Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Sarojben matters more than Jashodaben...

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                     Why Sarojben matters more than Jashodaben…
Who on earth is Sarojben? Let me call her ‘Everywoman or Everyben’. I have known Sarojben for over thirty years. We meet just twice or thrice annually, but you know what? We KNOW each other. There is a level of mutual ‘pehchaan’ that goes beyond just meeting regularly.  In any case, isn’t it true that one can meet a person every single day…. even share ones life with someone… and yet know nothing about him or her? Nothing of any consequence, that is. My friend Saroj lives in a village  outside Amdavad. But her strenuous work takes her across India…. and straight into some of the most exclusive mansions.  Saroj is by far the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to textiles and embroideries, craft skills and artisanal excellence. She has impeccable taste and an eye for beauty… for detail… that would be the envy of highly qualified curators and experts.  But, get this - Saroj is unambiguously poor and technically illiterate.Though, to me she is one of the ‘richest’ and most ‘educated’ people I know. She travels from city to city carrying heavy loads in gigantic canvas bags that are stuffed with antique textiles, old borders, frayed  shawls, embroidered blouses, ancient Garas, faded pichwais… and occasionally, a few brass objets she has chanced upon, carelessly discarded by  rich patrons who now prefer to show off their Lladros and Laliques. It’s a hard, spartan life . But the wiry, fine boned Saroj has no complaints. I have seen her battling a serious illness herself …raising funds… borrowing money  and paying absurd interest rates, to try and save her young daughter-in-law’s life ( the girl didn’t make it). Through all these travails, Saroj has hung on to her sanity, sense of  humour and strength. An incredible amount of strength. Yes, there is a husband somewhere in the picture. Plus, a couple of sons, too. But it is a Saroj show all the way – and it is Saroj who provides for the family, grand children included.
Has Modi’s decade long sarkar  impacted her life in any way? Enhanced and influenced it? Is her village taking advantage of  all those programmes one keeps hearing about? Has she experienced the much touted ‘progress’ in her State? Benefitted from even a single scheme? Is Saroj aware of the several women’s empowerment  initiatives? Does she have proper latrines, sanitation, clean drinking water at home? Nope,to all the above...but she isn’t one to moan and groan about these lapses. She is a highly intelligent woman, who has managed to survive using her robust common sense and sharp wits. Today, she is able to Whatsapp images of  her finds – gorgeous Patolas and Tanchois, rare Pichwais and slightly worn out  Jamewars. She has taught herself to store numbers in her cell phone and operate a bank account. But her life remains as challenging and arduous as it was when she first began taking her treasures from home to home and managing  her precarious finances on the meager margins from those sales. She knows she has been ruthlessly exploited by wealthy patrons who have paid her a pittance… or not paid at all! She knows some of those fancy ladies have taken credit for locating and supporting those very weavers she has painstakingly discovered, travelling on foot from village to village looking for something precious and exquisite . Saroj is philosophical and wise. She shrugs it all away as a part of life. And bears zero ill will towards those who refuse to give her her due while basking in all the  glory themselves.
I asked her whether she was excited at the prospect of Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister of India. Saroj laughed and asked me a counter question : “ If he didn’t bother about me as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, do you really think he will care about people like us once he goes to Delhi?” Her response made me think about Jashodaben. How different has her life been from Saroj’s? I’d say both women were sailing in the same boat. With one key difference. Saroj managed to rise above her adverse conditions and make something of her life through diligence and hard work. Who knows? Maybe Jashodaben’s fortunes are about to change overnight, now that she has been officially recognized as Narendra Modi’s legally wedded wife?

Life plays strange games with us. Those who make their own rules and stay afloat despite tremendous odds, are the hardy survivors who believe in keeping their heads down and getting on with the job. Like Saroj. There is so much to learn from this wonderful woman. I feel so privileged to call her my friend.
This apeeared in Asian Age...
               Welcome to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party…
“We cannot stop loose motions by wearing tight briefs”, reads Shri S.S. Radhakrishnan’s eloquent poster. He is an Independent candidate from South Chennai, and wants to drive home his message in vivid, alarmingly graphic terms. Fair enough. I admire his courage of conviction. This is his way of  registering a strong protest against corruption -  unique and yucky as it might be! I don’t know this worthy gentleman (I found his priceless poster on Facebook). Chances are he’ll lose his deposit. But the man has to be admired for putting himself on the line and doing the right thing by his own personal definitions. In the same city, art impresario Sharan Apparao chose to make her own, equally unique political statement  at a high profile fashion event , when she sported glittering earrings bearing the images of Amma Jayalalitha and her patron, the late MGR.  Whether or not Ms. Apparao was doing so with her tongue firmly tucked into her cheek, her bold declaration had the chattering classes… well, chattering some more! If Sharon was indeed wearing her loyalty to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on her ear lobes, let’s just say besotted fans are capable of anything when it comes to worshipping their icons. And more power to Sharon for putting it out there.
The larger question is : Should high profile individuals reveal their political affiliations or not?Right now, Bollywood personalities are divided on this issue, when they really ought not to be. This week, an initiative spearheaded by Anjum Rajabali, a screen writer, urging his film fraternity to vote for a secular party was signed by several stars who agreed with Rajabali that “ the need of the hour is to protect our country’s secular foundation.” Those who came on board included Mahesh Bhatt and Nandita Das. While Madhur Bhandarkar and Anupam Kher  voiced their dissent. Mukesh Bhatt pointed out that the film industry has always been ‘apolitical’ and that’s how it should remain. Really? Apolitical? Since when? Not true. The film industry in Mumbai has always had to kow- tow to and play ball with political parties – local and national. Given the somewhat dodgy nature of the movie business, political parties have consistently  made strenuous efforts to muscle into ‘managing’ Bollywood. Whether it was the Shiv Sena offering protection against underworld threats years ago, or the Congress  getting directly involved in Sanjay Dutt’s contentious criminal past,  the close relationship between the movie and political world  has always existed. Down South, there is a long history of  politicians-mega stars exerting a powerful influence over voters. So, what are we talking about? If a Rajnikant invites Narendra Modi to  a well-timed tea party and the pictures are flashed across India, what does it actually mean – two ‘friends’ sipping chai innocuously? That’s it?If  Salim Khan,Salman Khan’s father, meets and greets BJP leaders, is he doing so without knowing the wider implications of  that encounter?  Let’s drop the charade and double speak for once. It is perfectly okay to  declare where you stand. You must! It is also imperative to stick your neck out and take a position.  If not now, then when? About time we  as a nation , showed some guts and stopped cowering at the prospect of being hounded and harassed by leaders we may have moral issues with and  perhaps, openly criticised. India is not North Korea. At least, not yet. India is not China (ditto). Correct me if I am wrong, but when I last checked, we were still a functioning democracy. So what the hell is wrong if one guy in Bollywood sends out an email to 350 colleagues and 60 of them sign the appeal for a ‘secular India’? Have these people committed a crime? Broken a law? Even assuming Anjum is a  closet Congresswallah pretending to be neutral – so what? Is the content of his appeal abusive or derogatory? No, it isn’t. Is it rational and sane? Yes, it is. If anybody wishes to read between the lines, go right ahead . If someone thinks it’s a direct pitch to vote for the  Congress party, again, that’s not a sin.  So…what is all the fuss about?
I’ll tell you: No matter what Narendra Modi claims in television interviews about not being ‘vindictive’ if he comes to power, nobody believes him. Nobody wants to take that chance. Most people think twice, thrice, a hundred times, before saying anything critical about Modi. They quake  at the prospect of Modi going after them if he wins.  This kind of fear psychosis is not good for a nation. In fact, it is a terrible indictment. Why should any Indian live in fear? Of retribution ? Of speaking up? But, that awful fear exists! It is real… and it says a lot about what’s happening in the country. There is paranoia and that paranoia is pretty justified given what we have observed during the past few years. There are open threats being issued of throwing people into prison. Or of releasing those who are in prison.  There is no mention of following the law of the land. How can Bollywood remain detached and uninvolved? Why should it? Why should ANYONE?
Going by what happens in Hollywood and how openly top stars back and even campaign for the candidates they support, why can’t we be equally upfront about our political loyalties? Revenge and retribution are scary words. It’s a shame they have found acceptance across the board… and with good reason. The people of India fear the wrath of  Narendra Modi. A great leader only succeeds when the people of the country respect the person… trust him or her with their lives. When those very lives are threatened, when that precious bond of  faith is broken, what one gets is a country under siege . Nothing suits India’s enemies better than an India that is terrified of  itself.
As for me, I am definitely looking for tighter briefs. Much tighter!


Archie said...

As far as Sarojben is considered, everyone is indeed aware of plight of farmers and artisans all over the country. Nonetheless without going into figures, there is a reason Modi is elected consecutively for four terms. People of Gujarat indeed know better than delhiwallas or mumbaiwallas.

As far as bollywood is concerned, the only thing which is not quite symmetric in the two factions of celebrities is that while the latter group declared their political allegiance to a leader, the former contributed to the artificial environement of fear and hatred against one individual. They did not say they support Congress which surprisingly would have been a much neutral statement.

Nidhi said...

With all respect, I don't understand your problem with Jashodaben.You can't see her struggle and her side of story just because some days before Mr. Narendra Modi mentioned her name in a piece of paper.Saroj managed to rise above her adverse conditions and according to you Jashodaben was enjoying a luxurious life throughtout these years. She was always Narendra Modi's legally wedded wife and she knew her rights well.Leave Jashodaben alone .Don't try to make her a character which she is not.Narendra Modi is a face from years and if Jashodaben would wanted any benefits from him,she would have easily got it.Laws are not so weak in our country.Narendra Modi wrote her name and she became her wife there,it is not like that.Hats off to Saroj but Jashodaben is also a winner because she chose to live without making any compromises with one of the most powerful faces of Gujrat and India.I request you to stop bitching about her.If you are against Modi then Use Modi's action against him.Stop making Jashodaben a target.

Unknown said...

This is a nice blog. Although, I didn't understand if it was a blog on your friend Sarojben or Narendra Modi. Never mind, both are born leaders.

Unknown said...

The Mystery of Blogging and Saving your Funds for Tomorrow

Anonymous said...

@Archie: since when this election has become party centric

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ani said...

How can anyone delete your post titled "Which woman wants to marry Narendra Modi"?

Unknown said...

That's an astute piece, written without fear or rancor. To do away with a government that robs you off your shirt does one have to trade in with another which may rob you off your freedom or even your life.

quantum4907 said...

Re your ToI column day 27/04. I do not subscribe to Tagodia or Giriraj singh. Here is a reminder for you-- if unfortunately you decide to go to Pakistan, you will have to to convert to Islam, wear a burqa, not mix with strangers(men other than father, brother, husband and sons), stop alcohol and agree to punish women who might suffer rape. The % of non muslims in all Muslim countries keeps coming down. Does that make Pakistan( or any other Muslim country) more acceptable to you?

Unknown said...

hi how r u shobhaa

Anonymous said...


Fire-fighting has cramped my style a bit, but not my reading.

I have been reading all your stuff, and as usual, they are very, very good.

And yes, I am still cross at you for not having responded when I was in Mumbai for the promised cup of Kaapi.

Meanwhile, I think you should download, read this blog and react - perhaps send me a personal email.



Pooja Rathore said...

Maa De iam reading ...Never a dull De...first chapter I read 26 ways to be happy..felt happy reading ...also applying the suggestions given by u.
Women wheels - I dont like driving and lost a proposal because that guys mother thought I was not independent enough because I dont drive...iam not comfortable with traffic and vehicles and yes crossing roads ...iam 34 yet ..i can't help that's how iam ..i am convinced with your theory ..zindagi mein aur bahut kuch hai driving ko chodke:)

Archie said...

@Pnakaj Madaan: Which part of my comment indicated that I believe so?

Rama0073 said...

Atleast Sarojben survived in Gujarat, had it been Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra, she would have made a suicide by this time. Amazingly biased author, without proper analysis and facts, you seem to write based on your imagination.

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neha tandon said...

Hello Ms De, how can i contact SarojBen? Can u please help me? I am looking to start an online ecommerce platform where I dont just source fabrics/jewelry from the nearest wholesaler but try and provide something that is procured from discrete places across India and bring something truly curated but not as expensive as the ones with designer tags.