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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 50, Dated 15 Dec 2012

    Tit for Tattle

    Are Tavleen Singh’s gossipy insights into the Gandhi family an attempt to settle old scores, asks Sunil Mehra

    Tavleen Singh

    The informant Tavleen Singh


    ‘What does it say about a country when you’re modern economically, but not culturally?’

    What We Talk About When We Talk About India
    Delhi Underbelly


    Tavleen Singh
    312 pp; Rs 599

    DURBAR WILL be read for all the wrong reasons. Mainly for the voyeuristic peek it gives into Sonia G’s Garbo-esque persona. So, she did take care to paint her lower lashes while Rajiv lay in state at Teen Murti House. There was actually a time when she could get her car to halt and offer a ride to a friend on the road. She did have a scrap with Sanjay over his wife feeding their dog some of Sonia’s imported dog biscuits. She did frequent a darzi at Khan Market to get her dresses tailored. The young couple did normal stuff like going to discotheques and dinner with, as it turns out, awestruck, obsequious friends.

    But Tavleen Singh’s aim is not to titillate or make us titter. It is to drive home the frightening fact that the destinies of a billion plus people were governed for a brief, not-terribly-shining moment by the Babalog Brigade — unexceptional people low on intellect and achievement, who had nothing to recommend themselves except accident of birth, privilege and the right school. Of which breed Rajiv, if not Sonia, the middle-class Italian workman’s daughter, was the supreme exemplar. Thus, it was that India got its Kamal Naths, Dumpy Ahmeds, Satish Sharmas... at least one of the three so foul mouthed he ought to be made to drink mouth freshner!

    Singh scores with the insight she gives into the rampant sexism and outright misogyny pervasive in the 1970s newspaper offices. Journalists, who crawl when asked to bend, still populate these offices. Going by her account and present context, the more things change, the more they are the same. Her coup? That blistering recount of her brush with the misogynistic Morarji Desai; all that cologne to conceal the smell of his favoured drink oozing out of his pores. Her relationship with the Great Mughal editor is a familiar trope, played out endlessly today across newspaper/magazine offices in the country — insecure, pitifully ambitious, duplicitous editors perpetually threatened by the next young, bright, articulate arrival!

    There is a masterly evocation of the air of menace and foreboding that pervaded Punjab in those tragic times — her frightening encounters with Bhindranwale and General Shahbeg Singh, the waiting-to-exhale air in Punjab in the minutes and hours following Operation Blue Star, Delhi burning like Nero’s Rome while its rulers fiddled and made astounding pronouncements in the vein of “When a big tree falls…”

    So far, so good. Where one differs with Tavleen Singh is in her unequivocal condemnation of all that Rajiv did and sometimes did NOT do. Blame for every death in Kalahandi, every corrupt rupee that changed hands, every poor Indian, is laid at his door. When he ousted a venal Chandrashekhar, he “behaved like a petulant prince”. For Singh, as a non-politician Rajiv was not political enough. As a politician in the game of realpolitik, he was not apolitical enough!

    One wonders if Singh is not getting a little carried away in her anti-RG crusade. Perhaps there’s more to the falling out with Sonia ‘who-used-to-drop-in-with-clothes-for-my-son-at-my-Golf-Links-barsati-to-hear-my-son-sing-out-Indira Gandhi-hai-hai’ than Singh is telling us. She has hinted this in sundry interviews. Whether that alludes to the Gandhis or others remains an open question. Be that as it may, the dislike verges on the excessive if not pathological.

    It’s all very well to condemn five generations of elected Gandhis who, at least until Indira’s time, lived in genteel, Sovietstyle, ugly PWD discomfort. Yet, it might be in order to reconstruct family trees and investigate lifestyles of politicians across the political spectrum to establish how deeply ingrained dynastic sense of entitlement and lavish Brown Mughal lifestyles are among intellectually and morally deprived political scions and their offspring. Are the Pawars, Advanis, Bhattacharyas, Yadavs, Mayawati’s uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, pets, et al listening?


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 50, Dated 15 Dec 2012

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