Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dear Parents: Honey Singh isn't to blame, you are

(Published in Sify.com on July 25, 2014, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/dear-parents-honey-singh-isnt-to-blame-you-are-news-topnews-ohyvRgbfajedb.html)

I have been watching with some amusement over the last few days, as the open letter to Honey Singh from a parent gets Twitter and Facebook mileage. It is rather remarkable that so many parents believe the responsibility to ensure that their children don’t learn “foul language” rests with Honey Singh, and not themselves.
Clearly, parents would rather have films avoid all depiction of alcohol, smoking, and all that is deemed vulgar, lyrics censored and books rewritten, than have an open discussion with their children about sifting through the various stimuli that come at them. Children are impressionable, parents are busy, and therefore pop culture needs to stifle itself. Umm. Not quite.
When I posted my opinions on Facebook, a couple of parents agreed with me, saying it becomes rather easy for people to blame pop culture for its “evil influence” on their children, rather than choose not only what their children are exposed to, but also how they react to the exposure. Most people took umbrage. Apparently, parents don’t want to be seen as “controlling”, and therefore the onus is on society to censor itself.
The fact is, I haven’t involuntarily heard a single Honey Singh song. I Googled him around the time of the “Balatkari” controversy, and that was the first I had heard of his music.
Our channels take their moral policing so seriously that they beep out words like “ass”. So, Harvey Two-Face in India is grateful to Batman for “saving [his] beep.”
However, most entertainment channels are in competition to produce reality shows involving children. Worse, they find parents who are only too happy to enter their children in these contests, and who weep miserably when the children lose.
First of all, the idea of reality shows for children is cruel and ugly. But, if you must enter your child in one, the least you can do is be supportive, and show him or her that winning is not everything.
Often, it appears to me that the majority of parents doesn’t monitor their offspring at all, and then whines about pop culture.
Children are incredibly sexualised these days. I know parents who dress their children up in item number costumes and itsy-bitsy bikinis, because “this is the only time they can wear it”. Some find it “cute” to make their children dance to item numbers and ape the moves of the actresses.
The latest rage is usually an item number, and these songs play at all events from weddings to children’s birthday parties. The fact is, they ideally should not be playing at events which are open to all ages. The fact also is, parents should not blame the makers of such music, but the people who choose to play the music at these events.
Those of us who are in our twenties and thirties now – many of whom have little children – grew up during Silk Smitha’s heyday. Our excitement with television – which acquired cable when we were little kids – and our parents’ lack of paranoia precluded our being shielded from these. However, I don’t think my friends grew up thrusting their nonexistent busts at imagined cameras. I certainly didn’t.
Like most children, I turned to the adults in the family in order to temper my opinion to the norm, through imitation. My mother would usually shudder at the songs, and my takeaway was the addition of the word “vulgar” to my vocabulary.
My friend, independent journalist Sandhya Menon, who has two young children, made an excellent point about replacing dialogue between parents and children with bans. “I was impressionable, just like scores of kids are, but I also had a solid, gentle, equal conversation going with my parents so that I could parse the crap and decide for myself. The minute you as a parent take away conversation and replace it with bans, judgement and authority, you’ve lost the chance to raise a kid who can think for herself and in fact say, yoyowhatsisface is an idiot.”
She also agreed with the idea that one cannot demand that another forfeit his or her right to speak: “As for the general argument that [children are] being exposed to it outside the home, well, they’re also being exposed to consumerism, greedy competition to top a class no matter what the cost, and carbon monoxide. To feel as a parent you have the right to ask for sanitisation of pop culture or curb expression is a tad self-important.”
So, perhaps, rather than blame Honey Singh for their children’s vocabulary, people ought to see that they have failed as parents if they refuse to keep channels of conversation with their children open, and refuse to understand that children are not imbeciles.
They can be trusted to make their decisions, because they look to guidance from people they trust – most often, their parents.
I know several children who have prompted their families to turn vegetarian by pointing out that it is cruel to eat animals. I have little cousins who chide me for littering, and for buying plastic bags because I can’t be bothered to take a bag along when I shop. Usually, they tend to have some effect, chiefly because it’s embarrassing to be told off by someone half one’s size.
My point is, children can sift through what’s right, when they are empowered to do so. When we shun the responsibility and blame pop culture, we are infringing on the rights of other people.
I don’t care for Honey Singh’s music or lyrics, but he does have a right to continue doing what he is. I have a choice between patronising him and rejecting him. So do the children.

Writer's Bloc

(Published in The Friday Times, on July 25, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/writers-bloc/)


Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times

Often, I think I’m lucky to be a published author with prospects – I love that I can tell people I’m “working on my next book” when all I’m doing is updating my Facebook page, tweeting, and sleeping 14 hours a day. The tag of underpaid author who stands to be screwed over by greedy publishers, the digital media, and an almost illiterate audience is a decent cover for the unemployed bum who waits anxiously for the new season of House of Cards.
However, there are times when I wonder whether I would not be better off snapping at earnest young graduates and pretending to be all stressed out at a regular desk job, with decent perks, a generous salary and guiltless coffee breaks. Those times usually coincide with my book readings, where I am likely to meet the following species:
The Attacker
This person comes into his own at the Q and A session – really, why do they have those? He has decided, without reading your book and without intending to, that he hates you. He will stand up and set out to prove that your research is not deep enough, that your title is misleading, that your book does not cover the scope of his worldview, and that you generally have a personal vendetta against him. I have had a doctor tell me that 30 interviewees is not a good enough “sample size”. I have had a septuagenarian housewife tell me that my book looks at women who are too young to have “the right opinion” about marriage. I have had several people tell me that I am biased for interviewing 25 women and 5 men for a book about women’s attitudes to marriage.
The Idea-Giving Autobiography Provider
This person will start off by telling you what sort of book you should have written. He or she will suggest what your next work of fiction or non-fiction should focus on. Then, s/he will reveal that s/he buried the lead, with this pronouncement, accompanied by a coy downward look: “In my life also, I have experience so much.” S/he will then proceed to provide you – and the rest of the already fidgety audience – with a detailed account of his or her extremely boring life. It usually goes something like, “I think you young people should write more about brain drain into the USA and Europe. See, I have four sons who are all settled in the States. And when my wife and I go there for six months of the year, I look at their infrastructure, and think how our country can do so much more, and we can achieve so much more, if we only had the same infrastructure.”
The Autobiography Hunter
I am not sure whether this person is out to prove that you are not qualified to write the book, or to find out everything s/he can about your personal life. But at every book reading, someone wants to know “to what extent your book is autobiographical”. I once told a lady that mine was a work of non-fiction, and the autobiography will be apparent when I say “I”. She asked, with unwarranted desperation, “But can you at least tell me what percentage is autobiographical? Are you married? Have you had an arranged marriage? If so, are you happy in the marriage?” Okay, lady, would you like to know my chaddi size while you’re at it?
The Moneyless Buyer
I have never been to a book reading where someone has not come up to me with a book to sign and said, “Hi. I am not carrying any money at present, but can I have my driver drop off the money to you tomorrow?” I am not sure whether they have me confused with a fisherwoman hawking her catch at a market, or whether they assume all writers buy a number of their books and stack them up at readings, with the hope of selling for a profit. I am not sure whether they came with the intention of going back empty-handed, and were charmed into a purchase by my quips. But they want the book, they have no money, and they expect a solution from me.
The Autograph Prospector
This person’s motives are admirably clear. S/he has no intention of spending money on your book, but will ask for your autograph on a scrap of paper, in the hope that it may be worth something on the off-chance that you become famous.
The Advice Asker
Some people wash up at book readings in the hope that their brilliance will be recognised by your publisher. In order to draw attention to themselves, they will stand up and ask you in a version of English, “Kindly please give your advice for aspiring novelists.” I usually suggest they write in a language in which they are comfortable. They tend to take offence.
The Quid-Pro-Quo Interviewer
The kind people in the marketing department of my publishing house line up interviews for me. These reporters act like they are doing me an enormous favour, which I am duty-bound to reciprocate. One sent me her resume with a peremptory order to find her a job “using [my] contacts” in my city. Another sent me an outline of her dissertation project for advice. A third sent me his pitch for a novel, and asked whether I could please send it to my publishers “through the right channels”.
The Misquoter
Apparently, it is the fashionable thing to do for journalists to dispense with a recorder. And so, rather often, I find myself unpleasantly surprised by things I am purported to have said. I also discovered that I had written the world’s first “non-fiction novel” and “semi-fictional autobiography”.
The Unsolicited Mentor
This person is usually in his or her fifties, has self-published a flop book, and had a spat with the publisher who was set to publish it before s/he took it into his or her own hands. S/he tells you s/he is here to rescue you from a similar fate. Before you know it, you’re assigned a poorly-written novel to copy edit.
The Nouveau Riche Promoter
For some reason, there is a trend of socialites trying to buy the literati into their social circle. In these people’s houses, an original M F Husain painting will hang alongside a 5-dollar print of the Empire State Building. Vikram Seth, John Grisham, the Bible and Richard Dawkins will cohabit the bookshelves. You are asked to a literary dinner, and find yourself among ten diffident writers and fifty socialites who want selfies with every author, because they’re not sure which one in the gathering has won a Nobel Prize, or whether that’s the same thing as a Booker.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dhoti row: Why are we so obsessed with clubs?

(Published in Sify.com, on July 20, 2014, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/dhoti-row-why-are-we-so-obsessed-with-clubs-news-columns-ohusl0feihdif.html)

The denial of entry to Justice D Hariparanthaman by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association has opened up yet another row over the dress codes of clubs, and caused everyone to ask whether this is a “colonial hang-up”.
Even as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa threatens to take legal action against the club for insulting the “traditional dress” of the state, a discussion has been triggered in India as well as abroad over the sartorial guidelines of clubs.
The TNCA does not ban just dhotis. It bans T-shirts, kurtas, salwar trousers, and sandals for men.
There have been numerous instances in the past, where a colonial era club has been embroiled in a controversy over attire.
A few years ago, there were demonstrations at the Calcutta Club after the artist Shuvaprasanna was asked to leave for not conforming to the dress code – he had arrived to attend an event in kurta-pyjama. Earlier, M F Husain had been turned away for the same reason. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and Rajaji, had declined an invitation because of the dress code.
The refusal of entry to L K Advani at the Delhi Gymkhana Club prompted a row in Parliament.
In 2002, Professor G Mohan Gopal, the head of Bangalore’s National Law School resigned his membership to the Bangalore Club in disgust, after being denied entry when he arrived in a dhoti for the Republic Day celebrations.
I have personally come across situations which would be howlers in any other country. I was scheduled to interview an author at the Madras Club. I saw him arrive from his room, and then disappear for a few minutes, after a conversation with the manager. Apparently, he could not pass through the dining hall in his informal attire, though he would be free to wear his T-shirt in the verandah, where I was waiting for him. A friend once told me how a journalist was asked to wear a tie at a Press Club. After asking whether that was their only stipulation, he went to the restroom, and emerged wearing nothing but his underwear and tie.
In every such case, the members of the club – or at least, the majority of members – have defended the dress code.
Rather than argue with the codes of these clubs, we should perhaps think about the relevance and importance of such clubs.
Most were founded to allow the white sahibs to bond with each other – and occasionally, with their sycophants in the civil service. Some were established in protest against the racism, which restricted Indians from holding memberships. However, all of them aspired to be British, evidenced by their dress code.
Even now, most people I know sneer at clubs which were always open to Indian members.
I find the pride people take in their membership to these clubs amusing.
Yes, they do have rather good facilities – the libraries are well-stocked, the gym equipment is in decent working condition (since it is mostly used by geriatrics), and the swimming pools are clean.
But these (perhaps excluding the library) are facilities one could find anywhere – including in the recently-built apartment complex where I own a flat.
So, what exactly is the source of the members’ pride? Does it stem from the fact that their ancestors merited the approval of the British? Does it stem from the fact that they married men whose ancestors merited the approval of the British – for most of these clubs do not allow women to join on their own account?
Recently, I was talking to some people at a book event that was hosted in one such club. I was asked whether I thought the “club culture” would last. I wondered what this “club culture” really meant. Was it an obsession with rules? Was it the idea of exclusivity?
I answered honestly – most people in my generation don’t see the point of the clubs, at least in my circle. We would rather go places where we are welcomed on our own merit. We would rather not be told how to dress.
I resent the idea of a dress code universally.
I don’t see why temples stipulate that I must wear a saree or a salwar kameez “with dupatta”, or why men are required to wear “full pants” or dhotis, as if we were convent-school teenagers who had to be kept from checking each other out. You know, “I see your muscled calf and raise you my expansive bust.”
I don’t see why I should cover my head in a gurdwara or dargah. I refuse to travel to any country that enforces a dress code.
Nightclubs say they insist on formal footwear and trousers for men to “keep the riffraff out”. But does the fact that a man wears formal shoes and trousers preclude him from harassing anyone?
Bizarrely, a few years ago, a nightclub called Blacks refused entry to a sari-clad woman. The manager was quoted as saying, “Nowhere in the country are women allowed to enter discotheques wearing saris. How can a woman dance wearing a sari? It attracts unwanted attention.”
I suppose any organisation is free to make its own rules.
We have a choice between indulging them and boycotting them.
I would not want to enter any place that forbids me from wearing a saree, or requires me to cover my head. And everyone is free to decide whether they would deign to humour such rules, or skip the need to do so – by avoiding the organisation in question.

Filmi Chakkar: What Bollywood taught us about love

(Published in The Friday Times, on July 18, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/filmi-chakkar/)


Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times


I belong to a generation that has failed fantastically at love. It’s not that we don’t meet people; it’s not that we don’t fall in love; it’s not even that we don’t finally settle down with someone who is perfect. Our failure lies in the journey towards that person who makes us not want to kill ourselves for ever contemplating a future with him or her.

We do the stupidest things. We panic over the stupidest things. We behave like teenagers when we are in our twenties.

Following a conversation over coffee – which, like most conversations over coffee, dealt mainly with relationships, I had an epiphany. The reason our perception of love is so messed up is...Bollywood.

Here are ten things Bollywood taught us about love:

The key to compatibility is a difference in station and attitude; khaandaani dushmani comes in handy

Of course, the world is in denial of the fact that Romeo and Juliet were prize idiots. If they had cut out the drama, and eloped quietly, they would have been making babies till they got tired of each other, and Romeo would eventually have been consigned to the Mediaeval version of the sofa.
But Bollywood refuses even to recognise that their story was a tragedy. They set the bar for all grand love stories, and so, for decades, our heroes and heroines have been dying for each other – and as they are required not to offend our cultural sensibilities, they usually fail to consummate their relationship.

The solution to unrequited love is persistence – everyone loves a stalker

You know how the heroine always hates the hero to start with? She’s repulsed by his clothes, his bawdiness, his gang of chamchas, his love of song-and-dance. She turns away when he approaches her; she gathers her gang of chamchis and bursts into retaliatory dance to scare him away; she occasionally calls the cops on him. But once he starts sexually harassing her – by having her car tyres punctured, offering her a ride on a bike so he can do the stop-short move, or sniffing around her at a bus stop, or generally following her and trying to grab her butt – she falls for him.

Every parent dreams that his or her daughter will marry the most evil man alive

Have you, like, met a family that is organising an arranged marriage in real life? Everyone from the istriwallah to the local MP is recruited to spy on the groom, and alert someone from the bride’s family when the ‘boy’ is observed to have a ‘bad habit’. This habit could be smoking, looking at posters of busty women, drinking, or waving to a girl he knows. The alliance will be immediately rejected, and the hounds will be supplied with fresh blood.

But this does not hold in Bollywood. The chief qualification for a man to merit the post of parent-picked groom is that he must be cruel to animals and humans alike. This guy will grab a sandwich from your fat little cousin; he will shoot pigeons; he will leer at your aunties. And your parents want you to make babies with him, till your raggedy lover washes up at your doorstep and allows your fat cousin to score a six in five-a-side cricket.

Without opposition, lovers will lose the enthusiasm to stay in touch

This was the lesson that the painful Mausam tried to reinforce. Hindu boy loves Muslim girl, or the other way around; the parents are happy. The couple is happy. But, someone shifts house, and that’s it. Your love is doomed, unless you happen to travel halfway across the world and meet at a traffic signal.

Singing sad songs in the rain makes more sense than honest conversation

Those three-and-a-half-hour movies would last forty-five minutes if someone had the brains to pretend to get drunk, and blurt out “I love you”. Bollywood has never heard of the world’s most asinine, but world’s most acceptable, excuse: “I’m sorry. It was the alcohol talking.”

If you fall in love with your best friend, hope his wife will die

He won’t notice you, because he can’t hear the mournful alaaps that play out in the background every time he snubs you and you well up. He can’t see your tears because he’s checking out the rack of the new chick in class. But never mind. He will marry and reproduce, and once his wife is out of the way, his progeny will seek you out for his second innings.

The way to a man’s heart is a chiffon saree

Bollywood’s favourite all-weather garment is the chiffon saree. Whether you’re jumping by the seaside, or hurtling towards your death on the Swiss alps, you look best doing it in a chiffon saree. These are especially useful when it rains, and you’re trying to convince a man you have the curves to go with your culinary skills.

There is no scope for love outside college – unless you join the armed forces

If you haven’t chanced upon anything worth your attention along the college corridors, make sure you flunk your final exams. Repeat the process until you get desperate enough to stalk someone into submission. Happy life. Failing this, if you’re a man, your only option is to enlist. Hopefully, you’ll meet a reporter, or a spy, who will make a good bahu. If you’re a woman, go marry the evil pigeon-shooter.

If you have no dress sense, latch on to the certified hot chick

Some mechanic, or the son of some mechanic, will eventually woo her and introduce her to his blind, widowed, or deluded mother. He will usually have a best friend to supply the comedy track to his life. If you play your cards right, the friend will marry you.

It is important to choose a man with a lookalike

Now, what do you do if your lover dies? Cry? Mourn? All right. Now, let’s say he has a doppelganger halfway across the world. Problem solved, no? Just make sure he’s not your lover’s father or son, because, you know, Bollywood mothers tend to lose their kids in fairs and suchlike – and the shock of realisation makes them lose their memories too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

For whom the bell peals

(Published in the July 2014 issue of Shubh Yatra magazine, retrieved from http://www.shubh-yatra.in/emag/july14/#/ShubhYatra/52​)

It’s rather awkward when one is deemed an expert on a subject one has no practical experience of. Since Hitched was released, I’ve been accosted by journalists, young men and women, uncles and aunties, who expect a verdict on arranged marriage – is it more durable than ‘love marriage’? Why are more people getting divorced nowadays? Is social networking making people act out their marriages for the public? Why do people marry ‘late’? I’ve been accused on behalf of my generation of being too fussy about a partner. I’ve been told the problem is that modern women don’t ‘adjust’.
The fact is, neither arranged marriage nor love marriage makes ‘more sense’. I belong to a generation in which almost everyone has dated, even been in long-term relationships, earlier than their parents have; but most of us have stayed unmarried for longer than they did. I can think of several reasons for this, but perhaps the most important is that we have witnessed too many unhappy marriages to rush into partnerships that seem superficially promising. For the previous generation, marriage was about uniting gene pools. For the one before – our grandparents’ – it was about securing a financial future for women, and perhaps breaking the world’s population record. Our generation tends to think marriage is about people, not progeny and DNA.
Why is it that writers so often find love with their editors or readers, actors with their producers, colleagues or fans, teachers with students, and journalists with each other? I suppose we all look for patronage (well, and flattery). That’s a tricky ask in any marriage, love or arranged. For some people, the way out of a bad marriage is divorce. For others, it’s having children, under the illusion that if you whistle long enough and loud enough, you can drown out your problems. Maybe the impracticality of the latter option has hit us, and that’s why there are more divorces today than a few decades ago.
Often, parents believe it is their duty to step in when their children seem not to know what they want. That’s a terrible idea. A confused person is easy to brainwash, but when s/he comes to his or her senses, s/he will almost certainly harbour resentment against the washer of his or her brains. It’s equally dangerous to foster the idea that someone should get married to make the ‘elders’ happy. Our temperaments and socioeconomic milieu don’t allow us to make the ‘sacrifices’ the previous generation had the luxury of making. And science allows us to take our time to reproduce – worst case, it can be outsourced to a surrogate.
Sometimes, people want to get done with their list of parental duties so that they can time their retirement and budget their pilgrimages. ‘Get child married’ needs to be crossed off that list. What parents often don’t realise is that it has no place on that bucket list. Like Khalil Gibran said (and every parent should read the entire poem): Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
Your marriage is about you, not your family. And it’s fine to hold a prejudice, as long as you’re honest about it. To me, the idea of an arranged marriage always seemed like a compromise, even during extended periods of single-dom. That may not be the general case; but it was the case for me. The events in my personal life since then have proven me right.
So, the only advice I have to give people who are in two minds about getting married is: Never underestimate your instinct. Once that’s taken care of, if you decide to get married, don’t let anyone bully you into a wedding you don’t want, just as you didn’t let them bully you into a marriage you didn’t want. Marry someone you trust, because the easiest way to weaken a relationship is to check up on your partner. If your marriage isn’t working, don’t be afraid to admit you made a mistake. And, to draw a parallel with the airlines’ emergency instructions, get to know yourself before you venture to get to know anyone else.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

“Do it. I made my career taking risks”: To the friend and mentor you were to be, Jehangir




I’ve spoken to a friend on the phone. I’ve been texting my former colleagues. I’ve been looking at old messages I had exchanged with Jehangir Pocha. I’ve looked at the email I had sent him to say I was leaving NewsX, and his reply. I’ve looked at photographs of Jehangir. And I still can barely believe he is gone.

It seems so cruel, so unfair, that someone so vital and positive and considerate and brilliant should leave at a time in his life when he had everything – his channel was topping the ratings, he had a young family full of promise, and he was looking after his health.

When I first met Jehangir Pocha, I was part of a very disillusioned team. NewsX had had a wonderful launch in 2007, under Vir Sanghvi, with such a fantastic pool of talent that many of us found not just great colleagues, but also close friends in the office. When Vir and his team of senior editors left, the organisation sank. Our office was crawling with people who smelled of alcohol and paan. Stinker emails were regularly exchanged. Often, Hindi swearwords would be heard. Most people were waiting to leave. Some of us were too attached to the organisation to want to quit, and were hoping for change.

Change walked in one day, from a game of golf. Just hearing Jehangir speak, I felt a surge of positivity. Perhaps it was the jaunty way he carried himself. Perhaps it was the fact that he seemed permanently amused. Perhaps it was the fact that he sent out a mail which used the term “s/he”. But I knew, somehow, that this channel was in good hands.

Through the first few days of his time in office, he held meetings with every team – anchors, output, input, editors, technicians, PCR, cameramen, graphics. He was keen to understand how everything worked and, more importantly, how everyone felt.

Like most people, I rolled my eyes at the idea of a ‘meeting’. But these meetings were different. Jehangir made no speeches. He asked us questions – sharp, intelligent questions. One would think he had been running a news channel all his life.

Someone addressed him as “Mr Pocha”. He smirked, rolled his eyes and raised an eyebrow in what we would later come to recognise as his signature reaction to most things.

Mister Poah-chah!” he grinned.

“Well, I don’t feel like calling you ‘sir’,” the employee said.

“So call me ‘Jehangir’, man,” he said.

His aura of dignity and confidence belied his age – he was just over 40 at the time, and had one of the most challenging jobs in the media world: take over an English news channel in India, and make it work.

He was always in the news room. He had opinions on everything – the colours of the anchors’ clothes, the wording of the stories, the way his employees behaved in office. But they were just opinions. He was our boss, but he was also our friend.

Once, he saw me reading God Created the Integers by Stephen Hawking, and began to speak to me about science, and my interest in it. After that day, every time he passed by my desk in office, he would challenge me to a sum. The sum was usually a number riddle, involving a “guy from AIESEC who thinks he’s very smart because he’s from AIESEC” – a little joke on himself.

Under him, reporters were allowed to do the stories they wanted. Often, he would have a story idea and choose someone to do it. I got off the desk, and reported. He arranged for me to be off the shift roster for the two stories I wanted to do.

Like most news organisations, we got sued over a story. He had written the script, I had done the voiceover, a business correspondent had done a piece-to-camera. The business correspondent and I were sued. So was the cameraman, for good measure. It was a frivolous case. Where most bosses would have sent out an email telling us it was all taken care of, Jehangir called us to his office, reassured us personally that we would not even have to go to court, and that it was an empty case. But he sat us down and asked whether we had any questions.

As we left, he said, "By the way, getting sued is a great thing for your résumés" and winked.

My friendship with Jehangir really began after I resigned from NewsX. He would often speak about how he was going to revamp the channel, and we had all started calling it ‘NewsY’. I wanted to take time off to write a book. I was shy about admitting it, since I had no book contract, no back-up, and no scope at the time. This is what I wrote:

“I was hoping to be part of the NewsX team that will relaunch the channel. But certain developments in my personal life have necessitated that I spend more time in Madras. Under the circumstances, I have decided to leave.

I want to thank you for the trust you've placed in me. I have learnt a lot at NewsX, and have had the opportunity to work on the desk, report and anchor at the channel. Under your leadership, I'm sure 'NewsY' will go the distance, and I will miss being a part of the team here.

Do believe me when I say I will look forward to the relaunch even when I'm not a part of the staff anymore, and my sense of ownership of the channel has grown a little bit more every day of the over-two-years I have spent here. Some of my colleagues have become my closest friends, and I will treasure this part of my life.

Last of all, thank you for the direction the channel has taken since January. I feel privileged to have been part of the journey so far.”

Jehangir sent a reply immediately. I was to see him in his office.

“Are you getting married?” he asked, with a grin, when I went.

“No. I’m not.”

“You’re blushing.”

“I’m...I want to write a book.”

“A book?”

“Yeah.”

This was 2009. Anyone who had a job was thankful. Anyone who was paid as much as I was clung on for dear life. And here I was, throwing it all away to write a book.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Good. Then you should do it. I’ve made my career taking risks. So, you’re writing a book?”

“Yeah. Two, actually. And I want to write plays too.”

Jehangir smiled. “Okay, you can go, as long as you make me a character in one of your stories”, he said.

I did eventually write a book, published in 2013. I called up to invite him to the launch, in Delhi. He said he would try his best to make it. He couldn’t come, but called up to apologise. It turned out his mother had been in hospital, and he was in Bombay at the time.

That’s how considerate Jehangir was – he would call up a former employee to apologise for missing her book launch, from his mother’s hospital room.

“So, what’s next?” he asked.

That’s how enthusiastic Jehangir was – he expected me to be thinking about my next book when the launch of my first book was on.

I told him about my next book, which is centred on the idea of consensual incest. Most people would pause when I told them.

“That’s an excellent subject,” he said, and began to speak about stories of consensual incest that he was acquainted with. He offered to help me with my research, an offer I accepted gladly.

That’s why Jehangir is so loved – he was a busy man, with very little time to spare, but during the time he did take out for you, he was all yours. And he would do his best to help you with every little thing.

Congratulations were due to him too. He had just had twins – Darius and Naira.

“Do come home and visit us,” he said.

“I’d love to.”

“And, listen, I’m not being formal. Call up next time you’re in town.”

“Jehangir, I haven’t forgotten that promise. I’m writing a character based on you.”

Jehangir laughed. “Show me when we meet.”

We never got to meet. The character was written, and the play was staged – the character was a witty lawyer with a razor-sharp mind and a love for the well-timed quip. I had named the character ‘Darius’, after Jehangir’s little boy, and I was looking forward to his reaction.

I’m still too shocked to believe it, and too shocked to cry. All I feel is horror and resentment. I knew we were going to become closer over the years. I had already framed my dedication to him in the acknowledgment page of my next book. I had kept my promise of writing a character based on him. And he is not there for any of it.

It’s unfair.

I spoke to a friend yesterday, a friend who knew him very well, much longer and much better than I did. We spoke about how no one had just a single line to say in tribute. Jehangir had a personal bond with every one of the people who had worked under him, however short their acquaintance had been.


And there is no greater tribute to his kindness, generosity, intelligence, patience and affability than the fact that none of us can look at his infectious smile without feeling a sense of absolute emptiness today.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rahul's nap: 5 excuses the Congress leadership should have used

(Published in Sify.com, on July 11, 2014, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/rahuls-nap-5-excuses-the-congress-leadership-should-have-used-imagegallery-5-national-ohlp13gehcfaj.html)


Since the perpetually young 44-year-old Rahul Gandhi was caught snoozing – hold on, let’s not call it that, he was only closing his eyes, resting his neck, allowing his cheek muscles to go slack, and yawning – the Congress leadership has had to deal with its first controversy in its new, powerless state.

Its leaders, who can usually be relied upon to ram their feet into their mouths, initially showed some promise, with the following howlers:

Praful Patel did his version of if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest-and-no-one-hears-it-fall-does-it-make-a-sound, with this gem: “Just because people close their eyes in Parliament doesn’t mean they are sleeping.”

He was outdone by Rajiv Shukla, who theorised that Rahul Gandhi was shutting his eyes and listening to the debate very carefully, and then posited that Vajpayee used to do the same.

And then, Abhishek Manu Singhvi contradicted himself in trademark style – first denying that Rahul Gandhi napped, and then bringing up the fact that H D Deve Gowda used to nap regularly on the dais.

I’m fairly sure the UPA, which is otherwise unoccupied for the moment, will come up with more howlers, but here are a few to aid their cause:

Rahul-ji was not napping; he was praying

In this, he is following the footsteps of his allies. A few years ago, then Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar generously offered to pray for rain in the face of farmer suicides.

Clearly, as the Parliament was discussing price rise, and no one has been able to come up with solutions, our Gandhi family scion decided that actions speak louder than words, and spent his time communing with the Almighty for deliverance.

Rahul-ji was empathising with the visually impaired

We all know Rahul makes a habit of empathising with people by temporarily stepping into their shoes – or, their homes, and appropriating their food and bedding.

In this vein, he was simply trying to understand what life must be like for a visually impaired politician on a regular day in Parliament. Now, let’s all appreciate how thoughtful, generous, insightful and perceptive Rahul Gandhi is.

Rahul-ji was meditating

He wanted a break from the din and confusion of the Parliament. Sitting right behind the speaker as he was, he needed to focus all his energies on meditating upon the latter’s words.

Price rise is a serious issue, and Rahul Gandhi had to channel all his Zen towards understanding it.

Rahul-ji was protesting, like Yogendra Yadav

I mean, AAP are bachus, okay? They were born, like, yesterday. And if Yogendra Yadav can protest by sleeping, why the hell can’t Rahul Gandhi do the same? He is, after all, from the fourth generation of this democracy’s most dominating dynasty.

And if he’s going to get his own meme out of it, is he not entitled?

So what if this was not a police station? You are equally captive in Parliament. Your food is subsidised and supplied by the taxpayers. You are paid a pittance to potter about. The only real difference is that, as an MP, you are empowered to give yourself a hike, which is not quite the case when you’re a prisoner. But let’s not split hairs, now.

Has that Rahul Gandhi meme gone up on Reddit yet?

Rahul-ji was observing a moment of silence for Brazilian football

He is a citizen of the world, you see. And if Angela Merkel can skip meetings because of the German team, hell, Rahul Gandhi can skip a few paragraphs in mourning the Brazilian team.

As if it were not bad enough that the World Cup is held at timings that are the opposite of conducive to all the gainfully employed in this part of the world, Brazilian football officially died one night, and no one bothered paying homage.

Rahul Gandhi, though, decided that 12.33 pm was the appropriate time to observe a moment of silence.

In fact, if you look closely, you will even see a black...well, not armband, but neckband.
Subtlety, as we all know, has always been his strong suit, and this was his subtle tribute to the exit of Scolari’s thugs from the tournament.
So, before we get all excited about his erstwhile mentor Digvijay Singh saying he doesn’t have the temperament of a leader, let’s be judicious and understand that someone who is yawning and snoring is not necessarily sleeping. Ask George Berkeley.

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