Thursday, April 30, 2009

Votes R us!

The middle finger of my left hand is stained - just like John Abraham's. I still haven't understood why it had to be the middle finger? What's wrong with the index finger? This time, the quality of the indelible ink must have been pretty bad or it was horribly diluted, because the 'dot' became a stream!! It looks exceedingly ugly and the purple has trickled under my nail, where it shall remain for months! But I cast my vote, along with a first time voter - my daughter Anandita, who was both exhilerated and nervous. The entire voting process has been streamlined and people really ought not to crib if they have to wait in long queues - it only shows that democracy is alive and well. Sure, the weather was beastly, and there were no fans ( I had taken my own!), but I enjoyed the hour or so that it took to get to the booth. It was a great opportunity to catch up with people from the neighbourhood and figure out how they were planning to exercise their right to pick the right candidate. My only grouse... the spiffy electronic voting machine was hidden behind a torn up cardboard screen that was unbelievably shabby. Could we not get proper voting booths like they use elsewhere in the world?? Apart from that, I was reassured to see the turnout in our locality ( notorious for its indiffernce and apathy). Of course, it has everything to do with 26\11 - and why not? I voted for change and I hope so did many others. ENOUGH OF THE STATUS QUO.
I'm off to Pune tomorrow morning. The weather will be merciless by day. But what the hell. I love that city. And am looking forward to checking out a couple of new places. Stonewater Grill? My son Aditya will be joining us just for the day. No agenda while in Pune. But no laptop either! My next post will be on sunday. Till then... adieu. Mi yetey... barra ka??

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jago Mumbai, Jago!

Who says, “It’s not cricket…?”

I just love the wicked humour of the mysterious IPL blogger who has the cricket world in an absolute tizzy with his daily behind-the-scenes exposes. Happily self-identified as a ‘fake’, he\she has been spilling all the dirty goings-on behind this dud of an event. It just goes to show nobody and nothing remains a secret in these days of true free expression on the net. Avid followers of the blog insist it is more than an inside job. There are insinuations that it is a sly trick and a clever ploy designed to drive more eyeballs, plus generate garma garam controversy for this thanda tamasha. But reading the posts one definitely gets the idea it is the work of cricket’s very own Deep Throat – a mole with complete access to the players’ off-camera lives, locker room gossip and more. Frankly, the blog is far more entertaining than the action in Durban, and whosoever this spy is, I hope the posts continue throughout the duration of the IPL season. In fact, this person’s account deserves to be instantly published as a book, or at least ,widely syndicated via the print media. But that will never happen. Fat cat advertisers won’t have any of it. With so much money riding on the matches, it is imperative that viewers stay hooked and believe the sanitized version of the proceedings that are routinely fed to fans. Utter rubbish Someone smart and gutsy out there should cash in on the blog’s tremendous popularity and publish it on a daily basis. There is nothing like spice and masala to get the adrenalin going. Cricketers are our biggest stars. Why should they be treated with kid gloves? If movie people surrender all rights to privacy once they get into Bollywood, cricketers too, should accept a fishbowl existence as a part and parcel of their job description. A lively, chatty, sharp and pointed behind-the-scenes column is exactly what is needed to put some dum back into the game. As the ‘fakeiplplayer’ writes , even the tv channel guys are forced to follow the producers’ instructions and only show sections of the stadium which are peopled, while dramatizing the ‘high excitement’ levels on the ground when in reality, that is far from the truth. The attendance has not been all that great, crowds are thin and unenthusiastic. These are familiar tricks of the trade, but gullible viewers are rarely in the know and trustingly gobble up all the contrived images and gushing gup- shup. Most cricket columns are hellishly technical, analytical and boring. You want to scream , “ Relax guys… it’s only a game.”
The Beckhams (Victoria, in particular) smartened up to the commercial potential of living their lives in the public glare, a long time ago. It is entirely because of the way Victoria went about their joint positioning, that Beckham became one of the most recognized human beings alive. That he also forgot he was an ace footballer is the downside of the money-and-fame game. But the Beckhams are still at it – in the process they have become seriously rich and even if David decides to retire tomorrow morning, they know they are made for life and so are their kids. Our ‘Boys’ are a long, long way off from that kind of popularity, but will get there shortly. Sachin’s wax work is the first big step in that direction. If anybody has emerged as the superhero of this IPL, it is Saint Sachin. The anonymous blogger has spared him so far and Sachin’s halo remains untarnished. I hope the naughty blogger’s cover is not blown any time soon. There are enough irate and embarrassed top dogs he has successfully exposed. For non-initiates, it may be a little difficult to decode the various pseudonyms the blogger has created ( Dildo??? Any guesses?). But the pungent writing is enough to keep one panting for more, regardless. Is SRK spending sleepless nights now that so many of his KKR secrets and strategies have been spilled? Has Ganguly hired a hitman to identify and eliminate his tormentor?? Forget the cheerleaders and the ‘new but far-from-improved’skinny Mandira Bedi who has lost a vast fan following along with those kilos and noodle straps. The real action is on this blog - ball by ball, as it were!

I just read the astonishingly candid account of Neera Chopra ( mother of the newly-crowned Miss India-World, Pooja Chopra), in Times- Life and it brought tears to my eyes. What a courageous, proud lady - what an inspiration to women across the board. Neera survived an abusive, nasty marriage to a man who rejected her for not producing a son! She walked out, head held high, with two little baby girls (Pooja was just 20 days old!), no money but enough self- respect to start life afresh. She worked hard and managed to provide two glasses of milk, which she’d leave next to the children, sleeping in a locked room. It is an inspiring and uplifting account of a woman who took on fate, undaunted by adversity and abject hardship. When Pooja needed her first pair of high heels for her modeling career, she chose to earn that money herself via small jobs rather than tax her over burdened mother. And look where both are today - Pooja is rightfully on top of the world. Along with her glowing-with-pride mom. Bravo.
This must be my lucky day... I received not one, not two... but three wonderful invitations to Lit Fests ranging from Kovalam in October, Singapore in June and South Africa in September. The last one promises to be a whole lot more interesting than the IPL, with book readings and interactive sessions at universities across the country. The theme is lyrical, " Words on Water," and there will be several opportunities to meet South African authors. This is terrific, because a writer's life is essentially a lonely one. Unlike other creative fields, a writer 's job does not require 'company' - anything but! It is not collaborative, and there is no group activity to look forward to at the end of a long day of slog. Sometimes I think it is because of its isolationist nature that writers are preferred loners. Their companion is often a bottle. Thank God I have my family to keep me sane\entertained\grounded. But I often wonder whether my writing would have been radically different had I sipped wine all day and let the muse consume me. I'm sure it would!! One of these days I am going to give it a shot - get smashed and write. Maybe I should debut that particular piece in this very space?? Till then , you'll have to endure my cold sober outpourings. Dry Mumbai is an unrecognisable Mumbai - tomorrow we vote! Let's see the turnout. I am very optimistic and expect record numbers. If that happens, Mukul in South Mumbai may not be as khush as Mogambo. And Hasmukh will be proved right! Jago Mumbai, Jago. Vote karo, bhai, vote karo...!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

RAVE interview

Guys, I was actually looking for something else - and found this! I thought it was fun. Hope you'll think so , too.

It has been another wretchedly hot day. I react very badly to the heat and feel like crawling into the nearest refrigerator. My daughter Arundhati skyped me from Paris to ask whether Feroz Khan had died! I must say I was surprised she'd even heard of him. That's how cruel Bollywood\showbiz is. And Feroz had retired into the shadows about the time Arundhati was born. Well... I guess all those rich tributes from his contemporaries must mean something. But it is Fardeen who broke my heart. Whatever his other sins ( remember, he is still battling that old drug charge), Fardeen proved to be a loving and devoted son right till the very end. I'm sure Allah will shower his choicest blessings on the young actor and help him pick up his own derailed career.

Mumbai's bars have run dry from today. This is an old fashioned , pre-election day rule that I find as ludicrous as it is charming! The natives are supposed to stay sober and behave themselves till the voting gets over on the 30th. So... how will Mumbai vote this time? The countdown has begun.Last night on the ndtv discussion, Milind Deora walked in seconds before we went live. Poor guy looked bleary- eyed and drained. He was on auto pilot as he answered Sonia Singh's friendly but firm questions on how Mumbai will vote, post 26\11. For once Vir Sanghvi and I were not on the same page on this one. Vir felt Mumbai had moved on... I feel 26\11 is the single most important issue in this election. What is a city if it isn't safe??

This evening, I stopped by to have chai with Hasmukh, my silversmith at Colaba. Hasmukh is quite a character, and I have known him from the time he was a toddler. I used to buy all my chunky silver trinkets from his father. Trinkets , that are pretty invaluable today - not in monetary terms , but because of how unique they are. Well, I asked Hasmukh about the mood in the market ( he lives a stone's throw away from Nariman House where the young Jewish couple was killed by the terrorists). He answered Hasmukh-style in Gujarati ( which I speak fluently), " Ae vakhtey Milind nu doubtful lagechh." Oops. Though , I personally think Milind will sail through, given all the various 'settings'. Milind did go out of his way to assure me at ndtv's spiffy new studios that Arun Gawli was not his friend , and that he had never asked Gawli to endorse him. " What can I do if he went to the press expressing his support?'' said Milind petulantly.Milind has certainly learnt all the ropes from his canny and experienced elders. Bechara Milind - it's true - what could he do if Mumbai's most notorious gangster went to town declaring his support for him - disown the guy? Distance himself? Deny he knows him? Naah. That's way too amateurish. Milind's a real pro now, remember?Big boys stay mum.


The Book ‘Superstar India’ seems to be probably more personal than any other book you have ever written before. Tell us more about it? What was the inspiration?
Ans It struck me like lightning. I was meant to be writing a novel for Penguin , but at the nth minute, I changed my mind, because this new, exciting idea was exploding out of my head and demanding to get written ! I junked the previous contract and began writing ‘Superstar India ….” like a woman possessed
Would you say the book is in some aspects a reflection of yourself and your journey through life?
Ans Most definitely. It is a parallel story, as much about me as about India. The two are intertwined. There was no other way to write it.

It almost feels like you are drawing similarities between yourself and India. I remarked that you just turned 60, the same age as India. Do you see yourself as a daughter of this nation?
Ans I am very much the daughter of India…I am who I am, for better or worse, because of India.

The title ‘Superstar India’ could be interpreted that you see India as a nation who has over the years evolved into something very talented and celebrated. Would you agree?
Ans India is poised to make a huge impact on the global scene. For too many years India was placed on the back burner by the other superpowers. Well…. India’s time has come, and it is overdue. The book chronicles this dramatic change in perception, but not before pointing out a few harsh realities too!

If you draw these parallels between yourself and the book would that mean that you would see yourself as a Superstar of the Nation as well?
Ans Not at all ! That would be so horribly presumptuous! I am very proud of my country and happy to be just an involved citizen.

It is such an exciting idea to actually turn a book into a music album! Was this a long planned idea or something very spontaneous?
Ans It was a dream!! The idea was mine, I felt a music album would complete the book and close the circle. Music doesn’t always need words…. But sometimes words need music!

How did you choose the artists?
I sought the help of Kaushik Roy, who is a very creative individual. I explained my idea to him and he found the perfect talent in Neal Adhikari. Kaushik was also the person to script and shoot the music video.

I would picture it extremely hard to put a book content into a music album. How did you know that the songs do tell the story? Ans : When I kept listening to the tracks, and dubbing my own lines, it was obvious as to which tracks suited the mood of the specific passages. Instinct is everything!
By which criteria did you select the artists for the album?
Ans The idea was to not use commercial voices but provide a platform to those who rarely get one – our itinerant folk singers, who for generations have carried the tradition forward.

What about the instruments and styles of music?
The Bauls of West Bengal, and the Langas of Rajasthan have magnificent voices…. They are so gifted, and yet so unacknowledged. The ektara can produce the most surprising sounds with a single string!

The songs on the album are very traditional. Is that a reflection of the soul of India?
The songs are timeless….. in that sense, yes, they do represent the soul of India.

You are a writer very popular also abroad. However the album is presented as an album for the soul of India and from the soul of India. Would you say foreign listeners would not really understand the essence of the album?
Ans This is world music at its richest! It is universal in its appeal. Of course, this album will appeal to music lovers in any corner of the globe, because what it is saying is so powerful.

It is very honorable that the entire profit of this album is donated to the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA). Since when are you involved in this association? There are so many charities in India why this one?
Ans I have been working with the CPAA for over 20 years. I value the association and contribute towards this cause in whichever way I can. The proceeds from this album have been earmarked for the treatment of breast cancer.

As a music magazine editor I have to ask you this final question - What is your favorite song, Indian and Western?
Ans That changes every day…. It depends on the mood and situation.

Questions by Managing Editor Julia Holtz

Sunday, April 26, 2009

KJO and S.DE unplugged in GQ


SELL: She’s got India’s most outspoken mouth and she’s not afraid to use it. Best selling author and columnist Shobhaa De talks about why good-looking men are the most boring, why Mumbai socialites make her laugh, and why real men don’t cheat on their wives.

Shobhaa De and I have been bumping into each other at parties and events for over a decade, and when we chat, it’s invariably an energizing conversation. She has a perspective that’s youthful, and is always brilliantly honest and brave. She’s the kind of person you either adore or loathe, but there’s no way you can ignore her. She’s out there with her comments, and has an opinion on everything. I love that about her because people without opinions scare me. It’s also why she’s one of the most feared commentators in the country. She isn’t afraid about taking anyone on, and speaking her mind. The interview took place in my office and ended up being an absorbing discussion about modern marriages in India, Bollywood and society in general. I had interviewed Shobhaa for my television show in the past, but I thought she was a little guarded in front of the camera. At the end of the day, Shobhaa’s domain is the world of print, and the GQ interview format allows us to exist in the space she most thrives in. There’s no question that her piquant personality comes across in this conversation.

Karan Johar: Your opinion on John Abraham’s butt, Shobhaa?
Shobhaa De: I’m waiting to see it in your film [Dostana]. There’s a lot of anticipation. There is a lot riding on his butt, let’s put it that way. And I am sure he knows it, too.
Who else’s butt excites you? Do you think men in India have nice-looking butts?
Are there interesting men in India to start with? We’ll get to their butts later.
You tell me, you’re the authority.
Frankly, the answer is no. In fact, men don’t interest me, generally speaking.
A good conversation stimulates you more?
But it’s hard to come by. And frighteningly good-looking men are generally pretty boring because it’s all about them and how wonderful they are. It’s a kind of narcissism. I’m sure it goes both ways – I’m sure men find that about women as well. But I’ve met a lot of smashing women, really gorgeous women who are not boring, not one-dimensional, not full of themselves. Most good-looking men are all about “Aren’t I the prettiest?”
We associate vanity very strongly with women.
Men are much more vain.
Maybe the ones who are really good-looking stand out much more because they’re rarer.
That only happens for homo sapiens. Whether it’s four-legged creatures or birds, it’s always the male of the species that’s much better-looking because the courtship rituals are very different, and I don’t see why that doesn’t work for us. It should, actually. Men should just be trying that much harder to grab our attention and, in this century, to be able to grab an interesting woman’s attention takes much more than a great-looking butt. So I hope John knows that.
You’re a columnist, an author, an opinion-maker. Have you ever taken off these hats and found out who you really are?
I’ve always known who I am, and I’m all of this. I can’t separate myself and don’t see the need to. It’s like I’ve been marinated in a certain discipline and it’s been mine for over 40 years. I must have emerged from my mother’s womb with a pen in my hand because I’ve always written for self-expression. I found my diaries from when I was 12 and 14 – tiny little plastic diaries – and all the entries are always an opinion. It’s never about, “Oh, that boy didn’t wish me today”, or “I’m crying because my sister pinched my cheeks”.
So not the regular day-to-day girly problems.
Not at all. First of all, the diaries are not girly – the entries are very gender-neutral. Generally it’s an observation, it’s about something I’ve seen on the street or a movie or a person I’ve met . They are acutely observed comments. So it was always there. I don’t think there is any other me. This is it. I cannot be separated from my writing. Don’t wish to be…
Are you saying you were born opinionated?
Yeah, I think my entire family was. Maybe the rest of them don’t get paid for their opinions but when we all get together…
Sounds like a very scary evening.
It’s the best! It’s the most fun because it’s always about bouncing observations, bouncing comments off each other. It’s a very articulate family, and now I see it in my children and that’s getting… well, it’s like there are too many of us with all these opinions going back and forth – but it keeps us on our toes.
Do you sometimes feel compelled to be opinionated about things?
No, never.
Do you let something just pass by without having a thought about it?
Very rarely. Everything registers.

Do you have to deliver an opinion on every occasion?
It’s not that I have to deliver. I do deliver. There’s no compulsion.

But do you get stuck in a loop, because that’s what’s expected of you?
I never perform, I don’t have to. I don’t need to pander. I say what I passionately feel at that moment if I feel like saying it …. or I don’t. In the presence of a much older person I would hold back an opinion because I think it’s very rude to challenge someone who is much older, even if I disagree violently.
Can you be objective?
There is no such thing as complete objectivity. All opinion is subjective by definition. A writer aims for objectivity to the extent that it’s possible. I don’t think absolute objectivity is either possible or desirable.
Sometimes the people you write about are the people you meet on a daily basis. How tough is that?
It’s not tough at all. People know what I stand for. I think over the years I have made it perfectly clear that my space as a columnist is sacred to me and I will not compromise –take it or leave it. If they don’t want to be my friends after that, it’s fine. I will not short change my readers or my credibility to favour a friend. If I’ve been unduly judgmental about or harsh to someone, and if at a later stage I’ve seen a different side to that person or seen quality being delivered, I have never hesitated in setting the record straight. My pen is not for sale!!
There’s so much focus on fashion and couture in the media today, it’s become a kind of mania. What’s your reaction to it?
I think what passes for Western fashion in India is a monumental joke. I think they’ve got it so wrong. It’s pathetically derivative. It’s nothing but borrowed high-street fashion with a bit of zardozi on it, and we grandly call it ‘fusion’. More confusion!
So are you silently laughing on the front row of a fashion show?
I stopped going ! But I’m laughing all the time when I see them in the papers. I was travelling to Delhi yesterday, and next to me was this very chic Japanese lady. We were looking through Mumbai Mirror and the coverage of one of those interchangeable Fashion Weeks. We stared at all these painted-up, Botox-ed, horrifying socialites with bows in their hair. And she said, “Why are these women all wearing teenage clubwear?” An 18-year-old girl clubbing in London or Paris would wear that stuff, not a 40-plus socialite.
Which 40-plus socialites are you talking about?
She was referring to pictures of Queenie Dhody, Malaika Arora and Nandita Mahtani. It was shocking how strangely dressed they were at that event. It may have been the top label du jour, but they did look comical. The exaggerated clown’s make-up, the lenses, the bleached hair, the artificiality of it all, with the clutch being held up in a certain way, so that the photographers can catch the brand. It is acutely embarrassing. It is tragic, and I wonder what happens when some of these perennial party girls go home and actually see themselves without all of that.
Maybe they think they’re looking lovely. Have you ever thought of that?
Of course they think they’re looking lovely. BUT does the rest of the world agree??
So who do you think is genuinely stylish?
You cannot be a stylish person if you’re a label slave. It’s not possible.
You believe that?
Absolutely. The silliest red carpet question is , “ Who are you wearing?”I believe style is about individuality and about having the courage to go against the tide and highlight your own personality, not represent someone else’s version of what they believe a fashionable woman or man should be.
So who is genuinely stylish in this country?
I don’t even like her, but I would say Sonia Gandhi. She has exquisite taste. She gets it right every time. She knows how to dress for the occasion; she knows how to glam up in a way that is completely appropriate for her position. She’s discreet. It’s this whole thing of less is more; we don’t understand that at all. We think more is more.
I’ve read your columns, and I think you genuinely believe that no one in Bollywood really gets their style right, on-screen or off.
They got it right in the Thirties, Forties, Fifties and Sixties. Those brocade cholis with just a hint of cleavage. It was just wonderful, classic diva dressing. The minute the girls got into frocks, it was the end because they can’t carry them off. Even if they turn size zero or minus or whatever, they cannot get it right.
I’m going to list a few names. Give me just one word.
We’re doing rapid fire now? Do I get a hamper at the end of the day?
You get a hug.
I’ll settle for a hamper and a hug.

Okay. I am just going to say the name and you give me your first thought, your general impression. So if I say Katrina Kaif, you would say…
English rose – and as boring.
Sonam Kapoor.
No sex appeal whatsoever.
Deepika Padukone.
Overrated and very average-looking. Any young girl from Brigade Road in Bangalore could give her a run for her money.

Kareena Kapoor.
Hot. She has it. She’s magic on screen. Four generations of talent showing.
Priyanka Chopra.
Very hot. Very intelligent eyes and a body language that is assertive and very today. She’s today’s girl.
Imran Khan.
He needs to trim his eyebrows, to start with. He’s a cutie, but without the mammu factor I don’t know whether he would have catapulted into the Rs 11 crore bracket with just that one film, which was okay. He registered because of the hype, but he could as easily un-register. He’s not the kind of personality that you say, “Oh wow, here’s a talent.” I’m not falling over backwards.
Ranbir Kapoor.
Technically, no looks. He looks goofy but because he’s so confident, so laid back and so easy in front of the camera I think the girls respond to him big time.
So who has impressed you recently in the world of entertainment?
Frankly, after Hrithik Roshan, no one. When he’s on screen, no one else exists.
Your daughter is getting married in December. Do you think there is a faithful man left in this world?
I know I am married to one, and for me that’s good enough. My father told me something which has stayed with me all my married life. He said it’s not a question of temptation. He said it was not that he did not find another woman (apart from my mother) attractive – that’s not possible – but even when he did have the opportunity and his wife would never have known, he believed his commitment to her was more important than whatever he was going to share with a stranger – that defined character… it also defined commitment to marriage. Any relationship outside marriage is not an option. I remind my children - if that is your level of commitment, then get into marriage. Otherwise, forget it.
And in the current scenario, do you think it’s impossible?
I don’t think so at all. I think it’s very possible. I think a lot of young people, particularly my daughter’s age group, have seen too many marriages collapsing around them. I hope and pray that she remains committed to marriage because I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s about believing enough in marriage to say, “OK, this is for me.”
It’s a battle sometimes.
It is. There are always going to be terrible patches, as there are with any close relationship, but I think the C-word is what the new generation needs to rediscover. And if you don’t believe strongly enough you don’t need to marry. In my time, society pressurized girls in particular to marry. It was the norm. No longer.
But you know many people believe that sexual infidelity doesn’t have to be considered infidelity.
What other kind of infidelity is there?
Love. Falling in love outside your marriage.
No. If you’re in love with your partner, then the question of cheating on your partner does not arise, whether it’s sexually, financially or emotionally. To me it’s 100 per cent – it’s all or nothing, and that’s the only way it can be.
And you’re not being over-optimistic believing that?
Perhaps I am.
But I know men who genuinely love their wives and still…
That’s not genuine love.
So you think if you can cheat on your wife sexually, that means that there is something lacking in your relationship?
Definitely. Well, you don’t care enough about that person. You don’t respect that person. The key word is respect. It’s not about being found out or not being found out, it’s about not wanting to do it in the first place.
What about the urge of the moment?
That’s about character. Of course you’re going to be attracted to someone or the other in your life, but what you do with that attraction is what separates the men from the boys.

Okay, say 10 men have the opportunity to cheat. Out of 10, how many wouldn’t take the bait?
Would not? One in ten. I’m being optimistic!

That’s the fidelity ratio?
Yes, it is. But we’re talking about a very elite class.
But it could be rampant in the middle class, the working class…
It’s happening there as well because the day women stepped out of their homes and into the work place the dynamics of family changed in India. After all, men are not having it off with another male colleague….well…. most of the time.
Well, of course they are.
They are, but most of the time I would say it’s with a female colleague. Women did not exist in the work place earlier.
But what’s your opinion of women who hang on with bad marriages because they feel they can’t leave their comfort zone?
I have very little respect for women like that because I think it’s a very selfish thing to do. You and I must know at least 200 women who hang in there because of the perks of being married to who they’re married to, and the comforts they’ve become accustomed to. My sympathy is often with guys who have found true love and want to move on honourably. They want to settle their wives, marry the ‘other woman’ and live the life that they feel they are missing out on.
But they have a sort of guilt hanging over them.
No. There’s a petty little woman at home who says ‘I will not give you a divorce’. Often, There are grown children who are begging their mother, saying, “Come on, you’re just being such a bitch… He’s going to be looking after you and us. It’s not about the money, it’s certainly not about us because we’re OK with dad taking an independent decision on this, so what are you being such a… female dog about?” But that’s how it is. And I think that’s horrible. Spiteful and nasty.
When you’re at a party, watching people mingling, air-kissing, chatting, the wives interested in others’ husbands, the husbands interested in others’ wives, the lovers floating around, gay men in denial, gay men married… This is pretty much the society we’re living in. When you see this happening, what do you think?
Thank God it’s there ! How boring life would be without these colourful creatures. It has never really touched or affected me. This whole nonsense of taking sides. I say I’m on the side of God and my family, and that’s where it begins and ends. I think what’s happening in our society right now is what F Scott Fitzgerald captured in The Great Gatsby. We need someone like him to chronicle this moment. It’s really about too much new money and decadence… and a very low level of moral standards in every aspect of life, whether it’s towards your spouse, your kids, or money or your colleagues or your business associates.
The fantastic thing is that we can stare at these people, go back and have a good laugh.
Or a good cry sometimes…
The two key words are entertainment and indifference to the social scene…?.
I have always been very detached. I’ve been the eternal insider who’s the ultimate outsider, so it’s suited me very well.


Remember guys, you asked for it. I hope it amuses you on a desperately dull and searingly hot sunday. One more joota attack . This time on Manmohan Singh in A'Bad. Sensibly, the P.M. ignored the shoe thrower.... so should we all.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Link to Asia Spa Diva

Frankly speaking, I am both - deeply embarrassed and a little tickled - by this clip. But what the hell.

Oh, the birthday bash turned out to be a total let down!! I reached just as 'God Save the Queen' was ending, and restless natives were straining at the leash to attack the bar. As it turned out, the bar had already run dry, and the booze was sponsored! Worse, The sponsor, Vijay Mallya himself, was running out to make that flight to Bahrain (Formula One) to cheer his drivers. His IPL team (at that very moment) , was playing in Durban, South Africa and getting thrashed. But Vijay was pretty cool on that front. We ran out swiftly ourselves and headed to 'Wink' at President Hotel for a decent drink and some wholesome food. We got both. Chef Anando has really stepped up the blah cuisine at the popular Trattoria. I enjoyed my lamb shank, my husband tucked into a scrumptious duck and our daughter Anandita polished off the Kobe steak. I went to bed staring at the ceiling, thinking of the Queen.

Links to Editor's Verdict

On 4/24/09, Bertha Rodrigues wrote:


Below are the links to three of our full shows of The Editor's Verdict on

The promised Mallika Sarabhai column

Here it is.... not even a few hours in circulation and so much hate mail already! Kadwa sachh??

Gujarat’s Gudiya is dancing into people’s hearts…

I was in Modi-land ( not to be confused with Lego-land) last week, just to check out how ‘vibrant’ Gujarat really is. Narendrabhai did not send me a text message that read ‘Swagatam’. He reserves that for Ratan Tata. However, his presence was everywhere…. and any attempt to engage the otherwise garrulous Amdavaadis in a frank conversation about the man was frustrated… even stonewalled. Narendrabhai has his eyes and ears all over the place and people are plain scared to as much as take his name in vain. It reminded me of the Emergency during which even the swaggering netas of Delhi had turned into mice, and would refuse to utter Sanjay Gandhi’s name without lowering their voices and looking furtively over their shoulders. It was no surprise then that the two bhais ( not the Dubai variety), who had come to the airport to fetch me, giggled like nervous schoolgirls when I asked them their reaction to Modi’s ‘Budhiya-Gudiya’ remarks. They looked at each other uncertainly, and answered together, “ It is okay…nothing wrong.” The driver of the car added his two bits’ worth and shook his head from side to side parroting, “ Absolutely nothing wrong…”
I was scheduled to meet the local Gudiya – Mallika Sarabhai, the next morning, and trek to some distant village to watch the Natrani in action. My minders were scornful, “ Why waste your time? Nobody else stands a chance in Gujarat. Only BJP .” I rang Mallika at around 10pm to confirm our programme for the next day. She sounded her usual, cheerful self, though a bit exhausted. The stillness of the night combined with soaring temperatures (44 degrees and climbing), accounted for the strain in her voice. “ So… how’s it going?” I asked, “ How’s Amma?” I have always adored Mallika’s incredible mother, Mrinalini, who is well into her nineties and still very much a babe. “ It’s going great! Amma has only been wearing my colours – purple, red and white, ever since I announced my candidacy,” Mallika confided with an indulgent laugh. That’s my girl. Her entire family is engaged in the “ Vote for Mallika’ effort. Her daughter Anahita handles internet marketing, her son Revanta designs the posters, mailers and graphics, while her “ very, very ex” (as she put it), Bipin bhai, former husband and current business partner, has taken over the logistics department of her colourful campaign.
Mallika tells me with a wry laugh that the village of Palodia, where we are to meet, is not all that far from the city (around 40 kms ), but has been so horribly neglected by successive governments, that the last politician to be seen alive there by village elders was Mahatma Gandhi!! This I had to see. Once my SUV hit the road to Gandhinagar, I found myself thinking, ‘Must hand it to Modi…. this is perhaps the best road I’ve ever been driven on in India.” My over-enthu driver ( a real Modi chamcha), kept singing the man’s praises and giving him credit for the stupidest signs of ‘progress’ along the route. But the minute we slid off that silken road and onto the dirt track leading to Palodia, the story changed dramatically. It was pathetic and embarrassing to see such backwardness and abject poverty – nothing but nothing had changed for those desperately poor people in 62 years. Modi is the richman’s leader – all the sethlog in Gujarat love and support him. He has made them richer and fatter. Their lives are certainly very ‘vibrant’ in Modi’s zamana.But the rural, wretchedly poor, remain where they’ve always been – in the gutter. There wasn’t a nullah in sight in Palodia, and the stench of human and animal waste overwhelmed the senses enough to make one recoil and retch. Mallika didn’t seem to be affected by the filth, as she briskly went from one hut to the next, removing her mojris before entering the homes of toothless crones sitting around listlessly in the fetid heat. A lone drummer preceded the rag tag army of volunteers working tirelessly for their candidate. Mallika spoke to the women in their dialect and made no grandiose promises. She assured them that the least she could (and would) do to improve their miserable lives was to provide a nullah and safe drinking water. They stared at her impassively…kids and young brides giggled when she pointed to her symbol ( a harmonium, appropriately enough).Mallika urged them to come out and vote on the 30th. They giggled some more. Later, I asked them if they’d heard of L.K.Advani – Mallika’s adversary. Blank. Narendra Modi? Blank again. Perhaps, this ‘gudiya’ stood a chance, after all?? They had met her in the flesh. At least she wasn’t the ghost who walks. I asked Mallika whether she really believed she could defeat the mighty man. “ Why not? My constituency extends over 90 square kms after delimitation. It is huge. There are 16 lakh registered voters. I plan to cover every inch of the territory and convince people about my ability to deliver. And to do so without bribing anybody with mangalsutras and money, as Advani’s men have done. I have declared that I spent 3 lakhs on my campaign so far. The others claimed they’d spent 50,000!!” Mallika is a feisty woman. This Gujju Guidiya is determined to put up a fierce fight, harnessing all her resources along the way. With her business management degree ( a doctorate , too) and grass roots level activism via street plays, she is nobody’s toy. Modi’s followers had dubbed her “ a whore of the Muslims’, post-Godhra, and have been baying for her blood since. The richie rich in Ahemedabad ( Modi’s loyal serfs) hate her guts and shun her socially. The outcaste status rather suits Mallika. At 54, she is an extremely attractive woman, capable of reducing grown men to mush in her formidable presence. Articulate, arrogant and argumentative, she is aware of her privileged position and is prepared to pay the price for other people’s prejudice. Taking on Advani is her biggest gamble yet. She knows that if she pulls it off ( miracle of miracles), she will be creating history. She has done her sums and is counting on the 10% swing to scrape past the man whose last ditch efforts to woo his constituency may see his long cherished dream of becoming p.m. finally come true. Political pundits see that as a given and insist Mallika will lose her deposit. But I happen to like the tale of Goliath. And I hate masks. Mallika’ s supporters don’t wear masks. This is a big plus in her favour – there is nothing to hide.Even if she does lose her deposit, I get the feeling she will go back to Palodia and give them the promised nullah. If she indeed does do that, she will have won yet another diehard fan – me! I for one will take her even more seriously… and like amma, wear red, purple and white to let her know I love her.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pre-summer madness...

Believe it or not, but tonight I shall be raising a toast to the Queen of England. I love the old biddy, especially on those occasions when she puts the likes of el crudo Berloscuni in his place ("Why is that man shouting so much?").It is Elizabeth's birthday today, and I shall be joining local Brits and other invitees in wishing her a long, healthy life. I really enjoy Vickie Treadil, the Deputy High Commissioner, who is the host this evening. She is a buxom, feisty lady with a rollicking sense of humour. Completely my kind of woman. I'm guessing the cuisine won't be Brit (spare us!). But if it is, I shall promptly rush home for some 'shevgyachhya shenga' (drumsticks). They are in season right now, and I can polish off an entire pateli. Last night, at my daughter Avantikka's home, she served fresh, green kaajus ( unripe cashew nuts), lightly boiled and with a sprinkling of lemon juice with red chilly powder. The marriage of this sensuous snack with a Tiger Hill sauvignon blanc cannot be described adequately - it has to be savoured. Some eccentric combos work, some don't. Like the kokum wine I sampled at my neighbour Amrish Arora's soiree at 'Flamboyante', his charming restaurant at the World Trade Centre. Eric Lobo is a star bartender, but this one concoction will take a while to catch on. I told Eric kokum would go better with white spirits. A kokum martini (kokumtini?) would be perfect in this beastly weather. Since I don't touch spirits I shall have to take an expert's word on this..
Earlier, I nearly ran out of the Four Season's in sheer fright at the sight of over 50 terrifyingly chic ladies tucking into anti pasti like size zero did not exist. It was a brunch hosted by Harper's Bazaar, which has made a quiet but impressive debut into the overcrowded desi fashion market. I didn't stay long enough to sample the sea bass - my stomach was full gorging on all the gossipy tidbits doing the rounds.
Call this Pre-Summer Madness - I am feeling light headed and reckless. But in a positive way. My stint on ndtv is enjoyable, especially since there are at least two hot air balloons on every show that I love pricking. The next round starts on monday... meanwhile, am frantically searching through my files to locate a piece I had written for Elle Decor's current issue. It is a page devoted to writers and what they think of home. If I find it, I'd love to share it with you. Also, do let me know if you' re interested in reading an interview conducted by Karan Johar with me for GQ three months ago. And if you'd like to view a short clip of the Spa Diva function . I hate to foist stuff on you guys, so remember, your feedback is key! Achha.. toh hum chaltey hai..

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Links.. and more links
Guys, this is for those of you who read french, and may be aware of Maryse Wolinski's books. She was in Mumbai last month, and we met over tea at my favourite neighbourhood cafe - Moshe's. I was enchanted by her - so tiny, fragile, feminine. Like a delicate portrait from an earlier century. And yet, so totally 'today' in her sharp intellect and outlook. I half-read the post ( my french is kuchcha and at schoolgirl level), but was most flattered. My French agent sent me the link and he seemed awfully pleased by what Maryse had written. He, of course, has a vested interest, since one of my books will be published in France soon.... and every bit of publicity counts in that tough and hard-to-please market.

The Nikki Bedi interview crackled and sparkled. She hosts a daily show on the Asia network of the BBC, and has a huge following. Nikki is a good interviewer - she does her homework thoroughly, asks relevant questions and allows the interviewee to complete answers without irritating interruptions. I shall post the link as soon as the interview is aired (aired? broadcast? help!). I shall also post another link - oh God - are you already?? Just say so... in case you are. But remember.... some of you do ask for these links. Okay.... this one is related to one of the functions I'd gone to Delhi for a couple of weeks ago. Incredibly enough, I'd won the Asia Spa Diva award!! Don't ask. I am far from being a spa person. But, like Parineeta Sethi, the lady who owns and runs a bouquet of niche publications, told me disarmingly, I represent 'wellness' in every sense of the term! COOL.

That's enough bragging for one dy. I have just finished my ultra short coffee-and-biscotti break. As a reward for finishing a 1,500 word piece for a weekend paper. And am ready to say 'Bonjour' to Ursulla Gautier from La Nouvelle Observateur, whose interview is scheduled for later this afternoon. Till tomorrow... au revoir.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm no prude.... but

This is the column that was published by The Week. I don't need to elaborate. It pretty much says it all. It's going to be a busy tuesday. I have a lady called Anne Cunnigham , a radio producer with the BBC, coming in at 5pm to set up an interview with Nikki Bedi (Kabir Bedi's ex). I have been on Nikki's shows before and enjoyed her sparkling style. I am sure we'll make a terrific show together!! Those of you who want to catch Editor's Verdict will be able to do so by logging on to the ndtv site. I am not sure whether or not I'll be on tonight. But the show is worth a dekho regardless.

************************************************************************************************************* Unbutton your passion

I am guessing Akshay Kumar was following a brief – for a big, fat fee, of course. I am guessing he was wearing his briefs when he followed the brief. I have stared and stared… but haven’t been able to tell . Like me, thousands of curious viewers must have scrutinised the actor’s crotch closely to figure out what lies beneath… if anything. It brought back memories of an ancient Calvin Klein ad for jeans . Yes, the same one that featured a bare torsoed Brooke Shields declaring wickedly, “ Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.” Now, with Akshay’s Fashion Week act being hauled over the coals in court, let us just say the man has more brawn than brain, or else he would have figured out the consequences of getting his poor wife to unbutton him in public. We live in strange times. Women in Bangalore are assaulted for displaying their bare arms and wearing jeans. Imagine then, a popular hunky actor thrusting his pelvis into his wife’s face and requesting the blushing lady to do what she may or may not do even in the privacy of their own bedroom. This is where discretion and good sense often fail our organizers. Clearly, it was a planned part of Akshay’s ramp strut for Levi’s Jeans – he is the brand ambassador of the product. I know the entire campaign is based on the ‘unbuttoning’ story. Great. So far, so cool. But to perform this cheesy number on the catwalk was definitely pushing it. I am no prude. I am all for freedom of expression etc . etc. But this is plain silly. And all the people involved , ought to have known better than to go along with the script, knowing the media would gobble up the tantalizing visual, and replay it a million times over.Which is exactly what happened.
Now what? Akshay’s wife has made her court appearance. Paid a fine. She has been subjected to all kinds of jibes and embarrassed by the excessive publicity. The clip is still being run across channels. Just the repeat value itself has rendered it pornographic. Viewed in isolation, it may appear innocuous and in- offensive – big deal, we endure much more garbage on various channels that specialize in such exposes. But what has actually triggered such a strong reaction against Akshay’s naughty behaviour is the fear that young people across campuses will mimic the movie star and ask girlfriends to unbutton them in the canteen. Hey Bhagwan!! How many kids will Muthalik’s men beat up if that really happens??Movie stars have it good ninety per cent of the time. But when they get it bad, it’s really terrible. I am sure Akshay thinks he did absolutely nothing objectionable – and he may be justified in believing that. The argument being – it’s a part of the entire ad strategy. Nobody objected to the print ads which were equally risqué and suggestive. So why the fuss over a small gimmick during fashion week? Besides, the lady who obliged happens to be his legally wedded wife, not some random chick in the front row. That is correct. Unfortunately, these sort of gimmicks have a nasty way of back firing sometimes. Perhaps this little disaster will soon be forgotten.But I doubt it. There was something lewd and disturbing about the entire episode. It appeared manipulative and exceedingly calculated. The minute I saw the clip, I said to myself, “ Oh no…. this guy has had it.” It was not a wardrobe malfunction, but something worse – it was a deliberately sexualized performance designed to generate shock. Well , the shock waves continue to reveberate throughout India as the Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi figures out how to wiggle out of this sticky situation. A real stud does not have to stoop to such cheap tricks. And a real gentleman never exploits his wife’s goodness by subjecting her to public humiliation. Par kaun sikhayega? Our movie stars love to learn their lessons the hard way. Akshay’s Free Willy stunt may turn out to be his most expensive one to date.Go pay for it,buddy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lift Kara De...

This was published in Bombay Times today. Pardon my childish enthusiasm ( let's call it the Anil Kapoor Syndrome ), but starting tonight, you can catch me on Editor's Verdict (ndtv), most weekday nights between 8. 30pm to 9pm. The others on the panel are Vir Sanghvi, Chandan Mitra, Shekhar Gupta and N. Ram. I am in exalted company!It is Sonia Singh's show, and if today's debut is anything to go by, this is going to sizzle. I am planning to have great fun. The only downside is that the studios are at Worli Naka, and it takes me nearly an hour to get there. But, I'd say it's well worth the trek. Today's topic was about Coalitions, and whether voters are sick and tired of these 'arrangements'. My view was that these marriages of convenience would be slightly more acceptable if the voter was in the know about the existence of a pre-nup!!

The shocker of the day was the 'Slumdog....' child actor being 'sold' by her father to a Brit journo posing as a Saudi sheikh. Little Rubaina, all of nine years of age is already a prime cut in the meat market. How very tragic. Of course, Boyle is no longer morally or financially responsible for these kids... even so, one can't help but wonder whether or not they have been used as so much tissue paper - chucked into the nearest dustbin once their use was over.

Adnan ko zaroor lift kara de…

Never a dull moment in the entertainment world – thank God! Someone or the other is always getting beaten up and these days it’s cat fights that rule. The latest one involves two feisty women punching and scratching each other, pulling hair – and get this – one of the women baring her breasts to taunt the other one ( a new twist to the old ‘mine is bigger than yours’ game played by men). The man these ladies are battling over is not the standard filmi stud ( unless we are missing something?), but a once portly singer from Pakistan who shot to fame with several catchy hits including ‘Lift kara de.’ So, what exactly is going on? And why is their midnight slugfest considered important enough to make it to the front page of a well respected national daily? Don’t ask. The details are pretty sketchy, but from all accounts, Adnan Sami’s estranged wife Sabah came home late one night to find Pooja Bedi on the couch, with Adnan’s head resting dangerously close to her lap. This is the official version. What followed sounds straight out of a comic strip. But it did result in all parties filing police complaints and trading charges. Lagta hai, the whole fracas is actually over money and property. Love has very little to do with the drama. But what continues to fascinate me is the power Adnan seems to have over a series of lovely, sexy, foxy ladies from assorted continents. It isn’t just about his wealth (there are far richer men in Bollywood). It isn’t about his girth ( there are far fatter men in showbiz). It isn’t about his voice ( there are far better singers around). So… what is his special charm ? Why do beautiful, buxom ladies fall for him, marry him, divorce him… and remarry him?? Adnanbhai, aapke strike rate ki raaz kya hai??

South Mumbai votes ten days from now. This is the first election in which the internet has played such a dominant role. Every single day my inbox is flooded with mailers that bitch out the candidates using language that is most unparliamentary , to put it mildly. The senders have clearly done their homework and their foot soldiers sure have worked overtime to dig out the dirt on rivals. Why not? It’s war! Nobody is talking about issues that need to be tackled… the only ‘issue’ being discussed is who’ll win and at what cost? However, just the fact that such lively debates are raging in the first place makes one believe people in South Mumbai have finally woken up to their responsibilities and are keen to actively participate in the political process which used to leave them soooooo cold earlier . In fact, it is rather amusing to eavesdrop society conversations these days, since all those amazing ladies with amazing clothes and amazing make up and amazing everything, are discussing the elections with so much earnestness. Names that get tossed around (“Tony”, “ Milind” , “Priya” or “Meera”), sometimes confuse the unwary – are we discussing potential M.P.s or the guest list for the next champagne soiree? Nobody mentions Rawle or Nandgaonkar. Cho sad!
Qasab has already been branded a ‘Cutie’ after his court appearance. His every grin and grimace was gleefully noted by mediawallas who are well on their way to making him another twisted celebrity. It happened with Abu Salem. It is happening with Qasab. And it is not good. In fact, it is disgusting and dangerous. Qasab’s cockiness in court is nothing but a reflection of the level of indoctrination he has undergone. Today, he has demanded newspapers. Tomorrow, he may demand more. Saddan Hussein’s trial for whatever it’s worth, was clinical, swift and perfectly conducted given the nature of his crimes. Can we not expect and demand the same for this devil who cold bloodedly killed so many of our people and remains remorseless to this day?? Can the media show better sense, not to mention sensitivity? There are still patients in our public hospitals being treated for injuries received during the bloody carnage – some may never walk, breathe or see normally ever again. And we want to fawn over their tormentor??

Sunday, April 19, 2009

No Englis, pliz....

This appeared today, and has generated quite a buzz. I received a really flattering text message on the column from someone in Bhubaneshwar and I can tell you, it felt good. As I told those eager beavers at the IIM-A last afternoon, for a writer there is no greater reward than a reader appreciating something. Oh, I bet you want to know whether or not my chaas and dhokla date with Modi happened. It didn't. Worse, no chhas, no dhokla. The dinner I was invited to was hostd by a couple keen on breaking the traditional rules of Gujju cuisine ( which I so love - the cuisine, not the rules). Instead of dhokla, guests were treated to cheese toasts and pizzas. But mercifully, only as starters. The rest of the banquet was delicious but a little too spicey for me. The sharpness of the meal was somewhat sweetened by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's refined conversation and impeccable manners. There was a particularly boorish bureaucrat at our table whose every second sentence began, " When I was at Shah Rukh Khan's house in Mumbai..." Khansaab looked at me and sighed deeply. That was the extent of his demonstrating his disinterest. I was ruder and blunter.

Yes, I met Mallika. We bonded big time as we drove back to Ahemedabad together after visiting two villages in the Kalol district, more than 40kms from the city. I'll be writing a full account in my next column. Let me just say Mallika did not disappoint. And I am proud of her... regardless of the outcome. She was upbeat and full of beans as she went from jhopdi to jhopdi making her pitch to those simple folk who have been taken for a ride for 62 years by various political parties. Please be patient.... I shall tell all. But break ke baad.

A foolish confession: I missed my flight. Yes. Again. I had given myself a clear one-and-a-half hours to get to the airport. Guess what?? It's no longer enough. By the time i got on to the next much later flight, I was half asleep on arrival at A'Bad. But my local minders were merciless! They gave me all of 10 minutes to change and jump into a waiting car.... and on to the cheese toast dinner.At 40 degrees centigrade and still climbing, i though I'd faint. But tra la la, mine hosts had arranged a 'Mist Fan' (end of my hair, but at least i wasn't dying of dehydration). A 'mist fan' is a fantastic contraption which sprays a fine mist that keeps drenching those at close range but otherwise cools down the space most effectively. I was tempted to borrow Khansaab's dupatta (it was NOT a shawl), but by then my hair was stringy and hanging in wet rat tails anyway.

I met my Gujarati translator, Sonalben at the talk, and was delighted to hear my books will soon be published in Modi's state. On the way back to Mumbai, I wasn't taking any chances. My flight was still three hours away. Sonal suggested a quick trip to 'Bandhej' - surely one of the chicest stores in India?? How could I resist? After gasping at the sight of those exquisite bandhnis and leheriyas, I reluctantly dragged myself out of the store and just about made the flight. Hurrah!


“ No Englis, pliz…. we are mulayam.”

Wah, Mulayam, wah! No English. No computers - no problem.Just goondagiri, illiteracy,ignorance and netagiri. A winning formula indeed for India in the 21st century.Sometimes, one feels enough jootas haven’t been hurled yet.Jayalalithaa said, “ A good politician rules out nothing.” What about a bad politician? The world’s eyes are on us right now. These elections are likely to be the most closely watched ones in the country’s history. So far, the scenario looks pretty depressing and grim - national leaders busy taking cheap pot shots at one another ( like school-going brats fighting over the Headboy position ). Narendra Modi’s sexist and inane ‘Budhiya\Gudiya’ comments. Political murders, naxal attacks and shameful alignments. There’s a bloody maha yudh going on. But hey… this is democracy at its vibrant best. That’s the upside. Anybody and everybody is welcome to take a crack at winning a seat – from hard- core gangsters to whiz- kid bankers. It sounds incredible, but at the end of the bhaagam bhaag, the Indian voter invariably manages to assert himself\herself and get the fundas right. That in itself is nothing short of a miracle.
Manmohan Singh has referred to Independent candidates as ‘Spoilers’, much to the horror of the chi chi crowd. The fact that he thought it important to raise the issue at all, says something. And that something has to do with a ‘C-word’ called ‘Class’. This election was supposed to be about Caste and little else. It suddenly looks like Class has become the new Caste! Everybody is having a go at anybody who is educated, speaks English and lives the good life– a city slicker, in other words. I don’t get it. We are more comfortable with smugglers, robbers, murderers and assorted charge sheeters. We can deal with goons, gamblers, drunkards and other equally charming individuals. But the minute someone armed with a degree walks into the picture, we treat that person as a pariah, an outcaste. If that person happens to be a woman, God help her – she is dubbed a ‘memsaab’, and her privileged background is the first strike against her.Professional qualifications become disqualifications – an Ophthalmic doctor from Mumbai has been rubbished as a ‘socialite’ since she lives in a posh locality. Ditto for the banker who wears pearls. There is a clumsy attempt to equate middle class affluence to self-indulgence and frivolity. Why pigeon hole politicians by providing ‘uniforms’ based on traditional clichés – khadi kurtas for men, handloom sarees for women?Why damn people who don’t conform to this pre-determined ‘mould’ and defy those dated dress codes ?Why accuse them of being disconnected from the masses. “ Elitist’ is the new gaali, the most convenient putdown. In order to be taken seriously, one only has to look and play the part - forget objectives or issues.It’s the same as getting Sanjay Dutt to parrot ‘Gandhigiri’ dialogues from his hit film and pass them off as his personal ideology. It is all about acting-shackting and manipulative projection.Or so the self-styled experts think.
But the Indian voter (whether from Banjara Hills or Malabar Hill or from the back of the beyond in Chhattisgarh) is much smarter than that, as has been proved in our fourteen previous general elections. Underestimating the intelligence of the common man has been many a neta’s undoing. Mulayam Singh had to beat a hasty retreat from his ‘ No Englis, pliz’ position.And nobody even in his own state was buying his ‘back to roots’ retrogressive suggestions. Keeping the rural poor without electricity is a trick that no longer works. Bijlee is their birthright and they shall have it. Computers have transformed their lives with instant money transfers and other electronic banking facilities. Try telling them to go back to living in the trees and scrounging for berries.Mass media, Bollywood in particular , has had such a permanent and powerful influence on voters across the board that today, everyone wants to live the gaudy, technicolour dream. There are countless, restless hopefuls out there who continue to believe in the upbeat India story and are prepared to fight for it aggressively. They came down from the caves years ago. Nobody can push them back in there again. Not even Mayawati. Singh may well become King again ( a ‘weak’ one, Mr. Advani?), which is exactly what corporate India wants. But if that happens, our man will have to deal with the ‘spoilers’ in our midst - those rare islands of decency, integrity,sanity, honesty – and yes – naivite. This motley crowd of individuals has given us hope that in an ocean of corruption ( the real and only curse in India), they chose to fight on, knowing the odds are stacked against them. Let a thousand ‘spoilers’ bloom!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Boley toh...konfusion ho gayaa

I watched Varun Gandhi's Jailhouse Rock, and asked myself, " Yeh kya bakwas hai, boss?" The guy gave the Black Panther clenched fist salute before clambering into a waiting SUV. Perhaps he thought it was a pretty cool symbol of defiance, but get real, honey. Amrika has a Black President now. Malcolm X?? Who dat? What dat? Besides, behenji certainly won't get the significance of that dramatic gesture, so what's the point? She was quick to respond, and didn't mince her words when she ticked him off and made it clear exactly how she'd deal with him if he tried to act funny in future. You definitely don't want to mess with this mama.
Qasab has got a new lawyer to defend him, and Abbas Kazmi has started on a controversial note by asking, " Is Qasab Pakistani?" Huh? What's that supposed to mean in basic lingo?? Granted the cops have messed up on the dna samples (tch. tch.) sent across the border. But for Kazmi to question the terrorist's nationality? Boley toh... aapun ko kuch golmaal ka doubt hai.
I leave for Ahemedabad in a couple of hours - minus laptop. Am hoping to go to Gandhinagar tomorrow morning avec Mallika , if our respective mad schedules can be co-ordinated. Would love to drink Chhaas with Narendrabhai... but I doubt he'd find that an enjoyable experience. All the other bhais and bens I'm likely to meet will no doubt extoll the virtues of their state and sing Modi's praises. I'll concentrate on the aamras-puri and stay chhup. But hey... it may turn out to be an entirely different story when I'm 'shaping those young minds.' Watch out.
The best ad on idiot box features Aamir Khan as an old sardar. It is for TATA SKY, and is brilliantly scripted. Amir is unrecognisable, which is the best part - that's how authentic his get up and portrayal are. But it is his assal Punjabi accent that takes the cake, croissants, macaroons and everything else in the pastry shop.Much as Aamir annoys me on certain levels, he is by far the most gifted actor in India today. Digest that, you guys.
The IPL starts this afternoon - but I don't sense the slightest excitement . It is distant for anyone to connect with a ball-by-ball tempo. And so far, none of the bars and restaurants in Mumbai has come up with anything unique to get the customers in. Talking of entertainment, Yves Carcelle, the top honcho of LVMH was in town and the Taj had organised a divine soiree for the Emperor of Luxury. The number of invitees was just right, and the decor was a stroke of artistic inspiration, nothing short of genius - the magnificent Crystal Room was divided up into sections with ceiling-to-floor screens of fragrant summer blossoms - mogra and tiger lillies. The ambience itself was so heady, who needed Moet?? Aaah... ummm.... some of us did. Next week, the legendary chef Gordon Ramsay will be in residence, and I shall reveal all after I've sampled his cuisine. Till sunday - aavjo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shubho Nobo Borsho

Puzzled?? Not if you are Bong. It took me years to get my tongue around those words. Even now I trip over them if I am not careful. Today marks a brand 'New Year' for several communities in India, and Spring is definitely in the air. But it is only the Bongs who send long, poetic text messages to greet friends on this special day. Like the one I received at dawn from my khaas bondhu in Kolkata, the darling Jayabrato Chatterjee - a real bhadralok if I've ever met one, and a loving friend. He wrote , " It takes the same amount of time of time to pluck a flower for worship as it does to explode a bomb to destroy." This was but a small part of his greeting!! I thought to myself, only sensitive Bongs can combine such thoughts with an occasion that heralds new beginnings. I love Jayabrato and his family. We go back years and years, and always have the best time when we meet, whether in Mumbai or Kolkata.
I am off to Ahemedabad on friday. Not sure how exactly I am supposed to shape those young minds, but I shall do my best. The lecture is at the IIM -A, and the divine Amjad Ali Khan will be addressing the students right before I do. That's a tough act to follow! I'm hoping to catch Mallika Sarabhai during my short stay in her city. I was appalled to hear Manmohan Singh advising voters to shun independent candidates since they'll eat into the votes of the other, party -affiliated persons. Mumbai seems to have jerked itself out of its customary stupor to some extent this time - people actually show up at the 'Meet the Candidate' gatherings in various snob localities. This is an excellent new development and gives me hope that there will be a good turnout on 30th April. Meanwhile, Amma ( Jayalalithaa) has said calmly and cleverly, " A good politician rules out nothing." Looks like Behenji (Mayawati) will need to hire a new speech writer now!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blood on the ballot

I was being interviewed by the BBC (Mihir Bose) this afternoon. It was one of 'those' interviews. The Empire taking a look at restless natives as they get ready to go to the polls. Mihir was in full flow. He is articulate and good at what he does - but even a senior journo like him, has to follow a script. So, the questions asked were direct and obvious, snide and supercilious. No issues. Journos have a job to do. But India getting trashed is not a story I care to be a party to. Never mind what I may say and feel privately. But why let the world hear the worst about us, when there is a more positive story to tell?? There is much to be proud of? I concentrated on talking about India's many achievements, since I was pretty sure the others interviewed had happily confirmed the worst theories about the country. I bristled at the 'dirty Indians' question the most. I think th French, for example ,are much dirtier - they rarely bathe! Or brush their teeth. Even the poorest of the poor in our villages use neem sticks (far more hygienic than toothbrushes) to clean their teeth. And bathe daily by the roadside or the village well. If ablutions are performed in public it is only because there are no toilets provided by the government. Why blame them??
Mihir is an excellent sports journalist, and his focus will be on the IPL matches starting over the weekend. All the glam owners are with their teams in South Africa. Srk has more or less eaten his words vis-a- vis Gavaskar, and declared Sunny as his 'idol'. That spat is effectively over. Nafisa Ali has 'forgiven' the sexist remarks made by some BSP goon, and ended the controversy by saying he is like her 'CHHOTA BHAI'. Hello???
One more political murder, this time a shooting incident, after yesterday's hanging. Arnab Goswami looked mighty agitated as he went into overdrive with the 'Blood on the ballot' theme. Stick around. This is just the beginning. Aagey aagey dekho.... hota hai kya!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lafdas, lafdas everywhere....

Guys, this appeared in Bombay Times today. I have been feeling uncharacteristically lethargic. Let's blame it on the heat. Or maybe I am just missing my daughter Arundhati desperately. I've been watching the news on television but not really connecting. It all sounds depressingly phoney - sanctimonious politicians recycling tired thoughts. The ads are worse. The one I find very offensive shows a little 'chasmis' girl asking her father, " Dad, am I pretty?" He assures her she is. Cut to a classroom where she is being royally ignored - till her Dad drives up in a brand new car, and the little girl's low self- esteem soars skywards!! What are we saying through such communication to our children??? Talk about pushing blatant materialism in these recessionary times. Just awful.

( White ) Ants in my pants….!!

Hritik Roshan deserves an international award for originality! Wow!!What an excuse – white ants. Termites! What’s next? Cockroaches and lizards?? Whether or not his marriage is on the rocks, let’s hand it to him for coming up with an amazing explanation as to why his wife and kids had moved out – but not exactly moved on. Explained the couple, “ Our flat needed treatment for white ants.” So urgent was this treatment that nobody bothered to inform the man of the house, who happened to be overseas and was forced to rush back from a foreign location to deal with the emergency– the ants. The crisis was so critical that he and his worried wife spent the entire night talking about it. By the next morning, the problem had been amicably resolved ( the ants must have co-operated), for the couple to issue a joint statement and claim they were enjoying a ‘picnic’ with the kids and in-laws. The ants were clearly not invited to this happy event. As always, they also had a ‘good laugh’ over the nasty rumours and found them ‘ most funny’ ( zero originality ,here). The family is very much together, and blissfully happy. So there!
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of stardom is the pact you make with the devil (media!). Privacy goes out of the window once you opt for showbiz, and every gesture is scrutinized, like it or not. Deal with it, guys. This is the transaction you make when you voluntarily jump into the fishing bowl. It is no use claiming later that this wasn’t what you’d bargained for. The perverse logic of star arguments is that they want the media to play ball when it suits them and on their terms. Right now, with the on-going multiplex crisis, the main players will make themselves readily available to presswallas and pose happily for cosy pictures (Srk- Aamir), quite forgetting old animosities. Similarly, a complete non-entity called Amrita Arora will provide the most intimate details of her wedding, to friends in the media – and then do a 360 degree turnaround if things go wrong later. Hritik has always been a pretty smart player, staying aloof and doing his thing quietly, while working hard at the ‘perfect family man’ image. Well…. things happen. They can happen to anyone. But nobody is interested in what happens to Mr. and Mrs. Joshi’s marriage. But everybody wants to know what wrecks a celeb –shaadi. Look at the trouble Brad Pitt is in!! I mean, come on…. it’s Brad Pitt. And Jolie is giving the man absolute hell for a whole lot of misdemeanours – like giving the nanny a back massage, and more recently, setting up a lunch date with his ex. Pitt actually gets slapped around and yelled at by Jolie! All this is reported in vivid detail by world media. That’s a star’s life – take it or leave it. Maybe Pitt should call Roshan and get a few tips from him. From white ants to white lies – it’s all a part of the game.

‘Mera Joota Hai Japani…” could soon become the favourite song of protestors across India. There will be many more shoes getting hurled at netas as D-Day draws near. We are a nation of copy cats. Worse, a lot of media mad people have realized the easiest way to make it on national television is to indulge in an outrageous act. Chappal throwing is not new to our culture. Parliamentarians are experts at the sport. But ever since Jarnail Singh hit the headlines with his shoe attack on Chidambaram, an epidemic has followed, with Naveen Jindal being the newest victim. By the time we are done, there will be many more shoe attacks, I guarantee you.In fact, second hand shoe dealers in Chor Bazaar have been stocking up in anticipation of the demand and have reported brisk sales. Perhaps our netas should arm themselves with beach umbrellas to ward off future attacks??

Sachin Tendulkar wearing blue cosmetic lenses? Sporting a trendy, spiked haircut? Wearing a mawali-style checked scarf? And displaying loads of attitude?? Why not, boss?? The entertainment show is about to begin, and anything to grab those eyeballs. I liked the Mumbai Indians’ ad. The team looks menacing. Now let’s hope the performance to follow is equally impressive.With so much money riding on it, the IPL had better provide a big bang for the buck – or else – khallas!!
Please educate me : Why would any political candidate want to be endorsed by a gangster called Arun Gawli?? Any answers??

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Lone Rangers in our midst...

I was rather taken aback by our resident Bong Intellectual ( are there any other kind?), Swapan Dasgupta's take on Meera Sanyal and Mallika Sarabhai in his column 'Right & Wrong' this morning (TOI). His argument suggests that no Independent candidate deserves to contest , even less win!! 'It doesn't help to be a Lone Ranger', he says. And I want to weep! It has always been the Lone Rangers in our midst who have created movements, brought about change. Vivekananda, anyone?? This is NOT to equate Meera or Mallika with the philospher\social reformer. Merely to point out that society desperately needs those who refuse to toe someone else's line. Who are ready to take a position and do their bit without aligning themselves to any party or individual. It is a daunting task. I am sure both candidates know exactly what they are up against. Which is what makes them inspiring in the first place. India needs Lone Rangers. There are enough Tontos around!! Whether or not these ladies lose their respective deposits is not the issue. To damn them for being 'elitist' is to display your own prejudice. Was Mahatma Gandhi not an elitist? A barrister? And Nehru, too?? To say these women have made a virtue of their 'fringe status' is unfair and petty. Why attack them and exclude the crorepati bandits already in the fray, whose appeal is equally fringe? How much more elitist can you get than a Rahul or a Priyanka. An Omar or a Sachin? They don't belong to the unwashed masses either. They get their special status from the elitist families they come from - just like Mallika and her Sarabhai legacy. Why castigate these two women and pick on them for taking the 'moral high ground'? What would Swapan prefer - those compromised candidates who have sold their souls to various parties? When Swapan refers to the duo's social exclusivity and calls them snobs "in an arena where snobbery is at a serious discount'', I wonder who the real snob is?? Jyoti Basu is often referred to as the 'Ultimate Elitist' by the Bongs themselves. By dismissing candidates like Meera and Mallika , and referring to them mockingly as 'Beautiful People', Swapan has opened up a different sort of debate which is class-driven and as narrow minded as the caste one. A case of reverse discrimination?? It is true that decent, honest, educated people are reluctant to 'get their hands dirty' (my words) by getting into this cess pool we call politics. If they stay away, they are damned for their indifference. If they put themselves on the line and jump in to the fray, they are scorned for their audacity. What is Swapan's solution? Should these ladies have signed up with some sleazy party and become like the rest? They have shown the courage to go it alone and take their chances. We should applaud them for it. When 'intellectuals' discuss 'inclusive politics' over Scotch, I guess they are saying they are more comfortable with the usual suspects who don't challenge the staus quo. We've seen what a great job they've done so far.Sure, an Independent candidate in India has a really, really slim chance of denting the system. But Independents give the rest a hope that we still function as a democracy, where a cobbler can contest an election along with a banker, and let the people decide.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Looking for Albert Pinto...

This appeared in The Asian Age today. From Fluff a la Nita to stuff a la Joota. Take your pick. I enjoy writing. Period. Every piece has its own validity and context. Yenjoy!!

Are we angry enough…?

No, we are not! Angry enough, I mean. We are conveniently slipping into a semi-comatose condition, getting lulled by all the election rhetoric, and compromising on our rage. Rage is good. Especially at a time like this. Anger has the power to demand change – permanent change. This is a do-or-die election. There are more young, educated people registered as voters in 2009 than ever before. They are impatient and restless… or ought to be. That’s what they started out being… but even they seem to be losing steam and dissipating their emotions. We cannot afford a ‘thakela’ electorate. Not now. Most people one speaks to, insist they are up to there with meaningless ‘bhashans’ and empty promises. But even the more passionate amongst them are feeling frustrated and helpless by what is loosely called ‘ the system’. We have created a gigantic monster out of this very ‘system’ and already conceded defeat! Who can fight the system, everybody asks. What are we – losers? I hope there are enough people out there who’ll feel insulted enough to contradict me.
When I talk about the Mumbai terror attacks, I tend to get hysterical and shrill. As my children would describe it, “ Mom, you sound psycho.’’ Perhaps. But better a ‘psycho’ than a resigned, complacent Mumbaikar stoically waiting for the next strike. I keep yelling out to anybody within earshot, “ We are not out of danger. Far from it. Please don’t sit back and behave as if the situation is normal, because it is not so!” Some of these startled people ask me a really, really stupid question at this point (“ My God…are you sure? Kuch khabar hai?”), which makes me go ballistic – I feel like replying, “ Haan hai. Bahut buri khabar. I just received a call from Osama.” They raise a quizzical eyebrow and demand, “ But…. But… were you directly affected by the terror attacks?” By that they want to know whether my immediate family members were trapped in either of the two hotels…was anybody close to me killed, maimed, injured? I want to shout back, “ Sorry to disappoint you, but by God’s mercy my loved ones were spared. But that does not mean I was not ‘directly affected’ – weren’t you?? Wasn’t everybody?How does one get ‘indirectly’ affected in the first place??” I know I am wasting my time, but I rant on regardless. The thing is I have not switched off. Can’t. Won’t. What happened in Mumbai was a mere taste of what might happen anywhere in India. It has taken a captured 17-year-old lad to spill the beans about the Taliban presence on our doorstep. But we refuse to wake up. This morning’s papers are full of reports about a school in a high security zone in Mumbai, that has been asked to move out of its premises for fear of a terror attack. The school has been functioning from Navy Nagar for the past 35 years. Where and how far can it go? Even if this one school shifts out, what of other schools? Hospitals? Multiplexes? The idea is to cause maximum outrage. Targeting large groups of innocents is the easiest way to get the dirty work done. What better photo- op than a bunch of terrified school children, or patients in wheel chairs as hostages? This is but one ghastly scenario. Unfortunately, nobody wants to deal with it. Not even those smart talking politicians seeking our votes. I guess they too were not ‘directly affected’!
Tackling terror ought to be the number one priority for any and every political party. So far, I have not seen it being given the focus it warrants. Most politicians are still stuck on caste issues, past issues or singing the old ‘secular’ anthem that has ceased to have any meaning. Since very few politicians are ‘directly affected’ by the recession ( their trillions are safe in Swiss accounts – why do they care?), there are few references to the current crisis, apart from a weak mew or two about reducing taxes. Women and their myriad problems have always been a low priority for political parties – and so they continue to be this time around as well. None of the Behenjis, Ammas and Didis are making any promises to better take care of their underprivileged sisters. The slugfests so far have been staged by non-entities like Varun. And , no thank you, Manekaji. You can keep your beta to yourself… please don’t thrust him on an unsuspecting nation. Television debates have again been personality driven with key issues taking a back seat. Party spokespeople have gone hammer and tongs at one another…. but after all that hot air and fake fuming, I still don’t know what the drama was all about. No party is keen to discuss the tricky issue of criminals in parliament. Naturally. Which party is free of these pests? Without criminals occupying those seats , our parliament will look pretty empty. The current Withering Violet ( Rahul baba), has sensibly backed off from taking the pole position in the prime ministerial race. Which is a good move. And Manmohan Singh’s respectable ‘special appearance’ at the G20 has boosted his image a little and worked better than all the multiple stents in the world to unclog those overworked arteries. Phir bhi, the national mood remains a bit too somber and cool. And one shoe does not a summer make!! First of all, this particular joota missed its mark. Secondly, it made a hero out of the shoe thrower. Thirdly, Jagdish Tytler’s thick skin is shoe-proof….. even in defeat. Fourthly, it is not a case of one shoe fitting all. Fifthly, Reebok is the only real gainer, especially in size 8 shoes. At least, Jarnail expressed his anger and his act may even trigger off a chain reaction with other jootawaalas. But my guess is, lobbing shoes at netas won’t become an all- out national sport, since shoes ( Reeboks etc) are expensive. Why waste them?? As of now, people are more concerned about the shoe string budgeting required to keep the home choolas burning. Cheap chappals are a more cost effective option….. and I have several to spare, in case anybody needs them. Happy to oblige. The entire world will be watching this election, and taking its cues from the way India handles this monumental responsibility. Democracy kuch aisi vaisi cheez nahi hai, bhai. If we blow it, we will be doing ourselves a huge disservice… duniya ke saamney. Even a Martian can tell there are no real issues involved this time. No defined ideological clashes either. Just survival of the toughest. As the declaration of assets by the candidates has shown, there are no saints in this race. Just crorepatis who started their lives as slumdogs, but have amassed unimaginable wealth - and that’s the official part of their disclosure.We take them at their word – Soniaji, poor thing, does not possess a car. Rahul baba has no home. Pawar, of course, has neither!! Doesn’t your heart go out to these seriously deprived becharas??
This is just so disappointing. Albert Pinto ko gussa aana chahiye. Par kyon nahi aa raha hai, boss?? Jawab do…

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nita Ambani - Uncut !!

Guys, This is what I had to say about Nita Ambani for the 2nd Anniversary Issue of Hello!!

Some of it got edited ( space constraints.... or???). I had a lot of fun writing the piece. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading it as well. Nita leaves for South Africa tomorrow. She will be away for 45 days. When she called to say 'bye', she joked she'll become a local by the time she returns. If her team makes it to the semi finals, I promised I'd go and cheer. Good luck, guys !


Nita Ambani : “ I don’t think I’m on any pedestal…”

She is often referred to as the ‘Empress of India.” Perhaps Vicerine is a more apt title. At a recent dinner party hosted by a diplomat with a terrace apartment overlooking the $ one billion, 67 floors ‘home’ of the richest Indians on earth, awestruck guests couldn’t get those agape jaws to close as they stared at the high rise in the heart of Mumbai’s super snob neighbourhood of Carmichael Road. The host commented sardonically that he had just returned from Simla after a stay at the former Viceroy of India’s grand summer residence - ‘Wildflower Lodge’ – where he’d unearthed an interesting factoid. The Viceroy had 600 people on his personal staff. And so does the new Ambani residence, he chuckled, alluding to Mukesh as the neo- Viceroy of 21st century India. All true?? I asked Nita about her dream home… she had an interesting response to that and other questions. But first, the prelude…
Blame it on traffic snarls caused by high security measures required along the Chilean President’s route. Nita was stuck at the Taj Mahal Palace and Hotel, and was likely to be a few minutes late for our appointment .What did she do?? Phone and apologise? Make excuses? Nope. She decided to dump the car … and walk! That too,down one of the busiest areas of Mumbai – Colaba Causeway. Sure,she was accompanied by a retinue of very nervous security personnel ,but Nita being a stickler for punctuality, ignored their advice and resolutely marched on, stopping to admire beads and baubles being sold by pheriwallas (pavement hawkers) on those dusty footpaths. She herself was wearing a 6- carat diamond pendant, a 5- carat ring, and 4-carats on each earlobe (call them her ‘casual, power lunch ‘jools’). I asked whether people had stared . “ Yes. Some people did recognize me… but I think they were looking at my dress,” she laughed, a trifle out of breath after half- running the short distance. Nita was clad in Chanel. Meet the New Nita – corporate lady. She definitely doesn’t want to discuss her legendary diamonds. Nor does she want to talk about her controversial residence. That’s crazy. A little like a top model refusing to discuss fashion shows. Nita explains, “ I cringe when the subject of money comes up. I feel like diving under the table.” That must make her a competitive diver by now. Like it or not, people are obsessed with the Ambani wealth. Everybody wants to know how much they really, really possess. And how they spend it. F. Scott Fitzgerald had famously said, “ The rich are different – they have more money.” Sorry, Nita. There’s no getting away from that topic - a billionaire’s life is not easy!! So… how difficult is it being Nita Ambani? “ It used to bother me, when I first got involved with Mukesh’s projects and people in Jamnagar would talk behind my back… wait for me to leave, hoping I wouldn’t come back and ask too many questions. It hurt to be treated like a rich man’s wife.Same thing happened when I started my school. People only talked about the 27-crore building. They didn’t expect me to succeed. You see, I take my work very seriously.” Right now that involves asserting herself as the owner of Mumbai Indians, the IPL cricket team her husband acquired last year. “ We lost four matches in a row. The team was so discouraged. Then I went to Kolkata – we won there against Shah Rukh’s team… and then won six more matches after that. I’m confident we’ll do better this time.” She is far more visible this season and can be seen handling the tricky imbroglio created by the BCCI’s decision to shift the matches out of India, with her customary calm.
Nita is known to be ambitious and focused. A complete No. 1 personality ( her birthday falls on 1st November). She describes herself emphatically as ‘decisive’. Driven maybe a more apt word. Others see her as a natural born leader. Ruthless when required. She’s fastidious enough to forgo sleep ( bedtime is between 1 30am and 2 30am), and gets up at 6 30 am, to hit the road running after supervising all the various dabbas and diets( Mukesh’s, her own, her kids’).She arrives at her school at 8 10am, so that the schoolkids can’t say, “ But ma’am , you are late yourself!” Her kids are also her eyes and ears and she values their ‘fearless and frank feedback.” Used to cat- napping in the car, she says, it is the only ‘me time’ she gets. “ I wait to have dinner with Mukesh, no matter how late he comes home. We often eat after midnight.” And what do billionaires sup on?? I love my two gheeless theplas, Mukesh prefers bajra rotlas, lasoon chutney, daal, onion sabzi.” Sounds more like a Gujarati farmers’ hearty fare. Nita smiles, “ We aren’t foodies. Our Sunday treat is a South Indian breakfast of idlis and dosas. Even when we are in New York, Mukesh goes to his favourite rassam joint.” And no, their personal chef ( or a Gujju maharaj) does not accompany them, not even on their aircraft, which Nita insists was not a birthday gift! “It is a Reliance jet, we all use. Mukesh takes it for meetings in America, turns around and flies right back when done. Others in the company use it too.” So… if the plane was not her birthday gift, what was? “ Mukesh is very, very romantic… unlike me. He cannot keep surprises a secret, but this year he did. He pretended he had forgotten my birthday. I sulked and said, “ You are really taking me for granted these days. He said ‘ I’ve been so busy. Let’s go to the Taj… I have to meet some government people there.When we walked in to the Bell Tower suite, there were all my friends! And a band!” Aaah friends…. Who are these special friends?? Nita thinks hard and names one - Meeta Doshi, a dentist in America. They speak twice or thrice a week, and have known each other since their school days. That’s it?? Nita thinks some more and adds, “ Well Ananya.. Anu…” I guess she is referring to Ananya Goenka and Anuradha Mahindra. Ditto for Mukesh, who prefers to hang out with school buddies more than corporate czars. His idea of chill out time with Nita is long drives, late at night, to Worli Sea Face and back. Drives made special by the choice of music in the car stereo – cd’s hand picked by Mukesh and loaded by Hari, his man Friday, who knows which track to play for madam. On the way back, there’ s a short ice cream halt at Natural, their ice cream joint of choice.
Nita candidly admits she doesn’t cook these days. To the question, “ Do you know the current price of bhindis and kaddus?” She shoots back that with Reliance Fresh in the basket, she’d better know. But she does go to the kitchen first thing in the morning, and says with pride, “ I run my own home. I know exactly how much Rasikbhai Bhaajiwalla charges for everything.” God help Rasikbhai the day he overcharges Nita by even five bucks per kilo of anything. Rasikbhai is the veggie vendor in Cuffe Parade. Pricey, but reliable. Nita’s youngest son, Anant, only trusts Rasikbhai’s organic, non-toxic veggies to feed his own pet cows and goats. The bill comes to 35,000 a month, but Mukesh does not mind, since he sees it as Anna’s good karma... an investment.Hard to believe, but the Ambanis are cost -consciousbillionaires, with Nita asserting that they refused to stay in the Presidential Suite of the Four Season’s Hotel in New York, because they found the $5,000 dollars per night tariff too high!! “ Mukesh and I just looked at each other and said, “ an Executive Suite will do fine.” Similarly, she says when some girlfriends tried to ‘chadhaav her into buying a croc bag ( I’m guessing it’s the Birkin) for $45,000, she nixed it. Also, she proudly declares, when she planned her mother-in-law Kokilaben’s recent 75th birthday bash, she sat with Manish Malhotra and Abu-Sandeep, going over all the costings with a tooth comb before okaying the budget for the fashion show. Old habits die hard, she shrugged - “ Those initial cravings have gone. I have no appetite left for spending crazy amounts these days. You shop to feel good. But I don’t feel good wasting money.” In fact, so thrifty is Mukesh, that he continues to wear Vimal pants. His black bush coats (standarised evening wear!), are still stitched by Kachin’s ( who has been his local tailor since the age of 17). He continues to head to Macy’s, a proletariat department store in downtown Manhatten,believe it or not, to buy his favourite, 5-pocket Docker’s. Nita explains, “ You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be well- dressed. You have to look and feel fresh. I’m only particular about my nails and hate chipped polish. Otherwise, I put myself together in fifteen minutes.” With a little help from Alpa and Pratibha, who are her faithful handlers. Mukesh travels light, with just one suitcase for his clothes ( bag packed by Hari, the handler) and two more filled with books. Nita avoids answering which credit card she carries or what her card limit is. Demurely, she states, “ Why do I need a card? Like any wife, my husband pays for everything when we are traveling.” Mmmmmm.Perfect husband. And when Nita is in Mumbai, one phone call is all it takes to refresh her wardrobe “ Flecka ( the efficient major domo at Abu-Sandeep’s store) keeps things out for me. They know my taste. I pick it up from the store myself… but I can’t sleep till the full payment is made … that’s how I was brought up.”
There was just one craving left in Nita’s life…. and now even that craving has been taken care of. “ As a young dancer, I used to wear a fake ‘mangmala’ and dream of owning a real one someday. I just found a beautiful, antique one with lotuses, and am so thrilled.” She refused to divulge the price, though. Fakes and Nita? Why not?? “ Recently, my friends threw a party and presented long strands of plastic pearls to guests, just for fun. When I wore them other women came upto me to gush how exquisite the pearls were and asked me where I’d got them from. Those pearls cost just fifteen rupees!” However, money is no laughing matter to Nita. She is touchy about the rumours surrounding their new home. “ I don’t know why people are making such a big thing out of it. The figures being thrown around in the media are exaggerated – they are nowhere close to the truth.” So, what is the truth? “ Right now we occupy two floors in ‘Seawind’. The new house will give us four floors on top. That’s all.” What about the remaining 60 odd floors?? “ “Actually, the building has been constructed like an oil rig…” One hell of an oil rig, I’d say . We leave it at that.
Nita, who grew up in suburban Mumbai, recalls those early days without a trace of embarrassment. Once their marriage was pucca, Mukesh wanted ‘Murli Uncle’ (Deora) to see Nita. She remembers, “ I took a train from my home in Prabhat Colony, got down at Churchgate station, jumped into a cab and reached Murli Uncle’s office. At heart I’m still the same middle class girl. I don’t think I’m on any pedestal.” Well…not to worry… Eva Peron felt exactly the same way.Nita remains very close to her mother, who wanted her to become a chartered account, so that Nita could ‘earn a living’ when she grew up. If Nita has a single regret, it is that she could not study in America, being a good student. “ I wanted to pursue a career in dance, but my mother wanted me to appear for my CA entrance exam. I told her, “You wait and see…I’ll dance all my life.” The biggest compliment Nita has ever received came from her dance Guruji, who recently told her daughter Isha, “ Your mother at 45 dances like a 27-year- old. She is my most sincere and regular pupil.” Isha’s opinion matters tremendously to Nita. Isha was a precious baby, and Nita’s eyes cloud over when she recalls details of her difficult pregnancy and the birth of the twins (Isha and her brother Aakash) in America. “ Imagine being told at 25, after years of being married, that I could never have biological children! I was shattered. But today, when I look back I can really say that my three children are a true testimony that miracles do happen. I am a devout Krishna bhakt. Mukesh and I pray together every single day.” Nita does not tolerate sycophants, she says, adding firmly, “ I don’t get taken in by anyone or anything.” She’s tough and very much her own woman, aware of her position, but smart enough to play it down as and when required. She says she gets high on life and relishes every moment, often breaking off in the middle of a meeting to stare at gaily decorated fishing boats visible from the large picture windows of her own office, which has a simple ‘Nita Ambani’ (no designation), on the door. It is the size of a luxury flat… but then it is N.A’s office! Since life itself gives her a kick, she refuses to touch alcohol (Mukesh is a teetotaler, too), though she serves Chateau Margaux, thanks to N.K. Uncle ( Singh).
Nita Ambani is peaking. You can see it in her body language. Through her words. And via the incredible transformation in her appearance. She has lost weight, and sensibly discarded most of her old ‘Gujjuben’ wardrobe that made her look like an auntyji from an Ekta Kapoor saas –bahu serial. Mukesh loves the reinvented Nita ( he loves ANY Nita, let’s face it!). She is sure of her role and confident of playing it to perfection. As a heavy duty power lady, Nita is all set to assume fresh responsibilities on all levels. Please note: ALL. About the infamous rift in the family, she says carefully and cautiously, “ I believe in destiny. Some things can be in your control… some things you leave to fate. On a human level, you wish for a perfect world. I have taught myself to take each day as it comes.” Bravo.What saw the couple through those terrible times?? Phat comes Nita’s answer , “ Each other.” What else can one say but ‘Rab ne Bana di jodi.....