Monday, January 27, 2014

Shiv Menon - what happens to him?

This appeared in The Week
 As expected, the story is as good as dead in the media.... how swiftly we move on...
                            Sunanda’s sad saga….
As I write this, my thoughts are focused on Shiv Menon – orphaned at the tender age of twenty-one. Shiv is Sunanda Pushkar’s son from one of her earlier marriages. His father died in a car accident years ago. And last week, Shiv lost his mother, Sunanda, who was found dead in her lavish suite at the opulent Lee la Palace Hotel in Delhi. Her death was described by the Delhi police as “sudden and unnatural’’. Television coverage of his mother’s funeral, showed a tiny young person bravely fighting back tears as he dutifully performed the prescribed last rites, along with Sunanda’s  husband. I am sure a lot of hearts went out to the frail lad while he struggled to retain his composure as flashbulbs popped incessantly, capturing every grimace and tear. Sure, he is not the first young man to be orphaned. But given the harsh glare of publicity that surrounded his 52-year-old mother’s tragic death, it was inevitable that Shiv’s every reaction and move would be relentlessly tracked, even before the poor fellow had had the chance to absorb the enormity of the tragedy.
What happens to Shiv next? I am looking at it in purely practical terms. Where will he live from now on? How? With whom? What’s ‘home’ for him? Did he ever really have one he belonged to ? How will society treat him? Is moving in with his grand- father – Sunanda’s dad –  the only answer?  Or will  his step-father assume charge? Take responsibility? What about his two step-brothers? And the extended political family / community in Delhi? The same people who once fawned over his glamourous mother and kootchi-kooed him – will they have time for him now that Sunanda is no more? Does he have friends – good friends – who can see him through these difficult times? What happens to his plans of making it in Bollywood?  Will film makers still open doors for him without his well-connected mother to steer his career and utilize her countless contacts? That’s the downside. Let’s look at the upside. This may prove to be Shiv’s biggest test to grow up.  And grow up fast. Sunanda was known to be a loving mother who doted on her only child. Through all her tumultuous times, Shiv had been her one constant. The steadying, sobering factor. Watching his spirited mother’s descent into physical and emotional hell must have taken a gigantic toll on the boy. It is never easy on a child whose single parent happens to be a high profile celebrity, living in a glass house, with enough detractors ready to throw stones at her.  As it had happened to Sunanda during her final, agonizing days. I keep wondering what Shiv must have gone through as Sunanda engaged in ugly spats  with the ‘other woman’ who was hitting back viciously, often aiming way below the belt.
 I feel for Shiv. His mother was a fragile and vulnerable woman behind the tough, brazen façade. He had seen her swing from euphoria to depression, panic to exultation. God knows what sort of storms he had witnessed as her latest marriage was falling apart. And God knows how he will find the strength to battle all those demons that may haunt him for the rest of his life. I can’t help thinking of Prateik, Smita Patil’s young son, who lost his mother just after she gave birth to him. Raised by Smita’s aged parents, Prateik’s growing up years were defined by confusion and rebellion. Today, he may be a recognized name in Bollywood. But Prateik is also fighting several ghosts as he struggles to make something of his life in a highly competitive industry. Both these boys represent the complex emotional dilemmas young people have to confront in these troubling times. If Shiv can successfully negotiate the next phase of his life without cracking up, he’ll emerge that much stronger. At this point, nobody knows the exact status of  Sunanda’s legacy –  did she leave behind a valid will? Will her son be financially secure? Does he have any contact with his late father’s family? Cousins and other relatives he can count on ? Where are his dependable support systems when he needs them the most?

Sunanda’s dramatic life and sudden death attracted a huge amount of negative attention… and there was Shiv, a lost child at the centre of this terrible vortex, desperately trying to make some sense of the ghastly turn of events. His mother was incredibly proud of him…she had big dreams for her boy. She had even bigger dreams for herself. Shiv will be flying solo from now on. Even the people who may be consoling him currently,will eventually move on… as it inevitably happens. He needs all the courage in the world to cope on his own as he navigates life’s shark infested waters. The loss of  the most important person in his tender life is impossible to fill. But I hope he knows there are people out there who genuinely care.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What chance does the Aam Aurat have in 2014??

Oooooops - I completely forgot about this column which appeared in The Week...
                             Will the Aam Aurat win in 2014?
Are we being optimistic, upbeat… or plain foolish and naïve? As I write my first column of a brand new year, I want to stay positive and think about good things. I am one of those who genuinely believes if you start the year on a high note ( literally and metaphorically!), the mood lingers and influences various aspects of your life in rich and marvelous ways. The Aam Aadmi is on a roll. But what about the Aam Aurat?  For far too long, the Mango Women of India have been left out in the cold. Now, all of a sudden, they are pinning their hopes on just one man – their superhero, Arvind Kejriwal. They are expecting a lot out of  him, starting with making women’s issues central to his party’s agenda. We, the women of India, demand nothing less than a firm handling of the dreaded ‘C-Word’. ‘C’ for Corruption. Well, in my head and heart, the fight against corruption unambiguously and unequivocally, includes a fight for women. Historically, women have always been the ultimate victims of a corrupt system. Arvind, therefore, is morally obliged to get far more pro-active when it comes to women’s issues. If he does that, and really quickly too, the female vote will automatically go to him. As it is, women in droves have expressed their confidence in the new kid on the block. Now that he is in the gaddi, we expect him to announce several long term policies that will transform the lives of women across the country. For starters, he can make sure the Nirbhaya Fund that was announced with such fanfare, is actually disbursed where it is most needed. The women of Delhi (as, indeed, the women across India) want to experience change that is real, that is tangible, that is effective. We don’t need to be fobbed off with empty promises and grand sounding programmes that go nowhere. We want to step out of our homes with a feeling of total security. We want assurance we won’t be attacked / raped/ murdered / molested / kidnapped / harassed / taunted / teased / touched / abused. Is this too much to ask? Surely not!
The awful  truth is that post-Tejpal and post-Ganguly, the work environment has dramatically altered. This is an unpleasant development. Most men are openly declaring they don’t want to risk their reputations by hiring women. While in offices where women in impressive numbers are already present, men are making sure to marginalize them. Men are also hiding behind a new persecution complex and playing victim! Imagine the absurdity and irony of it all. If that’s not bad enough, there is a campaign underway urging men to hang together as team players and exclude women. This is just one small part of the double discrimination. 
Here’s where Kejriwal can play a crucial role. Previous administrations have failed the women of Delhi over and over again. The all important “mindset change” we keep referring to, has not happened. If the police do not see violence against women as a major crime, the message simply will not get delivered. If Arvind makes sure his cops behave and do what they are obliged by law to do ( protect women), chances of  such crimes diminishing are pretty high. Police who fail in this duty must be severely punished, even if that means suspension or sacking. If Arvind can demonstrate that he means business, he will earn the gratitude and respect of countless women.
The Aam Aadmi is in a good spot right now. That spot may not last forever. Arvind has a few short months ahead of him to establish his credentials as a serious player on the national scene. Women are an important component of his constituency. As Kejriwal takes his show to other states and gets further emboldened to stake a bigger claim to national politics, he’d do well to court the ladies! The long neglected female vote is finally getting its due. 2013 has proved to be a watershed year. The worm has finally turned. Sorry, but no amount of laceration, penance or self-flagellation can compensate for centuries of  bad behavior. The Aam Aurat doesn’t want excuses, nor is she willing to ‘recuse’ the guilty. Arvind has a tough job ahead of him. A quiet revolution is underway. All Arvind has to do to woo us is set an example himself. The AAP must get more women on board. And the message has to go out loud and clear : Crimes against women will be dealt with swiftly and strictly. Once that happens, the Aam Aadmi and the Aam Aurat can live together happily ever after!

Have a superlative 2014, readers!

Monday, January 20, 2014

G'bye Darlin'' - we will miss you!

This is my tribute to Sunanda Pushkar. It  appeared in Mumbai Mirror today....
G'bye Darlin’ -  we will miss you!

Sunanda Pushkar – loved by many, misunderstood by most.

Sunanda was  the original ‘Kashmir ki Kali’ -  an exotic saffron flower, with an alarmingly short shelf-life. A delicate and beautiful flower has been cruelly crushed. But the fragrance will always linger on.
 “Hello  Darlin’…” was Sunanda Pushkar’s favourite greeting. Everybody was her ‘Darlin’… total strangers included. Her hugs were freely distributed to one and all. But there was nothing fake about either her spontaneity or exuberance. Unfortunately, most people didn’t get it – or get her. They predictably stopped at her OTT appearance -  yes - the fake eyelashes, peroxided fat hair, Bollywood style make up and blingy ensembles. It was easy to label someone like Sunanda – an outsider with dodgy antecedents  -  Sue, the Queen of the Souks. The Bottle Blond Bombshell from Dubai. The brassy Gulf socialite. And, in her final and most tragic avatar – the Dilliwalley Ministersaab ki  badnaam Biwi.”
So, who was the real Sunanda? The essential Sunanda? I doubt anybody bothered to find out. Worse, I suspect she herself didn’t have a clue. Sunanda was a creature of the moment. A woman who had clawed and scratched her way to where she was ( inside Delhi Durbar) at the time of her death. Appropriately enough, her end came in opulent surroundings. Her body was discovered under a fluffy duvet, in a sprawling suite of one of the most luxurious hotels in Asia. It can be accurately ( if cynically) said that Sunanda Pushkar went in style. A style this simple, middle-class daughter of a retired army officer, had craved all her life. It is a fascinating saga of struggle, ambition and betrayal. It is indeed hard to believe that Sunanda, who passionately loved life, could have taken her own.
It would be easy to say Sunanda married the wrong man. I would say, she married the wrong city. Delhi didn’t know what to do with Sunanda . While she rapidly became a Page 3 fixture, the local babus and netas , accustomed to wives who shrewdly chose  staid  behenji -hood over tinsel celebrity-hood in order to fit into the Capital, were totally thrown by Sunanda’s starry persona. She behaved more like a flashy Bollywood trophy wife than an ambitious politician’s well behaved, soberly dressed spouse. That her husband happened to be chummy with Sonia G. meant more trouble from jealous rivals jostling to get into Madam’s good books.Sunanda’s outspokenness on sensitive issues ( Kashmir) didn’t help. In any case, discretion was not an attribute anybody associated with the free spirited, spontaneous Sunanda. And perhaps, it was this lack of propriety and restraint that eventually did her in. But then Sunanda would not have been Sunanda had she been a typical Dilli biwi – leading a miserable life in private and smiling in public. Sunanda was way too honest for such hypocrisy. But, as pundits point out, being upfront is never an option in politics.
How well did I know Sunanda? Let me put it this way : You may meet someone two thousand times and not know the person at all. Or you can meet a stranger once, twice, maybe twenty times, and connect instantly. The very first time I met Sunanda, I was struck by her genuine warmth and complete lack of  guile or bitterness. I had written a satirical piece (“ Su-shi on a platter””) in the Sunday Times, which had been a far from flattering portrait of the power couple. She had read it… and came up to me to say, “ Darlin’…that was fun!But now that we have finally met, let’s be friends.” That was it! I was instantly charmed… disarmed. And friends we did become. As I got to know her better, I felt increasingly protective – like an older sister who needed to drill some sense into a madcap sibling as she went about her life in a way that alarmed me. It was her candour. Her lack of judgement. Her transparency. Her recklessness. I knew all these marvelous qualities would eventually get her into trouble… destroy her. As they tragically did. During our last long meeting in Jaipur  a  few months ago, she spoke at length about what she was going through, including her illness, and her deep anxiety about the  future. It was as if she had sensed time was running out. After all, Sunanda was a woman who knew too much. The sort of damaging information she was privy to, would have made a lot of powerful people very uncomfortable had she chosen to go public with it. She felt she had nothing to lose by spilling the beans and telling the truth.  By now, Sunanda had realized she had become dispensable and inconvenient. She had instinctively guessed she was also a monumental embarrassment , a liability, within political circles, given the critical timing (election year). Then came those tweets! And the public humiliation she was subjected to. All these were desperate cries for help that went largely ignored. Instead, she found herself being portrayed as an out of control, neurotic harridan. A woman scorned. An emotionally unstable creature indulging in theatrics.  A hysterical, insecure bimbette making a fool of herself. She was mocked for her incoherence, her bad grammar, her lack of intellectual sophistication. Instead of making fun of her, why didn’t her tormentors recognize her many skills? Did they know what a great cook she was? Had they ever watched her dance sensuously… uninhibitedly under the stars? Did they not recognize her generous spirit and giving nature?Of course, they didn’t! Sadly, all of us imagined she would survive this latest round, just as she had so many equally awful scandals in the past. Unfortunately, the script had changed. This one had a terrible ending. A vibrant, vivacious woman was compelled to  give up on herself. Give up on life.
Sunanda Pushkar was like the delicious and delicate Gushtaba,  a Kashmiri speciality that is served as the last dish after a 36-course banquet. Chef Om Takoo  said in an article, “ It signifies the end…. a full stop.”
Sunanda’s life was indeed a moveable feast.The full stop should have come later. Much, much later.

Darlin’… relax …. dance, sing, laugh, flirt… just be yourself… you no longer have anything to fear…. you are free and safe, at last… the angels will look after you now.
And I refuse to accept that 140 characters killed Sunanda Pushkar...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jaipur Lit Fest...

The Jaipur Lit Fest was terrific... as expected. But the high point for me was attending a private dinner for India's most exciting mind - Amartya Sen. Just the six of us...  talking - but mainly listening -  for three glorious hours,over a traditional Rajasthani dinner at the historic Rambagh Palace Hotel. What an unforgettable experience!
 And that's a candid shot from the Lit Fest which appeared in the Times of India...
This appeared in the Mumbai Mirror on Saturday....
                       Why other people’s divorces matter…
A few nights ago, I was seated next to a group of exceedingly animated ladies ( a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc made everybody terribly articulate ), discussing the impending divorce of strangers ( movie stars and social creatures). The level of engagement was intense and personal. Everybody had an opinion on the subject - who was right, who was wrong, what will happen to the poor children etc. etc. There were theories galore as to what precisely had gone wrong in this particular ‘perfect’ marriage. Was it another woman? Another man? Interference from in-laws? Drug abuse? Alcohol addiction? So many ‘pucca’ theories were authoritatively floated (“ We always knew this would happen!”), it was like all of us had spent considerable time inside the star boudoir, hiding  under the famous bed. Someone knew someone who knew someone close to the wife. Another lady said she and the wife shared a maalishwalli who knew the asli story. A third mentioned her husband and the about-to-be-divorced man were gym buddies. Soon, every single person at the table had become an expert on marriage. In fact, we were all sounding like top class counselors who had advanced degrees on the subject and an answer to every conceivable marital problem in the world.  There was an air of smugness and self-congratulation as a lady coyly confessed how close her own shaadi had come to breaking up. Of course, she had virtuously sacrificed everything ‘for the sake of the children’. The other ladies nodded, exchanged meaningful looks and agreed it was the best decision  – ‘for the sake of the children’. Not for a moment did anybody think of the absurdity of this meaningless conversation ( thank you, Sauvignon Blanc!). The couple whose tattered marriage was under scrutiny happened to be Bollywood A-Listers. The other NRI couple was equally high profile. Nobody in the group had actually met these celebrities. But everybody had a take on what had happened in the marriage… and how to fix it.
Divorce is a highly emotive topic that triggers off passionate feelings. Discussing divorces of celebrities, creates a safe distance between their lives, their traumas and our own. While heatedly analyzing someone else’s marital woes, we are in fact, dissecting our own.  Too scared to turn the searchlight within, it’s that much simpler to place a stranger’s marriage under the microscope and pass judgements on it. At some point, I am sure all of us have indulged in this pretty faltu exercise – I certainly have. It achieves absolutely nothing. But there is a level of satisfaction involved … ‘Thank God, it isn’t MY marriage that’s crumbling!” Men claim they never discuss the state of their own marriage nor do they discuss other people’s. Rubbish! I have overheard the most vicious details getting casually passed around in the name of ‘a healthy exchange of  ideas and views.” That’s code for male bitching.
Bollywood has finally emerged from the dark ages and is ready to table its  gritty domestic secrets. There is more confidence and less subterfuge involved. If  Salim Khan, Salman Khan’s father , admits nonchalantly that he and his son like staying in touch with their old girl-friends, nobody blinks. If Arjun Rampal and Huma Qureshi believe it is necessary to state their non-involvement in the  estranged marriages of Hritik-Suzzane and Anurag-Kalki respectively, it’s really no big deal.This new openness is a welcome sign of a society coming to terms with modern day realities. Divorce happens. Divorce happens to good people. Divorce is difficult. Whether it is the Nigella-Saatchi mess ( the sordid details of which the world is hungrily lapping up), or closer to home, it’s the Hritik-Suzzane imbroglio. The thing is, when a marriage breaks up publicly, everyone automatically becomes a stake holder. Our two bits’ worth of ‘advice’ is liberally given to people who don’t know we even exist!
2014 is likely to witness a huge upheaval in the celeb marriage department. Sometimes, all it takes is for one or two responsible and sensitive couples to announce an end to their relationship, without going into the nitty gritties of why it happened, how it happened , for other , less confident but equally bruised couples to go ahead and do what has to be done. “Giving each other space’ generally means just one thing – the lawyers are hard at work sorting out financials. Even so, in this increasingly fragile world, a divorce – anybody’s divorce – deserves some dignity and discretion. And the occasional pointless discussion, of course. Agree?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My friend Rajeev Sethi....

My friend Rajeev Sethi... at the T2 preview last week.

                                                  Mumbai’s T2: Neighbour’s envy, India’s Pride
Pardon me if I sound extra proprietorial about T2. Simply put, it is breath taking and awe inspiring! There are reasons for this. Of course, as a pucca Mumbaikar, I am a legit stakeholder and all that. But beyond local pride and parochial chest thumping, lies something else. And that is friendship! There! I have stated my interest plainly and openly. Full, frank and final disclosure, as it were.  The genius behind the spectacular art displayed at our T2 , is my friend Rajeev Sethi. We have known each other for close to 40 years. It was evident even back then, that this was no ornery chhokra boy flirting with the arts. He may have been hand picked by cultural Czarina Pupul Jayakar  , and exposed to the best of the best that India had to offer . That priceless grooming was his good fortune. Pupul’s impeccable eye may have helped Rajeev ‘see’ better. But all that followed ( like the opulent Festivals of India hosted in several cities of the world ) was a reflection of his own incredible vision. His passion.  And his profound  understanding of all that is beautiful about India…. and  the universe. It is this finely honed sensibility that finds expression in the dazzling T2. Rajeev has created a palace of rich and inspiring art works that narrate our stories back to us…. and then convey them to the rest of the world. This is a monumental accomplishment that would not have been possible had a certain Sanjay (GVK) Reddy not invested his full faith in Rajeev.
On Thursday evening, as night fell over Mumbai, and a convoy of cars drove up the brand new ramp leading up to T2, all those of us who were blessed to be taken on a conducted tour by Rajeev himself, drew in our collective breaths at the first sight of the magnificent structure. Thousands of white peacocks magically danced before our eyes as Rajeev explained the architects’ tribute to India’s national bird. It is a motif that is repeated in different and innovative forms across 80,000 square feet. The walk through, leisurely as it was, could do no justice to the monumental ambitions of the art project. It will take several trips and many long hours to appreciate the depth of what has been conceptualized by Rajeev and his dedicated team of painters, craftspeople, artisans, designers from across the length and breadth of India. A better showcase for our heritage and skills would be hard to find. The numbers tell their own story. With an expected footfall of 40 million visitors annually, the T2 will attract more attention than all the best museums in the world put together, the Louvre included. And this much I can confidently tell you…. a lot of flights will be missed by passengers mesmerised  by the art on parade.
But this is not about T2 alone. It is about Rajeev – a man who opened my eyes to beauty and beyond. Who made me ‘see’ so much. Who, in fact , taught me a new way of seeing! Decades ago,on a trip to Saurashtra, he introduced me to  new words, a new language. In a cramped , modest village home, his eyes accurately picked out an abandoned, grime covered ghadaa. “ Look at the patina,” he instructed. All I could see was a layer of dirt. He wiped off the muck… and sure enough what emerged was a gleaming ‘objet’. It could have been crafted out of beaten gold. But it was brass. I hadn’t heard of that delicate word ‘patina’ at the time. I haven’t  forgotten it since!
 It is the same gift of seeing the extraordinary in what we lesser mortals may dismiss as ordinary, that continues to define Rajeev’s vision today.  As he pointed out intricate details of the many, complex installations that narrate the story of Mumbai in so many wondrous ways, he left our group enthralled and enchanted. We were effortlessly drawn into his world. A world that honours our artistic traditions going back centuries. And does so in ways so innovative… so futuristic…one  can only marvel, bow down and say ‘Dhanyavad!”.
For all the multiple Indian and International awards, recognitions and accolades that have come his way, the essential Rajeev remains the same. To me, he is still an adorable imp. I love the child in him (even though he is a grand- father, now). And I know it is the purity of that childlike curiosity that continues to drive him to explore… to keep searching for that incredible something which perhaps nobody else can find…but the wonderful thing about Rajeev is that once he finds it, he joyfully shares his delight with the world. It is this act of unconditional generosity that makes him who he is.

Rajeev Sethi, Mumbai owes you a big one.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mumbai's T2 : A gorgeous mirage???

This appeared in the Asian Age...
                     Mumbai’s T2 …Jaye He!
There are two ways to look at Mumbai’s spanking new terminal – we can be proud of it. Or we can be embarrassed. Let it be stated there is a lot to be proud of. It is indeed magnificent.  I would go so far as to say it is possibly the most impressive airport terminal in the world today. Impressive  on all counts. Architecturally, it is awe-inspiring. In practical terms, it works  -  or we would like to believe it does ( untested at the time of writing). It is Mumbai’s pride. An apt showpiece that will join that other modern Mumbai landmark,  the Worli Sea Link. All good, thus far.  Everyone agrees Mumbai desperately needed a new terminal to handle air traffic. It  goes without saying that Mumbai’s heart is bursting with pride as people go gaga  over T2. But a few niggling questions will be asked by those who’ll question the scale and extravagance of it all. Before we get to the cynics and skeptics, let us generously give credit where it is due. And acknowledge the guts and vision of Sanjay Reddy who took the quantum leap and went ahead with such an ambitious project. As I pumped his hand, two days before the formal inauguration, he was beaming and seemed to have grown a few inches taller in  front of my eyes. Given his impressive height to begin with, this was also a feat which required a step ladder for me to make eye contact with the man behind T2. I overhead invitees to the preview telling Sanjay they were certain the T2 would raise India’s prestige in the eyes of the world. That  it would  beef up our international image. And put Shanghai’s airport in the shade. This got me a little worried. The T2, spectacular as it undoubtedly is, will definitely grab eyeballs and attract global attention. But equally, let us be warned, it will generate  strong comment and criticism from those who will view it as yet another symbol of India’s over reaching ambition. India dazzles, but does not deliver!
Not even two kilometers from the glittering T2, just after visitors drive down the broad GVK Ramp and towards the city, Mumbai’s notorious shanty towns demand attention.  They pretty much line the entire route all the way up to the Sea Link. Garbage heaps, the size of hillocks, remain uncleared for weeks. Nobody follows traffic rules as buses, cabs, autoricks, pedestrians, cattle, the occasional pet elephant, clog the old road  creating the worst snarls. Beggars thump on car windows at traffic signals, and jostle for space with semi-naked children selling everything from balloons to China-made toys. The entire scene shouts ‘Third World’. And the picture doesn’t really change along the rest of the highway. It is only after weary passengers check into their luxury hotels or residents reach home, that the real Mumbai withdraws, leaving  people with the impression that there are two, or maybe even two thousand Mumbais co-existing unhappily… uncertainly…uneasily.
A great deal of Mumbai’s energy and angst are encapsulated in the spectacularly curated art works that dominate T2. For that alone, T2 has earned a very special place in not just Mumbai’s heart, but India’s , too. Skillfully put together by Rajeev Sethi and his accomplished team, the world’s first airport ‘museum’ offers a rare treat to jaded passengers in need of some relief from their travels. Whether or not a person appreciates art or is an art connoisseur, what Sethi has achieved is stupendous in terms of visual impact. He has cleverly incorporated Mumbai’s many eccentricities and paradoxes in ambitious installations that reflect all that makes up the mad narrative of Mumbai. The works on display are so intriguing, exciting and innovative, there are jokes doing  the rounds about mesmerized passengers  missing flights  as they stop and stare at the incredible art! Sethji has cleverly sourced and used the talents of local and immigrant communities  that make Mumbai the only real melting pot of India. This in itself is a gigantic triumph. Given that forty million annual footfalls are expected at T2, this would make T2 the most viewed ‘museum’ in the world, comfortably beating the Louvre which attracts a mere nine million!
 So, while we continue to gasp and rave over T2 – already  dubbed  the 8th Wonder of the Modern World, we’d do well to pause and consider a few ground realities. Maharashtra has been identified as the most corrupt state in India, after a recent poll. Mumbai is crumbling and falling apart on each and every front. Mumbaikars are a seriously disgruntled lot right now. There’s little hope in sight. The 2014 Elections aren’t far off.  So far Mumbai  does not have a single worthy enough candidate to represent its interests. The city trundles along somehow, managing to beat the considerable odds. But for how long? The T2, in such a grim scenario is like a grand mirage , gleaming and glittering tantalizingly in the far distance.  90 per cent of Mumbaikars will never get inside those sleek portals or take advantage of the many high tech, state of the art facilities on offer. That shouldn’t matter. But it does. The answer is to exploit the T2 to remind everyone about the art of the possible. If we could have got the T2 off the ground and running , if we can have such a glorious showpiece to brag about in our midst, surely we can do something about the rest of the wretched city as well?
 Sanjay Reddy along with Rajeev Sethi have ably demonstrated that Mumbai is more than capable of creating a  world class terminal  not just Mumbai but the rest of India can be proud of. Mumbai can justifiably  strut and preen for the next few months as the T2 garners compliments and wins global awards . Let the T2 become more than a mere  symbol of excellence. Let it become a true catalyst for change and growth. Let every Mumbaikar  believe he or she is a real stakeholder in T2. If that indeed happens, all those zillions invested in it, will be worth every paisa spent.

Jaye He!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Santa Arvind comes to town...

For the New Year.... a newish haircut! Sebastien is particularly gifted. He's French.  A former DJ. An enthusiastic photographer. And in his present avatar, Director of a hair salon (JCB). I guess he knows his music as well as he understands hair! Great experience! This picture was clicked by my daughter Arundhati on his fancy camera.
This appeared in Sunday Times today....
Arvind Kejriwal : India gets a Santa Claus…
 India has been waiting for a Santa Claus for ages. Maybe, we just got lucky! Santa rode into town this year and did so in a unique fashion. No fancy sled. No reindeer. No jingle bells. He was carrying just a jhaadu and a jhola full of unexpected goodies. People cheered. Critics jeered. But despite the odds, our desi Santa managed to touch countless hearts. The just concluded X’Mas and New Year celebrations were marked by the one emotion that has been missing in our lives for decades – hope. Rightly or wrongly, a single individual became the focal point of this collective hope  -  Santa Arvind .His timing was impeccable. Things were getting pretty desperate. There was mayhem all around. Doom and gloom defined the national mood. Out of that chaos, emerged a non-descript person, who is being hailed as the biggest game changer in the country.
Listening to his seminal speech in the Lok Sabha,  a few things became startlingly obvious . The simplicity of what he was saying, made the others look really foolish . His approach was direct and non-confrontational. It was devoid of theatrics or unnecessary drama. The content was easy to access… process… decode and absorb. He spoke in a language understood by the large majority of India. Minus any flourishes, and stripped to basics, the clarity of his speech may well go down as the single most direct form of mass communication in the public arena. He spoke more like a concerned citizen and less like a seasoned politician. Given that he must have been perfectly aware of the historical significance of this address, he chose his words carefully and well. The thing is, Kejriwal played a credible Santa. He didn’t shortchange his constituency by making absurd claims or demands. And he didn’t alienate his opponents by  hurling charges and accusations at them. The contrast between him and ‘them’ was instantly recognized and applauded by India.
Kejriwal has understood the psychology of our people far better than any of his rivals. He has read us well. He knows our pulse. And he effortlessly presses all the right buttons. Most importantly, he gives the impression he isn’t faking it. Citizens are exhausted. Citizens are cynical. And citizens are impatient. They can see through political nataks. It’s not pompous orators with the gift of the gab, they seek. Neither is it pampered Baba Log speaking in posh accents and  suffering from a case of serious ADS ( Attention Deficit Syndrome). It is someone more like themselves they want. Someone who doesn’t talk down. A straight forward fellow . A no-nonsense chap.  But here’s the catch. So far, Kejriwal has acquitted himself convincingly as just another aam aadmi looking for change in a hopelessly corrupt system. His Paani-Bijli  narrative has worked well, even if one can pick several holes in its populist pitch. His moving into a comparatively modest, but still frightfully extravagant 6,000 square feet duplex, may not sit all that well with the jhuggi-jhopdi- jhola wallas he courts. Some of his earlier gestures also smack of mass manipulation. None of this matters in the long run, if – and it’s a pretty big ‘if’ – Kejriwal relentlessly pursues and punishes the corrupt. Our vote was cast for  that  single promise.And we shall hold him to it.
It’s fascinating to see Dilliwallas scrambling to adapt to the new order. Long term netas, who have  remained deeply entrenched in the old style of functioning (complete with the standard sho-sha of office), have realized the party is finally over. It has always been Delhi that set the standards for netagiri for the rest of India. Almost overnight, Kejriwal has rewritten the rules. Those khadi-couture clad leaders with perfectly co-ordinated sleeveless Nehru jackets, look almost comical as they strut around, noses in the air, black cats surrounding them,  supreme self importance exuding from every gesture and utterance! How idiotic they look! How dated. How pathetic. Each one of them, a ludicrous symbol of all that we despise and have despised for decades. Suddenly, they seem over. They are past tense. And one hopes, with them goes the baggage of misdemeanors and crimes that have blighted our lives for too long.
Can our Santa keep up with increasing demands? Will his sack run out of goodies? Is it euphoria that is driving our enthusiasm? Does this well meaning Santa stand a chance in hell as a national leader? Will ‘they’ allow him to take his sled across India? Worse, will he eventually sell out and become one of them? These are our worst nightmares. But then again, we live in hope! There are those who are dreaming of Santa becoming India’s P.M.  A word of caution here : Much as I hate to rain on Kejriwal’s party, it’s worth reminding him and his admirers that  a wise leader takes things one step at a time. The first baby step has been taken in Delhi. The jhaadu has done its job where it was needed the most – in the Capital of India. The rest of the country will follow. Eventually. As they say in China : Slowlee, slowlee, catchee monkee!