Archive | July 2011

Kalmadi’s Chronic-ills (Chapter 1 – How to Plead Memory Loss and Get Away With It)

Suresh Kalmadi’s lawyer is busy working on his defence. In fact, I have a feeling that he was at it even prior to the Commonwealth Games, what with all the allegations flying around so hard and fast and the government having to parry them. And then the games opened, and Kalmadi put his foot in it, or did he… by referring to Camilla as Princess Diana.

Come on now Mr. K. You couldn’t have been serious. I mean, that didn’t even qualify as a faux pas. It would be more in the realm of a colossal blunder… and that’s assuming it was an honest mistake. But then again, that’s what we lawyers term as ‘laying the groundwork’.

That politicians tend to suffer from memory lapses isn’t something new. But now the DIG of Tihar Jail says that Suresh Kalmadi has been diagnosed with dementia. All too convenient isn’t it, and rather well-timed. Two months out in the boondocks and a person can survive, imagine that they’re on safari maybe. But a month more and reality begins to hit home, especially since they’re without all their creature comforts, no iPad, not even a laptop and they can’t even use the cell phone to call in for some take out, without having to treat the whole barrack.

I suppose life in jail is hard for those living off ill-gotten wealth. Why, even a desi don like Pappu Yadav wants his air conditioning. And Pappu’s an old-fashioned, straightforward sort of man right from the heartland of Bihar, with old school values and from a time when chest pains and obesity related ailments were enough to get a guy an air-conditioned suite at AIIMS. But time isn’t being kind to Pappu who’s back in Beur, in the mother country, with the jail doctor refusing to give him a fake medical certificate even under threat of death, and to compound his woes, the authorities go and install cell-phone jammers.

Can’t a guy do an honest day’s work anymore?

He misses Tihar and Delhi and Sheila aunty.

But now even Tihar is playing tough, and post Manu Sharma’s jaunt to the pub, even Sheila’s been lying low, playing by the rule book, which recently tweaked its medical policy.

The deal is now pretty simple if you’re a big gun in the hallowed precincts of Tihar.

  1. Clutch your heart and they’ll give you an antacid.
  2. Faint and they may just take you to the spanking new in-house facility.
  3. Collapse and you’d better be having a heart attack, because that’s what it’s going to take you to find your way to one of those air-conditioned suites at DDU or LNJP or AIIMS.

Speaking of spanking new in-house facilities, you’d think these guys would be grateful, being spared the muggy ride out. I simply cannot understand the resistance… Perhaps there’s something about hospitals that I’m unaware of?

… And don’t tell me it’s the custard?

Whatever it is – the fact is that chest pains aren’t doing it anymore. And what was once Pappu Yadav’s heartburn has been forced to take the uncharted road towards Suresh Kalmadi’s dementia.

But I’m seriously impressed. What better way to get out of jail, and feign complete ignorance about all your transgressions, than by picking a condition that has so many facets to it, it’s still an enigma to many. And that it is in a relatively nascent stage of awareness in India is just peachy.

What really jars in my mind however is the DIG, Tihar, R.N. Sharma’s sudden justification that Kalmadi’s family had mentioned that he was suffering from dementia in the medical history submitted to the jail.

When was this medical history submitted Mr. Sharma… before or after the dementia declaration?

Meanwhile, what has emerged from the entire CWG fiasco however is that Suresh Kalmadi is and continues to be a real piece of work. But there’s a part of me that would still like to believe that he’s not the low life people say he is, as much as I’d like to believe the Sports Minister, Ajay Maken’s statement that Kalmadi can’t escape the law even if he has dementia. Well Mr. Maken… I don’t think you know too much about the law or is it more a case of throwing scraps to keep the hounds at bay. Something, anything to throw them off the scent?

Whatever it is… and more importantly, in deference to the growing number of people who are actually afflicted with this condition, I’d like to believe that Suresh Kalmadi is actually suffering from dementia. Just as much as I would like to believe that pigs can fly and that Idi Amin was a victim of prejudice when the Nobel Committee overlooked him for the Peace Prize for his role in Entebbe.

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Do You Have a Dog, Sanjay Manjrekar?

It rained this morning. Not much… just a wee bit. But after a couple of days of fairly heavy showers, traffic snarls, and delayed trains, I was glad. My mum had her cataract operation scheduled for around 10 am, and I was in a rush to make it in time to take her to the clinic.

My drive took me past the SNDT signal at Juhu.

Early morning traffic can be beastly in Mumbai, more so when it rains. And on a Tuesday, it’s usually hellish. Even a drizzle is often enough to throw things out of gear, and of course our roads are a (bleeping) mess. Bitch and moan all you want to your corporator at the LACC (Local Area Citizens Committee) Meeting, if he/she is nice enough to attend, and they’ll give you the standard, much rehearsed promissory answer that they’ll “look into it”. But then the monsoon comes and goes, and after you’ve spent a bundle on your car or on your clothes, depending on whether you drive or take an autorickshaw, you get the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation aka the BMC’s usual response – that they simply weren’t prepared for this monsoon… which makes me want to revisit my old geography books, though I distinctly remember learning that the monsoon was and still is a yearly phenomenon in Mumbai, except occasionally, when it fails, and then the municipal corporation imposes those water cuts and jacks up the water bill.  But even then, even when we’ve had one of those bad monsoon seasons, it still rains, even if it’s the odd drizzle or the occasional shower once every 10 days… if my memory serves me right. I can’t recall a year of… well… nothing.

“So what’s up with the promises?” I ask my corporator, when I meet him post monsoon, and he ignores me amidst the myriad voices that crop up, yelling out their grouses and turns to some ‘Sandra from Bandra’, who he knows voted for him since she was in his campaign party and asks her if the drainage system down her road, which he did have cleaned, works fine, and she gives him a smile that would make Jesus blush.

So yeah I’m on the pot-holed road, in my car, and I reach the SNDT signal and the first thing that strikes me apart from that lovely picture of Radhe Gurumaa in all her come hither splendour, is a large hoarding from some Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) lackeys wishing a certain ‘Asif Bhamla’ a very happy birthday. You can’t miss it… it’s huge, and it’s all there.

Happy Birthday to you...

And then just below it, a much smaller one, with the same greeting, to the same birthday boy, from another set of admirers, of obviously more humble resources, and from perhaps way down the pecking order.

So I whip out my phone and take a photograph as I wait patiently at the signal, and then I spot another banner across the road, but no… not directly opposite, because that spot’s taken by Mr. Nitesh Rane and his Swabhiman Sanghtana… so this one had to move a few paces down.

Now isn’t that nice? I think to myself, so much brotherly love and camaraderie and space sharing. After all it is everyone’s road isn’t it? Around Andheri – Lokhandwala all you get to see is hoardings from and of some guy called Baldev Khosa… oh … and his son too… at least on a couple of occasions.

And I go back fondly in time, to the relatively recent past, to February of this year, and to the Mumbai Mirror’s “No Chamchagiri On Our Walls Please” initiative, and to Sanjay Manjrekar and his maali, and to Mr. R. R. Patil, Maharashtra’s Home Minister, who incidentally belongs to the NCP and to his assurances that he would request his party workers and leaders to exercise restraint while putting up hoardings. And the fact that for a short while after that I didn’t have to crane my neck to peer through the banners to get a glimpse of the few trees that happened to still be there, along the side of the road as I drove by every day.

And I wonder…

“Do you have a dog, Sanjay Manjrekar?”

“Does he have a birthday coming up sometime soon?”

If ‘Azad’ means Liberty… then what happened to you Ghulam Nabi?

I thought the word ‘azad’ meant liberty… freedom. But a certain politician of the same name has recently come forth or rather retreated a million steps with his display of utter backwardness. I think a name change is in order.

What’s Kashmiri for pea-brained?

I’d like to know what you were thinking when you made that speech Ghulam Nabi, that too at a convention on HIV/Aids. Or perhaps as your party will be quick to point out, you were misquoted and meant that men should not have sex with women, after all what better way to curb instances of STDs than practicing complete abstinence. I’m with you on that one. Besides you’ve said that this ‘disease’ has come to India from developed countries, and while I know people like you would like us to be perennially under-developed, you’ve probably been bunking history class. No wait… someone tore down the library, burnt all the books and defaced all the statues, lopping off penises and breasts at will. After all we are Indian. We only rape our women and men behind closed doors.

So barely a day after the second anniversary of the Delhi High Court judgement that sought to decriminalize homosexuality by reading down that archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, our politicians do it again. After all don’t our governments have a penchant for miscasting their lead players?  I mean we have Manmohan Singh as P.M. on a string… I could go on but I like old Manmohan and besides I like to hear him speak. His soft, lilting voice can lull you into a deep slumber. Power nap just got a whole new meaning.

Anyway I doubt we can really blame the government, after all it’s a tough choice to make, choosing between aging sycophants and young thugs… oops… I meant turks, intent on their Swiss bankrolls. Besides we can’t always get lucky and get an Anbumani Ramadoss, who in 2008 as Union Health Minister went on record at the International Aids Conference in Mexico City, when he said; “Section 377 of IPC, which criminalizes men who have sex with men, must go”. But then that was an anomaly, a time when we actually got it right, appointing someone qualified for the job. A doctor as health minister… surely that was a first. It’s kinda like Sharad Pawar leading the BCCI and now the ICC. But then it’s so easy to forget that cricket is actually a game.

So it was strange for me to see the papers this morning, just a couple of days after I had written an article on Section 377, primarily to make the gay community – many of whom think that the section has been scrapped – wake up and smell their banana flavoured condoms. Guys it’s still on the statute books, nothing’s changed, so stop clamouring for marital rights along the lines of New York and put away those boas and silver hot pants. This is India… and it’s time to stock up on those ‘Get out of Jail Free’ cards.

The Picture of Simi Garewal

“If this girl can give a soul to those who have lived without one, if she can create the sense of beauty in people whose lives have been sordid and ugly, if she can strip them of their selfishness and lend them tears for sorrows that are not their own, she is worthy of all your adoration, worthy of the adoration of the world.”

Wrote that great master of wit and scourge of the witless, the incomparable Oscar Wilde, in his only novel…

So I turned on the TV the other day and a familiar face came into view. A woman whose acting skills were as much in doubt as the proverbial casting couch which spawned many of her generations brightest stars. So forty odd years down the line from her last known role in Karz, the lady has evolved. Still dressed in widows or virginal white, depending on her mood of the moment, linked inextricably with the lives of countless stars, colleagues who outshone her in her day, many of whom are now jaded or glitter with occasional spurts of brilliance as all dying stars do, before they get sucked into the ignominy of black holes, she now stands brighter than them all, refusing to bow out.

So she holds them up to the light, for those flickering minutes, kind and gentle, graceful even. I should speak kindly of her therefore, of her grace and her poise and her gentle prodding and extrication of facts and fiction, and of her voice, soft, bordering on the sensual, none of the grating raspiness of tone like Barbara Walters, flattering, prodding, coaxing her guests to reveal all what Devyani Chaubal had already and rather ungraciously pried out and splattered over tabloid pages decades ago.

I remember a particular episode a few years ago, one of those where she’d interviewed that fedoraesque superstar of yesteryear about the men in her life. Draped in a Kanjeevaram, tastefully bejewelled, the fedoraesque star spoke about the men in her life, from the superstar who had used and dumped her cruelly, and whom she still loved, to her relationship with her famous father, and the long conversations they’d had. Oh… wait a minute… conversations they’d had when he was… well… dead. It seemed manic. She seemed manic. But with her voice soft and gentle, the lady in white clucked like a mother hen guiding her brood across a crowded street, matching that of the superstar, extricating all that she could, matching her, intonation for intonation, while the star drawled on, her eyes distant, spaced-out, as though… and the camera pounced, lingering over those moments.

And then after five arduously long seasons of rendezvous’, or were there more… for it seemed to go on and on, with reruns and more reruns, we thought we’d seen the end of her and moved on to other things.

But now she’s back, with a new crop of young desirables, her trademark white now tinged with the hue of the evening, a subtle splash of fawn or mellow grey, hinging on silver. Her hair neatly in place, every strand accounted for, generously doused with enough hairspray to make the fire department send her a safety notice. In her late sixties nudging seventy, she looks the same as she did three decades ago, as she parries with those young enough to be her grandchildren… looking impeccable, youthful, as though she’s drunk of the fountain of eternal youth and will never change.

While in some dark attic somewhere lies a picture… shrouded.