Sunday, February 24, 2013

Go on, David.... maafi maango, yaar!

Nostalgic! Summer of 2012.Athens! Am ready to go back!!!
This appeared in Asian Age /Deccan Chronicle....

                          Go on, David…. maafi maango!
Gawd! Will this farce never end? What’s with this apology mania? First the dishy David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain ( simply ‘David’ to Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India) nearly apologises for a tragic incident that took place before even his own father was born. Then Sushil Kumar Shinde decides to actually say sorry for his saffron terror remark. This is such rubbish, really. And we must identify rubbish for what it is. Let’s not endorse these meaningless half-apologies, regrets, full blown apologies, transparently fake ‘sorry-s’, and other equally annoying attempts at covering up deep, old wounds with flimsy band aids. There is that old saying about not scratching scabs and making old cuts bleed again. Scars are scars. That the skin has come together over them and dried up the wound, means the healing process is over. It is time to move on.
The rather nasty aspect of the latest public expressions of  remorse is the essentially manipulative nature of the act. David Cameron was “expected” to apologise.Two days prior to Cameron’s scheduled trip to the site of the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919 where 1,000 innocents (official figure) were killed, I received calls from a few  British presswallas.. Those Brit blokes wanted to know whether Indians were expecting an apology. And if Cameron did indeed apologise ( which, of course, he didn’t), would we feel a little better? I found the questions ridiculous. Better? About what? A dashing young Prime Minister came a-calling, heading a trade delegation (“The largest ever…” he bragged), clearly looking for juicy contracts  in India. He shrewdly chose to visit Amritsar and then the  Memorial, obviously with an eye on the substantial Sikh vote back home. And we are supposed to feel …. what? Grateful? Overwhelmed? Come on. Was Cameron trying to make up for the batty,old Duke of Edinburgh’s crass, insensitive remarks  when he’d stared at the plaque at Jallianwalla Bagh and  said he thought the “numbers were vastly exaggerated”? Did Gen. Dwyer ghost whisper that into the Duke’s ear? Would it have been okay to gun down 500 natives, but not okay if the number doubled? The Queen had discreetly skirted around this particular landmine and declared it a ‘distressing example’ (of what?), adding for good measure that ‘history cannot be rewritten’. So it can’t, guys! Can you not get it? Sure, Winston Churchill described the horrific episode as ‘monstrous’. But that was then. And there it should have stayed. Now, chances are we shall spend weeks and weeks deconstructing Cameron’s words (“ a deeply shameful act”) and actions (no jootas, head bowed), perhaps reading much more into his brief visit than was ever intended. Clearly, Cameron’s minders are more aware of local sentiments than the ones who used to advise his predecessors. Note how everybody applauded Cameron’s sensitivity to local customs when he removed his shoes and bowed respectfully in front of the Memorial. That was a good move, we all agreed. But why are we so impressed by common courtesy? Do we not observe tradition when in Rome , visiting the Vatican? Or attending a church ceremony in England? If we can remember to cover our heads and keep our shoes on, surely Cameron and others can follow our rules without all of us keeling over and dying? But that’s how we are. Especially when it comes to Goras going native.
It’s too early to say what exactly Cameron’s visit will yield in concrete terms. Yes, The Mummy is visiting our shores. And the Museum in Mumbai is filled with eager school kids who believe they are at a promo event for the movie, ‘The Mummy Returns’. And no – the Kohinoor  stays where it is. Boo to you, you over reaching idiots! Other lucrative deals will have to wait for a bit, till we sort out our own mess with Choppers from Italy brokered by a British agent. Even so, Cameron’s flying 3-day visit is being hailed as ‘significant’. And every sentence he has uttered while in India is being scrutinised for hidden meanings and signs. When Cameron  chose Mumbai  over Delhi as his point of entry, it was promptly  notched as a plug for capitalism and big bucks. If Cameron mentioned (well-timed pauses and all), that he had decided to make India his first stop, glances were immediately exchanged between corporate honchos, who nodded approvingly (“ take that, you Chinese entrepreneurs. Cameron prefers us!”). Unfortunately, Indians have still to shake off the rather pathetic colonial hangover, no matter how deeply embarrassing it is. Cameron’s ‘approval’ matters to us. We refuse to see his visit for what it is in reality  - a shopping trip. A trunk show. Cameron was here to sell British wares. Conclude mega deals. Woo India. That’s it. Because Cameron needs us to save him back home. He needs those desi votes to hang on to power… to consolidate his position and to wow the locals . The moment of truth will be upon him soon enough. Sushil Kumar Shinde’s story  is similar. Both men have taken the same route – I am very , very sorry….” sang  our Shinde. “I regret…” declared Cameron. It’s  ‘Kissa Kursi Ka’  time all over again.
Someone forgot to remind these men, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Thank you Erich Segal.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Because I love Rumi....

I feel so privileged tonight , after spending an elegant and refined evening listening to Rumi's poetry and having an erudite gentleman discuss the finer, deeper nuances of each verse and image. Nawab Mir Jaffar Imam has spent most of his 72 years imbibing the essence of Rumi.... in Persian. He has translated a great deal of Rumi's 60,000 plus poems into Urdu , and English. After a traditional high tea, we settled down on a terrace, and surrendered to the Nawab saab's voice and words...
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror

                       Mein  Chhup Rahoongi….
“ Raise your words, not voice…
It is rain that grows flowers,not thunder.”
                                           -  Rumi
Next week,  we have been invited to what promises to be a divine evening dedicated to Rumi. The timing couldn’t   be better. Raised voices are drowning out civilised conversation and intelligent discourse.Everybody is yelling and shouting these days. Not just Mamata. I grew up in a household that featured six highly opinionated family members ( sigh! It’s in the genes… what to do?). Our daily dramas were , how do I put it – rather animated and very vocal. Laryngitis became  a constant condition. Which wasn’t such a bad thing. Alas, I was forced to modulate my voice when it started to do the disappearing act a bit too frequently. The ENT surgeon I finally consulted, told me my condition was caused by voice abuse, which in turn had created nasty little nodules on my vocal chords.  This was serious.  Suddenly, the decibel levels got automatically reduced. I discovered the beauty and power of silence. This happened years ago. But it was an important turning point. These days, I rarely raise my voice even though there are innumerable times when I’m tempted to do just that. But I can’t! My vocal chords protest too much.
With International Women’s Day next month, there will be the usual seminars and workshops.  And giddy, boozed up events for women, by women, of women. Most of these sham , self- conscious gatherings generate nothing more than  a temporary feel good emotion that rapidly wears off  the moment wine levels correct themselves. After the brief euphoric  high , for a lot of enthusiastic participants, it’s back to keeping mum. Shutting up. And putting up. Personally speaking, years of  anguish, angst and annoyance later, I am at a stage when I am asking whether shutting up is such a terrible option. I think not – and kill me for saying this. Strident, shrill female voices are as off putting as body odour. There is too much body odour around these days. I think of a woman like Aruna Roy and marvel at her gift – Aruna is one of the most soft spoken activists in India. She doesn’t need to raise her voice – her message gets through loud and clear regardless. Aung San Su Kyi showed the way decades ago.Then  I think of one of my girl friends – a happier wife and mother would be hard to find. She declares proudly that she is a homemaker by choice. When she speaks, her voice smiles. It’s her grand mother’s training she says. As a young girl, she was told by her naani to practice just one thing for a contented, stable domestic life : during an argument,  keep quiet, listen keenly, stay calm and smile. Once the other person’s anger subsides, open your mouth and say what you need to. My friend follows the advice scrupulously. I also remember Chef Anando’s experiences in Thailand, when he stayed with local families and mastered Thai cuisine. He told me, the one thing he learned during that period was to speak softly at all times.He said the Thais never yell out to anybody (not even a child. They prefer to go up to the person and address him/ her with respect and humility. Anyone who has interacted with the popular Chef , will confirm this – Anando  runs his kitchens fabulously well without ever  hollering at minions.
And I think of my mother, yet again. She was an outspoken lady, alright. And unambiguously feisty. As was my grand mother. You really didn’t want to mess with these ladies. My father used to say, “ Aie chha raag tichya naakavar.” That’s pretty hard to translate, but broadly speaking it refers to a short fuse. Despite that trait, I don’t recall any major blow outs at home that brought neighbours into their balconies . There was dignity and restraint in her anger. Anger provides a much needed safety valve. Especially for women. It’s how one expresses anger that separates the girls from the women. You can keep the thunder.
 I want to be the rain that grows flowers… not quite there, yet. But trying…

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Which David do you prefer???

Both Davids were shot by Arundhati. One , in Florence a few months ago. The other, in Mumbai last night. You pick your favourite David!
This appeared in Sunday Times...
                          Silvio Berlusconi must be an Indian…
In India, we believe in past lives. Our television industry relies heavily on that belief. In fact, if  a canny businessperson from the organized sector actually got a business plan in place, cashing in on the past life theory could make him/her a billionaire. Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s ex-P.M. must have been an Indian in several previous avatars. Matter of fact, he sounds alarmingly like an Indian even in the present one. Perhaps, there is a dominant Indian gene in his  DNA? It is entirely possible. When he declared ,  “Bribes are necessary,”  a chorus of approval was heard across political classes in India. Netas of any and every hue rejoiced at the audacious comment, and probably kicked themselves for not having had the  errr… testicles… to beat the billionaire three -time P.M. to the delicious quote. The irrepressible Silvio  brazenly said what we in India accept wholeheartedly. Bribery has been a way of life here for as long as we can remember. It is the great equalizer, and undoubtedly Asish Nandy has a unique perspective on the subject. Indians bribe. It’s a given. Indians do not think before bribing. Indians are convinced there is no alternative to bribing. ‘Chai –Paani’ does not refer to “Tea-Water” as every Indian child knows. Talking of children , we bribe our own kids… we bribe teachers to get them into good schools… and later, we bribe employers to get those kids a job. Kids watch mothers bribing the gaswallah for an out of turn cylinder.  They watch fathers ‘pataoing’ traffic havaldaars after breaking a light. Even grand parents aren’t spared as they offer  a few hundred bucks to the clerk releasing their well earned pension. We have embraced bribery and corruption unconditionally. Indians  believe it is impossible to do business in the country without greasing palms. Chhota ya bada – it doesn’t matter. Even the illiterate migrant looking for work in the big , bad city arrives with a potli filled with whatever little cash he possesses. He knows he will have to pay a cut to the labour contractor who will hire him .The nasty truth is that bribery is not considered a moral issue any more. It is seen as a survival tool.
Berlusconi is bang on when he states, “ Bribes are a phenomenon that exist. It’s useless to deny the existence of these situations. These are not crimes.” Hear! Hear! He also mentions that if one lets such trivial issues (“ moralisms”) get in the way, one cannot become an entrepreneur  “ on a global scale.”  Our chaps have known that all along – from the biggest to the smallest. For them, Berlusconi’s words may sound like nursery rhymes – a bit too obvious. For the Big Boys of  India’s mighty business empires, keeping aside money for  “corrupt activity”  (as was done by Italy’s State-controlled Agusta-Westland, for the chopper deal) is just another requirement, especially when the stakes are this high (3,600 crores). Giving  middlemen ( former Air Chief S.P.Tyagi’s cousins) a piddly Rs.72 lakhs in cash, is not worth wasting a sneeze on. As for the silly nexus between the Air Chief and the Tyagi brothers, why, come on, let’s listen to the former Defence Minister Jaswant Singh as he pooh poohs the coincidence, helpfully adding,“ My first cousin was a smuggler. Does that make me a smuggler?” Sir, we are not saying that – you are!
So, here we are with yet another messy scandal involving a former Air Chief. It’s a pretty foul story and no matter what the main players say, the stink cannot be passed off for anything but a stink. Grazia, Silvio Berlusconi, for the clarity of  your thinking. And for pointing out to the rest of the world that the hefty bribe was necessary because “ those are the rules in that country.” So they are. As Bofors’ middleman, the notorious Ottavio Quattrocchi  before him had  figured way back in ‘80’s and ‘90’s. So much water has flown down the Ganga and the Arno. And we are still playing holier than thou. Let’s drop the charade, pronto! And hail Berlusconi as our hero. He sounds as desi as homemade ghee.  In a clumsy attempt to brush the scandal away, Jaswant Singh has jauntily accused the Italian Government of  being the “ Gold  Medal winners in corruption.” What does that make the Indian Government?  Platinum World Champions in the corruption stakes?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Letter from the gallows....

That's Arundhati, shot by me as we sailed into the historic port of Dubrovnik, Croatia..

This appeared in The Week....

                       Letter from the gallows….
Since I am not Omar Abdullah, I don’t have to be politically correct, incorrect, or even political. The case of Afzal Guru’s hanging is far too complex for any and everybody to jump in with an opinion. But, as a woman, wife and mother , I was deeply concerned about  Tabassum ( Afzal’s wife ) who received what would be the last communication ( the rejection of his mercy petition)  about her husband at 10. 20 am , hours after her husband was hanged. The letter was delivered to her home in Sopara by John Samuel, the Post Master General of Jammu & Kashmir Circle. Afzal’s hanging (code named Operation 3 Star ), was conducted on a Saturday. Afzal, the condemned- to- die prisoner, wrote a farewell letter to his wife and son (Ghalib) on Friday night, after he was told he would be hanged the next morning. The letter ( written in Urdu) was posted to the woman who went from being a wife to widow without even knowing when or how or why it happened. This action by the  authorites has been described as ‘inhuman’, with arguments that say Afzal’s family members should have been allowed  a final meeting. The State insists all procedures were adhered to as per the rule book (“ Secrecy necessary or the State cannot execute”). So be it. It’s a done deal now. What’s the point of quoting from rule books and jail manuals. The man has been hanged. Afzal Guru is dead.
 But Tabassum is alive.Unauthorised and unauthenticated leaks about the contents of this important letter  suggest Afzal wrote his aakhri khat  most thoughtfully. Apparently, he advised his wife to remain calm and dignified, to hold her head high and raise their son with the special responsibility her position demands. There is a great deal of poignancy in those words. Afzal must surely have known the historic value of that final letter. And I ask myself, how does anybody frame such a letter knowing it will inevitably be in the public domain now and forever? What about the emotions of the writer who is composing the text, not just for a beloved to whom he is bidding goodbye….but for the prying eyes of the world? For posterity? Imagine the inconceivable tragedy of that moment : A man knows the gallows await him at dawn. He has but a few short hours left in this world. He is asked if he has any final wishes – something he’d like to eat, maybe? A favourite dish ( I find this the most absurd of all the procedures listed in jail manuals). Which human being can think of food at such a time? Not even a glutton. Well, the ironies continue to pile up… the condemned man is offered treats as he prepares to die. Afzal asks for a paper and pen, instead. The world shall never ever know what went through his mind as the countdown began. Most prisoners turn to prayer.  Afzal also turned to his wife…
And what of her emotional state when she received a letter from beyond the grave? Did she tear it open? Push it away? Did her tears prevent her from reading it? Perhaps, she felt cheated and angry ?Maybe her rage at what had happened superseded every other feeling? Did she collapse? Faint? Stop eating? Weep uncontrollably? Hug her loved ones? Lock herself into a room ? Block out the pain somehow? Go into denial? Spent  quiet time with her son? Mourn in the privacy that only the dark offers? Seek solace in the scriptures? Contemplate her bleak future? Remind herself that the inquisitive eyes of the watching world would be boring holes into her during her hour of grief? And  that she was duty bound to honour the memory of her dead husband by not breaking down in public? I have tried to put myself in Tabassum’s place and ask what I would have done. It is a useless, meaningless, exercise. There are no answers. No rules. No manuals. In any case,how many women in the world have been  in Tabassum’s extraordinary position and been informed about their husband’s hanging… that too, 50 hours after it has taken place? Was Tabassum mentally prepared for such an eventuality? Can any wife be ‘prepared’ for her husband’s death?
What happens to Tabassum and Ghalib now that Afzal Guru is dead? Philosophers will say they will eventually move on… life will go on… as it must. Tabassum and Ghalib will become footnotes in history, regardless of any fresh development in their lives. Soon , the world will forget. And the name of Afzal Guru may cease to interest even those who are trying hard to keep it alive right now. By this time next year, most people will ask, “ Tabassum? Who’s she?”
Life is indeed fragile, uncertain and precious. Cruel, too.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Meet my Valentine...

Anasuya Devi is all set for Valentine's Day, appropriately dressed in red, and clutching her favourite doll.
As for me, I am stuck in Mumbai. My Pakistani visa was issued much too late for me to make the PIA flight! This is such a shame... I was all set to participate in the Karachi Lit Fest. I had two major sessions lined up, plus, a press conference. I am not sure why Gulzar Saab hastily returned after a few hours spent in Lahore. But my decision was taken independently. I had no choice! Inshallah, I'll be invited next year. And hopefully by then the relations between the two countries will have improved sufficiently not to have problems of the visa kind! I was going there as a writer, not a politician! Khair... at the moment, things are super sensitive and touchy. No point escalating matters. I want to post the sweet and touching responses from Karachi. These were sent by the organisers when they realised I couldn't make it.
 On Valentine's Day, my heart is a little broken...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meet the Literary Boy Friend...

Here's a pic with my all time favourite lady - the incomparable Sridevi. Was delighted to present the award to her...

Spent an incredibly warm and wonderful weekend in Goa with friends.  The mood... the compatibility factor.... the sparkling conversation.... the exquisite venue, with Goan cuisine, music... and dazzling company.... it was a reaffirmation of all that is gracious and generous and genuine. I was reminded that there is something called hospitality of the old world kind still left in our businesslike world. All this, and a looooong lunch at La Plage.... a quick dekho at Soma and Bardot.... we really managed to pack a lot into our short stay...
The redone Marriott on the Mandovi, has its own quiet grace. But what a breakfast...... one of the most lavish spreads ever! From Goan sausages to waffles, eggs, aloo parathas and dosas.... was it laid on .... and did we pig out...telling ourselves it was the Carnival in Goa.... and we were there to enjoy ourselves. Errrrr.... that's code for indulging in unadulterated gluttony!
This appeared in The Week...
                                The best accessory at JLF
Forget literary fireworks and mighty issues involving caste, class, talent. The biggest takeaway for a lot of eager attendees at the MahaKumbh of Words and Wars in Jaipur this year was the official unveiling of the Trophy Boyfriend. It was really something else. Unveiling new titles suddenly seemed so insipid, so yesterday, as several gorgeous ladies used the platform to flash their latest  acquisition – The Boyfriend. Imagine the sweet irony  - last year’s status symbol, the pricy Birkin, was smoothly displaced by the flashy BF. Overnight, as it were, one of the world’s most coveted handbags  appeared slightly passé in comparison to the dazzle of besotted couples happily flaunting new partners. The Jaipur Lit Fest is like that. A great equalizer, really. And it is possible to delude oneself during those five, all too brief days that there is a massive love fest going on under those beautiful Neem trees dotting the dusty grounds of  Diggi Palace. Nostalgia lovers try hard to get into a languid Woodstock mood, as they relax on charpoys making goo goo eyes at their newly minted lovers. Late night parties which, disappointingly enough, never convert into full blown orgies, but are described as ‘insane’ regardless, provide the perfect ambience for coy declarations of naya naya pyaar vyaar. Whether the JLF love affair dies a swift, inglorious death like the many controversies generated on the very same lawns, is another matter. But Cupid certainly finds enough aching hearts here. Which is quite a wonderful spin- off really, especially  for those in search of more than just literary stimulation.
I love the idea  of  today’s accomplished, confident ladies bringing their favoured men to the venue for the official coming out party. It is most apt, given the charged atmosphere here. Add to that the unbeatable comfort provided by the presence of  like-minded friends and you have the perfect setting for a good and proper show off session. This is certainly a big and bold change from the sneaky old days when single, attractive ladies were expected to keep their lovers under wraps…. till a ring was produced and the relationship was suitably sanitized. How boring! In today’s far more relaxed environment, it is only in the fairness of things that  the official boyfriend is regarded with no extra special interest. He is looked over… assessed….and post-scrutiny,given appropriate marks  –  as is his woman! The JLF has become some sort of a litmus test for relationships. If you make it here as a couple, you can make it anywhere.
‘Couples’ is  a rather old fashioned description. ’Companions’ sounds too cold….even books are described as companions. But it is still a big improvement on ‘Plus One’.  However, nothing beats the slightly sinful ring to  the word ‘Boyfriend’. It’s just that much sexier .
What I do not know at this point is this : Are the men comfortable with the new positioning? Does it make them feel a little  less diminished… or more? I read a quote recently which made me think about this from a man’s perspective. It came from a talented actor called Randeep Hooda, who for years and years was known simply as Sushmita Sen’s boyfriend. He sounded miffed . Some of the other boyfriends of famous women I have met, don’t sound as miffed . If anything, they appear mighty pleased to be linked to influential, successful, high profile  career ladies. The ladies themselves appear to be entirely comfortable with their men, too, which is perhaps how it really should be.Years ago I had written a column on a similar topic. The boyfriend in that column was a good looking  young actor who had been acquired by a Grande Dame. And ‘acquired’ is the appropriate word here. Today’s boyfriends are a different breed altogether. They are not toy boys. They are adventurers. They lead reasonably successful lives themselves, but do not enjoy as much fame and recognition as their partners. They are obviously turned on by power women. At the JLF, there were at least ten such combos. Of course, the couples attracted a fair amount of attention and gossip. But what the hell. I liked their attitude . The women were unapologetic and out there as they did the social rounds.The JLF was their old stomping ground, after all. And the men seemed pretty cool, too. I did overhear someone say in utter astonishment, “ What do you know! The boyfriend is intelligent …. and he actually reads!” Take that for a between the lines barb, if you wish. But girlfriends of famous men have heard worse. It’s the turn of the boyfriends now. Deal with it, guys.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Narendra Modi Chronicles....

My Taj!

This appeared in Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle today....
                      Narendra Modi ki Jadoo…
Lit Pests and Lit Fests go hand in hand. That’s what makes it so much fun. I do hope some well meaning idiots don’t try and sanitise these literary carnivals anytime soon.What’s a Lit Fest without at least one juicy controversy? While the just concluded Sahitya Utsav in Agra was relatively calm (the thick fog and biting cold dulled our senses somewhat ), some of the sessions did get pretty heated – thank God! At mine, the ‘N’ word ( Narendrabhai) came up repeatedly. Vani Tripathi, one of  Narendra Modi’s national level general secretaries, set the ball rolling by extolling her political boss’ many virtues. This was a couple of days before his ‘Ab Dilli door nahi’ visit to the Capital. Assembled invitees on the grounds of the DPS school, cheered her on and clapped each time she pointed out some khaas achievement of Modi’s. Initially, I was a bit stumped. We were in Yadav land. Mayawati’s shadow was also omnipresent. And yet, there were more taalis than gaalis for Modi. Something significant had obviously changed. And changed when no one was looking. Modi is suddenly kosher!It’s okay to praise him in polite company. It’s okay to talk about him as the next Prime Minister of India. It’s okay to nod approvingly when people point to the progress in Gujarat and give Modi sole credit for it. Hardly anybody brings up Godhra. And even if someone does ( as I did), people’s eyes glaze over and then it’s back to singing his praises as the only dynamic, progressive, results-driven leader in the country. As the man who delivers ( but… what?) .As a chief minister who has transformed his state and given a global vision to his people. Gujaratis themselves sound smug and super confident when they speak about Narendrabhai being the next prime minister ( “Choukkas thassey!”). It is almost a given. Now , Modi is being compared to Nehru! Sweet irony. Where does that leave Nehru’s great grand-son  -  Rahul Baba ? If even his legacy and lineage are going to be smoothly hijacked and snatched away, what will our Dimpled Darling fall back on?
Perhaps that is the whole point. Maybe Modi’s A-Team has come up with a simple strategy -  strip the rival off the only attribute he possesses ( an accident of birth), appropriate his birthright ( dynasty still counts), and leave the poor man shivering in the unseasonal rain in Delhi. Brilliant! Modi’s  managers have been hard at work rebranding the firebrand. That’s a pretty tough assignment, given Modi’s history. But after convincingly winning his third term as Chief Minister, Modi and his crew are on pretty strong ground. It is Modi’s time now, they insist. With his proven track record as an able administrator, Modi is the one who should rightfully claim that coveted kursi. For his part, he is shrewdly making all the right noises and moves. His much quoted reference to the half-full, half-empty glass has gone down well with the media. Never mind the hot air ( come on… it was a pretty manipulative analogy). But what has really stumped his critics and foes is the new assertiveness vis a vis Delhi. Modi is not playing coy anymore. He is out there, stating his ambitions straight up and doing so in Hindi, not Gujarati. His Hindi, in any case, is far better than Rahul’s  ( let’s not embarrass Sonia by bringing up hers). And Modi has obviously worked hard on improving his rashtra bhasha. The effort is paying off. It is the first vital step he has taken to let the others know he means business.And his business has now relocated to Delhi.
Today, Modi is no longer viewed as a political pariah. His jadoo is working. Of course, the knives are still out for him. His personality is such. But even his harshest critics are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. This is unbelievable! The same man who was called the Butcher of Godhra not so long ago, is being feted and felicitated, not just in his own State where he enjoys the absolute support of hard core followers, but increasingly in Delhi, too. It’s a fascinating story to monitor and chronicle. Its narrative involves all of us. How has Modi managed the switcheroo so seamlessly? Is it by design or default? Are we that desperate for change? Do we have such a short memory? Is Modi’s much touted efficiency winning over morality? What has happened to our earlier reservations and concerns? All thrown out of the window? How and why?
The answer is obvious. When someone says, “I am willing to settle for an era of benevolent dictatorship under NaMo rather than suffer the weak leadership of  a well- meaning but dumb Baba,” it’s a remark worth paying attention to. So, we are prepared to accept a man whose track record has blood on it, over a naïve new player who earnestly swears to serve the country but doesn’t discuss specifics. Rahul’s sweet and innocent speech in Amethi  made hardliners laugh. Modi’s aggressive emphasis on development, on the other hand, is winning him new converts every day. In such an atmosphere, the country’s votes are up for grabs… who knows, a mysterious new Khiladi may appear on the scene out of nowhere and leave both these men ( Modi and Rahul) standing open mouthed at the gatepost. If that does happen,fans of  Rahul Gandhi will be pained to see him drifting into oblivion as a kati patang.But Narendrabhai’s supporters will have nowhere to hide. Paradoxically enough, both men are wooing the desi youth and projecting themselves as Youth Icons. More than any other mission statement they might make, what is needed on a priority basis is a definition of ‘Youth’. Remember, India’s 8th Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar was referred to as a Young Turk, pretty much till he died, aged 80.   
Yes. He was finally hanged. Afzal Guru. Why did we wait this long? Politics of convenience and timing. Two evils do not virtue make!   

Friday, February 8, 2013


This appears in the current issue of VOGUE....

I should have listened to my mother. I wonder how many women of a certain vintage are saying the same thing across the world right now. I reckon, countless. Most of us have finally found the courage to admit we screwed up. And screwed up bad.The bald truth is, we never ever did have it all. More fool us for thinking we could. That’s the old story. What of today? What now? I look at my daughters as they rush around most weekday mornings, hanging on to a half-drunk mug of strong coffee. Sometimes, they leave home without their faces fully on. Seeing my startled expression (of course, I don’t utter a word…. not at that hour) , they wave an efficient looking mini pouch at me. Aaha – the magic bag of tricks – make-up basics. Despite my better sense, I yell after them (retreating backs are so depressing  for moms), “Be careful with the mascara wand….you could damage your eyes in a moving car.” They blow a quick kiss and rush away. I am told this is how it’s done. By zillions of working ladies across the world. They can take master classes in applying professional quality make-up (no smudging), in assorted modes of transport, from Mumbai’s autoriks and overcrowded trains, to cabs with maniacs behind the wheel.  Some of these accomplished women can also use the rear view mirror to draw the perfect lip line as they self-drive.
Welcome to the world of  Mad Women, where the only rule is to score ( not what you are thinking). And maximize every micro-second of  one’s waking hours. Never mind the consequences. And the consequences are pretty scary.Ta ke something as simple as eye contact. Is there a law against it? If not, why doesn’t anybody make it any more? Has it been declared politically incorrect to greet people by actually looking up from the device gripped in one’s hand – from the  i5 to the latest generation of something that hits the market from somewhere – generally Taiwan? The dreaded ‘C’ word is no longer ‘commitment’ but ‘communication’. There is no time for it. And when there is no time for something…anything… it generally means there is no need for it, either. Imagine. We are in an age in which we can reach even the man on the moon via a smart gadget if we want to, thanks to the technological tsunami.And yet, we refuse to reach the man in our bed! No amount of tecchie expertise can replace the compelling power of a pair of eyes meeting another. Of a ‘no-agenda’ cuddle….or kiss.If that’s not happening, it is indeed a loss worth mourning. Same goes for touch. We touch keys of keypads… but not one another. We make love to our latest gizmos, but go to bed alone. What are we afraid of? Or has ‘aloneness’ become the new ‘togetherness’? I see more single people (men and women) in their forties than ever before.They insist they are doing just fine. Are they, really? Then why aren’t they smiling? Dumb question.
Is an ‘island’ existence what we want? A life of isolation – even in a crowd? Young women I talk to sound confused, even worse, they sound hostile.They rave and rant against everything. Nothing is good enough.What are they seething over? Oh – does it matter? It’s about safety, they insist. Explaining emphatically, just as you can never be too rich or too thin, you can’t be too safe. Look at what happened to Pallavi, they point out. Pallavi Purkayastha being the bright, beautiful young lawyer who was brutally killed by the watchman of the building she occupied, in a flat she shared with her live-in partner.That ought to have been the wake-up call for urban women across India, for whom life has become a daily challenge of just staying alive! Rape, molestation,stalking, acid attacks, kidnapping, and several other forms of torture and harassment are the new realities that have become the ultimate barometres of a severely skewered and frighteningly dysfunctional society, unable to come to terms with a rapidly shifting social landscape in which women are the drivers of change. With all the other signs of emancipation and progress in place, we are still living in a country that does not factor in basics for women in the work force – enough toilets. Or any toilets at all! The corporate bladder has affected the health of more women than the dreaded dengue. Fact. Go check!
 So, in a sad and resigned mommy-way, I do get the angst and permanent scowls I observe around me. But that doesn’t stop me from yearning for long forgotten smiles and twinkling eyes!Whichever way one looks at the problem, it boils down to safety. Physical and psychological safety. Women simply cannot take safety for granted any longer. It is an issue we are not comfortable talking about, since it seems ‘old fashioned’ and wimpish. Women who whinge about personal safety are mocked and worse, excluded. Shut up and put up, they are told. Or get left behind. I was talking to a sharp investment banker in her mid-thirties, who had deep worry lines between her brows. She looked harrowed and pre-occupied at her own dinner party, in her own ( heavily barricaded and  cctv secured) home. I wondered why that was so. It was a great home with spectacular views. She had a staff of three full timers to look after her. She was dressed impeccably, perfectly groomed, with an enviable gym toned body. Add  to that a cute boy friend who she said gave her the best foot massage ever. Then? She sighed, took a big swig of her Merlot, and confessed she was just tired all the time. Bone tired. Her day started at 6 a.m. with a personal trainer. After that it was boom,boom, boom, often till 11 p.m. when she got back to her fancy pad, only to crash in an exhausted heap…common story. Most of us hate admitting it, but what we need even more than love… is sleep! Something so basic and yet so under- valued. We have trained ourselves to keep going well after our poor bodies are crying out pathetically for nothing more exotic than a firm bed and a soft pillow.
Are we, as contemporary women, being a bit too hard on ourselves? The truthful answer is an unambiguous ‘Yes’. God knows which and whose idyll it is that we are chasing, but it’s simply not worth it, if the consequences are an alarmingly early burn out. It seems perfectly insane to be pushing ourselves this relentlessly in order to win some vague badge of approval – generally from other women caught in the same trap. We keep talking about the work-life balance. We attend seminars and lectures that provide advice on how to get it right. But nobody has cracked the formula so far. I watch young mothers who burst into tears at the smallest crisis. These same ladies are on top of the game in the office. They are described as ‘power women’ in opinion polls. But they become powerless in an instant when faced with a domestic situation,  which is no more alarming than the baby’s maid taking a couple of extra days off. Instant panic! Meltdowns on an epic scale. It is eventually the approval of their female peers they crave for (“If she can do it all and have it all, why can’t I?”). The thing is, nobody has it all. Often everything comes apart overnight. And a crisis doesn’t always issue a warning. Our emotional resources are so damn depleted, we feel diminished if the ‘back present’ given to invitees after the toddler’s party, aren’t posh enough for some of the snooty moms present. We allow ourselves to feel rotten over being caught carrying last season’s ‘It’ bag. Or if our family holiday is to Coonoor and not Cambodia. The social pressure to host the classiest soirees and wear the chicest designer wear is destroying more relationships than we care to admit. Competition has become the new killer. Along with the desperate  need to conform and be counted in a very crowded field.
So what should today’s woman do? What are the coping mechanisms that could help her to feel better about herself, her life, her choices?What does she have to give up in order to lead a more stable existence? Does she necessarily have to give up something in the first place? Do men? The answer might surprise you. If women have it bad, so do poor men. If women are struggling to make peace with the multiplicity of demands and expectations society imposes, so are men. One just has to take a look at some of the more evocative TV commercials that make a comment on changing attitudes within family. The ones that bring an instant smile to the face are those that evoke a charming sense of nostalgia. Ads in which women are projected as soft, caring, sensitive creatures looking after the needs of a family with love and tenderness. The men in such commercials are equally old world. They come home bearing surprise gifts ( solitaires,  keys to a new car) for their dutiful wives , who smile and hug the husbands, their eyes brimming over with gratitude. I am a complete sucker for these shamelessly sentimental commercials myself. Who wants to be Superwoman?At least, in  my book, the answer is pretty obvious. Given the choice, I’d rather be my mom. She was so much happier.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Super fabulous launch of Kareena's Style Guide

That's the Diva herself in all her stylish glory! And that's my sweet Diva, Arundhati with her favourite movie star. Arundhati says she can drown in Kareena's radiance! 
I guess our Penguin guys are too shy to say anything as effusive, but their expressions tell their own story. As for me, as a newly minted publisher, I couldn't have asked for a better launch pad for my first title. Everything came together so smoothly - the fabulous Shangri La venue, the guest list, the Moet, and of course, the Diva at her stylish best ( Tom Ford, in case you are wondering!)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Who wants to be Mrs.Salman Rushdie No.5?

 All four images are from Jaipur. The ones on top are with Rajmata Padmini Devi. She had graciously invited me to lunch at her residence - the magnificent City Palace. I was completely disarmed by her innate simplicity and quiet grace. The others in the picture are Sunanda Tharoor and Hemali Sodhi. The beautiful boy dancing in the courtyard of the Palace Cafe speaks a lilting version of English, Italian, French and German. The cops in the last picture were there to thwart protests in the wake of the Asish Nandy controversy. As you can tell, it's a pretty motley crowd of hired 'protestors''.
 Oh.... for all those who want to know about our strange footwear in the earlier post, it's a disposable covering that one wears in order to protect the pristine marble of the Taj.

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror.....

                                  Who wants to be Mrs.Salman Rushdie…?

 So…. who wants to be the next Mrs. Rushdie? Dumb question! Do I see quite a few raised hands out there?Yup. I do, indeed.Across the world and certainly here in India, there are any number of gorgeous young things who’d love to be Salman’s missus number five. Paradox or what? Let’s take a good look at Salman, ladies. Let’s try and figure out what makes him so damn irresistible to women. It can’t be his looks  (Salman is the first person to laugh about those). It isn’t about his money. I don’t know his net worth, and I am pretty sure he has done well for himself. But, let’s face it, Warren Buffet he ain’t.He is not even a Ruia or Dhoot. He  is well…. Salman Rushdie. All hooded eyes and sardonic smiles. A man who has a way with words and women. That’s quite a feat. Words… that’s easy, he is a brilliant writer. No debate. Women? Oh oh…. different story. Rushdie at 65 is hot! Madly hot.  Sure, he is seriously out of  shape ( gymming is for wimps, not geniuses – got that?) But he is also seriously irresistible. Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie ( knighted in 2008), serial husband,  is also the original Cerebral Sizzler. Best served garma garam.
I watched him gamely go through the mandatory motions while promoting his movie ( make no mistake - ‘Midnight’s Children’ is unambiguously Rushdie’s film). I figured he was trying to keep himself awake and amused as he repeated a spiel that by now must be coming out of his ears. This is the least fun part of any creative endeavour – the hard sell and road show. Salman must be well aware of the boring drill which involves flogging the poor chap from city to city, country to country. He is the movie’s brand identity and trump card . No Salman. No interest. The book is 32- years- old. The original Midnight’s Children who so loved the book, are now paunchy, complacent, middle aged grandpas and grandmas. The current generation of readers ( I am told they do exist!) has moved on to ‘higher ground’ ( Salman’s favourite phrase). Grey matter is restricted to appreciating fifty shades of  that depressing colour. And yet! There he was, sportingly playing to the galleries, those observant hooded eyes checking out the fawning crowd invited to the Little Theatre by Anil Dharker.  As if on cue, he performed his set piece, chortling at an anecdote here, an off the cuff joke there. Dead pan humour and wry wit, perfectly in place.  Wait a minute – I got it! The key to Salman’s spectacular success with the ladies is definitely linked to this one trait -  his awesome sense of humour. Bas. You may say there are so many funny guys floating around. Do women necessarily want to bed and wed them? Naaaah! But just look at Salman’s enviable track record. Forget Johnny Depp ( Salman’s joke about him is brilliant). It is our Salman who’s the asli super stud. The man who makes women weak with desire. But… desire for what? His fame? Umm. There are countless men a hundred times more famous.His brain? Well, a good brain is attractive. But … I guess that’s not the  only part of a man’s anatomy women seek under the sheets.  Could it be his bad boy reputation? That’s a turn on, for sure. Most good girls are absolute suckers when it comes to naughty guys. But then, going by just that, there should be a long queue of  lusting ladies lining up outside Arthur Road jail.
The last time I met the Rushdie  was  at a small dinner in Mumbai when the luscious Padma Lakshmi was not yet his missus. Forget her eyes, she could barely keep her hands off him! She kept gushing, “I don’t see enough of my boy friend.” Salman seemed pleased to bask in her adulation while she draped herself all over him and posed for photographs. Padma is an ex-missus now. And Salman is single. Very single. At this stage in his life, I am guessing he is ready to try anything… or anyone. What does he have to lose? With his devilish charm and devastating wit, Salman may just make it to the list of the world’s most eligible bachelors. Never mind the girth. He is the Jack Nicholson of the literary world. At once magnetic and entirely impossible. Women just lurveee that! More fool them.

Monday, February 4, 2013

We were just so lucky!
The Taj was shrouded in a thick fog.... and there were over  40,000 visitors present! But thanks to the kindness of Mr. Janoo, and the local police commandant, we were able to see the magnificent monument in the most meaningful manner. It was rushed, yes. But it was worth every single micro-second. I had just finished my talk at the first Taj Lit Fest - a Sahitya Utsav. It had gone brilliantly. I had signed countless books and noted with a certain amount of glee that Sethji had sold out in the first half hour. Nothing could keep me away from the Taj now! We rushed there in a convoy of police cars - now I know what a lal batti experience means! And spent the next two hours just gazing at the overwhelming beauty of this unreal looking monument to eternal love. It is at once tragic and uplifting.
Then, it was time to hit the sabzi mandi and shop for potatoes.... you do know Agra is known for its spuds??? Sadar Bazaar shopping followed.... I could not resist the stylish red boots selling in a gully, right next to the famous chaat wallas of Agra! I paid 800 rupees for them!!! The boot makers of Agra create leather shoes for some of top Italian brands. I guess what makes it to the thelas are seconds or surplus items. Do I really care?? Puss in Boots is all set ! More pics coming up once I upload them.
Let it be said that for all of Mayawati's evil ways, she has created an Expressway that is by far the best in India.

India: Republic of Hate and Nightmares...

This appeared in Sunday times yesterday

                        India :Republic of  Hate and  Nightmares… not Ideas.
Ban this. Ban that. Intimidate.Scare.Browbeat.Disrupt.Destroy.
 We are living in deeply troubling times. The Republic of Ideas…. Dreams… Imagination… has been replaced by the Republic of  Hate and Nightmares. Which is why it is important to address this missive directly to the individual who is  hell bent on  pushing the hate envelope still further.
Dear Mr. Intolerant  -  Disrupter of  Peace,
I write this with anguish in my heart.  It took just seven days and four nasty protests to establish your credentials as the ultimate cultural rogue.Sadly,the weakened (and wicked) State has meekly surrendered to your bullying and threats. You have picked your targets well. Ashish Nandy,Kamalhassan, Salman Rushdie and Shah Rukh Khan. High profile… but soft and vulnerable. You decided to ‘teach them a lesson’.You nearly succeeded. It happened because we let it. Because we went on the defensive. We explained ourselves strenuously…provided alibis and excuses. But mainly because we surrendered. Too easily.Too soon. And allowed you to trample all over us. Yes – it has become an ‘Us Vs. Them’ siege, unfortunately.Why did we back down so  fast? There lies the sad tale. It has to do with several factors – all of them valid. Age and frail health ( Asish Nandy). Commerce and connected considerations (Kamalhassan). Heightened sensitivity ( SRK). Or plain fatigue ( Salman Rushdie ). It has come to such a ludicrous point that soon creative communities across India will be forced to quietly shut shop. And worse – shut up. That is precisely what you want.
The irony of this ghastly situation isn’t lost on anyone. Check this out - most times, the angry mobs ( led by people like you) are composed of people who do not read, write,draw,sing, act,paint… or even think. Books are judged by a bunch of  illiterate goons who may never have held one in their hands. Movies are condemned by those who have not watched the film they are demanding a ban on. Art is dismissed by philistines who have never stepped into a gallery. Speeches are damned by those who don’t know any language – except the language of abuse. In such a hostile atmosphere, artists, writers, painters, movie makers, musicians and thinkers are pushed into a pen…. threatened, gagged, brow beaten, intimidated. Their crime?They possess an independent mind.
Why is Kamalhassan threatening to quit India and seek exile in a more tolerant environment?Why is he compelled to convince his “Muslim brothers’’ that his film is pro-Muslim? Why is Asish  being dragged from one tv studio to the next asserting , “ I have always been a champion of the Dalits’ ? Why should SRK have to play the martyr over and over again and wear his patriotism on his sleeve? Why is Rushdie still hunted and hounded?
 Mr. Distrupter, you know the answer.
 As of now, you are calling the shots in this ongoing battle for Freedom of the Mind. Your corrosive antipathy towards what is foolishly called the Liberal Threat, is winning the war so far. Intellectuals are crawling when they needn’t even stoop.Soon public platforms will be effortlessly hijacked by your types – narrow minded, vicious people. “Religious thugs” indulging in “cultural terrorism” to borrow Rushdie’s evocative words. You and your ilk, who are nothing but two paisa  hirelings of  local politicians, appear determined to exert control over  carefully  nurtured vote banks . That is precisely what has led to an outbreak of cultural goondagiri parading as moral policing. People can see through such humbug. What do you want to hear? Hypocritical, gratuitous remarks? Would it make things any better if our intellectuals were to start every public discourse with salutations like : “My Muslim brothers…my Dalit sisters….  my Tribal children?” Your recent ‘triumphs’ should not give you false confidence. In the prevailing Chamcha Culture that defines political life, you may have succeeded in terrorizing a few.  But be warned  - this is a fight that goes beyond personalities.Or even expeditious politics. It is not just about Asish, SRK, Rushdie or Kamalhassan . This is a fight for freedom. Absolute freedom. Zero compromise freedom. Freedom of  ideas… and  the  vibrant expression of all that is diverse in our complex society. As guaranteed by our Constitution. Lathis can stop crowds but not thoughts. Dissent is our birthright.And we shall have it. Just you watch!