It’s all about eve

In depression-hit UK, one of the biggest stories exploding right now is over phone hacking — only this time the accused are from the private sector, i.e., journalists are being accused of eavesdropping on private conversations in search of scoops. Finally the Rupert Murdoch empire is being held responsible and the News of the World, a tabloid, stands in the dock. Scotland Yard is being urged to investigate, and even Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister, is reported to have, in the past, complained to the police that perhaps his phone was being tapped. This is not really as laughable as it would normally be because already the communications director (and a former editor of the News of the World), Andy Coulson, attached to David Cameron, the present Prime Minister, has been forced to resign in fear of “becoming” the news. Questions are being raised whether he was aware of the phone-hacking that was allegedly going on while he was still editing the paper. Of course, the fact that a range of technology now exists to listen into conversations makes the issue even more intriguing.
The speed with which Mr Coulson’s resignation has come makes one appreciate that in these uncertain times it is better to get rid of controversial figures in the government especially if you are running a coalition. There may be a lesson or two for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government back home in India.

Meanwhile, the so-called “funniest” stories worldwide are always about gender bias. Sigh. (Think of all the jokes you’ve ever heard about mother-in-laws and women drivers…). Recently, a leading football commentator in the UK lost his job because he was recorded, inadvertently, mulling over whether a female “linesman” understood what offside was and in another case requested a woman sports commentator to put her hand down his trousers... Only jokingly, of course! And we thought Indian men are sexist! Nonetheless, people have been quick to leap to his defence and have stated that the lady concerned had even been photographed in her underwear in a lad’s mag. The proper response to such weak rebuttals is “so what?” No matter what the women do out of their free will, why do they have to be subjected to sexist behaviour?
But women are battling for recognition in every area and not just on the football field. Even at the so-called egalitarian economic forums. At Davos this year there is now a strict norm that there must be at least a 20 per cent attendance of women leaders (and not just wives and girlfriends). Therefore, one in five attendees have to be a female. At last, some people are beginning to wake up and realise how boring life is without women! But 20 per cent? I find this figure a little astonishing: Shouldn’t it have been 50 per cent? How long will it take for that last bastion of male bonding to melt? Or, like in football, will it take a rude shove to get the chauvinists out…?
In some places, of course, gender equality is managing to make its presence felt. For instance, at the Costa Book Awards this week in London, at a glittering evening at Quaglino’s, the judging panel headed by Andrew Neil chose Jo Shapcott’s beautifully written new book of poems, Of Mutability, for the top Book of the Year prize. There were five of us in the final list — each having won in our own categories — but there is little doubt that Shapcott’s work has a particular luminance to it, especially as it deals with her own battle with breast cancer. She has been a hugely significant poet, winning over the years the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Collection, the Forward Prize for Best Collection and, twice, the National Poetry Competition. I am thrilled at her success because I really do not see too many people reading poems today and I hope her win will make all the difference.
Shapcott’s personal story is also extremely poignant and perhaps her struggle has made her into the fine poet that she is. She lost both her parents at the age of 18 but went on to hone her skills — reading and writing and perfecting her poetry. The diagnosis a few years back that she had breast cancer gave birth to this book in which she has also acknowledged the doctors who helped her. Meeting her was completely delightful as she seemed so content: celebrating both life and death in her book. This is what made the Costa competition unique. Each of the books that evening had passionately differing stories to tell. For instance, Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes examines, among other things, the holocaust, Maggie O’Farrell’s book The Hand That First Held Mine looks at the problems of women — while mine, Witness the Night, of course, dealt with gendercide… all tough narratives.
Obviously, struggles like that of Shapcott, which end in triumph over adversity, are always the most exciting and inspirational stories.
This message was reinforced when I saw The King’s Speech, a fairly pedestrian film in many ways, but it is making waves with 12 Oscar nominations. Of course, the Brits do period drama extremely well and somehow anything to do with royalty gets fast tracked to the awards. However, the film is often unadventurous, using a pedantic effort to introduce an oral history lesson. For example, in case we have forgotten, the strange turn of events that brought King George VI to the throne, following the abdication of his brother to marry the much-divorced Wallis Simpson.
Though I enjoyed it (up to a point) I simply couldn’t see what the fuss is all about. It is a competent film yet neither overwhelming nor brilliant. Even Colin Firth, sadly, only ends up looking slightly perplexed as he stammers his way through life. Don’t forget, however, it is the same momentum that pushed Slumdog Millionaire to the Oscars and is shoving The King’s Speech upwards and forward now. Otherwise, comparatively, Black Swan is a far more disturbing and innovative film. But then, it has a negative ending… and in today’s age of depression we need a upper not downer. What do you say?

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