Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sushma Swaraj - Must you sulk????

The two pics are unrelated, but I wanted to share them. The magnificent door, based on M.F.Husain's most celebrated motif, has been especially crafted for his daughter Raeesa Husain's main door.
The second image captures the glamour and oomph of the grand Lahore Lit Fest, especially the lavish evening for invitees hosted by Sehyr and Nasim Saigol at their fabulous bungalow. I am with one of my all time favourite women, the writer Tehmina Durrani - bruised and beautiful, as she braves countless storms.

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror yesterday.
                        Why women sulk…we get it, Sushmaji
So… Sushma Swaraj has won by a staggering lead. Or… has she? Well, she has won her seat convincingly, enough. But she has lost her cool. Her core constituency expected better from her when she went into that great big sulk, feeling slighted and snubbed by the BJP bosses. I wish she hadn’t revealed her misgivings to the world. But now that she has conclusively proved her worth to the top brass, will she please stop brooding behind closed doors… and start lobbying for a plum cabinet post for herself ( Home, Finance, Defence, External Affairs)?  That’s what any man in her position would do after a win. Do it, Sushma!  For us! Here we were under the impression that Sushmaji was not just another Behenji. She came across as ruthless, as tough, as any of those men she routinely decimated during fiery Parliamentary debates. Then look what happened to that tough façade ! Phut! Sushma cracked … she behaved like…. like…. one of us! Us,ornery women  who sulk! In public, at that! And why was Sushma sulking? Because she felt she was being side-lined. Because she wasn’t being given sufficient ‘bhav’. Because her mentor ( L.K.Advani) was also being spurned. Because the two of them looked like abandoned members of a large joint family. Which  indeed, they were ! Abandoned and side-lined. Arrey…but why show it! Politics, like most things in life, is about acting.  Politicians are not allowed to display real emotions ( only fake emotions allowed). Politics is about strategy and stealth. And holding all your cards close to the chest. Had Sushma shrewdly concealed her (legitimate) hurt, smiled broadly for the cameras, and gone along happily to the Gandhinagar closed door summit, she would have emerged stronger.Unfortunately,when she pulled a sour face and skipped this key meeting, she showed her vulnerability and weakness. Worse, she paraded her vanity and ego (“ How dare they do this to ME! Don’t they know who I am?”). Big mistake.
Now the ball is in Namo’s court like never before. Between him, Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh, they will decide who gets what. Chances are Sushma may get left out in the cold. She may not get a portfolio of her choice. Ditto for L.K. Advani.This will be Sushma’s real test. How well she conducts herself when the prize distribution takes place, will determine her political future. That’s the trouble with us women. We let our hormones, our emotions get the better of us. We surrender to sentimentality a bit too swiftly. Our faces mirror our feelings. Our eyes give us away time and again. The cameras caught it all, as Sushma saw off a grim faced Rajnath Singh and her expression told its own story (“All is well?”  Ha!). This made way for speculation and gossip at a very crucial time for the party bosses ( by then, the laddoos had been ordered and the dholaks were out). What did Sushma  gain by revealing her miffed state?  Nothing. There’s a lesson in there for all of us. But, of course, we’ll never learn it. We will make the same mistake over and over again, and give the  natural advantage to adversaries out to demolish / diminish us. These persons can be relatives ( siblings, mothers-in-law, husbands ), or others ( colleagues, bosses, acquaintances). We sulk. They win. But what to do? Sulking is also pretty therapeutic! Women feel so much better after a heavy-duty sulk! Especially if they can be fooled into believing it has worked! And people are so clever at doing just that. Women get ‘manaoed’ and ‘patoed’ so easily! A few, sweet and insincere words of apology…a meaningless token gesture of contriteness, a hug… a kiss… a gift. Bas! We become putty.  We melt. We smile. We get had!
Sushma Swaraj is not us. She isn’t EVERYWOMAN. Sushma is in a league of her own ( I would have gladly supported her candidature had the BJP put her name up for the top job). But after these sulking fits, I am seriously concerned. Fight back, Sushma! Play their own game back to them. Right now, you are coming across as a ‘bechari’. But we all know you are not a ‘bechari’. You have everything going for you –an impressive personality, a powerful oratorical style that took your leader to the top, and most importantly, years of experience as a seasoned politician. This is the time to rise and shine. Prove your mettle as a person who leads from the front. There will be many who will try and keep you down. Stay focused. Stay aggressive.And demand that which is rightfully yours – a portfolio which utilizes your key skills and dynamism. Anything less, will be a waste of a valuable resource.

And for God’s sake, don’t sulk! Promise???

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bharat Ki Jeet...

A recent photo shoot we did for Nirav Modi, at his elegant salon, over high tea and pretty baubles...

             This appeared in Asian Age today...
                       Bharat Ki Vijay, says Namo…
Narendra Modi’s early tweet after his stupendous sweep at the polls, says it all. He has described the BJP victory as ‘Bharat Ki Vijay…” And how right he is! The people of India have delivered their verdict - 814 million of them. We have to bow our heads and accept the new order with humility and grace, no matter what our reservations and apprehensions about the man who will soon be anointed the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. Change was imminent. Change has happened. A brand new chapter in India’s history has begun. The first few lines are still being written, even as more results trickle in.  This is not the time to gloat.  Or even mourn. There is a great deal of work that needs to get done. And get done quickly. Let us see if Narendra Modi  and his team live up to people’s high expectations from the party that promised ‘Minimum government. Maximum governance.”
Is anybody really surprised by the numbers we are seeing? Yes and no. Political pundits had predicted pretty accurately  (for a change!) that the country was ready to shift gears and elect not just a new leader, but a new political eco system. India has given its mandate to a brand new leader. Indian voters have demonstrated their faith in a person who decisively projected dynamism and  strength, stressing on ‘development’ over ‘dynasty’ all along. Perhaps that was the precisely pitched emotive call ( to finally overthrow a family that had effectively run  and ruined the country for six decades) which did the trick. Let’s be honest - this was a vote against the Gandhi family – make no bones about it. It was also a vote against systemic and sustained corruption. Voters equated the two ( Gandhis and corruption) and delivered a strong verdict against the Congress-led UPA government. A verdict that  says one hell of  a lot about the frustration and rage of the electorate – the youth of  the country, in particular. Modi’s strident call to aggressively fight India’s first family of politics, was exactly the trigger that led to the snow balling of a nation- wide revolt aimed at overthrowing Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, - two individuals who had become emblematic of all that was wrong in India’s polity. Modi’s focused campaign drawing attention to the rampant corruption that had eroded and corroded the very core of India, eventually worked in his favour and propelled the party to its spectacular win.
The real test for Modi and his team begins now.
All eyes will be on the man who toppled several apple carts and changed the paradigm as it were. Political discourse will never be the same again - historians will talk in terms of Pre-Modi and Post-Modi India. The biggest achievement of Elections 2014 is the final collapse of the class-caste mindset, and there can be no better example of that development having taken place than ‘Chaiwalla’ Modi. One of his cleverest comebacks to the ‘tea seller’ jibe was to use that very putdown to his advantage and make Mani Shanker Aiyar look like the biggest fool (which was easy!). While the Shezada and the Empress refused to read the writing on the wall, and while the Congress courtiers in Sonia’s Durbar, fiddled away, India was changing. And changing how! The young today really don’t give a damn about which politician went to Oxford ( Salman Khursid found that out when he lost) and which one sold tea. They backed the person who was like any one of them… only far more ambitious and intelligent. Modi’s team took an enormous gamble when it was decided to make NAMO the face and future of the BJP. His was the sort of  belligerent personality that antagonized and alienated the old school. A lot of concerned citizens had a problem with his handling of Godhra or, the more recent ‘Snoopgate’. These were and remain moral issues that cannot be swept under the carpet just because he has trounced the opposition. Perhaps, once the euphoria settles down a little, and the mundane day-to-day business of running the country as vast and complex as ours , becomes a reality, there will be sufficient distance and time to assess Modi sans prejudice, sans baggage. Till then, all eyes will be on the new government to see how old enemies, bitter rivals and trenchant critics are dealt with by Namo. More than any other person, how will the NDA deal with Robert Vadra ? Modi is known not to forget or forgive. There is widespread fear that he will go after those who have criticised him in the past …. those who opposed him… those who mocked him. Vendetta is a harsh and ugly word. If Modi proves his detractors wrong by not being vindictive or petty, he will win over many die hard opponents who, at the moment are watching their backs. What India needs is not a witch hunt, but a thorough clean up. And this is where Arvind Kejriwal’s jhaadoo played an important role. Never mind the AAP’s poor showing – even those four seats represent an important start for a fledgling political party which was shunned by big business and had no money to fight wealthy rivals. The creation of the Aam Aadmi was a vital step forward. It began as a one man crusade and grew into an authentic people’s movement . It will always  be seen as a defiant protest that  fearlessly took on the mighty . For doing  just that, we should thank Arvind Kejriwal.
As for Rahul Gandhi,let’s not crucify the Reluctant Prince. It was a tough job that was thrust on him. The poor guy tried. Alas, India did not find him good enough. The Congress party has been decimated. Which is a good thing. This signals the death of dynasty. And the rebirth of democracy.
Congratulations Narendra Modi. Here’s hoping India will prosper on all levels with you at the helm. An inclusive and equal India is a strong and stable India.

 Jai Hind!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

So, whose daughter are you, anyway???

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
                      So, whose daughter are you, anyway…?
Full disclosure : I am partial towards Priyanka Gandhi. There. I’ve said it. My soft corner for her has nothing to do with her politics. Or the party she is willy- nillly ‘belongs’ to. So, in my case, there’s nothing official about it. I have never met her. Chances are, I am unlikely to do so in future. Despite that, I like her. I guess one can call me her fan girl ( or rather, fan woman). I don’t have a problem with that, either. The thing is, one suspends logic and rational thinking around people who exude high wattage charisma . Priyanka is such a person. Which is another reason that makes one wonder why the Congress party kept its ace card under wraps till it was too late. Priyanka could ably conduct a master class in PR . Her people skills are awesome.  And she is a total natural when it comes to campaigning. If, in earlier elections, it was her relaxed body language and effortless charm that wowed the media and voters, this time, it’s her feisty and aggressive  frontal attacks, adopting a completely different body language, that has captivated Priyanka watchers. Will she emerge as the most important game changer for Rahul-Sonia-Congress? Unlikely. Chances are a great deal of  wound licking will take place later this month. But that is not Priyanka’s fault.  Poor Priyanka has an albatross around her neck ( Robert Vadra ).And now, some sections of the press have deliberately distorted Narendra Modi’s innocuous comment to DD (“Beti toh beti hi hoti hai”) and said NAMO wants to play her Daddyji! For once, my sympathies are with Narendrabhai.
However, I do come across countless ‘Unclejis’ who want to play Daddyjis and pull out this silly card when they want to hit on young girls. It is seriously puke making, but it happens. I have always had a problem with middle-aged men claiming, “ You are like my own beti,” when they are introduced to PYTs. Translated, it means : Don’t mind if I paw you, baby. Generally speaking, the lechy expression in their eyes gives the game away instantly. There’s nothing remotely paternal about it. And yet, this rubbish about creating instant ‘betis’ is a sentiment endorsed and applauded by our hypocritical society. We live in an unambiguously patriarchal system to begin with.Add to that political mischief mongers who specialize in twisting words. Besides, as Priyanka herself pointed out sharply, she has a father. His name is Rajiv Gandhi. And she isn’t looking for a poor substitute! So there!!
 It makes me sick when elderly men eagerly hug and squeeze nubile girls and trot out those seriously annoying words (“ Namastey beti…. come, come, come… give uncle a hug… you are like my daughter”). It’s time more young women stood their ground and snubbed such creeps by saying, “ Hello!!! Uncleji… you are certainly not like my father. Now, get your filthy hands off me and behave yourself before I start screaming!”  If more girls were to do that,  there would be less Tejpals in our midst. Of course, in the case of Namo and Priyanka, the story has an entirely different subtext. Modi’s detractors didn’t waste a minute before pouncing on his generalized quote on daughters standing by their families (which is an entirely fair statement to make). It was maliciously twisted to suggest he had referred to Priyanka as his daughter! Tch! Tch! Who said this wasn’t going to be down and dirty fight? Perhaps it was a shrewdly thought out strategy to disarm the rival camp…. after all, the entry of  Priyanka Gandhi was the ultimate masterstroke (no matter that the timing was hopelessly off). Rahul had already been written off  as a threat to Modi, in any case. Then along came this one woman army - Revolver Rani clad  in Khadi -  spewing  fire and giving it back to Namo, taunt for taunt! That must have shaken up the Modi bhakts, who hastily regrouped to come up with a strong Plan B. But before they could move ahead with it, the Congresswallas went into attack mode with the ‘Beti’ remark.  Capitalising on the confusion, Priyanka struck back and pointed out that her father Rajiv Gandhi had ‘sacrificed his life for the country’. She made Rajiv Gandhi, the ultimate martyr and regained control of the situation. Unfortunately, this move backfired. If there are red faces around, they belong to the Congress.

As they say, all is fair in love, war and politics.   No doubt Priyanka is on a roll, wading into crowds, ticking off her minders, and doing what she does best – connecting with people. It’s all good. But what can the poor woman do with Pink Panther – her hubby, Robert Vadra? Did the Congress campwallas realize the implication of that ‘she’s like my daughter’ controversy which would have   automatically made Mr. Vadra, Narendra Modi’s ‘damaadji’?! Ha ha ha!
This appeared in Asian Age...
                India to move from an Accidental P.M to an Overbearing P.M…?
Now that we know Manmohan Singh really and truly didn’t want the top job second time over ( Thank you, Sanjay Baru), but was forced to accept the wretched position ( boo hoo), it is time to worry. For starters, I find it hard to swallow that anybody can be pushed /coerced/ cajoled/ bullied into saying, “Yes’ to such an irresistible job offer. It’s a little like buying into those old Bollywood stories involving the notorious casting couch. There are any number of highly successful female stars today who claim they were forced to play ball with lecherous producers/directors/music composers/script writers/ cameramen/ and a small army of nasty, badmaash power brokers in the business , before bagging an important role. Remember that old line – “Hai! Hai! Meri majboori?”. Does Manmohan Singh’s predicament sound familiar? Okay, that said, Singh’s projection as a man allergic to the power of the kursi, but merely performing his national duty under duress, is most unbelievable. Hey…wait a minute, having accepted the damn job, wasn’t he obliged to do it well …. or, even at all?
Right now, we are dealing with two chaps who are both aiming for Manmohan Singh’s position. One chap can be called an Overbearing P.M. ( if he makes it). And the other, the Reluctant P.M. ( only a major miracle will get him the coveted kursi). What a choice, my  countrymen! Unless, of course we are taken off guard yet again by an outsider. Let’s call that person the Unlikely P.M. This candidate could be a man or woman. If  it turns out to be one of our ambitious ladies-in-waiting, then we shall have to ready ourselves for a Heavyweight P.M.  If, on the other hand, we are stuck with the man who has the moolah ( well, there are two contenders in this category), we can call that person the  Incidental P.M. or the Opportunistic P.M. Since this election is all about ‘ullu banao-ing’ the nation, it is the owl that should be declared our national bird henceforth . In all this ‘jhamela’ ( how the Bongs love using this all- purpose word!), we the voters will be forced to play Bewildered Audience, watching a person in the wings carrying cue cards instructing us to clap/laugh/sigh/ yell/cry/ gag/ or merely keep mum.
Last week’s running comedy show threw up just one mega star – Priyanka Gandhi. Now, here’s the thing. Had her Mummyji and Bhaiyya decided to push her directly into the fray, the story would have been dramatically different. Had Priyanka picked up the gauntlet and taken the plunge, she would have stood a pretty good chance of  heading the family business and occupying the  well guarded Gandhi gaddi. As it happens, Priyanka was only co-opted to play a cameo in the multi-crore home production. A little like Salman Khan doing some obscure producer a favour by appearing in the finale of a dud movie. Or, maybe even a Priyanka Chopra performing an item number to please a big ticket filmmaker who has yet to cast her in a magnum opus.Priyanka G is one Gandhi with enough star power to dazzle one billion people. And what does her party  go and do? They save her for the last, hoping her magic dust will fall on her brother and mother. For, if those two lose, it will be the ultimate humiliation for the family. One from which there may be no recovery. That’s why Priyanka! Since quite a few magnetic political figures have nothing more to them than what is loosely called charisma, there is no need to look for any special  gifts or qualifications in Priyanka, either. Surely, her people skills are known to Congress strategists? Surely, they are aware that she makes Rahul look good each time she affectionately hugs him? Surely, her adept handling of media is not a secret? Why then, was Priyanka Gandhi kept under wraps?  Mystery piles up on mystery, where the Gandhis are concerned.There are those who insist it is a personal issue, that cannot be publicly aired. If that is so, one cannot argue with it.Priyanka  is entitled to keep that part of her life personal. But look – it is Priyanka who is the real political animal in the Gandhi parivar. If she has chosen to stay out of full time, active politics, it must be with good reason – emotional/ psychological/medical. So be it. For with her in the fray (and it can still happen). We would have got An Enigmatic P.M.
If all this is sounding alarmingly like the Theatre of the Absurd, worry not, people of India. We have centuries of Jatra/ Nautanki traditions to remind us of our heritage. Indians love melodrama. We like exaggeration. We base our most profound choices on nothing more than intuition. In a fortnight’s time, we will have a brand new government in power. And a brand new Prime Minister sitting in Delhi. While Modi has all but crowned himself  king after casting his vote  in Gandhinagar, it is worth reminding him that a cricket match isn’t over till the last ball is bowled. And there are quite a few fast bowlers still around to take his wicket – mind it!