Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Pressure to become Parents and its Perils


A 74 year old Andhra woman, Mangayamma Yaramati reportedly resorted to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment to give birth to twin girls, recently. The father, Sitarama Rajarao is 82. Having spent over 9 months in the hospital, being constantly monitored by a panel of experts, the babies were delivered after a Caesarean section was performed. Needless to say, geriatric pregnancies of this nature being extremely rare, there has been considerable press coverage and the couple pronounced themselves delighted, insisting this is the happiest time of their lives.
The reaction to this has of course been mixed, given that she is the oldest new mother in the world today. Many feel that congratulations are in order, but in this situation, it is also evident that the couple have been under tremendous pressure to become parents. Mangayamma clearly feels vindicated on having ‘succeeded’ after over 5 decades of trying and failing to conceive. She said that her determination to be a mother stemmed from the fact that she had been criticized and stigmatized. People in her village would make her feel guilty and look at her as if she had ‘committed a sin’.
This accusatory mentality is typical in India where too many men and women are subjected to unrelenting pressure to become parents. Those who cannot or have chosen not to become parents are made to feel like failures or accused of being selfish and self – indulgent in the latter scenario, never mind that it is nobody else’s business. Not that such considerations stops relatives and random strangers from hounding the couple especially the mother and peppering them with unwanted suggestions, tips, and assorted voodoo on getting pregnant. These include but are not limited to bizarre sexual positions, dietary remedies like seared animal genitalia, umpteen temple visits, expensive pujas, amulets and foul smelling herbal concoctions sold by charlatans, gaumutra, painful fertility treatments, and what not. It would be funny if it didn’t amount to harassment and mental torture, which sees couples go through hell merely to prove that they are ‘virile’ or ‘potent’ even though they certainly don’t have to. It boggles the mind, that in a heavily populated country like India, we are still turning on the screws to force our citizens to have more children, when less  or none is clearly the need of the hour.
Interestingly, Mangayamma was inspired to do what she did after another 50 plus neighbour successfully opted for IVF. Three years ago, Daljeet Kaur, another geriatric Indian woman, had a successful birth. It is believed that she too was in her early 70s though her exact age is not verifiable. Medical practitioners and ethicists have questioned both the doctors involved and the parents for the dubious choices involved. Extreme geriatric pregnancies like these involve much higher risks for the mother and child. There is also the question of providing a viable support system for the children down the line, given the life expectancy of their parents. As for the doctors involved, surely the ethics involved in making the decision to encourage people to opt for such treatments given their advanced years and far from optimal physical condition is debatable at the very least?
Advances in science and technology has made so much possible. But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. 

This column originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Book review | Lisa Taddeo’s 'Three Women': A searing study on sex and shame

Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women is non-fiction that takes a long, hard look at naked desire by inhabiting the bodies and souls of three white, mostly straight and relatively privileged American women: Maggie, who is unable to get over the forbidden affair she had with her teacher in her teens; Lina, who is a mother of two, separated from her husband and sleeping with a married ex; and beautiful Sloane, whose husband likes to watch her have sex with partners of his choosing. 
The author mentions at the onset that while there are many sides to all stories, she has chosen to focus only on these three women. She claims to have spent thousands of hours with them, even moving to their respective towns to ‘better understand their day-to-day lives’ and she does succeed in taking the reader into the intimate recesses of their minds laying bare secrets and dark desires with a voyeuristic drive that is softened by compassion and a lack of judgement. Yet the book feels incomplete without even a modicum of effort to understand the motivations of the men in these women’s lives or details pertaining to the wives and families who have been affected by the ill-considered actions of the trio. 
Taddeo’s depiction of the men as predatory, weak, and selfish makes sense from the point of view of her chosen subjects but leaves the reader marginally doubtful because they seem more like caricatures made with clumsy brush strokes of thwarted feminine need. 
Lina’s husband is a particularly vexing non-character. All his wife wants from him is a deep French kiss but he recoils from the request and his idea of foreplay is to tap her on the arm and ask if she feels like ‘doin it’. One wonders why exactly he got into a marriage where he wants to have nothing at all to do with his wife outside of providing her with a nice house and kids. Lina hooks up with Aidan who had broken things off with her when she acquired a reputation as the girl in high school who slept with three guys in one night though in reality she had been sexually assaulted. Flavour and savour is restored to her life when her sexual needs are met but her willingness to debase herself in exchange for torrid trysts made at Aidan’s convenience characterised by little emotional investment does not augur well for her. 
Taddeo is brutally honest about the desperation which drives Lina and one wonders if the point is a deeply pessimistic one about women who leave the safety of convention to pursue their desires. 
Sloane’s story is somewhat bewildering. There are times she likes having multiple sexual partners but her arc is deeply problematic because her husband chooses the men and women she has sex with and insists on being present or inserting himself into the scenario via phone or video feeds. She confesses that she doesn’t always like the partners she pleasures and it seems clear that her desires have got lost somewhere in her husband’s needs. It doesn’t help that Sloane’s passions seem rooted in past hurt and an incestuous request. So when she claims she ‘wants her husband above all else’, one can’t help but wonder if she is kidding herself.
Maggie’s story is the most affecting because she is so clearly a victim despite being so complicit in her own victimhood. Taddeo doesn’t whitewash her issues but her oppressor is a predator and it sticks in the craw that he gets away scot-free while she is all but destroyed.
Three Women is troubling and the writer’s quest for literary brilliance and use of bewildering metaphors like ‘avuncular oysters’ and ‘cool sneezes’ is distracting but it is still worth a read because when it comes to women and desire, it is best to make room on the table for discussion and dissection.

This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Post I-Day depression

Another Independence Day has come and gone. The Tricolour was hoisted in schools and government offices, we sang the National Anthem with ear-splitting fervour and intensity and debated whether Akshay Kumar’s latest offering of cloying nationalistic sentiment was worth the price of admission.
Some of us even made a game effort to sit through Bear Grylls’ great survival saga featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitting his wits and will against the ferocity of Mother Nature, which subjected the viewer to a lot of bull but little else, without cringing. The entire month has now become vaguely depressing.
Even the PM’s speech, where he acquitted himself better than his sojourn among the tigers who clearly took their reputation for being ‘camouflage ninjas’ seriously, did little to boost the spirits. Of course, he made all the right noises.
Regarding the revoking of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and the state’s reorganisation into two Union Territories, he explained that his government believes in One Nation, One Constitution.
It would be heartening if one were inclined to give the ruling government the benefit of doubt and construe their actions as a decisive move but one can’t help but be appalled at the swift removal of personal and civil rights the Kashmiris have been subjected to.
During times like this, one wonders if freedom is an illusion we cling to because the harsh truth is that the democratic liberties we take for granted may be taken away with a snap of the finger if Big Brother were to wake up one day feeling a little less benevolent and more inclined to be a bully and a brute.
A scary thought that makes it impossible to enjoy leftovers made from Tarla Dalal’s healthy Independence Day recipes.
The Head of the Nation also talked about the Triple Talaq Bill, insisting that his Muslim sisters were also deserving of justice and this evil had to be eradicated.
Theoretically this is a beautiful sentiment, but it is hard to get euphoric over this blow dealt on behalf of women simply because the law has also criminalised societal ills such as child marriage, rape, dowry harassment but in practice, many continue to be victimised and are considered foolish if they look to legal enforcers for justice.
Again, this is the sort of sobering thought that makes you want to flee the motherland for stranger shores where the law is actually implemented.
Finally, our PM spoke about our patriotic duty as Indians to help with his Swachh Bharat, Jal Jeevan missions and refrain from open defecation, careless waste disposal and the indiscriminate usage of water sources.
He also made a heartfelt appeal to help achieve his goal of freeing India from single-use plastic while entreating the citizens to have a care for population explosion. All fine points, but not a day goes by without a public-pooper sighting, stepping into a sea of plastic, and the news that another baby has been delivered. Jai Hind!

This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.

UGLY INDIANS


Recently, a 2:20 minute video depicting an Indian family attempting to make off with pilfered items from their hotel in Bali and getting caught went viral on social media. Not only had they stripped the hotel room bare of accessories and items like hair dryers they had even taken the hangers. In typical cringe – inducing fashion, they tried to brazen their way out by screaming at the staff who by contrast were polite but firm. This boisterous and badly behaved lot were held, their luggage examined to gather evidence of the theft and the proceedings were recorded at which point, these charming folks simmered down, put out a few faux apologies and offered repeatedly to ‘pay extra’ so they could be let off the hook. In response, one of the staff pointed out that they he was aware that they had a lot of money but this was about their lack of respect.
The collective opinion of those who saw the clip was one of humiliation and shame, which is surprising since we can hardly agree on anything anymore. The consensus was that the family’s behaviour was a disgrace and had ruined India’s image. There were calls to have this uncouth lot arrested on their return to India and revoke their passports. The internet reported similar incidents featuring the ugly behaviour of Indians in comparable scenarios in different parts of the world. Industrialist Harsh Goenka even shared a notice issued by a hotel in Gstaad only for their Indian guests. We all hung our heads in shame and condemned the actions of ugly Indians who fail to represent India with a modicum of respectability on foreign shores.
I was also reminded of the time when the semi – luxury train, Mumbai - Goa Tejas express was completely vandalized with passengers attempting to unscrew LCD screens, stealing headphones, trashing the compartment and making the loos bio – hazard zones. The problem is that as a nation we have become used to getting away with reprehensible conduct. Again, it is a question of respect. Too many don’t give a crap about the laws of this land or her people. We see evidence of this all around us. There are always those who misbehave with the staff in hotels, flights, sports arenas, theatres, etc. because we have a firmly rooted class and caste system which teaches us to look down on people who perform services for us without a shred of appreciation or gratitude.
As a nation we don’t bother with playing decent wages to the maid, tipping the waiter, waiting for our turn, driving with a care for the safety of others, keeping our surroundings clean or even doing the barest minimum for those condemned to manually clean out sewage and latrine pits with no protection. Instead we teach children to be even more entitled than we are and do whatever we think we can get away with, since we are willing to pay bribes and all. Forget about working on our image abroad, the need of the hour is to improve our behaviour right here at home, so that we learn to conduct ourselves with decency and decorum wherever we are and even if there is no accusatory camera pointed at us with the view to blame, name and shame on social media.


This column originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

The Conundrum that is Choice

There is so much by way of choice today, it is hard to make a choice. I spend a big chunk of my free time, trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix and sometimes I can’t make up my mind and end up watching nothing at all. It is the same in restaurants. I put in so much effort to make the right choice when it comes to the hundreds of varieties on offer that invariably I order something funky and the memory of a jellied scaly fish swimming in a foul smelling white sauce, described by food critics as sex on a plate, haunts me the next time I find myself in a similar predicament. 
It is the classic paradox of choice described by Barry Schwartz. The overabundance of choice has put so much pressure on us to make the perfect choice that we are unable to choose anything at all. When we do choose, it is impossible to be happy with the decision because we are convinced that there is something better out there, that impossibly perfect thing we must have in our lives and which we have missed out on because we didn’t keep looking.
While it is hard enough to wrestle with personal choice, we compound matters by criticizing the choices made by others in order to feel better about our own. Of course, everybody is entitled to make their own choices, just the same as us, but we prefer it, if everybody makes the same choices so that we can all be miserable together. If not, we will judge and shame while viciously condemning those who do the same to us.
We will attack not just the makers and Shahid Kapoor for the admittedly problematic Kabir Singh but those who watched it and dared not to hate it, because they found it to be engrossing cinema and brand them as flag bearers of toxic masculinity.
We will not respect Zaira Wasim’s decision to disassociate herself from Bollywood. How dare she? Here I am praying fervently before the Karan Johar bust in my puja room hoping he believes the definitive proof that my great aunt was a stunt double for Hema Malini when she danced on broken glass and gives me a glitzy launch and this teenager throws it all away because acting interferes with her religion! Of course I am going to natter on about her foolishly regressive choice or if I am Barkha Dutt, worry about ‘the indoctrination of religious conservatism.’
What about Virat Kohli’s inexplicable decision to keep backing Dhoni? Sure, the legend has contributed his mite to cricket but he is done damn it! We twitter warriors have begun a crusade to get the legend dropped and we urge you to join in.
Given the chaos over choice, I am convinced that the solution is to let our mothers take all decisions. They will always be happy to do it and we can have the comfort of blaming them when life becomes crappy. Or we can find a way to live with our choices and make even the dubious ones work for us. But that is sensible and deserves to be rejected outright since it is better to stew in discontent while laughing ourselves silly over the foolishness of others. 

This column was originally published by The New Indian Express.

Gem of an Emperor: Maharaja Ranjith Singh

Born on the ashes of the declining Mughal dynasty, the Sikh Empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh enjoyed a dazzling period of glory. The king successfully united the warlike Sikhs who had consolidated themselves into Misls or confederacies for the purpose of resisting invaders and preserving their autonomy.
Despite making common cause when threatened by the Afghans or the British, these were given to much infighting and petty quarrels.
Though he belonged to the Sukerchakia clan, believed to be one of the weaker Misls, Ranjit Singh managed to rise to absolute power, and brought peace to the realm in troubled times, earning renown as a wise and canny ruler who was strict but fair.
More importantly, he knew when to bare his steel and when diplomacy was called for. Having concluded a treaty with the East India Company, he secured his eastern boundary, giving him the freedom to expand his kingdom in other directions.
Sarbpreet Singh’s The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia: Stories from the Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is a tasty treat for history buffs and all who nurse a passion for the glories of India’s complex past.
Filled with colourful characters who made their mark in Ranjit Singh’s famed Lahore Durbar, the juicy stories provide a fascinating glimpse into the life of the one-eyed monarch with his zest for power, life and the pleasures both afford. It is a captivating narrative, allowing the reader a bird’s eye view of the intrigues, scandals and plots that rocked his court.
Mata Sada Kaur, Ranjit Singh’s mother-in-law, with whom he shared a complicated relationship is a remarkable figure. It was she who was responsible for propelling the young Ranjit Singh to power by boldly speaking up in a time of confusion and indecision, urging the Sikhs to fight and make their bid for glory. She was an active participant in the wars that were subsequently waged and helped carve out an empire that all too briefly, held out against the British.
Guru Nanak, the founder of the mystical Sikh faith had loudly proclaimed the equality of the sexes, and Sarbpreet Kaur makes it a point to highlight the stories of the brave as well as capricious women who stepped forward and danced with destiny as they strove to leave their mark on history.
There is the dancing girl of Lahore, the queen who overdosed on opium furious over an ungallant slight, and another blessed or cursed with robust sexuality, as she played the ‘Game of Thrones’ with deadly intent and endless intrigue.
The Kohinoor is yet another player which changed hands many times and bears testament to the abiding avarice of humans.
The trials and tribulations faced by mighty warriors and schemers with courage as abundant as their prickly pride such as Hari Singh Nalwa, Akali Phoola Singh and the Dogras make for a riveting read. Shortly after the death of the great monarch, his kingdom imploded a victim of murder, foul play, treachery and avarice delivering Punjab straight into the hands of the British.
Through these charming tales, Singh subtly highlights the high points of a glorious chapter in Indian history while gently pointing out the foibles of race pride and greed that has so often resulted in untold loss and tragedy.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Pesky Little Things and Pestilential Evils


In summer, most of us, take off to more temperate zones (preferably abroad, if the Gods of finance have been kind), where we stand in queues, get jostled by tourists, take drool worthy pics to be posted on Instagram to offer incontrovertible proof that we are having the time of our lives and to rub it in everyone else’s faces. Then we return to dear India, to deal with an increasingly leaden feeling in the pit of the stomach. Too much pasta and a second helping of sesame jellyfish before pudding is not to blame though. It is the unwelcome confrontation with a reality where customs officials are curt, there is increasing evidence of a land where responsible waste disposal is non-existent, forced corneal exposure to casually exposed buttocks as folks void their bowels in public, near death experiences as a million traffic rules are flagrantly flouted while cops don’t even pretend they are averse to accepting bribes… I could go on, but you get the picture.

Most of us trudge home, unpack and whip out our smartphones or binge – watch Netflix/Hotstar/AmazonPrime, slinking slowly but surely into a sludge of indifference which is our preferred state to better acclimatize to the reality of living in Incredible India. We get back to the grind and avert our eyes from the open manholes and drains, choosing instead to take a cute pic of our frothy cappuccino and slice of key lime pie. There are online battles to be fought over the feasibility of free rides for women on public transport, Kareena Kapoor’s right to look her age or Deepika Padukone’s slightly bulging gut and India’s prospects in the World Cup after all.

Why bother with the little things? Like the charming types who spit dangerously close to your peep - toed shoes (which you were in the process of photographing to show off your darling Balinese nail art) right on the pavement with the unsightly cracks, assorted litter and homeless folks. Or those who take the last available seat in the metro nano - seconds before a bent old lady lowers herself into it. Why speak up? It is easier to shame the boor in 280 characters and let the Twitterati do their thing which is mostly spew ineffectual hate. But isn’t that the woke way to make a difference?

It is annoying to think about the fact that we are facing an acute water crisis in most parts of India even as leaky water tankers, slosh water all over the potholes as they are headed to their destination or the fact that the quality of air is so bad in the metros that oxygen masks will soon become a necessity. Why bother about these irksome little things? After all they couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the bigger evils that plague this land. Like the case of a man accused of allegedly raping his seven - year old daughter with four pending cases against him for rape, assault and kidnapping who was released on bail so he could be an accomplice in the murder of a two – year old. But it sucks to think about a broken system. It is far simpler to plan a vacation to fairer climes. Or better yet to seriously consider that waitressing gig in Manhattan.

This was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT: Why blame the divider in chief?

Grrrrr.... ******* beep *** beeeep!
Pic courtesy: Chandramouli Vidyasaghar


India is voting and until this interminable exercise in democracy is concluded on May 23rd, we have no choice but to hunker down and shield ourselves as best as possible from the hate filled rhetoric and vitriol swapping that are but only two symptoms of extreme election fever. Civil debate and discussion in political or social discourse was pummelled to death many moons ago thanks to television hosts who have long encouraged hyper contentious, rancour – filled exchanges to boost TRPs and ensured that outrage inducing talking points would trend across social media. But even so, few anticipated the resultant plunge into the vile cesspool of partisan politics, where only the bullies, provocateurs, trolls and extremists thrive having browbeaten and shouted down all suggestions to play nice.

Having chosen conflict and controversy as the only viable strategy, practically everybody seems to insist that you pick a side – Namo or Raga, and are dangerously close to issuing an ultimatum like the Sheriff of Nottingham, ‘Join us… or die!’. If like me, you tend to sit on the fence and spout gyan about being forced to choose between a rock and a really hard place, you are taught what it is like to come between a Nazgul and its prey. This kind of extremism seems to convince people that they are heroes fighting for a worthy cause, against those who have gone over to the dark side, even though it is the exact same logic embraced by terrorists and leads to irrational, unnecessary statements like ‘All Modi supporters are bhakts!’ and ‘All Rahul Gandhi supporters are anti – nationals!’. Lines have been drawn and if one is perceived to have crossed it, then one can expect to be mercilessly abused and shamed for not being on ‘the right side.’ Arguments on the subject even among family and friends let alone social media followers become so heated that most are ready to exchange blows and bad words over it. It is very par for the course to see former Facebook friends (whatever that may be worth) unfriend each other over a difference of opinion but not before a spectacular online shouting match over who they did or did not vote for. Why has it become so impossible for us to see that a differing opinion is just that and need not necessarily be immoral or steeped in evil?

Those still possessed with a rational mind would note that neither Namo or Raga is likely to prove a blessed saviour who will rid this land of the many evils plaguing it and usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity, though both talk a big game.  Once the results are announced, whichever way it goes, India and its citizens will need to acknowledge that it is we ourselves and not the divider in chief who are responsible for the division among us given our own stubborn commitment towards upholding the caste, class, and religious differences that have torn us apart and been successfully exploited by those we periodically vote to power.  It is time to accept that the onus is on us to bury our differences and work together towards a more promising if not perfect future. We can start by at least trying to keep things friendly and respectful even if we can't see eye to eye for nuts. Or to paraphrase John Boehner  we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable or utterly despicable.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Supreme Screw – Up



Recently, two Supreme Court justices ruled that sex on the false promise of marriage is rape. Naturally, I did a double take. On reading more about the case of Anurag Soni versus the State of Chhattisgarh, it became even more ludicrous. The Justice Shah noted that the evidence made it clear that the victim would not have consented to the sexual act if she had not been promised marriage and hence it was a clear case of not just cheating and deception but rape as well. Apparently even if both the victim and accused have married and moved on while the law takes the scenic route towards justice, (or a skewed version of it in this instance) it does not absolve the ‘rapist’ from the consequences of his actions. The bench proceeded to elaborate on the heinousness of rape, its reprehensible nature and how a rapist ‘degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless woman’ before reducing the ten year prison sentence prescribed for the crime to seven deeming it adequate punishment for such a monstrous act.
While loathsome Lotharios are hardly deserving of sympathy, this judgement is simply wrong on so many levels. While it would appear that the ruling is in favour of women, the fact is that it has its roots in some seriously regressive notions of chastity and the misguided belief that a ‘good girl’ would never consent to sex if the offer of marriage wasn’t on the table. That a woman has somehow been violated or rendered ‘impure’ if she has made the choice to have consensual, commitment free sex. Now sensible folks have been fighting this kind of moral policing and antiquated mind-sets for many yonks now and it is infuriating that there are insidious forces determined to keep women pickled and preserved in a revolting vat of virtue for all of time.
Worse, equating fraud with rape serves only to make a mockery of the sheer gravity of the latter. This is the last thing victims of sexual assault need given the abysmal track record our courts and society at large have when it comes to dispensing justice in cases of rape. In a land, where nuns sworn to devote their lives to prayer, service and celibacy have been slut – shamed for accusing a bishop, little girls who have been violated and killed are blamed while their perpetrators roam free because the long arm of the law seems to have atrophied, such a ruling is downright dangerous. Inevitably, this will become the female equivalent of revenge porn, a weapon to be unleashed on men following messy breakups resulting in Casonova types getting caromed with rape charges leading to ill will towards the female of the species (She consented to carnal relations stupidly believing herself worthy of marriage despite her wanton ways and dares to call it serial rape!) as well as escalating tension between the sexes.
It will become even easier than it is now to dismiss victims of rape as lying and vindictive wretches who do not have the ‘moral fibre’ to keep their legs tightly closed before marriage. Thanks to such asinine legal interpretations of the tricky question of consent, the judiciary as it stands in India today has proved Dickens right. The Law is an ass. And an idiot.

This article was originally published in The Sunday Standard.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Bold and Beautiful Begum



Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, wife of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, was one of the key players in an age when history was being made. She witnessed first-hand the birth of a nation, carved out of the sacrifice of those who fell during the partition, the darkest chapter in the history of both India and Pakistan, the horror and aftershock of which continues to reverberate across the subcontinent. The ‘Dynamo in Silk’ who rolled up the sleeves of her elegant gharara to help fulfil the vision of her husband and his dear friend, Muhammad Ali Jinnah left behind a remarkable legacy that championed feminism and selfless service. It is one that deserves to be celebrated and held up as a shining example of grace in the midst of all things grotesque. It is a matter of almost criminal negligence on the part of historians that a complete and detailed biography of her extraordinary life did not exist before the intrepid duo of Deepa Agarwal and Tahmina Aziz Ayub came together to put together this beautiful labour of love – The Begum: A Portrait of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Pioneering First Lady.  
Born Irene Margaret Pant in remote Kumaon, her family was yet to recover from the outrage generated over their conversion a generation ago and were dealing with the overt hostility of the Brahmin community. As a bold, intelligent and enterprising young woman, she was teaching economics in a Delhi college, when she was drawn into the politics of the day and met the man she was destined to marry and the one who would prompt her to change her religion for love. Married in 1933, the dashing young couple threw themselves into the working of the Muslim League.
The newlyweds played a pivotal role in persuading Jinnah who had distanced himself from the party and moved to London to come back and take up the mantle of leadership and represent the rights of Muslims whom it was felt wouldn’t be treated fairly in a unified India. Unfortunately, given the many lives that were lost in the bloodbath that was the partition, Jinnah paid heed and this particular reviewer couldn’t help but wish that the Begum had persuaded the Nawabzade to take her to Bora Bora instead for their honeymoon!
In 1947, Ra’ana left for Pakistan. Her efforts in setting up relief camps to provide succour to the many who were deprived of their loved ones and all their worldly possessions has rightly been commended.  Jinnah died shortly after these tumultuous events and tragically, Liaquat Ali Khan fell to an assassin’s bullet in 1951 and only the Begum remained. As an active player in the political sphere, one of Ra’ana’s most noteworthy achievements was the establishment of the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) in 1949 which went on to benefit millions and continues to play a crucial role in the fight for the emancipation of women in a land where personal freedom has often been sacrificed on the altar of rigid religious dogma.
She made her indomitable presence felt in the fields of education and social service as well. Ra’ana was also her country’s first ambassador to Netherlands, Italy and Tunisia in addition to serving as the Governor of Sind. She won the Human Rights Award of the United Nations and many more in recognition of her exemplary work.
Told in two parts, Deepa Agarwal handles the early part of her life leading up to the partition and Tahmina Aziz Ayub outlines the latter half of her life in Pakistan. Both provide an intimate glimpse into the heart and mind of a legend. In the Begum’s own words, ‘Pakistan was visualized as secular and democratic. Today Pakistan is out and out a theocracy and under that garb, every vestige of personal freedom is snatched away.’ Like her we too can’t help but wish that it had all been otherwise.


This book review was originally published in The Sunday Standard.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Thoughts on Tughlaq

Cover illustration and design by Parag Chitale
Published by Penguin Random House


Muhammad bin Tughlaq is one of history’s bad boys and as such has exerted a strange pull over me, ever since I heard about him in grade VI, during Sister Fabiola’s history class. Being fascinated about him is one thing but writing a book on his life and travails was altogether a different kettle of fish for the Sultan has put the complex in complicated and the puzzling in paradoxical. What a character he was and still is (even if it is only in my own head)!
            Modern historians concur that he has been terribly misunderstood and so called scholarly accounts from the likes of Ibn Batuta, Barani and Isami reek of bias. He was exceedingly unpopular among the followers of his own faith for daring to be tolerant to his subjects who belonged to other religions, failing to zealously guard the principles of Islam from idolatry and heresy and raising non – believers to high posts instead of dealing with them using the savagery he was infamous for.
            The Sultan had a rough time of it with the orthodoxy who sought repeatedly to undermine his reign and even tried to have him killed. But Muhammad bin Tughlaq refused to give in to their fanatical demands, choosing instead to provoke them further by killing key religious leaders in spectacularly barbaric fashion. Needless, to say he paid a heavy price for his belligerent attitude. It probably explains why he issued an extraordinary proclamation prohibiting public prayers in the empire for a period of five years though by all accounts he himself was a devout practitioner of Islam!
In addition to this, the challenges of ruling an unwieldy empire where his subjects in the various provinces had their own language, customs, all of whom were uniformly proud and prickly about their roots which in turn led to endless bickering and ceaseless hostility often erupting into bouts of communal violence proved too much for him. The unrelenting pressures of governance and the lack of support from his officials and subjects made him bitter and cynical. Not that it stopped him from doing his utmost to implement his outrĂ© innovations and ‘madcap’ schemes viewed with alarm and disbelief by his contemporaries with his trademark impulsiveness and recklessness which effectively doused the sparks of genius that went into the making of his grandiloquent plans.  
The man was an exceptional scholar well – versed in theology, rhetoric, poetry, philosophy, economics and finance with a keen mind imbued with the spirit of enquiry. Many of his ill – advised reforms particularly the one where he sought to replace gold and silver coins with alternative currency were sound but the manner in which they were enforced left a lot to be desired. A failure to seek the counsel of his councillors and experts, anticipate problems in execution, the rampant corruption which derailed many of his projects before they could take off, and careless cruelty with which he dealt with his subjects when they failed to fall in with his plans led to untold suffering and nearly derailed his authority.
The Sultan had neither the pragmatism nor the patience to see his revolutionary ideas pertaining to administration, agriculture and taxation through to a successful conclusion. When confronted with successive failures which led to a loss of face for the emperor, he became increasingly embittered and his mercurial temper led to savage reprisals which led to his being universally reviled.
Yet, even his harshest critics have conceded that Muhammad bin Tughlaq was also a kind, generous and benevolent ruler. He seemed to have genuinely cared about the welfare of his subjects and worked tirelessly to end their suffering during the terrible famine that beset his reign and laid waste to the countryside for long years. If only the Sultan had not been opposed at every turn by his subjects, circumstances and his own temperament not to mention the rash of rebellions that robbed his empire of stability he may have met with a modicum of success and changed the history of this land and realized his vision to make it a better place. Perhaps we would not be plagued with the problems of incompetent leaders, greedy bureacrats, indifferent citizens, corruption, and communal strife to this very day. Perhaps…
This book is an attempt to recreate the life and times of Muhammad bin Tughlaq and clamber into the chaotic headspace of one who was considered to be a mad monarch. Painstaking research has gone into the foundation and I am particularly grateful to Agha Mahdi Husain for his invaluable assistance which I am grateful for. But when it came to building upon the character of this towering persona, I have taken some creative liberties. When confronted with conflicting versions of certain events, I have gone with what makes sense to me personally or have cobbled together missing fragments with chunks from my own imagination.
All chroniclers of Muhammad bin Tughlaq have been annoyingly negligent when it comes to the women in his life. His mother Makhduma Jahan (Mistress of the World) is referred to with said honorific and no one saw fit to mention her real name though she is believed to have been hugely influential and known to have received foreign dignitaries and taken an active interest in governance. His sister, Khudawandzada, also gets a passing mention because the Sultan’s munificence was on display during her wedding and she dared to make a bid for power on behalf of her son Dawar Malik during his successor, Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s reign. There is next to nothing about his wife (wives?) or progeny which is truly puzzling since everybody in those times had an unhealthy obsession with the love lives of their Sultans and the fecundity of their wives. (not that things have changed drastically in these enlightened times) 
Be that as it may, I have sought to give the royal ladies a voice, even if it is mostly my own. With regard to Muhammad bin Tuglaq’s love interest, Girish Karnad gave me the germ of an idea in his wonderful play on Tughlaq and I ran with it, though in a different, much darker direction. Feel free to make of it what you will, dear reader.
For those who insist on knowing where exactly fact and fiction diverge or converge in these pages, I suggest you do what I did which is read up on Tughlaq and make up your own mind.
Every time, I make a date with history, I see the present in the past as well as the past in the present. This book is my attempt to make sense of both in order to get an inkling of the potential and perils held by the future. Does that make sense?

MUHAMMAD BIN TUGHLAQ: TALE OF A TYRANT is my 10th book. You can order your copy right here and be the recipient of my eternal gratitude :) 



Thursday, April 11, 2019

THE HORROR SHOW BEGINS


The Indian General Election is just around the corner. Unfortunately, the damn thing does not come with a statutory warning about how the unspooling events can be hard on your heart with the added risk of your mental and emotional state unravelling with alarming speed. There are cops all over the place for the ostensible purpose of maintaining law and order who gesture for you to pull over, uncaring that a bunch of chaps in bunched up lungis and Bappi Lahiri level bling just zoomed by, nearly running over a poor old lady, in order to avoid hitting the placid cow who was taking a leisurely stroll in the middle of the road.
Naturally, your heart rate goes through the roof, while they bark questions at you and go through your luggage while an overenthusiastic type records the proceedings. The dutiful minion of the law, double checks your toilet kit which may or not contain a purloined item or two from the last fancy hotel you stayed at, while a tidal wave of terror overwhelms you as you envision yourself growing old, locked up in a dank cell reeking of urine and filled with excreta (like in Sanju), awaiting your day in court, while the judges take a half – hearted stab at clearing the backlog of cases which is surmised will take a few centuries at the very least. As the tension ratchets to unbearable levels, the cop with one last grunt to register his displeasure since you refuse to make eye – contact, allows you to leave. Where are these fellows the rest of the time you wonder, once your breathing has returned to normal, when there are young girls being abducted/raped/killed, when guilty diamond merchants are buying a first class ticket to Heathrow, when mobs lynch citizens for eating beef?
Having barely recovered from your scary encounter with the desi Mark Fuhrman, you decide to hit the spa and pamper yourself only to find that all routes to your destination are blocked because an earnest politician is on the campaign trail, nightmarish cavalcade of vehicles driven by goons with definite road rage issues in tow. Citizens have been bussed in from all over with the promise of mutton biriyani, booze and hard cash so that they can listen to uninspired speeches that promise jobs and justice for everybody while taking in the eye – popping ugliness that are the life – sized cut-outs of crooks, complete with their creatively embellished achievements on flimsily erected hoardings that seem in danger of toppling over unwary two – wheelers who don’t wear helmets since it messes with their gelled hair.
While waiting for the traffic to clear, you whip out your smart phone to check out IPL related matters when the news apps take it upon themselves to provide in – depth analysis by eager beavers about the upcoming elections hoping to convince you about the soundness of their preferred candidate though we all know that like in the past, we will simply have to choose between the devil and deep blue sea. Worst of all, the horror show with its relentless, arduous and dedicated fusillade of all things grotesque and nasty has only just begun. What to do? You sigh in resignation, dig your nails into your palms, crawl homeward and scream into a pillow. 
This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Breaking Barriers from Beneath One



Sabyn Javeri’s Hijabistan briskly ushers the reader into the land of the veiled for a voyeuristic peek into the intimate lives of those who are supposedly cowering behind the layers of fabric imposed on them by religion and patriarchy. Told over the span of sixteen, succulent stories, the book dedicates itself to the task of stripping away stereotypes pertaining to Muslim women who are often viewed as submissive victims of centuries of brutal repression, wretchedly resigned to the deprivation of their agency. In recent times, there has been much controversy over the traditional headscarf or the hijab. For many it is an unpalatable symbol of patriarchal conditioning and religious fanaticism while there are others who insist that a woman’s right to cover herself is every bit as sacred as her right to bare.
Javeri comes out swinging strongly in favour of the latter POV which may not go down too well with some. The brand of feminism, showcased in this book bursts out from beneath the tent- like garments and is delightfully distinctive in that the idea of empowerment here does not necessarily conform with the overarching impression of the same held by the fiercer firebrands of the feminist cause. And yet, make no mistake, Hijabistan for the most part does champion women’s rights with gusto, empathy and balance.
Ultimately it all comes down to the stories. And the things they reveal. Or conceal. As Javeri puts it, ‘We are all made up of stories. The stories we tell others, the stories we tell ourselves and more importantly, the stories we hide. Deep inside.’ A young girl refuses to be cowed down by expectations or assumptions and has no qualms about using her body to spice up her otherwise mundane existence especially since she can expect gifts and cash in exchange. Radha uses her body too in a quest for financial and emotional freedom. She does get these and a lot more than she bargained for but is determined to do what it takes to survive. There is the girl with the irrepressible urges that refused to be stymied within the suffocating confines of the hijab and rigidly enforced oppression. She satiates these with thievery, flashing and a stolen moment of forbidden intimacy which leads to a tightened leash and an explosion of supressed need.

A married woman commits adultery and a student explores a forbidden avenue of sexuality. Coach Annie is an inspiring figure who teaches football to strapping lads who initially look askance at the Asian who refuses to lose her headscarf but are eventually won over by her grit and gumption.
A majority of the stories are juicy and leave you with a lingering aftertaste but they aren’t all gems. ‘The Full Stop’ is a trite tale of a girl who gets her period and gets all bent out of shape because her father, a doctor is embarrassed by it. ‘The Hijab and Her’ is a similarly, unimpressive account of a young girl who inexplicably during the course of a lecture gives up on graduate school applications in favour of ISIS. These sour notes notwithstanding, the land of the veiled warrants a visit, if only to gain a proper sense of perspective in a world that is increasingly being stripped of nuance. 

This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

FEMINISM: A CRONY OF CAPITALISM


‘Period. End of Sentence’, a film about menstruation won big at the Oscars. Some folks cheered loudly but others have been quibbling about it. The arguments raised, pertaining to exploitation in the making of the film and careless dispensation of faulty statistics, got me thinking. Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly obvious that no matter how well intentioned the feminist cause may be, inadvertently it has served the interests of big business above all else. 

Is it so terrible to use cloth instead of pads while menstruating? Padmen who make a fortune selling sanitary napkins have informed us that cloth is for curtains and civilized, empowered women are better off using their more expensive product. After all, pads are far more comfortable and convenient, even if they are not biodegradable. Besides why should women bother about the environment when it is doomed anyway? It is simpler to vilify cloth, even though it was good enough for our grandmothers who certainly were not unfortunate, illiterate, and miserable savages who did not know better. I remember an older woman who explained that in the good old days, they would all have a box filled with clean rags that were used, washed, boiled, dried, replaced and reused every month.
Of course, I am not advocating that we go back to the days of restricted movement while menstruating, with the stigma thrown in for good measure. But I am merely pointing out that cloth wasn’t too bad and sometimes, women like to take three days off from their never –ending chores and workload. Therefore, if there are ladies out there who prefer to use cloth, perhaps we should just leave them alone instead of making condescending movies with sad music about their wretchedness.
This applies for innerwear as well. I was told that earlier, women belonging to the lower castes/classes were ‘not allowed’ to wear blouses or bras and it was only in the latter half of the British reign that they were emancipated. But surely those ‘poor, unfortunate’ women weren’t exactly complaining? In certain parts of the country, like in Kerala it was perfectly acceptable for ladies to go about their work, topless which had to have been ideal given the sweltering conditions. Then came the dark day, when marketing ploys were successfully employed to convince the female of the species that the smart, sexy and sassy among them were the ones who bound their breasts behind the satin, lace and underwire reinforced lingerie that Victoria’s Secret had helpfully purveyed at an exorbitant price. And of course, the civilized thing to do was to conceal these behind tailored blouses!

Don’t even get me started on beauty product hawking conglomerates who decided that the only use they have for feminism is to cash in on it. Women are told that their social currency is tied to their ‘natural beauty’. Therefore rather than devote themselves to their studies, personalities or jobs to get ahead in their lives, it would behove them to make looking good, a full time job. Today, if a girl is not exquisitely groomed and expensively branded out from head to toe, then she may as well go back to the cave she supposedly emerged from. Bring out the war paint, ladies, it is time to free feminism from the chains of consumerism! 
This artcile was originally carried by The New Indian Express.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Vegetarianism is not Synonymous with Virtue


I have nothing against vegetarians. A lot of them are friends who invite me home for meals where I cheerfully stuff my face with pulao (just don’t call it veg. biriyani), stuffed chapathis, papads, gobi manchurian and carrot halwa.  When I return the favour, they are content to tuck into my veggie fried rice, chilli paneer, mushroom au gratin and chocolate fudge without gagging at the sight of the non – vegetarian spread. More importantly, they have never judged me for my carnivorous ways nor, I them their culinary choices since these have their roots in culture, tradition, religion or personal preference. That ought to be that, but unfortunately it isn’t. 

In recent times, many from the growing ranks of vegetarians who may prefer terms like vegan, lacto vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, pollotarian, pescatarian or flexitarian have taken a militant stand against eaters of meat seemingly determined to convert those they believe don’t know better with missionary zeal and extreme shaming tactics. Herbivores seek to condemn and criticize those who are partial to their deluxe bacon burgers and mutton biriyani or simply cannot pay the criminal prices charged for kale, aubergine, quinoa and salads made with 75 environment friendly ingredients. Surely that is obscene in a land where too many are unable to afford one square meal let alone an expensive, organically sourced vegan one? If a fattened goat feeds a family for a week why begrudge anybody that?
Almost as bad is the attempt to impose cardinal culinary principles on others by those who are sanguine in the mistaken belief that vegetarianism is synonymous with virtue which makes them morally superior beings and the offspring of dharma and ahimsa. When those of the phytophagous variety (foes of flora, I like to call them), insist that it is not possible for those who can’t do without roasted chicken to love or care for animals, that those who feed their children meat are guilty of abuse (never mind that courts in various parts of the world have pulled up parents who forced their dietary ‘principles’ on their children with the result that they wound up malnourished) and meat eaters are destroying the planet, the overblown rhetoric stripped of nuance leaves me convinced that all this is little more than superficial posturing and hollow outraging, designed to dictate what others eat and police personal menus.
Studies by Nicoletta Pellegrini have shown that while consumption of animal products have a high environmental impact, vegans with their excessive reliance on processed substitutes for meat and dairy don’t necessarily show a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Besides bland purely vegan dishes are not half as fortifying or fulfilling as meat based cuisine which leads to a higher food intake which in turn defeats the purpose, herbivores keep harping about. It is why experts feel an ovo – vegetarian or flexitarian diet is more likely to produce environmental benefits.
I am not advocating indiscriminate consumption but it is easier to make healthier choices when one is not pressured or forced into it. After all, you are what you eat, and if your dietary decisions make you smug, sanctimonious and superior, perhaps a change in the menu might be in order.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.

A CHILLING BLAST FROM THE PAST


Benjamin Kingsbury’s An Imperial Disaster: The Bengal Cyclone of 1876 is about a natural disaster of near apocalyptic proportions which claimed 215,000 lives by drowning and at least another 100,000 lost to cholera and famine. While the extreme forces of nature that led to this catastrophe are meticulously documented, Kingsbury insists and rightfully so, on placing the focus on the ‘all – too human patterns of exploitation and inequality – by divisions within Bengali society, and by the great disparities of political and economic power that characterised British rule in India’ that shaped this natural disaster which exacerbated a horrendous situation to inhuman levels of suffering and loss of life. 

Told with an unflinching and unsparing gaze, Kingsbury’s comprehensive and compelling account serves the dual purpose of transporting the reader back to the horrors of imperial rule with its callous disregard for the natives, particularly the poor, while holding a mirror to problems such as ‘overpopulation, unemployment, landlessness, corruption, illiteracy, indebtedness, official indifference’ which though prevalent during British rule, remain rampant to this very day. This narrative is scathing in its condemnation of ruthless colonial greed pointing out how the people of India were left impoverished, with their manufacturers and industrialists systematically driven out of business, farmers and peasants buckling under the weight of taxation, and a massive chunk of revenue being siphoned away to England.
It also shines a light on the stunning indifference of the authorities towards the victims who having suffered untold losses were left to fend for themselves even as cholera and famine continued to take a toll. The higher ups among the imperial powers made it clear that the more niggardly and pecuniary the efforts expended on relief works, the higher the opportunity for career advancement would be. In fact, relief officers were appointed solely ‘to prove that there was no need for relief.’ In the meantime, officials saw fit to spend beaucoup sums on imperial durbars, feasting, fireworks and idle festivities.
The great majority of the public were uncaring too, not bothering to lift a finger to help fellow Indians. Regional publications like the Amrita Bazar Patrika, rued the callousness of the professional, landowning classes who were ignoring the disaster, refusing to help raise money or donate for a cause. Greed and corruption were not limited to the British alone and the landlords and middlemen saw no reason not to refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the others. Worse, no preventive measures were implemented in the aftermath.
A brilliant read, this book should be mandatory reading for Indians just so they can learn from the past, wise up in the present and prevent the future from being reduced to a disaster waiting to happen.

This review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Tribute to Forgotten Heroes


History is oftentimes an unjust mistress often choosing to forget or ignore those who deserve to be cherished or at the very least remembered. The First World War fought between imperialist powers anxious to annexe more chunks of the planet for themselves irrespective of whether they called themselves the Central or Allied Powers, truly upped the ante when it came to large – scale carnage. By the time the unmitigated horror of it all, came to an end more than 16 million were dead. Many a tome or movie have been devoted to the heroics of the Allied forces for having successfully held on to their ill – gotten gains and having put themselves in a prime position to satiate their gluttonous appetite for more land and power but not much is known about the contribution of the 1.5 million (not counting those who volunteered or were coerced into serving) Indian soldiers who fought in the Great War and left their own indelible prints in the sands of time.
            George Morton – Jack in his ‘The Indian Empire at War’ puts in painstaking effort into piecing together the lives of these intrepid warriors who lived in a tumultuous, topsy-turvy age where they were asked to fight for democratic ideals by their masters who had denied them and their countrymen the same. The book focuses not only on the nitty-gritty of an Indian soldier’s personal reality and the cultural as well as practical factors which motivated him to pick up arms on behalf of the loathed imperial overlords but also beyond and into the decision making processes of higher forces at play in a deadly game of bloody conflict.
            This historian’s account is thorough and painfully blunt which is readily apparent when he discusses the mind-set of the Indian soldiers who pulled their triggers against peaceful protestors in the infamous Amritsar Massacre simply because General Dyer and ‘the British told them to.’ It is a chilling example of men who are trained to obey and kill because they have been taught to put aside principles and feelings when in uniform. The puzzle of Indians who fought and killed other Indians is hard to unravel despite the divided identity of the nation and an even harder reality to stomach.
            The indictment of British rule in India is readily apparent given that few practised what they preached when it came to denouncing tyranny. For all their high – flown rhetoric of fighting the Great War for all the right reasons, the British to ‘ensure their primacy over Indians as their racial inferiors’ subjected them to constant belittlement and abuse while practising segregation and denying the Indian troops their basic rights such as forcing them to live in hovels, depriving them of decent medical care and rations, while of course their British counterparts were living it up in style and given double their wages. Of course, the Indian troops despite years of loyal service could not expect to be promoted to a rank that meant anything or given their own command. Worse, they were not allowed to fight white armies in case they got new-fangled ideas about their place in the racial hierarchy.
            There is a balance to the narrative which includes anecdotes about the bravery as well as cowardice evidenced by Indian troops and a fascinating tale of two brothers - Mir Dast and Mir Mast, brothers one of whom remained loyal, while the other, who had won a medal for bravery was persuaded to desert when a holy – Jihad was declared by the Turkish Sultan makes for compelling reading. Even among the British officials, care has been taken to document actions that were fair, decent as well as disgraceful. Ultimately it is a stirring tribute to those troops whose ‘achievement was bearing their humiliations at the hands of the British with such strength in the face of adversity and not letting go of their humanity’. 

This book review originally appeared here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

New Year Resolutions for Pongal

Pic courtesy: Mash Kolams


New Year resolutions are damnable things. Mostly they are social media worthy which means it involves all things supercilious bedecked in the paraphernalia of the profound. Folks are always resolving to eat healthy, stop and smell the farts roses, go with the flow, get away from the rat race, travel and see the world, quit smoking, tweet less, smile more, pay it forward, help the needy, and make the world a better place. Needless to say these resolutions are burdensome creatures and make you feel like Frodo Baggins crushed and overwhelmed under the onerous weight of the One Ring. Which probably explains why most of us feel a pressing obligation to break them as quickly as we can so that we can go back to being flawed human beings who are conceited and callous enough not to care about self – improvement or improving the lot of the less fortunate.
            How do I know these things? From personal experience of course. I had resolved to eat right, stop allowing my insecurities to become an obsession and cease revealing embarrassing details about myself when I write up these columns. But hardly two weeks into the New Year, I have failed to convince my body that it doesn’t need desserts after every meal, haven’t managed a full night’s sleep because I am trying to figure out how to become a more successful author or a self – actualized individual and you know…
When confronted with definitive evidence of a weak will and an inability to resist temptation, guilt kicks in and claws at your underbelly making you feel lower than a worm’s belly button. All too soon, one is trapped in a vicious cycle of resolutions made only to be broken and on and on it goes. Perhaps we have gotten the methodology all wrong.
            The problem is we are making resolutions to do things we have been taught to think we ought to be doing instead of the things we really want to do. Which is why we end up like those god-awful souls who judge us when we order a double chocolate chip cookie milkshake with whipped cream and ice cream to go with the garden salad with the add - on meat and insist on viewing entire areas of a perfectly decent life as inadequate. Why not simply admit that ‘I’m not okay, you’re not okay and that’s okay!’? I first heard that in the Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn classic, Dodgeball and that is not at all an embarrassing thing to admit because I am owning it now see?
            Perhaps your New Year resolution made just in time for Pongal ought to be not to make any, except that would qualify as a bona – fide resolution so what now? I know exactly what I will be doing. Now that I have made the word count for my column, I am just going to drop the whole thing and go grab a cupcake. Then I’ll probably stay up all night wondering what it is that Twinkle Khanna has and I don’t which ensures that she manages astronomical sales figures for her yarns on pads, Prasad and pyjamas while looking so damn good.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Standard.