Thursday, June 18, 2009

Maid of ( dis) Honour...

This appeared in The Week on sunday.... okay. okay. Guilty as charged! Have been playing truant for 3 days. Ridiculously busy sorting out complex travel issues. Here's the good\bad news. I'm off tomorrow night for a well -earned vacation. I'll get back on 2nd July. It's going to be a short goodbye. But it already seems like forever. My systems are shutting down. When I do get to Rome, I'll be in La Dolce Vita mode for sure. Just to get me further into the mood, I'll be watching a Monica Bellucci film tonight. Don't ask about the pagalpan ahead - I shall be hooking up with various children at assorted destinations - starting with Arundhati in Paris, and Aditya in Barcelona. Two more, Avantikka and Anandita will be travelling with me. This is what makes travel so exciting - you rediscover those closest to you when you meet in another setting. I hope to leave the 'harridan mom' at home and 'make nice' with the kids. Am on my best behaviour from now. The children are confused - they can't recognise the 'new', 'improved' mom. Feeling like a sachet of Surf already!


Shiney Ahuja is coming out of my ears. But seriously.... howcome his family forgot to get him a fresh change of clothes? Food?? Even a toothbrush?? It's been over four days, you guys. The poor fellow is still wearing the same underwear! The missus has been in overdrive giving interviews to any and every hack in town. I guess Anupam (her!) is way too busy defending Shiney on prime time to remember minor stuff like roti and kapda. Maybe her proclamations of 'standing by her man' don't extend beyond press quotes ....and her declared adoration of her husband does not include getting the poor guy some decent ghar ka khana. Too much drama, if you ask me. I'm going to miss this daily natak baazi . But what the hell - how boring can Portofino be, right?? Ha ha. Just showing off... and trying not to give away my excitement. Ciao Ciao. Arrivederci . Phir milengey..

Knowing Anita

Boooof! It hit me in the gut minutes into our virgin conversation. Anita Jain, the author of ‘Marrying Anita’ is like a nuclear warhead – lethal! I met the delicious former journo at the first ‘India Se Writers’ Festival’ in Singapore last week. It is one thing ‘Knowing Anita’. But ‘Marrying Anita’??? You need guts!!How many men in our hypocritical society have them? I completely and totally adored the latest enfant terrible on the rapidly growing literary circuit in India.Quite simply, Anita Jain, is a character. Not quite Kamala Das, not Erica Jong… and certainly not Brigit Jones. She is Anita – her own person. And she has written a spunky book that could also have been titled ‘Being Anita’, and it would still read the same. But ‘Marrying Anita’ is a more commercial title, as I am sure Bloomsbury, her American publishers realized when they decided to publish her memoir in 2008. Well, the book has not sent cash registers ringing in the U.S. but in India, Anita has been noticed and is being courted by desi publishers, impressed by local sales. Carelessly tagged ‘ Sex and the City, Delhi-style,’ the book is much more than just a raunchy account of the 36-year-old’s sexual romps in her motherland. Her ‘Quest for love in New India’ is more hilarious than erotic and begins on a rather comical note . The narrative is a loosely linked catalogue of her sexapades – near-misses and a couple of booze\drug induced ‘dates’ ( notably with an Amritdhari Sikh virgin whom she initiates into kissing by caressing his turban). But behind the very American upfrontness and ‘let it all hang out’ tone of the prose, I sensed enormous pathos. And after meeting Anita over two days and three sessions, I could understand her rather unique dilemma.
Anita has shifted to Mumbai so she can hack it in Bollywood. Why Bollywood? Well… virtually every talented individual I have met over the past ten years wants a piece of Bollywood. To achieve her objective, Anita is sharing a rented hole in the wall with an American guy ( not a boyfriend, she hastily clarifies), and doing the rounds of studios and ‘contacts’ in production houses. Has she given up her search operation for a Suitable Boy? I don’t think so – she didn’t say. But I could sense her ambivalence…. and loneliness. Anita , a Harvard graduate, business journalist and most recently, an author of a successful title, is caught in a cultural vortex – she thinks American but wants to live Indian ( well, to the extent possible). Mumbai is just the city for Anita. But even Mumbai can be cold sometimes . And Anita is too hot to handle. By any city’s standards. This is what is so terrific about her. She says what is uppermost in her mind without thinking twice or caring a jot about consequences. Unwary strangers respond to her like they’ ve been electrocuted , unable to handle her eloquence, overt sexiness, volatility or brilliance.Men recoil at her candour and women rush in the opposite direction looking for cover. Extreme reactions are expected in conservative societies such as ours, and I am wondering whether Anita was aware of the storm her book would create in India – particularly at book readings during which she reads out chapters dealing with graphic details of her trysts ( notably one in a motel, when she was menstruating and left a bloodied bedsheet behind before fleeing the premises!) with relish. And yet, there is nothing sleazy about in any of this. I found her ‘confessions’ exceedingly heart- breaking, naïve and innocent. In America, these sort of books are a dime a dozen and their content is often far racier. The difference here is contextual– this is not fiction. It is Anita’s own story ( much like Kamala Das’s ‘My Story’ which was far more coy). We are still not comfortable dealing with women’s sexuality , particularly if the writer remains unapologetic and unashamed.Anita has several choices ahead of her – I’ ve suggested one - a sequel : ‘Surviving Anita…’ She should go for it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dhoni ki dhulayi ho gayee

This appeared in Bombay Times this morning :

Don’t Mess with the Press….

Media as Monster?? Take two recent high profile cases. Sheetal Mafatlal’s and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s. Till very recently, both were the absolute darlings of fawning journos who behaved like greedy puppies in their presence. Suddenly, the two of them have dropped from grace and are being pilloried by the same presswallas who had propped them up in the first place. I am more interested in tracking the Dhoni saga, since Dhoni is a national figure with an international fan following running into millions. Sheetal remains a local celeb. A Mumbai society girl, who makes great pics ( in and out of jail). All it took for Dhoni’s halo to lose its sheen, was one unguarded remark, a glare, and a sharp rebuke when questioned about Sehwag’s shoulder injury. I watched that particular press conference carefully, and could anticipate what would follow. Dhoni’s body language was aggressive, and his standard post-match charm was totally missing. Instaed, he chose to be belligerent and defensive by turn, and ended up putting both feet into his mouth. Mar gayaa, I said to myself. The guy’s had it.
Sure enough, the press came down on him like a ton of bricks…. And I guarantee you, no amount of damage control can help after that single outburst. Whether or not Dhoni covers himself with untold glory from this point on, whether or not we clinch the T20 ( at the time of writing, we had still to make the semis), Dhoni is a marked man. Unfortunately, this is how the cookie crumbles. The press can be particularly harsh and unforgiving towards idols they themselves have created. Dhoni gave himself away when he briefly lost it and challenged the press (“ You are accusing me of leaking news ?”). At that point there was no such accusation…. but he inadvertently gave the game away. Huge mistake. Countless tv debates followed with several experts voicing their two bits’ worth on whether or not Dhoni should have said what he did. The consensus was that Dhoni should have kept his trap shut. Bishen Singh Bedi put it in the right context when he said, “ A captain must always maintain his cool.” Others agreed and added that it is imperative for a captain to remain in control at all times – particularly so during a crisis. I agree. But Dhoni is a young, hot- blooded athlete, not a paunchy, seasoned politician. He is human, he too can get provoked, and surely we can make some concessions for a sportsman who has otherwise conducted himself admirably?? Apparently not!!

Which brings me to Sheetal. Let me state it bluntly – I am on her side. Not her personally or specifically. I would have been on anybody’s side who had been singled out for an offence that others have waltzed away from after paying a fine. Sheetal is no spring chicken. She is a businesswoman and she, more than most people, must know the rules. Ignorance is no defence. Even so… why detain and jail her?? That seemed a pretty vicious thing to do, vindictive, too. And perhaps it was an over- zealous interpretation of the law. Unless the authorities know something we don’t. And they plan to go public with the damaging information\evidence at a later date. As of now, Sheetal stands accused of flouting gold import rules. In the past, even the Bachchans have been detained for non-declaration of dutiable luxury items to the tune of one crore of rupees and more. They weren’t marched off to jail. They were fined. I can think of several others – Adar Poonawala, Suresh Hiranandani etc. So,why was Sheetal targeted for this extra special treatment?? Who was out to fix her? Mind you, I have no sympathy for her kind who often allow their arrogance to get the better of good sense and believe they are above and beyond the law. Sheetal will now get entangled in complex court proceedings, and chances are, her professional credentials as a brand ambassador for an international fashion house, will be damaged permanently. All for a few pieces of gold ( not even 24 –carat, as it emerges). Once again, it was the rottweiler –style mediawallas she ran foul of. Moral of the story?? Don’t mess with the press. Or else…right Dhoni??
I am in a state of shock! Shiney? And rape?? I have always been a Shiney Ahuja fan. The guy is a far better actor than most of the duds hanging around. Better looking, too. Why would he rape an 18 year-old -maid working in his home as a temp? He has a lovely wife, a cute daughter... but then again, who knows what beast lurks beneath the veneer of a gentleman? His wife insists the man is being framed. The police say he has 'confessed'. The maid has added that he threatened to kill her. The story gets murkier by the minute. Chances are Bollywood biggies will turn their backs on Shiney. In their eyes he is a nobody. Shiney isn't a star son. Nor does he belong to any known camp. He hasn't sucked up to any of the Khans or Bachchans either. If anything, his co-stars have accused him of being distant and unfriendly. He has always stayed away from those typical filmi set ups - no partying-shartying, no groupies, no punch ups, no courting presswallas. That's why I liked the chap. Found him attractively aloof... a brooder. Troubled and intense. Our very own James Dean. And now this mess! Am hoping against hope the maid is a conniving b**** and not a helpless sexual victim of a star's passing fancy. Shiney is certainly not the first 'star rapist' in Bollywood. Let's see how many dirty secrets tumble out now that the Pandora's Box has been opened.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sheetal Moofatlal and kahani

Politically Incorrect : This appeared in Sunday Times today....
A Tale of Two Women…..

On the surface it would appear Kalavati and Sheetal Moofatlal --- oops …. make that Mafatlal, have nothing in common but their gender. Think again. Last week they were both in the news and the media couldn’t get enough of them. Their lives are not all that dissimilar – they make headlines for the wrong reasons. Sheetal once declared that she’d gone into mourning after reading about couturier Gianni Versace’s murder. She told the press she only slept on Versace sheets. Kalavati has no sheets. Or so she claims. Both ladies are media savvy – they have perfected their soundbytes. Sheetal boasted she was more Page 1 worthy than Page 3 material. Well, during last week’s fiasco at Mumbai airport, she made it to both spaces. But Kalavati remains one- up on Sheetal when it comes to mega coverage, particularly in Delhi. Kalavati is discussed in Parliament.Sheetal is discussed by Parliamentarians. According to media investigations, both ladies are broke. But in reality, that does not appear so. Kalavati parades her abject poverty and foreign journos gobble it up. Sheetal flaunts her flamboyance and has any number of takers – from bling- worshipping paparazzi stationed to catch the front row action of Fashion Weeks in Milano ( her emeralds made it to international glossies), to local flash bulbwallas focusing on her jumbo rocks. Of course, rocks have a totally different meaning in Kalavati’s dreary life.
What is interesting about both their stories is the question that begs to be asked : vamps or victims? In Kalavati’s case, fate picked her for a pre-election role she had nothing to do with. India’s bonny Prince Rahul decided to drop in for a cuppa – and discovered there was no cuppa! It was Rahul’s aaha moment – his discovery of India. Moved by her desperate plight, our man promised to wave a magic wand and repeat the Cinderella act. Kalavati claims she got zilch. But Rahul’s boys insist lakhs and lakhs have been given to her. Not counting a cow with a generous fodder allowance. Like Oliver, the former share cropper from an obscure village in Vidharba wants more. Free electricity and the BPL card are clearly not enough. Sheetal has always wanted more, like any self- respecting Material Girl – more of everything - solitaires are a woman’s best friend, remember? From solitaires to a solitary night in a prison cell ( definitely no Versace sheets in this dump), it has been such a long journey for the curvaceous socialite who became a poor little rich girl with no friends, virtually overnight. The most ignominious part of L’Affaire Sheetal has been the demeaning admission that all that glitters may not be sterlite… oops--- sterling , and those rocks may be just that - valueless stones! Fakes and the super rich?? But of course . Sheetal may live down the rest of the disgrace, but to be caught ‘smuggling’ anything less than 24-carats is perhaps the worst crime in the social register.
Somehow, one can’t but feel there is something awfully amiss in the way Sheetal’s case was handled. Her ‘crime’ was that she did not declare dutiable luxury items. By all means punish her for that by fining her. Follow the book. That is the standard procedure for offenders in any case. But why describe her as a ‘smuggler’ and send her to jail for an offence several high profile individuals have been equally guilty of ? They were allowed to go home and pay up later. She was treated like a petty criminal. Two sets of rules for the same breach?? Not fair.
Kalavati and Sheetal stand tainted by the system. Kalavati did not ask for largesse – it was thrust on her. She is being used and positioned as a Slumdog Millionairess to suit a political agenda. Kalavati makes good copy. So does Sheetal. Mrs. Mafatlal’s reversal of fortune may make her a Millionairess Slumdog. Rahul urged his co-Parliamentarians not to laugh at Kalavati when Lalu joked about her. Sheetal has still to find a powerful enough champion to defend her. Kalavati has her cow ( at least on paper), Sheetal needs a cash cow to bail her out. A woman’s life is never easy. Kalavati and Sheetal – two sides of the same coin. Two faces of resurgent India.
Got back from Alibag in a bit of a stupor. Perhaps it was the intense heat, the call of the koel or the two movies I watched there ( Ang Lee's Lust:Caution, and " Notes on a Scandal''), but my brain is at rest ( very rarely does that happen!). It is Raj Thackeray's birthday today,as also my brother Ashok's. And yet, I cannot find two more dissimilar individuals. So much for Sun Signs. Can Linda Goodman be this wrong?? All along the route back to Mumbai, I spotted gigantic hoardings wishing 'Raj Saheb' a very long life. In the library of our home in Alibag, hangs a fantastic cariacature of Prince Charles. It is a water colour painted by none other than Raj Thackeray! My husband had bought it years ago at an exhibition. By any standards, it is a first rate work. It got me thinking about the Thackeray family's many talents. Uddhav is an excellent photographer. And Balasaheb, as we all know, a superb cartoonist. My husband has his work as well. Adolf Hitler's water colours were soft and sensitive. Art and autocracy, it would appear, have much in common.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

All guns blazing...

Mumbai is lucky to have a woman as Sheriff. Dr. Indu Shahani probably has a fan club that is as big as any movie star's - but her 'performance' is of an entirely different kind. As Sheriff and Principal of a leading commerce college where her father was the founder - principal, here's one woman who plays several critical roles with enormous aplomb.... and efficiency. As Sheriff of India's premier city, she has made the most of her ceremonial, non-executive position, by really pushing for change in areas where it is most needed - like women's issues. I was invited by her as chief guest at a workshop on " Orientation on sexual violence against women ". This was the third in an on- going series that sees over 7o NGOs participating and working together for a common cause - a rare enough feat. Last year, Indu started "1298 Women's Helpline'' with the assisstance of these NGOs and also launched Ambulance Access For All, which provides a 24x7 service. 1298 has received over 8000 calls from women in distress. There is also a directory for women launched by Sachin Tendulkar some time ago.
I was there to listen and learn. My take- away is that all these initiatives are excellent in themselves, but would be far more effective if they were to work still more closely together and harness their energies collectively. Shweta Mangal, along with 5 others has succeeded in replicating the ambulace model in 3 cities and now runs 91 such, well- equipped units that can reach a person in trouble within 15 minutes. She sagely says that since people don't always value a free service, her company charges fees depending on the person's financial capacity to pay.
Our Mumbai police have done a fairly good job with their 103 Helpline for Women. I was happy to note the presence of three women cops who were attending the workshop.
As in most such non-profit ventures driven by idealism and little else, funding remains the number one priority. There are enough charged up young volunteers offering time and expertise. But additional money would definitely help.
For all those of you who are interested in contributing time\effort\money, here are the relevant contact details - dial 1298 for the ambulance service. And the Sheriff can be accessed on email : There's also a website:
Like I said in my short speech, women need to know they aren't alone. That is key.Everything follows from the reassurance that help is but a phone call away.

I'll be away at our home in Alibag for the weekend. The next post will be on sunday night. Inshaallah!
I shall leave you with a little titillation - Bipasha wants her curves back!! She has said with the panache of veteran sex symbol that in her estimate Indian men go for curvaceous women. Honey.... how right you are! Well, Bipasha lost her curves for a commercial. Now she is getting them back - also for a commercial??? Watch this space. The Waxing and Waning of Bips may generate as much media interest ( more, in all likelihood) than the solar eclipse next fortnight.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bum Deal....

I wrote this for the Bombay Times....was away when it got published.

What a bummer!!

Something snapped inside my head when I read Kareena Kapoor’s recent quote , “ Saifu is ecstatic I got my butt back,” on the front page of BT. The picture accompanying her interview was apt - a great shot of the actress looking suitably luscious with her new butt sticking out provocatively. Reading through the rest of the text, I found myself frowning furiously and going tut tut. I am not a tut tut kind of person generally. So what was it about Bebo’s butt interview that got me? I think I know. It sounded immature and cheap. Kareena is not some hard up starlet, and she doesn’t need this kind of silly publicity. Right now, she’s on top of her game and her imaging has been expertly handled so far. By going into intimate revelations about her boyfriend’s sexual preferences for certain body parts of hers, I think she eroded that gilt edged positioning. These are such personal matters. She is Saif’s lady love. He adores her, she adores him vaghera,vaghera. Well… good for them. But to reduce their passionate love story to a kahani about her pumped up backside, and how attractive it is to her lover, is really pretty crass. The guy has teenage, school going children, and comes from an educated, cultured family. We know he’s besotted – but this was a real bummer ( pardon the pun – or don’t).
Strange how a single quote can sometimes undo a carefully built up image. We live in exceedingly open times, and most of our stars have reached the stage where they don’t bother to play that idiotic ‘We’re just good friends’ game. Even so, I can’t ever imagine Aishwarya Rai gushing, “ Oh… Abhi adores my bum.” They are married and in an even stronger position to make such comments. Bebo is genuinely naïve and outspoken….paradoxically, her spontaneity is also a part of her charm. But this time she was ill advised, and maybe she regrets the corny interview in retrospect.It would be interesting to find out what the Chhotey Nawab thought of Kareena’s confession. One thing’s for sure – that’s the end of the Size Zero obsession in Bollywood and beyond. It’s official – kareena’s got her butt back. And her boyfriend loves it, okay??


Those of us who’d met Kamala Das during her Mumbai stint and got to read about her passing away in Pune recently, must have shed at least a few tears for her rather unsung exit from the world. She was an extraordinary woman, far ahead of her time – bold, forthright and attractive in her own way. In Mumbai, she had countless admirers of both sexes who flocked to her sprawling apartment near Mantralaya for weekend poetry reading salons, over which Kamala presided like an empress, with fawning acolytes hanging on to her every word.I hope she is doing just that in heavens and captivating the gods.
The same week saw the death of Monica Choudhary, Chitra Singh’s troubled daughter, who was found hanging in her bedroom by her older son. I remember Monica as an exceptionally attractive model with her mother’s exquisitely chiseled features. There was a haunting sense of loneliness about her, and she always remained aloof from the modeling fraternity. My heart goes out to Chitra. There can be no worse fate than losing ones child. And Chitra has lost two of hers – both under tragic circumstances. First, Vivek who was killed in a car crash. And now, Monica. I hope music soothes Chitra’s soul in her hour of grief and she doesn’t turn her back on it permanently. Our prayers are with you…


" Moving out of Poverty - Success from the Bottom Up," is the title of Deepa Narayan's book. It is based on comparitive research across more than 500 communities in 15 countries. Impressive. Narayan was a senior adviser to the World Bank who had initiated the Voices of the Poor project. In Mumbai to promote the book at the American Centre ( along with the Asia Society ) a panel discussion had been organised on the issues raised by the 400 page volume. It was described as a Power Panel of Women. I don't know what I was doing on it in that case! There were just the three of us, Naina Kidwai ( HSBC honcho.... or should that be honchi?), Deepa Narayan and the moderator, Anand Giridhardas ( International Herald Tribune dude). Blame it on jet lag ( I'd arrived, sleep deprived , from Singapore , a couple of hours earlier). But I just couldn't bear the supercilious nature of the discussion. I found it offensive , shallow and self- serving. I guess that must have come through in my comments. Good. I certainly hope it did. There's a blurb on top of the book's cover written by Bill Clinton who calls the project an 'important resource for everyone working to alleviate poverty." I found that precious. I'm sure thousands of dollars have been spent on putting this book together . It will be read and discussed by rich people at posh seminars that deconstruct poor people. There is something wonky about such an enterprise. The same funds could educate several underprivileged kids across the world. But then, who would attend the seminars???

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Singapore returned!!!

Made it there... and back... through the worst tubulence ever, seated in an antiquated Air India aircraft from another zamana. It shuddered and shook all the way to Singapore. That's five, non-stop hours of serious shuddering. Khair, once there, I stopped thinking about the Air France crash and nearly kissed the lovely lady who was there to assisit me through Custom's. Singapore looked glorious, but I had less than an hour to shower, change and make it to the 'Song of India' for an official lunch where the Maharashtrian star chef Milan Suvan frequently cooks up a version of the humble " kothmir vadi" and locals pounce on it like it is the most exotic starter on earth.
Well.... this is also where I got to meet the other invited writers - and loved each one of them, starting with Anita Jain ( " Marrying Anita..."), Loveleen Tandon ( script writer and co-director of 'Slumdog...") al. Our hosts were determined to work us to the bone and make us read for our supper later the same night. Strictly no rest. No leisure time. No issues. They were picking up the tab. So...
Anita's reading set the venue on fire ( The POD, on top of the National Library). It was sexually charged, intimate and hilarious. I took an instant shine to this spunky 36 -year-old author, a Harvard graduate and former financial journo. She is my new best friend. I don't know if I am hers, though!
That night we all ate the most delicious crab in white pepper, drank lots of Chilean Chardonnay and generally behaved atrociously. The three of us, then headed out to Clarke Quay and bonded over another glass of the good stuff. By the time we got back to our hotel, it was 4 a.m. And we had a ridiculously punishing day ahead of us. But hey - it was an occasion. I'd met two bright and beautiful women and we'd had the best time.... okay??? God! I'm sounding like a guilty school girl justifying a late night to her parents!!! Stop it, De!!!
You don't want every gory, minute-by-minute detail , right?? Let me just tell you, the panel discussion the next night at the stuffy old Tanglin Club was raised to another level by these very ladies. The Chardonnay must have been really good!! Must go back for more someday .
I went back to the 'No Signboard Restaurant' ( official name. Swear) in the red light district of Geyhlang and this time I stuck to an old favourite - the Singapore chilly crab. It was only after I'd finished the meal that I was shown the plump bull frogs waiting to be cooked. Don't throw up. There are worse 'delicacies' and you really don't want to know what those are in these parts.

I was so very happy to read the response to Jayabrato's poem in my last post. I emailed him about it, and he was so uncharacteristically formal and modest! The good news is that there are more poems where that one came from, and he'll soon be publishing them in volume. If he decides to send me another one, I shall promptly share it with you. Meanwhile, my husband has discovered Ovid, and I am bombarded all day with his Bongified version of the Greek poet. I sense a closet poet Dilip. Pity, I am so bloody prosaic!!
Enough already. Tomorrow.... no, let me not spoil it for you. Wait.... and ye shall see...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Just a litle...

I shall leave you to savour a beautiful poem written by my friend Jayabrato from Kolkata.

I really loved it.

It came as a special gift before leaving for Singapore ( an hour from now ). I shall definitely miss this space. But like Napoleon ( my husband's biggest hero), I shall be back!! Adieu till tuesday....


Let a little remain
From everything
When everything is lost…

A cheeky blade of grass
A little dust on my shoes,
My mother’s broken porcelain
Contrary views!
A tiny trace of frost…
A bit of my chin
In the chin of my daughter,
Sunlight on broken water.
Original sin!

Just a little
Let a little remain…

A handful of jasmine
Still clinging to the creeper,
A lost memento in my
Old cardigan pocket
As I dig deeper…
Yesterday’s smell
Heaven and Hell!

Just a little
Let a little remain…

A childhood secret
Broken by a thousand wishes.
All the hits
And all the misses!
A stray strand of hair
On Baba’s old shawl,
His voice still echoing
In an empty hall…
Pinholed portraits
Down Memory Lane
A volley of stars
On mountain peaks
And on my cheeks
Sudden drops of rain
Carelessly toss’d…

Let a little remain
From everything
When everything is lost…

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nimatai's scolding...

This appeared in The week on sunday. I love this column since it deals with gender issues, and generally annoys a lot of men!!


Short changed. Again!

Why are we getting so damned excited? Over a single digit becoming double?? Calm down, ladies. Hold the euphoria. Please don’t call it ‘progress’ just because the 15th Lok Sabha has 61 women featuring in it. It is a pathetic and paltry number, and we should really be angered not thrilled by it. I was talking to an RJ last week, and he went blue in the face declaring what an amazing moment this is – after all, it represents a full 10% - and aren’t we like, totally overjoyed ?? My response was more sober, if not downright annoyed. Get real. We are living in a new era, and we certainly don’t need this kind of condescension to validate us. Hold the champagne for now– the party has yet to begin. Tell me about it when women cross the 50% mark. Then we can dance on the streets and truly celebrate. Till such time, let us ask ourselves why political parties remain so reluctant to back women candidates in this, the 21st century. Or, if they do decide to give a ticket to a woman , it is often for the wrong reasons ( someone’s wife, widow, daughter, aunt, sister, mother ). I was watching young Agatha Sangma on television and I said to myself – look at this remarkably poised and intelligent young lawyer. Sure, she comes from a politically prominent family. But even if she didn’t, she richly deserves to be in parliament. There must be several, equally accomplished young women in India, willing to throw in their lot and take a shot at politics. We need more Agathas if women are to make a difference in public life.
Given the small numbers this time, I really don’t know how strong or effective a body these ladies will make in parliament or even if they will speak in a cohesive voice. I certainly hope they do – for their own sakes. We have always had a few truly extraordinary women parliamentarians but their voices have rarely been heard as emphatically as needed. Eventually, most were reduced to ‘goongi gudiyas’ – nothing more than decorative\token creatures, whose presence was always noted by waiting journos for the sartorial statements they were making, rather than statements on more vital issues relating to the welfare of women at large. Whether it is Jayaprada, Priya or any other presentable M.P. references to their physical appearance are still obligatory. So it shall be this time round, as well. That’s my guess . I sincerely hope I am proved wrong.
We women should cease the meaningless drum beating immediately. Perhaps we are too passive to protest or even register our disappointment, thrilled as we are with the ‘new’, ‘improved’ mandate. For those who are pleased by the crumbs and gleefully point out how the slice of the political pie is getting larger, it must be pointed out that from 3.5 percent representation in 1977 to over 10% in 2009 does not indicate a quantam leap by any standards. If anything, it proves that it is still the snail that determines the pace. And given that women do make up nearly half of India’s one billion plus population, this is a sorry statistic to be flaunting in the first place.
We talk of empowerment and flexing the female muscle. To me, that sounds like a joke. Our issues continue to be regarded as non-issues. We lack the teeth to make the cut – simple as that. I don’t want to sound like a party pooper, but excuse me, what exactly are we celebrating here? Most of our really, really powerful women are busy with other ‘more important’ issues, and give depressingly low priority to their less privileged sisters languishing in the back of the beyond. Those unfortunate women with no access to toilets or medical health, whose daily diet remains way below the body’s requirement, and despite which they are compelled to toil in the fields for half the wages earned by their men. Will the 10% work on behalf of this vast segment? Or do have to wait patiently for the 16th Lok Sabha election to crawl up the ladder by another percentage point or two…. And once again foolishly crow about ‘stree shakti’ from the rooftops ? Ladies – don’t get fooled. Don’t get short changed. We deserve better, okay??


I am in one of those rare over -sentimental moods. Nostalgia rules for now. Quick. Ask me why.

I met my 87- year- old aunt Nirmala last evening. For some odd reason, we always addressed her as 'Nimatai' and not 'Nima Maushi'. This would make her an older sister which she isn't. She was my mother's middle sister. I was meeting her after years. Which is shameful, given that she lives in the same city. Worse, I was there to pay a condolence call - her daughter ( and my first cousin , Rekha) had lost her husband the previous day. I went to Nimatai's ground floor apartment in Bandra expecting to meet a devastated, shattered old woman. She was alone in the flat, awaiting her daughter-in-law and son. When she saw me, she did not burst into tears. She glared!! And said sharply, " So.... it took a tragedy to bring you here." I hugged her and apologised. She wasn't having any of it. She recalled the last time I had visited her ( ages ago!) and I felt truly ashamed. I sat on an armchair next to her looking like a penitent school girl. She continued to scold me for the next few minutes .... and I loved every minute of it! At my age, how many people are there who can exercise such a right?? I regressed instantly. My body language changed and so did my voice. I could 'see' my own mother in Nimatai clearly, and my heart was breaking - the same hands, the same mannerisms, the same choice of words ( sarcasm!). I thought to myself, we Maharashtrians are such strange creatures. We rarely show our emotions. Even at a moment like this, mourning the untimely death of a well loved son-in-law, there was no rona dhona. Just a stoic acceptance of fate . It wouldn't have been any different at a birth or a wedding - no blatant , loud celebration. Just a restrained acknowledgement of the event. As a young girl, I used to wish I was born a Punjabi - I loved their exhuberance and flamboyant displays of even a minor achievement. Today, I am glad about the essential Maharashtrian in me - the one that longs to be scolded by an aunt who is addressed as a sister! I love my Nimatai. May she live long and stay just the way she is.Always.