At the KIMS Usha Lakshmi Centre for Breast Diseases, Hyderabad, with the founder, eminent doctor and great humanitarian, Dr. P.Raghuram, possibly the only doctor in India with four FRCS degrees. Proud to be the patron of this wonderful initiative.
Yash Birla's moving and truthful book is doing very well , I am happy to report. If in Mumbai, do come to the launch...
Appropriately enough, I am writing this on
All Fools’ Day! And in front of me is a copy of a popular fanzine featuring ‘Baby
Doll’ Sunny Leone. It quotes her as stating, “I know that many people don’t
like what I represent…” Shall we call that the understatement of the year? So…
what DOES Sunny Leone represent? Bluntly put : sleaze. Sunny Leone’s
extraordinary life is worth a film in itself. But right now, she is enjoying
the success of her horror-erotic movie, ‘Ragini MMS 2’. I haven’t watched it so
far. But going by the reviews, it is obvious Ms. Leone has a valid reason to
celebrate. So does her canny producer, Ekta Kapoor. For those coming in late,
Sunny Leone ( real name Karenjit kaur Vohra, born in 1981), an established
adult film star in Canada, became known in India after she entered the Big Boss
house. The publicity around her participation revolved around her chosen career
– Sunny was identified as a ‘porn star’ . One of the
hottest in the world! It is to her credit she didn’t hide her antecedents. She
efficiently handled all the jibes and taunts that came her way during those
early days, with dignity and poise. That Sunny was a married woman came as a
surprise to puritanical critics. That her husband, Daniel Weber , was also her
manager, knocked the socks off those who had already branded her easy game. So
much for pre-conceived ideas and hasty judgements. I also plead guilty!
Today, when I watch Sunny going about those
incredibly tedious promotional activities for her film, I marvel at her tenacity.
It couldn’t have been easy getting a toehold into tightly controlled Bollywood
circles for a woman who is seen as an ‘outsider’ (the annoying outsider-insider
dilemma is not restricted to politics alone). Credit must be given to Ekta
Kapoor as well to have the vision and guts to cast Sunny in such a pivotal
role. Of course, Ekta being one of the shrewdest players in the movie business,
coolly extracted her pound of flesh (
why not?), by heavily focusing on the erotic content of Sunny’s debut movie in all the tantalizing
promos. A less daring producer might have tested the waters by casting Sunny in
a multi-starrer, or by getting her to perform a sizzling ‘item song’.
Characteristically enough, Ekta boldly went the whole hog and presented Sunny
with a solo vehicle that – surprise, surprise – did indeed involve a bit of
acting. Just a wee bit. But what the hell.The movie could easily have been a
shamelessly voyeuristic sleaze fest, with heavy duty moaning and groaning and
little else.But Ekta actually bothered to provide a fig leaf of a story line
and projected Sunny Leone as a bona fide star.This was a master stroke – an
inspired brain wave. And given the lopsided logic of the movie business, if the
film is a hit, nothing else matters. Least of all the heroine’s past.
Let’s see what happens to Sunny now. She
talks about shuttling between her home in L.A. and her work in Mumbai. She
definitely does not talk about going back to her old job as an adult film
actress. One guesses those days are over. Her manager/husband of six years is
very much around, and was last seen playing Holi with the Bollywood crowd.
Given the status of the Balaji banner Sunny has been launched by, she can
afford to sit tight and wait for other assignments, now that her movie has been
declared a commercial success. That Sunny found audience acceptance in a
country like India, is again very telling. Ten years ago, someone like Sunny
would have been mocked and attacked by the hypocritical film industry itself.
It would only have been producers of C-Grade ‘blue’ films who would have
pursued her. Today, Sunny can walk with her head held high alongside any of the
other newbie actresses, and demand the same level of privileges ( a fancy
vanity van to call her own). Whether or not she’ll be able to sustain her
current level of success remains to be seen. But the fact that she broke
through the invisible cordon that makes most of
us pre-judge persons who choose a different career path, must be
acknowledged. India has sure come a long way, it must also be said. If there is
space in our hearts and minds for a Sunny Leone, there is hope for us.
The Aam Aurat speaks … We, the
women of India demand…
It’s time to talk turkey. A bit late in the
day, perhaps. But if not now, then when?The formidable female vote in India has
led to the coining of a new word : Femocracy. Sounds fanciful at this point,
but believe me, any politician foolish enough to ignore women and exclude them
from the political narrative, is in for trouble. After centuries of being
treated like she didn’t exist, the Aam Aurat in India has suddenly established
her presence at the polls. From being ignored to getting courted, it has indeed
been a long journey. Today, this aam aurat is raising her voice and asking to
heard. Those who plug their ears and shut their eyes hoping she’ll go away, do
so at their own peril. This woman isn’t budging. She’s not going away. And
what’s more, she is winning the lop- sided war finally. The struggle to get
here has been long and arduous. It would have been even longer and still more
arduous but for one single defining moment that altered the scenario… perhaps,
forever. That moment happens to be tragic in the extreme. A hefty price was
paid for it. Let’s call it the Nirbhaya Moment. Everything changed in an
instant, as soon as gory details behind the shocking rape became public. Nobody
can fully explain why this particular rape became the pivotal point around
which thousands of citizens rallied, given India’s terrible track record ( 3
rapes every hour!). But the spontaneous outpouring of outrage and grief that
New Delhi witnessed in the aftermath of the brutal crime, is something that nobody
could have anticipated… and nobody can afford to forget. Least of all the
arrogant political class, Even after the streets of Delhi had been virtually
taken over by angry citizens demanding justice for the victim, the aloof Chief
Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit, refused to climb down from her high horse and
meet the protestors. This level of callousness proved to be Dixit’s nemesis and
the last straw for the enraged public. It underlined once again how
marginalised women were in the overall scheme of things. Women simply did not
matter. Women did not count. Their
safety, their lives, their existence – none of this mattered to the ruling
Now it does.
Arvind Kejriwal replaced Sheila Dixit as
the newly minted messiah of the masses.It’s another matter that he didn’t last
more than 49 days in his job. But even Team Kejriwal had to acknowledge the
role played by women voters who backed him and formed his main constituency
during the local elections. It was indeed the precious female vote that
propelled Kejriwal to victory and made a cult hero out of him. It’s therefore,
a big shame that Kejriwal has failed to cash in on this overwhelming wave of
female support. Today, this key constituency of energized women is bewildered
and let down by the one leader who they thought would root for them and be
solidly on their side, come general elections. Instead, Kejriwal short sightedly lost that early
advantage when he endorsed khap panchayats ( thereby indirectly condoning
horrific honour killings), by providing what he called a ‘cultural context’ to
this medieval and illegal method of delivering instant justice.
Fighting well entrenched social practices
in a patriarchal society is never easy, and it’s possible Kejriwal preferred to
cop out rather than stick his neck out. But he has paid a huge price for back
tracking. Women are in no mood to support him in the same numbers or with as
much enthusiasm. The troubling question still remains : if not Kejriwal, then
who? Where is that champion we seek? Can we expect anything better from
Narendra Modi of the 56” chest? A Prime
Ministerial candidate, no less, who has famously claimed his single status
makes him less prone to corruption? That should apply equally to Bachelor Boy
Rahul Gandhi at 43, who coyly admitted he’d marry when he found the ‘right
girl’. But at least Rahul redeemed himself a little when he kept repeating his
‘women’s empowerment’ mantra like a parrot during ‘the interview’ with Arnab
Goswami. It’s a good mantra, but it would help if Rahul spelt out what exactly he proposed to
do for women if his tattered party managed to grab power. On the other hand, the
indifference of the three power ladies ( Mamata, Mayawati and Jayalalitha) isfar more disappointing. Not a squeak has
come out from their respective mouths to suggest they are even thinking about
the welfare of their own tribe. So, we have a Didi, Amma and Behenji jostling
for position, nursing high hopes of occupying the prime ministerial seat, but
keeping mum on critical women’s issues.
So much for sisterhood.
is a pretty awful home truth to digest. In real terms it means just one thing –
nothing is likely to change for the women of India, regardless of which party
cobbles the next government together. Every leader is hanging on to the status
quo and concentrating on vote bank politics at the expense of everything else.
The Aam Aurat is being left out in the cold once more. But wait a minute – the
political class may not have changed its foul mind set, but the women of the
country certainly have altered their position. They will no longer lie back and
enjoy it, metaphorically or literally speaking. With 23 dowry deaths per day,
their very lives are at stake. With females being snuffed out in the mother’s
womb, their survival is under threat. Yet, despite daunting odds, the women of
India are not just managing to stay alive, they are thriving and flourishing
like never before and across varied fields. They are excelling in professional
areas that were denied to them for decades. Today, driving through Mumbai, you
are likely to see an impressive number of policewomen patrolling the streets. Take
a commercial flight in India, and every so often the captain of the big bird is
a woman. 10 of our largest banks are headed by women. Bollywood divas today are
bringing in the big bucks at the box office. Several media empires are owned
and run by women. Change is in the air.
The only idiots who haven’t noticed are our netas. Too bad for them. Without a
coherent narrative for women in place, their political agendas remain half
complete. If women are stridently demanding equality, opportunity, safety,
security and overall progress, it is their absolute right to do so. And, mark
my words, they will eventually get it all.
There is no doubt in my mind that the
biggest game changers in Elections 2014, will be women. It’s time for
politicians across the board to wake up and smell the perfume!
What a superb initiative! I spent two afternoons at the Made in Pakistan Expo at the World Trade Centre.... and was delighted to see the enthusiastic response from eager Mumbaikars grabbing all those gorgeous Gul Ahmed lawns and Khadi outfits. There was just one stall selling onyx objets... and I bought my daughter two lovely tables. If only we had more such exchanges! What's more, there was delicious Pakistani food , too!
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
Why I feel a
li’l worried for Meera Sanyal…
Let’s face it, SOBO generates very mixed
feelings , not just in the rest of Mumbai, but across India. South Mumbai does
exude a very specific vibe – you either get it… are a part of it… or you don’t.
Meera Sanyal, the polished, sophisticated, well-educated banker , with declared
assets of 50 crores, is very SOBO. She
is also the AAP candidate from South Mumbai. Meera really ought to be ‘the one’
most likely to win from this elite constituency, given her impressive
credentials. But will she? It is assumed
that ‘People Like Us’ will vote for ‘People Like Her.” Let’s forget what
happened during the last elections – Meera was a late lateef candidate, and a
total novice at the time. Well, she has had four long years to think about her
future in politics, and it is obvious, she has bravely made that incredible leap
of faith. Meera has taken the plunge, for better or worse. She contested (and
lost) as an independent candidate in 2008. This time she has picked up the
gauntlet (and jhadoo), donned the AAP topi, and is giving it her best shot. A
lot has changed in the interim. We are living in an era of Boti Kebab politics. There are no issues in
this election. Just personalities and dirty tricks. So, what is a SOBO memsaab
supposed to do to impress voters?
ago, I has accompanied Meera to the Ganesh Murti Nagar, along with a rag
tag army of supporters. It was quite an experience.There was Meera going from door to door trying to
engage residents in a meaningful dialogue. Her language skills in Marathi were
pretty poor at the time, and it was obvious she was not going to win.Today,
Meera is far better equipped ( she has worked hard on her Hindi and Marathi). But
Meera is still Meera – a fancy Memsaab in their eyes – a rich lady in whose
home, perhaps some of them work as domestics. There is no getting away from
that. And to Meera’s credit, she too isn’t running away from addressing their
concerns about her refined background . Instead, she is telling them how she
could use her elevated position and considerable skill sets to help them
improve their lives. The biggest challenge till today, remains the scarcity of water in the area.Women complain they are
forced to pay anything between 500 to
5000 rupees a month to buy water in the black market! How can someone
like a Meera Sanyal fully grasp the enormity of the crisis, they ask anxiously.
“A lady who probably drinks only mineral water at home, will never understand
our problem ”, they sigh. It is the lack of
latrines in this over- crowded, filthy bustee that voters feel most
strongly about. They really don’t give a damn about anything else. Give us latrines and water, and we’ll give
you our vote, they emphasise. Rightly so.
And this is where I feel concerned. Why
should Meera’s SOBO identity or her
upper class background work against her? The fault isn’t Meera’s ( her
sincerity cannot be doubted) . The fault is with the rest of us who live in
SOBO. Those who talk endlessly about the ‘right’ people getting into
Parliament, but refuse to line up with the aam janata on election day to cast a vote. We expect Meera to do our dirty work
for us, because we don’t want to do it ourselves. We say we’re sick of thugs, sick of corruption, sick of unaccountability in public life, sick of just
about everything around us. But we
definitely don’t want to budge from our comfortable homes. Meera has had the
guts to jump into the fray. If voters refuse to look beyond her posh
appearance, it is not her fault! At least Meera is being herself and not
donning deliberately dressed down, crumpled sarees ‘so as to identify with the
hoi polloi.” That is patronizing, condescending, hypocritical and downright
insulting. The only way for Meera to win – if not this election, than the next
– is to win the confidence of her constituency - to prove to her voters she
means business and is capable of getting basics in place for them. Basics!
Like a Congress volunteer sniggered, “ Why
waste time on high flying, high rise wallahs? Milind doesn’t bother about them.
He’s smart. He knows they don’t vote. He focuses on keeping the slum dwellers
happy – Congress style! Meera Sanyal should learn from him.”
Someone really kind and sweet , sent this for me. Thank you, Rama!
This appeared in Asian Age...
Simon Denyer, the former India Bureau chief
of the Washington Post, has published a book titled ‘Rogue Elephant’. In an
interview he claimed he was very optimistic about India, underlining what makes
India a better nation than its main rival, China. “ I believe democracy is what
makes India great.” Given the importance Indians give to opinions expressed by
foreigners ( read: Western press), don’t be surprised if Denyer’s quotes are liberally used by
political parties of varied hues, to push their agendas as D-Day ( 7th
April) rolls up. With less than a month to go before this rogue elephant goes
to the polls, the mood of the moment is decidedly devilish. The voter can
identify more villains than heroes in the wide open field, and that is hardly
comforting! With just one certainty in
place ( If the BJP gets its calculations right and forms the next government at
the Centre, Narendra Modi will become the Prime Minister of India) , there is
enough ammunition / provocation built into that reality to make several
citizens nervous. More than India’s citizens,such an eventuality is making our
neighbours jittery. Understandably so.During
an invigorating panel discussion at the Lahore Lit Fest in February, several
questions were built around the Modi Effect. Audience anxiety was palpable as
concerned Pakistanis expressed their fears for the future of Muslims in India.
I wanted to reassure them that if Modi does indeed become Prime Minister ( and
let me state at this crucial juncture that I have been a very vocal critic of
Modi ), he will go out of his way to placate India’s Muslim population that
makes up a good 15 % ( approximately) of
our 1.3 billion people. Not because he has had a dramatic change of
heart. He will do so because he is one of the shrewdest politicians in the world
right now. Modi is ambitious enough to
seek a place in history books - a place
that shows him in a good light. He is also astute enough to realize how
important it is for him to undo the past, or at any rate, pretend to do so. He
has to make amends, in order to lead the country. Modi may never ever be in a
position to obliterate Godhra from public memory and debate, but given the
chance to head the next government, he will need to prove his secular
credentials convincingly and emphatically. Especially when it comes to America
– a country that has yet to grant Modi a visa. This should come as a great
relief to those who believe Modi will suppress and oppress India’s minorities.
No Sir, he won’t! There is far too much at stake. And as Prime Minister, Modi
will go flat out to overturn his old reputation. More than anything else, Modi now wants to
position himself as a global player. In
order to achieve that objective, he will have to woo world leaders. And the
best way to woo them is via commerce. Investments. Money. Trade. Commerce does
not go well with hate politics. Muslims will be safer and far better off in Modi’s India than with anybody else.
The ‘anybody else’ in this case is Rahul
Gandhi. A well meaning gentleman not known for his intellectual prowess.And
certainly not equipped to lead India. It seems apparent each time one
encounters key Congresswallas, that the old party has conceded defeat before a
single vote has been cast. Denyer had
accurately described Manmohan Singh as a ‘silent but tragic’ figure. With Singh
having diminished himself in such an embarrassing fashion, that leaves just
Rahul and his mama Sonia, to soldier on valiantly to try and save the party’s
tattered image. This, while senior party colleagues make zero attempt to conceal
their resigned and vanquished attitude. Perhaps the fatigue of fighting
corruption charges on all fronts is finally catching up with Congress party
stalwarts and their corporate cronies. This eyes-wide-open response to
corruption is a big first in a country that has passively and patiently looked
the other way during UPA’s brazen misrule . Today, we can take pride in the
fact that India’s vigilant judiciary (and not the army) is calling the shots.
There is finally a glimmer of hope that justice does exists in this 66 year-old
bumbling democracy. Big guns who’d enjoyed immunity and protection for decades
are being systematically reined in by alert law makers. Some of India’s well
entrenched sacred cows are being openly targeted by the likes of ‘anarchist’ Arvind Kejriwal. Nobody would
have imagined that a person like Subrata Roy, who headed a ….. business empire,
would actually be sent to Tihar Jail, where he is presently lodged, sharing a
common criminal’s cell with .. other inmates. Kejriwal himself is not being
spared by a vigilant media which had made a cult hero out of him just a few
months ago. Participating in a vibrant debate in Kolkata recently, it was
encouraging to note how energetically the informed and alert audience members
grilled the panelists, throwing aggressive questions at everyone, including
Salman Khurshid, India’s Minister for External Affairs, and the soft-spoken
Yogendra Yadav, the Aam Aadmi Party representative.
This is democracy at its best. 50% of India
is under the age of 30. These young people are impressed by just one word – JOBS! Unemployment remains the single
biggest issue for these restless, educated boys and girls. There are 70 lakh
unemployed people right now. Whichever party manages to cobble the numbers
together and form the next government, will need to factor in the frustrated
youth of India into the political narrative on a priority basis. Regional
parties playing up caste politics, will no doubt act as the big spoilers at the polls. That is how
it has always been in India’s political scenario. But beyond narrow mindedness and bigotry, the
biggest hope for citizens in Elections 2014 remains the robust economic
potential of India. In the right hands, India could still get back its lost
position as the world’s third most significant superpower. Forget meaningless
debates about New Politics Vs. Old Politics. What India needs is GOOD politics
– with zero tolerance shown towards corruption . I feel pretty upbeat we’ll get
Blogdosts. Hazaar apologies for the long absence.... My laptop was playing up.
There is just soooooo much to post. But It is a Gudi Padwa weekend.... I have earned a break. And Alibag beckons yet again. Sooo.... more on my return anon...
This appeared in Economic Times.... there's one more and one more .... Mumbai Mirror and India Today....
Khushwant Singh: A very nice
man to know!
It takes guts to write the obituary of an
extraordinary man who had made a name for himself writing other people’s
far-from-flattering obituaries (“Why glorify the dead?” he’d asked) ! I had
once done a piece on Khushwant Singh in which I had stated how glad I was that
I hadn’t died before him! Assuming, of course, he’d have been inspired enough
to acknowledge my death in the first place. Many were his contemporaries who
shuddered at the thought of what he would say about them if they ‘left for
their heavenly abodes’, before he did. Well, Khushwant outlived them all, but
more than living to the grand total of 99, he stayed true to the old cliché –
it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years that matters. And
what a life it has been! I would call it an exceedingly charmed one. Khushwant
was fortunate enough to have lived entirely on his own terms. His unfettered
existence defined his iconoclastic brand of writing which attracted three
generations of die hard fans. His columns provided an easy read for readers in
search of mental stimulation packaged
neatly into 700 word capsules. His zest for life came through strongly in his
work. His candid, no nonsense approach
found several admirers who recognized his rare ability to make the most
of every moment… to use the priceless filter of humour …. and just get on with
life. And get on with it, he did, till the very end… waking early and getting
down to work. Behind the façade of a drunken profligate, a reckless philanderer
, carelessly making his way through life
as ‘the world’s most famous sardar’, was a diligent wordsmith who never skipped
a deadline, a disciplined writer who put pen to paper every single day, a
voracious reader with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, an incurable
romantic who could recite exquisite Urdu verse… and of course, an unabashed
lover of beauty. He made no secret of his admiration for a string of gorgeous
ladies who were a part of his daily durbar. And they made no secret of their
love for him. Did that make him a ‘Dirty Old Man’ ? Hell, no! Disappointingly
enough, for all his bluster and blatant public flirting, Khushwant remained an
‘all talk, no action’ charmer. Which was also the reason why beautiful, lonely
ladies felt so comfortable in his company. He
really didn’t give a damn what anybody thought. Oops! There goes myth
number one. He was not a drunkard either, preferring to sip his single malt
like a true connoisseur in a civilized, slow way before ordering an early
dinner and going to bed… with a good book! Yes, he was a bird watcher.
Literally so. He knew his birds and trees (bees too), like he knew his poets
and scholars. There was little he didn’t
know about life…and that’s what made him such a sparkling conversationalist…. who
didn’t want to be invited to his salon? From Ambassadors, Presidents, Prime
Ministers, actors , dancers, writers and public intellectuals, everybody
flocked to sit at Khushwant’s feet and be a part of his charmed circle.
Sometimes, I used to wonder whether
Khushwant was deriving a secret thrill out of misleading people who’d made up
their minds about him. Given his wicked,
irreverent sense of humour, I wouldn’t
be at all surprised if Khushwant had written his own obituary, Khushwant
–style! Now that would be a real literary masterstroke – and entirely in
keeping with Khushwant’s attitude to his own genius. He could laugh at himself
and he taught Indians to laugh at themselves… I think that is his biggest
legacy, given how hyper sensitive we are about our foibles. About his supposed
obsession with sex, Khushwant was upfront and candid when he admitted in an
interview, “Every human being is obsessed by sex…. Every married person has
fantasies about having sex outside marriage… some dare to go ahead and have
affairs, others don’t .” Did he dare, he was cheekily asked by his ravishing
female interviewer. For once, Khushwant Singh blushed before giving an
uncharacteristically non-committal, coy answer. It didn’t surprise those who
knew Khushwant well. But for the rest,
his well guarded secret had inadvertently tumbled out!
I get the feeling Khushwant Singh will be
chuckling away somewhere, watching the tributes pouring in from across the
country. We were the fortunate ones…. those of us who were lucky enough to have
met him, worked with him ( we had collaborated on an anthology), sipped daaru
in his Sujan Singh Park salon, broken bread with his formidably beautiful wife,
heard him hold forth on a host of fascinating topics …and just basked in his
presence. His was a blessed life. And
we, who shared bits and pieces of the
Khushwant magic, were blessed in return.
India Today. Khushwant Singh
The Patiala Peg of Publishing is no more….
Funny. There are some individuals you
imagine will live forever and ever. They become such an intrinsic part of your
life, you start taking their existence entirely for granted…Khushwant Singh was
one such individual. Three generations of avid readers greedily walloped every
word he wrote for public consumption. And suddenly the one man word machine is
gone!! The man in the light bulb just switched it off!!!
I am not going to write a gush-gush obit on
a man who never wrote a gush- gush one himself! How can I…? And insult the
great man himself? Khushwant Singh had almost single handedly raised
irreverence to an art form, in a country that is singularly lacking in irony!
Had he to write his own obit, he wouldn’t have spared himself. So here goes….
this one is for you, Khushwant… uncut and unsparing… just the way you would
have liked it.
me start by busting one or two popular myths. Come on, Singh, you were no
Lothario. You didn’t qualify as the
Great Indian Lover. No way! You were not lecherous. You didn’t grope. You were disappointingly
well behaved! What the world did not know was that you probably suffered from
low self worth. That much touted libido was all inside the turban. Your strike
rate with all those lovely ladies in your durbar was verbal and non-intrusive.
In that sense, you would never have had to ‘recuse’ or lacerate yourself. You,
dear Khushwant, were an incurable romantic… mushy, sentimental and gullible.
Women used you… your contacts … your influence, much more than you ever ‘used’
them. All you really ached for was to be surrounded by beauty… and lashings of
female flattery… God was kind! You received both generously.
As a political commentator, you were far
from astute. If anything, you were hopelessly naïve. In colloquial lingo, you
were a ‘kaan ka kuchha’. People fed you stories… and you believed them. You
were trusting enough of the Gandhi family, to blindly support all that they
proposed and implemented, never once questioning their integrity. Your abject
loyalty to Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay, during the notorious Emergency,
cost you many fans. You lost credibility. But you refused to back down,
obstinately defending the indefensible. This must have dismayed your
contemporaries, who were far shrewder and
politically better aware during this sensitive period. Despite your
embarrassing subjugation to the Gandhis, you found yourself in the political
wilderness soon after. However, the single most impressive act you performed
was by returning the Padma Vibhushan after Operation Bluestar. That took
courage… and you won back the respect of several critics who had been alarmed
by your Gandhi family fixation.
As a man of letters, you never did reach
the heights that were expected of you. Your ‘Train to Pakistan’ remains a
rather flimsy novel, that garnered attention at a time when there was no real
literary competition. Most of the books that followed, made millionaires out of
the publishers, but were essentially a packaging triumph – being compilations
of your columns. However, nobody can take away your glory from ‘The History of
the Sikhs’. This is by far your most significant contribution.
Your obsession with sex was again, a
careful construct. You made a sweeping statement in an interview where you said
every single human being in the world is obsessed by sex. It was a real gem of
a “ Khushwantism”, and in keeping with the image you were trapped in – a bawdy,
lecherous drunk! It was as brilliant as the other one – “ Nobody has yet
invented a condom for the pen.” Why you
went along with this misleading positioning, we ‘ll never know. For those who
love and adore you, insist nothing could be as far- fetched as that foolish
Let’s talk about your branding. I wonder,
were you a party to it! Or did it happen by default? Because, you know what, it
may have sold zillions of books, but it did you enormous disservive. And you,
dear Khushwant, were to the manor born. You were a rich man1 You didn’t need
the money.And how many people know how generous you were with the royalties you
received? Or how many favours you doled out each time you heard a sob story?
How many people know about your mentoring young writers – some with
merit, but most without? How many people were lucky enough to learn the nuts
and bolts of magazine publishing under your dynamic stewardship? Not many. And
this is my big shikayat against you, Khushwant Singh. You played up and played
into all the wrong things, when you could have high lighted your many
achievements and qualities. Your legendary generosity – of spirit… and… spirits…
and more! And your blind trust in sycophants who flocked to your salon and took
full advantage of your position.
Khushwant Singh….let’s face it, you were a
sucker for praise, flattery, chamchagiri. Many great men fall into this very
trap, much to the chagrin of their family members. But what the hell – at least you lived your
life Sardar size…. no regrets, no explanations, no apologies.
Here’s to you, Khushwant Singh – the Patiala
Peg of publishing is no more! But we will continue to raise our glasses and
thank you for liberating us from
our idiotic, hypocritical , fake,
humourless lives… for making us laugh at ourselves… for ridding us of quaint
sexual hang ups… for chucking old rules into the waste basket… for caring a
damn! Jeena isi ka naam hai!
I am sure you are enjoying your evening
Chhota right now… with at least half a dozen celestial apsaras fawning over
you.Heaven just got sexier! Thank you, Khushwant Singh….
Why women loved Khushwant
Let’s be honest : Khushwant Singh was not a
handsome man. He himself reminded the world about this unfortunate physical
fact of life. So, it would be fair to say, women didn’t exactly fall for his
looks… Khushwant didn’t delude himself on this score , either. And yet, some of
Delhi’s most ravishing socialites were his die hard groupies, and used to turn
up for his daily 7pm durbars, dressed to the nines, like they were attending a
ball in Buckingham Palace. Countless other women across India found him equally
irresistible. Why? How? In an age when a man’s six pack does all the talking
and seducing, here was this out of shape guy slumped into a deep armchair,
dressed in an unironed pathan suit ,hair and beard disheveled, legs propped up on a moodah…hardly Casanova
material, right? And yet!He was the much loved Krishna, with no dearth of Gopis
to keep him company, night after night. Possibly, it was Khushwant’s brain that was
considered sexy by hundreds of
accomplished, successful, great looking ladies of varying age groups.
From grand moms in their seventies to nubile PYT’s, nobody was immune to
Khushwant Singh’s charm. Bingo! That’s
the word – charm. Khushwant proved a man didn’t need to dress well (he was an
absolute slob), bathe regularly ( he’d admitted he washed once every three days
– if that), lavish gifts ( he preferred a more cost effective option and
lavished extravagant compliments instead!). All a man had to do was listen
keenly to a woman, understand her sorrows ( most women have secret sorrows!),
and make her feel she was his ‘one and only’. Khushwant was unbeatable in this
regard - let’s call him a one man spa for women ! A few sessions at the
Khushwant Spa, and women emerged feeling refreshed … beautiful! That was it. He
became their wellness mantra. Khushwant( like Gulzar) understood a woman’s
tears. He recited Urdu poetry , stroked a broken ego, pumped up her self esteem when she was
down, and made her believe he genuinely cared for her. In all probability, he
wasn’t putting on an act. But even if that was the case – what the hell!
Khushwant was the pep up pill the doc ordered. And women were grateful – some,
even deeply indebted, to a grisly old so-and-so with a terrible ,
self-generated reputation as India’s Dirty Old Man.
reality, Khushwant Singh was not ‘dirty’ at all – he was consistently kind. He
was the same with men and women, non-entities and celebrities. This was his
most endearing trait. Men were jealous of his success with women. They’d look
at themselves and wonder why those same lovely ladies shunned / snubbed them
but fawned over Khushwant. What did this ‘lecherous’ ( in his own words) writer
have that they didn’t? To these short-sighted men, one was tempted to ask, “
Have you ever looked beyond yourself… and looked into a woman’s heart?” I think
I know the answer to that one!
wish Khushwant had written the definitive guide to understanding women. He
would have tackled it in his own inimitable style, of course, and focused on
how to ‘patao’ girls. I suspect Khushwant’s stated lechery stayed in his mind.
When his wife – the formidable and handsome Sardarni Kawal Malik – was alive,
he was petrified of her, and was undisguisedly hen pecked. After she passed
away, he was a bit too old to indulge in anything more than verbal flirtation.
Women would slavishly hang on to every line he threw at them… and he in turn
would bask in their beauty.
There’s a lesson in there for men looking
to improve their low strike rate with alluring ladies. Instead of talking to a
girl’s chest ( legs or butt), try talking to her secret self… the one she hides
and guards so jealously. Khushwant clearly possessed this special key that
unlocked so many buried female truths. He did so gently, non-obtrusively and
genuinely. What did he want in return? Not much. A perfume soaked caress… a
warm hug… a gentle peck…and of course, the greatest high in the world for most
men – a gorgeous woman’s undivided attention.
There are many who must be mourning
Khushwant – men and women. He had indeed touched countless lives during his 99
years. But what’s the bet it’s the women he nurtured, encouraged, adored and
worshipped, who will miss him the most?
If Khushwant Singh was a Dirty Old Man, I
wish there were hundreds of other Dirty Old Men, equally capable of enriching our lives on every level – emotional,
physical and intellectual.
Converse???? With hard core politicians??? That's a laugh... but I did try!
This appeared in Asian Age....
Happy, Happy… Women
of the World…. It’s our day!
After a really, really long time, here I am
facing yet another Women’s Day, and not
feeling cynical. Has anything changed? Not really. Which can only mean one
thing : I have . Changed, that is. Gone is the raised , skeptical eyebrow, the
scornful comment and the mocking smirk, the disillusioned air, the lofty
disdain … hell, I may even celebrate! This is the time for optimism and hope.
As women, we cannot afford to give up on ourselves. We are a month away from
Elections 2014. And the scenario is changing by the minute, as it were. There
are no givens, this time. There is nothing we can take for granted. Forget Poll
Pundits and all those predictions. The arithmetic simply does not add up, no
matter who is doing the calculations. Which is why it is important to hang on
to our common sense, observe the goings on carefully, engage in the process
with passion and commitment, and do ones bit with sincerity, keeping US and our
specific interests in sharp focus throughout.
Sure, the shifting political narrative is
leading to serious confusion in the minds of voters. More women in the Prime
Ministerial race means more to think about. There’s a fresh cast of characters and the
race has just hotted up. Mamata now says
she will support Jayalalitha as prime Minister. Hey Bhagwan! Miraculously, as
it were, we have feisty Didi on ferocious Amma’s side. Which ought to scare
opponents. Two ambitious power ladies with their loyal supporters, ganging up
against the usual suspects are bound to generate panic in political circles.
Throw in Mayawati, and the game gets hotter still. All three are formidable ,
single women who talk turkey and terrorise those who stand in their way. Mighty
male colleagues of this triumvirate are
known to shiver in their pants when the women are on a war path. Known for
their quick tempers and harsh words, these are women you don’t ever want to mess with. Will they make good
prime ministers? Big question.
Narendra Modi’s shrewd self-positioning as a no nonsense strongman,
out to crack the whip and straighten out India, is seen as a virtue by supporters.
His megalomania is also touted as a positive trait (“ Narendrabhai’s personality
is such… we need a leader who projects power”). Rahul Gandhi, on the other
hand, is displaying softer skills and channeling his inner woman convincingly.
There is a great deal of appeal in his
approach, especially for Young India and
the female voter. As of now, these are the choices in front of us. And I am not
throwing Mulayam Singh into this khichdi. Nor Arvind Kejriwal, for that matter.
Arvind on the outside, may do much more for the country’s larger interests than
Arvind on the inside, expending precious energy on aiming for the top job ( a
case of premature ejaculation).
How does any of this pan out for the women
of India? Well, there is an upside to the issue in that women count big time in
2014 and will without a doubt swing the votes in this election. We saw that
happening with Arvind in Delhi. It was women who voted out another woman (
Sheila Dixit). And women who backed Kejriwal. This, of course, was directly related
to the Nirbhaya case and Dixit’s arrogant response to it. If one can give the
benefit of the doubt to Kejriwal for that shocking comment on khaap panchayats
( Yogendra Yadav insists his own response was misquoted), it would be fair to
say that Arvind is seen as being sympathetic to women’s issues. With Modi, it
is a case of accepting his bombastic
promises, while also examining his track record ( to be fair, Gujarat has
indeed introduced several important pro-women initiatives).
These are the main political actors we have
to pick from, unfortunately. But the story beyond politics, beyond legislation,
is the more interesting one. If real, ground level change is taking place, it
is inside the heads and hearts of our women. This emphatic refusal to remain
passive onlookers and stay mum, is the driver that will eventually bring about
change in real terms. There is a quiet, female revolution underway that is
making itself evident through popular culture ( perhaps, the most sensitive
barometer to monitor attitudinal shifts). It is movies like ‘Queen’ which will
push social boundaries and act as a wake up call for a complacent society. It
is time to acknowledge what is actually going on across India (a lot!). Translated,
it is indeed leading to something positive
and inspiring for our women.
Meanwhile, I am tempted to participate in
all those Women’s Day activities I once shunned and deemed ‘meaningless’ –
awards functions, special screenings for women, discounted cocktails, mad,
giddy parties for women, by women. Why not? Lectures and seminars are one way
of reclaiming our space. But hey – what
about something jolly and frivolous, too? Women’s Day need not be a grim
reminder of all that is terrible about our lives. It can equally be a
celebration of all that is wonderful. This year, I am opting for wonderful.
Here’s to us!!!