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In the days to come, there will be widespread discussion on Slumdog Millionaire and whether it reflects the true worth of India and is indeed a representation of life in India. There will be many who will suddenly change their stance now that the film has won eight Oscars. While there will be silly marketing managers and their ilk who will try and devise strategies as to how Jamal Malik can now be the brand-endorser for all things which are basic and Indian.

For me personally, the Oscar ceremony on February 22 at the Kodak Theatre was more than just about a film set in Bombay. It was about recognising the true worth of soft power and its role in building a brand: in this case, Brand India and I believe for that and that alone, we need to be grateful to Danny Boyle. The film could easily have been set in Africa. We may have missed A R Rahman’s music in that case but am sure the treatment would have not been so dramatically different.

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One always looks forward to travelling to London when you are sure you won’t bump into many tourists especially from India: considering one spends a whole year avoiding them, the last thing you want to do is make polite conversation in Hyde Park. This trip however, has been more of a revelation than most!


If we think being saddled with a doddering Arjun Singh is bad enough, then think again. All of England is up in arms against Gordon Brown and never has a British Prime Minister been so reviled and so rallied against as Brown has. London is a ghost town. The high streets are empty and stores are on a permanent discount. One would have thought it would be a good time to buy but then where’s the money? The scourge of investment bankers on the whole monetary system has made them pariahs and no longer are the Zumas and the Nobus filled with the arrogance-laced swagger of investment bankers and their expensive lifestyles. On last count, some 500,000 jobs in The City had disappeared and along with that their expense budgets. The fall of avarice and greed has never been more telling or as enduring as this one.

As Amartya Sen rightly said, this is not just a bad economy, what’s worse is there is a perpetual crisis of confidence and unless one repairs that, it seems the doomsdays shall never end and this exactly what one sees in London. The Jet flight from Delhi to London was like a ghost flight and one knew that times are tough but never did I imagine they’d be as dark as they are. Westend shows are going a begging and it is no longer a nightmare trying to get tickets for some of the finest theatre if one wishes to. On my part, I am looking forward to seeing the much acclaimed Boys Deserve a Favour and On the Waterfront. The political scene is much like what we have in India: the choice between David Cameron of the Tories and Gordon Brown of Labour is so feeble that you might as well continue with Gordon himself and add to that the socialist colour that England is bathed in and you have a lethal concoction which no one ever imagined.

In the good old days one made money the old-fashioned way: one earned it. It was then replaced by the heady world of derivatives and hedge funds and today the world is shivering with fear and uncertainty. Even the venerable Economist has announced the end of its honeymoon with Barack Obama. So where does this leave the world as it were. Given that the Indian stimulus packages are but an apology, I believe we are in for the toughest times ever. Advertising and marketing spends have plummeted and in consumerist economies such as England, these are telling signals which do not augur well for at least the next 18 months. London, for the longest time, has survived on tourism and non-domiciled successes and all of those are falling by the wayside. The Lakshmi Mittals are no longer the Holy Grail they once were and rich lists are being seeing with greater anger and suspicion.

But are there lessons to be learnt from this crisis of confidence? I believe there are. For one, we have to realise, much like in India, the stock market can never be an accurate barometer of either development or real-time success. It is but a bubble, which will burst once, the realities of the real world kick in and this is what we are seeing across the globe. It would not be far-fetched to say, most of the Western economies are bankrupt today waiting for Government handouts like never before. The banking system in England is a mess and I won’t be surprised if in the coming days, we see more banks going under. We also have to ensure that the divide between the rich and the poor is bridged with active intervention from those whose job is to govern and to provide a sense of equality. The fact that Hugo Chavez won another referendum in Venezuela suggests that democracy as a political form is meaningless without real opportunities for real people and unless that realisation dawns on our political masters, this crisis will not end in a hurry.

The state of contemporary England sends out a chilling message not only to the developed world but equally to the world where we come from. In all this grandstanding of SEZs and real-estate development, somewhere we have forgotten that people value food on the table and a steady job. In this rush towards a gold mine, we somehow forget that the world is waiting for not just a price correction but also indeed a correction in our values and what we see as real development. In many ways, the state of England sends a message to the world, that riches are transitional but it is the creation of wealth from the bottom of the pyramid that must seize not just our attention but also our energies. That perhaps is the only way forward as we begin to hunker down for the troubled times ahead!

A prominent editor in India has often remarked that parties in India don’t win, instead they lose elections: a not-so-subtle hint at the prevalent fashion with regards to incumbency. The tragedy with our so-called democracy is that we often end up voting out, rather than voting in people who would be good to govern India. So is this real democracy after all when you are actually expending negative energy to make sure the same rogue doesn’t return.


The last five years have been terrible for India. Let’s face it, even though the economic meltdown is not the fault of the Manmohan Singh government, one has to admit the reaction of the government both in terms of speed and depth has been woefully inadequate. There have been more terrorist attacks in the last five years than in all our history and we’ve had a joker running the Home Ministry atleast until now. Add to that the fact, that this has been the most rag-tag coalition and you can see the disasters for yourself. I have no doubt in my mind that this has been the most corrupt Union Cabinet in the history of independent India led ironically by the most honest man. There is no question of Manmohan Singh’s integrity nor that of Sonia Gandhi but then take a look at some of the members of the Cabinet and your mind will boggle. In the good old days, these ministers would take cash, nowadays, they take equity.


The Satyam saga is reflective of the deep nexus between business and politics and it is sad that to this day, Sonia Gandhi has not fired Y Rajshekar Reddy of Andhra Pradesh for his known complicity in the Satyam scandal. When the terror attacks happened in Bombay, the response of the Union of India was pitiable and I can promise you should there be a recurrence of that today, the story will be the same. This government may not genuinely be soft on terror but it surely is perceived thus and this is not good news for the leadership of any country.


The one accolade this government deserved has been botched up as well: the Indo-US nuclear deal is a communication disaster: ask people in villages and cities across India and they won’t have a clue about the deal or its emergent benefits.


This government opened up many sectors but to great opaqueness. The fact that we have a mess in telecom and civil aviation is reflective of this lack of transparency. This government has had fugitives in the Cabinet (Shibu Soren) and known convicts (Lalu Prasad Yadav) not to mention the fact that DMK is now more known as Delhi Money for Karunanidhi. This is the reality of this government. What saddens me is that this is the same government which boasts of a brilliant Prime Minister, a bright (but arrogant) Chidambaram, a go-getter in the form of Kamal Nath and many many more, Young Scindia and Prasad are the light at the end of this tunnel and yet the government has mud on its face for so many critical things.


India is at vital cross-roads. We have issues with neighbourly diplomacy like we have never had before. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh have become points of implosion. And not to mention the declining relationship we have with Pakistan. The fact that even to this day, this country has an acting Finance Minister is proof of how seriously this government takes the economic crisis.


But will all of this help the BJP and their rag-tag alliance come back to power? Let me hazard a prediction which of course I shall be held to. I have a belief (and I was right in 2004 when I said that India Shining was a disaster and that the BJP would lose) that the next General Elections will see the Congress back. With yet another rag-tag alliance but only because I believe the BJP has still not got its act together. They are riddled with internal politics of hatred; they are a divided lot and even though Advani is a fine man, I do not believe the BJP will come back. Not because the Congress has been exceptional but only because the average India is tired of voting on the plank of hatred and this whole Hindutva thing is now old hat. People want development. They want water more than they want Ram. They want offices to work in rather than temples to pray in.


They want unifiers and not those who will divide. So don’t be too surprised if you see the familiar blue turbaned head delivering a mild speech this coming August 15 from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi. I wager, the Congress is back and that Manmohan Singh will be India’s next Prime Minister.


By suhel_seth on Feb. 9th, 2009

There was a time when we adored the Gayatri Devis of the world and their mere presence said it all. Blue blood was something that could not be transfused. The royals behaved as they should have. As if they owned kingdoms. Which some of them truly did. Their jewels were the real stuff. Not some silly Italian brand that keeps opening expensive stores in five- star hotels. Their progeny was happier playing polo and dating white women than representing some odd French brand of luggage. This was a time that has long passed us by.

 The India of today has a different breed of royals. Men and women, who are commoners but like Edward, have become great pretenders. No longer are they accompanied by herds of caparisoned elephants. They instead ride in white ambassadors or fuel-guzzling SUVs. Their brand of blue blood is what they make of it. Not what flows in their veins? And like the erstwhile royals, they have control over different kinds of kingdoms. Some run riot in cricket, others rule Bollywood, some try and run India while a few, very few, emerge from the ranks of industry.

 So who are these neo-royals and what makes them tick? Why does India treat them with deference when we know it’s just a sham? Why do black cats and white ambassadors follow their every move? Why do television cameras record their every move: from bowel movements to that of the stock market?

 Three things turn on India: and all three have power as the lowest common denominator.

Cricket, Cinema and Politics.


 - Lalit Modi: if you ever put on your television sets during a cricket match, there will be one dark gesticulator and that is Lalit Modi, the new King of Indian Cricket who rules with the benign approval of the Emperor, Sharad Pawar. Lalit Modi, like any king is aware of his power. He realises the hold that cricket has over millions in this country. He straddles every pitch like a Collosus and is found in front of the cameras after every match that India wins.

You will never see the King preside over losses. That would be asking for too much. His ascendancy to the throne is as mysterious as his business acumen but rumours have it that he was the maestro behind the coup, which dislodged the previous Emperor, Jagmohan Dalmiya!

 - Rajeev Shukla: he is the evergreen royal: a kind of Prince Charles: always waiting to take over from anyone who is willing to give him that crown. He is the facilitator of celebrities in cricket. If you want Shahrukh Khan and Rahul Gandhi at a cricket match, get Rajeev Shukla to organise that. But the reason why I admire him is he also ensures India wins so that there is no major embarrassment.

 You will observe the people who really matter, the players, are not going to find mention in this very limited list of royals. Theirs is to do and die while the King rules. Or pretends to. All of us commoners can hoot and whistle for the Dhonis of the world, but it is the neo-royals who actually call the shots. At least till the next bloodied BCCI elections, which often make the Mahabharata, read like a comic-book story!


 - I have often been asked who the real Badshah of Bollywood is and I have no compunction in admitting it is Shahrukh Khan. For the simple reason his films sell. The other reasonably high profile family has everything else going for it except their current work.

Their family weddings are the subject of much debate: many a time it is better not to be invited to their homes since they work on the concept of reverse royalty. Which is they are so busy annexing more and more free farmland, that somewhere down the line they have lost the respect of the common man. So while their house is full of film trophies and Miss Indias, the soul is certainly missing.

 - The Kapoor Khandan is certainly another set of Royals and every time we wish them away, another Kapoor rises like the Phoenix to tell us how wrong we are!

Their love affairs are often with film and at times real royalty too; their parties are legendary and their focus is almost always on their work! Notwithstanding the on-off romantic interludes or their on-going love affair with various avatars of Bacchus, the family has shown the resilience of rock stars and to that end earned their share of royal status!


 - there is only one political family that is truly royal. And I am not talking about Amar Singh and his extended family! That family is the family of Gandhis though would it fair to call them neo-royals. They have lived in palatial homes even before we got our freedom. And unlike royalty, they have always remained relevant even when out of power. They too have their share of white ambassadors but it is not a display of crassness that we would associate with the Mayawatis and the Lalu Yadavs. Like true royalty, they know where their power rests and how far their reign runs as it were. They do things that royals would have loved to. They drive fast cars; they go-kart; they have girlfriends of Latin American origin and they get the best seats at cricket matches (thanks to Rajeev Shukla) which India wins. They rarely travel by commercial aircraft and often enough I have seen them never book a table in a restaurant in advance. However, if you were to go by size of jewels or the size of birthday crowds, then perhaps you would be willing to give Mayawati a shoo-in but even so, for me the real political royals are the Gandhis. In many ways, they have ensured India’s love affair with the privileged and royalty and thank god for that.

 Having said that, we must understand that India is at the crossroads of economic influence as also global political clout. Many would be tempted to treat Prakash Karat as royalty too but then we have exacting standards in this magazine!

 The neo-royals will always be around. They have no privy purses to lose. They barely spend their own money and yet an entire nation is permanently grateful to them. God knows why.

But is precisely because we have no answers, must we deem them the neo-royals. If we knew what made them tick, then heck, we too would run to disrobe ourselves of our commoner status and embrace faux royalty.

 After all, who doesn’t want a little bit of blue blood?


By suhel_seth on Feb. 2nd, 2009

In the entire ruckus that followed 26/11, we took every politician to task; we berated the lack of equipment that our defense services were working with; we commented on the apathetic system we’ve engendered but not once did we ask for a bureaucrat’s scalp? Not once did we make examples of their inefficiency and ask for their removal. And the story keeps repeating itself. This was the same tribe, which desisted from giving snowmobiles to our brave hearts in Siachen until George Fernandes made an issue of it. These were the same jokers who kept India’s army in the boonies as far as equipment is concerned only so that they could exert greater power. Tales of one-upmanship between the IAS officer and army commanders is well known and well documented but yet we have not sacked one of these fellows.

Even more recently in the Satyam scandal, enough noise has been made about YSR Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu and we have also seen the silly arrests of well-regarded professionals but not once have the independent directors been questioned or arrested. You know why? Because one of them, T R Prasad belongs to the Teflon tribe: he was India’s former Cabinet Secretary. As long as we leave these people out of the domain of accountability we will send signals that are confusing and bad in spirit. This is the point we actually need to address. We cannot have a situation where in this country and entire tribe of self-serving officers is left out of the accountability bucket only because it is a cosy club.

There must be weeding out and there must be demonstrable punishment. If news channels can call in politicians and industrialists and read them the riot act, they must have the courage to do the same with this Teflon tribe. But you know why this may never happen?

Because in many organizations, the children of this Teflon tribe occupy places of influence.

Exceptions to the rule exist and there are examples of some superb officers too. What V Krishnamurthy did to Maruti followed by R C Bhargava or for that matter Bhaskar Ghose did to Doordarshan are examples of unbridled success but they exist far and between. Why for instance did we sack Shivraj Patil and take no action against the current Home Secretary who is not just inept but seems to be as lost in a world of mannequins as his former boss was?


By suhel_seth on Jan. 26th, 2009

If only Shakespeare lived in India, he would know the importance of a name. For years, the surname has played a critical role. It has defined caste and therefore acceptability as also political hierarchies but for some strange reason, first names were never seen to be very treacherous. My brother was christened Swapan, as Bengali a first name as any can be while my parents, decided to name me Suhel. Which for years was cause for a lot of torment especially on school certificates. My name was either spelt Sohel or Suhail and in the rare case it was ever spelt Suhel, the surname would inevitably have a Gujarati shade: Sheth or something like that.


But then my formative years were spent in the civil surroundings of Calcutta: names did not matter unless of course you were a Tagore. Everyone went about their jobs ignoring the relevance of names. Especially the first name. The first name was one on which you could take creative license. So if you wanted to give your ward a multi-racial flavour, you could go ahead and experiment with the first name. And that too in a city which always has a pet name for everyone but pets. There is not one home in Calcutta where you will ever hear the real first name being called out. It is always the ‘daak naam’: which means ‘ the calling out name’: yes, that’s how banal it all is. So this was the world in which I was born and raised. Oblivious of the damage my first name would cause me. Oblivious equally to the damaging prospects it would erect as far as dating and eventual matrimony were concerned.


In the many careers that I then embarked on, from advertising to marketing to investment banking and finally to brand consulting, one would take a close look at brand names; their impact on consumer minds; their ability to trip off a consumer’s tongue but very rarely would one question the theocratic impact that the name would have. Never did the thought cross my mind. It must be said, that in all this, our family while devout Hindus have remained largely secular. I am of the belief that secularism is the only way forward for this nation, in fact, for the world. Until of course Goa happened.


I met this amazing girl and she had all one was looking for. A sense of humour which was beyond the cliché; a joi-de-vivre which was compelling and effortless; an intelligence that was focused and well-travelled and a laugh that could magnetise any moment and spread both warmth and good cheer. Along side, all of this, my career also encompassed a lot of writing and it must be said, that I have written perhaps the maximum number of articles against Narendra Modi only because I thought Godhra’s carnage was a slur on India and the very idea of a secular India. It represented all that India could not afford to be. But then many years later, Narendra Modi and I caught up for tea and conversation at his home in Gandhinagar post which I wrote yet another article where while I did mention the ghosts of Godhra, I also said, that Modi today had transformed Gujarat into a haven of excellence and growth.


It was that article that set the cat among the pigeons. I was hauled over the coals by the pseudo-secularists; including the armchair Indian Arundhati Roy. But what hurt me most was the blogs that suddenly referred to me as an Indian Muslim. Now I really don’t care if they call me Muslim or for that matter Parsi. But what upset me was that it has now begun to have a profound impact on my dating and matrimonial prospects and that is what worries me no end. The girl’s father and mother are worried I am some Indian Muslim and obviously that is an issue and I fully empathise with that. My mother is upset that her Balaji necklace-wearing son, who goes to Tirupati at least five times a year, is now being branded Muslim. And all of this because some idiot blogger believed that my first name defined everything about me.


So here is my fervent appeal to all bloggers. Unite ye tribe and absolve me of the definition you have accorded me. Throw stones at what I say; abuse the logic I invest my articles with. Rubbish my dogmas and chastise my theories but please accept the fact that I am a devout Hindu. That will help solve many personal problems. I always believed Narendra Modi was controversial but the kind of impact he has had, through inference, on my personal life, is shattering. So go out and tell the world, that I am a Hindu. An Indian Hindu if you want me to be distinct from Naipaul. But a Hindu after all. For the sake of my mother and that pretty girl I met not long ago in Goa!

Renewing the Vows...

By suhel_seth on Dec. 22nd, 2008

I never imagined things would ever come to such a pass. Where one would need to re-kindle ones relationship; re-affirm the commitment and once again cement a bond that was temporarily shattered. Where the vows of affection and love would be reiterated and only so that one moved forward with unbridled joy.

On November 26, 2008 when I left her home, I knew I would be back but there was a trepidation that I experienced; there was a prayer on my lips that things should be back to normal but it was all in the domain of hope. In the realm of the possible and with dreams that had wings but perhaps no wind beneath them. Those were moments of intense rage and at the same time', intense affection: rage at what had happened to my favourite lady and affection for the times we spent. The days after November 26 were days I spent reminiscing about all the cherished moments one had spent nestling in her arms; I re-visited every nook and cranny in my mind; took in all the joys that one had experienced; the laughter; the endless chatter; the gourmand moments at the Sea Lounge or the many dates that were initiated at the Harbour Bar or for that matter my first ever fine dining experience at The Zodiac Grill.


The reminiscing itself was special only because the relationship had been both pure and enduring; it was like talking about someone youfve always known who then suddenly disappears. For me being with her itself was exhilarating only because of the kind of person she was. Each of her rooms told a story; each member of her family was a raconteur and each and every brick had been a silent witness to history. In many ways, there were two Gateways. One being the Gateway of India and the other The Gateway to fine living. In fact on November 26, when the first shots were fired by those cowards, they were fired not at her but instead directed at each one of us.

While she may have physically taken the bullets, I guess a little something died in each one of us that day. There was anguish and helplessness; there was rage and reasoning and then there was the eternal question? Why did this happen and why did it happen to her? But then therefs an adage: the nicest suffer the harshest pain. And on November 26 she did suffer pain. Not for what happened to her but in a sense what happened to each one of us. She was never trained to take bullets; she was never trained to embrace violence and she was certainly not equipped to handle tears: hers had been a life of giving all that she had; a life whose sole purpose was to create moments of delight; to help people cement strong happy memories in which they would forever revel. Suddenly all that had changed and I guess the magnitude of that event was overwhelming both for her and for us.

Which is why, when I was told she would be back with her ageless charm and her welcoming arms, I could not stay away. I had invested too much emotion in her and in our relationship to stay away from her re-birth. To not be present when she would tell the world, that more things change, the more they remain the same. It was going to be her moment in the sun. It was her moment of triumph and for once it would not be about her guests but about her. I walked in with anguish and a lot of trepidation; took a sweeping view of the lobby and nothing had changed; though if the walls could cry, they would have shed a tear. Not tears of sadness but tears of joy now that she was being re-united with her extended family. I guess, on December 21, 2008, every brick of the Taj shed a tear. Every brick was reaching out with compassion, courage and conviction and every brick was erasing the sadness of November 26. There was a spiritual cleansing that was taking place:

without fuss and melodrama but with just that much intensity that only the Taj knew how to create!

The ceremony of its re-birth was just like her: stolid, somber and subtle.

Where faiths and classes were levelled by the chanting of multi-faith benediction; where the voices that spoke, spoke about the future and not the past. Where every face that stood and listened had tear-drops to wipe off.

There was applause for the manner in which each of her family members had given so much of theirs only so that we could live to see another day. There were stories of courage on faces that knew only how to serve and not to fight and protect. On December 21, 2008, there was a new awakening. There was a revival of values and ethics, of cultures and legacies; of pedigree and passion. The grand old lady would have it no other way.

I made my way to my suite just after midnight. But that night I did not make an effort to sleep. I stared at the Gateway of India, which too had a mournful look; I stared at the passage of history that both these monuments must have been witness to. I then stared at my bed. The same attention to detail; the same orchid neatly placed on my bedside; the aroma compellingly the same and then the strains of familiar music as soon as you called the operator to place a wake-up call.

In many ways, she was back. Not just in business. But in my life. The troubled nights were over. There was a new dawn. A new awakening and the familiar hum of the pigeons when I woke up. The Taj had begun its journey yet again. With a sense of regret about what happened. But with innate optimism in terms of the road ahead.

My lady was back in my arms and I in hers. We have promised never to re-visit the past anymore. The cleansing is complete. The relationship begins from where we last left off. And November 26, in my mind, shall be an unfortunate date on a muddied calendar.

My Taj is back...just as I would have liked it...

The worst thing I have heard over the last few decades is we must do something about thesize of our population. More and more economists will tell you the sheer size of India makesit unviable on many fronts be it social development or for that matter on the sociologicalplatform. But I completely disagree and it is time we are honest with ourselves. Honest to admit we have very few people and we need more. To stop worrying about population planning and instead focusing on adding more children so that we can wreck their futures just a little bit more:

Here are 7 reasons why we need to increase our size: all these are logical and present apressing and clear danger if we don't:

  1. As I write this, the country has no Finance Minister, no Information and Broadcasting Minister and no Coal Minister: some of the ones we have are not even worth mentioning such as the Telecom joker and the Surface Transport rogue: now not having a Finance Minister when the country is going through its worst crisis spells the need for more people because obviously Manmohan Singh finds it hard to find one decent guy for the job and it is obvious that there are not enough good men.
  2. When Maharashtra went through the horrible tragedy of 26/11, they had one Chief Minister who was on Kerala while the Deputy Chief Minister who is also the Home Minister was either in his village or just not  there. The then Chief Minister arrived in Bombay to never be seen until he surfaced with a B-grade actor and a worse film director taking advantage of terror tourism. Our country's Dear Leader, Sonia Gandhi could not sack that rascal Vilasrao Deshmukh for the next few days since there was no replacement for him. Maharashtra has a population of 12 million and they could not find one competent man to replace Deshmukh. But then perhaps they were not looking for a competent man. In any event, we did not find someone who could fill that vacuum and the state was headless through its worst crisis
  3. The average age of the Union Cabinet is 62. The average age of the country is 23. We don't have enough old men and women who are either competent or fit which is why the Ministry which is supposed to look after the youth, the HRD ministry is headed by a guy who is in a wheelchair; is almost always ill and is certainly mentally sick: Arjun Singh. Yet another reason why India needs to expand its population!
  4. Four or five heroes dominate the film industry and every hit revolves around one of these blokes. For a country that has so many people, we are unable to find younger heroes which suits the heroines just as well since they can now age without any fear since there is no point in having Hema Malini playing a role opposite Akshay Kumar when Rani Mukherjee can herself do that job without any murmur. Then look around at the film directors and you will agree with what I mean. Dev Anand is still evergreen whatever evergreen means. Yash Chopra is the youngest and the most energetic and the really young ones are dismissed as one-hit wonders which is why Subhash Ghai has stopped counting the flops he's delivered
  5. Look at the sports arena: here too we have a paucity of talent. Suresh Kalmadi continues to run the IOA: almost into the ground; then you have KPS Gill with the hockey federation doing just the same.  V K Malhotra, who is a member of Parliament runs some other silly sports federation and there seem to be not enough clean, bright people to run these places which is why yet again, the need to grow our population.
  6. The average age of Chief Ministers in India is 67. Yes, you read right, 67. The average age of the Lok Sabha is 59. The average age of the Rajya Sabha is 66. And then you wonder why these jokers can never get it right when they deliberate about our future. The truth is they have no stake in it so why should they care?
  7. Almost every public institution worth its salt is run by retired people: be it the IRDA, SEBI,RBI, NSC, IGNOU and the list can just go on and on….that is because these retired people can't find enough young people to replace them: yet another reason why we need a better and bigger populace…So the next time someone plays a cruel joke on you by telling you that we are a young country: agree and then quietly rattle off the above statistics: the same argument would hold true for anyone suggesting we reduce our population…

Bombay's shattered soul.

By suhel_seth on Dec. 14th, 2008

Bombay is a city that people come to when they want their dreams realized. Many want to be actors and play their many parts. Many want commerce to be their vehicle of recognition.

Many seek the simpler pleasures of just a daily wage, which is denied to them from wherever they come.

In many ways, Bombay is India’s melting pot: where cultures touch each other with the vibrancy of life that no other city possesses. Where men and women are free not just in spirit but believe some heavenly angel protects them. Bombay is also perhaps the most democratic of all places that I can ever imagine. Where people greet each other with respect and affection but never with servility or deceit, as is commonplace in Delhi.

 Which is why November 26 was so horrific. Not because those terrorists came ashore. Only because who will we now trust? Every boat that used to bring our daily fish will now be suspect. Every bag that used to be put down on the floor before you took a swig of a chilled Kingfisher at Leopold will be suspect. Every one who enters hotels will perhaps be a bit more wary. The terrorists took more than just human lives that fateful evening and for the next two days. They bruised the trust of Bombay. They hit at its very core. They dealt a body blow to its conscience. In many ways, they wounded the soul.

Enough has been said of the Bombay spirit. There are tales of heroism and valour. The Kangs and the Karkares; the Kamtes and Mangeshkars; the Salaskars and Unnikrishnans: all of them gave up something in order that Bombay lives. Then there was the soap opera, which saw vacuous politicians taking a tour of terror-swamped premises as if planning the next Bollywood film. Along side were people who used every television opportunity to throw up TRPs but perhaps hardly shed a tear for those who had lost everything and some more.

They say Bombay is resilient. They tell me Bombay will bounce back. They celebrated the re- opening of Café Leopold with unbridled joy. They celebrated the homecoming to the Taj with fervour. Of course Bombay will be back. Of course Bombay will bounce back.

But my concern is how many times should we wound Bombay only so that we can test its resilience? How many young men will come ashore in the future to deal yet another body blow to Bombay’s soul? And why should people who are out with their families or catching trains back home suffer death for no reason? Why must God remain so silent during these times of unfathomable human misery? And will we create a new way of life? Will we learn to be better prepared? Will we have hospitals that have beds and doctors? Will we arm our police force better? Will we have bulletproof vests that ward off assailant bullets? Or will all of this remain the same?

When the light has ebbed from the million of candles that were lit; when our celebrity television anchors move onto their next Breaking News; when new politicians set out to doing things in their old rotten ways, what will happen to the core of Bombay? Who will nurse Bombay back to its days of glory and compassion? Who will then become Bombay’s guardian angel, because god knows how much Bombay needs one now.

 On my part, Bombay will continue to be the magnet of opportunity and affection. It will still be the Shamiana and the Sea Lounge for me. I will still gaze at the show windows of La Patisserie and Joy Shoes. I will still look out for my friend Mistry at the Harbour Bar. I will still meet some old school friends at the same corner table at Café Leopold.

Only this time round, I shall have a tear in my eyes. For those who died so that Bombay may live. I know Bombay will be weeping for ages. I know many centuries hence stories will be told by the bricks at the Gateway of India of that fateful evening. When young men, obviously misled, came to a city and bruised its soul. And left this world leaving a city bereft of trust and its innate welcoming powers.

My Bombay will rise…I know it will. Because it has no choice. It is after all the melting pot… the citadel of aspiration and achievement…


(Suhel Seth is Managing Partner, Counselage: suhel@counselage.com)


By suhel_seth on Dec. 2nd, 2008

I first met her two decades ago in Bombay: I was in college and she had been around for a long long time. She had seen many like me: upstarts, confident and wanting to partake of all that she offered. She had seen billionaires who behaved like children when they came to her; actresses who shed every emotion when they stood before her; industrialists who were robbed of their ego and their arrogance the moment they were in her presence.


But whenever I saw her, there was a beatific smile: a smile, which reeked of indulging me. I was almost child-like in her presence. I would play with all the toys she had so painstakingly gathered; eat from the various kitchens she put together with so much grace and elegance; the manner in which she would invent something I never imagined was ever possible. I remember the lullabies she would sing to me as she put me to bed with the hole of the next day being ever brighter, ever better. She would point out far-away exotica to me; tell me stories of pirates and royal landings; talk to me about the moments she was shy of and those very proud of. There was always shyness in her. A shyness borne out of good manners and an even better pedigree. She would never admonish but always silently acknowledge; she would never leap in joy but perhaps shed tears whenever she felt the tremors of injustice. After all, she had seen so much and was always willing to share.


What I loved most about coming back to her was the generosity of those she was surrounded by. She never made anyone feel left out. She never ever wanted anyone not to receive what he or she was seeking; she was there to help and partner; to laugh alongside and ensure you were always happy. Her family was equally large. I remember, my biggest delight was in coming back every time and catching up with her family members; they would tell me new tales with the same age-old panache and passion. Tales, which were at times silly; at times salacious but always delightful. Her family saw me grow up. From someone who was always asking to someone who was finally ready to enjoy whatever she offered. I grew up with many lessons she taught me; lessons in graciousness and lessons in simple living; lessons in preserving legacies to lessons in inventing delight: lessons which I cherish to this day and have made me what they are.


In many ways her family also became mine. I knew almost every one by name: there were some who you would address reverentially whilst others you could be playful with. They in turn knew everything about me. Pampered me and tolerated my idiosyncrasies. Gently played along with my ideas about life even though they in turn had seen so much more with such great intensity. Whenever I visited her, there was something new and something exciting about the experience I had. There was freshness in her timelessness and this is what always attracted me to her. She never ever let go of either her charm or her hidden persuasions. Like most elegant beauties, she too had many admirers. For many, it was she who represented all they were looking for. For many she was a whole world in itself. She had a voice, which spoke so many languages; a culture, which absorbed the finest of so many others and a demeanour, which was exacting, as it was exciting. The more I met her, the more liberties I took. I asked her how she thought of the new beauties in town. I asked her what kept her going; I often tried to pry into her past only so that I could predict the future. But not once did she hedge. Not once was there even a mild protestation. Not once did she even hint she was upset.


She had grown to like people. It didn’t matter where they came from; it didn’t matter how wealthy they were; it didn’t matter what they wore and what they spoke. Royalty or prime ministers did not sway her: she had seen most of them. In perhaps their most private moments. She was not concerned about their power or their reign: she had been around longer. All she wanted to be was that welcoming angel. The fountainhead of happiness and the harbinger of good tidings. She wanted her home to echo with laughter and peels of joy. She wanted people to live with calmness and peace and sleep a good night’s sleep. That is all she wanted. For all those who came to her.


Which is why I guess she welcomed those three men last week. Not knowing who they were and what plans they had. She was a welcoming angel neither suspicious nor judgmental. I left her home an hour before those three young men came in. But when I wanted to return an hour later, her family alerted me and said it would not be good to come back to her just as she was in a spot of trouble. Even then, she cared not for her health, but mine.


The next three days were savage days in her life and mine. But I know, through it all, she would have remained indulgent and unable to comprehend times and deeds such as the ones that were inflicted on her and her family. She lost many of her family only so that the larger family stayed safe.


She weeps now. Not for what happened to her but for what happened to us. She says a silent prayer not just for those who died but also equally for those who God so sadly misled. And I know she waits for the day when her family and she will be ready to receive people like me back to her home. She would not have it any other way. Nor would we.


She was, she is and she shall always be my favourite. The Taj. I know she’ll be back. Better, brighter, braver and more beauteous.


June 2009


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