Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bhagwad Gita

The Bhagwad Gita says, : The one who does wrong is a sinner.... but the one who puts up with the wrong is an even bigger sinner.....
Think about it.... and ACT.

Mumbai Meri Hai

Mumbai Meri Hai
Every Mumbaikar needs to make Usha Uthup’s unforgettable , jaunty number, “Mumbai Meri Hai…” into a personal anthem to reclaim the city we all love…. and which has been appropriated by people who clearly have zero stakes in it. People who call themselves our leaders, who now strut around ‘sanitised’ areas, with their security personnel, mouthing platitudes…. and worse insults, that wound the citizenry with the callousness of their content.
Shivraj Patil has finally been shamed into resigning. But what about the other local Patil, R.R., whose shockingly insensitive remark ( “ bade, bade shahron mein aise hadse hote rehte hai…”) incensed so many shell-shocked Mumbaikars, that tv channels were requested to kill that clip by his staffers, afraid of violent reactions to his ‘casual’ comment. Almost immediately mass smes started flying across the city, demanding Patil’s head and pointing out how he should have reserved the zeal expended on chasing the city’s bar girls out, for chasing terrorists who caused such unprecedented devastation that took so many lives. Going by the magnitude of the ‘aam janata’s’ response to the heartless handling of the crisis by our netas in New Delhi, why stop with Shivraj Patil? Why not hold Manmohan Singh equally responsible? After all, moral responsibility starts at the top. The chief must take the rap first before looking for scapegoats.
For the very first time, the people of Mumbai have united as one, and have woken up to the fact that together we stand, divided we fall. I was saddened by the attitude of various foreign journalists from across the world who called to ask, “ You mean there is no sectarian violence in Mumbai so far?? Communal riots have not broken out?” They sounded disappointed! Such is the perversity we are dealing with. And to all those Mumbaikars holding candle light marches, meeting at the Gateway of India, or urging people to wear black, I want to say these sweet and simple acts of solidarity, may bring some solace to our troubled minds, but they remain symbolic and somewhat hollow. What we need to safeguard ourselves and secure the city, must go beyond holding hands and lighting diyas. We must plan ahead, with specific ,achievable and enforceable targets coupled with accountability\ penalty clauses. Get the best brains on board – import them if necessary. Increase police-spend substantially. Train all those whose jobs involve protecting citizens ( firemen included), and have an aggressive attitude while dealing with terrorists. Revisit old, antiquated laws. Provide more autonomy to those on the job. Show no mercy. Show some teeth.
Some of the most influential, powerful and affluent people in India reside in Mumbai. Specifically, in South Mumbai. They must emerge from their cocoons and lead from the front without any political interventions whatsoever. But will they?? Can they afford to? Will personal business interests dominate all other considerations? Too many self-serving voices have been heard. The worst being those of P.R. agents peddling stories to the celeb-hungry media on behalf of their clients – unheard of tv starlets, botoxed socialites and other urban horrors we really don’t give a damn about. Ban them Blank out these cheap publicity-seekers. And do the same with politicians in search of soundbytes and photo ops.
So many vital questions remain unanswered. Who will respond to our legitimate queries, given that so many politicos are busy preening for the cameras themselves, instead of staying in the war room, planning how best to regroup and strategise, now that various clues are being pieced together. With all due respect to the dead – the heroes who laid down their lives in the line of duty – there was a singular lack of professionalism in the fact that three top cops (one in mufti) got into the Qualis together when they were aware terrorists were on the prowl. The cops became sitting ducks. I was at the Taj, a mere hour and a half before the blood bath began, and was surprised to notice that after months of very stringent security measures ( sniffer dogs, metal detectors, sensors,barricades, rerouting of cars, no access but the central one) being in place, almost all of them had been removed virtually overnight, with the side and back entrances left unmanned and open. Under whose instructions was this decision taken? Ditto for security at the CST, which had seen a formidable, fortress-like situation with sand bagged enclosures and heavily armed personnel …. till last week. Why were they withdrawn? Even to this day, nobody is sure exactly how many terrorists arrived in the city, or even how many may have been present earlier, master minding operations. The grand, old Taj could not provide the Marcos with a map of the premises – they were sent in cold – while the terrorists possessed a detailed floor plan all along. Nobody has assured Mumbaikars so far, that there are no escapees who may have slipped out as tourists\guests from the two hotels during the rescue operations. There was also a spectacular lack of co- ordination during the entire operation, especially during the first few crucial hours, when all the people involved seemed to be bumbling along without clear directions from one central body. We still don’t know whose orders were being followed, nor who was in command throughout. It became equally obvious that neither the city, nor the hotels have a crisis management programme in place that provides an immediate plan of action in an emergency. Look at how efficiently and swiftly the South African body guards swung into action at the Trident and saved so many lives. There was discipline and arduous training behind the drill they followed. Our brave men used their hearts, when minds were needed far more.
The scariest aspect of the assault on Mumbai, is the chilling question – is it really and truly over? The accurate response is – yes - for now. Perhaps another sleeper cell is hard at work right at this minute, planning the next attack – warnings of which we shall ignore once again, as we did this one, too. Those demons are ten steps ahead of us. They came from the sea. Next time, they may strike us from the air. Their targets could be the RBI building, the WTC, our docks and railway stations Will we be prepared? The Air Force base in Pune is but ten short minutes of flying time away. But those ten minutes are enough to flatten even the biggest city. To save ourselves, we the people of the city will have to find our own solutions. The horrific truth is, Mumbai remains naked and vulnerable even now. With evil political vultures circling it for pickings that fill their own stomachs. Shame on all of them!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wake up, Mumbai....

My fingers are shaking as I key in this piece, minutes after watching visuals of panic stricken commuters at CST station, running helter skelter as fresh reports of terrorist attacks near the RBI and GT Hospital send a grievously wounded Mumbai reeling once again…. to save itself. If these horrific attacks that have struck every Mumbaikar’s heart do not act as a serious wake up call, nothing else can or will.The most important lesson to learn from the carnage is that the time has come for citizens to take control of their lives and their beloved city, for if they don’t, they will be dead.What the past 40 hours have demonstrated unambiguously is that our city fathers have learned nothing from past blows in our gut, or else innocents would not have lost their lives because there was no one in charge when the city most needed a figure, capable of leading from the front. The chief minister showed up outside the Trident, when the crisis was nearly over. Delhi politicians caused more of a nuisance than anything else when the prime minister, along with Sonia Gandhi made the mandatory hospital visits….. diverted traffic and police attention.
But it took a Narendra Modi to show us what political opportunism is all about when he arrogantly arrived here with bags of money to distribute to the families of Mumbai’s real heroes – the slain policemen, and wasted no time in capitalizing on the tragedy to cold bloodedly push his own agenda.
There were several shocking failures and lapses…. But what good is a post- mortem, after the damage is done? What good, delayed responses – we could have, we should have, why didn’t so-and-so do this or that? The truth is, we effed up. Each and every one of us. Let us not point fingers and play the blame game, for it is dangerous and unproductive. We were caught off guard – once again. This time there is no excuse. How many attacks is it going to take for Mumbai to act and save itself?And where should we begin?? I would say let us start from taking a few key lessons from America, post 9\11. The entire country acted as one. Political differences were set aside and a superbly strategized counter-terrorism plan put into place.There have been no further attacks since then. Next, we need to pay attention to the immediate requirements of our over- burdened police force – those poor constables armed with nothing more lethal than laathis can ‘t chase a rabid dog, forget about taking on hard core, armed terrorists.Give them equipment, training and autonomy to act in such an emergency without waiting for bureaucratic clearances, then see the difference. We need an action plan to deal with crises. Citizens need to be taken into confidence with a disaster management strategy, and regular drills to keep people alert.
What became evident( and cost countless lives) was the absence of leadership. With whom did the buck stop? Who was in charge of taking key and timely decisions? Was there anyone at all who was monitoring and co ordinating collective efforts to deal with each ghastly development? Individual stories of heroism are not enough in such situations – they create martyrs, nothing else. We lost outstanding officers, who misread the threat to their own lives and were not adequately protected. Our police lack basic gear – helmets, bullet proof jackets, riot shields. We expect them to protect us while they themselves are unprotected. Lack of funds is a poor excuse. Take a look at any minor politico moving around with a convoy of police cars, security personnel, ambulances. These privileges must be instantly withdrawn and reserved exclusively for top ranking politicians alone.
Help in the form of crack commando units, the Marcos, NSG and the Army, arrived several hours after Operation Mumbai was underway. Naval helicopters were deployed still later. Securing a city like Mumbai is not an easy job. But it is possible . Something simple like neighbourhood sirens to alert citizens of an impending attack, are not that difficult to install. This IS war – make no mistake about that. Mumbai is hemorraging….. bleeding a slow death Political tourniquets can’t save us. If we have to save ourselves, we need to perform radical surgery…. amputate a few gangrenous limbs. And rely on the mighty heart of this great metropolis – the extraordinary people of Mumbai. But this time I am not going to be a sentimental fool and say, ‘Salaam Mumbai’. It’s time to shout, to holler, “Wake up Mumbai. Fight back. Fight back. Fight back!”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Enough is enough

I went out into the broad and empty streets of this, one of the most crowded cities of the world, earlier this evening. It was an eerie experience - something vital had changed. It was almost as if fatigued, disheartened Mumbaikars had given up the fight..... fed up of watching the ghastly, macabre show of a city crumbling under the worst terrorist attack after 9\11. There wasn't a cop in sight all along Marine Drive, Mumbai's beautiful promenade, till my car reached the State Guest House on Malabar Hill. Two of my children, who were with me, commented it was scarey and strange that most areas of South Mumbai were unprotected , even as terror continued to reign a few kilometres away. Yes, it was indeed very strange ..... for we, the citizens, have the right to expect some level of security, given the extraordinary circumstances that had dominated our existence over the past 48 hours of non-stop violence. Of course, our police force is under tremendous pressure, and God knows the cops have done a commendable job, armed with nothing more lethal than lathis. Even so...
Elsewhere in Mumbai, life had resumed its 'normal' pace. People in the untouched suburbs were out shopping, drinking, partying, clubbing, even celebrating.... as if nothing had happened.It baffled me initially... till I realised how childishly I was judging my own people. Should they have stopped living? Stayed glumly at home mumbling , "Oh my God! Oh my God!" Should anyone? Does that make them insensitive pigs? No. Not really. It is called the cycle of life. And death. Less than ten kilometres away, the battle was still raging..... The Taj was still burning.... and funeral pyres of those who had died in the blood bath, were being lit by sons, fathers, brothers and uncles. With a start and a shock like no other, I discovered I knew at least ten of those people being cremated tonight, even as I drove along grimly, wondering - 'what next? what now? Is the worst over??' 'Enough is enough' is now more than my 'quotable quote', more than a mantra.... it needs to become a movement and take every right thinking citizen along...

Cry, my beloved city

Please don’t utter another word about the ‘Spirit of Mumbai’. Or how it is ‘Business as usual’, because the time to be philosophical/stoical about our shattered lives is over. Initial numbness has been replaced by rage and sorrow. Those policemen did not have to die. Those innocents need not have been killed. Mumbai’s abject humiliation at the hands of a few misguided youth, is complete. And there are no answers – how? Why? Gabbar Singh’s menacing question, “Kitney aadmi the?” may never get the correct response from a cowardly and evasive administration that has once again let down the people of this megapolis .It is not about a numbers game. It is about the powerlessness that has paralysed what is considered one of the most dynamic cities in the world.Mumbai today is a city in a coma…. One it may never recover from. Dazed and desperate. As I write this, a mere half a kilometre away from both the hotels targeted by the terrorists, my heart aches, my eyes are heavy, and my throat painfully constricted. Strange how a monumental tragedy affects individuals. Our first thoughts are about the safety of our own – are those we love okay? Yes??? Thank God! Selfish emotions dominate our actions – as they did mine…. I’m ashamed to admit.
My husband and I were at a sitdown dinner in another 5-Star hotel, a few miles from the Taj and Trident. This was unusual in itself…. The newly-opened Four Season’s is outside the ambit of hard -core South Mumbaiwallas like ourselves. But this was no ordinary occasion. The French Ambassador was hosting an evening for Nadir Godrej who had recently received a French civilian honour. Yashodhara, a beautiful chanteuse from Delhi, had just started to croon throatily, when Amrita, Simi Garewal’s sister, came to our table to whisper they’d received a call about a terrorist attack at the Oberoi and Taj hotels. Five minutes later, while all of us were desperately calling our contacts for grim confirmations, we heard two loud blasts –terror came directly at us…. the sound hit me in the solar plexus…. and there was no place to run. Top cops advised us to stay put. But our children were at home!!!! Stay put. Stay put. They repeated. The streets are unsafe, roads blockaded, police vans hijacked…. there are armed maniacs on the loose hurling hand grenades and firing randomely into the crowd with lethal automatic weapons. Now they are attacking hospitals!! Oh no…. they’ve blown up a petrol pump!! Yes. The one close to our home. Look….. the Taj is on fire! CST …. OH MY GOD…. They are moving rapidly …. the airport is next, and the Marriott. It was like being cast in a macabre, surrealistic horror film . But one without a director to call, “Cut’’.
The sight of the Taj burning, is the one that will remain forever etched on my mind – a ghastly and tragic reminder of this city’s vulnerability…. and also it’s grandeur. That is where I was courted, got married.The place I consider my second home. Taj is family. That is where my daughter is getting married ten days from now… or that was the dream…. the plan.Till last night.Today, that beloved heritage building – Mumbai’s pride and joy - is a monument to death and destruction. The Taj has always been an inspiring emblem of India’s defiance and glory when it was built in 1903 by a great son of Mumbai, Sir Jamshedji Tata, to let the British know that there can be a magnificent hotel built by Indians, for Indians. As I watched the flames engulfing the top floor, my tears flowed for those incredibly brave men and women from the hospitality industry who performed such a stupendous job, along with the others, in saving as many lives as possible. The terrorists picked their targets well – by hitting Mumbai’s most-loved symbols of wealth and prosperity, cosmopolitanism and progress, they succeeded in their mission of demonstrating to the world just how simple it is to attack iconic institutions and hold a teeming metropolis to ransom.Yes. My daughter will get married. And yes,the ceremony will be at the Taj - burnt…. but not bowed. We will always love it. Terrorists may destroy a structure. But our souls are our own.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sufi ecstasy... and Kolkata musings

Ooooof! I have been MIA for far too long!! Sorry about that, guys. Kolkata was amusing, frustrating and exhilerating as only Kolkata can be - a once-great city, stuck in a tragic time warp. I love Kolkata with all my heart, but there are aspects of it that drive me insane. The people are wonderful.... and argumentative in the Amartya Sen mould. It's great to interact with as opinionated a bunch as the average Kolkatan. The famous 'addas' have not stopped, and Mamata's antics are avidly discussed over singhadas (samosas, to you and me), mishti and chai (round the clock!). The mighty Clubs of Kolkata continue to dominate social life, with their strange, antiquated club rules (So Brit. So dated). But life is lived most graciously, especially by old moneywallas, like the Sarkars. Lunch at their mansion was just wonderful - winter blooms in the well -tended garden, exquisitely served authentic Bong cuisine on the magnificent mahogany table ( prawn chops to die for, an apricot chutney dripping richness, a delicately flavoured fish pullao, an array of traditional desserts like a pistachio flavoured payesh). Rakhi Sarkar is a remarkably relaxed hostess, while husband Aveek provides the spiciest food for thought!
The debate on, "Is the media misleading the masses?" was a real phataka. I spoke for the proposition since I strongly believe the media is playing a dangerous game and manipulating public opinion, especially irresonsible tv channels that reinforce divisiveness in an already polarised society. Since I was the first speaker, that too on an all male panel (so , what else is new?), I felt slightly weighed down by the additional reponsiblity of opening up the debate on a provocative note. I think I did well (and I am no veteran debater), for the house carried the motion with a show of hands that made my team the winners by a generous margin. Moderated by the British High Commissioner, Simon Wilson, the stuffy old club came alive for an evening of high quality debating skills, thanks to terrific panellists who held their own brilliantly. Rajdeep Sardesai was so emotionally charged up, he almost broke into tears at one point. Too bad his team lost!!
This was my third exposure to the Sufi Music Festival (in its eighth year) at the Horniman Circle garden. It started off a little shakily, with a diffident singer from the Siddhi tribe in Saurashtra, followed by a Turkish performer, a loud and boisterous group from Punjab, an Egyptian group with a melancholic lead singer and ending with the Qawwals, the Ajmeri brothers . There were two crowd pleasers that night, Young Jassu from Rajasthan who plays the desi castanents (Kachra Singh was missing this year) with the Langas, and the troupe from Ajmer, with a flamboyantly dressed leader, who was clearly hoping to be spotted by a talent scout from Bollywood, and why not? Without government recognition or patronage, how does one keep these centuries old traditions alive? But the real treat was reserved for the next night with a mehfil at our friend Javed Gaya's wonderful home. The legendary Warsi Brothers from Hyderabad performed for a select audience of fifty music lovers - and what a performance it was!! My hair stands on end revisiting the evening when Amir Khushro's evocative couplets came alive and for four hours we were transported to a mystical world - another reality, far richer than the one we live. And I thought to myself : this was the Mumbai I grew up in - all-encompassing, generous, tolerant, culturally wealthy, open to influences from far and wide. The mehfil gave me hope. Our host Javed Gaya, is an elegant gourmet and much more. His table was groaning under velvety khichda, kababs, mirchi ka salan and much more (including the famous pineapple halwa). Watching Javed's many friends enjoying his hospitality I felt re- energised and renewed my dream about the old Mumbai - thank God it is not dead and buried yet. It exists . In shrinking pockets that continue to value such ideals in the face of daunting discouragement. Once again, I was back in a refined, rarefied, gracious environment, where a grande dame dressed in antique silk, wearing rare basra pearls,anointed me the ' Shama-e-mefil'. I shall always cherish the compliment!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kolkata calling

Guys. I am off for the weekend. Kolkata it is. Another wretched flight at a wretched hour. You might have guessed I am not exactly a morning person. Here I am sitting at my dining table blogging away at midnight when I ought to be asleep. I'll be in Kolkata to participate in a national debate organised by The Telegraph newspaper, on media responsibility. Had the topic not been this volatile, I would have gladly passed. But this is the time to speak up. And say it like it is. For whatever that's worth . Most of the other participants are heavy duty 'intellectuals' - Kolkata loves their intellectuals. And every body in Kolkata fancies himself\herself as one. I shall do my very best to be as forthright and honest as possible. I' ll be rushing right back to attend the magical Sufi music festival at the Horniman Circle garden. Just what the soul ordered. Till then.... ciao ciao. Read my lips : No more Rahul. Keep guessing which one I'm referring to!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Big Losss

I had a one point agenda last night. I was determined to watch Bigg Boss and find out for myself what this rubbish was about. I was seriously concerned when a friend whose mind is worth respecting, told me she was hooked! I said, "I don't believe it..." Here was a card holding member of the Power Ladies Club, her Blackberry had become a body part, fused to her being. She checked every ping.... and moved a lot of global money around (all in a day's work) with a click. Why would she watch a dumb show featuring some toad-like men (all the women have been voted out)? Well.... guess what? Come hell or high water, she was hooked to the telly at 10pm every night. I was curious as hell, and surfed channels like mad till I found it. Eeeeeks!! There was a green faced monster on the small screen. It turned out to be Rahul Mahajan with a beauty mask! I wanted to tell him to save himself the trouble..... he doesn't need a mere mask, he requires a head transplant. And this moron is supposed to win one crore at the end of the show?? But that's before I saw the rest. Zulfie is a cutie. He should win - for being cute. The other two are plain ugh - don't know and don't care who they are. Five minutes into the show and I was ready to weep at the clumsy manipulation taking place so blatantly. All that hocus pocus about Rahul quitting because he refused to apologise to the Bigg Boss!! Those grown men (ghodas) weeping and wailing after his exist, yelling out, " I love you, Rahul!" Gawd!!! YUCKKKK!
So, why do people watch the show if it is this bad(I swear it is)? I think it is because they see a little of themselves in those inmates, and wonder how they would behave in an identical scenario.The production values are beyond shabby, and it is so obviously 'staged'. I guess suckers are born everyday. What's the bet that the creepy Mahajan will be back.... and go on to win??? Oh... I met his sensible sister Poonam (she is standing for elections from South Mumbai on a BJP ticket), who wants to come and meet me at home. She must cringe watching her brother on this grotesque show.Must ask her when she comes a-calling....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Francophile - who me??

I have a strange love-hate relationship with the French. Most times, I love them. But somehow, I can't trust them. No special reason. Just an irrational feeling. Like their sudden rediscovery of India. Of course, the connection goes back centuries, and the French liked our 'ambi' motif so much, they promptly renamed it 'paisley' and made it their own. Saroj, my lovely shawl lady from Gujarat, showed me an antique Paisley shawl from France. I told her it was Indian in origin. She knew. And said sweetly, " But we have shared it with the world." I liked her perspective. So generous and honest. Here is a woman whose vast knowledge of pichwais, for example , would impress a serious collector. But looking at her close-to-bedraggled appearance, who'd guess it? She is a complete professional. I respect her mind and expertise.She is also a canny businesswoman..... but in a tough business. Her margins are low. To acquire those exquisite pieces, she has to rough it out and travel extensively from village to village. But she loves what she does. It is a passion. We share that sentiment (and many other), in common.
The same night, I went to a soiree at the French Consul General's beautiful home on the edge of the bay. Francois has movie star looks. His Japanese wife, Mayumi, is porcelain perfect. The two of them are rapidly rising up the social ladder in Mumbai, with their grace and charm. The soiree was primarily for the city's power ladies - eighty of them. Scarey!! Mumbai's attractive Sheriff, and the principal of H.R. College, Dr. Indu Shahani ,and moi, were to share our experiences at the Global Women's Forum , Deauville, with these invitees. One look at them and I decided to keep it short, and keep it simple. They were far more interested in guzzling the decent French wine, nibbling on shrimp...and net -working, than in listening to speeches.It was a good decision on my part ( and Indu's ) to wrap it up in under fifteen minutes. One could almost see the relief on the faces of the women , who promptly went back for refills at the bar. I rushed home for my daily fix of daal chavaal with the family.
The French have their ways. Right now, they want India to buy heavy water from them.Why do you think Sarkozy made it as chief guest to the Republic Day parade early this year?Well, the French are known for their courtship rituals, and right now, India is being wooed big time by them. I am fine with it. I like good strategists. So long as we all know the deal, ki phark penda? C'est la vie. Chin Chin!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekend - what's that??

Sad but true. We urban monsters can no longer differentiate between weekdays and weekends.... the days blend smoothly and meld into a 7 day, non-stop week with zero time off for self.... leisure... chilling. When we are not on our laptops ( I refuse to get a Blackberry), we our frantically texting. It is a disease - I recognise the symptoms.... but realise I am a terminal case. Like millions of others. I rushed to Alibag this morning, and charged back. I was willing to 'save' time and skip lunch. But my daughter Arundhati sensibly decided enough was enough. I compromised and settled for a multigrain chicken salad sandwich (lots of mustard), a mushroom salad , and a wonderful cappuccino at our favourite neighbourhood snackbar, 'Sugar 'n' Spice at the President Hotel down the road. Am I glad I took that break. We bonded, as only mothers and daughters do, or can. Then.... she left to converse in French with Dominique ( Arundhati goes back to Paris in December.... and needs to brush up her Mumbai Francaise), and I drove off to run errands. By the time I got home, Saroj, the Antique lady was waiting for moi. Saroj deserves a book devoted to her . She happens to be one of the most knowledgeable women on textiles. There is little Saroj does not know - from French Paisley shawls to Saurashtra aabhas - both going back a century or so. Oh.... I forgot to mention.... Saroj is illiterate, hard working and underprivileged (money wise). But what riches she possesses, in terms of sheer expertise! She could teach the mighty members of the textile board of India, a thing or two. There is much I have learned from Saroj over the years. I am grateful for her friendship.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Billionaires' Row

Even though we don't have a physical destination like a Billionaires' Row in India, it is interesting as to how many of the top dogs on the Forbes' List, actually live cheek-by-jowl, in fairly close proximity to one another, right here in South Mumbai. The Ambanis, Godrejs and Birlas, for example. The senior biz journo who compiles the Forbes' list happens to be good friend. I know the amount of painstaking research that goes into the creation of this list. Since the latest one is just out, and everybody is talking about how many billions less these guys are worth, thanks to the economic meltdown, it is amusing to monitor the figures in the context of the aam janata's perception of the billionaire phenomenon in India. Wealthy people in the past were called Crorepatis,and before that, Lakhpatis. Raj Kapoor's version of how the rich live in India was the version the common man bought into. Those mansions with hideous stairways in the middle of the drawing room.... the heavy drapes and gigantic arm chairs.... Pran in a velvet smoking jacket chomping on a pipe, women in elaborate sarees perpetually yelling at a Ramu Kaka or a Bahadur, teenagers in pig tails off to play badminton at the club in Cadillac Impalas, breakfast tables laden with plump fruit.... aaaah.... all of this was so very naive appealing and innocent.
Today's aamirlog (Mukesh Ambani has dethroned L.N. Mittal as the richest desi), are poorer by a mere $200 billion!!! So saaaadddd! And the Billionaire Club has shrunk to just 27 from 54 last year. Try telling that to the maali in the garden. Or even the kiraana walla down the road. Why.... try telling that to virtually anyone. Who cares?? Nobody. The mood is different. We are happy the super rich in India have pots of lucre. And may they make much more. But in real terms, whether Mukesh cuts back by not buying the next private jet or yacht, does not directly impact anybody's life. But we sure miss Raj Kapoor's version of indecent wealth in a poor country.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fire and Ice

Many moons ago, there existed a popular nightclub called Fire 'n' Ice in Mumbai. It met a sad end. Well.... I underwent a traumatic trial by fire late last night, when an airconditioner in the health club downstairs caused a short circuit and started an electrical fire that created acrid, thick smoke which engulfed the entire complex.I awoke with a start at 03.30 am, certain that my own a\c was about to explode ( I live in mortal dread of that happening ). I rushed out of the bedroom to check where the sharp, searing smell of burning wires was from coming from, only to be met by toxic fumes creeping in from a narrow slit under the front door of the living room. I woke up the rest of the family ( and Kiara, our adorable female dog), and worked on an instant plan of action. The stairs were not an option, the elevators are never an option in such circumstances. That left - what?? By then there were three fire brigade tankers, police cars and other security agency personnel hard at work. The smoke was getting thicker and blacker. My eyes were watering and my throat was on fire. My daughter Arundhati was about to faint. I recalled the old fire drill - wet towels under the door, soaked towels covering the face, blankets over the body, and as quick an exit as possible.
That's exactly what we did, gagging all the way. But once downstairs, we were able to better assess the seriousness of the situation (the state- of -the-art health club has been reduced to cinders) and wake up to the reality of how poorly manned most building societies are in Mumbai. No fire alarm was sounded, no intercom alerted residents, no call was made to evacuate the building. Nothing. I find that scarey and disgraceful. In any other big city, residents would sue and claim damages if this was the attitude of irresponsible committee members. Lives could have been lost, property destroyed. What is the outcome here?? Nobody bothers to initiate action. Everybody is thankful, even grateful, about being safe..... being alive. No real investigation is ever done as to the cause of the short circuit. It is business as usual, with neighbours laughing stupidly about how they slept through it!! We call ourselves a megapolis. This building society represents one of the most expensive real estate properties in India. And this is the level of safety, awareness and accountability!
With barely a couple of hours of sleep (no electricity), I had to rush to inaugurate a plants and trees exhibition, now in its 10th year, thanks to the initiative taken by the citizens' association spearheaded by Nana Chudasama - 'I love Mumbai.' My lungs were still burning, as I spoke about global warming and other environmental issues . Sweet irony! But the plants were gorgeous.... and I have fallen in love with a full grown ficus. Determined to go back and buy it, along with a graceful, delicate black bamboo from Kolkata. These are my true friends... they respond to love, ask for nothing, but give everything - like Kiara, and .... and.... oh dear.... how sad.... can't think of a single name!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The real 'Queens' of Bollywood..

It is official. After 'Dostana', nobody will be talking about the Kings and Badshahs of Bollywood. It is the time of the Queens. Ranis to rule from this friday. No, Not Kareena, Ash or Priyanka, sillies. I'm talking about Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham. Gay is 'in' and how!! I watched the movie at a private screening, with several really young children (all boys) who weren't supposed to be there. Anxious guests were reassured by my off - hand statement : "Relax.... they won't get it," I stated airily. But guess what? They did! How could they not when every second person in the movie is gay ( real or fake), and every joke is a gay joke? Why there is an entire song devoted to being gay.Every conceivable gay stereotype is featured in the movie, including a limp- wristed, foppish Boman Irani in really bizarre clothes. 'Dostana' is a mish mash of several Hollywood films, including 'Three is Company,' but that is not its only sin. Watch it and discover your own list and favourite moments.
I shall refrain from commenting further since it is unethical to reveal more before the film's commercial release. Is John's butt all that it is cracked up to be? To find out, get to the movie theatre on time.... the butt is right up there as an amuse bouche.... not even an appetiser. Blink and you miss the bulge. Which one?? Awww... come on.... go figure. Jo dikhta hai, woh bikta hai, said Rakhi Sawant. John's butt has crores riding on it.... let's see if the butt delivers impressive returns at the box office.
Just finished nibbling on a delicately flavoured, rose petal sandesh from Sweet Bengal. I use it like a creamy cheese spread over a kadak, jeera seasoned khakra, while enjoying my evening cup of Darjeeling leaf tea. Blissssss!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quantum of Boredom. Bond with the Worst!

Okay, all you Craig\Bond freakos and fans.... throw me out of a burning plane, riddle my body with dem bullets, make me drink oil..... but don't force me to say I liked this dumb film. For starters, I must be the only woman on earth who does not find Daniel Craig hot\sexy\devastating\irresistible. He is a chunky piece of meat.... but no heat. Am I mad? Do I need therapy? Glasses? Several martinis?? Maybe. But this guy leaves me cold. Thanda matlab Daniel Craig. As for the plotless \senseless mayhem that is trying to pass for a Bond classic, even Dame Judi looks bored - who wouldn't in her place? The new Bond babe - sure, she sizzles - literally so. She is half-cooked through most of the film. The Bond era is over. Sorry. Kill me for stating the obvious. I know the figures at the box office are staggering. But if you ask me why, I'd say Bond has become a bad habit. You have to watch the latest Bond, no matter how terrible it is. You know Bond will never die or get seriously injured even if he is nuked. So why watch a movie when you know the ending? And you also know it is always going to be the same ending??Senseless action in Bolivia, a trite plot, banal dialogue and the worst crime of all - no sex. In a James Bond film, for Chrissake!! No glamour either. No romance. Illey. Even the much looked forward to title track and the graphics were forgettable, devoid of the expected oomph. What does that leave? Oh, popcorn at Inox, and the promise of great 'Swati' snacks at the newly opened food court. BTW, the hall was half empty.And because I was so bored, I had the choice of taking a much needed nap or eating. Guess what I picked???

Nobel Nadine

How does one feel spending an evening with a living legend?? Nadine Gordimer wears her greatness lightly (like truly great people must!! And do). Her tiny presence is enough, given her towering reputation. She speaks with the alertness of an inquisitive bird warbling away.... her eyes are alive and watchful.... she doesn't miss a trick..... doesn't mince her words. She is firm and imperious, entirely in charge and on top of life. At 85 she travels the world restlessly, and observes the minutest details of her surroundings. Travelling with her lovely grand daughter Paule (whose sister is named Pascale!!!), Nadine's schedule in India was punishing enough. She was leaving for Kolkata at dawn and then on to Mexico, after meeting several Bong intellectuals , the guv of West Bengal, the press corps. Phew.I watched her eat a small serving of saffron rice with meticulous precision. She wanted to know all about gulab jamuns.... and papdi chaat, naans and parathas. Sprightly and vivacious, she was aware of being Nadine Gordimer - Nobel Laureate - but it did not weigh her down. She must have to process dozens of strangers a day, and force herself to be polite and charming to bores and pests. She does so like a trouper, a seasoned pro, never allowing the hint of a smile to leave her small, weathered, chiselled face. Her words are gracious, measured and queenly. She even flirts!! Discreetly pointing to a young and handsome waiter, she sighed, "Isn't he beautiful?" He was. She'd noticed! Nadine is a babe. A super babe. I want to be like her at 85. Now all I need is a grand daughter....

Thursday, November 6, 2008

a brief goodbye

I am off to Delhi at dawn - aaaargh. Back on sunday. In time to have dinner with an extraordinary woman - Noble Laureate Nadine Gordimer. I am so looking forward to meeting a writer I have long admired. She will be in Mumbai briefly, en route to Kolkata where she is to deliver a keynote address. While in Delhi, I shall attend the Audi event at the German Embassy. I don't know too much about cars, but my husband is a fanatic. My son Aditya will be playing golf at the AUDI TOURNAMENT . And my daughter Arundhati is coming along for the ride. It should be good fun. On saturday night, I will crank up the system and go along with an event that is not the most exciting in my book - but who knows?
On my wish list is a stopover at Bengali Market, where I gorge on the best pakodi chaat on earth ( iced dahi with pomegranate seeds over the imli chutney.... yummmmm). I will also eat fresh gajar ka halwa with dollops of malai. No. I lie. I will watch others eat the halwa and feel virtuous about resisting.I am still in Obama mode - isn't the whole world? Pyaar ke side effects!!!

Hottie or what??

He's is smart. He is cute. He is hot. And he is Obama!! No prizes for guessing that one. I have just finished writing two columns on the guy. I now feel like he's my new best friend! I am sure a lot of other people the world over feel the same. Television creates a false sense of intimacy. It is like Ba or Tulsi from 'Kyunki..'. We all felt like they were family. I wanted to share dhokla and gossip with Tulsi and place my head on Ba's lap.With Obama, my thoughts are less 'pure'. At 47, this guy really has it all. He is almost too good to be true, with his picture perfect life, a photogenic family, and a mind that is so sexy, it turns on men and women equally.Once the world's honeymoon with Obama is over and the real business of actually running America begins for him, I am certain a lot of us will fall out of love with the guy, almost as easily as we had fallen in. But for now, Obama is eye candy at its most irresistible. His easy body language and the power over words ( imagine delivering a victory speech without a single pause or 'ummm', sans notes or a scap of paper) are awesome to say the least. But he is untested in the hot seat and will have to prove himself as an effective leader for the love affair to endure. The magic of Obama is the way he cuts across most barriers - race, colour, age, nationalities. I received rapturous emails from across the world. My German Literary Agent, Dr. Frauke Jung-Lindemann, was uncharacteristically effusive when she praised Obama. My teenage children watched Obama 's live telecast from Grant Hill, in awestruck silence. Friends sent jubilant text messages to celebrate his win! It was unbelievable. I think that is because Obama represented the Impossible Dream. When he said, 'Yes, we can..." we felt it in our bones, and it gave us hope. Unrelated to his vision. We believed in our own potential and dreams, even in hopeless circumstances and situations. He crept into our hearts surreptitiously. Now , the challenge will be to remain there....

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

golmal all the way

D-Day in America, and it certainly looks like a Formula One finish, with Hamilton pipping Massa to the Championship even after not starting in the pole position. I watched the man with the skinny arms and legs ( shame on you, Arnie!) at the polls and thought once again how made for the media the guy is. Compared to Grandpa McCain, Obama exudes pure testosterone, but in the best way. As I write this, three key states are still to kick in with their votes, and the Obama lead is pretty narrow. As an Indian, Obama is not our best best. He has been pretty unambiguous on several touchy issues (Kashmir). However, his naara for CHANGE is exactly what the doctor ordered, and we could do with some ourselves. Instead, what was the desi news focusing on ? What was taking a precedence over everything else tonite? A minister bounced off a flight and then assaulting the manager who refused to let him board when he arrived late. And a 21year-old bratty son of a Goa politician who finally surrendered to the local cops after the 15-year-old German girl he is alleged to have raped, was examined by docs to establish the veracity of her charge.Rohit the Rat, arrived at the cop shop in style (in an official car and with body guards!) while his father insisted the rat was being framed by rivals! A top Army guy, who headed the law wing was indited on charges of corruption. If all this is sounding ominous, well.... it is just that.Ominous.
I am dead beat. And dreading the drive to Mehboob studios tomorrow for an Elle shoot. But I adore the photographer Colston and always enjoy our shoots. The Chaatt puja will slow down traffic still further, but it is the stepped up bandobast that is really causing concern. My Bihari driver painstakingly explained the significance of the puja to me. Before adding it is the politicians who have converted a simple ritual into a national issue.Shambhu has been in Mumbai for fourteen years. He doesn't speak a word of marathi and barely knows any roads besides Marine Drive. But he is a good chap. And would give his life for me. Raj would be lucky to have Shambhu as his chauffeur! Good night guys. We shall wake up to a brand new President of America.... Black or White is more than a Michael Jackson track, right??

Sunday, November 2, 2008

So Un'Fashionable'...

Bhandarkar has done it again. Conned critics and audiences into thinking he has given them the real deal with a film titled (rather obviously!) 'Fashion'. It has its powerful moments and a few searing comments on that crazed world, but it is about as authentic a take on the subject as Rakhi Sawant's silicon implants or Ekta Kapoor's Mahabharata. Fully fake and somewhat faltu. But with Bollywood's present obsession with Gays, this film too spends far too much time on the gays in the catwalk biz than on propelling the story forward. Since this is meant to be an insider track on the subject, I expected something more insightful than a silly kiss-and-tell, in which the real kick lay in trying to guess the identities of the various characters. Is the blond Gay super bitch designer supposed to be Gudda? And is Harsh Chhaya's lisping Gay designer based on Tarun? Or Rocky? Or Vikram? In that case, who is the married Gay designer playing? Awww... it could be any one of the Delhi guys - those closeted queens with photogenic wives. But, if you are not in the know, does the film still work?? No, not at all. There are no less than 11 fashion shows strewn through the movie. Why not watch FTV instead? Better shows, better outfits and genuine style??
On the upside, the performances are first rate, though Kangana HAS BEEN SADLY SHORT CHANGED. HER CHARACTER WAS SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN PRIYANKA'S. But one must hand it to Piggy Chops for accepting a role that demands one hell of a lot from the actor. And she has delivered big time, even if she is badly photographed and poorly styled to pass for a supersmodel.Mugdha was the surprise package - all toothy, leggy charm while delivering gritty performance , especially for a debutante. So...are all models coked out, chain smoking wine guzzling sluts who sleep around to get ahead.... and end up dead after od-ing on substance? Are their lives really this pitiable? Well, Bhandarkar sure thinks so.And maybe he has it almost right.But a movie that runs for three hours certainly needs more than a string of familiar incidents to keep the audience awake.madhur tried to ramp up his image - literally - but the effect was as gauche as his own tux at the Dubai premiere.
Why did I punish myself by watching 'Golmal Returns'? Don't ask. That too after a posh Cartier event featuring the most astounding collection of vintage cars. Monica Bellucci did not show up because her minders warned her about bomb blasts in Mumbai. However, Imran Khan who is accustomed to worse back home, did. And frankly, I find him far cuter. So, who's complaining??