So what's cooking?

A smorgasbord of news and views, thoughts and opinions!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Stephanian remembers....

It's hard for me to imagine Boromashi as a college girl. She has always been so serene, gracious and softspoken. At nearly 90 years of age, her hair is still as black as in her youth -- blacker than my own, considerably younger, mother's hair -- and her mind as clear as when she topped Delhi University in Philosophy 70 years ago. That feat catapulted her to fame among the probashi (non resident) Bengalis scattered over urban centres in an India in the throes of the independence movement.
A smile invariably flickers on Boromashi's face when she recalls how her photograph and brief laudatory description of her intellectual prowess caught the eye of her future in-laws, leading to her marriage with a man who seemed to complement her so wonderfully: a tall protective foil to her petite, fragile beauty, his booming baritone a contrast to her low, measured tones.
But that came later. First, those enviable results brought her for her master's degree to the portals of a college that was just beginning to gain a reputation for excellence in Delhi: St Stephen's. Essentially a men's college, it finally allowed in a few women at the post-graduate level for a while. And Boromashi was one of the first five women to be admitted.
It was a mixed blessing for the shy but brilliant girl who was held in such loving esteem by the old and young alike. MA in a college full of men? In a class full of men? In a library full of men? In a cafeteria full of men? She was a bundle of nerves. Mindful of their daughters' welfare, two Bengali fathers -- one of them my maternal grandfather, the other his friend -- decided that their girls would be ferried by car to college and back.
The two classmates' transport problems were sorted out by their fathers , but there was still a college full of men to confront. The five girls stayed as close as their individual college schedules would allow. But there was always that band of boys... You couldn't avoid them. Or they couldn't avoid beautiful Boromashi. She still blushes as she recalls chance encounters, the furtive glances that came her way, the fragments of engineered conversation...
"We decided that we would have our tiffin in the car," she recalls. "In those days there were no boundary walls so we walked across the front lawns to the car parked on the road and climbed inside to eat." But the boys clearly were not going to be deprived of their sparse company that easily. "Imagine my surprise then when one of the girls told me that I was mistaken if I thought I was avoiding the boys by sittting in the car. She told be to look at the verandahs in the front of the building..." To her horror she found several binoculars trained in their direction!
Today I reminded Boromashi about that incident and she recalled another one. "One day I was running down the college stairs in such a hurry that I slipped. My pen, my handkerchief, my bag everything went flying in all directions," she told me over the phone. "I was so distraught that a whole bunch of boys rushed forward to help pick my things up. So imagine my surprise when I found some 10 pens and 10 handkerchiefs in my bag!!"
Seventy years on, my son walks those same college corridors -- as did his father and uncle did a few decades before him -- and I think they would agree that those pens and kerchiefs were more eloquent epistles than anything that is emailed or BBM-ed today....
As for Boromashi, she left those extra pens and hankies in a corner for their ardent but disappointed owners to reclaim at their leisure. But the fact that she still remembers their anonymous gestures, would no doubt make them happy. She left before finishing her MA there as her father got transferred and St Stephens had no facilities for her to board there, and in the thick of the 1942 Quit India Movement she awaited her marriage to a gentle giant of a man she had never met.... But that is another post -- and another memorable conversation with Boromashi.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Corruption Games

The entire Commonwealth Organising Committee seems to be determined to beat us with the patriotism shovel. If we demand answers about corruption in practically every aspect of the Games -- in which there seems to have been a rare unanimity among fixers across the political spectrum -- we are dubbed anti-national.
Never mind if trees are being ruthlessly entombed in concrete in the name of 'streetscaping'. Never mind if metro train tracks are built overhead in residential areas despite the protest by people about noise pollution. Never mind that Delhi is becoming a city of carparks instead of parks. Never mind that pavements and roads are caving in, CP looks like a disaster-zone, and traffic snarls due to mindless and uncoordinated digging.
Never mind if contractors are skimming off allotted monies and con structing substandard facilities. Never mind if equipment and services are being hired at inflated prices with blatant disregard for norms. Never mind if ministers and officials insouciantly brush off allegations -- and evidence -- of poor execution of projects or assure us that shortcomings will be remedied by rebuilding. Talk about pouring good money in after bad....
And if it a matter of national pride, why is Delhi always the 'favoured' city? Two Asian Games and now the Commonwealth Games all held in the same city...Why can't we spread the joy? And dare I say -- the backhanders...?

Clintons cash in on Chelsea

Why is Chelsea Clinton's wedding being called 'royal'? Because she is the daughter of a former US President and a serving secretary of state? Or because the Clintons ensured continuing media interest by imposing a gag order on the minutae of weddings -- guest list, dress designer, cake maker, flower supplier et al? There have been many, many White House weddings -- the last one in 2008 when Jenna Bush got married. No fuss was made about that. Maybe because the Bushes decided to genuinely play it low-key instead of pretending to be media shy.
As it turned out, the Chelsea-Marc wedding was disappointingly low on star power, so the Clintons really need not have made such a big deal about privacy. Who cares about Chelsea and Marc's Stanford classmates and well-heeled friends? So what if the bride wore Vera Wang instead of Oscar de la Renta, only Michelle Obama's sartorial choices influence buying patterns in the US these days... Hang on, is that the real reason why the Obamas were not invited?
In fact, no one who could attract more media interest than the Clintons were on hand any way. Going by our Indian celebrity (read political) weddings, both the setting and the guest list were rather mundane. The house may have belonged to the Astors but it would hardly have evoked a media frenzy had a no fly zone not been imposed. Considering the groom reportedly splashed out on a $1 million diamond engagement ring, a $2 million bill for the whole wedding was peanuts, given what the Clintons are worth.
The real big ticket Indian political weddings are truly private. Most famously, to date only one photo of Priyanka Gandhi's marriage has surfaced. Caterers, flowers, saree, jewellery, guest list.... nothing made it to the public domain but the Gandhi family did not make a public hoo-haa about secrecy either. When Rahul Gandhi went off to London for his 40th birthday -- and as speculation continues about his prolonged bachelorhood -- he is not making a public issue about his privacy.
It is also a telling commentary on realpolitik and the longevity of political 'friendships' that Bill's deputy through both his administrations was not there, but the Indian hotelier who shamelessly flaunted his proximity to the Clintons was... The reason given was that Chelsea wanted only those whom she knew personally. So, presumably, she accompanied her dad to Sant Singh Chatwal's Indian restaurant but never ever bumped into Vice President Al Gore in all her eight years in the White House.
The inescapable conclusion seems to be that her parents wanted to make the most of what Chelsea herself visualised as a private affair.