Friday, November 26, 2010

Brand Busting

A friend was invited to the engagement party of a rising star in Bollywood. She came back after the celebrations, raving about the arrangements and the food. There was only one rider. She couldn’t click any pictures. Why? Because the actor and his family didn’t want any snaps that had him smoking. I found the whole thing rather absurd until she explained how all the film stars in Mumbai were positioning themselves as’ Brands.’ And the actor in question was clear he wanted to be projected as squeaky clean and politically correct in all respects. Any evidence of him engaging even in a minor vice was not something the public at large was privy to.

The X-Tapes are like the snaps my friend would have liked to click. If any of the public personalities involved in the 2 G spectrum mess had known the income tax department was taping the conversations of a certain Ms. Radia when they were on line with her, it goes without saying the sacrilege would have never been permitted, let alone find its way in the public domain. But some intrepid soul refused to play by the party rules and the damage has been to some of the most enduring brands of rising India.

We know now that our Prime Minister is not the honest and upright leader he was ‘branded’ as but a wimp. Just yesterday I read an article on him that described him as ‘effete.’ The tapes also tell us that the chairman of the leading corporate house in India looks down on anything it the black tie affair or the dark complexioned Raja. He and his PR executive are caught giggling about Raja being able to blush despite the handicap his complexion poses.

I personally found that section very useful as it proved to me once and for all why that dubious product “Fair and Lovely” sells like hot cakes in our country. All the “Kaalas” in this country including me, would like to blush in certain situations and we want our blushes to be noticed. So the plan is we use a fairness cream. That should also improve our employment prospects considering such prominent corporate personalities like their ministers ‘fair’ and square.

We also know the dapper long distance runner Anil Ambani has inherited none of the business acumen of his legendary father and foolishly gone and lost all his wealth in the stock market. From one of the richest businessmen in the world, he has turned into a “Kadka.” When another friend heard me joking about this he chided “Even in his Kadka state, he has more money than you can ever dream of.” I retorted it didn’t matter as he was “Kadka” by his own standards.

Barkha Dutt is no longer the feisty journalist we knew her to be. She is found famously asking Radia “Tell me, what should I tell them now?” From the heights of Kargil to the depths of being an errand girl, somehow the fall of Ms. Dutt is rather Greek tragedy like. I am sure whenever she walks into a party of late, all the guests look at her from the corner of their eyes and snigger. As for the suave Mr. Sanghvi, the same media peers who envied him for getting invited to the best of hotels and spas in the world are now calling him a “Steno” and “PA” to Radia.

Niira Radia herself is no power woman and a feminist icon as I imagined her to be. Initially, when the scandal broke out, I was quite impressed by this woman who was stringing the most powerful men in India like puppets. But now we learn, she joined the ‘Big Boys’ club by being ‘very close’ to the BJP politician from Karnataka- Anant Kumar. So it is the same old story.

Karnataka politician reminds me of our own Yedurappa, and how despite impeccable credentials he did not figure in the tapes. But the aftermath certainly featured him prominently. His brand was the only one not to get busted.

He was and remains the clown beyond compare!

Monday, November 8, 2010


Diwali night inspired a resident of the building to set up an impromptu bar on the terrace and persistent invitations over the intercom forced me to join the gathering. We got into trouble with the ex-president of the association about the party the next day. But that’s another story.

As it usually happens in middle class apartment blocks, only the men found it comfortable to join the single malt party. The women wisely stayed away. And just as typically as in all male gatherings, the conversation was abysmal and stupid.

This time most of the drunks had a single point agenda. Let’s collectively take on our favourite punching bags- the Muslims. No prize for guessing. The gang was all Hindu. “Look at their history...they always came to power by killing their fathers and brothers,” pontificated one. Everyone present nodded their heads sagely.

Nothing new about that. We always do this. Rake up the history from the pre-Mughal times to illustrate how senselessly brutal people bearing allegiance to Islam can be. And from that silly starting point, it’s easy to make illogical leaps of faith and tar all Muslims as cruel, fundamentalist, terrorist etc.

Why do we Hindus forget that the immediate past of India is littered with enough and more Hindu families burning brides for bringing in inadequate dowry? Burning someone alive must count as one of the most barbaric and savage acts. And by all accounts, entire families are known to participate in this shameful ritual whole heartedly. And at stake is not even a throne, but a few hundred rupees.

But I guess since these brides are not “blood relatives,” they don’t count. Besides they are women. Why should their deaths, however senseless and savage count? They are not Babur or Shahjahan.

As for the charge relating to killing blood relatives, what about our own brand of honour killings? Do we spare our own sons and daughters if they marry within their own “gotra” or not within the same caste?

I contemplated putting across these arguments and then realized in talking about the blood thirsty nature of another community, the gang had started looking pretty blood thirsty themselves. I gulped down my drink and left.

Evil has nothing to do with a particular religious affiliation. Look at what we are learning about the good Christian deeds of the American army in Iraq thanks to the web.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Holiday Hangover

It was a long one, spanning eleven days and five destinations. Apart from air and rail, there was plenty of road travel thrown in too. Dipti tells me I don't know how to relax during long journeys by car. I am invariably found staring fixedly at the road ahead. That's true. I am petrified of the sight of the careless dogs run over by speeding vehicles. Apart from grossing you out, there is also something heartbreaking about the sight. This time the driver in Rajasthan had an unique insight. He told us when dogs are running across a highway and sense a running vehicle close to them, instead of speeding like other animals do, they turn around and inevitably get hit by a car or a truck coming from the other side. That's why you are bound to come across one badly mutilated dog in any longish journey you embark on a highway.
Jodhpur was the quintessential small town. There isn't as much of blue as one expected but from the top of the fort, you get an aerial view of the whole place and notice the colour is restricted to the old and the less affluent section of the town. Those who are accusing Arundhati Roy of sedition may like to pay some attention to the royal family of Jodhpur. The history they have proudly displayed in their museum in the palace seem to indicate the pre independence Majaraja was more loyal to the British than the British themselves and earned special privileges from them. Even now, most of the locals we came across referred to the current incumbent as "His Highness." One of the waiters in the hotel we stayed in told us sadly that he had to change his name once he came to Jodhpur because "Highness ka naam bhi wahi hai." The prince is getting married in November and the whole city is gearing up for it. Well, whatever grouse one may have about Indira Gandhi and her emergency, she did ensure India was left with just one royal family- the Nehru-Gandhis.
From Jodhpur, we went to a desert camp set up by Manwar Resorts. The camp bang in the middle of Thar desert offers five star stay at exorbitant rates. Yet, the experience would be worth it, if the staff hadn't been trained to be so blatantly racist. They are polite enough but clearly discriminatory, reserving their best for the white tourists. I dashed off a mail to the owner Mr. Moti Singh after a particularly unacceptable incident and his reply came all contrite and apologetic. He offered to refund the entire amount but I declined. All I asked for was a hard copy of the invoice be mailed. But that is yet to arrive. This seems to be a racket in Rajasthan. When you are booking, they ask you to deposit the amount in their bank account and you learn later that the account belongs to an individual rather than the organization. Afterwards they look puzzled at the reception when you request for a copy of the invoice. I am sure there is some tax evasion angle to all this.
Jaipur was just a night's halt and apart from the stay at another heritage hotel with an imposing door, all we did was visit Crosswords the next morning. I am sure if we had stayed longer, I would have encountered some more discrimination in my own country and gotten all worked up about it.
Our best experience in Rajasthan was in Ranthambore. The staff at "Pugmark" resort were simple and gentle folks. More importantly their service did not vary depending upon the colour of your skin. The jungle safari was good fun but we didn't spot any tiger and may have to go back for it some day.
We got back to Delhi and stayed with friends for a day. They took pity on us and took us the Delhi zoo where we finally saw the tigers!
The best part of the holiday came at the end, when we arrived in Landour from Delhi. The place is around 4-5 Kms from Mussoorie and has a breathtaking view of snow clad peaks. It is relatively unspoilt and thanks to the language school you find a lot of foreigners struggling over Hindi text books. It also has Ruskin Bond, a childhood hero of mine and we met him briefly.
On meeting Bond, I also remembered there is a pile of writing waiting to be done once I get back home. And that's what I am going to do starting today.