Sunday, June 28, 2015

Flood of Fans for Amitav Ghosh

          What a dazzling launch it was in Mumbai !Amitav Ghosh was an absolute delight!  
     19th June 2015
L’Affaire Lalit Modi: Theatre of the Absurd.
“It’s war!” declared the man du jour via a tweet. And several very powerful people ducked. It was too late by then. Those who ran for cover, found there was no place to hide. The bombardment  was underway...while the peace of the azure Adriatic Sea was temporarily shattered, as India’s best travelled ‘fugitive’ began his ‘mahayudh’ on frenemies, enemies, family friends and randoms. Wow! India woke up to various hues of international notices – red, blue, even light blue. All sorts of conspiracy theories got recklessly tossed around as Lalit Modi kept up the fusillade, making sure he didn’t skip a single name from his little black book.
I clearly remembered our solitary meeting from way back when. It took place years ago, much before Lalit had bestowed some very fancy titles on himself ( Czar, Commissioner, God... being just a few!). The meeting took place at my residence. The quaking intermediary was distraught. He whispered, “..... but.... but ... but... Mr. Lalit Modi doesn’t go to meet anybody. People come to meet him.” I was a bit surprised – errr... it was he who wanted to meet me with a proposal to write scripts for television. I didn’t particularly want to meet him. A well- connected business lady had set this up and told me grandly, “He really wants you on board. He has lots of money... just name your price.” As things turned out, the meeting was a total flop. He turned up huffing and puffing, made me an offer I didn’t find at all difficult to refuse, and that was that. No hard feelings.
Cut to a couple of years ago. His extraordinary life on the run, was worth documenting. I got his London number and phoned him with my own proposal this time –  I wanted him to write a tell all book. He was voluble and candid. And ready to do it. We did a few con calls...  but things just petered out. During those calls, Lalit was feisty, furious and out there -  he had his facts and figures. And most importantly, he was ready to name names. Our lawyers had to take a call – and they did. It was felt Lalit’s book - a real hot potato – would be too hot to handle. The prospect of battling several law suits discouraged the team from taking this any further.
“Bring it on...” tweeted Lalit Modi earlier this week. And did he bring it on! Brash, brazen, brainy. This  daredevil of a man is a force of nature, as several victims are reckoning,  while they hastily consult top legal wizards, hoping to save their own skins. Lalit has done the unpardonable in such circles – he has ratted on bffs - openly named people. Howcome? Did he not think of the grave repercussions? Is this man a nut job? I don’t think so.  Today’s Lalit Modi is a man with nothing to lose. Not even personal honour. In such a scenario, what option does he have? Keep quiet? Why? Fight back? Why not? Take a look at his high profile targets. At some stage, these were the very people he was in bed with ( figuratively speaking, okay?).Everybody was happy with the arrangement. Everybody made money. Lots and lots of money. So ? Everybody is still making money. Perhaps, even more money! If Lalit Modi  is being referred to as the Robert Vadra of the BJP, how off the mark is that tag?
How about another angle to this sordid saga? What if it is Lalit Modi who is being used? Think of him as the victim and not the villain. I know... it’s like asking audiences to feel sympathetic towards Gabbar Singh or Mogambo. These are our society’s stereotypes. We refuse to break moulds. But, hey – if Lalit is a blackguard, what about the rest? If he is being called a crook – what should we call the others?  Yup. Those shameless looters? The very people going hoarse, condemning the guy from various platforms? A peep into their cupboards would reveal countless skeletons. We are talking about Lalit’s  Rs.1700 crore ‘fraud’. For some of those ministers, ex-ministers, cricket administrators baying for his blood, that’s play money! At least one heavyweight mantriji probably makes more than that amount in half-a-day! Granting favours is a fine art which comes with an astronomical price tag.  It’s not just Sushama Swaraj. “Indian helping Indian” has many connotations and interpretations ! So many netas have bent and twisted the rules on ‘humanitarian grounds’. What’s different now? It’s all about convenience and  timing. ‘Lalitgate’ is a pretty stale story which has been lying around for close to five years. Nobody bothered to pick it up. All of a sudden, it is being projected as the biggest expose ever? Absurd!
The average citizen really doesn’t give a damn whether Lalit Modi continues to lead a hedonistic life partying his socks off  in Havana, Ibiza, Venice... wherever. Nobody cares whether he is a playboy, liar, cheat, absconder, madman. There are far bigger issues to worry about. Let him turn those knives and nail a few more culprits back home. We need such diversions from time to time, to distract us from the real issues. Whether Sushama stays or goes, whether Vasundhara Raje resigns or doesn’t, neither decision is likely to impact the dismal lives of the majority? Frankly, kuch nahi hoga. Both ladies will stay. And a  few earnest citizens will shake their heads and say, “Very bad, very bad... these people must be punished... the country is going to the dogs...” Citizens have been singing the same song for decades. Has anything changed? Naah.
 Sorry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi -  Log khaaengey bhi, or khila yengey bhi. This is how it works in our Bharat Mahaan.
But since we always look for a foreign hand behind all that goes wrong in India...and since we need phirangi scapegoats whenever there’s a huge scam in our backyard, let’s blame Murdoch for this mess and be done.
As for me, it’s International Yoga Day today. I will be doing my bit and performing the very challenging and complicated shavasan – the corpse pose .

  Meanwhile...Bon Appetit, Lalit! Sante...apres le deluge and all that...
     Asian Age              25thJune 2015
             Battle Royale : Who’ll blink first ?
Phew! What a lot of unnecessary dramabaazi week this has seen! Look at the  multistar cast – the main players, the cameos, the side kicks, the comedians, the villains, the amazing twists and turns. A more action packed script would be hard to find. This is the real thing. The ultimate blockbuster. “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun – Part 2.” If only the lead actors had been better looking!
At the time of writing, there are leaks and tip- offs rolling in by the minute even as I key this column. Lalit Modi,our very own desi Whistleblower or Julian Assange with a darker mop of hair, is sitting pretty in London / Ibiza/ Rio/ Mykonos/ Venice and tweeting away. It is being said a smart publisher wants to bring out a quickie with just the emoticons in those countless tweets. Lalit Modi today, is dominating mind and media  space and scaring the daylights out of anybody who has ever been within a 5 kilometre radius of the former Czar of the IPL. The man’s meticulously kept records of every encounter, phone call, email exchange ... just about any form of communication, are so staggering, it’s no wonder so many people are diving for cover. It’s quite comical. Some say they met him for fifteen minutes. Others call him a ‘brother’ to his face and later deny knowing the man. But, in today’s times, there really is no place to hide! Lalit knows it. His targets know it, too.
Is this the way to treat friends? Singed victims are asking. Errr – yes! If, by ‘friends’ you mean those who were around smelling money, opportunities, fun times, while the going was good. If they now accuse Lalit Modi of ‘betraying’ them, nobody is interested in their collective whingeing. This is how it goes when the stakes are as high and the end-game , as dangerous. Those badly hit by Modi’s startling revelations, also know they have zero cover left. Lalit has pretty much stripped the lot naked. It’s possible he is hanging on to more dirt and may unleash the final instalment at the right time. Political Pundits are holding their breaths and wondering when that time will come. For if there is still  some lethal material left in Lalit’s armoury, it can only be a  devastating political nuke that will take  down everybody. That includes the government in power.
Swaraj and Raje   can relax. Lalit Modi has done his worst and they have survived. So far, Rajnath Singh is the only BJP bloke to have astutely handled a maha dhamaka capable of blowing up in several prominent faces. As any shrewd politician knows, the trick is to buy time and wait for the storm to blow over. Raje is sitting tight, as she can well afford to. She is far from dispensable. If she is coerced into stepping down, there will be an open revolt in Rajasthan, where she is worshipped by people, who willingly acknowledge the good work she has done for the State. If she stays, that will be a tough one for Narendra Modi to ‘manage’ – it will prove what his critics are saying – he is soft on corruption within his own party.
Whichever way this pans out, citizens are justifiably disgusted. This is not what they had voted for. Cleverly enough, Lalit Modi has both parties in the same corner. He has enough dirt to dish out on all leaders - Congress, NCP and of course, the BJP. He also has Sushma and Raje on the backfoot. With so many walking wounded around, who the hell is running the government? Let me take a guess – no one??? It is on auto pilot, running itself, with the Babus rejoicing and gloating, now that the reins are back in their hands.
 Take Lalit and his target practice out of the picture, and the story is still bad. Smriti Irani is back in the dock , forced to clarify a ‘typographical ‘ error about her educational degree. And there is Pankaja Munde in Maharashtra battling charges of corruption over the sanctioning of contracts. Ms. Munde is either super efficient  at clearing government tenders amounting to 208crores  in under 10 minutes, or... or... your guess is as good as mine. Maharashtra mantris, have been notorious and brazenly corrupt for years. But Ms. Munde’s indiscretion is being cited as a huge black mark against a government that constantly boasts in self righteous  terms about its  policy of zero tolerance for corrupt practices. Going by the snow balling of charges against four prominent women from the party, this appears not just hypocritical but paradoxical .
In such a volatile and highly combustible environment, it’s hard to predict anybody’s next move. But one thing is for sure –  whatever that next move  is, it has to be Narendra Modi’s. He cannot afford to hide behind  studied silence. Citizens waited patiently for him to finish demonstrating  his prowess at Yoga asanas. People also considerately gave Sushma Swaraj enough time to recover from her jet lag and say something about the controversy. Anger is bound to build up, if the top leadership continues to be evasive. Arun Jaitley jauntily declares nobody in the party is ‘tainted’ . Achchaaaa???? Unless , of course, Sushma indulges in the oldest political trick in the book – and is rushed to hospital for some unnamed medical condition. By the time she emerges, this will no longer qualify as ‘breaking news’. And as we well know, it’s no news unless it is breaking.
This means it will be business as usual for all the main players – Lalit Modi included. There is just one thing for the Prime Minister to do at this tricky point : Get Lalit Modi back to India. Period.
The truth may surprise us all.
       Mumbai Mirror              26thJune2015
                       Damsels in Distress....? Hardly!
Who would have imagined that  four of the country’s most influential,dynamic, powerful, attractive and intelligent women in politics would be facing such an embarrassing situation today? There they are – like a gallery of  roguettes – putting on a brave face, but not quite coming clean about the charges against them.  In feudal India, royalty is still royalty, so one can understand the imperious disdain on display, as Vasundhara Raje  does not deign to respond to questions posed by ordinary mortals, and goes about her business like nothing has happened, her royal brow enviably un-creased. Wow! That takes a lot of ... how shall I put it delicately – impunity? At the time of writing, the popular Chief Minister of Rajasthan was still on her throne, daring anybody – even Amit Shah – to dislodge her. Such is Raje’s super confidence. And such is her faith in her loyal subjects ( can’t call them mere MLAs, can we?).
Sushma Swaraj is amazing. Yes, she may be an amazing law breaker, too. But that’s for the authorities to decide. Given a job she didn’t particularly want, working for a leader she doesn’t particularly like, Sushma has done very well for herself, hopping from country to country, offering firm ‘manly’ handshakes to world leaders, matching her hand- picked silk sarees with those peculiar desexed jackets, bright red sindhoor blazing its own trail in the parting of her hair. Ever since she came back to the motherland after the Lalit Modi scandal broke, Sushma has taken to hiding behind huge, wrap around sunglasses. Perhaps the media glare is getting to her.
Smriti Irani is dealing with a ‘typographical’ error, in her typical style. First, it was amnesia about her college degrees, and now the confusion has been cleared – it was only a careless typo all this fuss is about, as distinct from Tomar’s forged certificates. Her body language has not changed this week. Though her stride is far brisker as she dodges the press, and rushes to Parliament, without bothering to make eye contact. The fact that a Delhi  court has taken cognizance of  a complaint filed against her, has obviously not dented her self-esteem. She wants the country to know she is a lady on a mission to save some of our most prestigious educational institutions, and introduce Yoga in schools etc etc. Teacher’s pets have all the advantages.
Pankaja Munde’s story is different. She is young, brash and possibly in a  tearing hurry to establish her political credentials. Here’s a greenhorn politician who had staked her claim to be anointed the Chief Minister of India’s premier stake – Maharashtra – on the basis of heaven knows what qualifications. Had it not been for internal bickering, the job would have been hers for the asking. You know what softies we are when it comes to casting a sympathy vote. Despite being an absolute novice, Pankaja was generously given a berth in Devendra Fadnavis’ cabinet. If you think there are no perks attached to the Women and Child Welfare portfolio, think again. Pankaja didn’t waste a minute before clearing purchases worth Rs.206 crores in a single day, without inviting tenders. Business as usual? The young lady is holidaying abroad, and will provide ‘explanations’ on her return.
In all four cases, the ladies embroiled in various messy allegations, have put on an impressive show of bravado, preferring to brazen it out while the dust settles. Observers have pointed out that is one hell of a coincidence four women from the BJP are under scrutiny all at the same time, suggesting there is a vile conspiracy to ‘fix’ these ambitious mahilas and cut them down to size. It is also being said  that hounding these ladies demonstrates the deep seated misogyny which dominates the party.
Women in politics never have it easy. Look at Hillary Clinton. But this breed of desi female leaders are not withering violets, nor are they the coy, simpering behenjis  hiding behind powerful men. These are feisty women, who have always called the shots in their personal and professional lives. It’s  the men who need to hide from them! And do. Which is why it’s a little disappointing to note their deliberately passive stance while controversies rage around them. Smriti, in particular, ought to be so secure about her special place in the P.M. ‘s heart, she  can aggressively give it back to anybody who  takes her on. This time, she is uncharacteristically subdued.
We wish all four of them would boldly speak up and clarify matters themselves. Why bring Rajnath into the picture to issue character certificates? Why corner Arun Jaitley and get a lukewarm “ Nobody is tainted’ comment out of him? Come on, ladies. Row your own boats. Own up if you’ve transgressed. It’s so much more honourable to do that. And if you haven’t, clarify your position, and there the story will end. The thing is, all the charges sound pretty credible. I won’t say, ‘Be man enough about the crisis and take it on the chin’. Instead, I will say , ‘Be woman enough to deal with it...”
The era of Damsels in Distress ended with Cinderella...

                NDTV Blog 34                24th June2015

                                  Ranveer Aala Re, Aala...
I have been a die hard Govinda fan for years. Can’t say the same about Ranveer. That they are both naturals, goes without saying. But in my mind, Govinda is more like ghar ka khaana –  Govinda is comfort food. Ranveer is a hybrid. Ranveer is Chicken Manchurian. Both men have a brilliant sense of comic timing. Both are highly intelligent. But being products of an entirely different era in Bollywood, it’s unlikely their career paths will run parallel.
Govinda liked to be referred to as the Virar ka Chhokra. This deliberate positioning was no fluke. Virar is an outpost of Mumbai. The ‘real’ Mumbai doesn’t recognise the existence of a suburb called Virar. Nobody boasts of being from Virar. At the time Govinda was the big hero with several commercial blockbusters under his broad rexine belt, his rivals were Bandra Boys – the Pali Hill , Juhu-Khar lot, with well-connected patrons in the film industry. They fancied themselves ( still do!). And were seen as being upmarket and posh. Then there was Govinda – Chi Chi to friends. A podgy, unlikely hero, with a disarming smile.  Unapologetically middle class and minus starry airs ( those came later), Govinda was hailed as the aam janata’s hero – a basic, daal chawaal type of guy. Nobody could explain his success. Suddenly Govinda was everywhere! He had delivered! He was a bona fide star! His style of dancing was the rage, and the same snooty heroines who had refused roles with him earlier, lined up eagerly to match steps with the latest box office wonder. His dialogue delivery was referred to in reverential terms and admirers made the lyrics of his incredibly vulgar songs, appear cool and catchy when they were seriously offensive and ludicrous.
 I met Govinda when he had already become a bloated monster. His habitual lateness (10 hours was normal), lack of discipline, and delusions of grandeur , had producers fuming by then. But so long as the hits rolled in, lips stayed sealed. I had warned the enthusiastic Stardust Annual team  that even though I was the actor’s fan, and happy to do a special shoot for the magazine, I wasn’t willing to come to a studio or wait around at home for him to show up. As it turned out, the  photo session and interview were fixed at my home, and a minion was assigned the job of tracking Govinda who was shooting in the suburbs.  Two hours after the stipulated time, when there was no trace of the man, I told them I had had enough and to pack up. Just then, there was a flurry of excitement – Govinda was in the building! He walked in wearing a cop’s uniform and apologised for being in costume. He must have been feeling pretty sheepish about his lateness, for without wanting to waste more time, he started stripping right there in my living room, as his wardrobe guy  fluttered around with a fresh shirt. Minutes later, he was ready. And that’s when the Govinda Moment took place. The editors had thoughtfully prepared a set of questions he was supposed to ask me (“ Class Versus Mass’’ was the rather insulting peg). Govinda stared at the sheet of paper and promptly tore it up. He turned to me with a big grin and asked politely, “ Shall we start?”
That’s the essential Govinda – spontaneous, endearing and very nuts.
I don’t know Ranveer at all. The only time I saw him was at a formal function where he was seated across the aisle. This was just after he had signed his first film but was not famous. His conduct was exaggerated, exhibitionistic, loud and attention seeking. He was also ridiculously dressed. Who is this guy? People were wondering, watching his antics. It hardly mattered. Once his first big movie was released, nobody needed to ask that question. He had aggressively and very quickly established himself in Bollywood. And he wasn’t going anywhere! Well, he’s still around. And getting better with every role. His public conduct continues to be brash, but nobody cares so long as audiences love him.
A few months ago, he was invited to a rarefied Conclave in Delhi. He was in the company of some top class professionals from various fields. Of course, there was a full house for him  ( he’s a big star today), but not too many people in the audience were expecting anything more than light Bollywood banter from the young actor. Imagine then, their shock and awe when Ranveer came through with what was dubbed one of the most polished presentations of the Conclave! Beyond the swagger was substance. Beyond the sharp suit  was a thinking, alert,  energetic mind. In a flash – Ranveer had transformed himself from a rakish Bollywood caricature to a polished brand ambassador representing the Future of Bollywood.
Is he the next Govinda? Not really. So much has changed about the movies from the time when Govinda was thrusting his hips and shaking his booty with Bollywood lovelies. Govinda was never given the chance to unleash the supremely sensitive actor in him. Ranveer should learn from this and save himself from falling into a similar trap. For that, he really needs to lose those idiotic monkey suits he wears on the red carpet  - fast!
     The Sexes                         23rdJune2015
                              “Wear a yellow saree tomorrow... or else!”
Yet another story revolving around power play in the work place surfaced last fortnight. This time it was about a female PhD student accusing her mentor/ guide of sexual harassment. The rest of the script was pretty standard – by now, we are all very familiar with the drill – a man in a ‘superior’ position, decides to make a junior’s life miserable. It happens constantly – to  men and women who are juniors. It’s like dogs indulging in territorial wars by urinating on specific spots. I don’t know what’s worse – human beings threatening to throw acid  on victims to establish supremacy, or a few harmless puddles of  dog piss?
But this particular case, is worth examining more closely since the college in question happens to be St. Stephen’s, and the Principal himself is sounding a bit iffy. Had Principal Valson Thampu taken action against the offender, one Satish Kumar, Assistant Professor in the college’s chemistry department, and been more sensitive to the complainant, perhaps one more case of gender harassment would not have gone unpunished. Today, that molestation charge has snowballed into a national scandal. Principal Thampu has made matters worse by saying he had offered to change the female student’s guide, but she had refused! That puts the onus squarely on her and makes her sound like a stereotypical manipulative woman out to wreck her professor’s career.
Now here’s the thing: The student says since 80% of her research had been completed, there was little point in switching guides at such a late stage. What would any other student in her position have done, faced with a stalker who passed lewd remarks and made inappropriate physical contact with the victim? She states that at one point, this deranged sounding academic threatened to pour sulphuric acid on her if she didn’t wear a yellow saree to college! Why would any woman make up such a story? And – hello!  this doesn’t qualify as a case of ‘sexual harassment’ to the Principal? To me it sounds like a murder threat.
A Nobel Laureate ( Tim Hunt ) recently lost his job after making loaded sexist remarks about ‘pretty’ women who work in labs and distract men. There was world- wide outrage at his clumsy ‘joke’, cracked during a scientific conference in Japan. Women scientists mocked Hunt for his silly remarks. But at the end of that outburst, there was also a surge of sympathy for Hunt, from men and women, who felt he had been crucified without giving him a fair chance to respond to the strong charges thrown at him.
The environment today demands a high level of vigilance. Men and women working together without sexual conflicts coming up occasionally, is, of course, the ideal scenario. But there will always be some idiot who decides to take his chances with a reluctant female colleague. The Assistant Professor’s case is extreme – it involves a physical threat. To think an educated person employed by one of India’s most prestigious colleges could attempt to bully a student under his care in such a violent way, is shocking! It is generally illiterate hoodlums and goondas who resort to pouring acid on women who resist their sexual advances. This is perhaps the first time we are dealing with someone from Kumar’s academic background issuing such a bizarre command.
Is the man kinky? A yellow saree fetishist? Some sort of a control freak? What kind of a family does he belong to? How have family members reacted to the scandal? If he does indeed reside with them, how does he even look the female members of his parivaar in the eye? Does shame come into the picture at all? It was a similar story with Pachauri... and look what happened to that man! Disgraced across the world, nobody gives a damn about him any more.
Satish Kumar ( who also discharged the duties of the bursar), has his whole professional life ahead of him. So does the student. She’d feared she’d be jeopardising her degree by going to the Delhi University’s Grievance Redressal Cell. This sordid debacle has left two people in deep trouble. Trouble, that could have been easily avoided had Satish Kumar behaved himself.  Professors sexually harassing students is becoming a serious menace in campuses world- wide. Tragically, most such complaints aren’t taken seriously. And victims are asked, “But... he didn’t actually rape you, did he? Then, what’s the big deal? Why are you ruining the poor man’s life? Besides... are you sure you didn’t encourage him? Lead him on?”
No matter how a woman in these circumstances emerges from the battle , it is she who pays the price – even for victory. Future employers say, “Good God!  Isn’t she that trouble maker from St. Stephen’s? Avoid!!” Paradoxically enough, even other women may not stand by her. So what?  So long as she stands up for her dignity. That’s all that matters.