Wednesday, October 31, 2012

That's my daughter Arundhati in front of an ancient cave we chanced upon outside Rishikesh. It's only appropriate that  the original Arundhati's guha is close to Vaishisth Muni's guha, which locals insist is more than 5,000 years old. Mythology informs us that Arundhati was Vaishisth Muni's loyal wife. She bore him a hundred sons! That's a lot of hard work for my Arundhati!

And that's us in front of a lovely sculpture of Krishna as a cowherd. Unfortunately, I'm covering Radha. This amazing Vrindavan belongs to our friends and we were lucky enough to stay at their beautiful home on the banks of the Ganga. It was a much needed Satvik break , complete with pure ghee laddoos and shudh vegetarian meals minus onions and garlic. We came back feeling virtuous. But the feeling didn't last very long. I pounced on a piece of tandoori chicken at home, drank Pinot happily.... but carried the uplifting mood to bed with me as I wafted off to dreamland with the sounds of the Ganga lulling me to sleep.
Sethji arrives in style tomorrow. I am really excited! He gets introduced to the public at the Mumbai Lit Fest on Friday, 2nd November. If you are in Mumbai, do come and greet the wily old man at the Tata Experimental Theatre, between 3pm and 4 pm. We have a date!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Kasauli Cow....

These images from Kasauli tell their own story. This cow had so much attitude, she almost chewed up my camera. Though, what she was actually after were the unbeatable  samosas and jalebis the Samosawalla in the pic with me is so justifiably proud of. People come from far and wide to sample his Bun Samosa ( I preferred mine with chana chaat ), which Khushwant Singh had written about ( a framed copy of that column hangs in the tiny shop). The jalebis! Worth travelling to Kasauli for - piping hot, sticky, juicy and lethal! I really loved my time in Kasauli - my smile says it all. I have more pics.... you just have to raise your hand, and I shall post them.
 Meanwhile, I'm getting butterflies in my stomach with the imminent launch of Sethji. Soon, you'll be able to enjoy Sethji Coffee at a Barista outlet nearest you. More details closer to the time.
 I'm off to Rishikesh and Haridwar tomorrow morning. It has been my dream to witness the full moon Ganga Aarti. Well, that's one dream coming true.  I feel so blessed!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Presenting the blockbuster novel of 2012
The absolutely unputdownable
Shobhaa Dé
The arrow shot by the archer may or may not kill a single person. But stratagems devised by wise men can kill even babes in the womb.’—Kautilya
 This book  is dedicated  to our beloved politicians.... may their tribe decrease
Sethji is a quintessential Shobhaa Dé -- racy, controversial,provocative and dark. In other words, Sethji is unputdownable. 
Sethji provides penetrating insights into the complex innards of contemporary politics in India. Written with sly humour and the characteristic Dé flair for storytelling, Sethji takes you where no other political novel has before - into the depraved centre of Delhi’s power hungry salons, where lives are traded and deals brokered - ruthlessly, efficiently and crudely.
Sethji heads  ABSP, a crucial coalition partner in the government. Shrewd, devious and an inveterate fighter, he is a man who refuses to play by any moral codes or lose a single battle. Easing his way is Amrita, his ravishing and aloof daughter-in-law who guards her own secrets. But when two of the country's most powerful men team up to challenge Sethji, the wily old politician has to fight the deadliest battle of his life a battle in which he must stake everything. The one person he is forced to trust is Amrita, a woman who gives nothing away, not even to Sethji. 
Sethji is Shobhaa Dé’s biggest, most ambitious book yet, one in which she brings her unmatched candour and tremendous daring. Returning to fiction after a decade, Shobhaa has created a character who will stay with readers long after they think they’ve seen the last of him on the last page. It will do to politics what Starry Nights did for Bollywood.
About Shobhaa Dé
Shobhaa Dé’s seventeen books include the bestsellers Socialite Evenings, Starry Nights, Spouse and Superstar India. A widely read columnist in leading publications, she is known for her outspoken views, making her one of India’s most respected opinion shapers. Dé lives in Mumbai with her family.

For more details please write to 
Blogdosts, the countdown has begun! Flipkart zindabad!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Ashtami Greetings, Blogdosts...

I love going to the Durga Badi at Tejpal.... have been doing so without a break for the past 25 years. Last night was just wonderful. For the first time, the dynamic organising committee had announced a dance competition. This is a unique form of worship, when devotees bearing earthen ware containers spewing clouds of fragrant dhoop, dance for the Goddess, swaying to the hypnotic beats of the dhaak. There's always a large representation of the members of the South Mumbai Bengali community,who show up in all their traditional finery, to offer pushpanjali and aarti to Ma Durga. It's a marvelous way to foster a feeling of community and togetherness....I wish I had clicked pictures of the talented dancers. But for those of you who'd like to watch the dance, check out Sanjay Dutt's version of it in - was it 'Devdas'?
My jury duty at MAMI continues. Apart from the aborted screening of L'Ámour, film enthusiasts have been gorging on great cinema. I enjoyed ''Á Happy Reunion'- shot in Taipei and Hangzhou,  a shamelessly sentimental saga - very much in the Bollywood tradition.
When I met Yash Chopra at Amitabh Bachchan's 70th Birthday party (we were seated at the same table), I somehow felt it would be the last time... even though he was in a good mood and didn't look ill at all.So, last night, when the news flashed on television, I wasn't surprised in the least. A tiny mosquito felled a giant of a man. Teaches one a thing or two about perspectives....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Arvind Kejriwal,Salman Khurshid and Co...

C'est moi enjoying the cruise.... and a Cosmo!
 Am rushing off on a relaxed Sunday morning. Jury duty at MAMI. What a fabulous Film Festival! As Shyam Benegal said to me on the opening night , "This is the closest any Festival has ever got to Cannes, just in terms of the selection of films." I'll be watching L'Amour. More on that later. But I also have the Durga Badi to go to.... Shuvo Pujo, all!
This appeared in Asian Age yesterday...

                       Blood on the dance floor….?
Our Law (less) Minister, Salman Khurshid must have eaten something really vile earlier this week for him to have made those atrocious remarks against Arvind Kejriwal. A swift qualification here : I am no fan of the self-righteous and embarrassingly naïve Kejriwal. Even so. Indigestion can play havoc with ones better sense. Heaven knows what had been fed to the Ministersaab. Aurally and orally. We are guessing it was most unpalatable, or else he would have kept his cool in the presence of Youth Congress members, while daring his nemesis ( the same Kejriwal) to come to Farroukhabad…. and get back alive! I cannot recall another such incident when  a Union Minister has blatantly issued an open threat to an individual who has dared to accuse him of corruption. “ I have been made the Law Minister and asked to work with the pen. I will work with the pen but also with blood,” Khurshid thundered, much to the utter astonishment of his audience. Let’s deconstruct that preposterous remark. Was it really a veiled threat to murder Kejriwal? I think not. When a murder is being plotted, it isn’t announced in advance. So, let’s not get  melodramatic here. What really happened? Here’s a possible scenario: Salman Khurshid lost his cool, lost his shirt, lost control. And revealed his true colours! Perhaps, inside that smooth, suave exterior, there was always a ‘mafia don’( not my words) lurking just beneath the carefully cultivated surface. Suddenly, that glossy veneer has gone phut. The man stands exposed , using the ‘language of a common criminal’ ( quote-unquote, a spokesperson for India Against Corruption). Khurshid made it worse by bleating, “ I have been misquoted…”  further compounding the original boo boo and sounding alarmingly like a miffed Bollywood starlet. Come on, Salman.  Stand up…. own up.  It’s on camera. Be a man. It can happen to anyone. Particularly, a cornered chap. And let’s face it, you are cornered. Whether it is 70 lakhs, 70 crores or 7000 crores ka gunha hardly matters.  The point is, certain serious charges have been leveled against you… what those charges have done is to draw public attention to your NGO’s functioning. Once a can of worms gets pried open, it’s pretty difficult to reseal it or seal the mouths of detractors.
If the charges are followed up by Kejriwal and team in Farrukhabad, and the charges stick, then sorry buddy, the party’s over for you and Louise. If matters get buried and some other scandal raises its ugly head ( Bigger! Juicier!), one thing will still remain : your unmasked persona. For years and years, you have traded on a cleverly built up image of great refinement and intellect, designed to separate you from the unwashed, uncouth rabble rousers in politics. Your accent, your mannerisms, your choice of words! Wow! Even I was fooled. Well , all it takes these days is one unfortunate slip. Just one. And you, Sir, our hallowed Law Minister, made it.
Now what? Kejriwal and company are going to town with the story. It is being projected as a ‘murder threat’ ( calm down, you guys!). Arvind’s  quotes, (“ My death is in God’s hands, not in Salman Khurshid’s ”) are being shrewdly played up. Kejriwal’s very vocal supporters are simultaneously going flat out to milk Khurshid’s aggressive  remarks…. and presswallas are lovin’ it! Kejriwal’s filmi- ishstyle dialogues (“ Killing me won’t help… if one Arvind is killed, there will be another 100 Arvinds”) are also being lapped up and played out over and over again. In all this dramabaazi, other targets of the IAC , like Nitin Gadkari and Ajit Pawar, are waiting for the hungama to subside. Meanwhile, Sushma Swaraj is straining her larynx, issuing spirited denials on heavyweight Gadkari’s behalf. The person who has shot into the national limelight virtually overnight is Anjali Damania, Kejriwal’s able colleague  (never mind that she herself is facing  some land issues). To add to the khichdi, ex-cop Y.P.Singh has  thrown his topi into the ring and is asking Kejriwal a few tough questions relating to Sharad Pawar and Lavasa. That makes it two tagda heavyweights ( Gadkari and Pawar)  to deal with.  The thing is, with so much dirt flying around, can the Mango People handle it? Will we even remember what this was all about, same time, next week? Can any of these grim charges stick? What about a meticulous follow-up? Kejriwal is no politician.  Undoubtedly, the  more seasoned players will find a way to wiggle out of  this unholy mess, leaving him at the gate post, looking small and foolish. It takes much more than audacious accusations hurled against the high and mighty to bring about a moral revolution. Arvind is seen as a wet-behind-the-ears  bachcha trying hard to play with the big boys. Forget Elections 2014. One wonders whether his people’s party will survive the year. Sad. But sach ka samaana sab ko karna padta hai. Arvindji ko bhi…

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sethji's cover blown....

So, now you know.... Sethji is NOT Nitin Gadkari.... sorry about that !
This is the jacket of my new book,Blogdosts..... REACTIONS, please!
I think it is pretty strong - like the book.
I have decided to skip the standard book launch event ( been there, done that 17 times over). Instead , it will be a digital launch on 1st November. But ( hint! hint!), if there's anybody out there who'd like to throw a 'Sethji' party  for me - virtual or otherwise - I'm right there! The champagne's on me...

                                         Mubarak Ho!
So finally our Bebo has become a Begum, with a handsome Nawab to call her own. And yet another Bollywood romance has got a  fairytale  ending. Not even the most talented script writer churning out hit after hit could have improved on this magical plot that started at a film shoot in the mountains and has ended in a historic palace in Pataudi. But then, Kareena Kapoor has always been a princess, and insisted on being treated like one right from the time she made her movie debut. Even in ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’, Bebo played Princess Poo – a role that in many ways stamped her for life! Once she was launched in right royal style by Karan Johar, she has never had to look back. Kareena has led a charmed life all right. And it seems only appropriate today that she glides seamlessly into her latest role as a bona fide titled lady, surrounded by all the frills that go with her brand new status. Not unlike her mother-in-law, Sharmila Tagore, who evolved into Ayesha Begum with enormous grace, without ever giving up the quintessential Rinku within her. The similarities don’t end there.  Kareena too will be a full time working Begum, managing her duties as the custodian of the  Pataudi legacy, while deftly juggling her crowded movie calendar. She is after all, the new age Begum.  A capable career woman and caring wife to an equally busy Nawab saab. This is one 21st century shaadi that will be fascinating to follow. Mubarak ho!
I was seriously alarmed after sitting through an appalling film starring another Bollywood ki Rani – yes, the Mukherjee herself.What made this incredibly versatile actress pick this dud? Wasn’t she advised? What is a powerful boyfriend/ fiancée/ mentor/ best friend ( note: I have not called him ‘husband’) for?Not only was the subject downright kinky ( a woman obsessed with a strange man’s body odour), it was disgustingly crude. Poor Southie star Prithiviraj ( visibly cringing through this non-role), was made to fill petrol into a two wheeler’s tank, holding the nozzle near his crotch and waiting for the tank to overflow and spurt Rani’s face. It can’t get any cruder! The choreography  was even worse with Prithvi hitching up his lungi and creating a huge bulge that he suggestively kept thrusting at Rani . Why does someone in Rani Mukherjee’s exalted position need to cheapen herself like this and put up with the most disgusting dance moves one has ever seen during item numbers. Gross!
MAMI moves to SOBO! Finally, those of us who missed out on great movie screenings for over a decade because of the daunting distance to the suburbs, will be able to feast on fabulous films at our favourite neighbourhood multiplex. What a blessing! Take a bow, Shyam Benegal and the entire MAMI team.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Who the hell is Sethji....?

This picture was clicked earlier today at Terminal 3, Delhi Airport.
But who the hell is Sethji? And what sort of gyaan is he doling out?
These girls couldn't possibly be waiting for Salman Khursheed? I don't see any blood on the floor!
I called my Capital contacts to find out more. I was told,  ''Áll will be revealed tomorrow...''
 Theek hai....
Watch this space, Blogdosts...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Tonite's gonna be a good night...""

This appears in the latest edition of Conde Nast Traveller.

                         “ Tonite’s gonna be a good nite....I can feel it”
 “Tonite’s gonna be a good night....” Promise? I heard a group called “Five Chicks and a Dude’ were up next. And I promptly held my breath .It was our first night on board the  16-year-old, 70,000 tons  heavy, Grand Old Lady ‘Splendour of the Seas’’, and  a full- on Karaoke session was in progress. Our majestic if slightly run down cruise liner had sailed out of the calm waters surrounding Venice a few hours earlier and was heading towards the small Italian port of Bari. The old fashioned (red velvet, Art Deco chandeliers) Cocktail Lounge- cum- theatre, aptly called ‘Top Hat’ was filling up slowly. Enzo, the alarmingly energetic crew member, was urging people to sign up. The bar tender was busy mixing lethal cocktails and the mood was expectant.  First time  cruisers were easy enough to spot. They were the people wearing far too many clothes and street shoes. Some were fastidiously attired in what is loosely termed  ‘cruise gear’ by  fashion designers. Our gang of three ( my daughters Arundhati and Anandita, plus moi) being veterans, knew better! Smug in our flip flops and mu-mus – we’d mastered the drill. And had figured it was okay to be really casually dressed on the first night, yes, even for the lavish four course dinner in the main dining area, which, on this Royal Caribbean liner, was quaintly called ‘The King and I’( never did discover why, considering there wasn’t any real connection to either the musical or the cuisine from old Siam). No matter... we were all set to get into the swing of things with 1800 other passengers enjoying an Adriatic voyage which would touch three Greek ports ( Athens, Corfu and Mykonos) before a short halt ( much too short!) in the historic town of  Dubrovnik in Croatia, and the long  sail back  to Venice.As on earlier trips, this one had also started on a high note. There’s no better ice breaker for so many strangers in the night, than enthusiastic bathroom singers belting out their favourite songs ( off-key, of course) for an audience of  ummm...  non-believers? Sure enough, the hooting started as the ‘Five Chicks...” ( the ‘Dude’was a gangly , awkward teen whose voice had yet to crack) finished  murdering the popular Club track (“Tonite’s gonna be a good nite...”). Oh-Oh. So, this was going to be that sort of  a cruise! What fun. We’d been on earlier cruises where the average age had coasted around 70 and everybody had been disappointingly well-mannered. We’d obviously lucked out on this one, with several young, energetic and good looking shipmates. For me, as a mother, I could have wept with gratitude to note that. At least the girls would not roll their eyes  accusingly each time theirs met mine over the breakfast table and groan, “”Why aren’t there any people of our age on this ship?”Not only were there enough passengers from their age group, but the crew was delightfully young and incredibly talented, especially the Croats in charge of keeping everybody engaged and upbeat on board. What do you know, one of these chaps was dubbed ‘Happy’ thanks to his cheerful salutation ‘Happy, Happy,Happy!” as he went from deck to deck performing a wide assortment of roles, switching wigs and costumes on what appeared to be an hourly basis.
 Since we have been called ‘Serial cruisers’ by envious friends, we went on this one pretty well prepared.For one, we had seriously pruned our wardrobe out of sheer necessity.It is important to remember that even if one occupies a Stateroom with a balcony attached (this is key, and don’t settle for a cabin with just port holes), space is at a serious premium. The bathroom is functional but no bigger than a cubicle. The bedroom isn’t much larger either, and there is just no space for bulky suitcases, unless you park them in the balcony. Less is more and how wonderful is that realization when all you really need are three or four super hot swimsuits, a couple of sarongs, four flirty cocktail outfits, one pair of killer heels, a funky collection of  look-at-me accessories besides.... how can I forget -  sherbet eyes! Of course, these tips are meant for the ladies. But, hey, nothing stops you guys from experimenting!  Especially since most nights on a cruise  are themed and you’d better work that toga as Enzo and DJ Ved urge the crowd to ‘Show me that body...” and get grooving by the pool.
The key to make the most of your cruise vacation is to fall in love on the ship ( it happened with one of my daughters in the Caribbean, it almost happened with another one this time!). Moms may need to go into vigilante mode ( pack your Spidey mask, just in case) since there is  a chapel on the ship and the captain is authorised to marry consenting adults ( too many Cosmos at the Schooner Bar is a poor excuse). You are also warned about recreating the Titanic moment on your own. On ‘Splendour....”it was possible to bid for just such a photo-op (supervised and safe). Guess who won? Not a deliriously in love honeymoon couple but a Tam- Brahm jodi from Mumbai celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary! The enthusiastic gentleman also participated in the Elvis Presley competition, an undertaking that involved aggressive pelvic thrusts and wild moves to “Ýou ain’t nothing but a hound dog...” Well, if you’re gasping, wait till you hear about the ‘Sexiest Man in the World’contest by the  pool, judged by five curvaceous bikini clad passengers.Who bagged this ridiculous title? Not our Tam Brahm, not even one of the pumped up Spaniards, or the buff American stud, but a sporting grandpa who had gamely stripped and shaken his booty to that old favourite, “I’m too sexy for my body...”’
The other trick to have the best time on a cruise is to sign up for shore excursions and as many on board activities as your energy levels can accommodate. I’m not into rock climbing, putting on an 18-hole mini golf course, playing  table tennis, or gymming. But both Arundhati and Anandita started off their days with a jog around the track on the 11th deck, and a complete work out at the Gym on the 10th. All that activity made them feel less guilty while attacking the breakfast buffet, which is extensive and varied. They made up for their guilt pangs (come on, if you can’t wallop a few waffles on a vacation, what’s the point of the vacation?) by opting for healthier options at lunch, ordering fresh salads at the cafe next to the Spa. As for me, I ate and drank recklessly ( I  mean, there are 10 inviting  bars and lounges for  the desperate and the thirsty), didn’t enter the gym but indulged myself at the calming salon. Getting a blow dry while resting ones eyes on the azure Ionian sea shimmering tantalisingly through floor- to- wall glass panes, was quite an experience.Another, equally pleasurable first was taking a Salsa and Cha cha cha class, conducted by expert ballroom dancers ( part of the Royal Caribbean Entertainment Troupe). The Filipino band playing nightly at the Centrum had wisely figured only those belonging to a certain vintage ( mine!) would want to shake a leg, pre- and post- dinner. I ignored the glares of my daughters and bullied them into partnering me as we swung to ‘Sway’and other oldie-goldie hits. Gosh! Does nobody jive anymore?
Well, our waiters and servers certainly did! Jive ... and sing, as a part of the very endearing ritual during which they temporarily abandon their service stations to croon and dance for diners. ‘Ó sole Mio’ remains an old favourite,  and sentimental diners are often seen wiping tears as their favourite waiters bid them goodbye on the last night of the cruise. Ours was named Austin.He is a good Goan lad, and had been sailing for seven years. There were several Indian waiters on the ship ( “The Mazgaon Gang”), which was terrific in a way – they made sure we were exceedingly well looked after, frequently serving us choice bon bons as special treats. Did these boys miss home? Yes, they all chorused. But the money was good. And even if there were no Sundays or days off, they enjoyed their work. And hard work it is! As Gregorios (from Nicaragua) , our State Room attendant told us, “We feel sad on Saturday morning to see everybody leaving.” He looked like he meant it. A certain fuzzy relationship does get established with these dedicated men and women who are on call 24x7, and keep the place sparklingly clean. Some of them are expert towel sculptors, and one looks forward to staggering back after a late night at the disco or watching the Euro Cup Semi Finals on a gigantic screen by the pool, to find an elephant or monkey ingeniously crafted out of  towels, parked on the bed (“Am I really that shattered or is that really a gorilla swinging in my room?). It is these little touches that enhance the experience.
It is said a family that cruises together, stays together. It is a theory I have ardently subscribed to . Ensuring passengers never forget their cruise , there are daily photography sessions in the evenings, which encourage two and sometimes three generations to pose for a highly competent set of professional photographers who set up temporary studios at different locations on the ship. For most people, it is the very first time in their lives they are being photographed in formal settings. The results are superb – and there is no obligation to buy the prints which are displayed within a few hours. But ( and I have frequently succumbed!) the temptation to buy at least half-a-dozen great shots that freeze the exuberant moments on board, is too hard to resist. Equally hard, is to stay away from the  6,500 square feet, Las Vegas style Casino Royale, especially if you enjoy your Blackjack or Roulette.Since our family’s combined vices are of a different kind, we preferred to check out the nightly shopping in the Arcade, which features interesting sales, depending on the port of call earlier in the day. I was on the verge of buying traditional Athenian gold jewellery ( stunning!), when Arundhati determinedly dragged me away with a reminder that I would be missing the Jacqui Scott show. Jacqui, a former Broadway / Westend singer  brought the house down in the main theatre with her rendition of ‘Évita’’... and, thanks to my daughter’s timely intervention, I saved a lot of money! That night, high on the music and wine, we dined at ‘’Izumi’ the speciality restaurant ( Pan-Asian) on the 11th deck, right next to the Crown and Anchor nightclub where the dishy DJ Ved was spinning great tracks. Blame it on the Sake, but emboldened and in the mood, I mentioned to Ved that Anandita had trained as a DJ herself. He immediately set it up for her to make a playlist and do her DJ thing! It was a thrilling moment when Ved announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, DJ Ana from India is in the house....” That’s when I concluded, it is not just the great food, not just the cocktails, not just the comfy beds ( so comfy, you can order them online) and not even the many adventures during shore excursions that make a cruise holiday memorable. It is really the smiles, warmth and exceptional service that do the trick. It is also the personality of the Captain. Ours was a darling, and when he jauntily declared he was  ‘írreplaceable”                                                    
 -  nobody disagreed! Especially after he expertly navigated this _ tonne liner through head winds hitting 60 knots, and made it safely to Mykonos. Ours was the only cruise ship to dock at this top-rated destination  (Psarou Beach! Nammos!!) in three days – all the other Captains sailing on the same troubled waters, had chickened out, citing hazardous weather conditions.
Cruise holidays are better than superglue when it comes to family bonding. Yes, we fought. Lots! Me and my girls. We argued, cried, sulked and made up. We also chatted and laughed more than  our ghastly Mumbai avatars allow us to. Sifting through the countless shots we took , there are magical moments that I’m sure we will relive years from now while exclaiming, “ God! Wasn’t that holiday amazing?When are we booking our next cruise?” 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Off Season Mango People...Rahul writes to Robert!

Okay guys. Much too much is going on in my life. These images have been shot at the Kasauli Lit Fest by Sanjeev Sharma, the very talented press photographer who works for  Hindustan Times. It was a lovely Lit Fest - warm, intimate and driven by books, not wannabes. The people of Kasauli threw open their hearts and homes for visiting writers. By far, the star of this Lit Fest was Salima Hashmi, the scholarly, artistic daughter of the legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Her session titled 'Many Partitions, Many Legacies' inspired the crowd enough to give her a standing ovation. I enjoyed my own session greatly, even though there were hiccups galore since the great man ( Khushwant Singh) himself was missing.At 98, he is too frail to travel up to his Raj Villa in Kasauli. Despite that, I can gleefully report that every single copy of my books was sold. That should explain the Chesire cat grin on my face during the signing session.Hats off to the King of Kasauli (as Brigadier Ananth Narayan is popularly called) and Ashok Chopra. These two amazing men, along with Niloufer Billimoria, managed to make a huge success out of a modest Lit Fest and with limited resources. 
And what did I manage with my limited time in Kasauli? A splendid two hours in the bazaar - Upper and Lower Mall. More on that tomorrow....
This appeared in Sunday Times yesterday....

Dear Jijaji,
                Bro, you really should have checked with me before deleting your facebook page. Why react to what some foolish people are saying about you? About us?So what if you lost your cool? It’s a pretty uncool thing to do.But it happens, Bro. My issue is simple. Some random guy called Kejriwal makes some random charges against you. Why react? Ignore the guy, Bro. That is what Mummyji always says. If you ignore these pests long enough, nothing happens. People forget. And what is this rando talking about in any case? It sounds like a joke! Anybody in India can make 300 crores today. Overnight, at that. And let’s not forget you had 50 lakhs to start with. Never mind where those came from. These are such minor details. Business is in your blood, Bro. The best investment you ever made was when you married my sis! J-o-k-i-n-g! It was a master stroke, Bro. Let’s face it, from zero family to first family is a major leg up for any lucky guy. After that… it was non-stop Diwali. These randoms don’t get it. Business opportunities don’t come every day. Mummyji keeps saying that. If you used your dimaag and contacts to invest in hotels, real estate, malls, housing societies… vaghera vaghera….good for you. My sis has simple tastes… but life is expensive these days. What are family friends like our DLF buddies for if they can’t help a young, newly married couple?
Jijaji, people are making all sorts of nasty jokes about your  DLF deals. And that Kejriwal is maligning the whole family. Naturally Mummyji is upset. But don’t worry, Bro. I’ll handle Mummyji. She has full faith in me. And we have P.C. to deal with the press . Why worry? He is so smart, he even refuses to utter Kejriwal’s name! I like the way he calls him a ‘private individual’. Puts him in his place,  nicely. We should all learn from PC how to handle scandal. Even Lallu bhaiya has stepped in to defend us. So sweet. He is talking about ‘character assassination’. Imagine! Bro, it takes guts for Lallu to talk about character assassination. Mummyji will show her appreciation to all these people soon. Mummyji is known for that. But for now, you should just stay out of the public eye. I know that’s really tough Bro. What with the Fashion Week. Who will occupy the front row seat that is permanently reserved for you? I don’t mind filling in… but I don’t have your hot bod, Bro. Talking of  which,  why not spend the next few months pumping up?You’re gonna need heavy duty muscle power. Keep gymming, Bro. It may turn out to be a tough fight, with more and more embarrassing papers turning up. You will need to be a sturdy India Bull before locking horns with these types.
Thank God our Mango People are really very forgiving. Look at all that they have forgiven over the years! Loot maar and major scams. Mummyji always says, “Good thing we live in India. Anywhere else in the world….” Mummyji is so clever,Bro. I wish I was half as smart. My sis is pretty clever, too. We should listen to the women in our family. They don’t tweet and get all of us into trouble. Maybe you can deal with the negativity, as you said. When all hell broke loose, I told Mummyji to book my ticket to London. I can’t handle such stuff. But Mummyji said not to worry – PC will handle it.
Seriously, Dude… you could have named any other fruit… there are so many to choose from. But you had to pick a banana! Why, Bro, why? Even I felt it was not fair to call the country a Kela Kingdom. Come on, Bro. We are not a Banana Republic.I mean, not officially. Mummyji was stumped. Look at what you’ve done, Bro. Mummyji has stopped keeping bananas on the breakfast table… and I am not getting my daily potassium fix. My muesli doesn’t taste the same, either. You could have mentioned Chikoo Republic, Kaddu Republic,Santra Republic. But you had to pick Kela. And where was the need to mention Mango People, that too, in such a sarcastic way?Now, the whole world is referring to India’s Mango People. And  poor Mummyji is finding it very difficult to handle all that criticism. We have to think about Mummyji’s health. She has her own issues to deal with, and she really doesn’t need to be given grief by her family. That’s it from me, Jijaji. Fingers crossed there won’t be more stuff flying around about 2G. And some other ‘G’. Ooops. Even though your surname isn’t Gandhi… see how those Mango People have dragged us into it? And Bro, ever wondered why all Bollywood villains were named Raaabert in the ‘seventies?Actually, India is worse than a Banana Republic.Had we really been one, Kejriwal would not have stood a chance. Gotta run,Bro.It’s Mummyji calling…Affectionately,

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Big B's Big Bash!

Take a bow, Tina and Anil Ambani! This is the way to mark a landmark Birthday for a good friend. Reliance Mediaworks in distant Film City , pulled out all the stops to celebrate Amitabh Bachchan's 70 th. My eyes were reserved for Baby B - little Aaradhya, who totally stole the show on stage. And that's quite a feat when the stage has all the other Bachchans on, Karan Johar! I have to rush. Am catching a flight to Goa. And then leaving for the Khushwant Singh Lit Fest in Kasauli. More, much more on the Shahenshah's party on my return. This is just the tantalising teaser. For me, Sridevi clad in a red gown, was by far the most super glam heroine around. And yes, she was speaking English-Vinglish.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Big B's Big Day coming up....

These are my Four Deviyaan. That's Mallika Noor Mehta to the far right. I guess you know the rest? Arundhati, Avantikka and Anandita. My girls! ******************** Big B’s Big Day Shall we just say Amitabh Bachchan has been declared the 8th Wonder of the World on his 70th Birthday? And why not? I cannot think of a single other actor in the history of cinema who has held his own for over forty years in as tough and competitive a business as movies? In an industry defined by the transitory nature of people’s love and admiration, here’s someone who soared to the pinnacle four decades ago, and pretty much stayed there. Yes, there have been a few hiccups along the way, and low periods, too. But somehow…. almost miraculously so, Amitabh has managed to hang in there, not as just another senior actor hired to play character roles in big ticket films, but , get this – as an undisputed Superstar, able to command a fawning audience on his own terms. That is a unique feat. And one has to hand it to him. Amitabh’s equation with his fraternity is equally unique. Not one to be on buddy- buddy terms with too many hangers- on, today, Amitabh conveys the image of a magnificent lion… the unchallenged King of the Jungle. A lone player, reasonably happy in his own lair, surrounding by his pride. Amitabh remains aloof and somewhat detached from the lunatic life in the movies, even as he puts in hours and hours of hard work at a pretty relentless pace. Men half his age can’t or refuse to keep up. But this guy carries on… it’s a job, and someone’s got to do it. It is this admirable commitment to his chosen profession that has got Amitabh to where he is. Nothing more, nothing less. His positioning today is so phenomenal, it would not be an exaggeration to call him The Untouchable. It wasn’t always this way. Amitabh had to confront crises that might have destroyed lesser beings. Crises, in the professional and personal realms. That he rode them out without a big dent to his halo, is remarkable. There aren’t too many people who can claim to know Mr. Bachchan. Perhaps he prefers it this way. He has his loyal acolytes who’d happily give an arm and a leg for him, but those are anonymous, discreet individuals, content to be in his orbit, demanding nothing from the man, but a few minutes of his attention. Apart from family members, his close friends remain the ones he made decades ago.There is no space in his crowded life for anyone else. Despite his killer schedule, he manages his relationships efficiently, maintaining a healthy balance between his career and personal priorities. For the past seven years, he has stayed away from alcohol. His health regimen is equally well calibrated, be it the vegetarian food he prefers or the disciplined exercise routine he sticks to. Amitabh’s strict regime is worth emulating.As an actor, he does what he is paid for - he acts.He is alarmingly punctual on the sets, and comes well prepared , lines memorized, make up in place. Compare this to the roguish conduct of far younger stars ( or even some of his contemporaries), there is a key lesson in there for those aspiring to his exalted position. Once on the set, he focuses on doing the best he can to interpret the director’s vision. Zero interference, zero meddling. Once ‘pack up’ is announced, the man is off to occupy other worlds, pursue other passions. Blogs, Twitter and more recently, Face Book, The Big B at 70 is still a hyper active player and presence across platforms. While watching the utterly captivating ‘English Vinglish’, a simple yet telling line flashed on the screen : 100 Years of Indian Cinema. 70 Years of Amitabh Bachchan. Take a bow, Sexy Sam…. the best is yet to come!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Think Pink. Now!

It will happen a few minutes from now. Mumbai's stunning Sea Link will be bathed in a pink glow. It's a part of the global Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative. ****************** This appeared in The Week.... Topless Kate… Alright, the whole world has seen the royal bum. And then some more. So?Apart from the churlish response of some obscure Irish editor, the others have reacted with mild amusement. Nobody has died of shock so far. Poor Kate… is the general feeling about ‘those’ naughty pictures. In this era of zero privacy for public figures, it comes as no surprise that the future Queen of England was the target of a particularly adventurous paparazzo who’d positioned himself strategically across a chateau where the young royals were taking a break, armed with modern day’s most lethal weapon – a telephoto lens. It’s a no brainer! Had it not been this particular photographer’s ingenuity, a press party in a chopper, hungrily circling over the private property where Kate was airing her body parts would have managed a sizzling scoop, too. This is how it goes in today’s ferociously competitive times. A photo-op like this one comes but once in a journalist’s career. These are professional peeping toms who make a living out of snooping on celebrity antics. Big money, combined with vicarious thrills provided by such pictures, feeds an entire industry devoted to juicy gossip. That the ‘victim’ this time happened to be Kate Middleton, should come as no surprise. She is one of the most watched human beings on earth. In much the same way as Princess Diana, her late mother-in-law once was. Scandalous photographs of Britain’s royals at play have become a staple for tabloids across the world. Kate is young, hot, newly married and obviously in love with her husband. That the Brits are obsessed with her… and sun bathing, is not a new discovery, either, given their wretched weather and equally wretched mood. Anybody who understands the rules of tanning knows there is nothing worse than a partial tan. A good tan has to be an all over tan.Kate clearly believes in getting her tan right. For that to happen, she has to lose her bikini top. Plus, the bottom. How else can the royal buns look appropriately baked? As always, the old girl ( Queen Elizabeth) has maintained a stiff upper lip and left it to her staff to get into action. Frankly, had the royal couple laughed it off , the world would have reacted equally casually. But William has been wrongly advised – yet again! It was really silly of him to get all huffy over his wife’s bare body being ogled at and worse, commented on, by readers of racy Italian magazines. By protesting and sending a legal notice, those candid pictures have acquired a great deal of importance. Let’s be honest : what’s the big fuss all about? Have we not seen tits and ass before Kate’s assets became public property? The internet is clogged with nanga pictures of celebrities – sports stars, movie stars, politicians, rock stars, models…it’s come to the point where one can dial-a-nude.A big ticket nude, at that. Moral huffing and puffing about indignity, intrusion, ignominy, vaghera –vaghera, is so last century. Given all the hi-tech hardware so freely available in the market, plus, the all pervasive presence of spies- in –the- skies, it’s a wonder we didn’t get images of the royal suhaag raat itself. Or perhaps, I have spoken too soon. Poor Princess Diana was betrayed by her butler, bodyguard and chamber maid. Who knows? Perhaps there was a royal footmen hiding under the four poster on their wedding night recording every moan and groan on his nifty camera phone? Meanwhile, reactions to the debacle on countless digital platforms have been most telling. The really offensive pictures (according to those who post irreverent opinions by the micro-second), aren’t the ones that expose Kate’s bootylicious anatomy. They are the ones of the couple being carried in a palanquin by natives during their post-scandal trip to the islands. The royal backside is fully covered, as is the royal head in Malaysia. But somehow, the obscenity of the images strikes a lot of people as being far more offensive in what it conveys. Did William and Kate have any say in those photo-ops? Unlikely. By the same argument, did the two lovebirds have anything to do with the exposed ass shots? Nope. They were caught on the wrong foot by an intrepid lensman. Such are the travails of 21st century celebrityhood. Kate should remain above and beyond it all. Her late mother-in-law had a superb body that she happily flaunted. Kate’s is pretty good , too. As they say… when you’ve got it… you know the rest. Moral of the story: next time Kate, find yourself a sanitized tanning parlour. Better still, opt for a sprayed on tan- from -a -can.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mama De's big night!

Aditya,Anandita and Arundhati dress up for Mama De's big night! And what a super fabulous night it was! Warm and wonderful all the way. The Vintage Veuve Clicquot definitely helped set the mood for a truly sparkling evening.... and the Tribute itself was powerful and inspiring. I was even more touched and impressed by the informal tributes paid to me by two good friends - Alex Kuruvilla and Tasneem Zakaria Mehta. In the beautiful and accomplished Tasneem's case, our friendship spans three generations. I knew her parents well. I know her even better. And our daughters are best friends! Like great Champagne, even deep friendships improve with time! ******************** This appeared in Asian Age today.... Why Lit Fests are no different from Fashion Weeks… It was inevitable. The last Jaipur Jamboree received so much media play, it inspired every other city,town,taluka and hamlet across India, to get into the act and announce a Lit Fest to call its own.Today, there are almost as many Lit Fests in India as there are new authors. Which can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. A few years ago, something similar happened to Fashion. After the early success of the first few Fashion Weeks, suddenly, every other week became a week dedicated to fancy frocks and killer heels. Encouraged by the excitement being generated in the press, several eager sponsors jumped into the ring and voila – we had a Fashion Week sprouting up in any city that had a mall, or was dreaming of getting one. Self styled fashion designers were immensely encouraged by what was seen as a huge boost to the desi darzi brigade. Today, one Fashion Week flows into another seamlessly and we have a year long calendar crammed with fashion. Nobody can actually tell the difference between these assorted weeks… which is also fine. For they are no longer about fashion. This is a fascinating phenomenon: Just like the IPL is not really about cricket, and Fashion Weeks have little to do with fashion, we now have Lit Fests that aren’t about Literature. My worry is this : while the IPL in its sexy avatar has thrown up a galaxy of young, gifted cricketers who have made serious money, neither the glamourised Lit Fests nor the frenzied Fashion Weeks have pushed the cause of poor, over worked and underpaid authors and designers. There are many more of us in the literary maidan these days… but how many of our tribe can claim to have hit jackpots? What have these high profile Lit Fests really done to upgrade the lifestyle of those who are up there on the stage, morosely reading from their latest tome? Apart from the firangi stars who have already made it big ( but, who, out of habit , still cadge free drinks from fawning local acolytes), the rest hang about hoping to strike better deals,receive higher advances, manage superior distribution – the usual grouses of authors the world over. The story of J.K. Rowling is an exceptional one. It’s worthy of several books. And bio pics.How she made it as the most successful writer ( in terms of earnings) in the history of publishing, starting off as a broke single mother, is by now the stuff of legend. With her first adult fiction (“A Casual Vacancy’) declared a best seller before a single copy hit bookstores, the Rowling juggernaut continues to move on. As the Newsweek reviewer pointed out in a piece aptly titled From ‘Potter to Pagford’, Rowling’s kid- lit was not written exclusively for children. The more important question: Did Rowling need Lit Fests to sell her books? Nope. It’s Lit Fests that needed and will continue to need Rowling. I am an incorrigible Lit Fest hag. I love the circus. Meeting readers is the bonus. Meeting other authors? Let me put it this way…. every big ticket writer holds his or her own nightly durbar. These are amazing occasions! You go at your own peril. Once the official sessions are done, it’s time to relax and diss. Publishing gossip dominates with anxious questions revolving around whose book has sold how many copies, whose foreign rights have been acquired at a record price, and which young thing is doing which big shot agent/ mentor/ publisher/ co-writer/ editor. This is the best part. There’s nothing like a monumental bitchfest to keep the ponderous, pompous authors from boring everybody with their genius. With hilarious and frequently scandalous, side shows galore, Lit Fests have acquired their own sheen and allure. Just like those Fashion Weeks, during which warring designers frequently indulge in very public spats. These meltdowns are far more riveting than anything canny organisers can dream up. Now that Lit Fests have started attracting sexy supernova celebrities from Delhi, Mumbai, London and beyond, what’s the bet there will be sponsors galore lining up to keep those thirsty throats from drying up? Free booze is by far the most inspirational element at Fests of any kind. Designers, models, writers, painters….it’s hard to tell them apart, which is how it should be. They dress alike, look alike, talk alike, perhaps even think alike. In fact, the scenario is so confusing these days, one has to stop and ask, “ Errrr…. excuse me…. is this the lit fest venue? Or am I at Fashion Week?” Even if someone does clarify, it hardly matters. The audience remains the same. Let’s see… at last count, I have been invited to five Lit Fests. I am tempted to attend all of them. I have a new novel to promote. And an older list to keep flogging. The brand new book jacket is looking good. But my worry is about my own jacket! It is sooooo last season! Nobody will notice the design of the new book. But everybody will comment on my dismal design sense. I’m faced with a major dilemma. Should I aggressively invest in the book? Or save it all up for a better investment in the latest ‘It’ bag? My practical self tells me to go with the bag. It will get widely photographed ( thank you, Hina Rabbani for an invaluable tip) even if it isn’t a limited edition Birkin. As for the book….maybe I should get a sharp and savvy designer to launch it at the next Fashion Week? Sethji as a show stopper? Why ever not?

Friday, October 5, 2012

La Grande Dame!

A daughter's heartfelt tribute .............. My heart bursts with pride...mama De is painting the town yellow! What better way to flag off the "festive season", than with my mother receiving the Veuve Clicquot Tribute, this Friday evening? It is not enough that she has been a constant source of inspiration for me and my siblings, but also to countless nameless and often faceless women all across India and Asia, over the past four decades. But she receives this very special honour from VC in the category of 'Inspirational Women of the World'. Ladies and Gentleman, please do read the official note below:
Without sounding too gushy, this is truly an important moment in her life time. I feel tremendously proud of her. She has worked so hard and so sincerely and has contributed to society in the best ways known to her, and with all the resources at her command. Working out of our home, with the family dining table as her office, the perenially broken cordless as her dedicated hotline and with the services of our semi-literate home help as her "personal assistants", my mum has furiously and prolifically carried on. Never fussing as a creative or glamorous person usually does, she has done her work with all her heart and soul, over the din of kitchen sounds, the dhobiwaala and the phonewalla.She has always been this way, as far back as I can remember. Never compromising on her family life and valuing us in her life, she manages to balance all the worlds that she has chosen to be a part of. When I was younger, there were many times that I would be irked that I would have to share her or our time together with people who were mere strangers (intruders?) to me, who would come to visit her. I was always encouraged to hang about these meetings, and being the chipkoo little girl that I was, I would just stay put, sponging in all that I heard. All kinds of people from different parts of the world and various walks of life meet with mum and the case usually is that they come to her with the force of a homing device to its base. It takes just a few moments after meeting her that these people enjoy a "volcano moment" and simply erupt their thoughts, their troubles, their ideas, their hearts... Through these interactions, I have learned so much about the lives of others and it is only now that I can value those experiences. I have been fortunate enough to meet some truly great and wonderful people and particularly some fabulous women, whom I could have never met on my own. So I am glad that I was that chipkoo creature, clinging on to her and never feeling too shy to stay in! Now as I attempt to forge my own path in life, I find myself in amusing situations when people "realise" that I am her flesh and blood. The colour in their faces change, their eyes brighten and I know that they are looking at me in a different light. Without skipping a beat, I follow suit and play the part to the T! But it is so amusing...because she is just my mom, sitting at home in her kaftaan, in front of the laptop going clickety-clack and awaiting the return of her absconding children, even if they roll home at 5 am! But to the outside world, she is a role model and a figure of motivation. I can't say she is a regular mom, and thank God for that! I have enjoyed life's best moments with her or living vicariously through her. As I get ready to celebrate her moment this Friday evening, my only thought is that I hope to have even half her effervescence and joie de vivre. Chin-chin folks.... and drink up your cup of life.
Mum in Reims at the Shobhaa De vintage line of VC champagne Posted By Arundhati to aazäd aaväz on 10/04/2012 04:36:00 PM

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What is that 'something' about Sridevi?

Isn't this an intriguing image? Arundhati shot it at the fragrant and elegant LÓccitaine Boutique in Mumbai. If you look closely, you'll identify the brass L'Occitaine tile embedded in the flooring. Right now, even as I key this in, I'm slathering my face with the Creme Precieuse from the Immortelle range. I don't really know whether it will do much good for my skin.... but I swear it's doing great things to my mood! *********** This appeared in Bombay Times today... What is that ‘something’ about Sridevi…? While we all agree there’s ‘something’ about Sri, when asked what that something really is, we are totally thrown! We could say it’s nostalgia – for a top actress who waltzed away from dizzying movie glory , fifteen long years ago. That fact alone is enough to get her fans into a frenzy of anticipation.But that’s not the whole answer, is it? Many an actress has waltzed away, waltzed back and regretted the decision later. As they say in this cruel business, once off the silver screen, it’s off from people’s hearts and minds. Largely true. Fantasy feeds on visual reminders. In an era in which an alarmingly young Alia Bhatt (17) is being projected as the next big thing, and established stars hitting 30 are seen as over-the hill has- beens, it is a monumental challenge for Sridevi (49), a mother of two teenage daughters, to woo a blasé, hardened, seasoned audience once again. Will English-vinglish do the trick for the glorious Sri? I’d say, whether or not the movie sets the box office on fire, Sridevi devotees ( countless, across the world) will applaud, whistle and shout during the screenings. I know one such diehard fan who lives in Hong Kong. Rama has worshipped Sri from the time he was a little boy ( Rama is just 30 himself). His home is a shrine dedicated to Sri . It has been his sole and most fervent dream to be in Sri’s divine presence and breathe the same air as his Goddess. Well, it happened recently when Sri was in Hong Kong to promote her film. I am not sure Rama has started breathing normally yet! To evoke this powerful a response, an actor needs more than just physical beauty. Sri, with her statuesque body and those eyes like ‘dark pools’ ( Rama’s description!) that invite you to drown in them, is indeed a gorgeous lady. But there are equally gorgeous and far younger stars around. While most of Sri’s contemporaries have either opted for Reality TV ( Madhuri Dixit) or disappeared into oblivion, by picking an unconventional,quirky subject, Sri has displayed rare acumen. For a girl , who at her peak, was known for her standard ‘Ask Mummy’ response to any and every question, today’s Sri has responded to interviewers with poise, grace and intelligence. More importantly, she has picked a deglamorised role that relies far more on her histrionics than on those ample curves. That’s a pretty brave decision! Going by just the teasers and previews, Sri’s plain jane character comes into her own after facing enormous hurdles on account of her lack of English language skills in a foreign land ( Canada). Determined to overcome these hurdles and prejudices, the awkward, embarrassed lady decides to enroll in a language school. What happens after she acquires those hard to master skills, is the basic premise of Gouri Shinde’s movie. Thousands of Indians across the world will easily identify with Sri’s predicament. That in itself is a huge start. But eventually, the film’s commercial and critical success will rest on the audience response to Sri herself. One generation of movie goers doesn’t really know who Sridevi is . The older fans may expect another wet blue saree dream sequence, complete with orgasmic groans and close ups of Sri’s heaving bosom. Despite these distorted hopes, my feeling is that Sri will score big time. The reason is simple : Sridevi endears herself to her audience. She has the capacity to connect directly and emotionally to her fans. On screen, Sri is electrifying, no matter whom she’s playing. Off screen, she’s another human being – almost boringly reticent. The other thing about her comeback, is that she doesn’t sound desperate about it. Unlike most of her rivals. She, more than any of them, appears relaxed and chilled out about her big decision to taste stardom all over again. With an attitude like that, Sri has nothing to lose!