Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 : The Year of Women!

Our orchids at the De Farm, Alibag, are in full and glorious bloom!
 Here's to a beautiful New Year.  To great beginnings...
2014 fills me with hope and optimism!
 Blogdosts... you have such a special place in my life...
Have a peaceful and productive year!!

Monday, December 30, 2013

"'Áunty Tips'' for the year ahead....

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
                                         The countdown has begun!
Readers, here are a few helpful ‘aunty’ tips to see you safely through the New Year. …
Let’s start with guy tips…
Tip No.1: Don’t  be a cheapo. If you can’t afford it,or are too kanjoos to spend, scrap the celebrations. Stay home and get drunk by yourself. But if you want the evening to be special, don’t count! Nothing ruins a date more than a man constantly reminding his date about the kharcha. This is one night when a date should be a proper date! No splitting costs, please.
Tip No.2 : Don’t get slobbering drunk ‘because it’s New Year’s Eve!” That excuse sucks. Don’t puke. Don’t make passes at someone else’s date. Don’t cadge drinks from other people’s table. Don’t pile on. Don’t crash parties. Don’t smooch strangers of either sex unless they also want to smooch you.
Tip No.3 : Dress down rather than up. Avoid brocade jackets. Poor Ranveer Singh is still recovering after his fashion disaster at Deepika P’s bash. Keep it simple. Keep it sober. Keep it stylish. Overshadowing your date is never a good idea. Especially if it’s New Year’s Eve.
Tip No. 3 : Make sure you eat something before you hit the bar. Most importantly,make sure your date eats something , too. Knocking back Bubbly on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. Why get shattered before midnight…. and pass out when the countdown actually happens? If you want to prolong the evening, line your stomach well…and then attack that well stocked bar.
Tip No. 4 : Don’t forget all about your date once you get to the party. Remember, she can as easily forget you, too! But what she will appreciate and remember later, is that extra  attention you pay, making sure her glass is refilled, making sure she has a place to sit, making sure she is safe at all times!
 Tip No. 5 : You are obliged to see a lady home – no matter how inconvenient it is, and no matter how late. If she has a deadline, it is your responsibility to make sure it is kept. It will earn you more respect, even if at that moment it’s a real bummer! End the evening on a great note. There’s nothing quite as romantic as sharing breakfast as the sun rises on a fresh year.

And here come some tips for chicks with a plan:
Tip No.1 : Look hot…. not cheap. Don’t embarrass your guy by wearing something  that  has “ Wardrobe malfunction” written all over it. You really don’t want your  body parts jumping out at strangers. Make sure you can sit and dance comfortably – it’s always a looooong evening, remember?
Tip No.2: Even if you have been on a starvation diet to fit into that slinky number, make sure of two things before stepping out :  drink sufficient water and stay hydrated. Eat a quick snack at home, so your first drink doesn’t knock you out.
Tip No. 3: Do not accept drinks / ciggies / any other substance from strangers. Try and stay close to your date or people you know well. Avoid dark corners or deserted passages.  Don’t go to the loo on your own. Or let someone know where you are headed.
Tip No. 4 : Don’t share contact details with random people. Don’t leave your handbag or phone on the table while you head for the dance floor. Car and house keys must be secured at all times. Let someone responsible know exactly where you are, especially if you change the venue or original plan. Don’t get into a car with unknowns, no matter how desperate you are to get a ride back home. If your date appears too trashed to drive, call a cab or hire a party driver for the night. And whatever you do, don’t take the wheel yourself assuming you are more sober than he is.
Tip No. 5 : Show appreciation! If your date / partner / husband has taken the trouble to construct a special evening for you, let the person know how much you appreciate the effort. Buy an interesting man- gift and write a loving note. Articulate your feelings, and reciprocate at an appropriate time by treating him to a terrific meal or taking him to your favourite  holiday place.
New Years are for new beginnings. 2013 has been a tough year on all fronts. So many  pesky ‘P s’  have ruined the happiness of countless women ( and a few men!). Perverts, Privacy issues. Power games. Promises (fake) .Pitfalls (Section 377). But hey! Things are definitely looking up!
Here’s to a Safe, Secure and Serendipitous 2014.

Happy New Year, Blogdosts....

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Maha Khiladi Kejriwala....

This appeared in Asian Age...
Maha Khiladi Kejriwal conquers the box office!
An important swearing in ceremony takes place today. I would have called it historic. But I shall reserve that for what happens next. Arvind Kejriwal  has been the biggest game changer 0f 2013. Bigger than RaGa and NaMo put together. His win couldn’t have been better scripted. And I am adopting  filmi terminology in his case with utmost deliberation. Kejriwal has smoothly displaced the original Angry Young Man – Mr. Amitabh Bachchan himself – in young India’s collective imagination. ‘Deewar’ and ‘Zanjeer’ suddenly look dated and so yesterday. The Superstar of 2013 is, without a doubt the Anonymous Aam Aadmi. A person  who has come into his own after being marginalized, ignored, neglected and abused for 66 years. Armed with nothing more dangerous or lethal than a ‘jhaadu’ the Aam Aadmi is firmly and confidently ruling India’s box office.  So far, the collections are pretty impressive. And the soundtrack has smashed a few records. The ‘Ram Lila’ grounds can’t be topped as a dramatic set for a dramatic occasion. The art direction can’t be faulted either. As far as costumes are concerned, Kejriwal has set a new trend with the unusual  pallu-drape of his shawl, topped with the trademark topi.The dialogue department has also scored big time with the audiences across India. So… let’s see… what’s missing in this production. Well, there’s no heroine so far. Arvind’s wife has suddenly popped up on the scene. She seems more than ready to play a parallel role as Chief Minister ki biwi. There are two kids in place to complete the family portrait. Supporting cast? Arvind isn’t looking for it. He is the sole hero of this blockbuster. And wants the country to know it. Fortunately, there’s no dearth of villains – take your pick.  There’s a vamp or two as well. Action sequences, alas, are a bit too  slow for the Dhoom-3 generation. And ever since Kiran Bedi exited the cast, there is space for an item girl ( remember Bedi’s ghungat  dance during Anna’s fast?).
Delhi has become an all time favourite location for Bolllywood producers. This is good news for Kejriwal and his supporters.  Soon, Arvind will need to get an asli  multi-star cast together, if he wants collections to go up. He will also need to get a  pan-India profile for himself. This won’t be difficult at all. Every major hero has a defining moment in his career. This is Arvind’s. All eyes will be on him as he takes over the Capital of India and announces his arrival as a maha khiladi on the national scene. Kejriwal must know how fickle audiences are these days. Attention spans have shrunk and people are looking for fresh thrills. Gimmicks need to be original, innovative and convincing. Right now, the story line is somewhat far fetched.  There are too many credibility gaps to take care of. Let’s list a few. The hero starts off  by saying he isn’t interested in power. When he gets it unexpectedly… his attitude instantly alters, and he grabs it. He also loses his audience when he promptly decides to sleep with the enemy ( Congress ) - one doesn’t get under the sheets with people one has publicly trashed  –  right? Then there are  those promises! Absurd promises! Hazaar promises! Promises that sounded great during the tenuous courtship. But now that the marriage is on… and the honeymoon has begun on a high note, audiences will definitely wait for the final consummation. Fixing bijlee-paani issues will require a magic wand – not a jhaadu. Once audienes discover these are non-deliverables, disappointment and disillusionment will set in. Audiences hate being short changed .Besides, they had not backed a politician, They had voted for a messiah.A modern day Vivekananda, who would inspire and save them. Netas had become the most despised people in India. Kejriwal’s Fan Club was built on hope and respect. Kejriwal was the catalyst for change.It now looks like he sold out, seduced by the power of the box office – the wah- wahs and taalis that are the oxygen of movie stars. It happens to the best of them. India was keeping its fingers crossed it wouldn’t happen to Kejriwal. Let’s see what happens once he occupies that glamourous gaddi.  The new actors in his life will  be the Babus of Delhi. His life will be more about files and less about ideals.
But since every New Year must start on an optimistic note, here’s wishing India’s favourite hero a great run at the box office. This is the magnum opus we have been waiting for.We, the billion-plus people of India, are its producers. It’s an investment we will aggressively guard. 2014 is likely to be a landmark year in our history. Arvind is the Great Brown Hope we have been looking for. He has what it takes to make it to the top of the heap. Like several super successful stars in Bollywood, Arvind has  kicked off  his career with a dream debut.Now all he needs is to stay in the game, focus on his work, not get distracted, and DELIVER what he promised. We are a sentimental people. We like winners. We celebrate those who stand for something in public life. We admire those with spunk and spines. Arvind Kejriwal can indeed become the Amitabh Bachchan of politics – a man capable of staying on top for forty years. Here’s wishing him a great and glorious run at the biggest box office on earth – India.

Happy New Year, readers!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry X'Mas.... and a spectacular 2014

Blogdosts.... I am in such a sentimental  mood. Another year has gone by.....but the promise of a new one cheers me up instantly.
It's time to look back .... but more iimportantly, to look ahead1
 Stay positive. Stay strong. Stay happy!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tch! Tch! Uncle Sam is being a naughty boy...

Thiis appeared in Sunday Times...
                        Tch! Tch! Uncle Sam is being a naughty boy…
Lord Almighty!This ‘maid thing’  with the lovely lady from India …. India, right? Not Pakistan? Sorry about that, but lovely ladies from that part of the world  tend to…. ummmm… look alike. Yeah… where was I? Got it – does this nanny business have to be resolved right now?What about X’Mas, guys? Couldn’t we have waited a bit to go after this case? There goes the office party, there goes the family vacation! Lousy timing, folks. And all because these here people refuse to behave like Americans… even when they are in America! Yeah. That’s the bottom line. We have our laws out here. We follow ‘em. That diplomat gal should have known better than to underpay a nanny. That’s like the worst crime in America….it’s like serious. We abolished slavery in 1865.But we understand it is still practiced in India. And you want us to apologise for taking action against a woman who kept a slave in her home? Hell no, we ain’t apologizing!  We ain’t even expressing serious regret for the process employed. When we bring ‘em in, we bring ‘em in! Yup. The whole shebang. We handcuff, strip search, cavity search and more. That’s the way it goes here.What are those Indian dudes talking about? Diplomatic immunity does not cover the lady’s crime. Perhaps, underpaying nannies is not considered such a big deal in her part of the world. Well, guess what? In America, it is! And hey -  the Indians want to teach our marshals good manners? That’s a laugh. Our marshals are the toughest in the world. You don’t want to mess with those guys. All they did was follow the rule book. Too bad that pretty lady took it so hard. It wasn’t personal. Too bad her government took it even harder. I mean, these are major issues . And let’s not even go there. But why bring David Headley into this?
Indians are hyper sensitive and touchy. They crib all the time. And yet they can’t stay away from America. Their government chaps are constantly raising questions about the way we treat visitors from India. The way we “ harass” their movie stars, former Presidents, Ambassadors. Now they are talking revenge! Go ahead, you guys. You can harass our stars…Robert de Niro won’t be back for a while, in any case. You can refuse invitations to American embassy events. Don’t drink our booze.Don’t take our freebies. See if we care. Don’t meet our delegates… yeah, that’s fine, too. But remember, all these retaliatory measures are being watched by the world. And the world is laughing at you! Get real… one of your politicians is gunning for same sex American couples working at the embassy. Another wants our tax returns. A third demands an unconditional apology. While a fourth  removes cemented security barriers from outside the embassy.This corny maid thing has spiraled out of control. Unless, of course, it’s not just a ‘maid thing’ but something else.  Whatever the hell it is, the timing sucks.These guys in India must know we have a strategic alliance. We share a ‘deep friendship’, as John Kerry reminded everyone. We gotta put a lid on this maid thing quickly. Before it escalates and we miss out on our Easter weekend or something. Indians just don’t know their priorities. And maybe that lovely lady draped in colourful native costumes, needs to brush up on U.S. laws. We respect nannies in America. Nannies are far more important than diplomats. Obviously,someone forgot to tell her. She really should have paid more attention when the nanny disappeared. I mean, nannies don’t just disappear! Not in America. Other people can and do.But not nannies! We were really worried.Yes,about the nanny. She was underpaid! That is a major crime in America. You don’t underpay nannies! You can shoot people. Kill innocent school kids. Send drones. Bomb the hell out of unfriendly countries. Take hostages. But hey – when it comes to ill treating nannies….now, that’s another matter. We have a zero tolerance policy in place for that.
Phew! So here we are going eyeball-to-eyeball. This is worse than the worst stand-off. It’s X’Mas, for Christ’s sake. Can’t we just settle this maid thing quickly and get on with our lives? The missus is getting really mad. And so is Junior.We had it all planned… our Waikiki break. Why doesn’t the pretty lady diplomat just forget any of this happened, huh? As for the nanny…. no worries. We are taking good care of her. And her husband, kids… yeah, all of them, too. We’ve asked her to get other folks over – uncles, aunts, cousins. We understand family is really important to Indians. And the poor nanny has suffered irreparable emotional damage. Our man Preet Bharara totally gets the problem. He is smart. And tough. Especially when it comes to Indians. So what do you say? Shall we shake hands and go back to business as usual?
Here’s the deal : We keep the nanny. You take the diplomat.

Merry X’Mas, India.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Maid in India...

Our resident Santa sends out greetings to all my Blogdosts.... may 2014 be a year of positivity and peace.
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                                 Maid in India….
Like everybody else in the country, I was shocked out of my skull when I  read the early reports about Devyani Khobragade’s arrest and the horror story that followed. So many days after the incident, we are still seething, spluttering and swearing revenge. “ Let’s fix America,” nationalists are boldly demanding. And what is our idea of ‘fixing’ America? Oh…. one neta ( Yashwant Sinha) threatens to arrest same sex American couples, Dilliwalla Babus  create dramatic photo- ops for the press by removing barricades and cutting a host of privileges enjoyed by the staff at the American Embassy, Ms. Khobragade’s father appears across channels and gives his gorgeous daughter( Freida Pinto lookalike) a clean chit,then a sister appears with the maid’s good conduct certificate for her boss, Sushil Kumar Shinde says he knows the family well ( her dad worked for Shinde) and promises to salvage the diplomat’s honour, RaGa and NaMo refuse to meet a visiting U.S. delegation, Kamal Nath roars “ We can’t be treated like a banana republic,” Salman Khurshid wants an apology from America.The outrage grows and grows. Meanwhile, we quickly nail the main villain of the piece – a certain Preet Bharara, who is a U.S. attorney. We accuse him of targeting his “own’ countrymen, quite forgetting he owes allegiance to another country – the one he belongs to – America. Detailed accounts appear ( how Devyani was hand- cuffed, strip searched, cavity searched, DNA- swabbed and locked up with criminals and drug addicts). All of this sounds – and is – pretty awful. But wait a minute, has anybody focused on the maid’s version of what really happened inside the diplomat’s home? Or is that irrelevant, because of our loathsome mindset towards domestic help – “ she’s only a bloody maid! How dare she betray her boss?”
This column is not about Khobragade and her trauma. It is about our attitude to a large segment of our population – the hard working but under privileged tribe we still refer to as “our servants”.  We treat them like dirt, show no respect, and think we are doing them a favour by employing them.A lot has changed within this tribe. But the urban classes have refused to wake up and acknowledge the new rules of employment. Our minds are still stuck in a previous century, when ‘servants’ were treated like slaves. They had no rights, zero privileges, and were expected to stay mutely loyal and obedient towards their masters forever. One doesn’t know too much about Sangeeta Richard , who was employed by the  39-year-old diplomat to babysit her two kids. But clearly, the maid was well aware of her legal position in America.Was she tutored? By whom? Why? Is there a bigger, more sinister conspiracy?Who knows?Point is, Devyani has indeed flouted local laws . As, I am certain several other diplomats ( not just from India) also must have  . We don’t consider Devyani’s error of judgement a serious crime. Most would say, “ Big deal! Did the maid really think she would be paid $4,500 as a salary? What cheek! Even her boss’s official, take home salary ($4,120) is less than that….” Well, our Deputy Consul General in New York, should have either paid what was agreed upon in the contract, or done without a maid. Most NRIs who insist on employing domestic staff from back home  arrive at a convenient( but illegal) arrangement  (“setting” in Mumbai lingo).In this case, the baby sitter refused to play ball! That was something Ms. Khobragade had not factored in nor bargained for. One can scream, “ Racial discrimination!” Would  U.S. marshals dare to treat Saudi Arabian diplomats in this shocking manner? The bald truth is Devyani made a huge mistake which is considered a crime in America. It kills us to admit as much. Because we really don’t think there is anything all that bad about short changing a domestic. The argument being, “ The maid was taken to America! She should consider herself lucky! Ungrateful wretch! Bet she is a black mailer, asylum seeker and an extortionist out to exploit the situation. ” Hardly anybody will say, “ Well, given her high position, as an important representative of  India, Devyani  should have known better.

Yes, it’s a nasty mess out there. While India rises as one to defend its beleaguered diplomat,remember  Sangeeta Richards, is also an Indian. Just as Preet Bharara was once an Indian!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The REAL meaning of two words: Arvind Kejriwal

This appeared in Asian Age....
           The real meaning of two words : Arvind Kejriwal.
After what the ‘Jhaadu’ did to its mighty opponents in the recent New Delhi elections (swept them right off the map), Arvind Kejriwal has ceased to be just the given name of an individual. Those two words connote much more in our minds, post 8th December. They have made that rare transition  and become nouns…. adjectives…. adverbs… proverbs…. verbs…. lyrics… anything and everything the nation needs to hang on to. We desperately  needed to believe. We now believe. Not necessarily in a man armed with a jhaadu, who goes by that name. But in what he stands for. Arvind Kejriwal is now a symbol we can recognize and identify with. He is India’s hope – even for those who still don’t know what he can do for India. Nor what the deliverables are. All they know is that this David was armed with a humble broom and enormous fervor. The Goliath  in this case was a powerful, well entrenched adversary with every possible resource to bank on. When Kejriwal decided to take on Sheila Dixit, skeptics scoffed and dismissed the man as either a dodgy agent of some shadowy figures out to finish the Congress. Or a complete mad man hell bent on self destructing. Nobody gave this underdog much of a chance. Nobody, except his flock of faithful followers. And a few early converts to his cause, who argued anybody was better than Dixit and the Congress Party. The ‘C-Word’ became interchangeable – ‘C’ for the Congress. And  ‘C’ for corruption. In such a cynical scenario, along came a man who claimed to represent the ‘aam aadmi’.  The Mango People got born. And from the looks of it, the Mango People are here to stay.
Decades from now, when historians try and decode this particular Delhi Election, his will be the name that pops up as the man who emerged as a game changer. It’s interesting how the public’s focus changed  -  almost miraculously - from Narendra Modi to Arvind Kejriwal. Not because Kejriwal has become a national figure overnight. Oh no. It’s because Kejriwal’s victory goes well beyond mere numbers. It’s not the number of seats his party managed to win. It’s the  message that victory sent out to the entire country.  The message is pretty simple : it says change is achievable if you are committed to it. And Kejriwal proved it. Perhaps, we are too close to this narrative to read it accurately enough. We would love to know Kejriwal’s ‘secret’. And maybe we will be most disappointed to discover he doesn’t have one! We live in disturbing  times. We suspect everyone. We trust no one. Several attempts were made to besmirch Kejriwal’s name and derail his campaign. Who knows what  sort of dirt may get dug up in future? But as of now, Kejriwal is up there with the angels, sporting a dazzling halo of his own. His victory is seen as the people’s victory. He is being hailed as a people’s hero. What the public  has seen is sincerity and passion at play. When even his mentor, Anna Hazare, had distanced himself from him, Kejriwal carried on the good fight, never once losing focus. He had a one point agenda and that was to expose wrong doers and realign a deeply flawed system to be in sync with citizens’ expectations.  Critics may carp and fault his methods – those wild charges and rash allegations that were beyond proving. Despite a few really serious missteps that may have cost him two or three crucial seats, Kejriwal stayed on course. It was nothing but his steadfastness that won him his hard fought victory.

 Let’s not grudge him his due. Let us acknowledge the Kejriwal factor. But let us also be realistic and get the perspective right. Kejriwal’s job is done for now. This is what he was meant for. To be the catalyst. To be the carrier of people’s aspirations. To be the warrior who would lead his rag tag troops from the front. Kejriwal suddenly became the man who had done the right thing. The man who put his money where his mouth was. The man who had the guts to go eyeball-to-eyeball with adversaries who had outclassed him in every department, but one  -   transparency. Perhaps, emboldened by the success of this one man, many more Kejriwals will take birth and find the courage to jump into the fray and get their hands dirty. Because, like him, they may also see the bigger picture and tell themselves : this is an important moment for India. If we let it go without doing a thing , we are doomed. Kejriwal made us dream again. Made us believe that it’s possible to take on the big guns. And win. Whether or not Kejriwal ever becomes a national leader or even the Prime Minister, is not important at this point. That Kejriwal exists at all, is what counts.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Plan B for women....

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                Plan B for women….
Now that it is official, and we are told men are under siege, what are we supposed to feel / do/ think? This is terribly confusing. Should we be feeling sorry for men? Are we meant to rush to their side loaded with tea and sympathy? Or should we leave them alone till we figure out what to do with …. With…. OURSELVES? Shall we  engage the guys in a ‘constructive’ dialogue? Appoint a referee? Withdraw into our respective caves and wait for the crisis to blow over? No.No.No. Ladies, hit that pause button, stay calm and ask yourselves just one important question : what it is we need to do to fix the complex, essentially sex-related problem that has crept up on us. I have given the matter a good think, and here is what I believe will get us the best results. The smart thing to do involves the ‘N-word’. It is a word women aren’t too comfortable with for some inexplicable reason. That word is NEGOTIATE.  There is no crisis in the world that cannot be resolved through negotiation of the right kind. Okay…. so here’s the sticky part. Who defines ‘right’?  I’d say emphatically and firmly -  we do. It is our turn to rewrite the rules.  And this is where Plan B kicks in.
Once we are ready to negotiate ( there is no reason on earth to recklessly rush in till we are all on the same page), we can open official talks. Clarity is key at this point. Let’s not make absurd demands . Let’s be practical.And dare I say it – reasonable. Unfocussed anger is counter productive. Plan B states we have to let go of that anger. Surely,we want to improve our own lives, not destroy someone else’s. Stay constructive. Stay selfish. List out everything that has pulled you down as a woman. If there are self-esteem issues, address them in an upfront way. If there are workplace problems, table your grievances and deal with them. If the trouble spots are domestic, don’t shut up and put up. Articulate your feelings. Do so directly with the person giving you grief. The main thing at this point is to speak up.
Sounds easy. But it is one of the toughest things to do, if you have never done it. Take a long, hard look at your priorities. What  is it YOU need to change first? Your attitude? Do it!This is really an important turning point for all of us – men and women. It would be pretty idiotic to not recognize its significance and carry on like nothing happened. A lot has happened. Most of it unpleasant.There is a new awakening. And it is female. Women are fighting back.Men are seething about and smarting over this guerrilla attack. Most men are genuinely flabbergasted. Some still haven’t got it.Whether it is Tejpal or Ganguly or Asaram. Unless men realize the seriousness of  the current crisis, there can be no meaningful  dialogue. In order to push ahead with Plan B, we need to be doubly serious ourselves. Ultimatums like: “ Do this or else,” never work. So here’s step number one: Don’t jump down anybody’s throat . It will go against you. Reexamine your approach - at home and in the workplace. If you are sure you aren’t sending out mixed signals, you are doing fine. Stay consistent. Don’t say one thing and do another. Stay firm. Don’t waver. If you have taken a position, stick to it. Be realistic and reasonable. Good negotiations are about recognizing the other person’s right to present a different perspective. Listen keenly.  Be respectful and polite at all times. Nothing confuses the other party as much as dealing with a calm, smiling opponent. Be transparent. Most negotiations go for a toss because people presume too many things and…. scowl!.Be true to yourself – if there is something specific that makes you uncomfortable, say it without embarrassment. Plan B is about resolution and reconciliation. Not revenge and retribution. Sense the mood and push for closure. Timing is everything. Smart negotiators know when to back off. If you believe your objectives have been met, shake hands and settle the deal. Frankly, there is gender fatigue in the air. Most sensible men have finally got the message.

It’s time to be friends. Have fun. And be happy. It’s possible. 
With the beautiful and talented Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of slain Pakistani politician Salman Taseer, after she interviewed me in Lahore earlier this month....
With one of my favourite authors, Tehmina Durrani, at her artistic home in Lahore....

Lahore interview with Shehrbano Taseer....

Indian author Shobhaa De was in Lahore recently to speak about women’s empowerment. We caught up with her to discuss feminism, Bollywood, literature, and more. Excerpts:
You’ve described yourself as a feminist and address issues affecting women around the world. At what point did you become an activist?
I’ve always lived my life as a feminist and always been determinedly pro-women. Being pro the underdog is very important to me. If I were to find a man in a situation that is distressing, I would reach out to him and speak for him equally. Feminism is about a sense of fair play in life. I am not an activist and I don’t have a political agenda. I don’t use “-isms” to define myself. I’m pro-women, period. It’s as natural as breathing.
Critics have found it difficult to pigeonhole you since your career has been fairly diverse. Have the attacks finally ceased?
I’m attacked all the time, even now. I was a fashion model 50 years ago, but even today I’m [pejoratively] referred to as a former model or “the model.” It didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now. But I do get upset when moralizing critics question the choices being made by women in show business or women in fashion or women who model or are in beauty pageants. As long as these women are not being coerced and are making their choices freely, who are they to decide what is wrong or right?
You edited the Bollywood gossip bible Stardust. Did that job ruin any friendships?
I was the original ivory-tower editor there, and this was a deliberate decision. It’s important never to be buddy-buddy with the people you write about. You cannot do your job if you let unnecessary constraints get in the way, things like presumed loyalties and friendships. If a public figure has behaved in a way that is unacceptable, I want the freedom as a journalist to comment on it without worrying about so and so being my friend. I’ve always maintained a healthy distance. I know movie stars, but I do my job and they do theirs.
Do you think you’re more feared than respected?
That’s not my concern. I am really not bothered by perceptions. I do my job the best I can. I’ve been doing it for over 40 years. I would think respect and credibility go hand in hand, and I’ve established my credibility quite convincingly.
How is today’s Bollywood different from when you were editor?
It’s a completely different ball game now. It’s corporatized now, there are many more systems in place, and there’s more professionalism. The biggest change in Bollywood is the women, who are pretty much on top of their game. They’re making choices freely and doing things on their own terms. They’re not being shortchanged monetarily, like in the old days. They’re cutting fabulous deals, and are very global in their thinking, very smart, and very well-spoken.
You once called actresses Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone “nonentities.” Padukone said she highlighted phrases from your article, pinned them to a board, and tried to heed your criticism.
I heard that too. A journalist can never ever have a closed mind. You can never limit your options by thinking what you’ve written is carved in stone. If these girls delivered and performed, you have to have the largeness of heart to acknowledge it and say ‘well done, you’ve done a good job.’ When I wrote [about Kapoor and Padukone], they were nonentities without much promise. Deepika has evolved. She is first-rate and one of Bollywood’s few star actresses. I have no qualms in saying I got it completely wrong. She’s grown and evolved. One must hand it to her.
Apart from being a columnist, you’re also the author of some 18 books. In your opinion, can writing ever be objective?
No writing—and I include journalism—is perfectly objective. At the end of the day, all writing comes from one source: your mind. My characters are a combination of my experiences, my imagination, and my craft. In fiction, the biggest challenge is to make a character come alive. I find this challenge very exciting.
Do you write with a particular audience in mind?
No writer can claim they know their audience. All books have their own destinies; they find their own audience and readers. My younger audience is more open in their thinking, and much more receptive. My blog is a very democratic space. I don’t censor comments; I post them all—even the worst ones—because if I have the right to say what I’m saying about so many different issues and individuals, people have the right to comment as they feel.
Who are your favorite writers?
Voices from the subcontinent, especially from Pakistan, are the strongest for me because they are saying things in ways that are not only powerful but very unusual and gifted. For many years they were suffering from a colonial hangover. They were very much trying to write like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen when even the British had stopped writing like that decades earlier. Today I feel wonderful that we have found our own voice on our own terms. When you read a writer from Pakistan, they are now writing their own realities in their own voice.
Did terrorism and 9/11 change Pakistani writing?
There are certain seminal moments in a nation’s history and 9/11 was certainly one of them for all of us on the subcontinent. You cannot, as a creative person or a writer, be disengaged. And if that does influence your writing, that is completely legitimate.
What’s your take on the crisis engulfing Tehelka and its founder, Tarun Tejpal?
He admitted a lot of what he’s been accused of by the victim in his emails. Tejpal is not someone who was a saint and has suddenly become a sinner. He has acknowledged that he committed a gross sexual assault. If he did not do it, then why apologize to her? Why the atonement and self-laceration? Why would he, before anybody else could say anything, take a six-month break from the magazine as penance, if you please, and think that that is where the matter should end. [Tehelka’s managing editor] has resigned as well; she should have done so from the word go. She’s responsible for much of the mess that followed. They dealt with it very shabbily.
From our Dec. 21, 2013, issue.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Elevator Humour.... not on!

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today...
                            Elevator humour…
There are over a dozen of us waiting for elevators. Men and women. Friends and acquaintances.  Mostly married. Some single. The elevator doors open…. And there is an awkward moment as one woman and one man get ready to enter. The man roars, “ Are you sure you want to get in with me?” Everybody bursts out laughing. He adds, “You stay in your corner. And please don’t touch me! I will keep my hands above my head till we reach your floor.”  Irony meets pathos. We have converted the disgusting Tejpal case into a national joke now. It suits everybody.
This is just one recent example of how we are responding to what is in fact, a national crisis. Not the Tejpal case alone. But what it represents on a larger scale.Men and women  are  treading gingerly around sensitive terrain, afraid to miss a single step and hit a land mine. Everybody is wary….mutually suspicious. Unable to handle the tension in the air, the easiest (and stupidest) thing to do is convert the whole thing into a joke.  Once you start laughing at something, it is no longer a threat. And therein lies the real danger. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to get the point. To address the real issue, which isn’t complicated at all! It has to do with respect. That’s it. Once we understand the basics, and start respecting one another, nothing else is needed. No rule books. No laws. Every man who has ever touched / brushed past a woman deliberately, knows in his heart of hearts that he has crossed a certain limit. That his behavior is out of line. He doesn’t require a complicated judicial system to tell him he is being offensive. If he persists, he should also know the repercussions of that act. The question of misreading or misunderstanding the situation simply does not arise. And if it does he has to pay the price for his ignorance.  In all fairness, the same goes for any woman trying these tricks with a man. If her advances are rebuffed , she should immediately get the message and back off. Or face the music.
The Tejpal imbroglio has triggered off a debate that is strictly urban in tone. Urban and elitist (come on, who do you think attends Think Fests?). Let’s not mix up issues and talk about a naughty judge and other incidents. And let us also be candid and admit Tejpal is not the only one. The media world is full of Tejpals. They are out there even as I write this, and some of them are very, very nervous indeed! Tejpal got caught, that’s all. He got caught because a young woman decided to confront him. There are countless young women in the same position who have kept their silence.  Going by recent revelations about the Goa writers’ gang, chances are what took place two years ago, will now be tabled and aggressively addressed by the women who were harassed. Their argument is interesting since they insist what they endured is no different from the Tehelka case and should be treated in exactly the same way. It does not matter when the incidents took place. What matters is that such men need to be nailed – regardless of how well connected they are. This is the other positive off shoot of the Tejpal case. For all his influence and power, all it took was a spunky young woman to expose him without shame or fear.
So, please, let’s not reduce this sensitive issue to a joke. It’s really not funny. And let’s discourage people from jesting about Tejpal and others like him. That is an insult to all women. There are countless clever digs doing the rounds, most of them are misogynistic and sick. It upsets me greatly when women join in the laughter… adding insult to injury. If women would start objecting to sexist remarks being passed in their presence, not only will they be standing up for personal dignity, they may also be protecting themselves from an unwanted physical encounter. Participating in vulgar exchanges that demean women is indirectly telling men it’s okay to go further and grope. Let us start with ourselves first. The joke has been on us for way too long!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Yash Birla: On a Prayer

Am off to Lucknow to inaugurate the Literary Carnival and promote Shobhaa : Never a Dull De.
Rushing back to launch a book I am very proud of  at the Times of India Literary Carnival which starts tomorrow.. It's another gem from my imprint, the SDe Book. I love Yash Birla. And what a life it has been! He has spoken about the ttragedies and joys of being a Birla, in a voice that is at once poignant and profound, candid and comforting, spiritual and moving...I am so proud of him. And the book. It takes guts to tell it like it is. Yash has done it!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I have got myself a NULIFE!

First came the well organised press conference in Mumbai, at which the NULIFE  philosophy was spelt out. Then came the launch of the project at Kamshet. I enjoyed both experiences because I believe it is time for senior citizens to demand a higher quality of life, which includes their safety,security and well-being.
The project sounds promising. And it has obviously addressed a really strong need in the target group for 900 interested people to show up on a Sunday morning and take a look at the plans and dummy flat for themselves. Going by the enthusiastic response that morning, the promoters are feeling energised and enthusiastic enough to go all out and complete the complex within the stipulated time frame.
As for me, I was delighted and overwhelmed by the response to my bill boards and ads . It is important to send out a strong and positive message about the years ahead. Senior living needs to be redefined and further refined. These are the golden years. And NULIFE offers a golden opportunity to enjoy them to the fullest.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

We, the women, thank you Tarun Tejpal...

                                      We, the Women…thank you, Tarun Tejpal.
It is astounding how it takes just one case  for the worm to turn! For decades, we have been talking about the abject sexual harassment of women in the work place…. with NOTHING happening. And suddenly, the issue is out there  - the genie is out of the bottle, folks! And there’s no looking back now. The seminal moment is here. If we don’t recognize it…. if we are foolish enough to let it slip away noiselessly -  unnoticed and  trivialized – we will  be condemning ourselves to live with humiliation and degradation for the next fifty years. Two generations of women in the work place have silently suffered some form of  harassment or the other, unsure of  how to handle gender crises – big and small. Our time starts now.
 So….thank you,Tarun Tejpal. You have played the role of a catalyst in this vital discourse. And we owe you a big one. Media houses, in particular, have always bound themselves by some peculiar oath. The oath declares – when men f*** up, nobody say nuthin’. And nobody does. Or did. Overnight, that omerata has been thrown right out of the window. A woman has spoken up. And spoken up strongly. Inspired by her courage, more and more women have also spoken up. It took guts for the young woman to do what she did ( and can we please ignore the misogynists in our midst who are saying it’s all a dirty right wing conspiracy?).  The young journo expected justice from her employers. She got none. But she got something much bigger in its place  - she found her voice. And it is this voice that is being echoed across India. Hundreds of women have come forward to share their horror stories. Hundreds have derived succor from the young journo’s courage in taking on someone as well known and as well connected. Especially since we have seen the fate that has befallen some other, equally gutsy women who have tried to expose the misconduct of their bosses. Some were killed, others driven to suicide, still others banished to a life worse than death, with no hope of future employment.
 In the bad, old days women who spoke up were called witches and burnt at the stake. Today, they are called bitches. And ostracized. I hear men  labelling such women ‘trouble makers’. I hear men complain, “She doesn’t co-operate…” Or the newer version : “ She refuses to adjust.” Decoded, these statements mean just one thing  … there is just one connotation : She refuses to give. If a woman refuses to give, that amounts to professional suicide. Word gets around very quickly. And she becomes dead meat in the market. Remember, even Tejpal held out the same threat when he allegedly told his employee  the best way to keep her  job was to go along with his sexual overtures. Most women in her situation would have got the message loud and clear….but not all of them would have found the courage to speak up. By doing that, she has inadvertently breached a dam. Now that the floodgates have been opened, there is no going back .
Whichever way this bizarre case goes -  and I certainly don’t see it taking either a logical or predictable course – the inner landscape has definitely changed for the women of India.  For a few brave ones, so has the outer. With more support systems emerging from unlikely quarters (who could have imagined conservative families standing by abused daughters even five years ago?), today’s young women simply can’t be pushed around. If the boss can’t keep his pants up, sorry, he should brace himself for handcuffs. For all those men who leer, pass cheap remarks or accidentally brush past their female colleagues in the belief they’ll get away with it, the writing is on the wall in big, bold letters – THE PARTY IS OVER.’ It has taken one brave woman to change the old rules of this ugly game. And brave she most certainly is. Make no mistake about that : each time a woman makes a charge of sexual misconduct against a powerful man, she risks her life. We have seen this in case after case. The victim in the Tejpal case is no different. She too has risked her life.

The Tehelka journalist has expectedly resigned. At the time of writing, there was a clumsy attempt to convert the case into a political battle, in which – get this – Tejpal is the victim. If not a martyr. It started with penance, atonement and laceration. The only thing that now remains is a dramatic self- crucifixion. If even that doesn’t succeed, other options will present themselves. Given Tejpal’s penchant for florid prose, there will be any number of publishers waiting with juicy contracts for his memoir. Trouble is we can’t be sure of the version  he’ll write, given that his narrative has changed so many times in under a week. A smart literary agent should tell him nothing sells as well as pure, unalloyed truth. Take a tip from the victim, Tejpal. She has stuck to her story. And freed countless women. If Tejpal really wishes to redeem himself – in the eyes of his shamed family, in his own eyes, and in the eyes of the world  -  he should have the guts to speak the whole truth and nothing but. In so doing, he too will free men like himself… by holding up a mirror and showing them their own sorry selves in the reflection. Give it a shot, Tarun. You’ll feel so much lighter. And so will we.