Lovely Sunday! Launched my latest book - a collection of short stories - this afternoon, at the TataLive! Lit Fest in Mumbai. I was In Conversation with British Scholar Ted Hodgkinson, and it turned out to be one of the liveliest sessions I have participated in, at any Lit Fest!
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
Amruta Ranade Fadnavis: Meet the Missus
Forget Devendra. Hello! Amruta. And welcome to Mumbai… ! You are going to fit right in, I can tell you. Your husband may be the youngest Chief Minister of Maharashtra. But you, my dear, are the star! It is you who interests the city far more. Remember, you are now the official ‘vahini’ of the State. Previous ‘vahinis’ have been convention bound and boring, choosing to stay out of the public eye, therby leaving their high profile ‘yajmaans’ to hog the limelight. But those ‘vahinis’ were not like you to start with. At 35, you are a proud, financially independent working woman (Associate V.P. Axis Bank). Just like millions of fellow Mumbaikars. We are exceedingly proud of our female work force – from the hard working Kolis to corporate power ladies. Our women form the strong spine that keeps Mumbai going on multiple levels. Soon you will be one of us. According to published reports, you have asked for a transfer to a branch in Mumbai, and I am guessing you will get it. But you have also stated if that does not happen, you will continue working at the premium branch in Nagpur. This is what any professional would do. Given your upbringing ( both parents being doctors ), it explains your work ethic and modern thinking. When you stated “ I want to grow intellectually,” to an interviewer, it was clear you weren’t going to be the traditional , decorative ‘vahini’. What a relief!
Going by the fact you addressed over 100 meetings in Nagpur on behalf of your husband ( while he was busy hurtling across the State on behalf of his party ), he owes you a big one. I mean, his impressive win by a 59k lead has a lot to do with your focused campaigning with the women of his constituency ( all the Mahila Mandals who backed him). You urged the ladies to come out and vote for your man. And they did just that! You also kept the daily 100- plus visitors to your home, well fed and looked after, while making sure the hubby stayed away from oily food and mithais. It was the others who got to eat the laddoos – ha ha ha! Oh yes…. given the high,sartorial standards set by the PM, you also took charge of your husband’s wardrobe! Wah! Kya baat hai! Especially because your husband used to be a model! Yes, Sir! His old bill boards show him prancing and preening for a shirt brand…that’s pretty cool! I don’t think Maharashtra has been lucky enough to get a model-CM during its long history. We’ve seen all kinds of blokes, peddling all kinds of stuff. But not shirts. Well, some of them did specialize in shirts – they took them off our backs. But this Devendra Dude is different. In more ways than one – he married you!
We like the bike story a lot! Apparently, you often coax hubby to take you for a ride. Errr… on his motorbike. That won’t be possible in Mumbai, alas – not with him as CM. Besides,you have noticed the chaotic, traffic, right? Apparently, you also get him to join you during stage performances and sing a duet or two. Again, now that he is the CM, poor guy will be singing a different tune henceforth… possibly, in Gujarati. But so long as both of you sing in sync, that’s what matters.
Your ‘ideal bahu’ story gets better and better! You frequently give credit for your husband’s amazing success story to Sarita, your feisty mother-in-law. Ekta Kapoor, please note! You may be 8 years younger than your husband, but you sound incredibly mature in the way you handle your many roles. As for your daughter Diviija, all of 5, hey – she’s something else. A natural born politician. I heard the biggest kick she derives is when she entertains an audience by repeating her dad’s political bhaashans. Which 5-year-old does that? And she prefers to attend his rallies over playing with other kids. I guess, she won’t opt for banking as a career when she grows up…
This is going to be fun for all of us. Please don’t change… or turn invisible once you taste the ‘CM-ki-Biwi’ life. Just be yourself. Hang with people your age. Check out Mumbai’s night life. Let your hair down. Meet people other than politicos. Mumbai has an incredibly vibrant core which sensibly ignores officialdom and dull protocol. If the CM can’t take you for bike rides, we’ll find you people who can! Make the most of Mumbai, dearest Amruta. Trust me, your husband couldn’t have given you a better gift than the chance to experience one of the greatest cities of the world – aamchi Mumbai!
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
Siraj-Sajida ki love story…
Reeeellllllax, ladies. I am not going to diss your ‘Karwa Chauth’ rituals. To each, her own punishment! If dressing up in bridal finery, applying mehendi and giggling with other women while waiting for the moon ( and your men) to show up, does it for you… and your marriage, good luck with the annual festival of Karwa Chauth. . Meaningful to some. Absurd to others. This year, I hear, several sensitive partners , same sex couples and ex-lovers, are participating in the day long fast. Given the dismal weather forecast, I only hope the errant ‘chand’ manages to peek through the clouds and signal the start of hearty feasting following the fasting.
But my mind is more on a unique love story that is pretty fascinating. Sajida, the young wife and mother of three kids, is married to Siraj, a Pakistani man who took a wrong train in 1995 and accidentally strayed into ‘enemy’ country - India. He was 10 at the time and had run away from home. Instead of boarding a train to Karachi, he got into one that brought him to Amritsar. Well… here’s the irony : the only real home he has ever known, is India. The only real family he has, is in India. Possibly, the only real love he ever experienced happened in India. One look at the photograph of Siraj with his wife and three kids ( a son and two daughters ), and the absurdity of life (and some complex laws that control destinies of people caught in the cross fire), raises all sorts of troubling questions. Since 1995, Siraj has lived with uncertainty and fear. The man has not broken any laws during this period. He has merely tried to get on with his life, like millions of others in this busy metropolis. Late last year, Siraj Khan Pathan was convicted of entering India illegally in 1995! He finished serving his sentence on May 6th, but had been kept under detention under Section11(2) of the Foreigners’ Act. A few days ago, he was mysteriously released from the RAK Marg police station, but minus papers. Is that his fault?
The cops want to make sure he doesn’t abscond. Abscond… and go where?
The madness and tragedy of it all!
Siraj has been on the run since he was a kid. Getting on a wrong train brought the little boy to Amritsar. It happens. His life would never be the same again. Heaven knows what made the child run away from home ? What traumas he may have suffered back then ? And he is still being chased out? Surely, he has run out of stamina by now? Surely, he wants to lead a ‘normal’ life with his small family? Perhaps, we shall never know the full story. But that doesn’t matter. Even if half the story is accurate, it seems cruel to treat any person like this.
I know, I know. It’s about timing. Siraj’s crisis could not have taken place at a worse time. Too many, very disturbing , bloody and violent incidents have taken place on the Indo-Pak border, while this little drama was unfolding in Mumbai. Such is human nature that there will be any number of ‘patriotic’ Indians asking, “ Why should we be showing so much consideration for one of THEM, when they are butchering OUR people?” For God’s sake - the two are not automatically interlinked. Does any 10- year- old child know his/her nationality / identity in a deeper sense? Must the accidental place of birth colour the rest of life? Siraj has found refuge … love…. fulfillment here. This is all he has known as an adult. He is as much of a stake holder in Mumbai, as the next Mumbaikar. Are we going to plant seeds of hatred and poison in his head after close to two decades of living in peace in a country not his own? What about Sajida and the children? What crime have they committed?
I am sure there are many more Sirajs on both sides of the border. Several may be permanently doomed and locked up in nasty prisons, with not a hope in hell of escape. Does that mean detaining Siraj is somehow ‘justified’ ? A sensitive and fair handling of this tricky case can send out a good signal, even to those who benefit by kindling the fires of enmity and suspicion. The love story of Siraj and Sajida is what inspires me today to think about the real significance of Karwa Chauth - well beyond the trappings and commercialization of this simple act of faith, during which a wife demonstrates love, loyalty and commitment to her husband, who reciprocates ( hopefully!) with equal fervor.
Let’s hope there is a permanent and happy ending to the Siraj-Sajida saga.
This appeared in The Week...
Egg-xactly why it won’t work!
There were waves of revulsion sweeping over my ‘rational’ self, when I first read about the latest attempt to appropriate a woman’s womb via a procedure called ‘egg freezing’. Even the sound of it made me recoil. Are we chickens in an industrial coop? How dare Facebook and Apple hijack our ovaries in return for a few dollars more? Will manipulating nature in such a blatant fashion provide any real answers? Help the cause? Will women feel more secure in the work place, knowing their precious eggs ( surgically extricated) are lying frozen in a safe place somewhere, to be thawed and reinserted into their poor bodies at a convenient ( to the Company!) time and place? This is worse than any sci-fi movie script! Not only is the latest American corporate conspiracy insulting, it is intrusive, loathsome and demeaning in the extreme. Jessica Bennett, writing in TIME magazine, mentioned ‘egg-freezing’ parties hosted by fertility clinics, where women can discuss options over martinis! Really…. so this is the latest version of the old Tupperware parties in America? How soon before the trend comes to our shores and we have a brand new avatar of the Kitty Party, at which women talk about their preferred egg bank and its whopping price tag, the way they do about their latest Birkin or solitaire ?
I hope that never happens. Never ! Our biological clocks are our own business. Corporates should leave our eggs alone. Instead of luring bright, educated women to mess around with their bodies, after offering all sorts of financial inducements ($20,000 is not an insignificant amount), why don’t these companies lobby for real reforms that are more sensitive towards women? As pointed out by Seema Mohapatra ( a healthcare law and bioethics expert at the Barry University School of Law) in a recent interview, the US is one of just 8 countries in the world that does not require paid maternity leave. And look at the others on the list - countries like Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea! Why not start right there, and rectify the problem at its roots? Has Facebook conducted a detailed research study on the efficacy of egg freezing? What about adverse health effects? The risks involved? Is there a time frame for freezing, thawing and re inserting these eggs? What would that be - 10 years? 20 years? What is the guarantee that the complex procedure will work? In the meantime, countless young, female professionals have given up a few key, personal options – perhaps forever.
Buying out a woman’s absolute right over her womb, is anti-humanity. Some women may submit willingly due to financial constraints. But that cannot be justified by any corporate, when the motives are unambiguously selfish to start with. Not willing to support women by providing crèches and day care centres at the work place, they are now trying to lure them into experimenting with their own bodies…their lives. Why not create offices that are pro-family in the true sense of the word? Yes, women in the workforce are indispensable today. Respect that reality by changing the work environment first. Do not violate a woman’s right to bear or not bear children on her own terms. A woman’s fertility is sacred. Nobody should be allowed to tamper with it.
Now what? While the debate rages on, an Australian company is also offering payments to women for freezing eggs.There is something almost sinister about this new development. Men remain fertile forever ( almost!), so the onus of salvaging future generations stays with women, who have biological clocks ticking away from the time of their birth. Men and women in the workplace are competing for the same jobs. Sooner or later men will start resenting these juicy egg-freezing incentives given to their female colleagues. What then? No. This is definitely not the way forward. Besides, it’s not even a fair option, since nobody is giving an extra dime to women who represent lower income groups.
In all fairness, it needs to be pointed out that Apple and Facebook do offer other, attractive family benefits ( subsidized day care, paid paternity leave etc), but that still leaves a huge moral issue when it comes to egg freezing. As feminists are asking, does this initiative discriminate against women who opt to have babies as and when they choose to? Will this force women to reconsider choices? Postpone motherhood? These are all new and scary scenarios that will take a while to establish their legitimacy. The complex issues thrown up by the egg-freezing debate have several implications and ramifications – religious , emotional, physical, cerebral. Instead of taking away a woman’s autonomy over her eggs, and pressurizing her to take decisions that come with health risks, let’s demand more sensitivity, combined with responsibility. The time has come to enhance the lives of women in meaningful and significant ways. This is precisely why women across the world should unite and send out a strong message to global corporate houses pushing them into parting with their most valuable asset. It’s time to say: My eggs are not for sale!
This appeared in Asian Age/ Deccan Chronicle
‘Model’ CM: Fadnavis – when life imitates theatre
The first time I watched a performance of the shocking, path breaking Jabbar Patel production of Vijay Tendulkar’s scorcher of a play ,‘Ghashiram Kotwal’ (1978 or thereabouts), I was completely blown away. I watched it again… and again. But that was a long, long time ago. I wish I could watch it once more, for it continues to remain as potent, as relevant, as subversive today, as it was 36 years ago. Tendulkar first wrote it in 1972 in response to the rise of the Shiv Sena. So strong was its impact, it faced a ban and generated enough controversy to fuel vociferous protests each time it was staged. It is a pity contemporary theatre lovers are denied the opportunity to share this extraordinary experience. Whenever I run into Dr. Mohan Agashe these days, I can only see Nana Phadnavis – the despicable, wily character he immortalized in the play . I asked Mohan why ‘Ghashiram….’ has not been revived. The collective genius of so many highly gifted collaborators could easily attract corporate sponsors. But that hasn’t happened… for obvious reasons. There can be no other Nana Phadnavis, of course, and as Mohan pointed out wryly, the timing for a revival is also perfect . Mohan brought spine tingling ferocity and a sinister edge to his performance as the shrewd, sadistic, amoral Minister in the court of the Peshwas, who stops at nothing to grab and wield absolute power in a weakened, hopelessly decadent state, dominated by rulers drunk on their ownunchecked position of privilege. As the play progresses , Phadnavis reduces the Peshwas to poor jokes of their earlier avatars. Agashe , making the most effective use of his thin, nasal voice and adopting a particular gait ,conveyed just one thing - unbridled tyranny. Mohan was evil personified, his every entry marked by rhythmic music that prepared the audience for the vileness to follow. Patel brilliantly exploited the folk theatre tradition of ‘Tamasha’ in this riveting portrait of corrosive totalitarianism.
Abuse of power lends itself to artistic interpretations like few other subjects. Today, Maharashtra has demonstrated unambiguously that its people have risen against oppression and arrogance .Today’s Maharashtrian doesn’t really give a damn about traditional obsessions – ask the young voter in this election whether it matters a jot to him that the new CM of the State is a Brahmin and not a Maratha, and chances are, you’ll get a bewildered look or a withering, scornful stare in return. Pegging political identity to the old ‘Marathi Manoos’ script is old hat, irrelevant and annoying . The new Maharashtrian is an aggressive, ambitious, results-driven voter. If anything, the old bogey of ‘outsider/insider’ has been pushed aside in one sweep – and may it remain in the dustbin forever. Since nothing is quite as effective in today’s social media driven times, as piquant, pointed satire, I watched a ‘Being Indian’ video on Youtube which featured two ‘typical’ Maharashtrian boys indulging in hilarious banter. Interestingly enough, they were merrily poking fun at familiar sacred cows. The sarcastic script took everyone and everything apart, including that phoney ‘North Indians’ paranoia mischievously unleashed on the city by political hoodlums. Which is why, it is vital for the newly minted CM to grab this God -given opportunity and undo the monumental mess in Maharashtra. Devendra Fadnavis has a tough job ahead of him. He isn’t exactly 100% kosher himself (there are a hefty 22 criminal cases against him, which include charges of assault, rioting and unlawful entry). He is an unknown entity in Mumbai, and is seen more as a Nagpur man. Narendra Modi called him “ Nagpur’s gift to the country’. Earlier , that ‘gift’ was identified with Nagpur oranges.
Once the Chariots of Fire roll out of the Wankhede Stadium and the maha drama of the ridiculously extravagant swearing-in ceremony ( complete with Bollywood-style sets) is behind us, we will watch Fadnavis closely. Of course, everybody knows the man has an omnipotent remote control ( Amit Shah) monitoring his every move. Which may not be such a terrible thing, given the tattered condition of Maharashtra’s economy right now ( at last count, the State was dealing with a debt of 13 lakh crores). Fadnavis comes with respectable educational credentials ( a law degree, plus a post-graduate degree in Business Management). We know he is married to a working professional (banker) and is the father of a precocious 5 - year- old daughter, rumoured to entertain guests with a faithful rendition of her father’s fiery political speeches! Cleaning up the BMC should be on top of the new CM’s priorities, for unless we get rid of the rot that has seen Mumbai’s descent into a putrid hell hole, nothing else is likely to change. How he tackles the nexus between his political rivals and the builders’ lobby (together they have looted and stripped not just Mumbai, but gigantic swathes of prime real estate across Maharashtra ) , will also define his relationship with a demoralized police force. As for corporate India, well… it doesn’t take time for our accommodating Captains of Industry to realign themselves to a new order. So long as Fadnavis demonstrates a strong will to clean up the massive devastation he has inherited, and does so transparently, the people of Maharashtra will whole heartedly support his initiatives. If Fadnavis is as clever as Modi thinks he is, he will leave the contentious Vidharba issue alone for now.
This may be the turning point in Maharashtra’s fortunes. Expectations are running high. Fadnavis is young (44), which is a big plus. He appears gregarious and outgoing. Will he be able to manage the various warring factions angling for key portfolios and positions? For that, the ‘go to’ man ain’t our Devendra Fadnavis. It is the portly Amit Shah – rightly being described as the de facto CM of Maharashtra.
So, let the party begin! No more ‘tamasha’. Only ‘tootaris’, please!