Thursday, February 12, 2009


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, June 17, 2007)

Romance, who loves to nod and sing,
With drowsy head and folded wing,
Among the green leaves as they shake
Far down within some shadowy lake
-Romance by Edgar Allan Poe

Deeply dipping d├ęcolletage, dinner by candlelight and ardour in his eyes…… Romance?
Yes, of course.
Walking hand in hand by the seaside, silhouetted against the sunset as you murmur sweet nothings to each other….. Romance?
Giggling together over nothing; shared chocolates, songs heard and sung together; fingers touched and snatched away; champagne and roses…. Romance?
Mmmmm, YES!
Time spent together, full of love and mischief, but parting to go your separate ways, love locked deep in your hearts; a baby’s quivering dimpled bottom, pitter patter of rain, streaks of sunset colour in the sky … Romance?
A glimpse of knickers under Anna Kournikova’s tennis skirt; loving more than one person at a time, having no-strings-attached sex with a friend once in a while …. Romance?
Ouch! Cheeni kum hai…But hey, WHY NOT?

Why must romance necessarily be something to do with love, togetherness and spending time with your lover? Like most things in life, why must romance be bound by definitions and limits? To the extent that when a website asked a number of romance writers to post their definitions of romance, each one defined it as the love story of a man and woman, their strength of character, trials and tribulations, and how they overcome these. Each author specified that a romance could only possibly have a happily ever after (HEA) ending!
But how realistic is that? The definition of romance changes with time. From medieval to Gothic to 18th century romantic poetry to early 20th century War romances, onto the Harlequin series and realistic romances – what a world of difference!
One way to measure this is to flick through a few romance novels. Pick up the all-time favourite Mills & Boons for instance. A few years ago, virginity was a pre-requisite and the main characters verbally sparred their way through the story till the end when they discovered their all-encompassing love and were allowed the first kiss… Swoon, swoon… how sweetly romantic!
Today, they start off as ‘fuck buddies’, move in together and the idea of marriage and HEA comes almost as a surprise! Virginity is not even considered, though fidelity is still a requisite.
Medieval romances were all about quests and adventure. Modern romance too is about quest – but an internal quest, a quest to discover yourself. Romance today is as much about your journey inwards – a relationship with self -- as it is a loving relationship with another.
Romance is no longer about waiting for the right time or opportunity; it’s about the here and now. It’s for you to find romance in every moment, every thought and every word. For, romance emanates from within you. If you keep waiting for the right time and place, it will just pass you by.
What are the feelings a romantic situation arouses? Romance is when you feel good about yourself and everyone around; when your good hormones are flowing and you love the whole world. If knickers peeking out from beneath a skirt seem kinda cute to you, then that’s your kind of romance! If you get addicted to exercise and look forward to your early morning walks, even that could be your experience of romance. Glaze gazing far out into the horizon with a blank mind could be as romantic as a bubble bath with your lover. Anything and everything that helps you connect with joy of living is romantic.
If you are willing to stretch your definition of it, romance is always in the air around you; you just have to sniff it out. It’s there in the leaf that just dropped to the ground; the trees laden with droopy, bright yellow amaltas; in the colours of dawn and dusk. It’s actually nowhere without; it’s within you.


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, June 3, 2007)
Unlike France which votes for virility, India seems to vote for celibacy!

French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls wife Cecilia "my strength and my Achilles heel." When it comes to her, Sarkozy is reported to be “soft, helpless and impossibly forgiving.” The French are said to love this! Sigh! Who wouldn’t?
The French image of helpless, forgiving romantics contrasts sharply with the rigid, unforgiving stances rest of the world takes towards love and lovers’ foibles. Cecilia eloped with her American lover in 2005 and disappeared for several months reportedly while her husband dallied with a French journalist. The 49-year-old brunette was missing during the crucial part of her husband’s election campaign, but reappeared when he took the Presidential oath.
Ever since, French press has been rife with speculation over will-she-won’t-she give in to social pressures as First Lady and give up her wild ways.
A pat and tweak of the cheek and a shared public kiss between the Prez and his wife have raised hopes Cecilia will allow Elysee Palace to rein in her free spirit. However she recently declared, "I don't see myself as a First Lady. That bores me. I'm not politically correct. I potter about in jeans, combat trousers or cowboy boots."
For the French, several marriages and divorces, children on the wrong side of the sheet or any number of dalliances are a part of life. French politicians, unlike their hapless British and American brethren, share a rare protection from exposure despite scandalous conduct because of the country’s strict privacy laws. No paparazzi cult here!
In fact, a recent French poll showed that 83 per cent public would vote for a candidate even if he had cheated on his wife. It seems that a few seductions and extramarital affairs increase a candidate’s chances of winning since this proves his virility!
Consider the Presidential record. In 1899, President Felix Faure suffered a fatal heart attack while having sex with his mistress. Mitterand led a parallel romantic life. Outgoing French President Jacques Chirac had quite a reputation as a Don Juan. He even admitted that he loved some women "as discreetly as possible." If anything, this endeared him even more to the sentimental French. Contrast that to President Bill Clinton who denied a liaison with Monica Lewinsky amidst immense national moral outrage over the oral sex scandal.
But then, France is where the role of mistresses has been an established institution for ages. Right from Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress for 20 years, to one of France’s greatest designers, Coco Channel, described as “a great mistress, a great designer and a problematic historical figure" to legendary couple Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, who gave themselves as wholeheartedly to tempestuous affairs as to each other.
Now just picture the situation back home in India, where our leaders, if they are to remain in power, are expected to maintain celibacy through their lifetime if they are single or widowed. Unlike France which votes for virility, India seems to vote for celibacy!
Indira Gandhi ostensibly led a celibate life for 24 years after her husband’s demise Though there were whispers, nobody dared speak any louder. And, imagine the uproar if Sonia Gandhi’s name were linked romantically to another man’s! And not just women; men too must refrain from l’affaires de couer if they hope to retain their positions of power. Everyone loudly whispered about Atal Behari Vajpayee but they were just whispers… And what about President Abdul Kalam? Jayalalitha? Uma Bharati? Mayawati? They aren’t even married, but catch them owning up to girlfriends or boyfriends! And yet, for all France’s chutzpah with romantic dalliances, at heart the French are traditional in their own manner. And while affairs on the side are fine, they don’t want to see broken homes. Amidst immense pressure from the new President, French media was forced to withdraw stories about wild Cecilia’s romp with lover boy and instead concentrate on her loving reconciliation with husband. Just like in India….


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, May 27, 2007)

Have you seen the TV commercial where this man finds a 500 rupee note as he walks down the road? He stops, looks around; finding himself alone, he seems to weaken for a moment, before straightening up painfully and walking away with a shrug.
Honesty? A sense of integrity? No. It’s an ad for Iodex!
Even as viewers grapple with moral issues, ironically, the only thing that stops the guy from bending and picking up the note is fear of hurting his back further. A painful decision both ways.
But then honesty is painful! As are most of the “right” things in life! They don’t come easily. And, more often than not, most of us toe the straight line out of a fear of being caught doing wrong. It is fear rather than principles that keeps us on the straight and narrow. Fear of ostracisation; fear of being branded dishonest, unfaithful, immoral or a thief.
And so either you remain honest or make a great show of honesty. Honesty doesn’t come naturally to us because honesty is quite complex and again, like truth, contextual and somewhat cultural too. It’s a tag you choose to give, and then, hang yourself by. Being totally honest is pandering to your ego, convincing yourself you have achieved the impossible. And then, it certainly isn’t easy to stick to honesty when you get labeled “bechara” or an idiot for toeing the straight line!
Wonder how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh felt the day newspapers displayed his assets front page for all to peruse? Not a very comfortable situation, even if he had nothing to hide. As a result, the whole country went, “Bechara, sirf char crore!” The rising respect in people’s eyes can only be cold comfort when you are subjected to pity as the predominant emotion.
What’s bechara about an honest man? A bureaucrat friend narrates the incident of how friends told his father they would rather go to some other officer than request his son to do their work since “woh bewakoof na khata hai na auron ko khane deta hai. Darta hai!” As a result of which, they said, he was ineffective. They would rather go and pay up another officer and ensure their work gets done! So, not just bechara, but stupid and a coward as well!
If that is the common perception about honesty, it is indeed a difficult virtue to nurture. As Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka, who uncovered many a dishonest face, said in a casual chat, “There are no black and white rules regarding honesty. Everyone has to apply their own yardstick. Human beings are complicated and being honest isn’t easy.”
A colleague confessed the other day how her daughter found an expensive Barbie doll watch outside a mall some days ago. They asked around but couldn’t find any claimant. Struggling between the desire to let her child keep the watch and the fear of sending her a wrong message, the mother arrived at a compromise of sorts. She told her daughter that because what they had found wasn’t money and because they had made sincere efforts to find the rightful owner, she could keep the watch. Having done that, she is still assailed by guilt pangs -- not over keeping what belonged to someone else, but over whether she has sent her daughter the wrong message!
Different mothers would certainly have reacted differently in this instance. And yet, each one of them would have convinced herself that she was being honest. Because in the ultimate analysis, you have to be honest to yourself and do what you are comfortable with.
All of us are honest. In our own way.


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, May 20, 2007)

The wink is a metaphor for the changing world order, where royalty is no longer so sacrosanct, nor human errors so unforgivable!

The world smiled indulgently when the American Prez fumbled, then winked at Queen Elizabeth during her state visit to the US. The Queen, instead of taking umbrage, actually seemed amused. Dubya’s faux pas, engineered or genuine, seemed to go down well with all, earning at best a chuckle and at worst a tut-tut.
What helped perhaps was that probably everyone, including the Queen, expected the President to slip up some time or other. Though perhaps not so early as within15 minutes of greeting her!
Even as Yank bluster fumbled in the face of Brit ceremony, it was clear that the world at large seems far more accepting of George Bush’s gaffes than his own countrymen. In fact his perpetual cowboy boot-in-mouth serves to make the world’s most powerful man seem more human. Of course what helped further was that the Queen sportingly took the slip in protocol in her royal stride. Even better, she chose to partake in it by poking gentle fun at Bush’s expense just before returning to England!
Reportedly at a ceremony, “grinning widely,” she raised a toast to her country’s friendship with US, obliquely referring to Dubya’s gaffe with a witty, “"I wondered whether I should start this toast by saying, 'When I was here in 1776..."' amid laughter.
The incident possibly took the Queen back to her last visit to White House in 1991 when George Bush senior was President. George junior had then introduced himself to the Queen as the "black sheep of the family", asking her who was the black sheep of the Windsor family, much to the horror of his mother, Barbara Bush.
One wonders if it is the famed stiff British upper lip that brings out the worst in etiquette from Bush, known for his Texan drawl, fumbling ways and informal manner. After all, he also once greeted Prime Minister Tony Blair with: "Yo, Blair. How are you doing?"
Be that as it may, but certainly the Presidential wink is far more than what it has been made out to be. It is difficult to believe that even Bungling Bush could have winked at the Queen without meaning to. The wink is a metaphor for the changing world order, where royalty is no longer so sacrosanct, nor human errors so unforgivable! A world where a bow is replaced by a wink; affectation by affection. A world where the monarch is forced to not just graciously accept breaks in protocol, but to loosen the stiff upper lip enough to grin back widely. A world whose foundations were laid by the likes of late Princess Diana, whose slip from protocol was constantly frowned upon by Buckingham Palace. Certainly a world where ceremony and protocol take a backseat to just doing it!
And if that is so, are we saying Dubya just stumbled upon that carefully executed wink? One wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t built into the script carefully prepared for President Bush by some of the world’s most clever men in a country that prides itself on changing the destiny of nations.
Even as the memory of that cheeky, conspiratorial wink is likely to cause keepers of royal protocol many a sleepless night, the Queen all of a sudden seems more human and approachable. One wink has served to transform her from a frigid, distant monarch to a warm, vulnerable, dignified woman capable of a dry turn of wit and of holding her own when put in a spot!
It is true that possibly nobody less than the world’s most powerful man would have got away winking at monarchy, but it is also true that it would take none less powerful than him to attempt a wink that clearly symbolizes a dramatic shift in power equations!


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in The Times of India, May 13, 2007)
Men move around under a cloud of guilt unable to understand or meet the ever-burgeoning expectations of women in their lives!

Sometimes, just sometimes, I feel bad for men. Considering the quantum leap women have taken from last generation to ours, men can only be said to have regressed As women gain confidence and poise, they are not just challenging men in their own space but also questioning what for generations has been accepted male behaviour.
That leaves men befuddled, with no role models to follow. After all, when they look towards their dads, they see a generation of guys who still shout out to their wives for a glass of water – and get it! Dare they try the same?! Not a chance, faced as they are with perhaps the most formidable generation of women in years past and to come – women who have discovered their identity and are reveling in the new-found strength of their feminity.
To make matters worse a recent study indicated that men may no longer be required for procreation either, with the possibility of creating sperms from a woman’s bone marrow! How men must have quaked at the prospect of being nudged out of the only activity they believed women couldn’t manage without them! Pleasure of course is a possibility without guys, as women have known since Stone Age it seems (as indicated by the recent discovery of sex toys and dildos in a Stone Age cave in Germany)!
Men today labour under a perpetual cloud of guilt, not quite sure what they have done wrong nor what they are expected to do! Not surprising because women themselves don’t seem too sure of who or what they really want their man to be!
It begins with Mom, who starts telling her little boy he shouldn’t be like Dad because no woman other than her would tolerate such an attitude. She forgets to mention however who or what he should be like. Then there is sis who is perpetually complaining about perceived disadvantages and blaming him for these, “Just because he’s a boy!” Quite unsure what his being a boy has to do with everything wrong in her life, he moves on to girlfriend and wife.
The problem here is that no woman is quite sure whether she wants a macho guy who sweeps her off her feet and vows to protect her, or a metrosexual man of the world, who is gentle and savvy and her equal. While she makes up her mind, our man has been hurtled through many avatars, which have left him one confused mess. Counter to what he has heard about feminists, a woman is quite happy with him paying all restaurant bills and holding open doors for her; wants him to be the chief breadwinner of the family and to handle all payments and matters that require running around. Pant! Pant! And yet, she also expects him to help around at home, with the house as well as kids! Whoa!
Well, to be honest, no man actually does all that, but that’s where the guilt seeps in! Expectations are a strange thing. They have nothing to do with you. And yet, either you do what you are expected to do, or you suffer guilt pangs. And once that happens, it gives the woman in his life just what she needs – a handle on her man. Most men complain women have become adept at making them feel inadequate. But of course, how else would we feel more than adequate? Come, honestly girls, how often have you heard the guy in your life whine, “Why am I blamed for everything that goes wrong?!” There you are!
Is it any wonder then that most women think men today seem confused, inflexible and inadequate? He’s damned if he does; damned if he doesn’t! And either way, he certainly can’t hope to measure up to the paragon we dream of!

Be a good boy
Push a little farther now
That wasn't fast enough
To make us happy
We'll love you just the way you are
If you're perfect
Alanis Morissette


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, May 6, 2007)

The kissa kiss ka refuses to die down. And, why should it? How often do we get the opportunity to legitimately focus on and replay a titillating scene except on DVD in the confines of our bedrooms? And here the courts and media are doing it for us, ensuring we don’t forget what the misguided judge issuing Gere’s arrest warrant, called “the indecent act”
Indecent? Show me one woman who wouldn’t have wanted to be in Shilpa Shetty’s shoes when Richard Gere swung her into a clinch – and I will tell you she is lying!
It’s not so much Gere, as the idea of being swept off her feet that fires a woman’s imagination. And Gere’s action when he grabbed Shilpa is the stuff a woman’s dreams are made of. Women are suckers for romance and find it incredibly sexy to be taken unawares and surprised with a quick hug, an unexpected kiss, a sudden clinch, a gift out of the blue…
Unacceptable as the thought may seem, a hint of aggression is always thrilling. Remember Raj Kapur’s near manhandling of Nargis in their love scenes? The way he pulled her hair to turn her face up to his; how he twisted her arm behind her back to bring her up against his chest? Sigh! In the act of adopting refined metrosexual attributes, men today have forgotten some caveman tactics women swooned over!
Look at the emotions Gere’s act on stage aroused. In a Times survey, every second girl in Mumbai and every third girl in Delhi expressed the desire to switch places with Shilpa as Gere recreated the screen romance when he similarly swung Jennifer Lopez to a gravity-defying angle in Shall We Dance!
Strange indeed are the ways of our titill-o-meters! Not everyone can understand another’s turn-on trigger. Expecting it to be an interesting exercise, I started asking friends and acquaintances what excited them most in love scenes.
Women predictably settled for “that look in the eye,” “a deep baritone,’ or “a lopsided smile.” Smiles and eyes remain a hot favourite with the fairer sex, with humour and a prolonged courtship not quite as desired elements as they used to be once!
However, it was the men’s response that came as a pleasant surprise. Not one of them settled for hard-core sex. Something of an eye-opener was that most men indicated mushy stuff as their big turn-on – certainly not what one expected!
Said a male colleague, “It’s the talk that turns me on – intelligent double entendres that say everything and yet leave a question mark. For instance, if I were to rub my cheek against a woman’s and suggest, “Do you think there’s something between us?” Wow. Just then another said , “No talk. That’s what excites me! Remember Falling in Love? Almost half way through the movie and the tension is palpable but Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro still haven’t spoken to each other. And then one day he does … that’s the stuff turn-ons are made of!”
Not quite yet recovered from this unexpected male mush, yet another male colleague took the wind out of my sails by referring to the scene from Desperado, going gooey over the scene where Antonio Banderas teaches Salma Hayek to play the guitar amidst a sea of candles…
Omigosh, before this gets too mush for me to handle, let’s turn to more pragmatic guys. And, there were some! Said one: “The subtle display of skin, and by this I do not mean in your face nudity. Also stolen glimpses of skin are very erotic. For example, a shapely pair of legs revealed when the wind is blowing hard or a hint of cleavage is far more erotic than the same legs on display in a micro mini or cleavage in a low blouse.” Well said!
Yet another named his erotica: “I find that risk adds a measure of erotica to things. It creates a great frisson when you're making out and there's every possibility you could get caught in the act. Anything from a stolen kiss to making out when someone could walk in at any moment is exciting.”
Wow, we do seem to have made phenomenal progress with men, if indeed exotica rather than erotica dictates their Big Os! Heigh ho!


Vinita Dawra Nangia
(First published in TOI, April 29, 2007)

Shilpa Shetty is a metaphor for foxy celebrities who manipulate social opportunities to gain fame and fortune.Witness the kiss with Richard Gere...

How many of you really believe wide-eyed Shilpa Shetty had no clue what would ensue after that very delectable onstage kiss shared with Richard Gere? Did she have no idea of what was coming when Richard swung her into a clinch which is the stuff female dreams are made of? Not likely.
Paris Hilton’s “leaked” video sex tapes; wardrobe malfunctions ranging from Janet Jackson to Carol Gracias; Mika’s smooch for Rakhi Sawant, and now the Richard-Shilpa kiss – all incidents announce the arrival of the new PR Gods of the 21st century. These peripheral celebrities have perfected the art of keeping the arc lights focused on themselves. Not just that, after creating controversial situations and dropping a timely hint to media, they are also perfect at adroitly stepping away and pretending innocence when hell breaks loose – much as it was meant to!
These are the people who engineer their own future by playing with destiny, but who can also convince the world that they are mere playthings in the hands of destiny! They live a dangerously tantalising life – living on the edge in a new era of media, creating a willing suspension of disbelief.
Shilpa is just a metaphor for being there and yet not there, for having your cake and eating it too. It’s an era of disaggregated identities, you are a part of a process but you are also the one who initiated that process! You step away and pretend it never happened; it’s just a figment of the media’s imagination! In the bargain you become victim as well as attacker; creator as well as the creation! So then what happens? The turn your life takes after that can only be called “conditioned destiny” and the response is far more incisive and effective than a paid PR plan! This is premeditated social behaviour that creates Gods out of mortals.
Consider this. First Celebrity Big Brother helps shoot Shilpa to international celebrity status with well-timed hints and interviews to media from her mom and sister on how Shilpa is being missed at home and how she is bearing up to the pressure of racial discrimination. In the blink of an eye, you find the girl-from-nowhere at the centre of a huge racial controversy spanning nations. Next she is being presented to the Queen and riding high on the popularity index. In the middle of it all, Shilpa plays God -- putting on an innocent act, magnanimously forgiving Jade Goody all her racial taunts and insults!
Then, just as the brouhaha around her threatens to settle down, Shilpa finds herself at the centre of yet another storm that stirs up media in India as well as abroad because of the involvement of a Hollywood star. Once again, Shilpa steps forward as the generous protector and benefactor “Poor guy! For such a trivial issue! How will it look in the international press? … Richard was just trying to entertain an unresponsive audience."
Of course she glosses over her own “teasing” of Richard Gere at lunch the same day about his “dance step from Shall We Dance. She hurries to clarify, “it was nothing but a joke and not pre-planned at all.” When reminded about a similar uproar when Padmini Kolhapure kissed Prince Charles many years ago, Shilpa said, "That was on the lips. This was on the cheek, for crying out loud!” Much like Bill Clinton’s protest that he never actually had sex with Lewinsky!


Vinita Dawra Nangia

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
Its life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all…

(Joni Mitchell, Love Actually)

How many times have you heard people say, “Oh I know my husband so well, he just wouldn’t do this!” or, “I know her through and through; she’s my daughter after all!” Famous last words. Don’t ever believe them!
You can live with someone an entire lifetime and yet not know everything about them. We know only what another may wish to reveal or what actions and words give away. And that holds true of even those closest to us.
Believing in my salad days that loving is telling all and knowing all, I would be frustrated if loved ones chose to keep away certain things or even at the hint of a falsehood. I would consider it a betrayal to keep even stray thoughts secret. Being painfully honest was almost a religion. Why should there be any secrets between lovers – loving is to be naked with each other in every respect.
And yet, we all remember Tess d’Urberville’s instant fall from love and life after her confession to Angel of a prior sexual encounter. And this, after Hardy’s heroine has forgiven her husband of a few hours, all his trespasses! What value truth?
Life is a great teacher and we all grow up to know better. Revealing the simple truth isn’t possible because there’s nothing simple about truth. Revealing your self entirely to another is impossible because there are multiple dimensions to your personality just as there are multiple dimensions of the same reality, looked at from different perspectives. There’s a generous you and there’s a mean you; you are honest as well as dishonest; creative as well as destructive; calm as well as chaotic. It all depends on the time of the day or who you are interacting with. Were you to reveal all these selves to another, would they not consider you a fit case for multiple personality disorder? And yet, you know you are fine with the way you are because an amalgamation of all these characteristics makes you, YOU -- the entity!
Revealing the entire truth is not even an option because truth, far from being just a binary representation of life, is contextual and multidimensional. Can anybody but Eva Braun understand the Hitler she loved, lived for and died with? And yet, that Hitler was her reality, while the rest of the world’s reality was a totally different man! "I’ve always said that I shan’t go on living if anything happens to you. You know that my whole life is loving you," she wrote to the man hated by the entire world!
Being truthful to one another is a complex expression because you are just revealing an aspect of yourself which is true and there are many other aspects. And so, when there is a truth and a falsehood in everything, your reality is the end of the stick you happen to latch on to.
Don’t we all know people who bring out different perspectives and evoke varied reactions from us? Some make you feel on top of the world; some bring out the worst in you; with some you go all quiet, while others bring out the talker within you. Some leave you stone cold, while others get you red hot!
They say there’s a sacred space that each of us keeps locked deep within us. The world sees what you choose to reveal. And isn’t that a blessing? Imagine your soul laid out bare for all to see, every thought, every emotion, every idea that flits through you. What a horrifying thought! Today, far from insisting on revealing all, I wouldn’t want to peep into another’s sacred space either! Call it loss of innocence or a part of growing up, but today I respect the need for a sacred space within that one can withdraw to, gain succour from and always depend upon. As for not knowing everything about friends, acquaintances and loved ones, thank God for that!