Friday, February 24, 2012

Karachi Lit Fest 2012.Some more from 'Dawn' to dusk!

KLF: An affair to remember
Here we are with the OUP team and Vikram Seth!! Trust me, OUP boasts of brainy beauties, and the marketing team in particular, is outstanding. Well done Ameena, Raheela, Fatima and Soonita.

This report from veteran journo and respected author provides the best overview of KLF. Enjoy!

Posted By Asif Noorani

Now that it has been over 10 days that the Karachi Literature Festival [1] has ended it would be worthwhile assessing the mega event dispassionately, even though one can’t be totally objective about anything. To begin with, it was organised in what turned out to be the coldest days of February since 1950. You can’t blame the organisers for that. Can you?

Secondly, the third edition of the KLF [2] had more sessions than the first two and saw many more people attending the two-day event. How many more, I leave that for statisticians to tell you. The speakers and panellists from home and abroad were more too. Expectations were higher and they were by and large fulfilled, which is not to mean that there were no glitches. They are bound to be when due to surfeit of questions from the audiences (often comments masquerading as queries) some sessions spilled over into the following ones.

For the first time (if I am not mistaken) parallel events ran for the kids. There was a stall selling books for them. A spirit of carnival pervaded in that part of Carlton Hotel.

If there were errors of judgement, they will in all probability be taken care of next year. I too made a mistake and promised myself not to repeat it. I was supposed to introduce Shobhaa De and didn’t realise that the jam-packed audience was there not to hear about her, but they wanted to listen to her. Period.

Dressed in a resplendent bright silk sari, Shobhaa was an audiovisual appeal. She also proved that she was as articulate in her speech as she happened to be in her writings. She was chased by the media and she enjoyed every moment of it. She is an old hand at handling them.

If there was one person who was the darling of the audience then it was none other than the novelist-poet Vikram Seth [3]. He was quick on the uptake. Those, like me, who couldn’t attend his session, got a chance to listen to the highly gifted writer and speaker on a subsequent evening at the head office of the co-hosts, Oxford University Press.

The Indians were more in numbers than participants from any other country, in much the same way as the Pakistanis had been in greater number at the Asian Advertising Congress across the border last year. Keeping a low profile were the charming couple from Calcutta. Kishore Bhimani got more applause than other foreigners in the session titled ‘Writing about Pakistan from a foreign perspective’. His wife, Rita who has written books on public relations and is in great demand as an anchor back home, facilitated many sessions with her innate charm.

Anatole Lieven [4], whose book on Pakistan, is arguably the finest and fairest volume written in recent years, was listened to in rapt attention. By the same token, London-based Yasmin Khan, the author of an invaluable book on Partition, and Alok Bhalla, a noted Indian scholar, spoke a lot of sense in the session ‘Looking back at Partition’. I had the good fortune of being one of the panellists and my sole point was that any attempt to undo partition would mean a lot more mayhem and bloodshed. In the interest of more than two billion people of the two countries, it was necessary that we emulated the example of the US and Canada, two friendly neighbours.

I ended my 10 minute allotted time by saying that personally I benefited from the division. Had it not been so my wife would have stayed behind in Meerut and a couple of decades later married her second or third cousin, while I would have remained in Bombay, where I may have taken a Bollywood starlet to the altar. A year or two later she would have found a filthy rich man and would have walked out of my house, and my heart, of course.

The list of some big names from home and abroad, who graced the festival is long and can be seen at the KLF’s website [5].

One last point, it is quite surprising to hear some people insist that the venue be changed to suit those who have no transport of their own. At a time when you see two-wheelers parked outside the houses in lower middle class localities it would be rare to find such people. Also, please remember that Carlton Hotel is not light years away from any part of Karachi.

One of my friends is an ardent supporter of Expo Centre in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, which is fine for book fairs but not for literature festivals, where not one but four rooms, much smaller than the Expo Centre’s halls, are needed. What is more, those halls have no seating arrangements. By the way, Expo Centre is prohibitively expensive for what is essentially a non-commercial event.

Having attended several conventions and conferences abroad, I have noticed that events like the KLF are either held in hotels or are at walking distances from places where the delegates are lodged.

One nut has been writing here, there and everywhere that the literature festival should be held at the Goethe-Institut. He can’t be serious. The German cultural centre should first expand its premises 20 times to even be considered for such an event. Secondly, people will have to leave their cars and motorbikes at home for there is no parking space outside Goethe-Institut. The generous chief minister won’t allow the hospitality of his huge and heavily guarded house next door. These days all VVIP are mortally afraid of cars laden with explosives.

The writer, who jointly authored the bestselling ‘Tales of Two Cities’ with Kuldip Nayar and more recently compiled and created ‘Mehdi Hasan: The Man and his Music’ writes and lectures on music, literature and culture. He also reviews books and pens travelogues and humorous pieces, and can be contacted at [6]

Thursday, February 23, 2012

'Cuban Countdown' begins....

This is a picture of my friend's chauffeur and bodyguard with me. Check out the weapon!!
Why 'Cuban Countdown'??? Because this time tomorrow I shall be on a jetplane headed for Cuba. I am thrilled! Havana has remained a dream destination for the longest time. I was afraid there it would stay forever - in my dreams! But, some dreams do come true. And am I glad this one is obliging! I'll be MIA for two weeks. May blog and connect from Havana . Or Capri. Or London. Or Naples. Kuch bhi ho sakta hai. Perhaps, by the time I get back, Saif will be.... no,no,no. Let me not say it!!!

This appeared in The Week' ....

Will Meryl make it even though Maggie doesn't....??

The ‘Iron(ic) Lady’

I am writing this on what smart Sweetheart Sellers of the world have declared as the ‘most romantic day of the year’ - Valentine’s Day. On the personal front, I am feeling reasonably romantic ( I have a movie-dinner date with my husband), but I so wish I had not watched ‘The Iron Lady’ last night. It is an intensely sad and cruel film. And for those of us from ‘that’ generation, who grew up on images of Maggie Thatcher decimating adversaries (mainly male colleagues), it was disillusioning and tragic to sit through this particular portrayal of a once great woman. Meryl Streep is the most extraordinary actress of our times. No doubt she will win several awards for her supremely intelligent interpretation of an outstanding political leader. But for viewers who may base their assessment of Baroness Thatcher on nothing more substantial than a Hollywood bio-pic, this version of a steely, courageous woman, will certainly be grossly misleading. After a point, I couldn’t bear to watch. And here’s why: Maggie Thatcher is still alive.At 95, she’s a frail old, sick lady suffering from Dementia. This is a movie that starts and ends with a sadistic chronicling of Maggie’s fragile mental condition, occasionally taking in other aspects of her dramatic rise to becoming the most powerful woman on earth (post-Falklands’ war). Nearly everything else is converted into a footnote, as the camera remains cold and steady watching Maggie as she pathetically attempts to remember tiny details of her life, frequently lapsing into a hallucinatory state. Even if all the incidents shown with such a painful attention to detail, are accurate and can be corroborated, isn’t it awfully hurtful to concentrate on such a delicate condition, almost to the exclusion of all else? What about Maggie’s dignity? And the dignity of countless other sufferers?
Maggie’s relationship with her husband of 50 years,Sir Denis, is recreated from the time they met to Denis’ death in 2003 at the age of 88. It may well have been a complex and troubled marriage. But the later scenes of Denis mocking Maggie for not recalling which day of the week it is, comes across as being particularly harsh. Perhaps, Maggie’s most difficult relationship ( as projected in the award winning movie) is with Carol, her daughter, who is the only loving figure in an otherwise grim narrative. Maggie is shown humiliating her time and again, even as the poor woman struggles to help her mum hang on to remnants of her tattered life. In a concluding scene, her daughter asks whether she should call a hair dresser to fix Maggie’s coiffeur before an important event. Maggie declines. The daughter repeats innocently, “So, who’ll fix your hair , mummy?” Maggie snaps imperiously, “You do it!” before dismissing her. Carol got her own back by penning a memoir in 2008, that offered telling details of Mum’s slide into dementia. Exploitative and brutal?
I’d reacted the same way to the portrayal of Phoolan Devi as ‘The Bandit Queen’. Poor Phoolan may have needed the money, and was an illiterate woman when the movie was launched internationally. In the case of Maggie, had the filmmakers touched on her health condition and not made it the centerpiece of the movie, it would have been a more honorable way to showcase the Thatcher era. Well, that’s showbiz for you. Zero in on the subject’s biggest vulnerability and milk it to death. Maggie was a world leader with several achievements to her credit. Here , she is shown as an insecure bitch, a selfish, screechy harridan, constantly tormenting those who love her the most – Denis and Carol - when she isn’t berating her party men (there are no women in Maggie’s team). It is a one- sided, nasty depiction that would make most viewers squirm and believe Maggie did not possess a single redeeming quality.
For a ‘Grocer’s daughter’ ( as she was dubbed by upper crust Conservatives), Maggie proved it was possible to achieve the impossible. Her sharp, two words’ command to the Navy chief (“Sink it!”) during the Falklands’ crisis with Argentina, won the war for Britain. But it may have sunk Maggie, despite the short spell of hero worship that followed the victory. This movie underlines the iron content of this amazing woman in ways that are hostile and negative. It’s back to the old stereotype of women politicians who are expected to solve global issues in parliament, but must toe the predictable line at home by washing tea cups and cooking hot meals for the family.
Yes, Meryl Streep ( Bafta winner) scores big with yet another acquired accent. But my heart bleeds for Maggie, whose life has been reduced to a pathetic struggle trying to recall whether Denis is still alive or dead.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Will the real Imran Khan please stand up??

These pictures were taken at the Karachi Lit Fest. The second one is with my all time favourite author, Vikram Seth. If you'd like to view more images - just ask! Nicely!!
Ooooof! Saif is at it again!! Breaking noses and courting arrest. At the time of writing, the cops are sitting on a fence. The timing could be seen as perfect - or awful. Saif's big , independent film 'Agent Vinod' , is about to launch. Negative publicity is the best kind of publicity these days ! Even so, I find it hard to believe our Nawab would stoop to such levels just to get a buzz going. Watch this space.
Found it!

Is Imran Khan the game changer in Pakistan??

“ Forget Imran’s past.It’s his future you should be looking at. We don’t care how many girlfriends he had , still has or may have in the years ahead.That’s irrelevant.The man is talking sense. There is sobriety in his speeches.He is attracting crowds.” The person telling me this on a chilly night at a chic cafe in Karachi last week is a prominent corporate lawyer.His wife nods her head in agreement and explains why Imran deserves to win. “He represents change and the youth of Pakistan are craving for such a leader. They are sick and tired of corruption, which is worse than it is in India. Imran may be many things, but one thing he isn’t and that’s corrupt.” So, that’s settled. Imran represents change. And he’s not corrupt. When I ask whether he has the backing of the mighty Generals, the members of this small group look at one another and answer vaguely, “It’s possible. But he’s not their puppet.” Co-incidentally, Imran was visiting Karachi during the Lit Fest weekend. But was not scheduled to make an appearance to promote his best selling book. He was there to hold rallies, meet journalists at a seaside kebab joint and attend a high profile wedding. Interestingly, young Bilawal Zardari was expected at the Lit Fest, but had to cancel when the all important security clearance was not given.And that was that. No drama. A ‘Rushdie moment’ was thus skillfully avoided.However, Sanam, Benazir’s low key sister and the only surviving sibling, slipped in and out of various sessions sans the slightest fuss.
The well-organised Karachi Lit Fest is now in its third year. Inspired by our Jaipur Lit Fest, it has since acquired its own distinct identity, and manages to attract erudite scholars and brat writers from across
the world. The atmosphere is determinedly bookish, and so far, it has not been turned into a carnival to which socialites from Lahore fly in to show off their latest Birkins.The focus remains on books, opinion, dissent and debate. Who would have thought this possible? Just beyond the boundaries of the slightly rundown Carlton Hotel which hosted the event this year, lies a totally different world. But within the hotel’s heavily guarded compound, people move around freely, mobbing their favourites ( Vikram Seth was by far the biggest star of this Fest). Nothing daunts the enthusiasts, not even a prominent plaque near the entrance that reads : ‘Weapons not allowed inside.” These signs are common wherever one goes. Armed bodyguards hired by private individuals have become mandatory in a city that is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world. Despite the somewhat sinister atmosphere
(what with frequent murders, kidnappings and shootouts in Karachi’s toniest areas), the never say die attitude of locals remains intact. Yes, there is widespread cynicism,even despair, about the way the country is run, but there is also optimism that things are about to change. This is where the Imran factor kicks in. And no, he is not perceived as the Sarah Palin of Pakistan. Citizens insist there has been a level of consistency and determination in whatever he has undertaken (“He’s obstinate!”) – be it the state of the art Cancer Hospital he built in memory of his mother or his decision to start his own political party despite the odds. He is also seen as a ‘friend of India’, which works against him with hardliners who make no attempt to hide their anti-India feelings. “India really knows how to sell itself well,” I was told , almost as if India was pulling a con trick on the world. “Look at your economy and look at ours.India is surging ahead, while Pakistan is in reverse gear,” a banker pointed out. Meanwhile, the abandoned Indian Consulate ( dubbed “Bhoot Bangla”) tells its own story. Intellectuals blame poor governance for the sorry state of affairs.. The poor blame the rich. The situation is pretty desperate, with no gas and frequent power cuts. “Most of our money is spent on arming ourselves. If even half that amount was spent on schools and hospitals, Pakistan would be a different country,” said a woman who runs a successful garment business. No worries.Uncle Sam has offered a whopping $2.4billion in 2013. Everyone cribs about insane prices, even those who live in luxurious farm houses on the outskirts of Karachi and host lavish weekend brunches for influential friends.Imran Khan in his ‘new,improved’ avatar (g’bye Playboy Politician.Hello, Heavyweight Leader) does not attend such decadent celebrations.He is a changed man. And he wants to change his country. Inshallah, that will happen.For both our sakes. Imran Khan is all set to play a second captain’s innings for Pakistan.All he now needs is a good team to win the match.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What kind of a disgusting ad is that???

When a respected and respectable newspaper carries this offensive, yucky ad on it's entire front page on a Sunday, and nobody protests,it's time to worry. Come on, guys. Show some basic decency.
The other television commercial that gets my goat features Dhoni(what's the bet he's Bollywood- bound?) and a little boy who wants to pee. Dhoni picks up the kid and takes him to a kennel in the garden and makes him pee into the chained pet dog's food bowl!!! This is apparently to teach the pet dog not to pee on Dhoni's car. Disgraceful!
The ad I like stars Neetu (" I know EVERYTHING!") Singh.This one is clever and wonderfully executed. More Neetu, more! Now that Rauf Lala aka Rishi Kapoor has walked away with all the acting awards, it's time for you to strut your stuff - solo!

Monday, February 20, 2012

'Lawn Wars' across the border....

For the past one hour, possibly more, I have been struggling to make a folder of my recent pictures taken in Karachi and Goa, so I could share a few images with my blogdosts. Zero success!! It is totally frustrating. My daughters are much too busy these days to help out. One leaves for Doha tonight. Another has a date. That leaves moi, tearing her freshly shampooed hair in rage. Not that it helps. Last year on Mahashivratri, I was at the historic Babulnath temple with Arundhati. God knows what those sadhus were smoking ( chillums were involved ), but both of us came home pretty light headed after inhaling a great deal of some sweet smelling smoke!
I wanted to post my Imran Khan column here, but for some reason it is stuck as an image in 'My Pictures'. Don't ask!!
Better luck tomorrow???

‘Lawn Wars’ across the border…

Forget our Fashion Week Wars during which famous desi designers go for each other’s throats and are ready to kill rivals for crimes ranging from stealing designs to bribing models. That’s a piece of toast compared to the ‘Lawn Wars’ currently raging in Pakistan. Wars that are fought so fiercely by competing fashion designers, they make our U.P. Elections skirmishes look like a Teddy Bear’s picnic. Question number one: what is ‘Lawn’? Question number two: Why are Pakistani designers clawing each other’s eyes out over it? ‘Lawn’ is to Pakistan, what silk is to India. ‘Lawn’ is pure cotton of a superb quality. The arrival of new ‘Lawns’ in the market is a ritual that is greatly anticipated by women since it coincides with Spring.This quaint tradition goes back several decades. ‘Lawn’ is nothing more than a printed mill fabric that fuels the textile industry in Pakistan. Gul Ahmed in Karachi is possibly the biggest ‘Lawn’ brand. While Gul Ahmed caters to the mass market and is astonishingly well priced, it is the smaller, more niche units that attract designers, who tie up with the mill to create distinctive prints, which are packaged and sold as three piece suits ( shalwar-kameez-dupatta). These suits are further embellished with decorative patches, lace and embroideries. Designers try and create a new look ‘Lawn’ every year, and that’s when the wars begin. Driving into Karachi from the airport, I noted that nearly every large hoarding featured ads for Designer Lawn Exhibitions. These monumental sales are conducted under especially erected tents on gigantic grounds or fancy halls. Think Rohit Bal hiring half of Azad Maidan to display his new collection. That’s the scale! Designers fight tooth and nail for dates to launch their Lawns, and hold press conferences before this momentous event. The system is pretty well oiled. Customers stream into these exhibitions and survey the new Lawn suits displayed on store mannequins. They then make their pick and get coupons according to a series of numbers.After queuing up in serpentine lines armed with those coupons, clients finally get their hot,little hands on selected suits! Complicated? Perhaps. But that’s how it goes. Did I bring back ‘Lawn’ suits? You bet! But I bought mine at crowded local markets ( much more fun!). I only hope they are the genuine article and not made in China!
The fashion scene in Karachi is very vibrant with several top notch designers creating beautiful, well finished garments at affordable prices. Heading the fraternity is Maheen, a striking lady, who is known as the Coco Chanel of Pakistan. Immaculately dressed at all times, Maheen has enjoyed a great deal of international success ( she designed the costumes for ‘Alexander’), and has her own label ‘Gulabo’ that promotes Truck Art ( very uniquely Karachi).More than that, she mentors young designers and steers the Karachi Fashion Week with enormous aplomb. Along with Shamaeel Ansari ( another hugely successful designer), Maheen has created a strong brand for Pakistani fashion and is looking forward to showing in India soon. Inshallah, it will happen.

The Balls in Karachi are something else! Yes, Balls! Imagine the incongruity of it all. Socialites throng to these glamourous events which are generally linked to fund raising initiatives and patronized by the rich and famous, who turn up in all their finery for these officially ‘dry’ functions ( remember: no booze, we are Pakistani), but at which Scotch ( a national obsession) surreptitiously flows like the Sutlej. Will our own socialites please organize a few Balls immediately?? We need to catch up!!
I was wondering where I’d landed when the lovely ,young PIA flight attendant repeatedly announced the arrival of our flight at ‘Chitrapati Shivji’ International airport! Pass me the Scotch, please…

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Another Goa!

Spent three glorious days in Goa after a long, long time. Glad we opted for a Villa instead of the standard 'resort'. We were lucky with our gorgeous villa ( found it on a website called 'Lazydays'). It was clearly built by someone with enormous good taste in 1940. 'Josephine Villa' is located in a sleepy village called Chicholim, and is the perfect place for a family break. Built in the classical Indo-Portugese style, it has five bedrooms and all the comforts of home, including en efficient, friendly chef called Seema who produces Goan delicacies like chicken cafreal and xacuti, besides whipping up great breakfasts in a dream kitchen.
But it was really 'La Plage' that did it for me. I used to love 'Le Restaurant' in the old days. It was run by three very beautiful French people - Florence, Serge and Morgan.When it shut shop, I was devastated! Now the threesome has come up with 'La Plage' ( The Beach), and what a place it is! A little distance from Morjim, it is an informal restaurant where one can kick off footwear and feel silky, powdery white sand between the toes. It stays open all day, starting with Florence's 'serious' breakfast. But it is the sundowner crowd that makes it special. There are two restaurants in Goa which are designed for sunset watching. This one, and the Greek Thalassa. But my vote goes to La Plage , where the food is exquisite and the crowd, very international.
I'd gladly go back for more ! More of Josephine , too. The Turkish lady who owns the property has done it up so beautifully, it makes residents feel they are in Istanbul, while still retaining a distinctive Goa touch.
Of course, the creepy, sinister Russians are everywhere! Goa is possibly the only state in India where certain areas are out of bounds for Indians! The signages are in Russian, the currency used is Russian, the food served is Russian. And there are only Russians wherever you look! Indian citizens are threatened and chased out by the Russian mafia. This remote corner of Goa has become a haven for drugs and prostitution. Why can't local cops do anything about it? The answer is obvious! Local activists stay away as well since they fear for their lives. These burly Russian men are armed and dangerous. It's the sort of 'exclusive' expose Arnab should consider for his channel.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

V-Day Greetings, Blogdosts!!

My dil is going 'dhak dhak', 'dhak dhak'. I am off on a date with my husband to watch Bebo romance Imran. Hope it's a fun, light hearted, no-brainer of a movie. It's just what I need after Karachi - a place that really and truly provided serious food for thought! More on that tomorrow. For now, it's ciao!

Will you be my Valentine, Yuvi??

When a national heartthrob makes it to the headlines for a medical condition, it isn’t the best news. Last week, our dashing South Paw and World Cup hero, Yuvraj Singh , dominated news coverage across various media, after going public with his condition – a rare form of cancer identified as ‘Mediastinal Seminoma’. Since that shocking disclosure that led to a tidal wave of sympathy, Yuvi has issued several upbeat statements that reveal his fighting spirit and determination to win this tough battle and get back on the field. His exclusive interview to the TOI (“Why this Kolaveri di over my illness?”) was not just amazingly brave, but it displayed his grit and determination to reclaim his life.He was honest enough to admit he was initially ‘angry, confused and repentant’ ( a fairly common syndrome with patients diagnosed with the Big-C), but has emerged from the ordeal, a stronger, more determined man. This makes him India’s Number One Sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. Yuvi has always had a huge female fan following, being single, charming and handsome. This crisis is bound to double that!
But on a more serious note, I was talking about the issue with Vandana Gupta, the dynamic founder of V-Care which celebrates 20 years of providing help and support to cancer patients in 2013, and she expressed a few valid reservations about the misrepresentation of Yuvi’s condition in the media. Considering V-Care celebrated its 19th Survivor’s Day just under a week ago, Vandana ( a survivor herself) wants to clarify that India does have some of the most competent oncologists in the world, working tirelessly to save lives. One does NOT have to believe such treatment is exclusively available in Boston( where Yuvi is being treated), or at a fancy international hospital. Yuvi is fortunate he had the resources to travel abroad for his ailment. But others in a similar position need not despair! Our docs are as good as the best anywhere. Further, too many half-baked theories about Yuvi’s cancer have already done the rounds ( excuse me, it isn’t lung cancer he’s suffering from, okay?). Vandana points out that it is misleading to claim chemotherapy alone will ‘cure’ a patient. She knows what she’s talking about. So, while we all pray for Yuvi’s speedy recovery and send him the biggest heart ever to say, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day! We love you!” let us also stop any careless speculation and leave the man alone to fight on valiantly and come home to a brand new innings.
Mithu Alur is another extraordinary woman, like Vandana. Both have dedicated their lives to the service of others. Mithu called me with a fantastic perspective on Valentine’s Day. “ Do those suffering from cerebral palsy, for example, have no right to nurture romantic feelings?” she asked. Frankly, I had never given this subject a thought. She went on to add that love can and should be celebrated on several levels on such a special day. Valentine’s Day is not just about physical love. What about emotional, intellectual and spiritual love? Why does society imagine that people who may not have full control over their bodies, and could be physically ‘displeasing’ in appearance, do not wish to be a part of such a joyous celebration? Why the stigma? Who would profess love to someone in a wheelchair, when society’s parameters reserve Valentine’s Day for the beautiful and the young exclusively?At ADAPT, one can listen to the stories of those coping with various disabilities and hear their tales of love and longing. Yes, they want to be in loving relationships. Yes, they dream of meeting a life partner and getting married. Yes, they want exactly the same things that ‘normal’ people desire. On this Valentine’s Day, let’s make it an all-inclusive affair. That’s love. True love! And it does make the world go round.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Karachi Lit Fest kicks off...

It has been a hectic two days in Karachi. Very hectic. The KLF kicked off this morning under a glorious sky and wonderful weather. William Dalrymple must have been distracted by something or someone, for instead of delivering a keynote address, he read extensively from his book... and nobody stopped him. The reading ( about the Afghan War) was terrific. But it couldn't in all fairness pass off as a keynote address! I enjoyed my own one hour solo session thoroughly, even if my poor interviewer was suffering from a really bad throat. The questions from the audience were lively and informed. All the press interviews that followed were fantastic as well. Karachi has changed since I was here last ( but then, which sensitive city hasn't?). I was told not to wear jeans or sleeveless tunics by a well meaning lady. Of course, I ignored the advice.... and hey - I'm still alive , right? In fact, over a delightful lunch with the ladies of Karachi at Okra ( superlative food ), we discussed several tricky issues ( sorry... girlie stuff. Can't reveal) But I was struck by more than just their beauty and style. At the hotel ( Carlton) where I am staying, I'd noticed a prominent sign at the entrance which said, "No weapons allowed inside." It sounded, errrr, ominous. It IS ominous. Thank God for ignorance! I am happily traipsing around the city minus body guards ( the norm, btw). I fact I attended a fabulous sangeet and mehendi evening last night at which tout Karachi was present. I felt right at home as the youngsters took to the dance floor energetically while the dj played 'Dhinka Chika' and 'Ooh La La..." Such deja vu, darlings! I had dragged Vikram Seth with me, and quite a few Suitable Boys came up to get introduced, along with sexily clad Suitable Girls. Vikram is adorable! And I enjoyed his astute observations, as he surveyed the scene, sipped a mild Scotch and water ( flowing like the Indus) and spoke about Mohenjo Daro.
Tonight I shall be attending a Quawali with my local friends. It promises to be a sizzling soiree. Shall go in search of Multani plates at the Itwar Market tomorrow. And inshallah meet Imran Khan who's in town to attend a shaadi.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bechari Oprah! Who will marry her....?

Blogdosts. I am off to Karachi tomorrow. Am a little excited. A little nervous. The programme sounds fascinating. But to be at a session titled 'Superstar Author' without dying of embarrassment ( secretly tickled !), will be a major feat! I may or may not blog from Karachi. Tempted to take the iPad, but would rather people watch and ahem, this time I am definitely going to attempt a bus ride - I love the public transport in Karachi. The buses are moving works of art - delightfully kitschy and colourful. The last time I suggested it to my local hosts, they nearly fainted and locked me up!!
This appeared in The Week.....

A ‘Suitable Man’ for Oprah…

Strike me dead for saying this, but who will marry Oprah??She is larger than life, physically and metaphorically. She is , perhaps, the largest woman on earth. While I’m sure it’s tough being Oprah, it is well nigh impossible for anybody to be Mr. Oprah. I cannot think of any man in the public domain who could play that role. Oprah is seriously scary. Her personality is overwhelming. And she definitely does not carry all that weight, that baggage, lightly. Oprah is exceedingly self-aware. She knows she is Oprah Winfrey. And she wants you to know it, too. That’s a pretty tough call to take in a meaningful relationship between equals – which is what a stable marriage is all about. And it is not just her formidable size or reputation. A ‘suitable man’ will have to deal with much more. It’s called the ‘Oprah Package’ – the entourage, the fans, the roadshow. Because, the fact of the matter is, Oprah is blissfully wedded to herself. And to her life- long show. There is simply no space for another. At least, that was the impression conveyed during her breezy stay in India, during which she managed to pack it all in – from seaside mansions to chawls, widows in Vrindavan to socialites in Mumbai.Which is fine. Perhaps, she is not really looking for a suitable man any more. Perhaps, she knows another human being in her life would crowd the space which is designed to accommodate just one person – her. And she is perfectly happy not having to share even a micro second of her fishbowl existence with another, especially since she herself belongs to the world – to those millions of global fans, who believe implicitly in the Oprah Magic.
Oprah, of course, is unique. But she’s not alone in experiencing such a life. The other woman who comes to mind is Mother Teresa – who was also appropriated by her followers during her lifetime, and had consciously ‘married’ God, devoting her hours to the service of humanity. Both women display similar traits and characteristics : charismatic, magnetic, powerful, giving and hugely influential. Both reached out to people across continents in a way that no other contemporary could or did. Both remain adored, revered figures capable of moving masses through their words and deeds. Mother T. is no more. But her legend lives on. Oprah continues to exercise an overpowering hold over her flock. Having met her, albeit briefly, it’s easy to understand why. Oprah, Like Mother T. instantly connects to the person she is talking to. She exudes unadulterated love and concern. Her emotions are out there… her eyes are kind. Occasionally, they brim over. But mostly, they dance with joy. It is her exuberance that is most infectious. Combine that with a spontaneous touchy-feely attitude, and what you get is an irresistible human being you have to fall in love with – as most people do. But that’s different from marriage, right?
The only other female contemporary world figure in a similar league, who has been married to the same man for a record number of years, is Hillary Clinton. But then, her husband, Bill Clinton is no ornery fella! That’s why the marriage has endured, despite scandals galore.Oprah has more in common with Bill than Hillary, including a rough childhood. Early deprivation combined with an astonishingly high I.Q. have made super heroes out of both individuals. Rising magnificently above adversity has toughened the two , taking them to dizzy heights in their public life. But the biggest common factor has been the undeniable people skills they possess in abundance.These outweigh any other attribute. Reaching out in remarkable ways and touching countless lives is a God-given gift. For an iconic talk show host and a much reviled yet, equally admired former President of America, it is this very gift that has found them a permanent place in history. Oprah is the richest self-made woman in the world. I wonder what those riches mean to her in real terms. Despite all the fame and glory, there is still a hint of loneliness in Oprah’s expressive eyes. For a woman who grandly claimed her ‘whole life is a Taj Mahal ’, it does seem a little ironical that there is no ShahJehan in sight!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fun book review....Mumbai Girl / Lucknow Boy

Loving the Mumbai 'winter'. Normally, it lasts for all of three-and-a-half days. This year we have been lucky to shiver delicately and snuggle under razais for close to a fortnight. Mumbai at 10 degrees celsius? Shocking!
I threw two shawls around my shoulders and headed out to Cafe Zoe's ( 7th day, and no teething troubles) last night. It's a really cool place, very SOHO and hip ( exposed brickwork, mandatory!). Located in a God forsaken mill area of central Mumbai, it is run by a Belgian cutie named Jeremy, and a desi gal called Taarini ( also cute). The food is straightforward and quite wonderful (lamb stew with cous cous, beef burgers, steamed rawas, crab risotto). And the pricing ,not outrageous. Free wi-fi encourages easy dining, and the place is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I see it as the new ex-pat hangout.A little like 'Le Mill' , the very fancy designer store in the dockyard area,where more French than English is spoken. Am literally chilling out today....blame it on the weather!
This appeared in 'India Today'...

A Mumbai Girl checks out a Lucknow Boy…

Dekho bhai, aapun toh aisech hai. Being a Mumbai Girl, it is somewhat difficult to digest a 306 –page tome from a Lucknow Boy, that’s filled with Delhi style bragging ( it happens! Delhi does that to the best of us).Vinod Mehta has packaged the material into a memoir that is, ummm…. rather dull.As an admirer of Vinod Mehta’s roller coaster career – I find it hard to believe he could have written such a boring book. What happened? Something obviously got in the way, and let’s blame it on Delhi. A boring account of an interesting life, requires an alibi to explain why it is so damn boring in the first place. Had Mr. Mehta continued to live and work in Mumbai, I am certain he would have written a far more readable book. In any case,it’s going to be a little tough to find readers who are keen on following the frequent hirings and firings of a maverick editor , for that is the only real meat in the memoir. The world has changed dramatically from the zamana Mr. Mehta lovingly chronicles. When he looks back with nostalgia, it is a little like inviting young readers to a torture session ( uncles and aunties love doing that!), during which they are force fed on stuff they really couldn’t care less about. Even ones own children run away from conversations that begin with, ‘In my time…” And heaven help you if you pull out those old albums and ask them to go down memory lane with faded photographs. Mr. Mehta’s sepia-toned recollections may be of some interest to his colleagues and assorted politicos who wish to be featured in the magazine he so ably edits. Give them Sunny Leone’s unedited life story in ten easy chapters instead – now that’s riveting stuff. What the trade calls a ‘good read’.
The biggest let down in this memoir is the absence of any asli masala. The early years are self-indulgently chronicled but reveal nothing beyond the trite ‘escapades’ of a lazy schoolboy having ‘fun’ with friends. Which makes this particular sentence from the book somewhat ironic, “In Lucknow at that time you could be a liar, a crook, bigot,miser,ugly,lower caste – that was okay.What you couldn’t be was a bore!” Oh dear God… how did the young Mehta survive in that case? Did nobody tell him? Or did that happen only after he moved to Delhi to slay the lions ? It has to be Delhi that is the villain of this memoir. The Mumbai Mehta was an amiable chap. He wasn’t boastful. And he could out-bitch anybody in the room. Most of the time, the bitching was about those absent. Everybody laughed – including his highly ‘intellectual’ friends - tiresome then, far worse now. But Mr. Mehta had not turned as pretentious… nor did he drop names. It’s back to blaming Delhi for his ‘parivartan’, folks!
One can hardly blame Mr. Mehta. Proximity to politicians and power brokers can numb a journalist’s sharper instincts. But a memoir surely needs to deliver more than a loosely strung account of job- hopping? Is sniping a substitute for insights? What about the author’s old-fashioned self-righteousness that pops up on every second page? And all those tedious justifications? So,he pays his own bills.Is that something to boast about? The ball game has changed, and one wonders whether Mr. Mehta’s avuncular advice to aspiring journos will be paid the slightest attention to by this lot. But at least, having dealt with his bug bears and demons in print, one sincerely hopes he gets his old groove back before his current bosses start looking around. The one magazine Mr. Mehta missed editing, and he could still do a brilliant job of, is ‘Stardust’. Perhaps, I should put in a good word for him with my old boss, Nari Hira? Well-written gossip never goes out of style. One wishes Mr. Mehta had packaged his gossip more accurately, and certainly more engagingly. That’s the price you pay for leaving Mumbai, Lucknow Boy!
Come back, Vinod Mehta. All is forgiven!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kissa General Ka...

This appeared in Sunday Times.... I understand I have received some seriously nasty mail for this. Theek hai. I have never bothered with abusive comments. Particularly those that are written by cowards hiding behind assumed identities.
I am getting set for my Karachi trip! My session is titled 'Superstar Author', and that has me worried! Should I borrow Bipasha's spangled saree from Riteish Deshmukh's shaadi?? Or get into one of those ridiculous designer gowns flashed by our lovely ladies on the Red Carpet in Macau??? Blogdosts, kindly step in and advise!!

The General in his labyrinth…

There is something super fabulous about Faujjis. Diehard romantics ( women, in particular) will say it’s the uniform that does it. Perhaps. But beyond the crispness of the ‘vardis’, it’s the aura surrounding our bravehearts that makes civilians go weak in the knees. Our men and women in the Armed Forces represent many things – heroism, gallantry, loyalty, pride, safety, security and just good, old- fashioned patriotism. The sort of gooey, mushy emotion that extends well beyond logic and mundane,everyday concerns.The popular Governor of Maharshtra, K. Sankaranarayanan hosted an impressive Reception on the manicured lawns of the Raj Bhavan to celebrate India’s Republic Day. The guest list was pretty eclectic, with several celebrities ( big and small) dotting the grounds and making polite noises over chai and samosas. Invariably, it was the men in uniform who attracted the most attention. Other invitees sidled up to get photographed with them, while they themselves scanned the crowd looking for prominent personalities they wished to hobnob with. In that beautiful setting, our Faujjis stood out magnificently, and at least on that one evening, they overshadowed all the stars from other fields, who were busy preening and strutting around waiting to be clicked by the official photographer. The Faujjis stole the show - all those medals across broad chests! The proud posture! The attitude! Wow.
And then we get a General who refuses to grow up! Come on. There is something petty about a person who shrewdly times a protest after living with a ‘wrong’ DoB for decades. No matter what Army Chief Gen.V.K.Singh now claims, he certainly has not covered himself with glory by his conduct. And no matter how this drama finally gets resolved, one thing is for sure, the image of the Army has taken a serious beating. Its reputation is definitely tarnished by what appears to be a serious case of bungling ( Government of India) and carping ( General). Without going into the merits of the case ( let the Supreme Court decide), this is how it appears to the Average Joe: many, many moons ago, someone goofed up on a vital date. A birth date. That careless, naughty someone added a crucial year to the all-important birth certificate (1951 instead of 1950). The person ( General-ji) thus wronged had to live with this erroneous statistic, and compelled to make uneasy peace with the key mistake. Despite efforts, this grave error was not resolved. It would have remained yet another technical, clerical glitch forever, had it not been challenged. And challenged aggressively by none other than the Chief of Army , who is the commander of a 1.1 million strong force. Why? And why now? Was it just the question of staying on as top dog for another twelve months, instead of following marching orders, as per existing rules and records? Who knows! But General-ji would have none of it! V.K. Singh proclaimed it was a matter of ‘honour’ that had made him go ballistic about the botched date. All these unsavoury developments were then played out on national television channels and the front page of dailies with legal luminaries debating the main issue at stake - whose honour? An individual’s or the Army’s? Which one is more important?
While this ugly controversy still rages on, I recalled meeting a highly decorated Army Officer at the Republic Day Reception. Without making a single gauche reference to the ongoing debacle, he said simply, “ For those of us in uniform, defending India is our one point agenda. We live by three words – Naam, Namak, Nishan. Honour, Loyalty and Identity. When we salute our National flag , our emotions are deeply stirred - it is the flag we live for and die for. When we lose our men, it is this flag that is draped over the coffins which brings them home to their loved ones.” The soldier had tears in his eyes, as I did in mine. Perhaps, we need to better demonstrate our love and pride towards those who sacrifice so much so that the rest of us can sleep better. We take our Faujjis far too much for granted. Which is why, we feel let down and disillusioned when the Chief himself behaves petulantly, like any ordinary government bloke looking to hang on to his kursi (plus, all the perks) and to hell with larger implications. Undoubtedly, there are wheels within wheels in this story, too. And not everything is what it appears. There will several sleazy tales involving rivals, favouritism, enmity and worse. But sorry! One expects discretion to be the better part of valour at this level. Obviously, the General in his labyrinth has other compulsions. Whichever way it goes, there is something exceedingly tacky and shabby about this controversy. If the guy couldn’t manage to correct an error on a birth certificate, how would he have led India into – God forbid - a war??

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Karachi Lit Fest 2012.

Blogdosts, I was sent this link and was really happy! Getting a visa to Pakistan wasn't exactly a cake walk ( understandably so!). I felt particularly relieved when mine came through, especially after I heard Arnab Goswami confiding to an audience during a panel discussion I shared with him on the 1st of Feb, that he'd been trying to go to Pakistan for the past six years! But zero luck with the visa. Well, this is going to be my third visit across the border, and I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks to Mr. Shaheed Malik, the Pakistani High Commissioner in Delhi ( plus, a li'l bit of help from friends in Pakistan), I was issued the visa within hours. The two day Lit Fest in Karachi promises to be a treat, given the impressive line up of authors and performers. I am going to be catching up with old friends and making new ones. That's what Lit Fests are for... is the Government of India listening?? Pehley Salman Rushdie ka tamasha, uske baad Taslima Nasreen .
I got back from Delhi yesterday feeling like a new born baby. Ask me why? Go on... poochho, na? I had my first Turkish Hamam experience in the top class spa at the Aman. Natasha, who has been trained by expert Turkish Hamam professionals from Istanbul, did a fantastic job during the 90 minutes I was being pampered with a scrub made out of olive soap that created millions of fragrant bubbles. Steam and lashings of hot water ( from a large silver bowl ) later, made my body tingle deliciously. Steam and more hydration followed assorted rituals that are centuries old. This is by far the best spa experience ever. The genial General Manager, Robyn Bickford, is a former diplomat from New Zealand, married to a burly Sikh she met 26 years ago when she was posted in Delhi. Love happened! And here she is running one of the poshest properties in India.
I also managed a quick lunch at the sparkling, opulent, brand new Leela Hotel, with winter flowers in full bloom outside the brightly lit 'Qube'. What was I doing in Delhi? Ritu Kumar , India's pioneering designer, is someone I have known for over 30 years. When she requested me to attend a bold, experimental show that combined music, theatre, art and fashion, inspired by five iconic women from the Mahabharat ( Ganga, Kunti, Draupadi, Amba, Gandhari), I'd have been mad to refuse!!! 'Panchvastra' celebrated craft and textile revivalism. I am glad I was there braving a serious chill in the air... and Delhi socialites... ha ha ha!
strong With 65 sessions and over 100 writers, the Karachi Literature Festival promises another sell-out year
KARACHI: Shobha De, Vikram Seth, Hanif Kureishi are just a few of the big-ticket names for the Karachi Literature Festival this year. Small wonder that the organisers were all smiles at the press conference on Thursday to announce the programme of the yearly event, which is scheduled for February 11 and 12 at Karachi’s Carlton Hotel.

The British Council’s director for programmes, Martin Fryer, said that the festival has “almost become an institution in Pakistan”. Perhaps not an institution just yet – this will be only the third year – but few will dispute that it is one of the most important events for the city. In any case, it has the power to attract people from across the country, from media barons to socialites, young academics to veteran policy makers.

A slew of writers from Pakistan and India are on the bill for this year’s festival. Oxford University Press (OUP) Managing Director Ameena Saiyid said that the festival gave authors and readers a platform to meet each other and introduce Pakistan to foreign authors and vice versa. “It is two days of celebrating writing.”

The third edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) will include a number of diverse names and promising young authors, from scholar Anatol Lieven, the author of the recently released Pakistan: A Hard Country to BBC journalist Mirza Waheed, the author of The Collaborator, which is set in Kashmir. “There are many festivals around the region that have a great reputation but what we have in Karachi is quite remarkable,” Fryer said, noting the number of sessions packed in the two-day agenda.

Several of the authors, including those moderating and participating in panel discussions at KLF, were at the press conference, including Muneeza and Kamila Shamsie, H M Naqvi, Attiya Dawood and Asif Noorani, as well as dancer and actor Omar Rahim, whose film Meherjaan is being screened at the KLF. Saiyid also announced that clips of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar-nominated short film Saving Face will be screened at the festival and Chinoy will be answering questions.

Organiser Asif Farrukhi said that the festival will be showcasing writing in regional languages, though “not as much as we would have liked”. Last year the festival was criticised for not including as many of these kind of writers. He also highlighted that 2012 is the death centenary of Nazeer Ahmed and the birth centenary of Saadat Hasan Manto. Historian Ayesha Jalal, who is also Manto’s niece, will feature in a session at KLF on his work.

The festival agenda isn’t just about writing – there are sessions on issues such as honour killings, militancy, minority rights and the role of the media.

But the festival’s organisers stressed that it was not necessarily a curatorial decision to include current news issues in the agenda, but it was a reflection of what writers were writing about, as Fryer put it. He also said that festivals were extremely important for people to freely express themselves and debate issues. Farrukhi said that while the choice of issues was not necessarily very topical, they came from the ongoing intellectual debate in literary and academic circles. He also hoped that the debate would be more intellectual and issue-oriented than the likes of what is on political television talk shows.

Saiyid also said she expects a great deal of dialogue and debate, given that the festival features sessions on Balochistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh, as well as on teaching in mother tongues. The OUP managing director also thanked the diplomatic missions of the US, UK, Germany and France for supporting the festival and sponsoring various authors to attend.

Shreela Ghosh, the director arts for British Council in South Asia, said that it was “absolutely vital” to champion the arts in the region to learn about each other. She said the agenda looked “exhausting, but glorious!”