The Marriage Market

Okay, on popular demand, here is my short story ‘The Marriage Market’ published in the September issue of Verve magazine. Yes, I know my website is finally back up after one year (yes ONE YEAR and a million thanks to genius Ankush Thakur for that) but we’ll chat about the hows and whys of that later. For the moment, here goes. And the illustration is courtesy Salil Sojwal for Verve.

“So, what are your hobbies?”

I stare at him, dumbstruck. Is this a joke? Because no grown-up man with his marbles in place would say that. Right? He is grinning expectantly at me, the toothbrush moustache barely stirring, his curly hair parted neatly to one side. I think I am seriously expected to answer.

“Ahem,” I clear my throat. I haven’t answered this question since I was six. Or maybe eight, at most. I decide I’m going to shock him. That’s the only way out.

“Men,” I say flatly, staring straight at him in the hope of gauging a reaction. Amazingly, there is none. “Men, partying, and alcohol,” I add for effect.

“Really?” he says, enchanted. As if I have just said “gardening” or something equally benign. “How interesting.” His fingers are neatly interlocked over his crossed knees and he is gazing at me as though I am divine.

Alright then, let’s milk this situation for all its worth, I say to myself.

“What are your hobbies?” I ask him, fluttering my eyelashes coquettishly, like a yesteryear Hindi-movie vamp. I have now adopted a persona, one that will help me get through this mind-numbingly ludicrous interlude.

“Gardening,” he replies, making me choke and nearly spray him with Diet Coke. “Really?” I contain myself and say with a saccharine smile. “How absolutely fascinating.”

“You think so?” he is thrilled and I am evidently a competent actress. Now, what do I do? “Can you grow cannabis or poppy?” I ask, wiggling my Nike Airs.

He shrugs gleefully, smug with himself, and says, “I guess so.” I realize he has completely missed the point. We sit there at his proudly proclaimed “study table” in silence for a few moments. I am searching for a cue to my next dialogue. He speaks up again before I do.

“Would you like to see my garden?” He stands up with a flourish, clicking his neatly polished shoes together, stretching up all the way up to his five-foot five-inch frame. The powder-blue v-neck sweater that had been tested to its elastic extremes while he was seated now hangs a little less taut, recuperating from the sheer effort of containing his lard.

Would I like to see his garden? I can barely believe the inanity of the situation without being reminded of Bollywood metaphors for sex – the ubiquitous nodding and coming together of red blooms in lush gardens of Srinagar.

“Sure,” I quip for want of anything better to say or do. Stepping out into the sunshine might not be such a bad idea after all. Anything would beat sitting in his neatly arranged antiseptic bedroom, where the numerous tomes are stacked alphabetically and then too, by size. It is enough to make me feel nauseated and some fresh air could do me some good. Maybe it will even eradicate the bright neon signs that are flashing in my head, saying “Run, Natasha, run!”

We make our way down the carpeted wooden stairs, past half a dozen exquisite Russian folk-paintings. I know good art when I see it and I am genuinely impressed. This well-appointed house holds enough top-notch art to give South Delhi galleries a run for their money. As we descend back into the living room, my mother and Mrs Khanna are animatedly chatting with each other.

“There’s nothing we wanted more than a traditional yet highly educated and evolved Punjabi family,” my mother is looking heaven-ward as she says this, as if already thanking God for her incredible fortune. “And our search has definitely ended with you.”

I want to throttle her.

Mrs Khanna smiles politely at her and then looks up at me over the brim of her gilt-edged tea cup. She is sizing me up and down. My naive and earnest mother has no clue that the Indira Gandhi look-alike sitting across the Persian rug from her could have her for lunch if it ever came down to an argument or worse.

“So, you kids had a nice chat?” she asks me politely, carefully pencilled-in eyebrows rising up in a sharp arch. Then her gaze turns to her son and instantly her eyes are awash with unbridled pride and satisfaction. What a fine specimen he has turned out! She is evidently congratulating herself. I realize everyone is waiting for me to answer the question, undoubtedly in the affirmative.

“Yes, we did,” I manage to mumble, sticking my hands into the pockets of my grey Reebok hoodie. “We’re stepping out to the garden now,” I add quickly, lest we are ordered to sit among them again. I have already endured a quarter of an hour of that and nearly perished from boredom.

“Oh, what a wonderful idea,” says Mrs Khanna sounding as contrived as it is humanly possible. My mother looks a tad worried and starts involuntarily tapping the wooden arm of her plush sofa-chair. What does she think he’s going to do to me in the garden? Pounce on me? I nearly laugh out loud at the thought and rush out of the room, not bothering to allow him to lead the way.

Outside, I sincerely appreciate the veritable haven of greenery that the Khannas have created in the centre of the city. It is a picturesque, verdant and distinctive garden with no formal lines, but rather, a dense amalgamation of shrubbery, rocks and water carefully designed to resemble a natural forest. It is breathtaking.

“This is so beautiful,” I turn to him and gasp, in all honesty. “Is this all your handiwork?”

He simply blinks in a confirmatory manner, with a pert little nod of the head. I think he suspects if he opens his mouth he might explode with pride. I get a bit worried and steal a sideways glance around the garden to ensure we are not being spied upon by our over-enthusiastic mothers. There doesn’t seem to be anyone other than the two of us. I can hear parrots squawking in the gulmohar tree that casts speckled shadows on us, and the merry sound of running water emanating from the mouth spring of the water feature. I wonder if I should just be straight with him and not lead him on. He does seem like a nice enough guy, albeit an inhabitant of Planet of the Geeks.

“Do you like me?” he stuns me out of my benevolent reverie.

“Excuse me?” I demand, slack-jawed with surprise. Perhaps I haven’t heard it right. He hardly seems the type who would shoot as straight an arrow as that.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” he says, as if reading my thoughts, grinning. He takes a step closer to me. I panic that he is going to attempt holding my hands and I deftly clasp them behind my back. “I like you, a lot,” he says, his lips quivering. Nerves, I tell myself. Because it can’t be emotion just yet. Please God, let it not be emotion. Or worse, lust. He continues, “I hope you like me too?”

I am so incensed with his pointed question that all intention to break it gently suddenly evaporates. I can’t believe his gall – I’ve known him for all of thirty minutes and he wants to know if I like him enough to want to spend the rest of my life with him? Is he retarded? I strain to hold onto my temper. “Look, we’ve just met,” I mutter through clenched teeth. “Don’t you think it’s a bit premature to ask me that? Or even to decide that for yourself?”

He looks crestfallen. “But that’s the whole purpose of our meeting,” he protests, incredulous. As if I’m the one who is missing something here. I am distracted by his questioning eyebrows, because they are almost as thick as his moustache. “If it’s yes, we meet again,” he explains the concept to me, just in case I haven’t got my basics right. “If it’s no, we meet the next one.”

I cannot believe people from my generation are willing to put themselves on the market like this, willing to make a complete mockery of themselves. And the realisation makes me murderously angry with my mother for having badgered me into this. Well, first and last time for sure.

“So if I say no, it’s cool, right?” I ask him.

Now he looks as though he might have a heart attack. His pasty white face is turning red and I think some cholesterol-laden artery has finally squeaked and surrendered. I don’t want to stand trial for manslaughter so I hastily try to remedy the situation. “What I mean is, I can’t make up my mind so soon. You’ll have to give me a day or two to think about it,” I plead. He begins to breathe again. “And honestly, I don’t even know if I’m ready for marriage just yet,” I add truthfully. The colour starts rising in his cheeks again. This yo-yoing heart attack business is tricky and I cannot deal with it anymore. “Shall we go back in?” I suggest.

Wordlessly, we return to the large and airy marble-floored living room with the imposing double-storey vaulted ceiling. Antique brass ceiling fans stare down us from the height of the dome, adding to the charming Raj-reminiscent décor of the entire bungalow. I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life in this house. If only a man wasn’t part of the deal; least of all this one.

My mother and Mrs Khanna are beaming at us like you would at your pet dog after it has successfully jumped through the hoop. Attaboy! Never in my life has my mother radiated such warmth at me. Not once during twelve years of school when I unfailingly topped my class every single time. Not when I successfully completed the Mumbai marathon and not even when I started a promising PR company. But today, when I finally succumbed to her relentless haranguing and agreed to ‘meet a boy’, she is looking at me with love in her eyes. She is satisfied that I am finally bowing in deference to my karma and my dharma – which according to her, for any Indian woman over the age of twenty-five, is marriage.

“So, my dear, are you planning to continue working after marriage,” Mrs Khanna asks of me, her tone the equivalent of artificial sweetener. Now I seriously begin to panic. A peculiar feeling is rising inside me, similar to what one feels when all the questions in an exam paper seem incomprehensible. It is like being in a nightmare, where you can hardly believe what is happening to you.

“Well, I run my own company, so of course I’m going to continue to work after marriage,” I retort sharply, not even bothering to conceal my irritation anymore. “. . . whenever that happens,” I add, in an attempt to drive home the point. I don’t want to embarrass my mother but I am reaching breaking point. I need to get out of here real fast because tears are threatening to sneak up on me. Run Natasha, run!

“Do you feel you’ll be able to manage as demanding a career as yours, along with home, husband and eventually children?” She is not asking me, she is implying. I am seething with rage and my eyes are beginning to burn. Even His Royal Nerdiness seems a little taken aback at his mother’s obtrusiveness. I swallow a lump in my throat and say, “That’s really not my concern at the moment.”

I turn to my mother and flash my eyes so she understands that we need to leave, and pronto! She looks undecided and distinctly uncomfortable. She is aware that I am on the verge of snapping and knowing me, she is fittingly alarmed, as is evident from her bug-eyed expression. But she is also uncertain whether or not a sudden departure will come across as rude. Another minute and I know I will erupt like Mt Vesuvius, so I stand up and announce that I am late for a work meeting. I hope that drives the nail deeper into the coffin.

Mrs Khanna reluctantly rises, instructs us to hold on for a minute and disappears into the kitchen. Lard Ass is gazing at me like a lovesick puppy and I cannot for the life of me comprehend what is wrong with him. After the way I have behaved, he should want to avoid me like the plague.

Mrs Khanna returns with what can only be a box of sweets and I hear alarm bells ringing. Because I have a horrible suspicion I know exactly what is about to happen here. Before I can blink, she is holding a laddoo up in front of my nose.

“I don’t eat sweets,” I stutter, my eyes begging for mercy like a death-row inmate staring up at the executioner.

“Oh, come on,” she urges. “This is a shagun, we are going to be family now.”

I stumble backwards, my world in slow motion. This cannot be happening to me. This is not real. I shoot a quick glance at my mother, who is watching like a spellbound spectator. I spin about and make a mad dash for the door and catch my mother peeking apologetically at Mrs Khanna, even as I race out into freedom. Down the driveway and past the front garden, I run like the wind to the silver Maruti Esteem, leap onto the seat and slam the door shut. Ensconced in the safety of my father’s car, I realise I’m actually trembling with rage. My mother has had it.

I can see her now, waving tentative and awkward goodbyes to Mrs Khanna and her son at the white wrought-iron gate. He looks like a child whose candy has been snatched. Everybody is trying not to look in the direction of the car, pretending I did not just escape like a captive monkey from a zoo.

I am looking the other way, out of the window as my mother slides into the car, her formal silk sari rustling against the leather seats. Champak, the driver, starts the car and I realise I have been holding my breath.

“What is wrong with you!” my mother startles me by speaking even before I can. I cannot believe her audacity.

“What is wrong with me?!” I screech, jumping up and least bothered about the chauffeur’s presence. “What the hell is wrong with you? How can you ever, in your life, think that I will agree to marry a guy like that? Is that how poorly you think of me?”

“What’s wrong with him?” she asks, completely dumbfounding me. I am unable to speak. “Huh?” is all I am able to utter.

“What’s wrong with the boy?” she says again, her eyes nervously shifting from Champak to me, “He’s from such a good family, earns several lakhs a month, and is so well behaved and cultured. He’s a catch, I tell you.”

I am incredulous. She couldn’t possible mean that. Because if she does, she has undoubtedly lost the plot. How can my own mother undervalue me so much? Why is she so desperate to get rid of me? I live on my own, have started a thriving business and am perfectly capable of carrying on an independent life without being a parasite. Then why this desperation?

“At least tell me what you didn’t like about him?” she asks, catching onto my thoughts.

“Are you crazy? Are you blind?” I scream. I am literally tearing my hair out in frustration. My mother needs an asylum, or an optician at the very least.

“He’s fat, he’s short, he’s ugly, he’s boring,” I shout, gesticulating manically with my hands and nearly thwacking Champak’s head off. “How can you possibly think I will say yes to him? Are you completely insane?” Tears are rolling down my cheeks now, stinging my skin.

“How shallow you are,” she says to me, all holier-than-thou. “You’re only seeing that he is fat and short and things like that.”

“I have eyes, and so I can see!” I bellow at her. I cannot believe her – would she have married him?, I ask her.

“Don’t worry, we’ll make him slim down after marriage.” She is not kidding. I stare at her at a loss for words, my mouth agape. Then she continues, “That is my responsibility, I promise. I’ll come and stay with you for six months and make him jog every day.” This has now gone beyond infuriating and transcended into the realm of the ludicrous.

“What are you going to do about that idiotic moustache?” I demand, suddenly on the verge of giggles. “Shave that for him?”

“Why not? We can convince him.”

Okay, now this has progressed to officially lunatic. “And what about the fact that he is only two inches taller than me? What do you propose to do about that?” I cannot help a little chuckle. Champak keeps glancing nervously in the rear-view mirror. He thinks I’m the one who’s lost her mind.

“You get insoles with heels. Even Aamir Khan uses those.”

I am laughing now. At least the situation has turned comic and I no longer feel like crying or killing my mother. She, however, means every word that escapes her mouth before her brain can form a rational thought.

“I could not talk to him for two minutes without dropping dead of boredom. He is such a goddamn nerd!” I tell her, clarifying that I am not entirely shallow.

“Well, you both are busy people, you’ll hardly get much time together,” she says, now desperately rummaging about to find any reasoning that will mollify me. I laugh so hard I have to double over.

“And what am I supposed to do during the few hours that we do end up around each other?”

“Just lounge about in the bathroom for as long as you can and then go to sleep,” she says, with a shrug of the shoulder. I am splitting my sides laughing now. “Then what’s the point?” I yell at my mother in between guffaws. She has me gob-smacked. But by now she too has begun to giggle. Thank God the inanity of the discussion is finally dawning upon her. I say again, “If I have to spend my entire life hiding from my husband in the bathroom, what’s the bloody point?!”

“He’s a great catch, you don’t realise it now, but you’ll regret it later,” she shakes her head as though disappointed, but is stifling chuckles. “When you find yourself left on the shelf.”

“Past my sell-by date you mean?” I laugh. “I don’t mind going bad.”

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10 books that changed my life

Okay so since many of my friends seem to be making this list of favourite books these days, I thought I’d do it too. And no, I haven’t been ‘tagged’ to do it (its NOT an Ice Bucket Challenge). Some of your lists got me thinking about mine. These are not just books I’ve enjoyed reading, but those that left an indelible mark on me for years to come, in some cases, forever. So, here goes. In no particular order.

Daddy, by Loup Durand. Obscure book I just picked up at a yard sale when I was about fourteen or so. Yes, really. Looked interesting, set in World World II, so I absently added it to my cart. Literal cart, not virtual, in those days. But boy, was I in for a surprise! It turned out to be a taut, adrenaline-fuelled psychological thriller. A cat and mouse game played out between an 11-year-old boy genius and a sadistic but brilliant Nazi. You have to read it to understand how good it really is. (Duh, I guess that goes for all books)

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. It was my first ‘grown-up’ novel. Gifted by my mum when I was twelve. She wanted me to move on from Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew. I really didn’t want to. But from the very first line, Rebecca pulled me into a trance. This is the literary equivalent of a haunting melody. Of ethereal beauty. Of bittersweet memories on a rainy day. Pure magic.

Cujo, Stephen King. Cujo. A shiver runs down my spine if I say it out loud. It left me spellbound – the genius of Stephen King’s craft, the sheer audacity to write half the narrative from the point of view of a rabid dog. The spine-chilling tension that doesn’t ease up for a minute. And the soul-destroying heartbreak at the end (spoiler alert!). Stephen King is just a bloody genius and this, his best work. Period.

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee. I read this book when I was in Form 4, back in Island School. We had to do a book review. My mother suggested this book. Normally I’d do exactly the opposite of what my mother asked of me. But for some reason, I picked it up from the library and my world changed. No book had ever made me cry before. No book had ever made me question humanity. I hadn’t really been forced to think about gender roles, violence and prejudice until then. To Kill a Mockingbird was an education.

World Class by Jane & Burt Boyar. Not many of you would perhaps have even heard of this book. But it is unique and brilliant. A fictionalised account of life on the pro tennis circuit, the book masterfully weaves together vivid characters, rich history and at its heart, a moving, inspirational story. I love it. I must have read it four or five times and I’d pick it up right now and re-read the whole thing. I will make a movie based on this book some day. I WILL.

The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton. I think this book, more than any other has left its imprint on my life and on my mind. I’m still looking for that enchanted wood and somewhere on the horizon, the Faraway Tree where squirrels talk and fairies play and passing clouds transport you into magical lands never seen before. Ooh, I get goosebumps just thinking about it, even now.

Wilt, by Tom Sharpe. You think PG Wodehouse is funny? Welcome to the world of hilarious, my friend. I’m telling you the person who invented LOL did so after reading Wilt. It is so outrageously laugh-out-loud funny that it should come with a disclaimer saying ‘do not read in public’. Because you will make an absolute spectacle of yourself as you repeatedly put the book aside, to double over and laugh till your sides hurt.

Love Story, Erich Segal. Yes, I’ll admit it. I didn’t just read it. But I read it twice back to back. And I cried and I laughed and I fell completely in love. To me, no other romance novel has ever compared, or has even come close. Ollie (Preppy) and Jenny are always with me. Love Story doesn’t just epitomise romance novels for me, it epitomises romantic love.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Hehe. Yes. Totally. OBSESSED. Like a teenager. It hit me like a punch in the gut. I read it cover to cover one night and then had such severe withdrawal symptoms the morning after that I rushed to the bookstore with an urgency that alarmed the bookstore owner. Until, that is, he realised all I wanted was the sequel, Catching Fire. And of course, Mockingjay

But the best book ever written in the history of mankind is….

Douglas Adams, you insane genius. Thank you for this gem. We are not worthy. I bow.


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Smells Like Sporting Spirit

I’m probably a few days late on this, but yesterday, as I discussed it with some of my colleagues, I realised that this was my takeaway from World Cup 2014. This is what I’ll remember in years to come. Yes, the exhilarating German victory has been etched forever in my memory – making it the best World Cup I’ve ever watched (I started watching football in the early 90s, exactly when Germany stopped winning. And if you read my previous post, you’ll know that I spent the next 20 years waiting to see Germany win).

But the day after Germany’s ruthless demolition of Brazil in the semifinal, I read somewhere that after taking a 5-0 lead, the Germans actually made a pledge at half-time, to not humiliate the hosts. Yes, they did. Mats Hummels revealed this at the post-match press conference.

“We just made it clear that we had to stay focused and not try to humiliate them,” he said. “You have to show the opponent respect and it was very important that we did this and didn’t try to show some magic or something like this.

Isn’t that such an admirable display of sportsmanship? Honestly, that scoreline could have been 10-nil or something. For me, they had already won the World Cup with this gesture. So proud of this wonderful, champion team. (Yes, I know non-Germans are not allowed to be ‘proud’ of the German team, but again, please refer to previous post).

That just got me thinking about some of the other wonderful acts of sportsmanship that I remember off the top of my head. Being a tennis obsessor, naturally the first one that comes to mind is Andy Roddick’s suicidal act of sportsmanship at the 2005 Rome Masters. He had a triple match point in the final set, when Fernando Verdasco double-faulted and basically, lost the match. Roddick just needed to walk to the net and shake hands. But no, his integrity didn’t allow that. What he did instead was dispute the call (yes, the one that was in his favour!) and said the serve was in. Verdasco then went onto win the point and the match. And I know its not ‘better to win hearts than to win ugly’ but thats how it was for Andy Roddick. He won few titles but his fame belied his achievements (or lack thereof).

Another one that comes to mind is from the cricket field. Sydney, 2008. And believe it or not, it was Ricky Ponting who showed rare sportsmanship. I remember Rahul Dravid had edged straight to Punter in the slips and was given out. Amidst the celebrations, Ponting suddenly had a case of conscience and said he hadn’t quite latched on and that the ball had grazed the ground. Dravid returned to the crease and the entire Indian subcontinent was left bewildered, mouths agape.

I know there’s also that Trent Bridge Test in 2011 when MSD recalled Ian Bell. But that was apparently after Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower went to the Indian dressing room and requested Dhoni to do so. And he did, which is to be lauded, I suppose. But its not up there for me, among the best ones.

PS: I’m sure there are countless moments involving Stefan Edberg but therefore it is difficult to remember a single one. Anyone want to remind me?


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Germanophilia IS a thing!

Alright people, I know I’ve been missing for over six months. Yes. Go ahead, shoot me. A super-busy working mum-of-four (I count my two dogs also, see pic… Mmuah!) needn’t give excuses for prolonged absences from platforms like social media which honestly aren’t crucial to anyone’s existence. Anyway, point is, the last few months have been a whirlwind of activity with the general elections, producing a kick ass show called Politics Central, anchoring NewsHour in Arnab Goswami’s absence (Yes, really, click here if you don’t believe me… Yayy!!) and general mayhem followed by an insanely fun month-long US trip. So phew!… Its been a ride. But the DIRTY MAN IS BACK… HAHAHA. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch Jerry McGuire).

So now, of course, flavour of the month is the FIFA World Cup and I may not be much of a football watcher otherwise, but I watch Euro and World Cup with unbridled passion. Why? Because I support Germany like a rabid fan. Why, I don’t know. You’d think I were German in my last life or something. Or that my husband in current life is German. Or maybe that I’ve lived in Germany at some point in my history. Or at the very least, my best friend is German… Nope, none of the above. And its not just in football, mind you. I support Germany in everything – Olympics, all kinds of World Championships, even at Wimbledon where I find myself rooting for Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber even though there are better players to cheer for. I don’t know why I do it, I just know I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. Always obsessed with Germany, reading its history, trying to teach myself the language with DIY-type books, even looking up Germany in the dictionary just to see what I would find. And this is what I had found back then, in the dictionary, when I was perhaps 12 years old:

Germanophile or Teutophile[1] is a person who is fond of German cultureGerman people, and Germany in general,[2]or even exhibits German nationalism – so to speak – in spite of not being an ethnic German or a German citizen. This love of the German way, called “Germanophilia” or “Teutonophilia”, is opposite to Germanophobia.

Yes! It was like a revelation! I did exhibit German nationalism. Yes, I did love everything German – its culture, its people. I remember I excitedly thrust the dictionary at my sister who was finally forced to accept that I was not quite clinically insane. I was just a Germanophile. And still am. My husband turned to look at me, bewildered, when tears of joy streamed down my face after Germany thrashed Brazil to reach the 2014 World Cup finals. I mean, of course he knows about my Germanophilia, but I think that was a tad much, even for him. Hehe. Anyway, so now that my beloved team is finally in the final after two heartbreaking losses in the 2006 and 2010 semifinals, I’m hoping to be at the German embassy on Sunday night, celebrating the win with my brethren. Yes. For, win they will. I know its not going to be quite as emphatic as that semifinal victory (Brazil’s cluelessness and abject surrender was as much a reason for that 7-1 scoreline as the German brilliance was. For me, their 4-1 victory over Portugal was the most telling). I think its time. Germany are about to win another football World Cup. Go Deutschland!! 




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Cynics, take a chill pill!

As the Aam Aadmi Party won the trust vote in the Delhi Assembly, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was a people’s victory. I agree with him. It was. And I’m not some naïve babe in the woods. But neither am I a cynic. And I think that’s where most of us fit in – somewhere in the middle. Of course we’re taking his lofty proclamations with a pinch of salt and there’s not denying the heavy posturing as Kejriwal constantly chants “hamari koi aukaat nahi hai“. We can see through it. We’re not stupid.

But that doesn’t mean that he’s a total farce either. Like everything in life, there is no black and white; reality exists in shades of grey (not that 50 shades kind though… yikes). Give him the benefit of doubt, I say. For God’s sake, at least give him some time. For those of you who were ever appointed class monitor or school prefect or team leader at work, didn’t you take a few days to settle into the role? So why not accord him the same leeway? Has any government been judged within a week? Others don’t get scrutinized for decades so can we all just calm down and stop the dissections? For now.

The man has been voted into power for one reason only – people are fed up of existing political systems. And it is only because he is new and inexperienced that we can hope to see some genuine change. Not despite it. So let’s try to believe him when he says corruption will be weeded out. Let’s wait to see the audits of power companies. I know enough critics who believe that Kejriwal’s water and electricity subsidies are taking us along a dangerous path of socialism and communalism – two failed systems of governance. Perhaps they are right. But maybe, just maybe the audits will reveal the extent of corruption and graft all these years and those revelations will do away with the need for subsidies. Let’s see. Let’s not be so hasty to pass a verdict.

Among the 17 issues that the AAP government has listed as priority is a legislation that will give rights to the people to decide on development in their areas, instead of officials and MLAs. It is a small but telling issue on their agenda. To me, that is what democracy should be about. Unlike many of my friends, I don’t think the AAP is power hungry. I think they had no choice. Anna Hazare, for all his sincerity couldn’t have done a thing to change the system. You have to play the game to change the rules. You can’t sit on the sidelines and preach to others how they should play. Jump in the fray and beat the stalwarts at their own game. That’s what the Aam Aadmi Party did and I’m glad for it. For they have inspired hope.

It remains to be seen how successful this government will be. But in my mind, let’s give the new kids on the block a chance. Who says the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t? Not me.

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Step up, Mr President!

Pranab Mukherjee has the opportunity to go down in history as a rare Indian President who’s not just an ornamental figure on a ceremonial chair, but a visionary with the power to alter the course of history of a nation. All he has to do is not sign that damn ordinance.

If you ask ‘what ordinance?’ I may not even blame you. After all, with the overdose of political news these days and most of it bad and depressing, you may not be hanging onto every word we news anchors utter. But for your sake, and for that of this country, I urge you to care. And collectively pray that Mr President justifies his status by choosing not to sign it. Because this is important. Let me explain it in as simple terms as I can.

You know how we have politicians who are felons and still continue to warm the benches of the Parliament and Assemblies? How in the past we have had shameless ‘leaders’ like Mohammed Shahabuddin who contested elections and won from behind bars? (Let’s not even go into why people actually voted)…

Well, to ease the mortified misery of us billion Indians, the Supreme Court had, in July this year, struck down a provision of the Representation of People Act which allows a convicted member of parliament or a state legislature to continue membership. Which means, get convicted, get out. Which is how it should be. Why should convicted felons be our lawmakers? It defies all logic and ethics, doesn’t it? So the Supreme Court did the right thing.

And then, guess what our shameless, unscrupulous, totally morally corrupt government did? To save their asses, they took the only route possible to defy the apex court – an ordinance that seeks to save convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification. (An ordinance is a legal order or temporary law if you like, made by the government when Parliament is not in session. And while it has to be passed by the Parliament within six months and made a proper Act, it will be implemented as law until then.) It goes through if the President signs it.

Isn’t it incredible how blatantly shameless this move is? In promulgating this ordinance, the government has basically admitted to the political class being a bunch of criminals whose prime interest is to save its own ass. Literally. That’s what it means. And they don’t even care! So indifferent are they to the people that they represent – the teeming, powerless billion – that they just go right ahead and change the law to ensure criminals can continue to be Parliamentarians. It’s so brazen, I feel ashamed even just writing about it. What would the world think of us? World’s greatest democracy, my foot. We’re a cesspit run by snakes.

Thankfully, there is a silver lining and that is the fact that not just the principal opposition party BJP, but in fact even a couple of Congress leaders – namely Milind Deora and surprisingly even Digvijaya Singh – have voiced their opposition to this move, or at least questioned it.

Now it is all up to the revered man in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The man who commands so much respect across party lines for his intellect and wisdom. Let’s hope he rises above being a Congress man and shows the world that he is President of India.



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Manish Tewari, Jest in Time!

“I want to be a stand-up comic, next”. Yes, that’s what the Minister of Information & Broadcasting said this bright and shiny Monday morning as a host of eminent personalities got together to celebrate something quite out of the ordinary. It was the launch of a collector’s item coffee table book commemorating 175 years of cartoons in the Times of India. Renowned cartoonists from across publications came together and collaborated on an iconic artwork right before our eyes. Neelabh and Ajit Ninan from the TOI, Sudhir Tailang (now with Deccan Chronicle), Manjul from DNA, Keshav from the Hindu, R Prasad of Mail Today and Jayanto from Hindustan Times. What was truly amazing was the fact that all these men, from rival publications came together for this event and put together a priceless canvas depicting the common man bearing the burden of the Indian parliament and its colourful members.

The book itself ‘Jest in Time’ largely celebrates RK Laxman’s Common Man and is a true delight! The mood at the event was lighthearted and the I & B minister chipped in with a few gags of his own! This despite the fact that all the satire on the canvas was directed at his government. Full marks for sense of humour, Mr Tewari.  And yours truly had the honours of hosting the event.  Yippee! It’s not every day that you get to see renowned artists from across spectrums collaborate on a work of art, live in front of you. SUPER FUN!

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No Country For Women

“Living in this country, I’d feel terrified if I had daughters”. This is what I found myself saying to my husband this morning. And I cannot even begin to explain how much it broke my heart to say something like that. I’m the one who broke down and wept when I was told that my second-born was also a boy. I’m the one who gave a dressing down to people who expressed their preference for a son. I’m the one who always believed that women can do everything men can and do it better. But I feel utterly defeated. The horrific gang rape of the 22-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai has once again made me question if there is any hope at all. Will women in this country ever be treated as anything but sex objects? It’s been 8 months since the Nirbhaya gang rape case in Delhi which shook the conscience of the nation. At that time we thought the collective outrage would bring about change. But 8 months on and not only has justice not been delivered (never mind the supposed ‘fast track’ courts) but such incidents are only on the rise. You hear of one almost every other day. If it’s not Delhi or Mumbai, it’s Bangalore. Or Jodhpur or Cochin. It doesn’t matter. Its not about which city is safe. This COUNTRY is not safe for women.

I can’t help but question our collective psyche – what is wrong with us? Not just our men, although certainly a large proportion of them, but also us women. For these monsters have mothers too. Did they teach them nothing? What kind of family environment breeds such a sadistic, criminal mind? Why are we so perverted as a people? Why? What is wrong with our country? I know there are people who would say that rape and sexual crimes exist in every single nation in the world. True. But I doubt there would be a front page, headline-grabbing rape every other day in any other civilized country. And honestly, I don’t think the word civilized can be used for India anymore, not with this kind of barbaric savagery becoming an increasingly frequent phenomenon.

We’ve known it all along though, haven’t we? Us women. When has it been civilized? As we were growing up, taking public transport, walking on the road, jumping into an auto late at night: weren’t we always terrified? Is there a SINGLE woman in this entire country who has never been groped in public? Any girl who has not been at the receiving end of lewd or lascivious comments? No, there isn’t. And I don’t need to double check that; that is the tragic truth.

How vile we must seem to the rest of the world. It just so happens that a few days ago an American student named Michaela Cross wrote a scathing report on her study trip to India last year, describing relentless sexual harassment, groping and objectification. The poor girl was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder upon her return from India and is now on a leave of absence from her college due to a breakdown. Doesn’t that make you want to hang your head in shame?

We have wonderful, loving, respectful men in this country too – will one of them please tell us why this is happening?

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Bizarre Wimbledon 2013 Love it/ Hate it!

What a bummer of a ladies’ final last evening. Sheesh kebabs. Utterly uncompetitive. And they demand (and get, mind you) equal prize money. 1.6 million pounds to be precise, or nearly 2.5 million USD. For the winner, that is. Sabine Lisicki, for choking and sleepwalking through that entire final – alright, admittedly she did wake up in the last three games but it was too little too late – received a whopping £ 800,000. Seriously. I’m the last person to grudge the women equal prize money but when they play like that, it’s so embarrassing. Just compare the scores in the men’s and women’s semifinals and you’ll see what I mean. Just HATE it. And I can bet you this evening’s men’s final will provide another edge of your seats thriller. Perhaps not an epic like the Djokovic-Del Potro semifinal, but a humdinger alright.

In fact, going into the final showdown at SW19, there’s SO much to hate and so much to love, about this year’s bizarre tournament…

Love It! Full marks to veteran journeymen Steve Darcis and Sergei Stakhovsky for playing stunning tennis and knocking out Rafa and Roger in round 1 and 2 respectively. The men’s draw opened up like we haven’t seen in years.

Hate it! But felt so sorry for poor Nadal at the same time. Lucas Rosol last year and Steve Darcis this year. Are his Wimbledon years behind him already? As for Mr. Federer, ahem! This is why he should have retired when I told him to, after winning last year.

Love it! The promise shown by exciting youngsters like Monica Puig, Eugenie Bouchard and Bernard Tomic (yes, I know, he looks 100 years old but he’s really only 20). Bouchard, who beat Ivanovic but didn’t get much further in the draw, is NOT another freak case having a brilliant day like Darcis or Stakhovsky. Believe me, she’s here for good and we’re going to see a lot more of her.

Hate it! SEVEN players withdrew in ONE friggin’ day, making it clear that the switch from clay to grass has been harder than ever this year. While opening up of the draw is great and all, when the tournament loses stars like Sharapova and Tsonga to slips and falls, its time for the Tournament Director to look into the surface honestly.

Love it! That Kimiko Date made it to the third round at the age of 42. I’ve been a ball-girl for her wayyyy back in 1993 (Hong Kong) and it’s downright unbelievable that she’s still playing 20 years on.

Hate it! The fact that she got blown off court by Serena Williams.

Love it! How The Guardian’s Xan Brooks summed up the royal thrashing poor David Ferrer received at the hands of Juan Martin Del Potro… “And so, with that, the first quarter is over. It was brilliant, brutish and short. Poor David Ferrer appeared punch-drunk, reeling, powerless to stop what was happening to him. The crowd on Centre pulled pained faces or covered their eyes. It was as if they were watching a man get hit by a car, or blundering into the path of a herd of stampeding oxen.” :D Delightful.

Hate it! So near and yet so far for Indians at Wimbledon. What we could have had in the men’s doubles finals was Indians on both sides of the net. What we got instead, was both Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna bowing out in the semifinals with their respective partners. Sania too lost in the mixed quarters and the flicker of hope was snuffed out. But still have to say, great stuff from the Indian contingent.

Love it! With Djokovic beating Del Potro and Murray getting past Janowicz, there’s hope yet for tennis players who are not giants. The game HAS NOT BEEN TAKEN OVER BY GIANTS JUST YET. Just to clarify my point: Del Potro is 6 foot 6″ and Jerzy is 6 foot 8″. But the ‘normal’ (*rolls eyes*) 6 foot 2-ers are still winning. Thank God.

Hate it! The only people I find hot now are really old. Like former champ Stefan Edberg in the stands. Ooh.. such a hottie even now! ♥ ♥ And Fernando Verdasco, who at 30 is over the hill in tennis terms. Where are the sexy youngsters?! Or am I getting too old?

Love it! The fact Billie Jean King has started looking like Dilip Kumar. Seriously.

Hate it! The pathetic, one-sided women’s singles final. I know the big-serving German Sabine Lisicki will be back and perhaps win another day. But this time she just choked, letting nerves get to her.

However, kudos to Bartoli and here’s to a befitting men’s singles final then! Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who have completely validated their No.1 and No.2 seeding, should give us a cracker!

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Imran Khan and Pakistan

A couple of days ago, a very senior and very successful female colleague of mine loudly proclaimed “If I were Pakistani, I’d vote for Imran Khan… I’m Punjabi after all, shakal dekh ke vote dete hain!”  I laughed because she’s normally a pragmatist, not to mention a very sharp political analyst. And none of the Pakistani political pundits are willing to give Imran Khan a chance. Not for a majority, and certainly not for the top post. All they are willing to concede to him is that he may be a ‘game-changer’.

I write this as Pakistan votes today. General elections that are being fought under a dark cloud of death threats, assassinations and terror. Elections that are historic; for they mark the first transfer from one civilian government to another, in the history of Pakistan. But I’m not about to dwell on the political minutiae here… I’d rather leave that to experts. But what I do want to say is that sometimes things happen that defy logic and calculations. And little as I know about Pakistan and its turbulent politics, I do feel that this time, it will be different for the charismatic cricket legend-turned-politician. And I’m not just saying that because I’m basically yet another sports journalist who’s spent their entire lives idolising this man.

There IS something different this time, don’t you think? There is a restlessness in Pakistan, an angry youth that is fed up of the current crop of politicians and wants a better future. In the run up to these elections Imran has said on more than one occasion that the youth voters will make all the difference. It remains to be seen if indeed that will be so, but the fact is – in all the years that Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaaf have been around, they’ve been laughed off as political lightweights. No one’s laughing this time.

Interestingly, he’s the only major player unscathed by the Taliban threat – while other political parties have had to virtually cancel all election campaigning under the shadow of the gun, Imran’s rallies have been given a free run. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was scared all the way back to the UK, robbing the PPP of its star campaigner and even the tiger of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif (the man tipped to win these polls) was forced to significantly lower the tenor of his roar in the run up to the elections. Add to that the sympathy waves that flooded in when Imran had that near fatal 15-foot-fall (the kind of sympathy that elicited the above comment from my colleague) and you have a situation where suddenly the wind seems to be blowing in one direction. Towards Imran Khan.

He may not win a majority; yes I accept that, because I really know nothing about Pakistan’s politics. But I’m sure he will be a key player, a king maker perhaps, winning enough votes to decide who gets to sit on the throne. Whether he forms part of the government or takes up a position in the opposition, his days in political wilderness seem to be over.

Some people are born with shining destinies and we already know he is one of the blessed few – World Cup winning captain and all. And you simply can’t deny the charisma (how could Jemima ever leave?!) And I know enough people here in India who’d love to see Imran Khan become the head of state of Pakistan. I think I would too, if I wasn’t so disconcerted with his closeness to the Taliban. The Taliban are no friends of ours, remember? And if indeed Pakistan shakal dekh ke vote dete hain, I wonder what that will mean for India. Interesting times.

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