Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Tyranny of Notoriety....

At the packed to capacity meet for NULIFE in Pune, recently. I am happy to announce that NULIFE will be launching one-bedroom units for senior citizens soon. This was after extensive market research showed that senior citizens were looking for a space that would meet their needs for a secure, comfortable life , in a conducive environment. This has always been the objective of NULIFE  and its promoters Disha Direct. For more information, check out their website.
          Mumbai Mirror            28th Nov 2014
                                     Jashodaben – Superhero!!
Let’s hand it to her – it takes one hell of a lot of guts for the abandoned spouse of the powerful Prime Minister  of the country, to file an RTI application demanding to know what sort of privileges she is entitled to as the legally wedded wife of Narendra Modi! Most women in her unfortunate position would have either kept mum or taken full advantage of the situation ( read : perks). Clearly, Jashodaben is made of sterner stuff. How cool does that make her?
When she toodled off to submit the RTI application to the Mehsana police earlier this week, she was riding pillion ( with helmet? Without?) on her younger brother Ashok Modi’s scooty (she  has been living with him at his modest house in Unjha after her husband picked politics over his bride whom he married in 1968). Left to pursue her unfinished studies, Jashodaben was living a life of total obscurity, even during the time her husband was the high profile Chief Minister of Gujarat. And there she would probably have stayed even after he rose to lead his party to victory in the historic elections, had the Supreme Court guidelines not forced her husband to declare his marital status. For years and years, Modi had left his marital status blank while filing his nomination papers. But the Lok Sabha election papers made it mandatory for him to ‘do the needful’.  Virtually overnight,  Jashodaben’s existence became known to the public. One assumes she was fine with that, considering she remained under  wraps even after Modi assumed office. It was only after armed guards started to ‘protect’ her 24x7, that the lady decided it was time to ask a few relevant questions. Such as :  On whose orders was she being provided these guards? She went further, citing Indira Gandhi’s tragedy (Indira was assassinated by her own guards), and expressing her own fears that the ‘ambiguity’ revolving around the identity of these guards (who refused to tell her on whose orders they were tailing her!), made her believe there was a grave danger to her life. What an extraordinary charge to make, given her unique position!

 Today, the plucky lady is seeking answers to basic questions  and wants to know ‘all the protocol and facilities, including security details’ she is entitled to as the wife of the prime minister. She says her guards do not carry any official orders with them.  And what obviously bugs her equally is that these men tail her in comfortable, air conditioned cars while she uses public transport!  Oh yes – the guards also demand to be treated like her family’s ‘guests’  - which must mean they expect khaana –peena from her kitchen1 Hello????
Her RTI application is bold, blunt and to the point. It reads, “ I am the wife of the prime minister of India and have been extended security as per protocol. Which other service can be extended to me under the protocol? Give me a detailed description of the protocol.” Hurrah!Good on you, gurrrlll! She also stated in an interview to a journalist that she is willing to go and stay with the Prime Minister as his wife in Delhi. Jashodaben wears a mangalsutra around her neck and sindhoor in the parting of her hair –  easily recognizable symbols of being a married woman.
 Now the ball is in her husband’s court.
 Will he reinstate a lady in his life who he has not been with for 46 years ( well, technically, they shared space for the first 2 or 3 years of their married life… if that counts). Will Jashodaben be formally ‘presented in court’ as it were, any time soon? Will she be his official hostess at State banquets? Accompany him on his official tours overseas’? Receive Barrack and Michelle Obama when they arrive for the grand Republic Day Parade on 26th January, 2015?
 Even more importantly, will someone – anyone – explain to this bewildered lady who exactly those heavies are and why they are tailing her? Is it really for her protection? If ‘yes’ – reveal their identities, produce relevant orders and that will be that.
Her fears are understandable and entirely justified.
On the other hand -  and let me play the Devil’s advocate here - for a lady who has timidly accepted her status and fate in life for close to half a century, isn’t it a bit, ummm, strange, that she has suddenly picked up the courage to ask tough questions to one of the toughest men in contemporary India, who just happens to be her husband?  Who is backing Jashodaben?

 Over to you, Mrs. Modi.  It’s your turn to answer the questions now.
NDTV Blog 16                    
                                   The Tyranny of Notoriety…
Tarun Tejpal has always been something of a rogue. There. I said it. So what? A rogue’s life is never easy… and eventually things catch up. As they did in Tejpal’s case ( let me not bore everybody with tedious details of  ‘that’ dreadful incident in Goa at Tehelka’s Think Fest / Bonk Fest last year). Tarun was accused by a junior female colleague of indulging in some pretty loathsome sexual misdemeanours – okay – rape.  After which,all hell broke loose , with  Tarun making it worse and worse for himself, till finally the Goan authorities did what the law of the land dictates and the swashbuckling Tejpal found himself in a grotty local  lock up – disgraced and isolated for the most part.
That’s the brief history.
I am not going into whether or not he ‘did it’ (let the courts decide). Neither am I going to join the over- heated feminist debate regarding the victim’s trauma. For me, this nasty scandal was less about sex and more about abuse of power – an even worse offence. Let Tarun and his lawyers figure out how to extricate him out of this monumental mess.
This piece is about a specific invitation extended to Tarun by the organizers of the annual Times of India Literary Carnival to be held in Mumbai from December 5th to 7th . The furor that was generated by Tarun’s inclusion as a panelist in a topic aptly titled, “The Tyranny of  Power,” was such that the invitation was promptly withdrawn, albeit with a jaunty if weak explanation (“….the reaction to his inclusion suggests that our litfest was in danger of being overwhelmed by an extraneous issue.”) Oh well… that’s elegant understatement for you! ‘Extraneous issue’??? That’s a pretty cheeky euphemism for a much discussed sexual assault case !
The man is not coming.
I wish he was.
Here’s the thing. It was an audacious move on the part of co-organisers Bachi Karkaria and Namita Devidayal ( both veteran journalists with the TOI) to have invited one of the most despised and notorious men in India to the Lit Fest . It was even more audacious of  Tarun to have accepted .This is the amazing part. Did the organizers really believe Mumbai is ‘cool’ enough to handle his presence without protest? Was that their only miscalculation? After all, it was a perfect fit – the subject and the moderator ( Manu Joseph) would have ensured a full house on 6th December. Controversy never killed a LiFest – right? But the accusations both ladies faced on social media were different. They were suspected of  being part of a complex ‘rehabilitation’ programme. This is rubbish! What would they gain by ‘rehabilitating’ Tarun??? Come on! Then there was the other thing about displaying insensitivity towards the victim, when the case is sub-judice .What nonsense! I don’t think there was ever a deep, dark, devilish plan to ‘exonerate’ Tejpal by giving him some respectability at a Lit fest. I’d say all they were probably doing was providing Tarun a platform. That’s what Lit fests are about it – or ought to be. Is there an unwritten rule somewhere that says only pure, untarnished saints can be  invited to Lit fests?? How dull and boring that would make these events! Is Tejpal the only person with a dodgy reputation to be extended such an invitation? Hell, no! Half the people who draw readers to Lit Fests are pretty colourful characters, some with criminal records, others who have made being offensive in public their main objective in life.
Tarun Tejpal would not have broken any law by attending the TOI Literary Carnival. Neither would the organizers. And that’s the whole point. People who have issues with Tejpal ( I certainly do) were free to stay away, stage protests, boo. Ditto for writers taking the high moral ground. By buckling to pressure, the organizers have  surrendered a fundamental right, and given in to shrill public opinion. I so wish Bachi and Namita had stuck to their guns and boldly fought this round. Instead Bachi fell for the bait and responded to media’s taunts  by saying, “ We are not film stars or a gossip magazine. The Litfest is serious business.”  Oh dear. I wonder how invited film stars to this LitFest are going to  feel after this?
 Well…. someone has to self-lacerate and recuse himself/herself.
If not Tarun, then….?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Amrika returned!!!

So looking forward to my friend and former colleague,  Godfrey Joseph Pereira's debut novel, ''Bloodline Bandra''. As is the case in most first books, this one too, is drawn from the author's life as a Bandra Boy, born in Pali Village, speaking that particular East Indian lingo , and making the long journey to New York, after a very successful stint as a journalist in India. What he documents  next, will shock you - the life of a 'legal slave'' working for an exploitative desi employer, before freeing himself from further  tyranny. It launches across South East Asia on 25th November.
A fortnight spent in Amrika, was an eye opener on many levels! It was a great trip and we narrowly missed getting snowed under. Thanks to my TiE Con friends Toni Das Gupta in LA and Nitin Rai in Portland, I got to meet some extraordinary people when I addressed members in both cities. I would love to post pictures of the trip on the blog.... but the images are on my phone and I don't know how to transfer them. Any solutions???
This appeared in Sunday Times...
     Modi has made chutney of the media….
Keep them hungry. Keep them guessing. Starve the media. Throw them crumbs. Make them beg. Narendra Modi and his strategists are on top of the game. And it is becoming a bit much! Not since the infamous Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1977, has Indian media been reduced to this pathetic level of redundancy, meekly reproducing press handouts and forgetting all about critical analysis. Modi has established a new set of ground rules for any sort of media engagement. And those are pretty simple – it’s his way or the highway. So far, Modi is in the driver’s seat. And his team is winning. When and how did this terrible fall take place? Was it cold bloodedly planned? Or does desi media itself have a death wish? Lots has been made of the Diwali Milan in Delhi during which several mighty journalists fell over themselves to click Selfies with the Prime Minister. I won’t really read too much into that – this is the age of the Selfie. Everybody but everybody wants to click one – even President Obama. Hell, I tried it (unsuccessfully, I might add) with Narendra Modi myself at Nita Ambani’s Mumbai event, where top Bollywood stars were falling over backwards to do the same. Selfies are addictive. Nobody lives the moment anymore -  people prefer to record it! It’s the irresistible childish thrill of capturing an image of yourself with a famous/ notorious person … and sharing / gloating later. Selfies, per se , are pretty harmless and don’t  mean a thing. Not even those taken with the P.M.  The media surrender I am referring to, is far more insidious and goes well beyond jostling for space next to one of the most watched individuals on earth right now. Trust me, Selfies with celebs would have happened  decades ago, had Selfies existed back then.
The real worry about media’s dramatic descent, is the spectacular absence of  any dissent… any distance, from Modi and his team. Why are seasoned journalists suddenly shying away from analyzing the political scenario, adopting the same stringent critical standards they once adhered to? What is everybody afraid of all of a sudden? Retribution? Of what kind? Could it also be true that the established media class representing an earlier era ( which had benefitted so richly from government largesse in the past ) has taken the softer option and decided  to play ball with Modi?
Love fests between journos  and politicians are doomed affairs, as so many scribes discover to their chagrin once the cosy relationship curdles and ends. So long as one feeds off the other, the equilibrium is maintained – albeit uneasily.. The trouble starts when a new set of power brokers emerges almost overnight and challenges the old status quo. That seems to be the case with Modi and the press right now.
 It’s time for journalists themselves to do some serious ‘Mann Ki Baat’ with the nation. Have we brought this on ourselves? Even if that is the case, why are we putting up with ill treatment and open contempt? Which is the best way to regain lost ground…. some self- respect, for Godssake ? It’s definitely not through sucking up to Modi and his A-team. Chamchagiri has its pitfalls and chamchas invariably come to grief in the long run. Every shrewd politician knows that. The old practice of cultivating and ‘paalo-ing’ sympathetic / friendly journalists is long over. We live in social media times, where it’s a savage free for all. Nothing and no one is ‘untouchable’. There are no sacred cows left. You give as good as you get…. and only the toughest survive.
 Modi prefers to control and calibrate media interactions – what is euphemistically called ‘managing the fourth estate’. For him it has always been a one way street. This suits him just fine. It also establishes who is boss.  Modi’s message to the media is direct and simple : Get lost! He has proved he doesn’t need traditional media by going all out to conquer new media. He was the first desi politician to understand the awesome power of public opinion as expressed through user- friendly platforms like Twitter, FB and more. He harnessed and exploited the incredible potential of all available electronic  media to kick start his campaign, construct his global image and win that unbelievable mandate during the last general elections. Having tasted victory, he is convinced there is absolutely no need to woo the press. And he is absolutely right!
But does that mean that the press also stops doing its assigned job? Gets seamlessly co-opted? Kowtows to officialdom? Pounces greedily on morsels of monitored information thrown its way? If we carry on like Modi slaves much longer, the day won’t be far before we give up all claims to credible, truthful, hard hitting journalism and turn ourselves into performing monkeys, happy to dance to Modi’s ‘dumru’. What a sad day that will be for India!

 Narendra Modi has made chutney of the media in India. Ramnath Goenka and others who stood up and walked tall while the rest crawled inn 1977 -  where are you when we need you the most?
                NDTV Blog 14                           
                               India’s ‘Damaad’ flexes his muscles… and gets kayoed!
Are we nuts?
Are we idiots??????
Sonia  Gandhi’s son-in-law seems to think so!
The  most notorious muscleman ( all brawn, chhota bheja) in India, has landed  himself in a mess flexing those pumped up biceps( the size of well- fed puppies) during an altercation with an ANI reporter, who had the himmat to ask him a forbidden question, when he was supposed to stick to the script and focus on body building. After all, theindividual infamously referred to as a ‘thug’ and India’s ‘Al Capone’ by Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, was doing the honours inaugurating a gym , and not addressing a political rally. The ANI chap bravely tried to push his luck by doing  what any hard- nosed journo would have done face-to-face with a person who has a lot to answer for – Priyanka Gandhi’s buff hubby, Robert Vadra -  Delhi’s perennial party boy and front row fixture at assorted fashion shows. Little did the enterprising reporter know that a politely worded question about the Haryana land deals scandal Vadra is embroiled in would lead to a national debate.Vadra lost it!  Questioned the man’s sanity, called him an idiot , pushed aside the mike and camera, and left his heavies to do the rest ( demand the offensive footage  get instantly deleted ). All hell broke loose after that…
 Here comes the far more interesting story. Once the clips went public, responses were sought from Congresswallas. Diggy Raja dutifully trotted out the  tired old, “ He’s a private citizen…” cliche, and made it worse by projecting Vadra as a victim being ‘ hounded’ by the media. Bechaara Bob! He must have felt so hurt, so hurt by that direct question, that his mother-in-law had to rush to his side and console him for 45 long minutes. Vadra, the private citizen, who has enjoyed the most incredible public privileges in the country all these years, is a seriously pissed off  man. As a very private citizen, who has never held any public office (or any known office, for that matter!), Robert’s supporters have every right to protest . After all, the poor guy just happens to  get treated like a VVIP – is that his fault? Yes, he has body guards and commandos trailing him… so what? Who stops other private citizens from hiring their own private armies, huh? And why grudge the man a few, chhota mota perks like being exempt from frisking at airports etc. These are small , petty matters in a democracy  - let’s face it, some people are just more equal, that’s all. Why are the BJP chaps making such a big deal out of this? And imagine calling his behaviour ‘inappropriate’. What is inappropriate about insulting a reporter doing his job? As if their party people have never misbehaved with the media? Thank God for Sandeep Dixit, who showed some sense by not endorsing this particular private citizen’s right to intimidate a tv reporter. Unfortunately, Sandeep’s simple act has not gone unnoticed by those out to prove their loyalty to Soniaji and her  ‘Damaadji’. It is being whispered that first Sheilaji ( Sandeep’s mother) praised Modiji ( sort of) and now the son has made conciliatory noises when the First Family is being openly attacked. Definitely, something black in the lentils …
The Broadcast Editors’ Association has demanded an apology from First Citizen Vadra. Meanwhile, the public is being given lessons on what the Constitution of India says about the right to privacy, personal space and liberty by Congress spokesmen.
The question to ask is this : When on earth will Robert Vadra  be ready to answer the questions being posed about the Haryana Land deals? Next week? Next month? Next year? Between gym routines? Right after strenuous work outs? Outside his favourite night club? Backstage during Fashion Week? He just has to say the word, and the media will be there at a time and venue picked by him. But if he really thinks the media is going to back off and let it go because of what happened on Saturday, forget it,  bro. No matter how inappropriate and inconvenient it appears to you and your ma-in-law’s  acolytes, there is a job to be done. If you have nothing to hide, and you are indeed innocent , prove it! And face the consequences – like any other private citizen of India.
It’s true what you said about us – we are nuts! We are idiots! Those questions should have been asked years ago. But this time we are also serious – jawaab de do, beta. Till then, expect more questions.  Aapke intezar mein…

Sunday, November 2, 2014

'Small Betrayals''. The new book is out!

Lovely Sunday! Launched my latest book - a collection of short stories - this afternoon, at the TataLive! Lit Fest in Mumbai. I was In Conversation with British Scholar Ted Hodgkinson, and it turned out to be one of the liveliest sessions I have participated in, at any Lit Fest!
 This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
                         Amruta Ranade Fadnavis: Meet the Missus
Forget Devendra. Hello! Amruta. And welcome to Mumbai… ! You are going to fit right in, I can tell you. Your husband may be the youngest Chief Minister of  Maharashtra. But you, my dear, are the star! It is you who interests the city far more. Remember, you are now the official ‘vahini’ of the State. Previous ‘vahinis’ have been convention bound and boring, choosing  to stay out of the public eye, therby leaving their high profile ‘yajmaans’ to hog the limelight. But those ‘vahinis’ were not like you to start with. At 35, you are a proud, financially independent working woman (Associate V.P. Axis Bank). Just like millions of fellow Mumbaikars. We are exceedingly proud of our female work force – from the hard working  Kolis to corporate power ladies. Our women form the strong spine that keeps Mumbai going on multiple levels. Soon you will be one of us. According to published reports, you have asked for a transfer to a branch in Mumbai, and I am guessing you will get it. But you have also stated if that does not happen, you will continue working at the premium branch in Nagpur. This is what any professional would do. Given your upbringing ( both parents being doctors ), it explains your work ethic and modern thinking. When you stated “ I want to grow intellectually,” to an interviewer, it was clear you weren’t going to be the traditional , decorative ‘vahini’. What a relief!
Going by the fact you addressed over 100 meetings in Nagpur on behalf of your husband ( while he was busy hurtling across the State on behalf of his party ), he owes you a big one. I mean, his impressive win by a 59k lead has a lot to do with your focused campaigning with the women of his constituency ( all the Mahila Mandals who backed him). You urged the ladies to come out and vote for your man. And they did just that! You also kept the daily 100- plus visitors to your home, well fed and looked after, while making sure the hubby stayed away from oily food and mithais.  It was the others who got to eat  the laddoos – ha ha ha! Oh yes…. given the high,sartorial standards set by the PM, you also took charge of  your husband’s wardrobe! Wah! Kya baat hai! Especially because your husband  used to be a model! Yes, Sir!  His old bill boards show him prancing and preening for a shirt brand…that’s pretty cool! I don’t think Maharashtra  has been lucky enough to get a  model-CM during its long history. We’ve seen all kinds of blokes, peddling all kinds of stuff. But not shirts. Well, some of them did specialize in shirts – they took them off our backs. But this Devendra Dude is different. In more ways than one – he married you!
We like the bike story a lot! Apparently, you often coax hubby to take you for a ride. Errr… on his motorbike. That won’t be possible in Mumbai, alas –  not with him as CM.  Besides,you have noticed the chaotic, traffic, right? Apparently, you also get him to join you during stage performances and sing a duet or two. Again, now that he is the CM, poor guy will be singing a different tune henceforth… possibly, in Gujarati. But so long as both of you sing in sync, that’s what matters.
Your ‘ideal bahu’ story gets better and better! You frequently give credit for your husband’s amazing success story to Sarita, your feisty mother-in-law. Ekta Kapoor, please note! You may be 8 years younger than your husband, but you sound incredibly mature in the way you handle your many roles. As for your daughter Diviija, all of 5, hey – she’s something else. A natural born politician. I heard the biggest kick she derives is when she entertains an audience by repeating her dad’s political bhaashans. Which 5-year-old does that? And she prefers to attend his rallies over playing with other kids.  I guess, she won’t opt for banking as a career when she grows up…

This is going to be fun for all of us. Please don’t change… or turn invisible once you taste the ‘CM-ki-Biwi’ life.  Just be yourself. Hang with people your age. Check out Mumbai’s night life.  Let your hair down. Meet people other than politicos. Mumbai has an incredibly vibrant core which sensibly ignores officialdom and dull protocol. If the CM can’t take you for bike rides, we’ll find you people who can! Make the most of Mumbai, dearest Amruta. Trust me, your husband couldn’t have given you a better gift than the chance to experience one of the greatest cities of the world – aamchi Mumbai!
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                            Siraj-Sajida ki love story…
Reeeellllllax, ladies.  I am not going to diss your ‘Karwa Chauth’ rituals. To each, her own punishment! If  dressing up in bridal finery, applying mehendi and giggling with other women while waiting  for  the moon  ( and your men) to show up, does it for you… and your marriage, good luck with the annual festival of  Karwa Chauth. . Meaningful  to some. Absurd to others. This year, I hear, several sensitive partners , same sex couples and ex-lovers, are participating in the day long fast. Given the dismal weather forecast, I only hope the errant ‘chand’ manages to peek through the clouds and signal the start of  hearty feasting following the fasting.
But my mind is more on a unique love story that is pretty fascinating.  Sajida, the young wife and mother of three kids, is married to Siraj,  a Pakistani man who  took  a wrong train in 1995 and accidentally strayed into ‘enemy’ country  -  India. He was 10 at the time and had run away from home. Instead of boarding a train to Karachi, he got into one that brought him to Amritsar. Well… here’s the irony : the only real home he has ever known, is India. The only real family he has, is in India. Possibly, the only real love he ever experienced  happened in India. One look at the photograph of Siraj with his wife and three kids ( a son and two daughters ), and the absurdity of  life (and some complex laws that control destinies of people caught in the cross fire), raises all sorts of troubling questions.  Since 1995, Siraj  has lived with uncertainty and fear. The man has not broken any laws during this period. He has merely tried to get on with his life, like millions of others in this busy metropolis. Late last year, Siraj Khan Pathan was convicted of entering India illegally in 1995! He finished serving his sentence on May 6th, but had been kept under detention under Section11(2) of the Foreigners’ Act. A few days ago, he was mysteriously released from the RAK Marg police station, but minus papers. Is that his fault?
The cops want to make sure he doesn’t abscond.  Abscond… and go where?
The  madness and tragedy of it all!
 Siraj has been on the run since he was a kid. Getting on a wrong train brought the little boy to Amritsar. It happens. His life would never be the same again. Heaven knows what made the child run away from home ? What traumas he may have suffered back then ? And he is still being chased out? Surely, he has run out of stamina by now? Surely, he wants to lead a ‘normal’ life with his small family? Perhaps, we shall never know the full story. But that doesn’t matter. Even if half the story is accurate, it seems cruel to treat any person like this.
I know, I know. It’s about timing. Siraj’s crisis could not have taken place at a worse time. Too many, very disturbing , bloody and violent incidents have taken place on the Indo-Pak border, while this little drama was unfolding in Mumbai. Such is human nature that there will be any number of ‘patriotic’ Indians asking, “ Why should we be showing so much consideration for one of THEM, when they are butchering OUR people?”  For God’s sake - the two are not automatically interlinked. Does any 10- year- old child know his/her nationality / identity in a deeper sense?  Must the accidental place of  birth colour the rest of  life? Siraj has found refuge … love…. fulfillment here. This is all he has known as an adult. He is as much of a stake holder in Mumbai, as the next Mumbaikar. Are we going to plant seeds of hatred and poison  in his head after close to two decades of  living in peace in a country not his own? What about Sajida and the children? What crime have they committed?
I am sure there are many more Sirajs on both sides of the border. Several may be  permanently doomed and locked up in nasty prisons, with not a hope in hell of escape. Does that mean detaining Siraj is somehow ‘justified’ ? A sensitive and fair handling of this tricky case can send out a good signal, even to those who benefit by kindling the fires of enmity and suspicion. The love story of Siraj and Sajida is what inspires me today to think about the real significance of  Karwa Chauth - well beyond the trappings and commercialization of this simple act of faith,  during which a wife demonstrates love, loyalty and commitment to her husband, who reciprocates ( hopefully!) with equal fervor.
Let’s hope there is a permanent and happy ending to the Siraj-Sajida saga.
This appeared in The Week...
                           Egg-xactly why it won’t work!
There were waves of revulsion sweeping over my ‘rational’ self, when I first read about the latest attempt to appropriate a woman’s womb via a procedure called ‘egg freezing’. Even the sound of it made me recoil. Are we chickens in an industrial coop? How dare Facebook and Apple hijack our ovaries in return for a few dollars more? Will manipulating nature in such a blatant fashion provide any real answers? Help the cause? Will women feel more secure in the work place, knowing their precious eggs ( surgically extricated) are lying frozen in a safe place somewhere, to be thawed and reinserted into their poor bodies at a convenient ( to the Company!) time and place? This is worse than any sci-fi movie script! Not only is the latest American corporate conspiracy insulting, it is intrusive, loathsome and demeaning in the extreme. Jessica Bennett, writing in TIME magazine, mentioned ‘egg-freezing’ parties hosted by fertility clinics, where women can discuss options over martinis! Really…. so this is the latest version of the old Tupperware parties in America? How soon before the trend comes to our shores and we have a brand new avatar of the Kitty Party, at which women talk about their preferred egg bank and its whopping price tag, the way they do about their latest Birkin or solitaire ?
I hope that never happens. Never ! Our biological clocks are our own business. Corporates should leave our eggs alone. Instead of luring bright, educated women to mess around with their bodies, after offering all sorts of financial inducements ($20,000 is not an insignificant amount), why don’t these companies lobby for  real reforms that are more sensitive towards women? As pointed out by Seema Mohapatra ( a healthcare law  and bioethics expert at the Barry University School of  Law) in a recent interview, the US is one of just 8 countries in the world that does not require paid maternity leave.  And look at the others on the list  -  countries like Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea! Why not start right there, and rectify the problem at its roots? Has Facebook conducted a detailed research study on the efficacy of egg freezing? What about adverse health effects? The risks involved? Is there a time frame for freezing, thawing and re inserting these eggs? What would that  be  - 10 years? 20 years? What is the guarantee that the complex procedure will work? In the meantime, countless young, female professionals have given up a few key, personal options – perhaps forever.
Buying out a woman’s absolute right over her womb, is anti-humanity. Some women may submit willingly due to financial constraints. But that cannot be justified by any corporate, when the motives are unambiguously selfish to start with. Not willing to support women by providing crèches and day care centres at the work place, they are now trying to lure them into experimenting with their own bodies…their lives. Why not create offices that are pro-family in the true sense of the word? Yes, women in the workforce are indispensable today. Respect that reality by changing the work environment first. Do not violate a woman’s right to bear or not bear children on her own terms. A woman’s fertility is sacred. Nobody should be allowed to tamper with it.
Now what? While the debate rages on, an Australian company is also offering payments to women for freezing eggs.There is something almost sinister about this new development. Men remain fertile forever ( almost!), so the onus of salvaging  future generations stays with women, who have biological clocks ticking away from the time of their birth. Men and women in the workplace are competing for the same jobs. Sooner or later men will start resenting these juicy egg-freezing incentives given to their female colleagues. What then? No. This is definitely not the way forward. Besides, it’s not even a fair option, since nobody is giving an extra dime to women who represent lower income groups.
 In all fairness, it needs to be pointed out that Apple and Facebook do offer other, attractive family benefits ( subsidized day care, paid paternity leave etc), but that still leaves a huge moral issue when it comes to egg freezing. As feminists are asking, does this initiative discriminate against women who opt to have babies as and when they choose to? Will this force women to reconsider choices? Postpone motherhood? These are all new and scary scenarios that will take a while to establish their legitimacy. The complex issues thrown up by the egg-freezing debate have several implications and ramifications – religious , emotional, physical, cerebral. Instead of taking away a woman’s autonomy over her eggs, and pressurizing her to take decisions that come with health risks, let’s demand more sensitivity, combined with responsibility. The time has come to enhance the lives of women in meaningful and significant ways. This is precisely why women across the world should unite and send out a strong message to global corporate houses  pushing them into parting with their most valuable asset. It’s time to say: My eggs are not for sale!
This appeared in Asian Age/ Deccan Chronicle
                          ‘Model’ CM: Fadnavis – when life imitates theatre
The first time I watched a performance of the shocking, path breaking Jabbar Patel  production  of  Vijay Tendulkar’s scorcher of a  play ,‘Ghashiram Kotwal’ (1978 or thereabouts), I was completely blown away.  I watched it  again… and again. But that was a long, long time ago. I wish I could watch it once more, for it continues to remain as potent, as relevant,  as subversive today, as it was 36 years ago. Tendulkar first wrote it in 1972 in response to the rise of the Shiv Sena. So strong was its impact, it faced a ban and generated enough controversy to fuel vociferous protests each time it was staged. It is a pity contemporary theatre lovers are denied the opportunity to share this extraordinary experience.  Whenever I run into Dr. Mohan Agashe these days, I can only see Nana Phadnavis – the despicable, wily character he immortalized in the play . I asked Mohan why ‘Ghashiram….’ has not been revived. The collective genius of so many highly gifted collaborators could easily attract corporate sponsors. But that hasn’t happened… for obvious reasons. There can be no other Nana Phadnavis, of course, and as Mohan pointed out wryly, the timing for a revival  is also perfect . Mohan brought spine tingling ferocity and a sinister edge to his performance as the shrewd, sadistic, amoral Minister in the court of the Peshwas, who stops at nothing to grab and wield absolute power in a weakened, hopelessly decadent state, dominated by rulers drunk  on their ownunchecked  position of  privilege. As the play progresses , Phadnavis reduces the Peshwas to poor jokes of their earlier avatars. Agashe , making the most effective use of his thin, nasal voice and adopting a particular gait ,conveyed  just one thing - unbridled  tyranny. Mohan was evil personified, his every entry marked  by  rhythmic music that prepared the audience for the vileness to follow. Patel brilliantly exploited the folk theatre tradition of ‘Tamasha’ in this riveting portrait of corrosive totalitarianism.
Abuse of power lends itself to artistic interpretations like few other subjects. Today, Maharashtra has demonstrated unambiguously that its people have risen against oppression and arrogance .Today’s Maharashtrian doesn’t really give a damn about traditional obsessions – ask the young voter in this election whether it matters a jot to him that the new CM of the State  is  a Brahmin and not a Maratha, and chances are, you’ll get a bewildered look or a withering, scornful stare in return. Pegging political identity to the old ‘Marathi Manoos’ script is old hat, irrelevant and annoying . The new Maharashtrian is  an aggressive, ambitious, results-driven voter. If anything, the old bogey of ‘outsider/insider’ has been pushed aside in one sweep – and may it remain in the dustbin forever. Since nothing is quite as effective in today’s social media driven times, as piquant, pointed satire, I watched a ‘Being Indian’ video on Youtube which featured two ‘typical’ Maharashtrian boys indulging in hilarious banter. Interestingly enough, they were merrily poking fun at familiar sacred cows. The sarcastic script took everyone and everything apart, including that phoney ‘North Indians’ paranoia mischievously unleashed on the city by political hoodlums. Which is why, it is vital for the newly minted CM to grab this God -given opportunity  and undo the monumental mess in Maharashtra. Devendra Fadnavis has a tough job ahead of him. He isn’t exactly 100% kosher himself (there are a hefty 22 criminal cases against him, which include charges of assault, rioting and unlawful entry). He is an unknown entity in Mumbai, and is seen more as a Nagpur man. Narendra Modi called him “ Nagpur’s gift to the country’. Earlier , that ‘gift’ was identified with Nagpur oranges.
 Once the Chariots of  Fire roll out of the Wankhede Stadium and the maha drama of the ridiculously extravagant swearing-in ceremony ( complete with Bollywood-style sets) is behind us, we will watch Fadnavis closely. Of course, everybody knows the man has an omnipotent remote control ( Amit Shah) monitoring his every move. Which may not be such a terrible thing, given the tattered condition of  Maharashtra’s economy right now ( at last count, the State was dealing with a debt of 13 lakh crores). Fadnavis comes with respectable educational credentials ( a law degree, plus a post-graduate degree in Business Management). We know he is married to a working professional (banker) and is the father of a precocious 5 - year- old daughter, rumoured to entertain guests with a faithful rendition of her father’s fiery political speeches! Cleaning up the BMC should be on top of the new CM’s priorities, for unless we get rid of the rot that has seen Mumbai’s descent into a putrid hell hole, nothing else is likely to change. How he tackles the nexus between his political rivals and the builders’ lobby (together they have looted and stripped not just Mumbai, but gigantic swathes of prime real estate across Maharashtra ) , will also define his relationship with a demoralized police force.  As for corporate India, well… it doesn’t take time for our accommodating Captains of Industry to realign themselves to a new order. So long as Fadnavis demonstrates a strong will to clean up the massive devastation he has inherited, and does so transparently, the people of Maharashtra will whole heartedly support his initiatives. If  Fadnavis is as clever as Modi thinks he is, he will leave the contentious Vidharba issue alone for now.
This may be the turning point in Maharashtra’s fortunes. Expectations are running high. Fadnavis is young (44), which is a big plus. He appears gregarious and outgoing. Will he be able to manage the various warring factions angling for key portfolios and positions? For that, the ‘go to’ man ain’t our Devendra Fadnavis. It is the portly Amit Shah – rightly being described as the de facto CM of Maharashtra.
 So, let the party begin! No more ‘tamasha’. Only  ‘tootaris’, please!