Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 : The Year of Women!

Our orchids at the De Farm, Alibag, are in full and glorious bloom!
 Here's to a beautiful New Year.  To great beginnings...
2014 fills me with hope and optimism!
 Blogdosts... you have such a special place in my life...
Have a peaceful and productive year!!

Monday, December 30, 2013

"'Áunty Tips'' for the year ahead....

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
                                         The countdown has begun!
Readers, here are a few helpful ‘aunty’ tips to see you safely through the New Year. …
Let’s start with guy tips…
Tip No.1: Don’t  be a cheapo. If you can’t afford it,or are too kanjoos to spend, scrap the celebrations. Stay home and get drunk by yourself. But if you want the evening to be special, don’t count! Nothing ruins a date more than a man constantly reminding his date about the kharcha. This is one night when a date should be a proper date! No splitting costs, please.
Tip No.2 : Don’t get slobbering drunk ‘because it’s New Year’s Eve!” That excuse sucks. Don’t puke. Don’t make passes at someone else’s date. Don’t cadge drinks from other people’s table. Don’t pile on. Don’t crash parties. Don’t smooch strangers of either sex unless they also want to smooch you.
Tip No.3 : Dress down rather than up. Avoid brocade jackets. Poor Ranveer Singh is still recovering after his fashion disaster at Deepika P’s bash. Keep it simple. Keep it sober. Keep it stylish. Overshadowing your date is never a good idea. Especially if it’s New Year’s Eve.
Tip No. 3 : Make sure you eat something before you hit the bar. Most importantly,make sure your date eats something , too. Knocking back Bubbly on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. Why get shattered before midnight…. and pass out when the countdown actually happens? If you want to prolong the evening, line your stomach well…and then attack that well stocked bar.
Tip No. 4 : Don’t forget all about your date once you get to the party. Remember, she can as easily forget you, too! But what she will appreciate and remember later, is that extra  attention you pay, making sure her glass is refilled, making sure she has a place to sit, making sure she is safe at all times!
 Tip No. 5 : You are obliged to see a lady home – no matter how inconvenient it is, and no matter how late. If she has a deadline, it is your responsibility to make sure it is kept. It will earn you more respect, even if at that moment it’s a real bummer! End the evening on a great note. There’s nothing quite as romantic as sharing breakfast as the sun rises on a fresh year.

And here come some tips for chicks with a plan:
Tip No.1 : Look hot…. not cheap. Don’t embarrass your guy by wearing something  that  has “ Wardrobe malfunction” written all over it. You really don’t want your  body parts jumping out at strangers. Make sure you can sit and dance comfortably – it’s always a looooong evening, remember?
Tip No.2: Even if you have been on a starvation diet to fit into that slinky number, make sure of two things before stepping out :  drink sufficient water and stay hydrated. Eat a quick snack at home, so your first drink doesn’t knock you out.
Tip No. 3: Do not accept drinks / ciggies / any other substance from strangers. Try and stay close to your date or people you know well. Avoid dark corners or deserted passages.  Don’t go to the loo on your own. Or let someone know where you are headed.
Tip No. 4 : Don’t share contact details with random people. Don’t leave your handbag or phone on the table while you head for the dance floor. Car and house keys must be secured at all times. Let someone responsible know exactly where you are, especially if you change the venue or original plan. Don’t get into a car with unknowns, no matter how desperate you are to get a ride back home. If your date appears too trashed to drive, call a cab or hire a party driver for the night. And whatever you do, don’t take the wheel yourself assuming you are more sober than he is.
Tip No. 5 : Show appreciation! If your date / partner / husband has taken the trouble to construct a special evening for you, let the person know how much you appreciate the effort. Buy an interesting man- gift and write a loving note. Articulate your feelings, and reciprocate at an appropriate time by treating him to a terrific meal or taking him to your favourite  holiday place.
New Years are for new beginnings. 2013 has been a tough year on all fronts. So many  pesky ‘P s’  have ruined the happiness of countless women ( and a few men!). Perverts, Privacy issues. Power games. Promises (fake) .Pitfalls (Section 377). But hey! Things are definitely looking up!
Here’s to a Safe, Secure and Serendipitous 2014.

Happy New Year, Blogdosts....

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Maha Khiladi Kejriwala....

This appeared in Asian Age...
Maha Khiladi Kejriwal conquers the box office!
An important swearing in ceremony takes place today. I would have called it historic. But I shall reserve that for what happens next. Arvind Kejriwal  has been the biggest game changer 0f 2013. Bigger than RaGa and NaMo put together. His win couldn’t have been better scripted. And I am adopting  filmi terminology in his case with utmost deliberation. Kejriwal has smoothly displaced the original Angry Young Man – Mr. Amitabh Bachchan himself – in young India’s collective imagination. ‘Deewar’ and ‘Zanjeer’ suddenly look dated and so yesterday. The Superstar of 2013 is, without a doubt the Anonymous Aam Aadmi. A person  who has come into his own after being marginalized, ignored, neglected and abused for 66 years. Armed with nothing more dangerous or lethal than a ‘jhaadu’ the Aam Aadmi is firmly and confidently ruling India’s box office.  So far, the collections are pretty impressive. And the soundtrack has smashed a few records. The ‘Ram Lila’ grounds can’t be topped as a dramatic set for a dramatic occasion. The art direction can’t be faulted either. As far as costumes are concerned, Kejriwal has set a new trend with the unusual  pallu-drape of his shawl, topped with the trademark topi.The dialogue department has also scored big time with the audiences across India. So… let’s see… what’s missing in this production. Well, there’s no heroine so far. Arvind’s wife has suddenly popped up on the scene. She seems more than ready to play a parallel role as Chief Minister ki biwi. There are two kids in place to complete the family portrait. Supporting cast? Arvind isn’t looking for it. He is the sole hero of this blockbuster. And wants the country to know it. Fortunately, there’s no dearth of villains – take your pick.  There’s a vamp or two as well. Action sequences, alas, are a bit too  slow for the Dhoom-3 generation. And ever since Kiran Bedi exited the cast, there is space for an item girl ( remember Bedi’s ghungat  dance during Anna’s fast?).
Delhi has become an all time favourite location for Bolllywood producers. This is good news for Kejriwal and his supporters.  Soon, Arvind will need to get an asli  multi-star cast together, if he wants collections to go up. He will also need to get a  pan-India profile for himself. This won’t be difficult at all. Every major hero has a defining moment in his career. This is Arvind’s. All eyes will be on him as he takes over the Capital of India and announces his arrival as a maha khiladi on the national scene. Kejriwal must know how fickle audiences are these days. Attention spans have shrunk and people are looking for fresh thrills. Gimmicks need to be original, innovative and convincing. Right now, the story line is somewhat far fetched.  There are too many credibility gaps to take care of. Let’s list a few. The hero starts off  by saying he isn’t interested in power. When he gets it unexpectedly… his attitude instantly alters, and he grabs it. He also loses his audience when he promptly decides to sleep with the enemy ( Congress ) - one doesn’t get under the sheets with people one has publicly trashed  –  right? Then there are  those promises! Absurd promises! Hazaar promises! Promises that sounded great during the tenuous courtship. But now that the marriage is on… and the honeymoon has begun on a high note, audiences will definitely wait for the final consummation. Fixing bijlee-paani issues will require a magic wand – not a jhaadu. Once audienes discover these are non-deliverables, disappointment and disillusionment will set in. Audiences hate being short changed .Besides, they had not backed a politician, They had voted for a messiah.A modern day Vivekananda, who would inspire and save them. Netas had become the most despised people in India. Kejriwal’s Fan Club was built on hope and respect. Kejriwal was the catalyst for change.It now looks like he sold out, seduced by the power of the box office – the wah- wahs and taalis that are the oxygen of movie stars. It happens to the best of them. India was keeping its fingers crossed it wouldn’t happen to Kejriwal. Let’s see what happens once he occupies that glamourous gaddi.  The new actors in his life will  be the Babus of Delhi. His life will be more about files and less about ideals.
But since every New Year must start on an optimistic note, here’s wishing India’s favourite hero a great run at the box office. This is the magnum opus we have been waiting for.We, the billion-plus people of India, are its producers. It’s an investment we will aggressively guard. 2014 is likely to be a landmark year in our history. Arvind is the Great Brown Hope we have been looking for. He has what it takes to make it to the top of the heap. Like several super successful stars in Bollywood, Arvind has  kicked off  his career with a dream debut.Now all he needs is to stay in the game, focus on his work, not get distracted, and DELIVER what he promised. We are a sentimental people. We like winners. We celebrate those who stand for something in public life. We admire those with spunk and spines. Arvind Kejriwal can indeed become the Amitabh Bachchan of politics – a man capable of staying on top for forty years. Here’s wishing him a great and glorious run at the biggest box office on earth – India.

Happy New Year, readers!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry X'Mas.... and a spectacular 2014

Blogdosts.... I am in such a sentimental  mood. Another year has gone by.....but the promise of a new one cheers me up instantly.
It's time to look back .... but more iimportantly, to look ahead1
 Stay positive. Stay strong. Stay happy!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tch! Tch! Uncle Sam is being a naughty boy...

Thiis appeared in Sunday Times...
                        Tch! Tch! Uncle Sam is being a naughty boy…
Lord Almighty!This ‘maid thing’  with the lovely lady from India …. India, right? Not Pakistan? Sorry about that, but lovely ladies from that part of the world  tend to…. ummmm… look alike. Yeah… where was I? Got it – does this nanny business have to be resolved right now?What about X’Mas, guys? Couldn’t we have waited a bit to go after this case? There goes the office party, there goes the family vacation! Lousy timing, folks. And all because these here people refuse to behave like Americans… even when they are in America! Yeah. That’s the bottom line. We have our laws out here. We follow ‘em. That diplomat gal should have known better than to underpay a nanny. That’s like the worst crime in America….it’s like serious. We abolished slavery in 1865.But we understand it is still practiced in India. And you want us to apologise for taking action against a woman who kept a slave in her home? Hell no, we ain’t apologizing!  We ain’t even expressing serious regret for the process employed. When we bring ‘em in, we bring ‘em in! Yup. The whole shebang. We handcuff, strip search, cavity search and more. That’s the way it goes here.What are those Indian dudes talking about? Diplomatic immunity does not cover the lady’s crime. Perhaps, underpaying nannies is not considered such a big deal in her part of the world. Well, guess what? In America, it is! And hey -  the Indians want to teach our marshals good manners? That’s a laugh. Our marshals are the toughest in the world. You don’t want to mess with those guys. All they did was follow the rule book. Too bad that pretty lady took it so hard. It wasn’t personal. Too bad her government took it even harder. I mean, these are major issues . And let’s not even go there. But why bring David Headley into this?
Indians are hyper sensitive and touchy. They crib all the time. And yet they can’t stay away from America. Their government chaps are constantly raising questions about the way we treat visitors from India. The way we “ harass” their movie stars, former Presidents, Ambassadors. Now they are talking revenge! Go ahead, you guys. You can harass our stars…Robert de Niro won’t be back for a while, in any case. You can refuse invitations to American embassy events. Don’t drink our booze.Don’t take our freebies. See if we care. Don’t meet our delegates… yeah, that’s fine, too. But remember, all these retaliatory measures are being watched by the world. And the world is laughing at you! Get real… one of your politicians is gunning for same sex American couples working at the embassy. Another wants our tax returns. A third demands an unconditional apology. While a fourth  removes cemented security barriers from outside the embassy.This corny maid thing has spiraled out of control. Unless, of course, it’s not just a ‘maid thing’ but something else.  Whatever the hell it is, the timing sucks.These guys in India must know we have a strategic alliance. We share a ‘deep friendship’, as John Kerry reminded everyone. We gotta put a lid on this maid thing quickly. Before it escalates and we miss out on our Easter weekend or something. Indians just don’t know their priorities. And maybe that lovely lady draped in colourful native costumes, needs to brush up on U.S. laws. We respect nannies in America. Nannies are far more important than diplomats. Obviously,someone forgot to tell her. She really should have paid more attention when the nanny disappeared. I mean, nannies don’t just disappear! Not in America. Other people can and do.But not nannies! We were really worried.Yes,about the nanny. She was underpaid! That is a major crime in America. You don’t underpay nannies! You can shoot people. Kill innocent school kids. Send drones. Bomb the hell out of unfriendly countries. Take hostages. But hey – when it comes to ill treating nannies….now, that’s another matter. We have a zero tolerance policy in place for that.
Phew! So here we are going eyeball-to-eyeball. This is worse than the worst stand-off. It’s X’Mas, for Christ’s sake. Can’t we just settle this maid thing quickly and get on with our lives? The missus is getting really mad. And so is Junior.We had it all planned… our Waikiki break. Why doesn’t the pretty lady diplomat just forget any of this happened, huh? As for the nanny…. no worries. We are taking good care of her. And her husband, kids… yeah, all of them, too. We’ve asked her to get other folks over – uncles, aunts, cousins. We understand family is really important to Indians. And the poor nanny has suffered irreparable emotional damage. Our man Preet Bharara totally gets the problem. He is smart. And tough. Especially when it comes to Indians. So what do you say? Shall we shake hands and go back to business as usual?
Here’s the deal : We keep the nanny. You take the diplomat.

Merry X’Mas, India.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Maid in India...

Our resident Santa sends out greetings to all my Blogdosts.... may 2014 be a year of positivity and peace.
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                                 Maid in India….
Like everybody else in the country, I was shocked out of my skull when I  read the early reports about Devyani Khobragade’s arrest and the horror story that followed. So many days after the incident, we are still seething, spluttering and swearing revenge. “ Let’s fix America,” nationalists are boldly demanding. And what is our idea of ‘fixing’ America? Oh…. one neta ( Yashwant Sinha) threatens to arrest same sex American couples, Dilliwalla Babus  create dramatic photo- ops for the press by removing barricades and cutting a host of privileges enjoyed by the staff at the American Embassy, Ms. Khobragade’s father appears across channels and gives his gorgeous daughter( Freida Pinto lookalike) a clean chit,then a sister appears with the maid’s good conduct certificate for her boss, Sushil Kumar Shinde says he knows the family well ( her dad worked for Shinde) and promises to salvage the diplomat’s honour, RaGa and NaMo refuse to meet a visiting U.S. delegation, Kamal Nath roars “ We can’t be treated like a banana republic,” Salman Khurshid wants an apology from America.The outrage grows and grows. Meanwhile, we quickly nail the main villain of the piece – a certain Preet Bharara, who is a U.S. attorney. We accuse him of targeting his “own’ countrymen, quite forgetting he owes allegiance to another country – the one he belongs to – America. Detailed accounts appear ( how Devyani was hand- cuffed, strip searched, cavity searched, DNA- swabbed and locked up with criminals and drug addicts). All of this sounds – and is – pretty awful. But wait a minute, has anybody focused on the maid’s version of what really happened inside the diplomat’s home? Or is that irrelevant, because of our loathsome mindset towards domestic help – “ she’s only a bloody maid! How dare she betray her boss?”
This column is not about Khobragade and her trauma. It is about our attitude to a large segment of our population – the hard working but under privileged tribe we still refer to as “our servants”.  We treat them like dirt, show no respect, and think we are doing them a favour by employing them.A lot has changed within this tribe. But the urban classes have refused to wake up and acknowledge the new rules of employment. Our minds are still stuck in a previous century, when ‘servants’ were treated like slaves. They had no rights, zero privileges, and were expected to stay mutely loyal and obedient towards their masters forever. One doesn’t know too much about Sangeeta Richard , who was employed by the  39-year-old diplomat to babysit her two kids. But clearly, the maid was well aware of her legal position in America.Was she tutored? By whom? Why? Is there a bigger, more sinister conspiracy?Who knows?Point is, Devyani has indeed flouted local laws . As, I am certain several other diplomats ( not just from India) also must have  . We don’t consider Devyani’s error of judgement a serious crime. Most would say, “ Big deal! Did the maid really think she would be paid $4,500 as a salary? What cheek! Even her boss’s official, take home salary ($4,120) is less than that….” Well, our Deputy Consul General in New York, should have either paid what was agreed upon in the contract, or done without a maid. Most NRIs who insist on employing domestic staff from back home  arrive at a convenient( but illegal) arrangement  (“setting” in Mumbai lingo).In this case, the baby sitter refused to play ball! That was something Ms. Khobragade had not factored in nor bargained for. One can scream, “ Racial discrimination!” Would  U.S. marshals dare to treat Saudi Arabian diplomats in this shocking manner? The bald truth is Devyani made a huge mistake which is considered a crime in America. It kills us to admit as much. Because we really don’t think there is anything all that bad about short changing a domestic. The argument being, “ The maid was taken to America! She should consider herself lucky! Ungrateful wretch! Bet she is a black mailer, asylum seeker and an extortionist out to exploit the situation. ” Hardly anybody will say, “ Well, given her high position, as an important representative of  India, Devyani  should have known better.

Yes, it’s a nasty mess out there. While India rises as one to defend its beleaguered diplomat,remember  Sangeeta Richards, is also an Indian. Just as Preet Bharara was once an Indian!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The REAL meaning of two words: Arvind Kejriwal

This appeared in Asian Age....
           The real meaning of two words : Arvind Kejriwal.
After what the ‘Jhaadu’ did to its mighty opponents in the recent New Delhi elections (swept them right off the map), Arvind Kejriwal has ceased to be just the given name of an individual. Those two words connote much more in our minds, post 8th December. They have made that rare transition  and become nouns…. adjectives…. adverbs… proverbs…. verbs…. lyrics… anything and everything the nation needs to hang on to. We desperately  needed to believe. We now believe. Not necessarily in a man armed with a jhaadu, who goes by that name. But in what he stands for. Arvind Kejriwal is now a symbol we can recognize and identify with. He is India’s hope – even for those who still don’t know what he can do for India. Nor what the deliverables are. All they know is that this David was armed with a humble broom and enormous fervor. The Goliath  in this case was a powerful, well entrenched adversary with every possible resource to bank on. When Kejriwal decided to take on Sheila Dixit, skeptics scoffed and dismissed the man as either a dodgy agent of some shadowy figures out to finish the Congress. Or a complete mad man hell bent on self destructing. Nobody gave this underdog much of a chance. Nobody, except his flock of faithful followers. And a few early converts to his cause, who argued anybody was better than Dixit and the Congress Party. The ‘C-Word’ became interchangeable – ‘C’ for the Congress. And  ‘C’ for corruption. In such a cynical scenario, along came a man who claimed to represent the ‘aam aadmi’.  The Mango People got born. And from the looks of it, the Mango People are here to stay.
Decades from now, when historians try and decode this particular Delhi Election, his will be the name that pops up as the man who emerged as a game changer. It’s interesting how the public’s focus changed  -  almost miraculously - from Narendra Modi to Arvind Kejriwal. Not because Kejriwal has become a national figure overnight. Oh no. It’s because Kejriwal’s victory goes well beyond mere numbers. It’s not the number of seats his party managed to win. It’s the  message that victory sent out to the entire country.  The message is pretty simple : it says change is achievable if you are committed to it. And Kejriwal proved it. Perhaps, we are too close to this narrative to read it accurately enough. We would love to know Kejriwal’s ‘secret’. And maybe we will be most disappointed to discover he doesn’t have one! We live in disturbing  times. We suspect everyone. We trust no one. Several attempts were made to besmirch Kejriwal’s name and derail his campaign. Who knows what  sort of dirt may get dug up in future? But as of now, Kejriwal is up there with the angels, sporting a dazzling halo of his own. His victory is seen as the people’s victory. He is being hailed as a people’s hero. What the public  has seen is sincerity and passion at play. When even his mentor, Anna Hazare, had distanced himself from him, Kejriwal carried on the good fight, never once losing focus. He had a one point agenda and that was to expose wrong doers and realign a deeply flawed system to be in sync with citizens’ expectations.  Critics may carp and fault his methods – those wild charges and rash allegations that were beyond proving. Despite a few really serious missteps that may have cost him two or three crucial seats, Kejriwal stayed on course. It was nothing but his steadfastness that won him his hard fought victory.

 Let’s not grudge him his due. Let us acknowledge the Kejriwal factor. But let us also be realistic and get the perspective right. Kejriwal’s job is done for now. This is what he was meant for. To be the catalyst. To be the carrier of people’s aspirations. To be the warrior who would lead his rag tag troops from the front. Kejriwal suddenly became the man who had done the right thing. The man who put his money where his mouth was. The man who had the guts to go eyeball-to-eyeball with adversaries who had outclassed him in every department, but one  -   transparency. Perhaps, emboldened by the success of this one man, many more Kejriwals will take birth and find the courage to jump into the fray and get their hands dirty. Because, like him, they may also see the bigger picture and tell themselves : this is an important moment for India. If we let it go without doing a thing , we are doomed. Kejriwal made us dream again. Made us believe that it’s possible to take on the big guns. And win. Whether or not Kejriwal ever becomes a national leader or even the Prime Minister, is not important at this point. That Kejriwal exists at all, is what counts.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Plan B for women....

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                Plan B for women….
Now that it is official, and we are told men are under siege, what are we supposed to feel / do/ think? This is terribly confusing. Should we be feeling sorry for men? Are we meant to rush to their side loaded with tea and sympathy? Or should we leave them alone till we figure out what to do with …. With…. OURSELVES? Shall we  engage the guys in a ‘constructive’ dialogue? Appoint a referee? Withdraw into our respective caves and wait for the crisis to blow over? No.No.No. Ladies, hit that pause button, stay calm and ask yourselves just one important question : what it is we need to do to fix the complex, essentially sex-related problem that has crept up on us. I have given the matter a good think, and here is what I believe will get us the best results. The smart thing to do involves the ‘N-word’. It is a word women aren’t too comfortable with for some inexplicable reason. That word is NEGOTIATE.  There is no crisis in the world that cannot be resolved through negotiation of the right kind. Okay…. so here’s the sticky part. Who defines ‘right’?  I’d say emphatically and firmly -  we do. It is our turn to rewrite the rules.  And this is where Plan B kicks in.
Once we are ready to negotiate ( there is no reason on earth to recklessly rush in till we are all on the same page), we can open official talks. Clarity is key at this point. Let’s not make absurd demands . Let’s be practical.And dare I say it – reasonable. Unfocussed anger is counter productive. Plan B states we have to let go of that anger. Surely,we want to improve our own lives, not destroy someone else’s. Stay constructive. Stay selfish. List out everything that has pulled you down as a woman. If there are self-esteem issues, address them in an upfront way. If there are workplace problems, table your grievances and deal with them. If the trouble spots are domestic, don’t shut up and put up. Articulate your feelings. Do so directly with the person giving you grief. The main thing at this point is to speak up.
Sounds easy. But it is one of the toughest things to do, if you have never done it. Take a long, hard look at your priorities. What  is it YOU need to change first? Your attitude? Do it!This is really an important turning point for all of us – men and women. It would be pretty idiotic to not recognize its significance and carry on like nothing happened. A lot has happened. Most of it unpleasant.There is a new awakening. And it is female. Women are fighting back.Men are seething about and smarting over this guerrilla attack. Most men are genuinely flabbergasted. Some still haven’t got it.Whether it is Tejpal or Ganguly or Asaram. Unless men realize the seriousness of  the current crisis, there can be no meaningful  dialogue. In order to push ahead with Plan B, we need to be doubly serious ourselves. Ultimatums like: “ Do this or else,” never work. So here’s step number one: Don’t jump down anybody’s throat . It will go against you. Reexamine your approach - at home and in the workplace. If you are sure you aren’t sending out mixed signals, you are doing fine. Stay consistent. Don’t say one thing and do another. Stay firm. Don’t waver. If you have taken a position, stick to it. Be realistic and reasonable. Good negotiations are about recognizing the other person’s right to present a different perspective. Listen keenly.  Be respectful and polite at all times. Nothing confuses the other party as much as dealing with a calm, smiling opponent. Be transparent. Most negotiations go for a toss because people presume too many things and…. scowl!.Be true to yourself – if there is something specific that makes you uncomfortable, say it without embarrassment. Plan B is about resolution and reconciliation. Not revenge and retribution. Sense the mood and push for closure. Timing is everything. Smart negotiators know when to back off. If you believe your objectives have been met, shake hands and settle the deal. Frankly, there is gender fatigue in the air. Most sensible men have finally got the message.

It’s time to be friends. Have fun. And be happy. It’s possible. 
With the beautiful and talented Shehrbano Taseer, daughter of slain Pakistani politician Salman Taseer, after she interviewed me in Lahore earlier this month....
With one of my favourite authors, Tehmina Durrani, at her artistic home in Lahore....

Lahore interview with Shehrbano Taseer....

Indian author Shobhaa De was in Lahore recently to speak about women’s empowerment. We caught up with her to discuss feminism, Bollywood, literature, and more. Excerpts:
You’ve described yourself as a feminist and address issues affecting women around the world. At what point did you become an activist?
I’ve always lived my life as a feminist and always been determinedly pro-women. Being pro the underdog is very important to me. If I were to find a man in a situation that is distressing, I would reach out to him and speak for him equally. Feminism is about a sense of fair play in life. I am not an activist and I don’t have a political agenda. I don’t use “-isms” to define myself. I’m pro-women, period. It’s as natural as breathing.
Critics have found it difficult to pigeonhole you since your career has been fairly diverse. Have the attacks finally ceased?
I’m attacked all the time, even now. I was a fashion model 50 years ago, but even today I’m [pejoratively] referred to as a former model or “the model.” It didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now. But I do get upset when moralizing critics question the choices being made by women in show business or women in fashion or women who model or are in beauty pageants. As long as these women are not being coerced and are making their choices freely, who are they to decide what is wrong or right?
You edited the Bollywood gossip bible Stardust. Did that job ruin any friendships?
I was the original ivory-tower editor there, and this was a deliberate decision. It’s important never to be buddy-buddy with the people you write about. You cannot do your job if you let unnecessary constraints get in the way, things like presumed loyalties and friendships. If a public figure has behaved in a way that is unacceptable, I want the freedom as a journalist to comment on it without worrying about so and so being my friend. I’ve always maintained a healthy distance. I know movie stars, but I do my job and they do theirs.
Do you think you’re more feared than respected?
That’s not my concern. I am really not bothered by perceptions. I do my job the best I can. I’ve been doing it for over 40 years. I would think respect and credibility go hand in hand, and I’ve established my credibility quite convincingly.
How is today’s Bollywood different from when you were editor?
It’s a completely different ball game now. It’s corporatized now, there are many more systems in place, and there’s more professionalism. The biggest change in Bollywood is the women, who are pretty much on top of their game. They’re making choices freely and doing things on their own terms. They’re not being shortchanged monetarily, like in the old days. They’re cutting fabulous deals, and are very global in their thinking, very smart, and very well-spoken.
You once called actresses Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone “nonentities.” Padukone said she highlighted phrases from your article, pinned them to a board, and tried to heed your criticism.
I heard that too. A journalist can never ever have a closed mind. You can never limit your options by thinking what you’ve written is carved in stone. If these girls delivered and performed, you have to have the largeness of heart to acknowledge it and say ‘well done, you’ve done a good job.’ When I wrote [about Kapoor and Padukone], they were nonentities without much promise. Deepika has evolved. She is first-rate and one of Bollywood’s few star actresses. I have no qualms in saying I got it completely wrong. She’s grown and evolved. One must hand it to her.
Apart from being a columnist, you’re also the author of some 18 books. In your opinion, can writing ever be objective?
No writing—and I include journalism—is perfectly objective. At the end of the day, all writing comes from one source: your mind. My characters are a combination of my experiences, my imagination, and my craft. In fiction, the biggest challenge is to make a character come alive. I find this challenge very exciting.
Do you write with a particular audience in mind?
No writer can claim they know their audience. All books have their own destinies; they find their own audience and readers. My younger audience is more open in their thinking, and much more receptive. My blog is a very democratic space. I don’t censor comments; I post them all—even the worst ones—because if I have the right to say what I’m saying about so many different issues and individuals, people have the right to comment as they feel.
Who are your favorite writers?
Voices from the subcontinent, especially from Pakistan, are the strongest for me because they are saying things in ways that are not only powerful but very unusual and gifted. For many years they were suffering from a colonial hangover. They were very much trying to write like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen when even the British had stopped writing like that decades earlier. Today I feel wonderful that we have found our own voice on our own terms. When you read a writer from Pakistan, they are now writing their own realities in their own voice.
Did terrorism and 9/11 change Pakistani writing?
There are certain seminal moments in a nation’s history and 9/11 was certainly one of them for all of us on the subcontinent. You cannot, as a creative person or a writer, be disengaged. And if that does influence your writing, that is completely legitimate.
What’s your take on the crisis engulfing Tehelka and its founder, Tarun Tejpal?
He admitted a lot of what he’s been accused of by the victim in his emails. Tejpal is not someone who was a saint and has suddenly become a sinner. He has acknowledged that he committed a gross sexual assault. If he did not do it, then why apologize to her? Why the atonement and self-laceration? Why would he, before anybody else could say anything, take a six-month break from the magazine as penance, if you please, and think that that is where the matter should end. [Tehelka’s managing editor] has resigned as well; she should have done so from the word go. She’s responsible for much of the mess that followed. They dealt with it very shabbily.
From our Dec. 21, 2013, issue.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Elevator Humour.... not on!

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today...
                            Elevator humour…
There are over a dozen of us waiting for elevators. Men and women. Friends and acquaintances.  Mostly married. Some single. The elevator doors open…. And there is an awkward moment as one woman and one man get ready to enter. The man roars, “ Are you sure you want to get in with me?” Everybody bursts out laughing. He adds, “You stay in your corner. And please don’t touch me! I will keep my hands above my head till we reach your floor.”  Irony meets pathos. We have converted the disgusting Tejpal case into a national joke now. It suits everybody.
This is just one recent example of how we are responding to what is in fact, a national crisis. Not the Tejpal case alone. But what it represents on a larger scale.Men and women  are  treading gingerly around sensitive terrain, afraid to miss a single step and hit a land mine. Everybody is wary….mutually suspicious. Unable to handle the tension in the air, the easiest (and stupidest) thing to do is convert the whole thing into a joke.  Once you start laughing at something, it is no longer a threat. And therein lies the real danger. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to get the point. To address the real issue, which isn’t complicated at all! It has to do with respect. That’s it. Once we understand the basics, and start respecting one another, nothing else is needed. No rule books. No laws. Every man who has ever touched / brushed past a woman deliberately, knows in his heart of hearts that he has crossed a certain limit. That his behavior is out of line. He doesn’t require a complicated judicial system to tell him he is being offensive. If he persists, he should also know the repercussions of that act. The question of misreading or misunderstanding the situation simply does not arise. And if it does he has to pay the price for his ignorance.  In all fairness, the same goes for any woman trying these tricks with a man. If her advances are rebuffed , she should immediately get the message and back off. Or face the music.
The Tejpal imbroglio has triggered off a debate that is strictly urban in tone. Urban and elitist (come on, who do you think attends Think Fests?). Let’s not mix up issues and talk about a naughty judge and other incidents. And let us also be candid and admit Tejpal is not the only one. The media world is full of Tejpals. They are out there even as I write this, and some of them are very, very nervous indeed! Tejpal got caught, that’s all. He got caught because a young woman decided to confront him. There are countless young women in the same position who have kept their silence.  Going by recent revelations about the Goa writers’ gang, chances are what took place two years ago, will now be tabled and aggressively addressed by the women who were harassed. Their argument is interesting since they insist what they endured is no different from the Tehelka case and should be treated in exactly the same way. It does not matter when the incidents took place. What matters is that such men need to be nailed – regardless of how well connected they are. This is the other positive off shoot of the Tejpal case. For all his influence and power, all it took was a spunky young woman to expose him without shame or fear.
So, please, let’s not reduce this sensitive issue to a joke. It’s really not funny. And let’s discourage people from jesting about Tejpal and others like him. That is an insult to all women. There are countless clever digs doing the rounds, most of them are misogynistic and sick. It upsets me greatly when women join in the laughter… adding insult to injury. If women would start objecting to sexist remarks being passed in their presence, not only will they be standing up for personal dignity, they may also be protecting themselves from an unwanted physical encounter. Participating in vulgar exchanges that demean women is indirectly telling men it’s okay to go further and grope. Let us start with ourselves first. The joke has been on us for way too long!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Yash Birla: On a Prayer

Am off to Lucknow to inaugurate the Literary Carnival and promote Shobhaa : Never a Dull De.
Rushing back to launch a book I am very proud of  at the Times of India Literary Carnival which starts tomorrow.. It's another gem from my imprint, the SDe Book. I love Yash Birla. And what a life it has been! He has spoken about the ttragedies and joys of being a Birla, in a voice that is at once poignant and profound, candid and comforting, spiritual and moving...I am so proud of him. And the book. It takes guts to tell it like it is. Yash has done it!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I have got myself a NULIFE!

First came the well organised press conference in Mumbai, at which the NULIFE  philosophy was spelt out. Then came the launch of the project at Kamshet. I enjoyed both experiences because I believe it is time for senior citizens to demand a higher quality of life, which includes their safety,security and well-being.
The project sounds promising. And it has obviously addressed a really strong need in the target group for 900 interested people to show up on a Sunday morning and take a look at the plans and dummy flat for themselves. Going by the enthusiastic response that morning, the promoters are feeling energised and enthusiastic enough to go all out and complete the complex within the stipulated time frame.
As for me, I was delighted and overwhelmed by the response to my bill boards and ads . It is important to send out a strong and positive message about the years ahead. Senior living needs to be redefined and further refined. These are the golden years. And NULIFE offers a golden opportunity to enjoy them to the fullest.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

We, the women, thank you Tarun Tejpal...

                                      We, the Women…thank you, Tarun Tejpal.
It is astounding how it takes just one case  for the worm to turn! For decades, we have been talking about the abject sexual harassment of women in the work place…. with NOTHING happening. And suddenly, the issue is out there  - the genie is out of the bottle, folks! And there’s no looking back now. The seminal moment is here. If we don’t recognize it…. if we are foolish enough to let it slip away noiselessly -  unnoticed and  trivialized – we will  be condemning ourselves to live with humiliation and degradation for the next fifty years. Two generations of women in the work place have silently suffered some form of  harassment or the other, unsure of  how to handle gender crises – big and small. Our time starts now.
 So….thank you,Tarun Tejpal. You have played the role of a catalyst in this vital discourse. And we owe you a big one. Media houses, in particular, have always bound themselves by some peculiar oath. The oath declares – when men f*** up, nobody say nuthin’. And nobody does. Or did. Overnight, that omerata has been thrown right out of the window. A woman has spoken up. And spoken up strongly. Inspired by her courage, more and more women have also spoken up. It took guts for the young woman to do what she did ( and can we please ignore the misogynists in our midst who are saying it’s all a dirty right wing conspiracy?).  The young journo expected justice from her employers. She got none. But she got something much bigger in its place  - she found her voice. And it is this voice that is being echoed across India. Hundreds of women have come forward to share their horror stories. Hundreds have derived succor from the young journo’s courage in taking on someone as well known and as well connected. Especially since we have seen the fate that has befallen some other, equally gutsy women who have tried to expose the misconduct of their bosses. Some were killed, others driven to suicide, still others banished to a life worse than death, with no hope of future employment.
 In the bad, old days women who spoke up were called witches and burnt at the stake. Today, they are called bitches. And ostracized. I hear men  labelling such women ‘trouble makers’. I hear men complain, “She doesn’t co-operate…” Or the newer version : “ She refuses to adjust.” Decoded, these statements mean just one thing  … there is just one connotation : She refuses to give. If a woman refuses to give, that amounts to professional suicide. Word gets around very quickly. And she becomes dead meat in the market. Remember, even Tejpal held out the same threat when he allegedly told his employee  the best way to keep her  job was to go along with his sexual overtures. Most women in her situation would have got the message loud and clear….but not all of them would have found the courage to speak up. By doing that, she has inadvertently breached a dam. Now that the floodgates have been opened, there is no going back .
Whichever way this bizarre case goes -  and I certainly don’t see it taking either a logical or predictable course – the inner landscape has definitely changed for the women of India.  For a few brave ones, so has the outer. With more support systems emerging from unlikely quarters (who could have imagined conservative families standing by abused daughters even five years ago?), today’s young women simply can’t be pushed around. If the boss can’t keep his pants up, sorry, he should brace himself for handcuffs. For all those men who leer, pass cheap remarks or accidentally brush past their female colleagues in the belief they’ll get away with it, the writing is on the wall in big, bold letters – THE PARTY IS OVER.’ It has taken one brave woman to change the old rules of this ugly game. And brave she most certainly is. Make no mistake about that : each time a woman makes a charge of sexual misconduct against a powerful man, she risks her life. We have seen this in case after case. The victim in the Tejpal case is no different. She too has risked her life.

The Tehelka journalist has expectedly resigned. At the time of writing, there was a clumsy attempt to convert the case into a political battle, in which – get this – Tejpal is the victim. If not a martyr. It started with penance, atonement and laceration. The only thing that now remains is a dramatic self- crucifixion. If even that doesn’t succeed, other options will present themselves. Given Tejpal’s penchant for florid prose, there will be any number of publishers waiting with juicy contracts for his memoir. Trouble is we can’t be sure of the version  he’ll write, given that his narrative has changed so many times in under a week. A smart literary agent should tell him nothing sells as well as pure, unalloyed truth. Take a tip from the victim, Tejpal. She has stuck to her story. And freed countless women. If Tejpal really wishes to redeem himself – in the eyes of his shamed family, in his own eyes, and in the eyes of the world  -  he should have the guts to speak the whole truth and nothing but. In so doing, he too will free men like himself… by holding up a mirror and showing them their own sorry selves in the reflection. Give it a shot, Tarun. You’ll feel so much lighter. And so will we.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The sad saga of Tarun Tejpal....

.This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today. Before the arrest...
                   Uneasy lies the head….
There was no escaping the word ‘uneasy’ this week. Too many awful things were taking place at  around the same time. The required mental space to absorb these rapid and sordid developments , was missing. The unease was caused on two levels – professional and personal. While I don’t know the Talwars,  I have  followed the grisly  five-year-old murder trial of Aarushi, their teenage daughter, in her own bed. What was a mystery back then, remains a mystery till today. Yes, even after the parents have been convicted of the crime ( life sentences for the double murders – Aarushi’s and  that of their domestic help, Hemraj). Then there was the equally disturbing Tarun Tejpal case, with all its bizarre twists and turns. No grisly murder here, except for the murder of several reputations. Trouble is, I know Tejpal. Not all that well. But certainly as a social friend, who has been to our home ( I have not been to his). We also have several friends in common, which was certainly not the case with the Talwars. The difficult questions  people in media were asking themselves last week were these : If you know someone  enough to invite them home, share a couple of meals with them and interact in an amiable way when paths crossed, how  difficult  is it to comment publicly on what has undoubtedly become one of the most high profile sexual harassment cases in recent times? The frank answer is ‘Very!” It is indeed very difficult to put your opinion on the line and say it like it is. But then again, is it fair to stay out of the dialogue because of this reason? To me, the answer is obvious: “No”. You don’t step out of something that is far bigger than the individual involved. You don’t stay silent when the issue is this important. Once the young journalist’s letter was leaked, everything  became fair game. Discourses on the mess raged across television channels and countless social media platforms. The mess got messier.  Especially after the far-from-dexterous handling of the crisis by a gang one can dismissively call ‘Friends of Tarun’. The dated idea of  ‘dog doesn’t eat dog’, combined with the even sillier institution of  the Old Boys’ Club showing public solidarity for one of their own, exacerbated the issue still further, making all those chaps bleating away on panel discussions , look rather foolish. The case being what it is, cannot be convincingly defended, even by Tejpal’s most loyal drinking buddies. They tried! But all they got for their show of loyalty was derision and sneering (“ Birds of a feather…”). Especially after Tejpal did an about turn and slandered the victim.
The Talwars had it tougher. The only people to put up a pretty spirited and valiant defense on their behalf were family members and their lawyer. The Talwars were pretty isolated by the time the verdict came in. And regardless of whether there is a section of society that still believes in their innocence, for all practical purposes, it’s now a dead story. Even though we still don’t know for sure who did it and why (murder weapon missing, motive not established). Both these Delhi-based stories packed a powerful emotional punch. Which is also why nobody could remain neutral or uninvolved in the debates that followed. In both cases, the targets were young, vulnerable girls. One is dead. The other is courageously fighting on. Something is terribly wrong. And drawing conclusions becomes that much harder when you know the accused. In this instance, Tejpal. It also makes one wonder whether one can really ‘know’ someone. To all those fellows standing by Tarun, and willingly sticking their necks out for him, my sympathies. They sound just as loutish as Tarun. But that’s entirely their prerogative. But for all those men and women who have stood by the victim from the word go – now, that takes guts. Loyalty is definitely a cherished virtue in these fickle times. But surely truth and fair play stand for much more?
I can hear the laughter of the men defending Tejpal as they as they order another round of beer at their favourite club. I can hear them say, “What’s the big deal? It was just another elevator encounter….like so many other similar encounters. Poor Tarun!”
Poor Tarun, is right. But NOT in the way his cronies mean it. And poor Talwars, too.

Moral bankruptcy is a great leveler…. and spares nobody. As no doubt Tejpal and the Talwars have discovered.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Silver lining for our golden years!

I am delighted to sign on as Brand Ambassador for NULIFE! Their motto? Grow Young!
Senior living is going to be the next big thing in India, as our cities shrink, life expectancy goes up and children don't have the time to look after ageing parents ( global problem). I liked the holistic concept that was presented to me before I signed on. The complex will be up and running in approximately three years. It promises security and top class health care at a pretty reasonable price. Check out the website and judge for yourself!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What sort of ''átonement'are we talking about??

This appeared in the Sunday Times...
             When  terms of ‘Atonement’  backfire….
I was tempted to write this column in Spanish ( thank you, Shoma Chaudhary), but thought better of  it, given that in any crisis, good, clear and honest communication has a far better chance of convincing people, than the use of fancy  language and childish taunts. Since we live in an age of Brand Success overriding virtually every other attribute, this week’s sordid scandal involving an alarmingly young (18) female employee fighting off aggressive sexual advances of her middle- aged (58)  boss/ mentor,  inside  the cramped confines of an elevator in a Goa hotel, is an interesting case in point. Regardless of  how the saga eventually pans out , the damage done to Brand Tehelka is looking pretty grim and perhaps irreversible. Enough has appeared about the lurid details of the case, so let’s skip the muck, and focus on what could have been done to salvage a pretty hopeless situation. And, more importantly, what wasn’t. Briefly put , the charge against Tarun Tejpal is serious. And here’s  Mistake Number One : It wasn’t treated seriously enough  -  either by Tejpal or his Managing Editor, Shoma Chaudhary. Mistake Number Two: the wording of  Tejpal’s admission / apology. It was pretentious in the extreme. And sounded totally hollow. Excuse me, but who the hell talks of ‘atonement’ and ‘laceration’ except overwrought actors in dreadful Hollywood Biblicals from another era? Mistake Number Three : when the excreta had already hit the ceiling fan and there was clearly no going back, Ms. Choudhary chose to go on the offensive, instead of displaying remorse or even plain regret for what had transpired during her watch. She nonchalantly referred to the attempted rape of her junior colleague as an ‘untoward incident’. Mistake Number Four : Tejpal decided his own punishment for his ‘lapse of  judgement’ and grandly mentioned ‘recusing’ himself for six months. Nothing more was needed . The damage was done.
If only, the two main players in this mess ( Choudhary and Tejpal), had shown some sensitivity towards the victim ( that’s the very least under the circumstances), and done the right thing by seeking legal opinion to help the young woman , perhaps the widespread criticism that has hit them would have been less strident. There is nothing heroic about a sexual assaulter admitting his crime, especially since he was probably aware of the CCTV camera footage that  could eventually nail him. For his buddies to laud him for being ‘gutsy’ and ‘honest’ by owning up, shows a pathetically skewered way of thinking. It is the victim who showed guts by speaking up. Well after all hell had broken loose, and social media platforms had created a war zone out of the controversy, nothing of any worth was forthcoming from Tehelka’s side. And this is where arrogance and short sightedness kicked in. Asking a media person if he was ‘an aggrieved party’ compounded the original sin and only succeeded in alienating  / angering the press further. At this point, what Tejpal and Chaudhary  needed  was the support of   media colleagues and well wishers.  But after this boo boo, nobody of consequence was willing to stick his/her neck out and defend what was increasingly looking indefensible. Even those early sympathizers who were shocked that “ one of us” had done something this horrible!
Now that the Pandora’s Box has been pried open, it will be very difficult to put a lid on the scandal. By challenging public opinion, Chaudhary may have hammered the last nail into Tehelka’s coffin. The answer to her rather rude question , “Are you the aggrieved party?” thrown at a jouno, is a resounding ‘Yes’.  Every woman in India can claim to be the aggrieved party under these awful circumstances. Regardless of whether the young victim pursues the case, it is really out of her hands now. Public opinion is far more lethal than any amount of self-inflicted laceration and atonement . Admirers of  the Tehelka brand of journalism have long believed that this powerful brand stood for the truth. Stood for justice. Penning weak apologies in over heated prose is a poor substitute for both – justice and the truth.

A young woman’s dignity is worth much more than the token ‘atonement’ on offer. Who should know that better than the two firebrand crusaders and activists who had taken it upon themselves to teach India how to THINK?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

When a mentor becomes a predator....

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
              What happens when a mentor turns predator?
 I have been a working woman most of my adult life. Today, I have four daughters in the work place. I  have been very fortunate in that I managed to take my safety and security in the office entirely for granted and have come through without having to deal with a single unpleasant incident that could’ve scarred me for life. Can my daughters (and millions of working women across India), hope for the same? Going by several recent encounters of the unsavoury kind, the answer is obvious. Not because men have changed. But the times have. Women in an earlier zamana were conditioned by society’s lop- sided rules to shut up and put up if  the boss was acting ‘forward’ ( that was the strongest term used for what was and remains, nothing short of sexual harassment). Even mothers would advise daughters to change –  their way of dressing,  behavior, thinking. The unspoken message was unambiguous: men will be men. The boss is your superior. He can get you fired. You will lose your job. What then?
 Well, we now have the answer. And the answer is pretty simple : Speak up!This is exactly what Tarun Tejpal’s 18-year-old victim did. She plucked up the courage to nail her mentor/boss after she was ( allegedly) sexually assaulted by Tejpal (58), on two separate occasions at what has become an annual pilgrimage for the country’s intellectual elite – the THINK Fest in Goa. Let’s leave it to the Goa police to decide what happens next as per the law of the land. The incriminating CCTV footage is with them. And, of course, there is Tejpal’s own admission and apology. Without delving into lurid details,  but going by what is already in the public domain, it is safe to conclude that the 18- year-old employee (whose best friend happens to be Tejpal’s daughter), was traumatized enough to provide a detailed account of what happened inside an elevator, with a man who was not just her boss/ mentor, but also her father’s friend. A man she looked up to, admired and most importantly, trusted.  Here is the most disturbing part of the sordid saga. What were the victim’s options at that critical point when she had to get into the elevator with this figure of authority? Should she have refused to travel in the same elevator car, sensing the man’s intentions? Pressed the alarm bell? Complained to hotel security? Rushed to the police the next morning? Come on… how many inexperienced young girls would have the presence of mind to take any of those steps? She did what any frightened person would do – she spoke about her awful, emotionally shattering experience to her friends, and later to her family. That she must have been shell-shocked, is a given. That she must also have felt pretty powerless right after the attack, is understandable. It took the victim a few days to write an email to her Managing Editor, Shoma Chaudhary. What happened subsequently with Ms. Chaudhary , need not be gone into here. The bald truth is staring us in the face – a mentor preyed on the vulnerability of a young, female employee and abused his power. Period. It is not an uncommon story. Predictably enough, the  trickle of  support Tejpal received was primarily  from other men -  his cronies.  That’s how most Boys’ Clubs operate around the world. Members immediately close ranks and stand by the accused man. No thought is spared for the woman who has been assaulted and humiliated.
Perhaps, this particular incident signals the beginning of the end of this form of female subjugation in the work place. The brave young victim chose to go public with what was a beastly attack on her, by a man she considered a father figure. There are thousands of women caught in similar situations. Forget committees and enquiries. Forget legalese and officialese. All those take time and test the patience of victims and their families. The first and most effective thing to do is expose the assaulter. Show zero tolerance. Go to the police. Demand justice. Shame the predator publicly. It is your dignity. Your life.

 No more suffering in silence!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Aapla Sachin....

This was written for a commemorative volume on Sachin, which was launched during his final Test Match...
                                      Aapla Sachin….
We Maharashtrians are a funny lot. To begin with, we don’t really have too many contemporary heroes ( the last icon was Chhatrapati Shivaji). Despite the acute shortfall of people to adore and worship, we are the last ones to wake up and applaud ‘our’ achievers. It is so typical of the community’s mentality, that once one of our own does receive world- wide fame and recognition, we quickly appropriate the person and take credit for the spectacular success (“ After all, he/she is a Maharshtrian… it is in our genes” ). So it was with the Master Blaster. Today, we possessively call him ‘Aapla Tendlya’. Sachin Tendulkar is as Maharashtrian as kandey-pohey. He may be one of the biggest global celebrities alive, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a true-blue Shivaji Park product – as unpretentious as vada pao or dahi misal. This is perhaps his biggest strength. Sachin has never forgotten his roots. And not all the commemorative gold Coke cans in the world can change that. It is his down to earth attitude that keeps him sane and sensible…. that took him to the top of the game. And has kept him there for 25 long years.
Most high profile Maharashtrians are not entirely comfortable with fame. Think Lata Mangeshkar. Sachin has lived with  adulation on a scale that very few human beings enjoy. But whether he is being carried on the shoulders of his team mates ( post-World Cup victory) or has fawning fans falling at his feet wherever he goes, the expression on his face rarely changes. He remains almost shockingly restrained . It is this restraint that has taken him to the pinnacle of his cricketing prowess. He gives nothing away – neither in defeat, nor when he is riding the wave. Some would call his  behaviour robotic and programmed. I call it his Maharashtrian reserve. The community tends to frown on an open display of  exhuberance in public. It is considered somewhat vulgar and déclassé. Modesty and reserve are highly prized virtues. Sachin has been raised to keep his head down and focus on the game. Period. This has clearly added to his character, particularly as a legendary cricketer whose every move makes it to the media. Sachin’s sang froid is both admirable and frightening. How can any super- celebrity remain this controlled, this untouched, this unmoved? Aaha. That’s why he is where he is in the competitive world of a multi-million dollar, high stakes game called cricket. Reticence rocks!
For 25 long years, Sachin has thrilled and mesmerized cricket fans across the world….even when he scores a duck – that is indeed some feat! What has baffled and frustrated critics is Sachin’s ability to walk away – image intact – no matter what the circumstances. Sachin is the original Inscrutable Indian. An enigma to all – fans, team mates, business associates. Everybody. But what nobody can take away from the God of Cricket, is his dedication to the game. Sachin breathes, eats, drinks, thinks, dreams, sweats and lives cricket. It is virtually impossible to separate the man from the game. Sachin IS cricket! He has served the game well. But the game has served him brilliantly, too. Today, Sachin ranks as one of the richest sports stars on Planet Earth. He has worked hard for his considerable wealth. What’s the bet he’ll work equally hard to grow it in the years to come. Sachin’s brain  is as mighty as his brawn. Though,his razor sharp  business acumen is the one trait he doesn’t share with the rest of the Maharashtrian community! Most of us are absolute duds when it comes to money matters.
Sachin’s single, most significant contribution to the game of cricket is a four letter word  -  H.O.P.E.  When the 16- year- old prodigy walked into a packed stadium in Karachi to play his first test match , every kid who had ever held a bat and ball ( be it in Shivaji Park, Azad Maidan or  the gullies of small town India ), started to believe he too could make it as a world class cricketer!  And this feeling coming as it did at a time when desi cricket was in a pretty hopeless state, continues to inspire young, aspiring cricketers so many years later. It was sheer brilliance that dazzled the world back then. And continues to, even today. From a no-hoper, demoralized side, Sachin lifted India’s position almost single handedly to make it a world class team. This is why his debut against Pakistan on 15th November 1989 remains the single most defining moment in India’s cricket history.Those 15 runs he scored changed his destiny – and ours. A gutsy, curly mopped teenager from Mumbai confidently faced a tough Pakistani team without flinching ….. nothing was ever the same again!
People will be discussing the Sachin Era for decades to come. That is perhaps his greatest legacy. Once there was a Bradman.  Now there is a Sachin.
Long live Cricket. Long live Sachin.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Betting and rape - CBI Chief's outrageous comments.

This appeared In Asian Age....
                          What’s the difference between  betting and rape? Let’s ask the CBI Chief…
Ranjit Sinha ki toh hadd ho gayee! The CBI Chief ( no less!), has left India speechless with his crude, crass and callous comment earlier this week. While talking about legalizing betting in sports, he jauntily added his own perspective : “If you can’t prevent rape, enjoy it!” While the country was reeling from the atrociousness of this remark, especially since two important cases will soon be in the news – the Aarushi murder and the Nirbhaya rape  -  it made one question the CBI Chief’s right to retain his job While sacking the man is the prerogative of the right authorities, getting an apology out of him is a poor substitute. We can bay for his blood and express our collective outrage across platforms, but that will still not compensate for the damage done. For a man in his position and at his age to make a joke out of something as serious as rape, displays a lack of education, not just an absence of basic decency. No educated person would dare articulate such an odious comment if  there was a good education and the right upbringing behind him. And by education, I am not referring to a string of degrees from the best colleges in India and / or abroad. An educated person is one who follows a modicum of civility at all times. An educated person would never make the grave error of  trivialising something as terrible as rape. Especially not in a country that is reeling under what has been graphically described as a ‘rape epidemic’ this year, by the world press.
Most thinking people feel it ought to be made virtually impossible for Ranjit Sinha to crawl out of this mess without paying the price for his abject insensitivity.As an after thought, he has described the nasty sentence as a “proverb”. Which  book of proverbs is he referring to? The scary part is how casually other men have reacted to his gross remark. I was at a seminar the day this disgusting story broke.  And an elderly man got up to state he found such topics ‘superfluous’. Nobody  protested! The few women present tried to shut him up. But the other guys shrugged indifferently and even patted the man on his back, as if to say, “It’s really quite okay… don’t let these angry women browbeat you.” That is precisely why I believe Ranjit Sinha will get away with the loathsome comment, after a token ticking off. The rest of India will also move on, in search of other nauseating individuals uttering outrageously offensive sexist comments in public.
If you ask me, Sinha himself must be perplexed and wondering what is so terrible about his ‘joke’. For decades men have been saying the same thing - “ The only thing for a woman to do during a rape is to lie back and enjoy it.” Generally, if this is dropped in mixed company, other men laugh uproariously before correcting themselves and looking sheepish. But that only happens when  women  glare and express their rage / contempt .  I have been present when foolish women have joined in the laughter,  and further encouraged the chaps to go still further and crack some more ‘jokes’.Even though it is  inconceivable to me that a man would be foolish enough to say what Ranjit Sinha just did. We live in aware and sensitized times. Incidents of brutal rapes taking place across India have dominated media space throughout 2013. Is Ranjit Sinha living in a bubble? Does he not read news reports? Or watch television shows? Is he unaware of the widespread international and national coverage generated by the ghastly Nirbhaya case? If so, he has no business being in his job for one more second.Apology be damned.
But you know what ? Tragically, Ranjit Sinha is not alone.  Whenever the subject of rape comes up these days, I can spot several men who turn away in boredom, as if to convey their indifference to the issue. There is a sense of ‘rape fatigue’ hanging over us that one can’t escape. Perhaps men really and truly don’t get it! I have also come across guys who have rolled their eyes, plugged their ears and declared, “ Please! Bas! Can we change the subject? Don’t you women have something better to talk about?”  

Errrr…. excuse me, Sir! But we really DON’T! So before you turn away and start discussing mighty global issues, do remember rape is a serious crime. Yes, even in India! Even if it does take place on a sickeningly regular basis. Don’t you dare  make fun of  rape, or convert it into a ‘boys only’ joke. That is seriously uncool. And it makes the lot of you look like illiterate boors. Ranjit Sinha falls into that category. As the top dog in the CBI, his job is to protect the women of this country. Not denigrate them in public. He needs to go back to school. Perhaps, even to a reform school. He could do with an orientation course. Let’s say a crash course in how not to hurt the sentiments of all those who recognize rape for what it is – a heinous crime against humanity. Not just against women.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sachin's Aie....

Had a super lovely launch of my latest book, Shobhaa: Never a Dull De. Gauri Sinde sparkled....  we engaged in a lively conversation on gender issues and more...
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today....
                              Sachin’s Aie….
“ I was there for Sachin’s historic match!” This is going to be something we’ll all hear for years to come from those who were fortunate enough to watch the Master Blaster playing his last test match.  Why not? Even for someone like myself ( plainly put : I am interested in the lives of cricketers, and not in cricket per se), I had goose bumps when Sachin Tendulkar walked onto the cricket field to a standing ovation .The roar that greeted him was so deafening,  I was sure it would cause a mini seismic quake at Wankhede Stadium.Forget rock stars, forget movie stars. That magical afternoon, there was no sun, no moon, no star  in the firmament. There was just one luminous body on earth and that was Sachin. I have seen and interacted with countless celebrities in my long career. But I have never been a part of something like this.Nothing and nobody  can  manipulate as spontaneous and visceral  a response (pure, unadulterated adoration ) for an individual. I have seen mega celebrities come and go in my time. But never have I witnessed this insane level of admiration amounting to undisguised worship for any individual. Not even for a Godman. While experts will no doubt try and deconstruct the Sachin Phenomenon over the years, and we’ll get to read several erudite theses on the making of a Living God, I will always wonder what must have been going on inside the mind and heart of  just one woman in that large stadium - Sachin’s Aie . What a magical moment it must have been for this wonderful lady who had never been to a stadium to watch her famous son play! Unbelievable, but true! When she finally did make it, it  was  only to see her son play his last test innings. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about this.
 I am sure most of us managed to catch Mrs. Tendulkar Sr.‘s  close-ups on our television screens. I am equally sure a lot of us stupidly tried to read her expression when Sachin came out to bat.  I, for one, was completely floored by her simplicity and the obvious lack of any artifice, as she tried to stay out of camera range and have her fill of Sachin in full flow. Here was a simple, middle class Maharashtrian lady of a certain vintage, unaccustomed to publicity, who thought nothing of unselfconsciously sticking her tongue out, as if  to say, “ Ooops! Am I really on camera? Should I smile? Look away? Hide my emotions? Ignore the lens capturing every flicker of my eyebrow?” I found her naturalness and innocence so disarming, I wanted to instantly hug her.
Getting those few, rare and privileged glimpses of Sachin’s proud mother, also gave us, his admirers, a marvelous insight into the man who is indeed a god to his followers. As the books always say, “ If you want to understand a man, meet his mother.” For all these many years, Sachin’s Aie has scrupulously stayed away from the public eye.  We knew all about his father and his brother Ajit. We have seen his gorgeous kids and lovely wife. Why, we also know a little about his mother-in-law. But this was the first time we saw Sachin’s mother. And everything suddenly became very clear.  Observing a Very Famous Person through a ‘Mom filter’, often makes that remote  celeb a little more real.  It was reassuring and fabulous to note how very modest and retiring Mrs. Tendulkar Sr. obviously is. The lady is simply not used to fame!! Even though her son happens to be one of the most famous individuals on Planet Earth!
God bless Sachin’s Aie. It is time to say ‘Thank you’ to her. I am sure she knows it in her heart of hearts – but it’s always nice when someone else says it : Sachin’s place can never be taken.He is what he is, because she is what she is. India….and the cricketing world, owe Sachin’s Aie a big one!


Monday, November 11, 2013

You are invited!

This volume will be launched at the TATA LITERATURE LIVE! on 15th November at 4 30pm. I will be In Conversation with the multi-talented Gauri Shinde, director of English Vinglish!
 This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
                       Caste-ing Couch….it still exists!
She had mehendi on her hands. But no joy in her eyes. It was the first time we were meeting. It was none of my business, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “ Newly married?” She jumped out of her skin, like someone had just tripped her. “No…… I mean…. yes! But how did you guess?” Well… the mehendi?  “That was applied during Diwali…” she fibbed. And nearly burst into tears. Okay. So, there was a story happening here. And not a happy one. I waited for her to compose herself. She didn’t require much prompting after that point. Here’s her seven year old saga, pretty much like she narrated it. For reasons of protecting her privacy and identity, I have switched a few details. But those are irrelevant…not important. Her life is!
She is a Mumbai girl all the way – a smart, educated, self- made professional, who lives with her nuclear family and works ten hours a day. He is also a Mumbai guy – like her, a smart, educated, self made professional. He also lives with his nuclear family and works the same long hours as she does. They have been dating for seven years. Both families expressed certain reservations about their relationship. Her mother was more concerned about their well being, if they were to stay with the boy’s family . His father had precisely one issue : caste! That’s it. CASTE!! The boy’s family falls into the OBC category. The girl is a Brahmin. Her folks have no problem with that aspect . His do. Especially his father (retired professional with a college degree). In fact, he feels so strongly about it, he has frequently threatened the girl and tried to force his son to break off with her. Clearly, his threats didn’t work. A few weeks ago, these two wonderful young people, did what any couple in love would – they got married. Not in a temple. Not ‘privately’. But in court. With all the documentation in place.
Then why the secrecy?
Here comes a typical Mumbai crisis : they have no place to stay other than their respective family homes. They have saved enough to rent a modest place and hope to move in soon. Till such time, they have to pretend to be single and continue like nothing has changed in their lives. She put on a brave smile and shrugged, “ I know we’ll find a small place eventually…. till then, we have to keep it quiet.” I was alarmed when I heard her story. More so, because she genuinely believes once they announce their marriage, all will be well. If only! In my head, I am thinking – what if her father-in-law sees red? What if he decides to teach them both a lesson? What if… what if….
I kept quiet.
But not for too long. Without wanting to scare her, I asked a few basic questions. Given that she and her family had been threatened by her husband’s father earlier, had she taken the precaution of going to the nearest police station and informing the cops? No, she hadn’t. Most people don’t. BIG mistake. She has already taken a huge step by getting married to the man she loves. Great. The next step is equally critical… crucial. There are enough horror stories out there revolving around vengeful fathers and murderous community members ready to take law into their own hands and ‘punish’ those who refuse to play by their rules. There was not a minute to lose, I warned her. She had to seek police intervention . The young girl bit her lip, as her eyes filled with tears. “ My parents were willing to do anything…. everything…. even pay an unreasonable dowry. But that man refused to listen. He just kept issuing threats.”
I fear for the young couple. Their love for and commitment to one another are rock solid. Seven years of consistency and faith count for something. But what does one do with narrow mindedness on this scale? Too many couples  are losing their lives in the name of ‘following traditions’. What sort of a culture is this that accepts / condones/ overlooks these crimes?

 Caste! Our country’s single biggest curse. We are obliged to fight it with all our collective might. Or…. stay doomed.