Sorry about my long absence... I have some technical problem happening here. It's impossible for me to access my blog from my android phone. Which means I have to be home to post here. And since I work on an antiquated laptop with snail speed, it makes the entire operation somewhat daunting. But please don't give up on me! Keep those comments rolling...
This picture was clicked by my husband in Hong Kong last week.
An open letter to Jaya Bachchan…
I have known you for over forty years. I write this in anguish and pain. You are a senior representative of the Samajwadi Party in Parliament. But much more than your political avatar, you are a sensitive woman - a wife, mother, grand-mother. Why have you not spoken up against the sexual atrocities being committed in Uttar Pradesh involving defenceless young girls? Or against what happened in Meghalaya with a Garo woman who had her head blown off for resisting her attackers? What crime had this 35- year-old tribal woman from the South Garo Hills district in Meghalaya committed? Obviously, it was the same one committed by the two teenage Dalit girls strung up on a mango tree in front of their humble hut in UP’s Badaun district earlier - all three victims were born into wretchedness. They died in wretchedness.Their crime was poverty. We in India, demand justice, all the while knowing, there’s none. Not so long as Akhilesh Yadav, the brash, young Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh brazenly refuses to acknowledge the enormity of the crime. And he is not alone. Which makes me wonder : Has that most awful four-letter-word – RAPE – lost its impact on a society that has to deal with multiple rapes on a daily basis? It certainly looks like nobody is willing to deal with these crimes, least of all, the authorities in UP. Here’s a nauseating comment from your senior SP leader Ramgopal Yadav, “ In most places when relationships between boys and girls come out in the open, it is termed as rape.” Jaya! Really!! Mulayam Singh’s response was still more arrogant, “ Google something else. Media’s job is to speculate.You do your work and let us do our work.” In other words ( pardon the French ), “F**k off!”
Jaya, I respect your outspokenness. And I have known you to speak your mind on several issues in the past. I appeal to you through this column, to break your silence on these ghastly, grisly, gory incidents, which have made it to the International press and generated enough of a backlash to provoke UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon into issuing a strongly worded condemnation of the Badaun incident. He damned the ‘Boys will be boys’ comment and added, “Together we can empower more people to understand that violence against women degrades us all.” Going beyond the terrible press India has been receiving in this case, and also going beyond commercial issues (“ The advisory will impact tourism… foreign women will avoid visiting India ”), the more immediate concern is this: what can we do to stop such savagery? Jaya Bachchan, you can certainly play a powerful role in educating your political mentors by pointing out the immorality of their despicable behavior to them. If they fail to pay any heed to your advice, it would be best for you to disassociate yourself from this pathetic lot and resign from such a morally bankrupt party. That would win you a great deal of national respect. Can you do that? Will you?
I was in Meghalaya a few weeks ago, and had the chance to interact with exceptional Garo women. We discussed several challenges faced by them in a rapidly changing society which is slowly coming to terms with new cultural contours that don’t always respect tribal traditions. Tragically,the blood curdling attempted rape and eventual murder of the 35-year-old Garo wife-and-mother could have happened to any woman in the village. Her assailants used an AK-rifle to blow her head off in the presence of her five children, after locking up her husband. There is cold bloodedness, sadism and sexual frustration evident here. Just as there was in the Badaun case. And just as there is in every rape that was ever perpetrated. Let’s not create categories for rape (“ This one involved guns…. and is therefore worse than the other ones which used knives, ropes, stones”). A rape is a rape. It’s a crime not just against women but against humanity itself. Unless we are prepared to see it in that context, we will continue to downplay rape as something that happens when men can’t find a willing partner and attack the first woman… child… they come across.
Do it Jaya. Force the SP top dogs to act against the murderers. You owe it to your countless fans. And to yourself.
Mumbai Mirror last Saturday...
Smriti Irani keeps the flag flying….
For Smriti Irani, achhey din aa gaye hain. And why not? On the dramatic day of the swearing in ceremony ,Smriti appeared on several channels when it was known she was going to be an important member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet. Smriti presented a picture of equipoise and confidence. There wasn’t a trace of exaggerated emotion as she calmly answered the standard questions (“How has the journey been so far… how do you see the journey for the next few years?”). An overawed Arnab Goswami gushed uncharacteristically as he kept repeating how Smriti at 38 , was the youngest cabinet minister to hold office at the centre. He also mentioned Najma Heptullah’s age several times ( 78). And remarked how Najma was the oldest minister in Modi’s cabinet. And I thought to myself how perceptions have altered! Two strong, determined women representing different generations in the same cabinet. The best part about Smriti Irani’s remarkable career track has been her visible growth ( pardon, the pun). More, much more than her weight, it is her impressive evolution as an articulate and dynamic political leader, respected for her sobriety, clarity, modesty and commitment that has propelled her to her current job( Minister HRD). These are four key qualities which have paid Smriti rich dividends.When asked for the hundredth time about her ‘journey’, Smriti replied simply and patiently, “Let me be honest. I come from a lower middle class home. When I was growing up, all we could think of was having a roof over our head and a job to hang on to.” This is the sort of transparent, down to earth admission that today’s India immediately connects with. No bombast. No bragging. The follow up question about losing in Amethi to Rahul Gandhi was dealt with equally gracefully when Smriti acknowledged her defeat without making any silly excuses. There was maturity and balance in all her responses. And this is what her admirers will look out for as she takes charge of her portfolio and gets down to work.
Smriti sure has come a long, long way from the time she was the darling of millions, playing the role of an overburdened ‘bahu’ in Ekta Kapoor’s breakthrough serial which had the nation completely hooked. Her transition from a mega television star to a BJP spokesperson happened seamlessly. At each turning point, Smriti found just the right words, the right tone, the right perspective. This couldn’t have been easy at a time when Modi was the favourite punching bag of the media and was routinely hauled over the coals for his controversial remarks and unconventional policies. Unlike her more agitated counterparts thrust into this unenviable role (defending the indefensible, night after tiresome night). Smriti remained super calm, opting for measured discourse over high pitched rhetoric. It was said she was Narendra Modi’s chosen one. It was equally obvious why she was in such an envied position. It would be most unfair to sneer at Smriti for being the Boss’ pet. Managing so many egos within and outside her party, will be her new challenge. But what’s the bet Smriti will score over some of her more aggressive colleagues and maintain the dignity of her office? That’s the thing about some fortunate Power Ladies of today – they know exactly how to maintain the all important balance in their lives. We in Asia, are accustomed to women in positions that come with mega clout.We are equally accustomed to women so frighteningly marginalized, they don’t even have a shot at survival, forget anything else.
In a scenario that is so dramatically divergent, someone like a Smriti Irani stands out just for being a sensible ‘aam aurat’, who has worked bloody hard to get to her position. From this moment on, her life will be transformed forever. She will be watched and monitored like never before. A huge responsibility rests on her shoulders. And the media, as we know too well, is not known to be kind towards high profile individuals dealing with challenging assignments. Somewhere, there is a nasty little spot inside most critics who wait for signs of weakness…. who wait for mistakes…. who wait to pounce on someone in the limelight. Especially if that someone is like a Smriti Irani … a comfortable-in-her-skin politician, ready to break the stereotype and take on adversaries, without once losing her dignity and self respect. Most significantly, Smriti does not threaten other women. One generation has grown up thinking of her as the beleaguered woman next door. A friendly padosan they can enjoy chai ,dhokla and gupshup with. This is a huge plus – and Smriti is smart enough to recognize it as one.
Smriti Irani has made ‘Gharelu’ cool. Good for Smriti Irani.
This appeared in The Week...
Why I feel sorry for Sonia Gandhi….
I am feeling exceedingly sorry for Sonia Gandhi - not the politician, but the mother. Look at what happened recently – the soul destroying defeat of the Congress party, led by her beloved son, Rahul Gandhi was blamed squarely on the ma-beta combo. Not only was this the most humiliating moment for India’s oldest political party, but for Sonia Gandhi, it was also an admission that her son had flopped. And flopped badly. Sonia did indeed take that to heart, as was obvious at the briefest press conference any national leader has held, during which Sonia conceded defeat, and all but yanked a broadly smiling Rahul away from the harsh glare of the spotlight, before the poor chap made an even bigger fool of himself. Yes, she managed to recover her equilibrium a little after scowling, sulking and refusing to congratulate Narendra Modi after he was declared the prime minister designate. Since then, she has consistently refused to smile! Yes, she and sonny boy did the right thing by attending the historic swearing in ceremony and thereby avoiding another controversy. But Sonia’s grim visage told its own story. That particular narrative has a lot to do with her disappointment with Rahul – the Prince who failed to deliver a royal result. It’s hard to say who one feels sorrier for – the mother or the son, in this case. My sympathies are with Sonia.
Let’s be honest, she has led a tough life. Not just as the widow of an assassinated prime minister, but also as one of the most feared / hated women on the subcontinent. No matter what her admirers claim, Sonia never managed to win our hearts. Whether that had to do with her aloofness, or the fact that her Italian origins acted as a barrier, despite her best efforts to become ‘one of us’, the truth is Sonia remained an outsider. Very few people understood what she was all about. The original sympathy wave was eventually replaced by resentment. This simmering anger against her was rarely articulated, such was her power and hold over the party. Sonia was perceived as a deep, secretive, closed individual, who showed zero tolerance towards anybody who opposed her diktats. The ‘official’ Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was reduced to a pathetic figurehead, unable or unwilling to assert himself, particularly during his second lackluster term in office. All this was discussed soto voce by courtiers too timid to take on ‘Madam’. And soon this paranoia extended to Madam’s son, the sweet Dimpled Darling, who lived in La La land and did what Mummy wanted him to.
Sonia must have nurtured many dreams for her handsome boy. If that were not the case, she would have left the country right after Rajiv Gandhi’s tragic death, as many Gandhi family well wishers expected her to. But Sonia is made of sterner stuff – she stayed. And waited. And that is where her calculations misfired. For all the careful grooming and nurturing she invested in her mild mannered son, the poor chap just couldn’t live up to the high expectations that were thrust on him, not just by his mother, but the entire country.
Rahul is still a happy-go-lucky bachelor boy. That must worry Sonia the mother. While Priyanka put up a fine show campaigning for mum and brother, there is the Robert Vadra factor looming large on the political horizon. Uma Bharati had made a categorical statement saying the next government would send Vadra to jail. Apart from this threat and other vexing family issues, Sonia will be coping with stepped up criticism from within the party she has so far controlled and dominated, without having to tolerate even a murmur of criticism against her autocratic style of functioning .With Congressman Milind Deora boldly opening the Pandora’s box and questioning Rahul’s leadership, Sonia has a tough job of fire fighting ahead of her. Given the fragile state of her own health (surely, it’s time she revealed the nature of this mysterious ailment?), Sonia’s decline in strictly political terms, seems imminent and inevitable. This may be the hardest part for Sonia to swallow. And one wonders - what next? Will Rahul finally find a suitable girl and bring her home to mummy? Will Priyanka decide to take the plunge and relieve both – her mother and brother of their responsibilities? Will the family business declare bankruptcy and call it a day after six decades of running an enterprise called India?
Above all, will Sonia the Supermom, sensibly step back and allow her son to make up his own mind as to what he wants to do with his life? Clearly, Rahul has not inherited the dominant political gene from the Gandhi family pool. Sonia needs to respect the verdict of the country, and that verdict is pretty unambiguous - Rahul is not the change India was looking for.
Sorry, Sonia. Rahul’s a lovely chap. But Mother India needed another son.