Piety and peepshow

IMG_3331During a recent trip to the pilgrim town Rishikesh for a friend’s wedding two of my friends and me lost our way in the quaint town.

Left at the mercy of an auto driver, who mistook our hunger-driven desire for food as hunger for devotional satisfaction, we were dropped off, with small-town warmth, at the mouth of a narrow winding path.

Enthused by his energetic gesticulations directing us down the road, and unaware of his holy intentions, we sauntered along the path in search of … yes, what else, food, and chanced upon a beautiful vista of lush green mountains, a beautiful sculpture of Krishna and Arjuna and a wide river flowing serenely at its own sweet space.

Marring this beautiful sight, which took away the breath from even our growling-stomached selves, were a number of people who were praying to the  Ganga. Hurling packets of flowers, dipping into the cool water to wash off their sins, these men and women — in various stages of undress — made for a slightly jarring sight.

Religion, I have found, is extremely polarising. Just about anything can be justified in the name of religion and anything can be condemned. Emotions can be played with. Holy-men can cheat naïve believers. Murders can be ‘explained’. Brutalities can be brushed aside. And…social taboos stop mattering.

The human body in its natural form, or nudity, which is frowned upon in our society and in social and cultural spaces, finds validation when one is praying. Hundreds of women and men — of different age, colour, caste, and… errr… shapes — could be dipping their pious semi-clothed bodies into the river at the same time.

At one level it appears egalitarian but at another the hypocrisy tarnishes this thought.

In the aftermath of the recent gang rape of a student in the Capital, many debates, on television and other forums, stood up for the freedom of women. Many talked about their right to dress as they like, go where they want. But many, and I mean many, went so far as to say that the way women dress (or do not dress, as they argue) provokes men. Many self-appointed guardians of morality ‘banned’ certain items of clothing for women.

IMG_3359Previous posts on the issue illustrate  my strong opposition to such actions that impinge on women’s — or for that matter even men’s — freedom. But, I wonder why these moral brigades do not feel irked by “nudity” in such public spaces!

If a mini-skirt in a pub, which is frankly an acceptable dress in that particular place, is bothersome, then why is a see-through, wet petticoat acceptable in broad day light?

Or for that matter, why is a man in flimsy boxers (or sometimes langot), not reprimanded for causing public nuisance? (I think few would argue that the sight of fat hairy legs under, and hairy pot-bellies over these “intimates” are not disturbing!)

Nudity and sexuality make for hushed discussions in bedrooms. A sense of shame is often attached. But throw in religion — and all is fair.

The day India Gate turned into a war zone

Women: Left behind

Women: Left behind

For the last two days Delhi, the Capital of the country, has looked like it is under siege. The Government has brought out its entire arsenal – in the form of police and paramilitary force.  In the heart of the city, one could see policemen, looking exceptionally menacing in full riot  gear – bullet-proof jackets, helmets, weapons et al – standing at the crossings, most of which were cordoned off.

Cars were not allowed, obviously. And even the people walking through the streets were treated like nothing less than criminals. Since today I could not get to office on the usual underground, I was forced to haggle with an auto to take me as far as he would and I got as far as I could to find a street blocked by the police.

The same gear, the same weapons, the same menacing looks. At least 20-25 personnel had blocked it. It looked like they expected someone to attack them. Central Delhi had turned into a fortress. Continue reading

I am one of the women who walk through deserted stretches at night to take a public conveyance. What happened to the girl in the Vasant Vihar rape case could happen to me next…it could happen to any of of my many friends…it could happen to you. Was it her fault? Will it be mine? Yours?

Measuring life with coffee spoons

I write stories everyday. About exceptional women, and men. About success achieved in the face of trials and tribulations. Sometimes they are also about heroic failures. I write about mundane day-to-day activities in offices.

Some prefer to call them articles and reports. But I think the word story is more apt because I haven’t met ‘exceptional’ yet. They are stories — part fiction.

I have never asked a successful woman if she was molested before she earned the security of a chauffer-driven BMW. I never asked them if they have seen another woman get molested, if she tried to stop them.

I never asked a man if he ever visually stripped a woman around him, or maybe even groped her?

I’ve seen enough women in mini-skirts in the sanitized environments of five-star hotels’ pubs and bars. And did they look great! Most of them wore it because they could hop…

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ताना बाना

वक़्त को मैंने कई बार कहा

ज़रा थम भी जा,

पीछे मुड़कर देख कभी

कई ख्वाब बुने हैं मैंने भी।

ताना है अरमानो का, बाना आरज़ू।

वक़्त मुड़ा और हंसकर पुछा

कहाँ हैं ये सपने तेरे?

कीमत क्या है उन ख्वाबों की?

कहना चाहती थी मैं

वो ख्वाब हैं बेकीमती,

पर जब उनको ढूंडा मैंने

देखा वो बिखर चुके थे।

ना ताना था, ना बाना,

चार आंसूं की बूंदों में

बस धुला हुआ रंग बचा था।

The Dark Knight in dark times

So, I finally caught the new and much-awaited The Dark Knight Rises a few weeks back. Yes, it is too late for a review, and most certainly to annoy anyone with a spoiler, but that’s not the purpose anyway.

So, a week and three days after the movie hit the screens I convinced my otherwise uninterested sister to watch the movie with me.

We headed for the theatre – myself with lots of excitement and her indifferently asking, “So, is there anything I should know about the first two movies?”

Yes, that was my companion! Anyhow, we did manage to catch the movie.

And surprise of all surprises, as we headed out, she turned to me and said, “I actually enjoyed the movie.”

This is the same person who had once said about Harry Potter, “Such hypothetical nonsense.”

So, that got me thinking. What is it about super-hero books and movies that make them so popular?

Continue reading

“Portrayal of real violence important”

Many parallels have been drawn for the Hindi movie, Gangs of Wasseypur. Some say it reflects a Corleone-like family revenge drama from The Godfather. Some compare it with the Spaghetti Western films of the 1960s and 70s. Some compare the style of film-making with greats such as Sergio Leone and Martin Scorcese.

The lust for revenge passing down generations may be similar to The Godfather. But no matter how close the Corleone-family saga may appear to the fictionalised account of real-life incidents in Wasseypur, in the coal belt of Dhanbad, the flavour — in songs, dialogues and backdrop — are a hundred per cent local. Continue reading

A Rape I write

I write stories everyday. About exceptional women, and men. About success achieved in the face of trials and tribulations. Sometimes they are also about heroic failures. I write about mundane day-to-day activities in offices.

Some prefer to call them articles and reports. But I think the word story is more apt because I haven’t met ‘exceptional’ yet. They are stories — part fiction.

I have never asked a successful woman if she was molested before she earned the security of a chauffer-driven BMW. I never asked them if they have seen another woman get molested, if she tried to stop them.

I never asked a man if he ever visually stripped a woman around him, or maybe even groped her?

I’ve seen enough women in mini-skirts in the sanitized environments of five-star hotels’ pubs and bars. And did they look great! Most of them wore it because they could hop into a car and head home. I have never asked one of them if they had helped someone less privileged.

A story by Tehelka (http://www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ne140412Coverstory.asp) on how policemen view rape, sexual assault victims and offenders gives us just a brief peek into the society’s insidious mindset. Why society? Trust me these men and women are not God’s gift to mankind. Their opinions, though especially disgusting because they are supposedly part of a “law enforcing body,” comes from and is part of the society.

I quote a police officer from the Tehelka article, “Go to a pub in Greater Kailash,South Delhi, where there’s free entry for girls. You’ll find those who want to do ‘it’ for a thousand rupees. They’ll drink and also have sex with you. But the day someone uses force, it’s rape.”

Yes, my friend, the day someone uses force IT IS rape.

There are reports after reports on how women call for it because of how they dress, how they talk, how they behave, how they don’t behave, how they talk to boyfriends (even if they are boy friends) etc etc etc.

In the same article, another officer said, “If a girl wears revealing clothes, it will encourage lewd thoughts in any kid. They wear short skirts, blouse, they don’t wear dupattas, they flaunt their bodies. The kid will naturally get attracted to her.”

Kid?? How easily the perpetrator is turned into an innocent victim.

And yet, I, like yourself, am complicit in this situation.

We are complicit because our rage remains individual, we don’t pick up the courage to make it a collective anger, while mobs grope and strip a 17-year-old on our streets and gang rapes continue.

Somehow our impotent rage is restricted to Facebook or blogs. When someone is harassed we don’t step up.

My self-righteous anger at the crimes I hear about on TV or read in papers does not encourage action. I sometimes keep quiet when someone teases me at a certain time of day or in certain places in the city. Every time I keep quiet I commit a crime.

I pick up a kurta instead of a spaghetti top just so often. Not because I like the kurta better, but because my freedom needs the sanction of a perverted patriarchy that is easily spooked.

It gets spooked when I talk, it gets spooked when I ask questions, it gets spooked when I even walk out of home.

It is that society which barely registers a creature with a penis holding a cigarette and another with a vagina gets lewdly stared at and commented upon. One where a group beating up, molesting or even raping another represents collective fury against a ‘depraved’ society, yet a woman out dancing ‘calls for it.’

One where a man putting his hand into a woman’s shirt is virile and ‘manly’ and a woman sporting a cleavage is a dirty whore.

It has nothing to do with who wears what and I am sure the women would agree. I know I have been harassed even on days I have worn a kurta.

It also does not have anything to do with who drinks what.

And if it does, if I am a dirty slut because I wear skirts and drink occasionally, then what about that 14-year-old girl that got raped today? And that 11-year-old pre-pubertal kid? And that year-old toddler?

Given the general consensus with respect to sexual offence, girls are born with an incurable, insatiable lust for violent sex, right?

I have read stories about people righteously defending victims of sexual violence. Only, after they have been violated. I have seen millions ‘like’ it on the great tool of modern movement — Facebook.

I have been one of them too.

And, thus, I continue to write stories — stupidly optimistic, glorifying stories and sometimes I think delusional too.

A lip-smacking world tour

(This article was published in the Business Line on June 15, 2012)

May 21, the World Day for Cultural Diversity, came and went almost unnoticed. A few companies did try and do their bit to promote diversity at the workplace. But the Hilton group has gone to town with a special menu — dedicating not one day or one week but an entire month to cultural diversity at one of its newest properties in Delhi. In keeping with the theme, a carefully selected five-course menu gives guests at Infinity restaurant at the new Mayur Vihar Hilton an opportunity to take a culinary trip across three continents.

The Infinity welcomes guests into an airy and light atmosphere. White walls, pale wood and white marble flooring, and mirrored pillars with delicate motifs come together to provide a pleasing ambience. Windows running along the length of two walls of the high-ceilinged restaurant add freshness.


‘Culinary Flights’, as the special menu is called, begins with Italian delights — an Olive and Tomato Crostini topped with Parmesan Foam, which is rightly called a teaser, followed by the appetiser — Stracci al’ Aragosta. Crostini, which translates into ‘little toast’, is said to have been peasant food in medieval times when bread, which was topped with cheese, meat or veggies, served the function of a plate. This crostini was bright, fresh and simply delightful. The fresh basil set off the zing of the tomatoes, while the black olives just gave it a hint of saltiness and flavour. The appetiser consisted of succulent pieces of lobster poached in wine and lobster broth, covered in lasagne sheets, topped with blanched spinach leaves and saffron reduction.

Stracci al’ Aragosta

The two dishes were complemented by an Italian white wine — Carpene Malvolti Prosecco Brut. Setting aside a personal bias towards white wine, this Italian sparkling wine floored me. It naughtily played on the palate, while its freshness and lightness gave the appetisers a gentle kick.

In a not-too-old Hindi film, the protagonist compares food with artistic masterpieces, namely paintings, and deduces that food is the higher form of art because it draws every sense towards itself. The Creamed French Onion Soup with Poached Scallops looked simply elegant. Fresh thyme and a few drops of olive oil added colour to the ever-so-pale pink soup. However, the scallops and the creamy aroma was enough to distract any foodie. The tender, succulent scallops added a beautiful flavour to the rich soup, which, despite its creaminess, was surprisingly light on both the palate and the stomach.

The soup was complemented by a French white wine from the famous Burgundy region, Domaine Laroche Petit Chablis, served at room temperature so as to not shock and confuse the body — more specifically the stomach.

A non-vegetarian’s delight

Fresh and hearty, sweet and salty, the main course — Roasted Australian Lamb Loin with Crash-hot Potatoes, Apple Confit and Fried Goat Cheese — was characteristically Australian. So, how many times have you heard Michelin star chefs rave about that perfectly pink lamb? There really is a reason behind it — it makes the lamb flavourful, juicy and tender. This dish really packed a punch with its variety of flavours and textures! The salt and pepper-coated crust of the lamb complemented the juicy centre; the meaty taste blended with the pungent flavour of the cheese fried in crumbs to give it crunch, which combined with the versatile boiled and roasted baby potatoes.

And all of this was balanced with the sweetness of the apple confit and Australian red wine — D’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz.

The temptation of the colourful plate of fusion Indian dessert was hard to ignore. The quintessential light Bengali Rasmallai was served with a layer of chocolate mousse, rabri and raspberry coulis. The slight bitterness of the chocolate mousse lifted the Rasmallai, while the tangy raspberry coulis helped break the monotony.

Surprise of all surprises, the dessert, too, was served with white wine — the Indian Sula Late Harvest Chanin Blanc.

Sous Chef Mayur Thapa said their combined global experiences have been pooled to make the dishes innovative. “They aren’t traditional. We have added fusion elements to the dishes. For example the traditional French onion soup is a clear soup,” he said.

However, though the menu can take one on a gastronomically delightful journey, it does not do justice to the huge population of vegetarians in India.

Chef Thapa said this menu gets more attention from international tourists while Indians tend to give it a miss! Do we need to get a little more adventurous?


वक़्त की कब्र में सोईं हुई कुछ यादें हैं,

आह से रंगे हुए ख्वाबों की चादर में सिमटी रहती हैं जो|

धुंध के पर्दों के पीछे से झाँका करती हैं जो

कुछ यादें ऐसी भी हैं|

कुछ नींद में मिलती हैं मुझसे

कुछ आँखें चुराया करती हैं|

कुछ यादें ऐसी भी हैं जो हंसती हैं मुझ पर,

कई आंसू का कतरा बन कर गालों को चूमा करती हैं|

कुछ बेबस आँखों से देखती हैं मुझको,

काँधे पर सर रख कर सिसकती भी हैं|

क्यों रूठी हुई यादों में मिलते हो तुम?

क्या सब यादों का हिस्सा हो तुम?

A hundred takes on laadli’s impish smile

(This is my article which was was published in the Business Line on May 4, 2012)

She’s the Laadli of the Century. Eyes full of mischief, impish smile. The adorable grandma of Dil Se, Bebe of  Veer Zara and Biji in  Bend it Like Beckham, she has charmed cinemagoers of all generations.

As the Indian film industry celebrates an extraordinary moment in history — its centennial year — Zohra Segal, too, hit a century last week.

But it’s not just the screen that she has lit up with her humour. Dancer, choreographer, actor, artist and rebel, Zohra has lived life — all one hundred years of it — to the fullest.

On her birthday, daughter and Odissi dancer Kiran Segal unveiled her biography, Zohra Segal Fatty — a loving tribute to her weight-conscious mother.

Age may have dulled her sense of sight and sound, but Zohra’s wit continued to shine on her 100 {+t} {+h} birthday as she chimed, “ Abhi na jao chod kar, ke cake abhi kata nahi, ke pet abhi bhara nahi.”

The silver-screen connection

Born the same month and year that India’s first film, Raja Harishchandra, went into production, Zohra’s flirtation with cinema was perhaps ordained. But before that came a serious love affair — with the performing arts, dance as well as theatre. An unconventional choice for a Muslim girl of an aristocratic lineage.

An Artiste
Photo credit: Printed in Zohra Sehgal:Fatty

Not one to let go of dreams, 18-year-old Zohra went to Germany in 1930 and studied modern dance for three years before joining Uday Shankar’s experimental dance troupe in 1935. She toured the world.

Meanwhile, just a year after the young Zohra left India, Indian cinema had achieved a new milestone with its first talkie — Alam Ara — in 1931.

Romance with dance

Dance proved to be a consuming passion for Zohra from the 1930s to 1940s, and she eventually moved back to India in 1940 to teach at Uday Shankar’s dance school in Almora.

She was one of the leading teachers there and actually set the syllabus at the school. “She left the centre after marriage to my father, Kameshwar Segal, who was her student,” recalls daughter Kiran.

Zohra married Kameshwar — a Hindu boy eight years her junior — despite opposition from her family.

Dance was the route through which she entered Indian cinema. In 1945, she joined Prithvi Theatre as a dance director, while also choreographing for several well-known films such as BaaziCIDNau Do Gyarah and Awaara.

“When she joined Prithvi Theatre, she wanted to join as an actress, but Prithviraj ji told her there was no vacancy for actors. She eventually acted in their productions as well,” Kiran says.

 Theatre and activism

In 1942 the Indian People’s Theatre Association — a left-wing organisation through which performing artistes raised their voice against social injustice and joined the freedom struggle — came into being.

In Zohra’s words from the essay ‘Theatre and Activism in the 1940s’, “The association drew talent like honey does bees and every branch of art was represented by the most honoured in the land.”

She along with her sister, Prithviraj Kapoor, Uday Shankar, Ravi Shankar, Salil Choudhury, S.D. Burman, Utpal Dutt, Habib Tanvir, Shaukat Kaifi and many other stalwarts were important members of this organisation.

In 1946, Zohra debuted in IPTA’s first film production, Dharti Ke Lal, which dealt with the Bengal famine, and later acted in another IPTA film — Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar.

Gurus in her life

Kiran said while Zohra considers Prithviraj Kapoor (in theatre) and Uday Shankar (in dance) to be her two gurus, the former is her favourite co-actor of all times.

“She admired him immensely,” Kiran said.

Zohra ji at 95:
Photo credit: Printed in Zohra Sehgal:Fatty

Zohra describes the two influencers in her life thus in an interview, “With Uday Shankar I had been treated as a star. All this ended when I joined Prithvi Theatres.

“Prithviraj travelled with his company in the third-class compartments engaged for the troupe in spite of the fact that he had a first-class pass … he ate exactly what we did. I started appreciating these things and thought this is the true way of living.”

Decades later, she also acted in Prithviraj Kapoor’s great-grandson Ranbir’s debut film — Saanwariya, which was one of her last films.

Turning point

Life took a sudden turn for Zohra after her husband, who was working as an art director while she became a dance director and actress, committed suicide.

“She was devastated. Because of that we were uprooted from Bombay, because she didn’t want to stay on in Bombay any more. We came to Delhi, then she moved on for a lecture tour through Russia, then she went to England and stayed on there,” said Kiran.

However, this move also led to Zohra eventually getting international acclaim and she got her first role in British television in a BBC adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story in 1964; and eventually she worked with Merchant Ivory Productions’ The Courtesans of Bombay in 1982.

“The 1980s, when she got a lot of recognition, was her best decade. She struggled a lot after moving to England,” says Kiran.Sugar-less with Amitabh

In 2007 Zohra acted in her last two films — Saanwariya and Cheeni Kum.

“She is possibly the most wonderful woman and actor I have ever met. She is so full of life and has an incredible sense of humour,” says R. Balki, director of Cheeni Kum. “She turned 95 in 2007 and we were celebrating her birthday at Qutub Minar.

Changing the game? :)
Photo credit: Printed in Zohra Sehgal:Fatty

“Even in Delhi’s 42 degrees she was laughing and dancing. The best part was she made Amitabh Bachchan get up every time,” he laughingly describes.

But the woman who epitomises life has apparently often asked her daughter for euthanasia.

“I would like to take an injection and go to sleep,” said the woman who battled cancer in the mid-1990s.