My first encounter with anything Shobha De was when I chanced upon one of her books at the age of 19. Being a voracious reader who would devour any book, I read it. I don’t recall which one it was but I do remember a sense of boredom midway through the novel, maybe because of a strange lack of substance. I skip read one other book of hers in the next few years but was never tempted to possess any despite being a book hoarder. However, one cannot blame a person for churning out mediocre fare when people keep buying the books. So no blame here Ms. De!
A model/socialite turned journalist turned author, SD has worn a few different hats. I wouldn’t want to speculate on her journalistic skills but would assume the most dangerous ground she has trod on is possibly the threat of being excluded from the guest list of a must attend party because of a jibe in society and film magazines she founded/edited. But one has to give her credit for popularizing magazines like Stardust and Society in the competitive media space. Take a bow Ms. De!
She did not touch my life for many years post college but once I moved to Bombay, I saw her occasionally at events, film premieres, book launches etc and of course on Page 3. Some years ago, there was a particular event planned around her presence as chief attraction, along with various Bengali performers on Rabindra Jayanti (Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday). I really could not figure why the organizers wanted her since the only thing Bengali about her is her husband, but who was I to question! The event included a discussion on Tagore’s works along with reading of select pieces and required the artists to rehearse together over a few weeks. She came for a few rehearsals, realized there was a lot of preparation required to be able to pull off what was expected and dropped out a week before the event; leaving the organizers in a complete lurch. It took a very gracious lady, a true blue Bengali and a well known name in the theatre circuit to step in and save the day that the ‘De’ had left in a mess!! So Ms. De exiting was actually a blessing in disguise. I did not blame her for chickening out; it was really the organizers fault for even imagining she could be a part of an intensely cultural event! No blame here either Ms. De!
Shobhaa De has been in the eye of a storm quite a few times for her rabble rousing opinions whether they be on political issues, Bollywood or visiting royalty. My most memorable encounter with Ms. De’s literary genius happened when I read a column she had penned post the devastating Thailand tsunami in 2004. An Australian couple were on a beach holiday in Phuket with their two little sons aged 5 and 2 when the tsunami struck. The mother desperately clinging her children, let go of her 5 year old’s hand thinking another person was holding him. But they could not find him later as the girl who held him had to let go in the turbulent waters. The parents went through nightmarish hours imagining their child swept away by the waves before they suddenly found their missing son, miraculously standing in front of them without a scratch. It was a shining tale of hope amidst all the horror and the media was abuzz. Ms. De mentioned the incident in her column too. And added how the parents must have been relieved at the wave taking away a son because raising one child is so much easier and cheaper than raising two. And how they must have been disheartened when the child was found, having to rethink their finances! I still recall the horror and disgust I felt reading her piece. Forget being a woman and a mother, just being a human being mandates you do not make statements like these. Not in your drawing room and not not NOT in public. That one was unforgivable Ms. De.
Now to the latest gem from the De stable, her tweet about the Indian contingent at the Rio Olympics. My initial reaction, like a lot of other people’s, was of outrage. Now, a day later, I still do not condone what she wrote and I definitely feel she had no right to write what she did; but I am no longer outraged because I forgive her. At the age of 68 plus, Shobhaa De has come a long way from her lissome model cum society diva days. The svelte figure has gone to seed and her face is aged and wrinkled. We have seen women age beautifully and gracefully, Rajmata Gayatri Devi and Leela Naidu being epitomes of beauty at any age. But Ms. De does not quite possess that grace. Look at some of the people she loves to hate – victims of her poison pen have been Sonam Kapoor, Kate Middleton and now the Indian athletes. Young, beautiful, talented, fit people. Does it hurt very much to see their unlined faces and young athletic bodies Ms. De? Do these images make you insecure and keep you awake at night? Maybe you wish to turn back the clock or imbibe some miraculous age retardant elixir that would take you back to 30 maybe even 40 years ago. Do you curse the mirror when it says that you are not the ‘fairest of them all’ but shows an old woman? Do you dislike your own photographs now when you must have delighted in them a few decades ago? I wonder if you like selfies at all…..
The Olympic contingent must be a particular thorn in the flesh because despite not being very good looking or privileged (a must in some circles), they have the entire nation enthralled. People are walking, talking breathing Olympics, the sports channels are running talks and telecasts all day, the news channels are agog. Don’t you wish they would do that about your columns? Or your books? But they did not. Your writings would have inspired a few drawing room debates, maybe a few discussions, but no more.
Like most of us, you will never know the glory of being able to represent your nation in the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet. But unlike a lot of us, you do not exult in other peoples success, however marginal it may be. You will never understand how hard the flat footed little Deepa Karmakar from far flung Agartala had to work to become a champion vaulter. You have no idea how scared Dattu Bhokanal, our rowing hope, was of water, having grown up in a stone crushing labourer’s family in drought stricken Maharashtra. Wrapped in your little bubble, you have no idea how hard these people have to work, with minimal infrastructure and maximum red tape, just to be able to pursue their dreams.
You seem to have no idea about doing anything for a cause greater than yourself Ms. De and that makes you worthy of pity. It makes you a person lacking grace, substance, sensitivity, humility, inner beauty and compassion; all essential components of a life worth living. I feel sorry for you Ms. De and that is why I forgive you.
Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa August 2016
All Rights Reserved