Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hey.... who moved my cabinet?

Politically Incorrect 29th May 2009

Who moved my cabinet….?

I tell you…. these guys in Delhi, na! Ooof… too much musibat. We know God moves in mysterious ways…. but Manmohan, too? Last week’s drama and hungama has left us very baffled. It is pretty hard to keep a track of all those portfolios and designations, family feuds and party adjustments. By the way, just how many wives does Karunanidhi really have…. does anybody know? How many children, grand children, nephews and nieces does poor Manmohan have to deal with? At last count, there were thirty- seven of them expecting key portfolios. Poor Manmohan was stuck with the rather tricky job of peace keeping – within that family, plus his own extended one .Of course, I am kidding. But the point remains that after the wonderful Congress win, it was back to business as usual – Singh and Sonia ( what a great talk show that would make), spent sleepless nights performing a difficult balancing act – massaging egoes, soothing ruffled feathers, consoling the rejects, pampering new best friends, reassuring old enemies. This political circus needed expert trapeze artists capable of swinging across tricky terrain minus safety nets . There were far too many ring masters to effectively handle the restless animals, and the mustachioed lion tamer was missing.
This was meant to be a designer cabinet represented by the Bold and the Beautiful. But disappointingly enough, the average age remained stuck in the sixties, brought down only by a couple of inconsequential years . And that statistic, I suspect, is thanks to one individual – the bright and sparkling youngest cabinet minister, 26 year-old Agatha ( we want to know what her sibling ‘Christie’ does) Sangma.She remains my favourite in the present mantriji line up. Rather someone like her than some of the rather dodgy veteran netas appointed to key posts. It was clear, this took a great deal of tactical planning and strategic manipulation, which made the earlier style of distributing posts like chana, look old- fashioned and passé. The other ‘youngsters’ who made it, are technically a little past their sell- by dates as true blue representative Babalog ( come on…. forty is forty), but at least they appear connected, contemporary and concerned. About what? Well…. they’ll eventually figure it out. And so will we. But their body lingo and sound bytes are both very cool. It is definitely a photogenic cabinet, and that’s important, given that we shall be seeing one hell of a lot of these guys , at least the top guns, on tv and in print. Never mind that the two Most Wanted ( Rahul and Priyanka), are outside the cosy cabinet – we shall see a lot of them regardless.
Talk to the average Jane and Joe about expectations from Singh’s Dream Team, and you’ll get the answer in one word - results . Young India responds strongly to that single word and little else. By results, the reference is to just one thing – quality of life. The voter wants to know exactly what this government will do for him \her, in real terms. No more bhashans, no empty promises, no fake assurances. Impatient Indians want a commitment from the government on actual deliverables. Time frames. Specifics. Will prices come down? Can Mr. Joshi finally get that new car\home\foreign vacation at a price that won’t lead to a cardiac arrest? Is it now possible for Mrs. Joshi plan her children’s higher education sensibly without borrowing money? Who is going to reassure Joshi Jr. about hanging on to his job? And will Ms. Joshi be able to make her dream of starting her own business come true without over extending herself servicing killer credit facilities? What about the khaana-peena expenses? Gas bills? Phone bills? Lifestyle worries and weekend fun? India’s Bachchalog who voted for the Bablog want it all. And they want it now. Safety, stability and security issues came next. The message is clear – perform or else. Political Viagra allowed for an enhanced experience. Though the moody Sensex is looking sexy enough right now !


This was published today in the Sunday Times

It's been a perfect sunday - a great lunch ( Chef Anando zindabad!), a long snooze, son-in-law visit ( it's Pramod's birthday tomorrow), great dinner ( kaachha aamer chatney with lots of hing and mustard), and a movie picked by the husband. An unbeatable 'caftan moment'.


I am so glad Amitabh took a position on the Aussie racist attacks. More super celebrities in that league ought to put their own selfish agendas on hold in the larger public interest. By turning down the doctorate offered by a university in Queensland ( or at any rate , rescheduling it), Bachchan has sent out the right signal. You can't abuse our students, attack them verbally and physically and then honour our cinema icon at the same time.

I must say I was horrified and deeply disappointed by what's been happening Down Under. There's simply no excuse, no justification. The truth of the matter is that our students out perform locals wherever they go, are smarter and more affluent than the rest. It is jealousy at its most basic that leads to such attacks. Australia has always been amongst my top ten travel destinations. I have been there several times and enjoyed every minute of my stay. I guess the time has come for Indians to rethink their plans of visiting this amazing continent. Why go some place you aren't welcome? Our student population was second only to the Chinese, the numbers were growing, and that's going to take a big hit. Too bloody bad for Australia.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brand Rahul = Brand India...???

Kaho Na Pyaar Hai….
Will Brand Rahul add up to Brand India??

The startling election results ( even Singh is King’s characteristically expressionless face registered shock and awe ) certainly make one believe that India has fallen in love with the Dimpled Darling and all that he stands for ( don’t embarrass me by asking for specifics – I am as clueless as his countless besotted admirers). The euphoria continues unabated seven days after the verdict, as fawning Congressmen go on and on about “Rahulji’, and how it has been a vote for growth and development. Rahulji meanwhile , is sticking to his self-effacing, low profile “ I’m just a regular bloke doing my job’’ demeanour, leaving Mummyji to beam broadly and project a voter-friendly vibe on camera. The biggest problem with this election and the mandate given to the Congress party is that Brand India has been usurped by Brand Rahul. Not his fault at all – but we have always been a nation in search of idols to worship. Our intrinsic sycophantic nature demands that we find such persons and immediately assume our favourite stance – lying prostrate in the presence of demi-Gods.We enjoy lying supine at our icons’ feet. Sashtaang namaskar, anyone? Genuflecting comes easier than standing tall, head held high. This became vividly evident post-victory, when thousands of Congress party loyalists showed up with banners and fireworks to anoint the Prince. And wonder of wonders, even an asli erstwhile maharajah ( Jyotiraditya) was heard singing hosannahs to ‘Rahulji’ ( overnight promotion from plain Rahul to Rahulji - colleague to boss?). This is just the way we are. So be it. Perhaps it is a peculiarly Asian trait to deify leaders in an absurdly exaggerated manner. But to witness the shameless, full on chamchagiri on display was just too cringe making, to put it mildly.
What next? We have our Magic Mantra in place ( “ Youth rocks, okay?”), and we also have the oldie goldies holding the fort and sticking to the status quo. Portfolios are being judiciously distributed keeping all the delicate equations in mind. While writing this, the wheeling and dealing is still on, and the Manmohan-Sonia combo is playing hard ball with the likes of Karunanidhi and gang. From the looks of it, Manmohan has not fallen hook , line and sinker for a Babalog cabinet, and there are still enough really, really senior citizens around to warrant the deployment of a few rocking chairs in parliament. If Young India was hoping for dishy designer politicians dominating parliamentary proceedings, there may be a mild disappointment in store. Hot blooded ‘Jaawani Deewani’ is still to replace the silver haired sobriety of the old war horses. For those who were hell bent on sending veteran politicians off to the nearest Naana-Naani Park, that’s not about to happen in a hurry, either. Given the heavy duty haggling taking place in Delhi, it will be interesting to monitor how the total adds up finally, once the laddoos – sorry, portfolios - have been distributed.
For those of you old enough to recall the lyrics of ‘Theme for a Dream’ ( Cliff Richards), this is the song to be singing right now. A Dream Team is possible, now more than ever, provided Singh and Sonia stay determined and tough. At the end of the day, it is worth considering what this win implies. It has been a vote against several touchy issues ( fundamentalism, regionalism, castesism) that were causing concern across India. It is seen as a vote for the ‘basics’ that every Indian is entitled to – roti, kapda aur makaan. Frankly, there are no other ideological issues involved this time. No philosophical dialogues, no intellectual debate. People want a better quality of life than the abject wretchedness that has been their fate thus far. They want a shot at improving their future through education , jobs and opportunities. It’ s obvious the vote has been vehemently against narrow- minded regional politics that are dangerous and far from inclusive. In such a scenario, the new leadership is obliged to deliver on promises made during the campaign. ‘Rahulji’ obviously got a sanitized taste of the real India, when he was air- dropped into villages and chose to spend the night huddled on a charpoy, in the humble abodes of the poorest of the poor. A crash course in garibi, as it were, which galvanized him into ‘hataaoing’ it. To be fair to him, perhaps this really was the turning point. Maybe his discovery of India began with sharing a roti with a disenfranchised villager living in the back of the beyond in Orissa. It can happen…Rahul sounds sufficiently sincere when he constantly harps on growth and development. His timing has been impeccable so far, and his brand positioning cannot be improved upon. He has single handedly steered a tired, old party to victory and injected fresh blood into the team. This blood transfusion was long overdue. As the BJP has discovered, much to its horror.
For all of L.K.Advani’s many virtues, the one thing he could not reverse is age. Youth can be cruel, unforgiving and impatient when it comes to passing judgements. Short term memory loss is another affliction that strikes people under-thirty. There is little introspection and even less tolerance…. forget about a feel for history. Clearly Youth India preferred to throw in its lot with Rahul and Friends. One can almost hear those over- enthu pub- goers chorus , “Yo man…. Rahul rocks!” while bumping clenched fists, Rapper- style. That’s New India – the one the others failed to recognize. They are done with the ghaasa peeta, puraana ishtyle of manipulating voters and exploiting the politics of hate. On one level, the much awaited change of guard is welcome. On another, we seem in too much of a hurry to hand over the country to absolute greenhorns who may lack the required maturity to deal with global issues… or even national ones, for that matter. Well. for better or worse, we have opted for a Fair & Lovely young leader. All that is required to complete the picture now is a Balika Bodhu. The most important question still remains unanswered : Will Brand Rahul add up to Brand India?? Do we have a choice but to wait and watch??


This appeared in Hindustan Times this morning.

The Jaipur heat took its toll - I was laid up in bed all of yesterday, dehydrated and unable to move! The enforced rest did me a world of good. I wished I had got Mita to pack some of her yummy kebabs (smoked over charcoal, and delicately flavoured with rose petals plus crushed ilaichi - heavenly!) in a doggy bag. Instead, I stuffed myself with Bong-style khichdi prepared by our loyal cook Anil...... and slept soundly on a really, really full tum-tum.


I dreamt of Bhaichang Bhutia. It is an omen. I hope the guy wins his dance contest. He deserves to. But then again, Gauhar Khan has displayed as much sincerity, tenacity and talent. Who says it is a fair world??


G'Bye Lantern Jaw ( Jay Leno). I was never an addict of the show, so I don't get it. The slot has changed. He ain't dead. Relax all you Leno fans. Just retune your bio rhythms to 10pm. Big deal.


Will be leaving for the India Se Singapore Lit Fest next week. Strictly no laptop. I'll try and compensate for the missing posts by writing Dil Se before jumping on that plane. Just thought I should keep you guys in the loop. Remember.... I miss you as much as.... as.... you miss me??? Ha ha.


Friday, May 29, 2009

I luv Jaipore....

You read that right - I luv Jaipore. The olde Jaipore. Vastly different from Jaipur. The destination I was once nuts over ( so many amazing fashion shoots! Such lovely, romantic memories!!) Jaipore used to be The Pink City of Hawa Mahal fame. Polo. Gayatri Devi. Palaces. Painted elephants. Exquisite Jadau. All those wonderful turn -ons which once made a visit to the place a magical experience. Life transforming on so many levels. No wonder Brit aristocracy went ga ga over this little jewel.
I was back after two years or so.... and had to constantly rub my eyes and ask my minders if I was indeed in Jaipur ( Jaipore is obviously dead). There is very little pink left in the Pink City, which now resembles an ugly, impersonal,concrete urbanscape, devoid of any character or charm. I could have been anywhere. That has become the lament all across India, particularly in B-Grade cities . They is zero town planning as greedy, unscrupulous developers buy up prime property and construct monstrous structures that strip away any semblance of aesthetic appeal. Hideous malls, multiplexes and other commercial zones have killed Jaipur's unique identity, and I really wanted to cry!
What hasn't changed so far is the unbelievable street food! Those piping hot kachoris. That kesar-flavoured malai lassi! And the unbeatable hospitality old families like the Tholias and the Kapoors! Thank God for friends. I felt better after they consoled me and offered an explanation. Madame Chief Minister ( Vasundhara Raje - no longer c.m. but her ghost lingers), must have been in a huge hurry to 'develop' Jaipur. In the bargain, she okayed the ghastliest plans that led to over- building followed by the gigantic real estate crash. Most of the projects lie abandoned now. The builders have run out of money or are under investigation. Not that it helps. Those structures are still around. But the people of Jaipur are just so glad they've seen Madame's back. Their hopes are pinned on Ashok Gehlot, the present c.m. whom they are hoping will bail out the state, now that the Congress is in power at the centre, too.
That apart, I had the best time, even though it was 43 degrees centigrade in the shade, and I was sure I'd get a sun stroke in the crowded Johari Bazaar, where I was shopping for leheriyas and jhumkas. I found both and came back to Mumbai with a borrowed suitcase which held my purchases. The flight was horribly late, and Jaipur airport isn't the best. But I survived. I went to the newly opened Anokhi Cafe with Mita ( a first rate literary person, who does a zillion things), and then chief guested at the Pearl Fashion Academy's annual function, which featured shows put together by 30 young designers from the graduating class, along with a few post-grad students. Long and exhausting. But it was great to see these talented kids displaying innovative designs.
I didn't spot a single peacock on this trip. Not surprising - where's the tree cover? But I did enjoy an extraordinary meal cooked by wonderwoman Mita. She deserves a sonnet. But I'm not Shakespeare.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jaipur chalo!

Guys, I am off to Jaipur for a couple of days, so this is going to be a short post ... and a short goodbye. Have had a fulfilling day on the whole. I did get worked up on Arnab Goswami's Times Now show.... but then, the debate warranted it. Exactly 6 months ago, at this very hour, Mumbai was reeling. But all too soon, 26\11 has been put on the backburner as the nation rejoices over how splendidly it voted and didn't all our 'Boys' play brilliantly during the IPL. As the cliche goes, Public memory is short indeed. Collective amnesia has set in - who really gives a damn what happened and how many were killed during those terrible 60 hours?? Well.... I certainly do. And I refuse to 'move on' or forget. I said as much on the show, and expressed my absolute disgust at the thought of Shivraj Patil being given a cabinet post. Not that it matters what Mumbaikars feel about the issue. It's a done deal. I am glad Arnab chose to focus on it.... if for nothing else, it may jolt the memory of a few callous politicians and force them to revisit the trauma in a more constructive way. As of now, nothing has changed. Mumbai remains a soft target.

Those were my fears at Amitabh Kant's low- key book launch ( 'Branding India') at the Taj last night.... I kept looking over my shoulder and at all the exit points of the magnificent Crystal Room. With reason. Ratan Tata was the chief guest.... there were several corporate VVIPs present..... all it would take was one evil traitor to walk into the room and destroy some of our iconic business leaders . I know it is a morbid thought - but it was there!! I couldn't wait to get out - and did, as soon as the formalities were concluded. What an irony. Here we were, lauding Brand India.... but there was fear and suspicion in our hearts. Such are the times we live in.

Okay, chaps. I'm off.... I shall bake and broil in Jaipur. But what the hell.... all for a good cause. More on that when I return.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Two Great Vintages...

This appeared in Bombay Times today....
Cheers! To Great Vintages…..
Parmeshwar Godrej refers to herself as a ‘great vintage’. And who on earth can challenge Mumbai’s grande dame? It is an entirely accurate description – I can vouch for it, having seen this great vintage get better and better over decades. And dare I say it, like any memorable vintage, the years have added a golden mellow glow which only enhances Chateau Parmesh. Chin –Chin! All these thoughts came to me as I watched her feverish efforts to stage the Heroes’ Project at Shivaji Park last week. There was an urgency and earnestness in her attitude that was impressive. With no Richard Gere to lend support and star power ( who can forget the Shilpa Shetty kiss fiasco?), and a whole host of high profile events like the IPL to compete against, Parmesh remained motivated and undaunted as she roped in her brand ambassador Hritik Roshan, along with a whole host of friends, to ensure the AIDS programme she is associated with ( Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), received the sort of attention it warrants. There she was running around backstage clad in fitted white jeans that she filled exceedingly well, nervously pacing the area to ensure the flow of events went just so, and the timing was adhered to by all. As Thai lanterns floated skywards, and the evening progressed smoothly, Parmesh finally put in the briefest of brief appearances on stage and folded her hands to convey her gratitude for the support. As always, she didn’t speak a word, but managed a throaty ‘Thank you’. It was left to Cannes-returned Hritik to read out the pledge and get the vast audience to repeat it after him.
Later, Parmesh lamented that not enough attention was being paid to the powerful message and the urgency it demanded given a crisis of such proportions. I felt exactly the same way. Why are we in India still in denial over the issue? Don’t the terrifying numbers tell their own story? 28 million people have died of AIDS worldwide –if that isn’t a wake up call, what will it take for us to be more pro-active in the fight against the disease? It was heart breaking to watch HIV +ve kids at the function innocently and cheerfully dancing and singing with Laxmi – the spirited, feisty, articulate celebrity- hijra from Thane. Laxmi calls Salman Rushdie her friend after she was interviewed by him for ‘AIDS Sutra’, the book that was published last year featuring sixteen essays by prominent writers, with a moving foreword by Amartya Sen. I wondered how much those bachchas knew about their condition and how they coped on a day- to- day basis. I watched Parmesh and Adi’s grandsons hugging a few of them on stage and thought it was a strong message being sent out on the occasion. Ditto for Hritik’s gesture and his emotional pitch. Sometimes the stigma is worse than the disease itself. Our society discriminates and shuns those infected by the virus, making them feel like social outcastes and pariahs. It takes people of some prominence to influence opinion in this area. Internationally, the social register at these high profile benefits is studded with super celebrities like Sharon Stone and Madonna, who go all out to lend their time, energy and voices to this particular cause, as we saw at the Cannes auction. Parmesh is doing her bit. We can all do ours.
I like the way Anupam Kher handles life. I mean… life beyond movies. Here is one actor in a self-obsessed, narcissistic and frankly, boring business, who takes the trouble to look beyond his nose and contribute something to society at large and his own fraternity in particular. By hosting a special screening of his tour de force ‘ Saaransh’ to mark its 25th Anniversary, Kher was not cornering personal glory. At least, that’s how I saw it. He was drawing attention to what was a landmark movie for him and more importantly for his audience. It was a remarkably mature performance for the actor who was in the full prime of his youth at the time but playing the role of an old man. For this unusual ‘premiere’, Anupam took the trouble to track down all the people associated with the film, down to the last spot boy and invited them to the Sunday afternoon screening. That requires a certain grace and humility. Kher’s involvement in social causes is well known, and having shared the platform with him a couple of times, I can tell you there is nothing shallow about his efforts. Today, he may see himself as a mentor\teacher to a younger generation of actors, but above all he still remains an exceptionally fine actor himself whose best is yet to come…. now, if only someone intelligent would create a first rate role for him and not waste his abundant talent in inane comedies. We saw him shine in ‘A Wednesday’ last year. Let’s hope there is more where that came from.Good going, Kher. You are a great vintage, too!! ********************************************************************************************
First the good news : I received an abject apology from the editor who said , "This will never, ever happen again." Apology accepted. Yes, Kiran, the buck was passed to juniors. But what the hell - the editor's a** has to be covered at all times.
For those of you who lost money on the IPL final last night, my sympathies. I watched the nail-biting match at my friendly, neighbourhood pub, in the President Hotel. There wasn't much of a buzz, and the few people who were there looked like techies from Hyderabad, so naturally they were rooting for the Deccan Chargers. What came as an absolute anti-climax was Lalit Modi's interminably long and boring speech, Oscar's style, in which he thanked his wife and children ( what for?). Katrina Kaif's 'Jai Ho' ruined the song for me - it was thanda, minus oomph and mechanical. The other acts were equally dull and poorly presented. Considering big bucks were spent on the hoop- la, it's a wonder the organisers didn't do a better job. Though, sports fans really weren't interested in that rubbish, and wanted to watch just the prize giving. It was pure torture sitting through the lacklustre 'entertainment' programme full of ugly fellows making God awful speeches. Next time guys, stay out of the picture. Fireworks are fine. But hold the naach- gaana, please.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

" Show me the money....."

Ajay Goyal is a serious, independent candidate contesting for a Lok Sabha seat in Chandigarh. Never heard of him? Neither, probably, have a lot of people in Chandigarh because when it came to getting press coverage for his campaign he was faced with a simple message: If you want press, you have to pay.

So far, he says, he's been approached by about 10 people – some brokers and public relations managers acting on behalf of newspaper owners, some reporters and editors – with the message that he'll only get written about in the news pages for a fee. We're not talking advertising; we're talking news.
One broker offered three weeks of coverage in four newspapers for 10 lakh rupees ($20,000). A reporter and a photographer from a Chandigarh newspaper told him that for 1.5 lakh rupees ($3,000) for them and a further 3 lakh rupees ($6,000) for other reporters, they could guarantee coverage in up to five newspapers for two weeks.
"We would do good coverage for you," he says they told him. All of those who approached him either were from national Hindi language papers or regional papers, Mr. Goyal says.
“You want a front page photo for free? This is something people pay for.”
In one case, he went along to see what would happen: a press release he submitted full of falsehoods – claiming he had campaigned in places he had never been, for instance – ran verbatim. One thing he has never seen on his real campaign: a reporter there to cover the story.
"It's disappointing," Mr. Goyal says. "What good is literacy and education if people have no access to real news, investigation, skepticism or a questioning reporter."
At the nexus of corruption in India, the nation's newspapers usually play either vigilante cop exposing wrongdoing in the public interest (on a good day, at a few publications) or spineless patsy killing stories on the orders of powerful advertisers. Many papers also engage in practices that cross the ethical line between advertising and editorial in a way that is opaque, if not downright obscure, to readers.
But it is of another order of magnitude to see reporters, editors and newspaper owners holding the democratic process to ransom. A free (in every sense) press is an integral part of a vibrant democracy. A corrupt press is both symptom and perpetrator of a rotten democracy.
"I'm not saying all media is biased but there is a growing sense in people's minds that a lot of the media is biased," says Anil Bairwal, national coordinator of National Election Watch. "Some do it in a sublime manner and some do it openly."
So why are we surprised when the voter turnout is so low, despite the much-touted surge of political awareness among the young and post-Mumbai? It's all part and parcel of the public disgust with the political system and the pillars of the Establishment that support that system as well. For every newly-minted reform-minded, politically aware voter, there are probably hundreds of jaded citizens who just decide the heck with it.
How widespread is the practice of pay per say?
The best-known English-language dailies typically don't do it so blatantly, candidates and others involved in the elections say. Rather, those papers are more likely to hue closely to one major party or the other, making it tough for candidates who don't fit the papers' view of the world to be heard. But in the Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati media, to name a few, the practice is widespread, candidates say.
N. Gopalaswami, retired Chief Election Commissioner, says in an interview, "This is not something that can be ignored. It is not just a few apparent cases, it is much more than that."
He has heard of newspapers proferring a rate card - one price for positive coverage, another for not negative coverage. The commission heard complaints in both 2007 and 2008 about candidates being charged for coverage. Among them, the national Communist parties who don't have the deep coffers to spend on campaigns.
In Mumbai, a city appropriately geared to commerce, politicians are faced with multiple payment options. Consider these phrases from newspaper editors and brokers, which I culled from campaigners:
"You want a front page photo for free? This is something people pay for."
"If you want a picture in there or if you want a story, we have to be paid."
"We're going to publish the interview, but you need to buy 5,000 copies of our paper."
"1.2 lakhs ($2,400) for the next two weeks and I will take care of all that coverage."

—Paul Beckett is the WSJ's bureau chief in New Delhi


This appeared in the hallowed , well respected Wall Street Journal.... and made me hang my head in shame! Was I surprised?? Hell, no!! But to see it in cold print had me squirming. Exactly how the Indian press has been 'managed' , bought and thoroughly disgraced makes for hideous reading. Sadly, Paul has only touched the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper and you will find the ugliest stories of corruption and compromise at the highest levels, from across the board - mighty television kingpins, newspaper barons, maamuli but influential journos ( not just the regional presswallas, but 'respected' names in the biz) everyone from top to bottom is up for sale. People willing to hawk their ethics - and the country - down the tube. One of the most trusted pillars in a democracy has traditionally been a free and incorruptible press. When that goes - what is left? The judiciary? One hears pretty grim stories about that arm as well.


All I can tell you is that yesterday's loopy mood has passed.... and I am feeling low. Not just about this expose ( bad as it makes us look), but about a column of mine that was not carried this morning by one of the prominent dailies I write for. This has never happened to me in over 30 years as a columnist. The weak and pathetic reason put forward by a junior lackey was that the opinion stated was too strong and given the current 'josh' of the Congress Party, the owners were scared of repercussions!! I have written a strong letter to the editor ( who was away when juniors took that amazing decision). Let me see what the person has to say.... but it is a sad indictment about the current state of affairs in India, if this sort of self-censorship kicks in from this point on. What was that line ... " they were asked to bend, but they chose to crawl." Watch this space for a follow up to this sordid saga...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cabinet capers

Thank God for Kamal Nath - the minister provided the only horse laugh during the dull as ditch water swearing in ceremony. The other stress buster was Robert Vadra sporting a jaunty polka dotted tie! The nation's son-in-law has been extraordinarily visible of late, and one wonders whether there is a plan behind the new high profile?? Is Vadra being primed for a bigger role in politics, now that the old man (his father) is dead? One will never know. The Gandhis move in mysterious ways, and even insiders remain outsiders when it comes to protecting family turf. One day, a desi Dan Brown will be born and only then will we get to know more about the angels and demons in Delhi.
In Mumbai, dark, inky, dense rain clouds have been gathering over the South Western horizon. I watch them every evening with growing interest. Last night there was a drizzle - as soon as the seductive fragrance of wet earth reached my nostrils, I jumped up to catch the first few drops as they wet the leaves of the peepul tree outside my fifth floor balcony. The golden oriole has long gone. Now all I can see are wet crows. As you know, the domestic sparrow is facing extinction worldwide. I miss those noisy, chirpy creatures and refuse to make friends with the aggressive crows.
It's friday night.... and I am blissed out. Babita, my energetic masseuse has just kneaded those tense muscles with a combo of rose and coconut oil - my own concoction. The house is quiet - very quiet. There's nobody home. Kiara is snoring at my feet... and I am looking forward to a leisurely, lone dinner. I 've asked for a new version of my favourite tarkari - tonight, I'll sample chunks of doodhi mixed with red pumpkin, tempered with red chillies, jeera and kaddi patta. Rock salt will provide the needed kick. I expect the vegetables to be mushy yet firm, cooked in their own juices with just a dash of olive oil . I may add a sprig of mint as a last minute garnish. If I'm sounding slightly loopy, blame it on the heat.... or on Kamal Nath.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Catwalk Queens....

The sweetest little get- together took place last week, and I was delighted to be a part of it! Salome Roy Kapoor called to say that a 'tribute' had been planned for Jeannie Naoroji, the undisputed Godmother of fashion shows in India. She turned 84 recently and is in frail health. Salome took it upon herself to gather as many of Jeannie's 'models' as she could locate, so we could all let the fashion doyenne who taught us the ropes, know how much we love her. It was a brilliant idea, and I am just so glad I could make it on a really busy saturday afternoon.
When I walked into the party room on the first floor of the Gym, Jeannie was already holding court - it seemed like nothing had changed! The empress was just being herself! There were some really outstanding ladies present, like Rachel Reuben, Anna Bredmeyer, Nandini Sen and Lubna Adams. But for me the surprise package was Katy Mirza!!! Katy was a pioneer in her own right - she became the first Indian girl to be hired as a Playboy Bunny way back in the 70's. Hugh Hefner sure picked them well!! Katy worked at the Playboy Club in London and then disappeared into the woodwork withjout a trace. Till Salome found her.I hugged and kissed Katy enthusiastically - she looked just great! And yes, the legendary assets are still as impressive!
Most of the other 'girls' looked pretty terrific too, and had spontaneously put up an impromptu fashion show just for Jeannie .We all spoke nostalgically about those magical years and remembered our many triumphs like the unforgettable Calico shows staged across India which people of a certain vintage still talk about.
I raise these issues now only to point out how far this industry has come from the time Jeannie taught us the basics of getting the rampwalk discipline right . She was a strict and unbending teacher who contributed to our overall personality development.... and all this for a modelling fee of 150 ruppees that we earned! There were no stylists, hairdressers or make -up artists. We managed on our own with poster paints and improvised kits. Aaha - no wardrobe malfunctions back then but plenty of oomph, nevertheless.
Jeannie was given a beautiful memento and honoured in the traditional Parsee way. It was a sentimental journey for all of us.... but as Salome rightly pointed out, " It's best to host such a felicitation programme while the person is still in our midst and able to appreciate the gesture."
I've suggested a Charity Fashion Show featuring us oldie goldies - Jeannie's Girls - sizzling on the catwalk one last time for a worthy cause. Any takers??

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A little night music....

People like to read about people.... am I right?? Reminds me of that old Barbra Streisand song that went...." People.... people who need people.... are the luckiest people in the world." That makes me lucky, I guess. Being a hard core 'people person', I can't seem to get enough of people.... and I have processed thousands in my life. Last night, sitting on the top deck of a yacht just off Chowpatty, chatting with Nandita Das in Bengali, I experienced such a mellow glow, I thought I would light up! It was a beautiful clear night, and I could see the lights of fishing craft miles away , the tide was coming in, making the yacht pitch from time to time.... looking over my shoulder, I could admire the Queen's Necklace in all its glory. Mumbai resembled a bejewelled empress... it was easy to forget its ugly underbelly. Mumbai casts a spell on me periodically.... I love the city unconditionally anyway, but I turn to absolute mush on nights like this one. Nandita is a Dilliwalli. No wonder her hindi is impeccable. Hritik Roshan, seated to her left , commented on how his own hindi was kuchcha when he made his first film. "We grew up with parents who believed their children must know English!" He also confessed he didn't know how to dance and worked really, really hard on his moves during '' Kaho na Pyaar Hai." Incroyable!! How fluid a dancer is the man now??? Practice, he said. Nothing but practice. Sure. Hritik was looking smashing ( the Cannes tan suits him ), and his wife Suzzanne ( Persian flower) has obviously dealt with the white ants (aka Barbara Mori successfully. They looked relaxed and happy together, with much marital banter going back and forth in a natural, unaffected way. It emerged Hritik sings himself to sleep! His own lullaby??? And he has sung a song in 'Kites'. Now all our desi superstars want to sing their own songs - par kyon?? Suzzanne sings too. And dances. So does Nandita. That left Gerard Butler, who arrived later and was jumping on a plane back to LA a few hours on. He'd done the complete Bharat Yatra , from Hrishikesh to Kanya Kumari, with Agra and Varanasi thrown in. After drinking 'pure' Gangajal at Hrishikesh, straight from the river, the poor man was left violently ill. But not ill enough not to come on board a yacht anchored in a choppy, pre-monsoon sea to say au revoir to a destination (and a person?) he has clearly fallen hard for. When I left, Nandita was melodiously singing , " Kabhie na jao chhod kar......" but to me.... not Gerard! Ha ha.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hum DESI hai to kya hua? Dilwaley hai!

Guys.... this is pretty accurate, affectionate and funny. Enjoy...

WHY ARE INDIANS EASY TO IDENTIFY...???> Cool one...We are like this only so true,very true..........> 1. Everything you eat is savored in garlic, onion and> tomatoes.> > 2.. You try and reuse gift=2 0wrappers, gift boxes, and of> course aluminum foil.> > 3.. You are always standing next to the two largest size> suitcases at the Airport.> > 4. You arrive one or two hours late to a party - and think> it's normal.> > 5. You peel the stamps off letters that the Postal Service> missed to stamp.> > 6. You recycle Wedding Gifts, Birthday Gifts and> Anniversary Gifts.> > 7. You name your children in rhythms (example, Sita &> Gita, Ram & Shyam, Kamini & Shamini..)> > 8.. All your children have pet names, which sound nowhere,> close to their real names.> > 9. You take Indian snacks anywhere it says 'No Food> Allowed.' > > 10. You talk for an hour at the front door when leaving> someone's house.> > 11. You load up the family car with as many people as> possible.> > 12. HIGH PRIORITY ***** You use plastic to cover anything> new in your house> whether it's the remote control, VCR, carpet or new> couch. ***** > > 13. Your parents tell you not to care what your friends> think, but they won't let you do certain things because> of what the other 'Uncles and Aunties' will think.> > 14. You buy and display crockery, which is never used, as> it is for special occasions, which never happen.> > 15. You have a vinyl tablecloth on your kitchen table.> > 16.. You use grocery bags to hold garbage. > > 17. You keep leftover food in your fridge in as many> numbers of bowls as possible.> > 18. Your kitchen shelf is full of jars, varieties of bowls> and plastic utensils (got free with purchase of other stuff)> > 19. You carry a stash of your own food whenever you travel> (and travel means any car ride longer than 15 minutes).> > 20. You own a rice cooker or a pressure cooker.> > 21. You fight over who pays the dinner bill. > > 22. You live with your parents and you are 40 years old.> (And they prefer it that way).> > 23. You don't use measuring cups when cooking.> > 24.. You never learnt how to stand in a queue.> > 25. You can only travel if there are 5 persons at least to> see you off or receive you whether you are travel ing by bus,> train or plane.> > 26. If she is NOT your daughter, you always take interest> in knowing whose daughter has run with whose son and feel> proud to spread it at the velocity of more than the speed of> light.> > 27. You only make long distance calls after 11p.m.> > 28. If you don't live at home, when your parents call,> they ask if you've eaten, even if it's midnight. > > 29. You call an older person you never met before Uncle or> Aunty.> > 30. When your parents meet strangers and talk for a few> minutes, you discover you're talking to a distant> cousin.> > 31. Your parents don't realize phone connections to> foreign > countries have improved in the last two decades, and still> scream at the top of their lungs when making foreign calls.> > 32. You have bed sheets on your sofas so as to keep them> from getting dirty.> > 33. Its embarrassing if you're wedding has less than> 600 people. > > 34. All your Tupperware is stained with food color.> > 35. You have drinking glasses made of steel.> > 36. You have mastered the art of bargaining in shopping. > > 37. You have really enjoyed reading this mail - forward it> to as many Indians as possible.> > I STILL LOVE TO BE AN INDIAN.


I am one of those who can't resist forwards..... who knows what gyaan lies embedded in them? Besides, I am always intrigued by the origin - who writes them? WHY????

My daughter Avantikka (Honeybrown Eyes), is in London. It has only been a few days, but she must be really nostalgic since she sent this one to me. I bet it has been doing the rounds for a while with a few additions and subtractions, but it is such a well-observed piece that I had to share it!!


Jeffrey Archer is a real character. I'd been invited to an intimate dinner the last time he was in Mumbai to promote his books. I found him racist, impatient, arrogant and conceited. All he did was complain. About Mumbai's traffic, Mumbai's readers, Mumbai's everything! Just before we exited India Jones, someone at the table asked him if he had read or heard of any Indian authors. He dismissed that question instantly.... but swiftly thought better of it, perhaps anticipating more such questions from the desi press. He turned to me and asked who my favourite Indian writers were and I mentioned R.K. Narayan and Vikram Seth. The canny Archer looked totally blank, but being a smart cookie, asked for some paper, pulled out a pen and requested me to jot down their names and the titles of their books. He also asked about the contents of Narayan's novels. Perhaps he did take the trouble to pick up the books at the airport and has indeed read them before whizzing into Mumbai again. He has been dropping both names at every press conference.I didn't want to meet him one more time and skipped all the functions - alas, I'd seen through the guy. He has obviously sensed numbers in the India market and is determined to create a record here. Fair enough. Which author doesn't want to sell in great numbers?? But in every interview, I notice with glee, he trots out the names of Seth and Narayan like he has been following their work for decades. Intellectual dishonesty? Or just good salesmanship and P.R.?? You decide...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's back to dynasty as usual....

It’s back to dynasty as usual…..

Jai Ho!! The Ulta Pultu Party pulled it off!! As Confucius famously advised centuries ago, “ Confuse the enemy….” That’s exactly what the Congress did - either by default or through design. And with this remarkable win, the ‘kamzor’ prime minister Manmohan Singh unambiguously provided the answer to the question - who’s the boss ? It’s Sonia Gandhi! And sorry Rahulbaba , but the real star of this dramatic election remains the Indian Voter. Just look at how the country voted, and one can safely tell all the self-styled experts , exit poll-wallas and armchair analysts to go to hell. Gyaan givers should now go into hiding and hang up their brains. This has been a a daal chawal election, in that the voter opted for comfort food - when the offer was for an exotic eight course menu… or, if one were to look at it more crudely– an unappetizing khichdi. There couldn’t have been a more emphatic ‘No’ to the sort of bogus change that was being peddled. It was a straightforward vote for maintaining the status quo.
What did the startling results tell us about ourselves? For one, scratch the surface and we are creatures of habit. For another, we like the familiar and the predictable.Our relationship with the Congress Party is like a slightly boring but essentially stable marriage. The seven year itch is a thing of the past. We have settled into the senior citizens’ shaadi slot, in which mild flirtations with exciting new partners offering fresh thrills are permitted, but both parties know that these are dangerous liaisons that can’t last…. and may damage the marriage permanently. By now, we have made peace with the in-laws, accepted bratty relatives, and got used to the partner’s snoring… along with other bad habits. The marriage is on solid if uninspiring ground - no great expectations, no major disillusionments. It carries on with rough periods and health scares, till the very bitter end, which in this case, isn’t yet in sight. It is this strange love-hate relationship voters share with the Congress that puzzles outsiders. And it is precisely this dichotomy that makes it impossible for analysts to crawl inside the mind of the Indian voter and make even a semi-accurate prediction as to how that bloody ballot will be cast.
The Wow Factor this time was provided by Rahul Gandhi, and it would be petty and mean to deny him his glory. The Dimpled Darling worked hard and sincerely , totaling up a record number of rallies addressed by any leader, to successfully swing the vote in favour of Mummy’s party. Between him and Princess Priyanka, they managed to inject the necessary oomph into what was turning into a hideous , immoral slanging match stripped off any decorum or dignity. These two young people demonstrated their class ( give or take a few boo boos), in the face of cheap mud slinging indulged in by the veterans. From this point on, Rahulbaba can rightfully write his own ticket – Mummy can persuade the reluctant debutant to join the cabinet ( portfolio of his choice), take over from her and run the party, or simply wait it out till Manmohan Singh gracefully moves over ( health reasons cannot be argued against, after all) and hands over the gaddi to the heir. Yup. It is back to dynasty as usual – and who is anyone to protest? The numbers say it all.
From Shining India to Sensible India , is one way of looking at these results. Clearly, the voter was in no mood to opt for either the Right or the Left. It was a clear mandate for continuity, for better or worse. Religion and caste came second and third, when everyone expected both to be the biggest issues.In a way they were – India voted against their exploitation by political parties trying their luck by playing those cards. The BJP got nuked ! And Narendra Modi exposed himself as nothing more grandiose than a fire breathing local satrap with no national support or following. Behind some of the surprising wins and losses, the one thing that became abundantly clear was the mood of the nation – it was a loud and clear signal to fundamentalist forces that the party’s over for them.It was an equally resounding slap in the face for jet setting commies a la Karat who looked whipped while addressing the press .And a sweet(almost touching) assurance to the Didi of Kolkata that she rules the hearts of her loyaltists.So, who do you think came of age in this election? You might say it’s Rahul. I’d say it’s the voter.


The euphoria continues.....I consider this election a great win for democracy itself! I am not a diehard Congress supporter and have been critical about various aspects of the party at different times. But the people of India have delivered their verdict and that has gone in the favour of the Congress in unambiguous terms. So be it.

The key thing now is to be vigilant, hawk eyed and persistent - watch their performance closely. Ask questions. Demand answers. And keep those guys on their toes every second of the way. The formation of the cabinet will see some hard bargaining, but with the Commies out of the picture, it will make Singh's life that much easier. Mamatadi may get Railways. And Pranab will be the Finance Minister ( hope he hires an interpreter).But I am pretty sure the average age of the cabinet will come down this time with Rahulbaba inducting his key people and rewarding loyalists by distributing the portfolios shrewdly. Not a bad thing, India is a young country, and we need young leaders. Though I have to confess I felt really, really bad that the old socialist\trade unionist George the Giant Killer had to suffer such an ignominious exit from political life - Fernandes lost his deposit!


At a swish dinner party last night, the mood was giddy with top bankers and industrialists greeting one another with lusty cries of ''Jai Ho!" I guess it was a delirious moment for those capitalist pigs - the Congress had won - imagine what might have happened had the Commies done better and called the shots?? There was much clinking of glasses in anticipation of the BSE opening on monday with a 1000 point jump. Unlikely scenario. But the mood is bullish and upbeat on the whole. The money men's palms are itching!!!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Blue -eyed (Non-Brahmin) who would be P.M.

People in ‘High’ places…

There are multiple P.M. hopefuls waiting in the wings to grab the top job.Heaven knows who suggested Sushil Kumar Shinde’s name - it is reliably learnt that this rangeela’s Happy Hour begins at sundown come what may. He is clearly a happy man, who enjoys his happy state … I do believe it is important for the well being of a country to have a happy leader. But THIS happy? Shinde lives the high life – literally and figuratively. He sure has come a long way from that mamlatdar’s office where he began his life. We all have our weaknesses, but people who know Shinde well, prefer to meet him before 7p.m. That is if they are looking for a coherent conversation. Those interested in mere ‘time pass’ and shameless chamchgiri, wait for sunset, since they are sure of catching the light skinned, blue-eyed Dalit politico at his mellowest. In other words, Shinde would fail a breathalyser test post- sunset, and it is just as well he doesn’t drive himself. Let’s not beat around the bush – Shinde likes his booze, okay? That’s our Shinde - clever, cunning and a tippler who can barely keep those pegs in check, even while he is at his desk, working long hours into the night. As Maharashtra’s chief minister, he was notorious for his rowdy ‘after hours’ in Varsha. What sort of a prime minister would such a guy make? Well… he’d be in good company. In India, we get very touchy and judgemental about people who like their alcohol. We associate them with decadence and sloth. But internationally, they are far more accepting of boozards as leaders ( Britain, Russia,France …the list is endless). And some of those chaps did very well as Presidents and Prime Ministers.
Shinde was known to be Dhirubhai’s blue –eyed guy (literally and figuratively). The relationship worked great for both men. Shinde started his life as a peon in the malatdar’s office and was a sub-inspector later in the police force. It doesn’t get more ground level or hands on than that. Becoming Sharad Pawar’s protégé changed Shinde’s fortune and perhaps also enhanced Pawar’s. It was a mutually advantageous relationship that saw Shinde emerge as the landlord of all he surveyed. Quite a trajectory for an under privileged Dalit boy. Today, Pawar’s shisya has become his hard-to-dismiss rival. What an amazing reversal of roles. Since the dreaded ‘D-Word’ is no longer taboo, and the Dalit factor has emerged as the single most important pivot around which alliances will get formed in this perverse, immoral election, Shinde stands as good a chance as the other small-time players to get a shot at the top job in the country. Though with a quasi-Maharashtrian lady as the President of India, one more Maharshtrian would be pushing it. But if it is going to be a toss up between two Dalits, one a female and the other our Shinde, I get the feeling the Behenji will win. The one thing they have in common is a penchant for polyester. Shinde’s old mentor\patron Dhirubhai must have introduced him to the fabric, but he can’t seem to get enough of it. He remained Dhirubhai’s Knight in shining armour (and shinier shoes). So.. the biggest change in India if either of these two make it, will be in the sale of shiney, sasta aur tikao polyester – pink for Mayawati and white for Shinde. Oh… and the Good Doc (Manmohan Singh )will have to be on call at all times, especially when the nightly Happy Hour begins … Bhagwan knows what treaties and documents Shinde may sign in that state. Talk of people in ‘high’ places !!
Guys, this appeared in Asian Age today.... and I have received an overwhelming response to the piece. I await your verdict with bated breath.
About the Bakul phool attack - it worked, but on a far more subdued scale. John, just back from trekking in Bhutan, was on a fitness kick ( read: off Single Malts). He was being a very good boy and making p.c. with the guests. Zia Modi ( how I love that brainy and FUN woman!) was in great form, and the evening sparkled! Just as we were leaving, we managed to catch the last five minutes of the nail biting finish to the IPL match which saw our Mumbai Indians lose by 2 wickets. Nita Ambani's Gayatri mantra Vs. Shilpa Shetty's secret mantra. I guess Shilpa's was more powerful! Chalo - game hi to hai.
The asli game for India begins on saturday.By this time tomorrow, we will KNOW!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Bakul phool attack...

Hey. Hey. Hey. The numbers game is on. As of now, it is anybody's guess as to which party will manage to cobble a government together. I am out of it totally. It is such a silly and futile exercise to try and 'guess' in any case. Unless you are a serious punter and have money riding on the outcome.

Have been running around frantically all day. My son ( Caramel Eyes) gave me a fancy pair of shades ( Prada Classics) on Mother's Day. That was a good one. I am a shades freak all the way. His taste is more Chrome Hearts. But I guess he thinks Mom should stick to classics. Little does he know I've been lusting for those hearts all along. My daughters attack the collection of shades I've been jealously guarding all these years. "They are just so vintage", they coo. That's because they ARE vintage, I scream. My son is not impressed when I state how lucky they are to inherit the lot some day. He says he can't wear them to begin with. What about a wife, I nudge, in a not-so-subtle fashion. He isn't buying.

My wonderful Marathi translator, who has done such a brilliant job with three of my books, came over at tea time. Over hing-kurmura, we discussed the political scenario.... and Ashwini Bhave ( wew both agreed she is terrific).And guess what Aparna Velankar got me?? An exquisite gajra made from Bakul blossoms! The entire home is filled with their sweet, clinging fragrance. I shall wear them around my wrist tonight and drive John Makinson crazy ( Bakul can be overpowering). Well, John's a really cool guy, and he is the Chairman of Penguin Books. But I have managed to get John to do a few unlikely things - like dance to Kaajra Re at a Penguin party in London. His astonished Brit colleagues needed smelling salts for weeks. Tonight, I shall subject the unsuspecting gentleman to a serious Bakul phool attack. For more on what happens at the Black Lounge in Indigo tonight..... watch this space tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rahul sheds his diapers...

Maa da Laadla has come of age at last!
Wah! Kya baat hai!! The Congress Party has finally found its ‘Item Number’. Rahulbaba is out of his pram and has shed his diapers, finally. He is now a MAN! And what a dishy man. Pure eye candy. A real Himbo who does not need to flaunt a six pack gut – but he sure flaunted his guts!! I loved the way he shot his mouth off at the press conference this week and in one stroke catapulted himself to the numero uno ‘It Boy’ position. He was exactly what the doc ordered in this pheeka, unsexy election.The critics and pundits can go to hell. He got them by the b***s - and they know it!They can mock his ‘immaturity’ and make fun of his naïve remarks. But, let’s hand it to the greenhorn – he’s done it!! I have received countless emails from complete strangers gushing over the guy. A young lady ecstatically announced, “ I want to marry him – he is so drool-worthy.” I said to myself, “ Oh oh… watch out King Khan….here comes competition”. Rahul Gandhi is officially ‘Cho Chweet’ – a card carrying member of the Hotties Club. Moily was bang on for once when he described Rahul as a Youth Icon. We know what it takes to become one, right? Oomph. Nothing more, nothing less.Rahulbaba’s biggest plus point is his age. Nobody knows or cares about his qualifications – school\college dropout?You know what? It doesn’t matter a damn. The magic has worked. And that’s all that counts. Rahul Gandhi came across as a good chap – simple, uncomplicated and sincere. A semi Mr. Clean. This is very rare in politics, especially in India, where we expect netas to look and behave like thugs. If they are educated, sophisticated, articulate , erudite and refined – well, that’s too bad. For them. So many careers have gone down the tube, because those men were seen as being far removed from the hoi polloi. Too high brow, too cerebral, too cunning. And therefore suspect. Rahul was the unknown factor – seen more as a shy, modest, reluctant and let’s face it – dumb - heir apparent who was ‘doing it for mummy’ – much like his own father Rajiv, who also famously did it ‘for mummy’ after being air-dropped into the hot seat due to tragic circumstances. But the public at least knew a little about that Prince. We were aware that he had managed to hold down a day job as a pilot for a commercial airline, that he was a shaadi-shuda father of two cute kids, married to a gorgeous-looking Italian lady who preferred to stay out of sight. We also knew ‘Mummy’ preferred the younger son, Sanjay, whose fiery personality and naked ambition made him the perfect fit as her successor. But history had its own plan – and Rajiv became India’s unlikely Prime Minister. He was written off before he even started. Too young, too raw, too inexperienced. Till he went to America and addressed his first important press conference. Bingo!! Perceptions changed overnight… the world took him more seriously. And so did we!
What an amazing coincidence that it took another press conference to ‘reveal’ Rahul to his own countrymen. All of a sudden, Rahul Gandhi was perceived as his party’s biggest trump card. Never mind that his detractors chose to interpret his outspokenness as desperation. Never mind that seasoned journos read defeat in that speech. And never mind too that political analysts mocked the shallow, superficial content of his responses and said he sounded like a gauche schoolboy, not a future prime minister. They are all completely right! And that is precisely what did the trick for Rahul. He sounded like anybody else – the guy next door. Not a hardened politician indulging in doublespeak. His comments were commonsensical, even nonsensical. But he spoke from the heart. And he appeared heart breakingly vulnerable, too.All these ‘negatives’ worked in his favour. Viewers watching him calmly take tough questions and wade trustingly into dangerous waters, responded with sympathy and admiration. The overall verdict was positive, and I was astonished by the sort of reactions his unrehearsed, unscripted, indiscreet and gullible comments about the Left, Right and other weird alliances generated. A senior publisher who happened to visit that afternoon was gob-smacked by the impact of that single tv appearance. He kept repeating, “ Rahul spoke a lot of sense… he spoke on behalf of millions of us when he talked about growth. It gave us hope that if he does become the p.m. soon, he won’t waste his time and ours by indulging in negative politics. His solutions may have been over simplified, but they were practical. We could relate to what he was saying.” This assessment coming from a person, who as a young man , had left a pregnant wife behind in Mumbai, jumped onto a train headed for Amethi, and worked tirelessly for Rajmohan Gandhi (who lost – of course!), made me do a double think about Rahul Baba’s future. Like his father, Rahul looks trustworthy. The operative word is ‘looks’. But that’s the beauty and tragedy of politics, whether in India or elsewhere – so much depends on perception. Richard Nixon ‘looked’ a crook. JFK ‘looked’ a gentleman. Both were crooks. Berloscuoni ‘looks’ a rascal, behaves like a rascal and is a rascal. Ditto for Sarkozy. Gordon Brown resembles a butcher\baker. While Obama, like Rahul, is America’s ‘Item Number’. Sex appeal is hard to deconstruct or ‘explain’. There is really very little difference between sex appeal and voter appeal. We imagine we select candidates\parties using the rational, logical side of our brains. But the truth is, we vote with our hearts. For better or worse.
In politics, timing is everything. Which is why our mighty political pundits are confused, even annoyed at not being taken into confidence about the Rahul coup. The timing of his coming out party seems off. Very off. But is it? Why now, they demand.When the party’s fate has been sealed? Why not earlier when his presence would have made some difference and influenced voters?According to me, the timing couldn’t have been better calibrated. I think his press conference was very shrewdly timed to confuse the enemy and throw the opposition off balance. See how they ran… watch how they scrambled. Listen to Jaitley, Karat, Nitesh spluttering with rage, and you can gauge the panic. Sadly, the truth is that are no issues involved in these elections .It’s all about the numbers game. The kind of numbers one has been hearing ( 10,000 crores offered to Amma for her support when it comes to the crunch and a prime minister’ s name has to be thrown into the ring), are shocking and obscene. Those trillions lying in foreign banks have not been hoarded there for nothing. Of course, no party is interested in naming names – who will cast the first stone at the glass Lutyen’s bungalows? But at least the people of India now know exactly where their hard earned money which politicians have systematically looted over the years, is sitting. It has been stashed away for buying the prime ministership, and other similar emergencies.If enough noise is made, we can (and must) see some of it back in the country. There are no saints in this dirty game. But Rajkumar Rahul has emerged as a worthy heir to the throne. The dowager queen must be happy. Mogambo khush hua!


This appeared in the Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle over the weekend.

The final countdown is about to begin.

I think the Congress is in trouble. Truly an Ulta Pulta Alliance.

I am almost certain Uddhav Thackeray will become the next Chief Minister of Maharashtra - North Indians and other 'Outsiders' can relax.

I still think Mayawati will make it. Long live pink polyester.

Highheelconfidential ROCKS!! Even when they trash me. Just for the record - I do have problem feet and can't wear closed shoes!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bongo Drums

No server. No post. Bahut afsos ki baat hai, ki MTNL was on the blink for 36 hours, maybe more. I went into severe depression.... so severe, that I left town! Seriously. I drove to Pune at 7 a.m this morning, and got back at 7 p.m. Slightly frenzied, but any excuse to go to Pune. Especially if that excuse is as scrumptious as the unbeatable kheema pao served at the coffee shop of the Blue Diamond Hotel ( an old haunt - I remember going there with Smita Patil and Vinod Khanna years and years ago, when both of them were smitten by Rajneesh -Osho ). Well, I came home in a car that was reeking of the dish... and the aroma must have been so overpowering, Kiara jumped all over me - which was a good sign. She has been droopy and unwell for the past two days - no appetite and a mournful expression. The vet said it could be a case of gastro. I wanted to cheer up Kiara on Mother's Day ( sunday), but she was not in the mood even for an ice cream treat. My own treat at the Four Season's Prato was fun and bubbly ( thanks to the Bubbly!), but the buffet was seriously disappointing. I didn't have the heart to state that to my son-in-law, since he was paying!

Before I run away, I'd promised a mini-review of 'Antaheen' - well, let me put it this way - only a Bong film maker would have the audacity to start the movie in the voice of a French chanteuse ( the song segued into a Bangla rap number - how? Why? Don't ask - it's a Bong movie , remember?). Self -indulgent, self -conscious and soulful, the film is pretty pointless, even amateurish, with far too many sub- plots and tracks. The protagonist Brinda sings far too many songs ( they all sound the same, and break the pace of the film, which is painfully slow to begin with), and admires Freida Kahlo ( how totally Bong- pretentious!). The cop (all he does is moon over the mystery girl and talk about Jim Morrisson to a Pravin Mahajan -inspired character) played by Rahul Bose playing Rahul Bose, is all Bong angst and little else. That leaves Aparna Sen wearing a dreadful wig and smoking too many ciggies, when she isn't moaning about her 'best work' (snapshots of Ladakh). Oh yes, Sharmila Tagore as the spinster pishima is wonderfully 'naekka' in most of her scenes with the Bose (Rahul).... but that's Sharmila - still playing the Kashmir ki Kali. Inox on a saturday night, was crammed with Bongs. Just BONGS! Most agreed the movie was a bit of a bore.... but it was ''so us!" (what on earth does that make us?? Bores????). I loved Kalyan Ray, and if the burly, bearded gentleman is indeed Aparna's husband in real life - lucky Aparna.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

'Glitz and Grime' on BBC

There is a veritable mini forest of Brazilian Copper trees in full bloom outside my balcony. It is such a visual treat to stand there at sunset, looking over the canopy of gold ( why are they called 'copper' when they are actually golden?) and watch that molten blob ( SURYA) disappearing into the Arabian Sea. I love this moment, and no matter how stressful the day has been, I ALWAYS say a prayer for small mercies and salute the dying day for all that it has given me. The heat haze adds a soft focus glow to the scene, rendering it far more beautiful than it is. Mumbai's notorious pollution adds to the surrealism.... but who's complaining? We all need our illusions, right?

Gogia Pasha, where are you? The day of reckoning is here ( Election results), and everything is up in the air - including the top job. I'm off to Inox to watch Antaheen, the very Bong film with two Bengali tigresses in the lead ( Sharmila Tagore and Aparna Sen). Review tomorrow. Inshallah. Had promised my husband I'd rest my shoulder over weekends - at least on sundays. But I am not sure I'll be able to honour that vow. Khair.... if nothing else, I'll post the column that appeared in Asian Age today. Those of you who get to watch BBC at GMT times, look out for the series Glitz and Grime anchored by Mihir Bose. I have the telecast timings. But am too lazy to refer to them right now. I'm sure the website can provide those details. Gotta run. Dinner at Tetsuma, apres-movie. Since Aditya, my son with the caramel eyes, is involved with the restaurant, I am allowed to boast. It is by far the best fusion Japanese cuisine outside Nobu, as good as Wasabi... without Wasabi's killer prices. And yes - we pay for our meal, just like everybody else!! Ciao ciao. That's for my daughter Arundhati, who is holidaying with Madhu Sapre at Madhu's charming Italian seaside home in a village called Riccione. I shall miss her madly tomorrow at the Mother's Day Brunch. The first one she will be missing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yesterday once more...

You missed me yesterday, right?? Just lie, na?? And say, 'Yesssss!"But I'm not lying when I say I missed you... missed being here. I was in 'Cannes' ( I wish!!!!). Well.... almost. I was chief- guesting at the 'Cannes Experience' organised by ndtv Lumiere, a channel that is trying hard to push good cinema by telecasting award winning films. This was my first visit to the PVR at Phoenix Mills. It may be my last!! I guess the Nariman Point Inox has spoilt me - the easy access and great caramel popcorn are reasons enough to stay loyal. The pvr at Phoenix is near impossible to get to - I got completely lost, and so did my driver. It is most confusing and not even the security guards know what to tell bewildered visitors driving around in circles looking for either an exit or an entry - any route to get the hell out of that maze. You can't drive up to the place. You can't walk in. But you can climb several flights of stairs, reach the terrace and climb down again!!

Yes, there was an extra long red carpet. But nobody on it. Had I known, I might have borrowed one of Aishwarya's Rai's dreadful Cannes' frocks just to keep the tradition going. The film to be screened was last year's Palme D'Or winner - 'The Class'. Sounded promising. But turned out to be an absolute turkey. So mind numbingly boring and 'French', I hated it and left mid-way. Like most Frenchies who talk too much ( and never like regular people!), actors in the movie just could not keep their mouths shut for even a second. No snacks, no dinner. I got home at midnight to eat reheated khaana. But at least the chappatis were fresh, and the ghee (still slurping it!) made them sinfully irresistible. I thought about blogging at that hour, but my husband would have thought 'divorce'. No point. Much as I love you guys, must get a few priorities right. Kyon?

Not that I got much sleep. I was awake most of the night thinking of Sardinia. Why Sardinia? Because I have never been there. But am going! Soon. In fact, I'll be travelling a great deal starting next month... so I must make the most of our time together. Sunday is Mother's Day. Thirteen years after Aie passed away, I can still feel the soft folds of her printed muslin sarees, smell her talc, and see into those pools of trust and innocence - her beautiful eyes. I could have been a far better daughter to her than I was. It is one of my chief and enduring regrets. It was Aie's death anniversary yesterday. I missed her desperately. As I do every single day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pappies, Jhappies and Thappads...

Pappis, Jhappis and Thappads…

Oh me, oh my… Phase 3 of the Great Indian Circus is over, and there are so many people one feels like giving jhappies, pappies and thappads to. Let’s start with a pappi. Mine is reserved for the Princess of India, Priyanka Gandhi ( forget all the Vadra-Shadra business – Gandhi she was, and Gandhi she remains).Clearly, the Congress backed the wrong Gandhi. Rahulbaba, the Dimpled Darling is sweet and likeable ( gelato or jalebi ? You decide). But Rahulbaba is not a patch on Princess Priyanka when it comes to people skills. She is a natural crowd pleaser, and her brother is no match for her when it comes to handling trick questions or diffusing tense situations. See how deftly Priyanka dodged Narendra Modi’s Budhiya\Gudiya barb, or deflected criticism aimed at the P.M. Unlike her mother’s scripted speeches and rehearsed responses, Priyanka speaks minus prompting or notes, adopting an endearingly direct approach that disarms her most virulent critic.Her naughty reference to her grandmom’s nose must have brought an instant smile of recognition to several faces. Which raises the million dollar question - why did Sonia push Rahul the reluctant debutant into the fray, when Priyanka ought to have been the obvious choice? Maa ki mamtaa? A mother’s blind spot for the beta? It may remain one of those annoying mysteries. Can, Rahul, the nominated heir to the Gandhi gaddi ever deliver? How long is the seat going to be kept hot for the political greenhorn?Meanwhile, let us throw in an extra pyar ki jhappi for the charming sis who campaigned convincingly, sincerely and tirelessly for the son who may or may not rise. Priyanka’s theme song should be , “Pari Hoon Mein…”
There are far too many thappads waiting to be distributed ( though chappals are easier). Somehow, the sight of Jaswant Singh got everybody’s goat as he went about recklessly supporting demands for a separate Gorkhaland. This, after distributing notes and sharing opium jalpaani with the unwashed masses of his constituency. Equally annoying was the sight of Karunanidhi on a hunger strike, after all that scarey double speak about Prabhakaran being his best buddy. Both men were playing a dangerous political game with potentially lethal consequences at a particularly sensitive time in the country. Behenji Mayawati may have spurned Sanjay Dutt’s offer to give her one of his specials and threatened to throw the actor into jail for his audacity. But better a jhappi from Sanju Baba than thappads from those who are still reeling from her tongue lashings. Strange, but Mayawati still remains the number one player in the race, with all eyes on her every move. Being a master at the numbers’ game, she, along with Amma in the South, may topple all the Kingmakers around, and become the pivots around whom India’s future revolves.
No matter how it all adds up in the end ( forget the bookies – this time everything is up for grabs, including the prime ministership), the just concluded Phase -3 of the election, has rightfully grabbed world attention on the basis of sheer scale alone. Just the logistics involved in putting the complex machinery into place and conducting such an ambitious operation sans a major hemorrhage, is worth countless jhappies, pappies and more.Every single cog in this gigantic wheel deserves our unconditional praise. Of course, there will always be glitches when the task is as monumental. But let us be more generous and forgiving about lapses – so far, at least, nothing terribly embarrassing has happened. And for the most part, voting has taken place in comparative peace and safety. Enough to generate genuine shock and awe.
When India votes, the world holds its breath. With reason. It is democracy at work in its most naked avatar – look ma, no hands. Behind the maneuvering, the votes-for-notes, and several other dirty machinations, there is still a great deal of transparency, innocence and hope. If millions of Indians turn out to get that black dot on the middle finger, it is because they continue to believe that their vote matters. There is an unbreakable bond of trust that makes the exercise not just worthwhile but worthy. As we continue our tryst with destiny, the only prayer is that the 543 people getting into parliament,who will be controlling it from this point on,will uphold the faith of over one billion people. It is a huge responsibility….but also a huge obligation.More importantly, it is a pact that must never be broken.India itself deserves that jadoo ki jhappi. Now more than ever.


This appeared on Sunday.... and look how far the Dimpled Darling has come since then. The Rahul Factor seems to be the only factor being discussed across channels.... and opposition members are frothing at the mouth denying any deal in the offing. Nothing is impossible in politics - left becomes right, right becomes left, left and right become the centre. The kite flying and horse trading have just begun.

Tomorrow will see me at the screening of last year's Cannes winner, " The Class." I am so looking forward to it... and the award winning films that will follow. The long, hot summer has yet to begin... but most of us are baked and broiled already. The glorious gulmohurs are in full bloom - wild bursts of flaming red at unexpected corners. The air is heavy with the heady fragrance of summer blossoms - raat ki rani, chameli, mogra, jui, champak. I can't resist buying half-a-dozen gajras at traffic signals. I dream of eating malai kulfi and drinking khus\rose sherbet. Summer can be sensuous and enjoyable - if only it wasn't so bloody hot!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dimpled Darling makes his debut

Guys, the 'good news' stories out of Pune will have to wait. This is breaking news - Rahul Gandhi made a respectable debut as the Anointed One this morning. It was his official coming out party and he delighted his admirers with a carefully orchestrated press conference which he handled deftly, even shrewdly. His candour and easy charm not just floored his worst critics but sent the opponents scrambling for cover. Their weak comebacks later in the day made their combined heightened nervousness that much more evident - let's see who or what they pull out of the hat now that the Rahul Factor has entered the picture. I am not sure whether the heir apparent went in cold or was tutored. But he won several brownie points by playing the ingenue to perfection.All eyes are now on Rahul Baba , as India enters Phase 4 of the month long elections.
Obama's Bangalore Bomb was another big one. Nobody saw that one coming. Just as I was about to switch off, came an sms asking whether Balasaheb Thackeray had passed away. Now, all that was needed was to hear yet another ghastly rumour about the BSE building being attacked ( there was a terror warning this morning). Not a dull day in India ever! Kasab's demands are as outrageous as they are amusing. The guy wants his favourite ittar, flavoured toothpaste, and permission to stroll in the balcony outside his cell. Hello?? Has someone forgotten to tell him what he stands accused of? Or is his lawyer Kazmi upto tricks?? That Kazmi guy looks like he is acting all the time - I get the feeling he has missed his true calling. This is Kazmi's only opportunity to hog the limelight and ham away to glory. I suspect he wears stage make up before every court appearance.
The other nasty rumour doing the rounds is that the Gerard Butler dude was being treated like visiting royalty by Bollywood Biggies for reasons that are very hush hush. It is not our Priyanka Chopra alone who fancied him.The asli suitor was someone else. And he was playing it coy and safe by keeping Priyanka as a decoy. You go figure...
Just to end on a happy and healthy note, Pune's best kept foodie secret may turn out to be an unpretentious restaurant called 'Mayur' - the vegetarian thali place that serves Marwari specialities like Daal Batti. I always but always stop off at Mayur's for lunch, and did so this time as well. I skipped the Daal Batti, and had 'aam ras' instead. My next stop was Fab India (another favourite), from where I bought a bitter orange facial spray. I tell you, it saved me from getting a heat stroke! It is so utterly divine, especially straight out of the 'fridge, I spray it on each time I enter the kitchen. This is my big summer discovery to beat the wretched heat. Okie...kal ki baat kal. adios..

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Punyachey Pandu Hawaldar

Wokay guys, I am back in Mumbai from Peshwaland. I have good news and bad news. Let me guess - you want the bad first, right? Human nature. Bad news makes better copy as well. So, here goes. I had a nasty run-in with the Pune cops - and I wasn't even directly involved. One of my oldest girlfriends now lives in Pune. We were meeting after a longish time. She lost her way to Oakwood Premier ( more on that later) where I was staying. And while trying to locate the address on a dimly-lit road, she drove up the wrong gate. As she executed a neat U-Turn, a casual labourer from a nearby building site , travelling with his wife, an infant and toddler on a scooter, lost control of his two wheeler and crashed into a wall ten feet from her car. There was no physical contact with my friend's vehicle ...and there wasn't a scratch on either him or his family. But the minute he noticed she was a single woman at the wheel, he kicked up a huge hungama, pulled her out of the car, manhandled her and yelled for reinforcements. Soon, she was gheraoed by 60 slumwallas baying for her blood. The cops arrived soon after, and she thought that was the end of her problem considering she was not at fault in the first place! Hell, no! Her problems had just started! Now, this one being a real lady ( royalty, at that), phoned me to say she was running a little late!! It was only when I prodded that she explained why! I immediately rushed to the spot ... by then there were more than a hundred people, including half-a-dozen cops talking animatedly on walkie-talkies. They glared at me and resumed shouting. When I pointed out that nobody was hurt, a cop taunted, " How do you know that.... are you a doctor?'' I said let's go find a doctor in that case. That apparently was the wrong response. The mob started to scream, " Take them to the best hospital for x-rays. The woman's back is broken." It was no use telling this lot that had her back really been broken, she would not be able to sit up straight, much less walk!! By then , we were joined by another girlfriend. The sight of three calm women drove the crowd mad with rage . A fourth woman arrived on the scene - a senior cop!! We thought at least she would get it! Not a chance. She told us to follow her to the cop station. Not the nearest one, but some distant thana miles away from the 'accident' spot! This was getting us nowhere. But we were determined not to do a deal or pay anybody off. We told the lady officer exactly that. There was talk of filing an F.I.R etc. We said, go right ahead. And we'll file ours for assault ( the man had broken my friends pearl choker during the scuffle. It was close to 11p.m. by now - there goes our dinner, we said, but the hunger to see this drama through to the bitter end was far stronger. After endless attempts to bulldoze us into shelling out big bucks, the cops said, " Are you willing to pay for a doctor?" My friend replied, "Yes.On humanitarian grounds - I am not obliged to do so, since I am not involved in the first place." The cops smirked and left with those guys 'to see a doctor'. I'm guessing they went around the corner to figure out the next move. Ten minutes later, we received a call to say, "The doctor wants 3,500 rupees - for x-rays and other tests." We paid it. Suckers. No receipt was given.

This was the bad news. For the good stuff, thodasa intezaar. Tomorrow's post. Promise. Am still reeling from this nasty brush with the 'authorities'. And I am convinced it has to do with us being women. I bet some of you want to know why we didn't make those usual calls to our friends in high places and save ourselves the trouble?? Because we are like that only!! That's why we are friends... samjhey?