai pointed proudly to her daughter and said, “Just look at my girl! Good looking, hard working and SSC pass. She has never given me a day’s trouble. And look at my worthless son. SSC fail – not once, but three times.Does nothing. Like his father. Sleeps all day, eats and drinks away our earnings. But my Sunila! She’s a gem. Found her own man and married without a fuss. No dowry, nothing. Her man is a good chap. He works in a bank as a peon. And studies at night. Both want to learn how to use computers. I want my next one to be another Sunila.” Listening to her mother, Sunila brushed the praise aside. She had her own reasons for wanting a daughter. “ I will make her study hard… do well… become someone. A doctor or pilot. My husband wants her to become a scientist. I tell him, forget all this. What if she wants to become Miss India?” The women share a meager mid-day meal, frequently supplemented by leftovers given by their fancy ‘madams’. Both women have really seen it all in the homes they work in, and yet, are far from jealous or judgemental. The Madams and their Sirs, drink, gamble, wear sexy clothes and spend vast amounts of money. The women smile indulgently at the disparity and excess. “ It is God’s grace. These are aamir people. They must have done something good in their previous life, for God to  have given them so much in this one. Some of  them are kind and generous. They give us old clothes – not torn and tattered ones either, but hardly used sarees and salwar kameezes. They trust us with expensive jewelry. They know we will never touch what is not ours. ”
So, I ask them , sounding a little foolish to my own ears, “What did you do for International Women’s Day ( they were aware of it) that you don’t do during the rest of the year?” Their answers delighted me! The mother beamed, “I made puran poli for the family…. especially for the men. After all, if they don’t feel involved in our celebration, how can we enjoy ourselves?” Her daughter added, “ And I wore a new sari. I had made my husband buy it for me. Pink! His favourite colour. And mine, as well. All my Madams paid me compliments. One Madam gave me five hundred rupees and told me to buy something. It  was a great day in our locality.” That is just so fantastic! One can be cynical and say , “ Wow!  So the hard sell and heavy duty marketing  actually work!” Or one can look at it more positively. If the message of that day has made its way to these ladies, it is indeed time to rejoice. Feeling good about oneself  as a woman, in as harsh a landscape as ours, is a major feat. And a big leap into a brighter future. For Sarika and Sunila and their unborn children, there is an unmistakable sense of optimism and hope. Are they merely deluding themselves? I think not! Both ladies operate their own  bank accounts. They have started saving for their little ones. They didn’t wait for our FM to announce the launch of exclusive banks for women. They just went ahead and did what they had to. They are willing to take their chances and move ahead with their plans, despite the most daunting odds. No concessions. No alibis. They don’t judge one another or others. Not even their hoity toity memsaabs, who spent  8th March in an entirely different way ( you don’t really want to know!).
Years ago, I used to mock the tokenism of International Women’s day. It served no real purpose, I’d say, apart from pushing some tacky merchandise and enriching bar tenders pouring those extra potent shots  down thirsty female throats in various bars worldwide. But that was then. Perhaps I am speaking too soon when I say, women have moved well past that tokenism today. Women Like Sarika and Sunila. They are the ones who will bring  it on …these are the first real converts, as compared to earlier urban pretenders.And when their daughters arrive, that will be the time to look out for. Those who refuse to acknowledge the power of that moment, will be left open- mouthed wondering what exactly happened when no one was looking!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ben Okri! What a writer! What a man!

I got back a few hours ago from the excellently organised Emirates Lit Fest in Dubai. It is in its fifth edition this year.... all credit must go to Isobel ( the handsome, dynamic lady pictured above ) for pulling it off with such panache! With over a 100 top drawer international writers present, you'd think it was impossible for any one person to steal the show, right? Well, Ben Okri did it effortlessly! He was just brilliant on stage. And adorable, off it! We spoke at length.... about the Mahabharata, the Greek epic poems, African mythology, F.Scott Fitzgerald ("" The Last Tycoon' is a meditation on Hollywood - you must re read it...") and Bollywood. The youngest winner of the Booker Prize, Okri hynotised his listeners as he recited his poems under the stars during a session titled 'Desert Stanzas'. I enjoyed all four of my own sessions. But bringing in Anandita's birthday in Dubai this year, will always remain a very special memory!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

We love 'The Family'...!

That is Anasuya Devi .... birthday girl! Already clicking away!
This appeared in Sunday Times today.....

                             ‘The Family’ matters….
We Indians are very family minded. The whole world knows that. We love our families. Karan Johar told us to. And made a fortune based on that sweet and simple emotion. Others have also realized the value of family ties in the lives of desis. They too want to make a fortune out of them. What’s wrong with that? The Great Indian Family represents many things to many people. Understanding how it works is the key to prospering in this great and good land of ours. Whether we are selling movies to the masses or helicopters to the armed forces, it is important to keep ‘The Family’ happy. In Asian societies, it’s a little tricky, though. Where does ‘The Family’ begin and end? Does it include the in-laws?  Does the ‘Damaadji’ count as family?Foreigners dealing with our complex family maze don’t always get it. That makes it easier for us. We can fool them aaram se, by talking about our complicated joint family system and the power of mighty ‘parivaar’ that dominates our society. Where does the joint family stop? Don’t ask. For those who cannot figure it out, we must be considerate and show them a few family soaps on television. Those are an education in themselves. With a cast of hundreds,everybody is related to everybody else.And everybody is out to get everybody else. If we need to access the head of the clan, we have to negotiate our way past dozens of middle men. Each step requires secrecy and skill.And lots of spare cash. There are tacticians for hire, who can point in the right direction, provided they are given a baksheesh for their efforts. The head of the family can be the Tauji or Badi Maaji. These days, it’s generally the all-powerful Daadisa who rules with an iron hand. She is also referred to simply as ‘Madam’ by underlings. Going straight to ‘Madam’ is next to impossible. But there are ways. Madam prefers to leave complicated decisions to her trusted few. These include smart, sharp in-laws, who can be in residence within the sprawling family bungalow or staying overseas. And that’s when the plot gets interesting.
‘The Family’ in India holds a position of enormous privilege and power. In fact, so potent is its position, that rivals refuse to name family members when a scandal breaks out. Actually, this suits everyone splendidly. Indians are used to covering up for the many sins of family members. Elders point out it is this marvelous trait that has kept us together for centuries. They scoff at the way the West deals with the issue.  Family has little meaning there, except in Italy, where, like in India, ‘The Family’ rules. In fact, the similarities between India and Italy on the domestic front are incredible indeed. Which is precisely what makes it easy for us to interact with Italians and understand family dynamics there. Mere pass Mamma Mia hai, is the way it works. Like us, they also support worthless family members, emotionally, financially, legally. They cover up for the naughty ones who break rules and get caught. They reward those who also break rules but succeed. There is an unwritten code of  honour in both countries. Outsiders are expected to respect that and keep mum. Anybody who challenges ‘The Family’ has to pay the price for the betrayal. This is what protects ‘The Family’. And seals mouths. Enemies who threaten to break up families are dealt with firmly and permanently. A deal is a deal. Whether it involves ten bucks or 3000 crores. We are so lucky, here in India, and there in Italy. We know in our hearts and minds that so long as we protect ‘The Family’ we are protected. The minute ‘The Family’ goes, so many heads start to roll. This can lead to anarchy, chaos, instability, insecurity, confusion. People can feel let down and demoralized, particularly those who have stuck to ‘The Family’ through thick and thin and supported rogue relatives during turbulent times. Funny, how crises can lead to long term change. We are at that crossroad right now. The biggest dilemma facing us is what to do with ‘The Family’? Will we be reckless enough to go after the greedy ones who have received hefty kickbacks over the years and are sitting on piles of slush funds? Will it be seen as a witch hunt? Will the designated heir suffer for the sins of others? Can we afford to abandon those we love and worship? If that happens, as Gabbar Singh would ask, ‘ Phir hamara kya hoga,Kaliya?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Being a 'Mahila'...

Do I see the third generation athlete in the family??? Anasuya Devi on her sport's day ...

                Being a ‘mahila’…
Let’s start with being a ‘mahila’ at the two Mumbai airports first. Domestic and International.For some entirely illogical reason,there are separate lines for women at the security gates, and trust me, they are often longer than the several lanes reserved for men. This arrangement is obviously based on an assumption that far fewer women than men travel by air. And that one queue reserved exclusively for women, ought to facilitate easy movement for all passengers. Clearly , the mighty authorities have forgotten to remove their puraana  blinkers . Hello? Wake up! Have you not noticed the number of women on the move these days? Try taking any morning flight out of  Mumbai and you’ll see a serpentine line of long suffering mahilas, often with babies in their arms, waiting to clear the bottleneck without actually collapsing. Picture their plight : One newborn in their arms ( after a maiike trip to deliver the baby), another toddler  tugging the mother’s dupatta, not to forget a stroller brimming over with nappies, bottles, toys and other baby stuff, along with a back pack with more bachcha paraphernalia, plus a laptop bag. Also, waiting impatiently in the same endless line are our fierce corporate women dressed in no nonsense business suits and high heels. They are all set to rush to a meeting straight from the airport and rush right back at night. The queue has stayed frozen for over fifteen minutes. The conveyor belt leading to the x-ray machine is clogged with gigantic handbags ( look… women need their stuff, okay?). The person manning the machine is taking a chai break. The female cops in the screening area are taking their gossip break. Meanwhile, there are several babies screaming in one voice. All the men who had checked in at exactly the same time, have  finished negotiating their far shorter and rapidly moving lines , and are striding off to grab a coffee before boarding the aircraft. But we are still stuck in the blessed queue waiting for bodies to budge from the exact same spot .
 Is this fair? We don’t need those special made-for-mahilas concessions in such a scenario.Thank you, Finance Minister, we really don't need banks for women... .W e need more loos! We are good with regular mixed queues that actually move efficiently. That’s how it works all over the world. One queue fits all. Except in the Middle East. This is how it should be at our airports , too. If  jostle we must, let’s do it in a more equal way. I have watched foreign ladies shaking their heads in disbelief when they have been firmly told to go stand at the back of the line meant for women after they have waited for half an hour and made it to the front of   the men’s section. If these separate queues are designed to protect our modesty, it’s a sweet but essentially silly attempt. I get shoved around far more by aggressive women in a tearing hurry to rush past everybody else, than those poor guys behaving themselves in the other lines would ever dream of doing.  The clumsy  manner in which this system is working at present, makes zero sense. And amounts to reverse discrimination. Plus, we are at the receiving end of pretty rude stares and comments from men who mistakenly think we are in some amazingly advantageous situation. Relax, guys. Try crashing that line and find out for yourselves.

During peak hours ( and these days, every hour qualifies as ‘peak’), a harried airline staffer generally shows up out of nowhere and requests some of the women to go ahead and place their bags on the ‘other’ belt. Women push past one another to the freshly formed, shorter queue. Guess what? This is a totally dumb plan, because even if the bags slide smoothly through the x-ray machine, you still have to go back to the ‘mahila’ queue for the body search! There has to be a sensible way out of this annoying rigmarole. Why not more screening booths for women? And two or three x-ray machines instead of one? If discriminate we must, let’s do it intelligently. More and more women are travelling by air these days. Female traffic at airports is bound to double and treble in the coming years. Let’s factor that in and increase those wretched lanes to accommodate  additional numbers, or else us ‘mahilas’ will be left holding the baby… as usual.