Shobhaa De


Shobhaa De

The Shroud and saris in Turin

How does one explain the shaap of khap to a predominantly Italian, very earnest audience attending an Indian author’s formal presentation at the prestigious Book Fair in Turin?

Kasab... and thereby hangs a tale!

“Kasab ko latka do…” Done. Kasab has been sentenced. He is to hang. Will he? That’s a million dollar question.

The games that big boys play

April.24 : Oh! Oh… Should I be worrying about the price of wheat or the future of cricket? “Sports should not be politicised”, said Nationalist Congress Party ka aadmi D.P. Tripathi with a straight face, and I almost fell off my chair with laughter. Politicians have a stranglehold over every marketable game going… it is only about political monopoly. And this guy had the gall to say this at a press conference! He also added sweetly, “Truth needs no furniture!” That was priceless, given the “furniture showrooms” his party owns.

Taking note of Ms Mayawati

March.27 : I like Mayawati’s style… always have. Polyester pink salwar kameezes in the sweltering heat of Uttar Pradesh? Why not? If the peasants can sweat it out at the lady’s rallies in nylon, that’s the least she can do in return. Dime-store pearls and rhinestone rings? Of course. Plastic purses and polythene sandals? Absolutely. Does that make Ms Mayawati the new style icon? Fashion’s new darling? I think so. I hope so. And I swear I am not being mean. I would love to do a line inspired by Ms Mayawati myself!

I remember attending a fashion show some years ago where the hugely talented Raghuvendra Singh Rathore had got his male models to strut down the ramp wearing a pretty snazzy line of safari suits. You know the kind I mean? The ones that stank of perspiration and Dilli Babudom (literally!). Safari suits were synonymous with babus way back in the ’70s and ’80s. These utterly ghastly "uniforms" of bureaucrats across India had been given a fresh but very sardonic twist by Raghu. It was obviously a send up… but I fear his "in joke" was lost on most people in the audience who were (and remain) uninformed and indifferent to anything even remotely cerebral. The puzzled front row crowd stared non-comprehendingly at the garments, clapped uneasily at the end of the show and congratulated Raghu profusely for creating a new silhouette! How I laughed. And how Raghu must have laughed at those fools.

Ms Mayawati is no fool. Nothing about her is accidental. Not even her latest stunt with the thousand rupee notes garland. She got world press, remember? She made the front page of nearly every important paper in India. And her followers were delirious with pride and joy. What more does a politician want? The mistake most critics are making is exactly the same mistake she wants them to — they are reading her wrong. They mock her for superficial reasons. They are obvious and shallow in their criticism. They focus on non-issues. That must really please her! Ms Mayawati has everybody by the short and curly — just as she likes it. She really doesn’t give a damn whether or not the chi chi crowd in Delhi is unwilling to host soirees in her honour. Their sprawling salons may not welcome her, but the maidans of the capital spill over when she grabs that mike and bellows into it. That is Ms Mayawati’s turf. And she knows as much, instinctively. As for her infamous fashion faux pas, she is unfazed and unapologetic. Her synthetic purse (same one she refuses to let go off), is a far cry from the orange Birkin every desi socialite craves for, but it is perennially stuffed with currency. And that counts for more in her book. Ms Mayawati is the original Bag Lady.

I was in France last week to promote the French edition of one of my books. The publishers had set up several interviews with mighty newspapers and magazines, plus interactions with readers at bookstores. Interestingly enough, a lot of the questions asked revolved around caste issues in India… and Ms Mayawati. I tried in vain to decode both. First came the language barrier (how does one translate "dalit"?), then the complexities. Caste was easier to handle. I only had to discuss race and related racist problems in France for most interviewers to quickly change the subject. But "explaining" a phenomenon called Mayawati proved to be much tougher.

It’s hard enough deconstructing her in India. When I devoted generous space to her in my last book, Superstar India, there were several journos who asked me whether I was an active supporter… even Ms Mayawati’s champion. I gave up responding to that sort of immature, trite provocation years ago. So, I’d smile and let the journos draw their own conclusions. With the French, it is not so easy to fob them off. As we well know, every French person thinks of himself/herself as an intellectual (much like the Bengalis here). If Ms Mayawati has to be mentioned in their story, she needs to be dissected and served up like a perfectly carved guinea fowl. Tres difficile, as you can imagine. I tried to get away with a careless Gallic shrug and lots of face pulling, but those guys were not about to let me off the hook so easily. "What about the garland of notes?" they’d persist. Well… what about it?

Ms Mayawati’s arrogance stems from her absolute belief in herself. If that garland did indeed offend people and has broken laws, charge her! Why didn’t anybody do it? Why wasn’t she arrested? See what I mean? Who could be daring enough to take action against her for such an act? Nobody. And the reasons for the inaction are obvious. Ms Mayawati did in public what nearly every politician in India does in private. She brazenly displayed money power in all its naked glory. Those statues!! She did it in a manner so blatant and so defiant that she left critics and observers gasping.

It was almost as if she was egging them on to take her on. It was a brilliant gamble — and she pulled it off. Unlike most of her ilk in public life, Ms Mayawati has… errrrr, testicles of steel. You mess with Ms Mayawati at your own peril.

Mind it!

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India’s big ‘Mahila Moment’

March.13 : Jai jawan! Jai Kisaan! Jai Mahila!
Ji haan. What Soniaji wants, Soniaji gets! God is  also great, ji! He likes Sonia. What a bhet! That too one day after International Women’s Day. Am I thrilled to bits? Nope. I have never been pro-reservations. And that cuts across the board. I don’t believe in subsidies and quotas. But my far worthier sisters say, I am being silly about this. Super sensitive and even selfish. Theek hai. I guess we should be rejoicing, and eventually I too may get co-opted. But till such time, I’m keeping the bubbly on hold.

Budget ’10: Nani yaad aa gayi

Feb.26 : The most tiresome and seriously annoying aspect of the annual water torture, also known as the Budget, is the pre- and post-analysis of the damn thing!

My Name is Mumbai...?

Feb.13 : Hey Bhagwan! I am writing this a few hours before what may turn out to be Black Friday, if not for the city of Mumbai then for SRK. Fingers crossed. The Shiv Sena’s legal eagle, Rahul Narvekar, with whom I shared a panel discussion on television this morning, kept talking about a “mass movement” that is sweeping over the metropolis. “You will get your answer tomorrow”, he said ominously, when asked what plans his party had for disrupting the screening of the film. If that sounded like a pretty nasty threat, Rahul Narvekar wasn’t about to give the game plan away to Karan Thapar. But the message was loud and clear.

Palin 10/10 on ‘hottie’ scale, but would you root for her?

Let nobody undermine the all-important ooooomph factor in politics. Why… Even in life itself. Case in point? North Star Sarah Palin. From a virtual nobody to a very important somebody in less than a month, is no small achievement for a 44-year-old brunette who has seriously sexed up John McCain’s lackluster campaign. Even Senator Obama has woken up to the latest development in the Republican camp by aggressively courting the female vote after Ms Palin’s feisty convention speech. Over 40 million Americans watched this overnight super celebrity when she took the national stage. Not only did she manage to "shake things up" in Mr McCain’s words, but she had supporters swooning in the aisles.

Jaswant now single, and quite happy to mingle

Augest.29 : It is amazing how the aam aadmi has responded to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bombshell — indifferently and with a sense of sardonic amusement. If anything, there has been a show of healthy irreverence, especially after Arun Shourie’s fiery outburst across countless TV channels. A couple of wicked observations at this point — Jaswant Singh hogged more media time than poor Shah Rukh Khan.

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I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.