Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Celebrity chatter

I have never made a secret of my partiality towards pretty co-passengers on a flight. They are the ultimate objects of fantasy in mid-air and I find their company immensely energizing especially on a long-haul. I enjoy talking to interesting fellow travellers of either sex. I don’t mind even a crass politician next to me. But, somehow, I am not one of those who get starry eyed with a tinsel town celebrity on the plane. You may call it some kind of an inverse snobbery. But the truth is, I find most of them (and, I have met a few) – intellectually challenged, outright boring and suffocating. A majority can’t even make decent conversation and I am usually overcome by pity at their strained attempt to behave ‘normal’ in an acutely synthetic and self-conscious way. Only a few can really drop their airs. But, why should they? After all, they have worked hard to reach where they have and it all comes as a part of the accoutrement of stardom.

Part offended, part be-friended

So once – while flying back from Bangalore to Mumbai, I part surprised and part offended Sharmila Tagore by moving over to a free set across the aisle. She was flummoxed. I had to think of an excuse on the fly and told her, I didn’t wish to disturb her with my snoring, which she acknowledged with an understanding smile – looking somewhat re-assured. On another occasion – about which my boss can’t stop teasing me – I had a nubile Bollywood starlet seated next to me. Her Mom - a “has been” Bengali Bombshell (in more ways than one) and herself the daughter of a legendary Bengali actress was on the row behind us. When I gallantly offered her my seat (which I declared was an act of "supreme sacrifice" on my part only to allow mother daughter bonding in the skies) she looked at me with utter disbelief and said with a knowing smile – “you must be a married man and afraid of your wife – otherwise how could you give up such an opportunity ?”. "No !!", I retorted, " it's just that I am travelling with my Boss (who was a few seats away)".

Kafka on the plane

Occasionally one is surprised tho’ .. like on a recent trip to Calcutta on one of the budget airlines, I met this very sharp-looking young girl – reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I initially mistook her as a college kid going home for her vacation and tried to strike a conversation about her taste in literature. But, she turned out to be one of the latest imports of “Tollywood”. Daughter of a Bihari IAS officer and a Punjabi mother – who’s acts in Hindi TV serials, she wants to take up acting as a career and was cutting her teeth in Bengali films.

But, most of them make a sad spectacle. For example, very often on the Saturday morning Kingfisher flight from Calcutta to Mumbai, I travel with a faded and aged matinee idol of the 70s and 80s. Though he has done some very meaningful roles lately (both in art films and main-stream cinema) – nowadays, he now appears frequently as judge on TV "reality shows". I am bemused to see him desperately seeking attention – in his black denim jacket and jeans with ankle high suede boots and Ray-ban shades. And, how his shriveled up skin picks up a faint glow of delight - every time someone walks up to him for an autograph or a request to pose before a mobile-phone camera for a photograph with their accompanying son or daughter.

Then there are the mousy looking "item girls" and emaciated models. But, the good part is – since they mostly lead nocturnal lives – on flights they immediately curl-up under blankets and go to sleep putting on their eye-pads.

Even they are barely tolerable… but now we have a new crop of celebrities taking over the front section of the aircraft. They are the TV anchors – who fancy themselves as being the ‘thinking men’s stars’. Instant recognition and intellectual pretensions make a heady combination – as one of them recently wrote in her own blog (Click here to read)

Testosterone Heroes

Cricketers are a different lot altogether. Frankly, even they leave me a trifle cold – not that I have met too many of them. Some come across as supremely arrogant – though I am told, the best of them are unmistakably cerebral and decidedly modest. I believe, Sourav Ganguly – who was labeled as Bengal’s only testosterone hero after Subhash Bose –falls somewhere in-between. But, last evening – on an official call of duty - I got to spend quite some time with Mahi ( M S Dhoni) and was completely bowled over by his disarming candour and genuine warmth. With his feet and head exactly where they ought to be (firmly on the ground and the shoulder - respectively), I feel confident that the Indian team is safe in his keeper’s hands – notwithstanding the controversies cooked up by the media and fuelled by the machiavellian shenanigans of the BCCI politicos.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scribbles in-between flights

Managed to get out of Calcutta in the nick of time. Tired of early morning and late evening flights – had booked myself on the afternoon 3 O’ clock flight.. Couldn’t have timed it better, the city is now up in flames as a reaction against yesterday’s violence in Mangalkot (Burdawan) where some Congress leaders were assaulted by CPM cadres. Trust ABP and Star Ananda to come up with the news caption: "Mangal Kot e A-Mangal".

Nina wasn’t as lucky. She was planning on traveling tomorrow – but a 12-hour Bandh has been declared in the city. So, she can now get back only on Saturday - just in time for our trip to Pune.

The Speaker of the West Bengal Assembly - Hasim Abdul Halim – has gone on record today saying – “ the Police should be active - neither be ‘over-active’ or ‘in-active’. I have been at the receiving end of latter in the last few weeks – when despite instructions from the CM’s office the police has refused to move – ignoring orders of the District Administration.

Somehow – I get the feeling that Buddha will be Bengal’s Gorbachov. He will oversee the end of the Left Front rule in the state. As a friend remarked, unless Mamata works real hard at political suicide and self-destruction – there’s no stopping the Trinamool from coming to power in 2011........................

Landed in Mumbai to find the Meru cabs have been shunted out of the airport – under pressure from the Black and Yellow (Kali-peeli) and Blue (Cool) Cabs who were losing business to them. A new system of “pre-paid” cabs has been introduced from today – but being unhappy with the arrangement the Black and Yellow cabs went on a boycott. So …chaos !! After a long wait managed to get home in Blue Cab – finally !!........................

Went for the Bastille Day function in Calcutta on the 14th. A sedate affair (mercifully !!) in comparison to the massive gala in Mumbai – where, I believe, the crowd danced to “ Om Shanti Om” ( how typically French !! ...Carla would have loved it no doubt) till the wee hours ...…..

Till last year Calcutta didn’t have a full-fledged Consul. And, under the patronage of the “Hony Consul” - a prosperous city businessman - the celebrations were like a veritable “shaadi bari” – with long queues for dinner.

(Sunanda K Datta-Ray had written a piece some years back – about how Calcutta has been converted into a city of “Hony Consuls” – with more and more countries closing down their Consulates as cost-cutting measure. One, therefore, hardly saw the cars with “CC Number plates” anymore. They aree replaced by those marked “Hony Consuls”, which has become some kind of a status symbol in the business community)

But, the Sarkozy government isn’t so generous. Therefore, the consulate has to depend on ‘sponsors’ - usually French companies who have establishments in town or other businesses with some French connection – to pick up the bill for the wine and dinner. Since, Calcutta doesn’t have too many of these - the scale of the reception has to be necessarily modest.

The story isn’t very different for other countries – at least the European ones for sure – either. The Indian Embassies and Missions are among the few – who splurge on their National Day ( in fact – for us it’s 2 days – 26th January and Independence Day). Perhaps, an assertion of our new-found economic affluence........................

Atoned for the indulgences of the last few days – with a dinner of spinach, mushrooms and tofu blanched in sesame oil with some steamed broccoli on the side. Hope it is as healthy as it is made to sound.

Tho’, had a mean Khow-Suey with some lovely Riesling at the young Banerjees of Mandeville Gardens last evening.