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….