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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Monday, March 29, 2010

Keep it down, will you?

And try not to break up in restaurants while you are at it

One of the things I enjoy most about eating out alone is the entertainment that is served up on the side, entirely free of charge. This service, which I like to call restaurant theatre, comes courtesy the other guests of the outlet and is guaranteed to liven up even the most boring meal of soup and salad.

On my last visit to my favourite café I asked to be seated in the small terrace outside to enjoy the last of the winter sunshine. A young couple sitting a table away fell silent as I walked in. In a minute or two, they resumed their conversation in hushed whispers. And then, as they became inured to my presence, their voices grew louder
and louder and tantalizing snatches of the conversation began drifting over to my table.

He: “You have no idea what people say behind you back and I have to sit and listen to it…(indistinct)…This is the last time we are having this conversation…I want to have nothing to do with you in that sense after this.”

She: “Do you know how much you are hurting me…(indistinct)…Please I am telling you to stop…(voice raised further)…Please stop this now!”

The conversation then went on to her “ingratitude”, his “insensitivity”, her “inability to sustain any relationship”, his “callous attitude to her needs” and so on.

By the time my pasta arrived I had given up all pretence of reading my book and was eavesdropping unabashedly. This was riveting stuff, better by far than the spy thriller I was in the middle of.

Sadly, it ended all too soon. He got quieter and quieter; she got louder and louder. And when her voice got high enough to attract the attention of the waiters hovering inside, he just got up and walked out.

Typical! Walk out when things get too rough and leave her to settle the bill.

As lovers’ tiffs go, though, this one was rather tame compared to some others I have, willy-nilly, been witness to. I have seen hot tears being shed, letters being shredded on the table, and on one historic occasion, even seen a teenage girl throw a glass of water all over her cheating (or so she said) boyfriend.

And while this is rather entertaining at a purely vicarious level, I can’t help but wonder why people get into tiffs in such public places. Okay, I’ve heard that old tale about how you should always break up in a restaurant so that the dumpee cannot get too upset with the dumper.

But judging by my recent lunch experiences, it doesn’t exactly work that way. People still get upset, cry, make a scene, scream, throw things – undeterred by the fact that they are playing to an audience.

So, why not play this out in private instead?

Part of the problem, of course, is that all of us have a somewhat unreasonable expectation of a degree of privacy in public. We don’t seem to realize that more often than not this privacy is completely illusory.

No matter where you are, so long as you are in public you are never completely alone – someone or the other is always in a position to overhear what you are saying.

That’s exactly why the waiting staff in five-star restaurants in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or any other metro, is always the most well-informed. The movers and shakers of the city congregate here to wine and dine, inhibitions are lowered by good food, tongues loosened by alcohol, scandalous stories are exchanged, shameful secrets divulged – all within earshot of the waiters who are serving that table.

I’ve always suspected that some of these staffers must be on the payroll of the IB or R&AW, because the quality of the intelligence they can cull from such evenings is priceless. They know who is having an affair with whom; which two business associates have been cosying up to one another; who is in danger of being dropped from the Cabinet;
and so on.

The only people who could give the waiting staff a run for their money in the information stakes are the chauffeurs who drive the Rich and the Powerful around from one meeting to another. They know exactly who the boss is meeting, for how long and when. They can hear every conversation (albeit one-sided) they have on the mobile phone whether it is with the minister or the mistress. A man may not be a hero to his valet but he is certainly an open book to his driver.

Of course, the only reason why these people can access all this information is that most of us treat them as if they were invisible, non-persons who are only there to serve us and then melt away discreetly. So, we fail to acknowledge that they have ears that can
listen and brains that can file away information.

And it’s more of the same in other public places. Even on airplanes, people will start intimate conversations in the front seat, oblivious of the fact that those seated at the back can hear every word they are saying. They will discuss matters of state, the state of their marriages, and everything in between, blissfully unaware that they are sharing all this information with perfect strangers.

So what exactly is going on here? Have we lost spatial awareness? Do we no longer have a sense of appropriateness? Or are we in full-on confessional mode because of our obsessive over-sharing on social media?

Any ideas? Anyone?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Belly up

Why men and women get fat after marriage

I’m sure you’ve noticed this as well. Most people tend to get a little bit chubby once they are married. I’ve always put it down to the fact that women generally starve themselves to their smallest dress size in the run-up to their weddings, so a little bit of weight gain after the event is par for the course. And that men are finally getting large home-made meals rustled up by the wife (okay, okay, I know this is a gross generalisation – so go ahead, shoot me) so the pounds tend to pile on.

But what was clear from empirical evidence has now been proven by medical research. Last week, at a press conference in Athens, Dimitris Kiortsis, president of the Hellenic Medical Association for Obesity, announced the abdominal obesity – or in less fancy terms, belly fat – was the most serious health problem among married people. Married men were three times more likely to have big bellies than unmarried men, and married women were twice as likely to be a tad paunchy than their single counterparts.

The survey was conducted on some 17,000-odd married couples between the ages of 20 and 70 and concluded that the reasons for the weight gain were two-fold. One: married couples spent more time slumped on the sofa watching television and eating large meals together than single people. And two: their sex lives dwindled over a period of time so they did not get enough aerobic exercise to burn off all those extra calories they were consuming. (Needless to say, they didn’t make it to the gym either.)

Well, you know how it goes. You’ve spent many years struggling to keep the weight off, trying your best to look buff and well-toned in an attempt to attract a suitable specimen of the opposite sex for some love and romance. When you finally find that special someone and things go well enough to set a date, all your attention is focussed on looking your absolute best on the big day. After all, you’re going to have to live with the pictures (and the interminable video footage) for the rest of your life.

It is any wonder then, that the moment you unpack your bags in your honeymoon suite, you can’t wait to order up a hamburger and fries from room service, washed down with liberal quantities of beer. You can’t skip dessert after a slap-up meal at the fancy hotel restaurant. And all those sexual callisthenics the night before mean that you are ready for a huge fry-up at breakfast.

So, by the time you come back home to start life as a freshly-minted married couple, you are already a few kilos heavier. And then, it’s a slippery slope to borderline obesity as you entertain – and are entertained by – friends and family to celebrate your new status. Once things settle down a bit, you heave a sigh of relief to finally to sit down to a proper meal with your spouse, rather than gobbling a hurriedly cobbled-together sandwich as you did in your single days.

Then there’s the fact that sometimes new wives take the whole appealing to a man through his stomach a tad too seriously. And more often than not, men fall for the gambit.

But however things pan out in every individual marriage, the end result is that most husbands and wives are much fatter a year after their wedding day. Soon, as one kid arrives followed by another, the pregnancy fat takes up permanent residence around the woman’s midriff. And the husband seems to put on weight almost as if in empathy with his partner’s increased girth.

Yes, husbands and wives do begin to look like each other after a few years of marriage. Or at the very least, their bellies certainly do.

So, why do both men and women let go of themselves as soon as the ring is on the finger and the curtains are up in the new matrimonial home? Is it because neither of them really cares about being sexy and appealing to the other now that he or she is a done deal? Do married people no longer care about how they appear to their spouses because they take them for granted?

Or is it marriage itself that takes the fizz out of things? Does the early excitement of married sex fade too quickly, becoming a boring, bland, vanilla version of what went before? Does one set of appetites replace another once the initial thrill of waking up to the person you love wears off? As the weight piles on, do you end up finding the pork belly simmering gently on the stove more appealing than the little porker snoring in the marital bed?

Going by recent research, it would certainly seem so.

It’s not for nothing that alarm bells start going off in a marriage the moment the husband or wife starts on a new diet or exercise regimen to lost weight. The general view is that this is a signal that the newly-slim party is cheating on his or her spouse – or is, at least, thinking about it. And in most cases, this suspicion is right on the button.

So, maybe, just maybe, married folks should just make their peace with those big bellies. After all, the alternative could be a lot worse.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Height of absurdity

Why are women such suckers for high heels?

As I might have mentioned before, I am a bit of a shoe fiend. I just love the way the right pair of shoes can elevate an outfit, improve your posture, increase your self-confidence and make you feel good about yourself. Perhaps that is why, try as I might, I can’t bring myself to stop buying more shoes, even though the spirit of Imelda Marcos seems to have taken over my closet.

But I have to confess that with each season, shoe-shopping becomes more difficult, downright traumatic, sometimes even painful – quite literally. And for that I blame high fashion – which has a nasty way of trickling down to the high street – and its penchant for higher and higher heels.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against high heels. In fact, I love their insolent charm, their insidious glamour and the extra inches they grant my middling frame. And I have several dozen pairs in varying heights, which serve me very well at work meetings, cocktail parties, business lunches and formal dinners.

I love the playful chic of my red-soled Louboutin pumps in blue velvet with silver sequins. I pull out my black Jimmy Choo stilettos whenever I’m in the mood for a bit of power dressing. And my L.K. Bennet suede boots are just the ticket when I want to add a slighter tougher edge to my look.

Yes, I love a pair of high heels just as much as the next girl – so long as I can actually walk in them. Which is why I can’t for the life of me work out who the new high-heeled shoes on the market are meant for.

On a recent trawl of the shops with a girlfriend, I was first amazed and then appalled by the frankly ridiculous shoes on sale. And even my friend – who spends all day running around in impossibly-high heels – balked at some of the styles on display. I’m sorry, but as far as I am concerned, an eight-inch wedge is just plain silly. And don’t even get me started on the seven-inch killer stilettos which look more stilts.

Truth be told, the shoe business has now achieved heights of absurdity undreamt of earlier. It was bad enough when it was peddling four or five inch heels, which were not exactly the last word in comfort. But now high fashion dictates that heels should be even higher, making a mockery of the purpose for which shoes were designed.

So, who thinks up these impractical, foolish monstrosities which pass for women’s shoes these days? Well, for the most part it is male shoe designers, who spend their days in comfortable loafers themselves, but insist on putting women in improbably high heels that are near-impossible to walk in.

When even the models who wear them on the ramp are falling over like ninepins, what hope do us ordinary mortals have of pulling them off these killer heels in real life? And yet, every woman I know has at least one such pair tucked away in her wardrobe, which she slips on every once in a while, even though she should know better.

But then, who am I to scoff and scorn? I have a few such shoes myself, though I only pull them out when I am going to spend all evening at a restaurant table. And even then, by the end of the evening, my bunions are sore, my heels inflamed and my feet are killing me one toe at a time. I barely manage to hobble to the car before I throw them off for the ride, walking barefoot up the steps to my front door.

So, in case you are wondering why heels keep getting higher and higher and shoes more and more uncomfortable, I have the answer for you. It’s because we woman keep buying the damn things, no matter how excruciatingly painful it is to actually wear them.

Let me tell you, if any shoe designer tried to pull the same trick on men, he would be laughed out of the business. No man would ever fall for this nonsense of shoes that looked amazing but felt downright awful. And I don’t think that it is coincidence that the only shoes that make some sort of style statement in men’s fashion are sneakers. Yes, you know, shoes that you can actually walk in, hell, run in, without doing yourself actual damage.

So, why do women allow these shoe designers to get away with murder? Why do we put ourselves in shoes in which we can only mince painfully from point to point? Why do we wear heels that give us back pain, strain our hamstrings, and ruin our knees? Why are we such gluttons for punishment?

After all, what is the point of shoes if you can’t dance in them? What is the point of a pretty pair of heels, if you have to kick them off at the end of the evening to get the circulation back in your toes? What is the point of shoes that you can only wear if you spend the entire evening off your feet?

Yes, that’s right. There’s no point at all. Which is why the next time I go shopping and see a pair of impossibly high heels, I am going to vote with my feet and just say no.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What Men Don’t Know About Women

• When she asks, “Does my bum look big in this”, she doesn’t want your considered opinion. She just wants you to tell her that it doesn’t. So, don’t stare closely at her derriere, look thoughtful or even pause for a nanosecond. Just say no.
• She may insist on paying her half of the dinner bill. But that doesn’t mean that she appreciates having the door bang shut on her face as she leaves the restaurant.
• When she says that she doesn’t want a huge fuss made about her birthday, pay no attention. She wants the whole shebang: flowers, breakfast in bed, candle-lit dinner, a gooey chocolate cake that she cuts into as you sing `Happy Birthday’ and a nice (read expensive) present she can show off to her girlfriends the next day.
• If she is silent for a long time, don’t think that she is engrossed in the serial playing on television. She is sulking about something and with every passing moment is getting more and more annoyed that you haven’t noticed.
• When you ask and she says that nothing is the matter, it means that something is the matter.
• It doesn’t matter how long you have been in a relationship. It is never acceptable to draw attention to her facial or bodily hair or enquire into her hair-removal regimen.
• Why does she need another pair of black heels? There are already around ten pairs nestling in her closet. What can she possibly do with so many shoes? All these questions may be bouncing around in your head but don’t ever voice them. Chances are that even if she explained you would never understand.
• She has locker-room conversations as well – and sometimes they are far more graphic than yours. So if you are on the grapevine, make sure you’re getting good word of mouth.
• No, she doesn’t like watching wrestling on television. And she hates the action movies you keep dragging her to. And once you’re married, she won’t bother to keep up the pretence of enjoying either.
• Don’t ever greet her with a cheery, “My God, you’ve lost a lot of weight” even if she seems to have dropped two dress sizes. You may mean it as a compliment, but she will not take it as such. Instead she will begin to wonder just how fat she was to begin with.
• It is okay for her to make fun of your mother. But don’t think that you can ever make fun of hers.
• When she looks at a baby and exclaims, `How cute!’ it doesn’t mean that she wants to rush off and procreate with you instantly. So, there really is no need to bolt.
• If she is playing Domestic Goddess for once and cooking dinner for you, say you love the food even as it turns into ashes in your mouth. She’ll know you’re lying but, boy, will you earn brownie points for it.
• Sometimes when she says she has a headache, she really does have a headache.
• And yes, despite all that moaning and groaning and desperate thrashing about, sometimes she does fake it. Yes, even with you.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

No reservations

It will only create a political ghetto for women

If all goes according to plan, the Women's Reservation Bill may well be passed by Parliament soon. And more’s the pity.

Yes, that’s right. Call me a contrarian but I don’t agree with the militant sisterhood on this one either. While I am all for increased female participation in the political process, and for more women in Parliament, I really don’t see how reservation is the best way to achieve these goals.

In fact, in my view, the Women Reservation Bill is probably the worst way ever.

Let’s just pause for a moment and see how the Bill would actually work. To achieve 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament, a proportionate number of constituencies all over the country would be reserved for women on a rolling lottery basis. So, even if a male MP had nurtured his constituency for years on end, if it ended up on the reserved list he would be summarily turfed out to make way for the ladies.

Even if we ignore this how unfair this is to men who may lose out for no fault of theirs, there is a real danger that this measure would actually push women into a kind of sexist space where they could only compete against other women. (Do you believe for a second that many women would be awarded seats in the general category over and above the 33 per cent sanctioned to them? No, I didn’t think so either.)

So, what we would see is a ghettoisation of women in Indian politics, the equivalent of asking the women folk to cram into the ladies compartment while the men took over the rest of the train.

Is this really what we want 60-odd years of Indian parliamentary democracy to come down to: the creation of modern-day zenanas for women, a protected space, where men are kept out by law? Is it really a good idea to introduce another purdah system, no matter how metaphorical, to keep women in their place?

And how exactly does it benefit women to be pushed out of the vast political space they might occupy and sent off to live on the reservation?

All this, to achieve what exactly? To ensure that exactly 33 per cent of Parliament comprises women?

If that is our goal, surely there are easier ways of achieving it than by subverting the essential tenets of our liberal democracy and by amending the Constitution of India. If all political parties are agreed – as they say they are – that women are under-represented in Parliament and that these numbers need to increase then what prevents them from amending their own party constitutions to institute a 33 per cent reservation for women candidates at all levels?

That’s right. Nothing. Every political party could implement this without any trouble at all. And it would be a darn sight easier than bringing through an amendment to the Constitution of India. And yet, no political party – not the Congress, not the BJP, not the Left, not the assorted regional outfits – is even willing to discuss such a commonsensical measure, let alone implement it. Doesn’t it make you wonder about their commitment to female empowerment?

With a certain dreary inevitability, at every election, women candidates are denied seats by political parties across the spectrum, on the pretext of their alleged ‘unwinnability’. And instead of trying to develop a line of more credible female candidates the next time round, all of them fall back on harking for the Women Reservation Bill, which is presented as a panacea for every injustice ever wrought on women.

So is this just a way for the patriarchal political system to tell women in the nicest possible way: “Hey, you couldn’t possibly compete with us boys, so why don’t you go off and play on your own.”

Frankly, it beggars belief that women are falling for this, no actually begging for this to become a reality, especially when I suspect that most of these seats will be reserved for female relatives of powerful male politicians.

Can’t you just see how this will play out? Male politician’s seat comes under the reservation quota. He promptly produces his mother/wife/daughter/daughter-in-law and suggests that the ticket be given to her instead. After all, the family has long ties with the constituency, there is widespread support for his clan in the area, and she can draw on his support base as well. Surely, this makes her the ideal candidate – and at election time, it’s all about ‘winnability’, right?

So across the country, we will see the unedifying spectacle of women from powerful political families entering the system on the basis of this dubious measure. And soon all political power will be concentrated in a few hundred families who control the system on the basis of sheer numbers. The boys will get dynasty. The girls will get reservation.

How can this be anything but disastrous for our parliamentary democracy?

And as for those who insist that it doesn’t matter which women enter the system, because the entry of more women will only benefit the female of the species. I have just two words to say to them: Mayawati; Jayalalitha.

I really don’t think I need say any more.
Doors to manual

What’s the worst thing about air travel? Passengers with body odour or full-bodied passengers?

So, now it’s official. A recent survey conducted among frequent fliers has it that the two things people mind most about flying is being seated next to a passenger who is obese or someone with body odour. I’m assuming that it would be worse if you were seated next to an obese person with body odour but the survey is strangely quiet on that score.

Be that as it may, as someone who flies rather frequently as well, I can think of several other things that are just as irritating about air travel.

While I can see that having a malodorous co-passenger could be rather noxious, surely nothing could smell worse than the aroma of airline food. And truth be told, having an overweight person seated next to me isn’t something that would perturb me unduly, so long as they didn’t actually spill over into my seat.

In fact, the obesity of fellow passengers probably wouldn’t matter a jot to anyone at all if airlines had the good sense to deploy decent-sized seats. But no, with every revamp, the seats gets smaller and smaller, the leg space more and more cramped until even normal-sized human beings find airline seats a bit of a tight squeeze. So, you can hardly blame the porky ones for spilling over, can you?

What does get my goat, however, is space hogs of a different kind – the kind of people who encroach on your space without even a semblance of civility.

A month ago, returning from a beach holiday, I placed my straw hat in the overhead locker above my seat, pushed my bag under the seat in front of me and buckled myself in. A few minutes later, a large man bustled up to take his seat across the aisle. He opened the locker above his seat, discovered it was full, shut it with an impatient snort.

He then turned around, opened the locker above my seat, picked up my hat, thrust it on top of the bag next to it so that its crown was completely squashed in, and put his carry-on luggage in the space thus vacated.

Seething, I asked him what he thought he was doing. “I have no space on my side,” he said angrily. “So, what am I supposed to do about it?” I asked, equally belligerently. “You can’t just pick someone’s stuff up and push it around to make space for yourself.”

Hearing an altercation, an air-hostess came up quickly to intervene, and found a space for his bag in the back of the cabin, and my straw hat was proudly restored to its original place. Ah, such are the joys of small victories in the world of air travel!

But more seriously, the neighbours that I really dread on airplanes are not the obese ones but the garrulous types, who will never shut up. On a recent international flight, I was driven near mad by the incessant chatter of two women seated behind me while I tried to grab a bit of shut-eye. But there was no chance of that as the ladies reminisced about their early childhoods, held forth about their husbands and kids, nattered away about the movies they had seen recently, and then discussed threadbare their various ailments in vivid anatomical detail. Shudder!

I used to think that the biggest nightmare was being seated next to someone who kept trying to chat you up. So, where do you live? Bombay or Delhi? Are you travelling on business or for pleasure? Oh, you are a journalist? Which newspaper? Who do you think will win in these elections? Have you met Rahul Gandhi? Isn’t he too handsome?

But at least when it comes to people like these, you can shut them up. And over the years, I have developed a certain amount of expertise in this regard. In the old days, I would sit down in my seat, flip open a book and pretend to be completely engrossed. If anyone was brave enough to attempt any conversation even after these blatant keep-off signs, then a few monosyllabic replies would take care of them.

These days, the I-pod serves much the same purpose. And there’s a further advantage in that once you have plugged the earphones in, you can pretend that you can’t hear whatever idiotic questions your neighbor is lobbing in your direction. So, you don’t even have to bother with replies, monosyllabic or otherwise.

But when it is the passengers seated in front or behind you who are jabbering away loudly throughout the duration of the flight, there really is nothing you can do to shut them up. So, my suggestion would be to keep that I-pod close to hand and crank up the volume.

That should help tune out all other irritants as well: wailing infants, kids running up and down the aisle, the interminable announcements that pilots feel obliged to make at random intervals during the flight, and pesky flight attendants who want you fill out some passenger survey form yet again.

I find that the only way air travel is rendered even vaguely tolerable is when you create a little bubble for yourself – whether it with the help of a book, an I-pod or the in-flight entertainment system – and refuse to vacate it until the pilot announces: “Crew, landing stations, please.”

Now, that’s one announcement even I’m prepared to listen to.
Can I help you?

Well, if you’re asking, clearly not!

Of all the phrases that have come to mean anything but, “Can I help you?” must surely be on top of the list. Sometimes the words are uttered with a sinister, sibilant hiss. On occasion they come accompanied by a withering stare and a snide raise of the eyebrow. And sometimes you get the whole package.

But at all times, it is transparently clear that the speaker doesn’t really believe that he can help you at all. In fact, truth be spoken, he doesn’t have the slightest inclination to be of any help whatsoever. All he wants is to put you in your place, show you that you don’t really belong, to make it clear, in other words, that you are irredeemably beyond any help.

I was reminded of this rather forcibly recently, as I accompanied a house-hunting friend on her rounds. As we trudged wearily up the stairs of yet another apartment building in the last stages of construction, our way was barred by a rather angry young man with a militant glint in his eye.

“Can I help you?” he asked my friend in a quelling tone.

“Um yes,” she said uncertainly, “We wanted to see the apartment…”

“And you are?” he cut her off.

My friend stammered out her name, adding (in an apologetic way that left me seething), “I had spoken to Manjit…”

“Manjit? And who is Manjit?” the young man asked sternly, brows raised ever higher.

By then even my otherwise mild-mannered friend had had enough. “I think he’s your father-in-law,” she said tartly, taking an educated guess, given the young man’s sense of entitlement.

Needless to say, a very embarrassed son-in-law gave us the grand tour after that, gibbering on about every fitting and fixture. But all the while, I kept thinking of the words that had sparked it all off.

“Can I help you?”

Was there ever a phrase that was so misleading? In all my many years, I have yet to hear it used by anyone who actually means it.

Of course, where you hear it most often is at tony stores selling uber-expensive designer goods. Here, the sales assistants – or retail managers as they are somewhat loftily titled – have perfected their technique over time and many hundreds of hapless shoppers.

You only have to look just a tad out of place. You know how it goes: a less than impressive handbag; clothes that scream high street rather than high fashion; or simply the wrong accent when you speak English. And before you have even begun browsing through the wares comes the question: “Can I help you?”

The query itself is polite enough. But the body language is anything but. The supercilious smirk tells you that the question is not intended seriously. And the condescending up-and-down that accompanies it is enough to send even the bravest shopper straight to the exit.

If you are thick-skinned enough to still linger in the shop with an airy, “Oh no thanks, I’m just looking around”, the unstated derision will deteriorate into plain and simple rudeness. If you ask to be shown something, you will be made to wait while the sales attendants look after the needs of the more likely customers. If you evince a desire to buy something you will be told its price in sneering tones – the assumption being that you couldn’t possibly afford it.

The other place where this phrase is employed with chilling effect is your average unfriendly neighbourhood five-star hotel. Sometimes this can have rather comic consequences. Insiders still chortle with delight when they recall the plight of an industrialist’s wife who arrived back at her hotel after some serious late-night carousing.

After many hours of steady drinking she was a little bit worse for wear – as was the slinky black dress she was wearing. So, the moment she pressed the elevator button, hotel security was on her with a “Can I help you ma’am?”

Well, she wasn’t drunk enough not to notice that she had been mortally insulted (and probably mistaken for a call girl for good measure) and all hell broke loose. The night manager was summoned, the security men summarily dismissed and the industrialist promptly took his business elsewhere.

Tricky thing, this “Can I help you?” business.

And yet, hotel staff continue to throw the phrase around with impunity whenever they come across a guest who they feel doesn’t quite belong. Sometimes it’s an officious doorman trying to bar entry to someone who doesn’t look well-heeled enough. Sometimes it is a restaurant manager leery about seating guests who either don’t fit the bill – or can’t possibly foot it, in his estimation. And then, of course, there are all those bumptious security men sidling up to you in the lobby with specious offers of help.

So what is a good response to this non-sequitor of a question?

There are several ways you could go. You could feign a complete lack of understanding and respond with a polite, “And how would you like to help me?” You could get all aggressive with a belligerent, “And what makes you think I need any help?” Or you could turn all snooty yourself and retaliate with an icy, “You couldn’t possibly begin to try”.

Or you could take them at their word and ask for directions to the nearest loo. I think you’ll find that it’s the most effective way ever to puncture their ballooning self-importance.
The Tiger’s tale

When it comes to cheating, men and women are equal opportunity offenders

So, Tiger Woods turned out to be just another lying, cheating philanderer who played around on his wife. Over the years, as is now revealed, he has had a string of affairs, of the no-strings-attached variety, with a succession of bar hostesses, models and party girls. As of now, the (very voluptuous) body count stands at six but by the time you read this it may well have gone into double figures.

So far, so sports star.

Yes, by now it is a truth universally celebrated by the tabloid press that men cheat. Rich, famous and powerful men cheat even more than others. And rich, famous, powerful sports stars are in a league of their own when it comes to cheating on their (mostly) blonde and beautiful wives.

And yet, no sooner had news of Tiger’s car colliding into a fire hydrant – and of his lovely wife, Elin, breaking the car windows with his golf club (now that must have hurt) ostensibly to rescue him – hit the press, than the usual articles spouting the same old platitudes about cheating men began sprouting all over the media.

How could Tiger do this to his elegant wife, the beautiful blonde who had given him two lovely children, the younger only a few months old? Wasn’t he supposed to be the Nice Guy who was boring as hell, the Original Mr Goodie Two-Shoes who had built up a sporting and endorsement-related fortune on the basis of his squeaky-clean reputation?

But as a succession of hard-faced floozies with identikit pumped-up lips and silicone breasts began pole-dancing – I exaggerate of course, but only a little – out of the woodwork, that reputation lay in tatters at the accident site outside Tiger’s expensive Florida estate house.

Cue a thousand columns and editorials about how this proved that you never could trust men after all. No matter how perfect their public image may be, behind it lay a sordid mess of one-night stands, raunchy phone messages, rough sex, and drug-fueled romps with a series of mistresses in hotel suites across the world – and sometimes (shock! horror!) in the marital bed as well.

Okay, we get it. Tiger Woods is now officially a Bad Guy. But you know what? He didn’t get up to all that extra-marital sex on his own. He was aided and abetted in his cheating by a line of sultry sirens who knew full well that he was married and a father of two. None of these women was under the illusion that this was some grand passion, or that the golfing genius was madly in love with her, or even that this was an affair that would last.

Both parties knew exactly what they were getting into. So, why target Woods alone for letting his libido run riot? Why not point a finger at all those women who were clearly in it for a good time, a few first class trips, maybe an expensive present or two?

Not to mention, the chance to sell their stories, complete with every sleazy detail, somewhere down the line, get their 15 seconds of fame and make a million or two while they are at it? Nobody saves 300 sex-texts, like the appropriately-named Jamie Grubbs did, unless they intend to use them at some future point.

And yet, only Tiger Woods gets pilloried in the press, while his partners in crime get away with becoming C-grade celebrities who can now safely launch a career in show business. Am I the only person who thinks there is something wrong with this scenario?

Or let’s take another rabidly promiscuous man who is never out of the headlines: the astonishingly priapic Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi. If he’s not hosting orgies at his country estate – with world leaders in attendance, no less – he is buying expensive birthday presents for an 18-year-old lingerie model. His Minister for Equal Opportunities (yes, seriously), Mara Carfagna, is a former topless model whom he deputed to look after the spouses of world leaders during the recent G8 summit in Rome. (I can only imagine the delighted whoops of joy from the wives when they found out.)

If anyone has any doubts about how the business of state is conducted by Silvio, they have only to listen to a mobile phone recording an enterprising call girl named Patrizia D’Addario made while in bed with him (and no, they were not playing chess). It was released after the Prime Minister failed to help her build a hotel in her home town, as he had promised before they did the dirty.

When Berlusconi was faced with the tapes and the incontrovertible evidence that he had slept with an escort, he famously declared that he never ever paid for sex. If he had to pay for it, he asked indignantly, where was the joy of conquest?

Well, that’s all right then.

But at least Berlusconi was honest in his own twisted way. The truth is that most men treat sex as a perk of power. But as we deride them for it, let’s not lose sight of the fact that these men couldn’t possibly do so without the active connivance of women, who use sex as an aid to advancement.

When it comes to cheating, men may get most of the flack. But the truth is that in this matter – as in so many others – men and women are equal opportunity offenders.
Fat is a fashion issue

And when it features in a glossy magazine, it can set off a veritable storm

Muffin top. Tummy roll. Wobbly bit. Call it what you will, but a little roll of fat has had the fashion world convulsed.

It has launched a thousand blog posts, featured in discussion programmes on television, and been dissected to death (only metaphorically, I hasten to add) in magazines and newspapers. The magazine in which it featured has been inundated with mail from readers. And internet chat rooms are alive with the sound of a million women collectively exhaling and letting their own stomachs out.

In case you haven’t been following the Strange Case of the Spare Tyre on the grounds that you have better things to do with your time (go to work, feed the family, walk the dogs), allow me to bring you up to speed.

It happened like this. Glamour magazine (the US edition) carried a feature on the different body types of women. To illustrate this, the magazine carried a tiny picture – about 3 inches square – of a young woman called Lizzie Miller.

She was featured sitting on a plinth, wearing only a thong and a wide smile, bending over from the waist. And there it was: a little roll of belly fat, resting comfortably just above her panty-line, complete with stretch marks and just a hint of loose flesh.

Did the airbrush artists at Glamour forget to bring their magic to work on this teeny-tiny picture? Was it too small to merit their attention? Did they overlook it because it wasn’t used in a fashion feature? Or was it a deliberate decision to allow some gritty reality (yes, I know, I exaggerate) into the rarefied world of glossy magazines?

I suspect we will never know for sure. But once the inboxes at Glamour began filling up with grateful mails from ecstatic readers delirious with joy at the fact that the magazine had finally featured a ‘real woman’ there was no going back. The editors duly trotted off to do the rounds of talk shows, holding forth on how different shapes were now being accepted and how fat was no longer a fashion issue.

So, it’s final, is it? It is okay to have a few bulges spilling forth from an hour-glass frame. And it’s even okay to show it off instead of keeping it under wraps with a control top or Spanx underwear.

I’m sorry but I think these reports have been vastly over-stated. The model in the picture in question is classed as ‘plus-size’ in the fashion world, even though she veers between a size 12 and 14. And she wasn’t featured in all her fleshy glory on the cover or on a full-page spread but in a tiny thumbnail tucked away on page 194.

And despite the avalanche of positive responses that greeted this image, I don’t think that things are going to change in the fashion world any time soon. Or let’s put it this way. I’ll believe that when I see models with Lizzie Miller’s proportions on the cover of fashion magazines and on the catwalks of Paris or Milan.

But you know what, that’s okay. Glossy magazines can go right ahead and use anorexic lollipop heads on their pages. And fashion designers can use emaciated teenagers to show their clothes on the ramp.

I really couldn’t care less. Nor, I suspect, do most other women. All of us who follow fashion know that we are being sold a fantasy. An elegantly visualized and beautifully shot fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. And fantasies have no place in the real world.

None of the women I know are foolish enough to believe that the images that we are inundated with in the media have even a tenuous relationship with reality. We all know it takes hours in make-up and hair to make models look that good. And even these most beautiful of women need the services of a lighting genius and much photo-shopping before they look the way they do in the glossies and on television.

No, we are not stupid enough to believe that we can look anything like that even if we starved ourselves down to a size zero. Not even in our dreams.
All we really want is to look the best we can; to make the most of our own body shapes, no matter how flawed; and to wear clothes that would look nice on us.

And that’s where the fashion world lets us down, with clothes designed keeping the proportions of adolescent boys in mind.

That’s what really pisses us off. Now that we can finally afford to buy all those nice clothes we see in magazines and in shops, the clothes we fantasized about ever since we were teenagers, we can no longer fit into them.

We don’t really care if your models are fat, thin, plain, ugly, tall or short. We don’t give a toss if they have a roll of belly fat or a concave stomach. But we do care about the clothes – well, at least some of us do.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to actually wear them.
Does my baby make me look fat?

Pregnancy has become another style statement

I’m sure it has happened to all of us at one point or another. We congratulate a friend, colleague or neighbour on being pregnant only to be told that she is not – or that she’s already had the baby a few months ago. It’s happened to me on more occasions than I care to recount. So, these days I err on the side of caution even if someone appears on the verge of giving birth, preferring to wait until she mentions the p word herself.

But even so, I was surprised when a friend arrived at lunch the other day, looking svelte in black and silver, and announced that she was pregnant. Even as the rest of us were stammering our congratulations while sneaking a peak at her suspiciously slim figure, she went on: “I don’t know what to do, I’ve already put on 5 kilos. I don’t know how much I’m going to weigh by the time I’m ready to give birth.”

Of course, we did the only decent thing possible. We assured her that she didn’t look any fatter, that no one could even tell that she was pregnant, and that the post-baby weight would come off without any problem.

It was only afterwards that it struck me that the only pregnancy-related conversation we had indulged in had revolved around weight.

Could she go to the gym during her pregnancy; how many kilos was the absolute minimum she should put on; would a yoked kurta be more flattering or should she direct attention to her bump with a tight T-shirt; was it wise to stay off carbohydrates; was a skirt more flattering than boyfriend jeans; what should she do to get rid of all those extra tyres once the baby was born; did breast-feeding help in keeping the weight off; was Pilates a better post-baby regime than yoga; etc., etc.

The women around the table had their own weight-related pregnancy stories. And those who had never been pregnant, weighed in with their weight-control tips. But either way, the focus was on weight: how bad it was to put on too much; how great it would be to lose it in record time; and how best to camouflage it with some clever dressing.

Clearly, pregnancy has gone from being a time about babies and the joy they bring to becoming a time of worrying about the extra weight that comes with them. The time when women could eat for two with a clear conscience is gone. Now being pregnant is seen as no excuse for being fat.

You are allowed a nicely-rounded baby bump to put on proud display after about the sixth month. But just be sure that you have a tightly-toned ass and nicely-muscled biceps to go with it. Any other wobbly bits just show you up as a lazy so-and-so who can’t be bothered to keep in shape.

Part of this pressure is, of course, created by celebrity yummy-mummies who go around parading their near-perfect figures with obligatory bump stuck on, right up to until their waters break. Demi Moore kicked off the trend with her now-iconic cover of Vanity Fair, when she posed nude while heavily pregnant, her still-slim arms coyly covering her breasts. Since then, we have had a parade of stars, both Indian and international, proudly showing off their pregnancies with barely a sliver of cellulite in sight.

Ujjwala Raut – more recently in the news for her less-than-amicable split from her husband – sashayed down one Fashion Week ramp barely weeks after giving birth, looking as skinny as ever. Hrithik’s wife, Susanne, took next to no time to lose all that pregnancy flab once she had produced baby number two. Ditto Gauri Khan and Twinkle Khanna. And now Padma Lakshmi is doing her best to show up other pregnant women as greedy Gretels, who have no self-control when it comes to their food cravings. (And by the way, did you know she starts her day with a butter bath, so that she doesn’t develop any ugly stretch marks?)

But mostly, the pressure comes from our peers, all those women around us who look radiant while they are pregnant and even better once they’ve rid themselves of the bump. You know the kind, I’m sure. They float around in sexy chiffony numbers or tight little slip dresses, which make it clear that their bellies are the only things that have changed in size and shape. And then, to add insult to injury, they simply shrug off that post-pregnancy weight even as you’re struggling to get into your biggest-ever pair of pants.

Are you surprised then, that all pregnancy talk these days revolves around weight?

After all, what can you expect when women are more worried about not putting on too much weight rather than on achieving a healthy pregnancy? And when there is so much pressure to lose weight after the birth that young mothers are more focused on their bellies rather than their babies?

Honestly, it makes you long for a simpler time when being pregnant meant being able to eat all you wanted, sleeping in until late, getting no exercise at all, and slobbing around all day in a shapeless salwar kameez. A time when the phrase yummy mummy hadn’t been invented. And when pregnancies were about the baby rather than the baby weight.
Down memory lane

Why do we remember what we do?

My college days are long past. And unlike some of my friends who have a near-perfect recall of who said what to whom at which party, my recollections of that period are rather hazy and grow more so with every passing day. And yet, there are some things that stick in my memory, popping up ever so often.

I have forgotten practically everything that I was ever taught as part of my History of English Literature course (or whatever it was called; can’t really remember). But one factoid lives on in my memory for reasons that defy comprehension. I can still remember the formidable Miss Chatterjee informing us in her cut-glass accent that the Romans were well-known for building their roads in a straight line. If they came upon a river, they went over it. If they hit the odd mountain, they went under it. But in no circumstances did they deviate from the straight lines they held so dear.

Why were we studying the road-building proclivities of the Romans in Britain? No idea. Did it have any relevance to the study of English literature? Not a clue. All I remember is this little nugget of information. And for some reason, it sticks in my head while other more relevant stuff spills right out.

Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it? Sometimes you can remember what happened 20 years ago more clearly than the events of the last week. Some people remember their childhood perfectly, with each birthday standing out as a milestone. Some, like me, have no clear memory of their pre-school days. Some have a word-perfect recall of every quarrel they’ve ever had with their wives/husbands. Others can’t remember what their boss said to them yesterday.

And no two people, in my experience, ever remember the same thing in quite the same way. Try this for yourself if you don’t believe me. Just share a childhood memory with a sibling or a cousin and I’m pretty sure their recollection of it will differ substantially from yours.

Yes, memory is very subjective. And every one of us has a different way of processing it. Some of us only remember the good bits while others can’t get the bad stuff out of their minds. And then there are those who block every unhappy memory from their conscious brains.

My own memories lay embedded in many things. But of these, smells, songs and clothes are the most important aide-memoires that help me fix a certain moment in time in my head.

The smell of tea leaves always transports me back to my aunt’s tea-garden in Assam, where I spent several idyllic summers as a child. The sight of a crackling bonfire brings back memories of a Shimla vacation with friends. Listening to Abba or the Bee Gees takes me right back to my teens, when afternoon disco parties were all the rage (don’t ask).

Some of my best memories, however, lie within the folds of old clothes as they nestle in the back of my wardrobe. I still treasure the first designer outfit I ever bought – Comme Des Garcons on sale – even though I haven’t worn it in nearly a decade. But I pull it out occasionally, marvel at the fact that I once fitted into that tiny waistline, think back on all the fun I had in it during my misspent youth, and then put it away in the fond hope that I will fit into it another day.

And then, there are the memories associated with people. But while I have had my share of interviewing the rich and the famous, I generally end up remembering the strangest things about them a few years after the event.

In the early 90s, for instance, I spent three days with Shah Rukh Khan and his wife, while working on a cover story for Sunday, the magazine I then worked for. But even though Khan was already a star (though not quite the mega-star he later became) I can’t remember a single detail of the many long conversations I had with him.

The only thing I do remember is sitting at his dining table while Gauri complained loudly to Yash Johar that she couldn’t make any STD calls because Shah Rukh kept blocking the line by entering the wrong code.
Similarly, the only thing I remember about Anil Kapoor is that he conducted our interview with bleach all over his moustache. No, he didn’t offer any explanation for this bizarre behavior and I couldn’t summon up the courage to ask.

Why do these particular details stick in my brain when everything else has been washed out? Go figure.

And then, there’s the traumatic stuff, the sort of thing that never ever leaves you.

I still remember arriving at the Oberoi Grand lobby, the eager rookie reporter all set for the first big interview of her life with culture guru Martand Singh. Ever the gentleman, he was waiting for me in the lobby.

I walked up to him, smiling brightly, when my stiletto-ed feet slid across the granite lobby. I can still hear the screeching sound they made as I crashed right into him at top speed. It’s a good thing that his reflexes were quick enough to catch me when I was still a few inches away and hold me upright or I would have taken us both down.

Needless to say, I don’t remember much of the interview that followed.
Thanks seems to be the hardest word

Why is there such an absence of good manners in our country?

Were you at all surprised to hear about those unruly Indian passengers on Cathay Pacific Business Class who had to be off-loaded in Hong Kong? When the cabin crew refused to serve them more alcohol, given that they were already dead drunk, they started abusing the air-hostesses in a tirade strewn with four-letter words.

Frankly, I wasn’t. Given the way Indian passengers – especially the rich, powerful and famous ones who travel in First and Business Class – behave on airplanes, this was an incident waiting to happen. But what is truly shaming to us as a nation is that such incidents are happening with an alarming regularity.

Needless to say, airline staff bears the brunt of this bad behavior. If a flight is cancelled due to fog or delayed because of late arrival of an aircraft, you can be sure that a few obnoxious jerks will start verbally abusing the ground staff, even though common sense will tell you that these hapless people have no control over such matters. If a particularly hostile crowd gathers then physical abuse can’t be ruled out either.

Air-hostesses have gotten so used to being treated badly by passengers that it is no longer even an issue. They are routinely spoken to rudely, the odd grope is par for the course, and men seem to regard it as a god-given right to try and pick them up. And irrespective of gender, the cabin crew is shouted at for everything from ATC delays to bad in-flight meals, even though they have nothing to do with either.

In fact, if you want to see how badly behaved Indians are, airports are a good place to start. Car and taxi drivers will try their best to run you over as you negotiate the zebra crossing. The security staff will be rude and obnoxious. Instead of addressing passengers as Sir or Madam – as is customary across the civilized world – they will address you by the familiar ‘tum’ form in Hindi or whatever regional language they speak. And if you are pulled aside for a random check of your hand luggage, they will not make the slightest attempt to help you put it back.

Shops and department stores are another place where you can check out the legendary bad behavior of our brethren – right across the service divide. No customer will ever bother to say please or thank you – and neither will the sales staff. If you are dealing with a shop assistant, the person behind you will not have the decency to wait till you are finished but will interrupt unabashedly. In fact, anybody who exhibits the barest modicum of good manners – like queuing up in an orderly fashion at the till – will be regarded as something of an oddity.

I’m not suggesting that we should go in for the fake-cheeriness of US stores, where everyone is sent off with a hearty, “Have a nice day”. (One British writer was most upset when he was so advised by an American cab driver. “I’ll have any kind of day I want,” he retorted indignantly.) But surely a smile, a please, a thank you, goes a long way in making the world a better place to live in. And it doesn’t even require much effort.

Telephone manners are another area in which Indians could do with a great deal of improvement. I’ve lost count of the number of times I pick up the phone to be greeted with a peremptory “Who’s that?” My answer is always an indignant: “What do you mean who’s that? You’re the one calling me.” Honestly, whatever happened to: “Could I please speak to…?” or even “Is that so-and-so?”

Restaurants are another arena where I am constantly appalled by just how badly behaved Indians are. The word please is conspicuously absent from their vocabulary when they are placing their orders. They ignore the waiting staff when they are serving the table instead of saying thank you. And then, if nobody is paying attention to them momentarily, they call for service by clicking their fingers, or shouting ‘Boy’ or something equally offensive.

Nowhere is this more embarrassing than when you are eating out abroad. You can be sure that the guy shouting loudly on his mobile phone while everyone else tries to have a memorable meal at a Michelin-star restaurant will be an Indian. And don’t even start me on the kids. When foreign children will be sitting quietly in their high chairs, doing a fairly decent job of wielding a knife and fork, the Indian kids will be running riot, careering around the restaurant, throwing more food on the table than into their mouths, and screaming loudly if their maids make an ineffectual effort to discipline them. (And please, all you mummy bloggers out there, please don’t clog my in-box yet again. Let’s just agree that I am a bad, bad person, and be done with it.)

If you don’t think there is a difference, just observe the behavior of Indian and foreign kids on your next long-haul flight. The firangi children will sit quietly with their headphones listening to music or playing a video game. The Indian kids will be running up and down the aisles, trying to trip everyone who passes, while their parents don’t pay the blindest bit of attention.

Is it any wonder then that we grow up to be such a badly-behaved bunch?
Second chances

If life came with a do-over option, would you take it?

There are many things I love about the fact that I was born a Hindu. And no, I’m not going all Sadhvi Rithambara on you this Sunday morning. No fiery sermons, I promise, just a few stray thoughts and observations.

Okay, so why am I glad to be a Hindu?

First of all, there’s the fact that I can pretty much do what I like and still call myself one. I can observe every fast and ritual or not. I can be a strict vegetarian or stuff myself full of meat. I can go to a mandir to do my puja or worship quietly at home. I can do any or all or none of these things and still be seen as a Hindu.

So basically, I can pretty much make up my own rules as I go along and nobody threatens me with eternal damnation or with the prospect of burning for eternity in the fires of hell, or whatever other imaginative punishments are prescribed by certain other faiths.

Yes, one of the best things about Hinduism is that there is no regimented clergy prescribing how we should live our lives, laying down the law on everyday matters which should really be a matter for individual conscience. And when the occasional madman does turn up and try and dictate how we should conduct ourselves, nobody pays a blind bit of attention to him anyway.

It is this essential tolerance that I love. There’s none of that, “It’s either my way or the highway (to perdition).” Hinduism accepts that there are many paths to God and each of them is as valid as the other. Not to mention that as a woman I thank my many gods and goddesses every day that there is no entrenched authoritarian male patriarchy here, constantly trying to put me in my place.

And then there are the festivals. There is the pagan madness of Holi, full of colour and light-hearted fun. There is the brilliant splendor of Diwali, the festival of lights. And every region of India has its own special festivities: Baisakhi, Poila Boisakh, Onam, Pongal, Gudi Padwa, and many, many more.

As if that wasn’t enough, as a Hindu you can celebrate the festivals of other faiths without anyone raising as much as an eyebrow. Want a Christmas tree? No problem, just get one. Want to gorge on biryani and seviyan on Id? Go right ahead and indulge yourself. Nobody is going to gainsay you or declare you an apostate.

But while I celebrate all of these aspects of Hinduism every day, what I am truly grateful for is that mine is the one religion that comes with a do-over option. Because when it comes right down to it, isn’t it what the concept of re-incarnation all about?

This is not our only life. There will be others. And if you’ve gotten it badly wrong this time round, there’s always hope that you could get it right in your next incarnation.

Life is nothing but an endless cycle. You are living a life that is the consequence of the karma you earned in your last life. You can improve your next life by earning some good karma in this one. And if you get it wrong despite your best efforts, well it’s not the end of the road. You will get a do-over option when you are next reborn.

Didn’t do enough charity work because you were too busy bringing up kids and building a career? Never managed to take time off and explore the rest of the world? Didn’t look after your parents the way you should have? Couldn’t get along with your children? Never tried bungee jumping or white-water rafting?

Never mind. There’s always another life in which you can do all of this stuff – and more. The lives are endless, the possibilities infinite.

But what I was thinking was: wouldn’t it be great if this life came with a do-over option as well, a sort of reset button that you could employ, setting the clock back to a time when you think you messed up so that you could make amends?

There is the small stuff of course. I have lost count of the number of times I have replayed an argument in my head, thinking of brilliant comebacks I could have made at that time, completely devastating the opposition with my cutting wit and rapier-sharp repartee. Like most people, unfortunately, I seem to be much more witty, sharp and engaging in retrospect.

And then, there are the biggies. There is the job you refused because you were afraid to make a move, the people you treated badly because you didn’t know any better, the love affair that never worked out because you were too arrogant to make compromises, the husband you settled for because you were scared of being alone. Life is full of chances you never took, missed opportunities, lost causes.

I know that it is fashionable to say, when asked, that we have no regrets in life. And that if we had to do it all over again, we would do exactly the same thing. That’s certainly what every celebrity invariably says when they are asked this question.

But seriously, how many of us actually mean this stuff when we trot out these lines? And how many of us are lying through gritted teeth?

Think about it. Which category would you put yourself in?
The Google trap

The search engine has come to rule our lives

One of my friends, who is in the luxury business, spends about half his time on the road, living out of suitcases in some glitzy hotel or the other. It sounds glamorous, I know, but he maintains that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. His entire time goes in meetings, the cities pass by in a blur and most time he has no idea where he is on that particular day.

But after a hard day at work, he likes to reward himself with a nice dinner in a fancy restaurant – you know the kind that you can’t get into for love or money. So, how does he manage to land a reservation nine times out of ten?

Simple. He calls up, leaves his name and his booking request, and asks the staff to Google him. He has found that once they log that he is a luxury hot-shot, there is no trouble getting the best table in the house, even at a day’s notice.

It’s a great strategy, of course, but it wouldn’t necessarily work for all of us. After all, not everyone’s name throws up many thousands of hits in a Google search. And how do we know this? Because at one time or another, every one of us have given in to the shameless impulse to Google ourselves.

Such is the popularity of this little recreational activity that Google is probably one of the few companies since Hoover whose name has become a verb in the English language. We use it almost unconsciously when we want to search for something on the Internet. It could be something as innocuous as the latest gossip on Angeline Jolie or Brad Pitt or something as important as doing a background search on someone who has applied for a job. Whatever we want to know about whichever subject, we simple Google it.

There’s even a phrase that’s evolved to describe those of us who are so dependent on Google for all our research. Old-fashioned academics – you know the kinds who actually read books and spend time in libraries painstakingly looking up references – have dubbed us the White Bread Generation. The phrase was coined by media studies professor Tara Brabazon in the UK, who bans her own students from using Google because it is like white bread: filling but without any nutritional content.

Academics like Brabazon fear that most students these days don’t bother with doing any reading at all (unless it is on the Internet). They have probably never set foot in a library. All their research is conducted on the net. Google is their weapon of choice and Wikipedia their Holy Grail, the fount of all wisdom.

It doesn’t matter to the WBG that most Wikipedia entries are written and re-written and then re-re-written by people who are not necessarily the best minds in the business. It is of no consequence to them that some of the information regurgitated by Google is suspect at best and wrong at worst.

No, as far as they are concerned, if you can Google it, then it must be true. So the term White Bread seems particularly apt – for the generation that is not interested in the meat of the matter.

Journalists like me are perhaps more guilty than most. For most of us, Google has become synonymous with research. And this means that once an erroneous bit of information has been fed through Google, it takes on a life of its own, being repeated over and over again until it begins to acquire a certain authenticity. As the old Nazi saying goes, if you repeat a lie often enough, it begins to seem like the truth.

Which perhaps goes some way in explaining why Google has become so important in our lives. We know that it will be the first port of call when anyone wants to find out anything about us. So, we try and make sure that all the Google entries about us can pass muster if they are being read by putative partners (romantic and otherwise), potential employers or just friends and family.

Only there’s no good way to do that. Once someone has written anything about you and posted it on the net, well then you can be sure it’s going to pop up forever more every time someone types your name into the search engine.

All you can really do is control the kind of information you put out about yourself. We’ve all heard nightmare stories about people being fired because their Facebook photos showed them doing drugs or because they were blogging about their bosses and places and work. And all of it was duly flagged up on Google because they never really understood how the privacy settings work. Remember the newly-appointed MI6 chief in the UK, Sir John Sawers, who nearly lost his job because his wife posted pictures of their house and kids on Facebook for the world to see.

See, when it comes to Google, a little discretion goes a long way. Except for us journos, who simply have to live with the fact that nothing we write today will be forgotten tomorrow. No, it will live on forever in cyberspace, coming right back up (in Google searches) to bite us in the butt.
Neighbour’s envy

That’s usually the starting point of a mid-life crisis

I have a theory about the much maligned mid-life crisis. It’s not so much panic engendered by the thought of what you haven’t achieved (and are now unlikely to) half-way through your life. It’s actually angst, kicked off by envy about all that your peers have managed to accomplish in the same period.

It’s not about how you have missed the bus; but how other people have zoomed ahead in their custom-made Harley Davidsons. It’s not about how your life sucks; it’s about how everyone else’s life is so much better. It’s not about how you aren’t living the dream you fantasized about when you were young; it’s about how that joker from the back of the class seems to be living it on your behalf.

Yes, if you ask me, a mid-life crisis is really nothing more than a bad case of terminal envy. And it’s usually brought on by a close examination of what your friends and colleagues have achieved – while you cower in the loser’s corner.

It’s the kind of peer pressure that you never had to contend with in the schoolroom. After all, in those days you were convinced that you were going to grow up to become a star.

You would write a best-selling novel, which would be optioned by Hollywood. You would become best friends with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. George Clooney would have a mild flirtation with you in between girlfriends. Jay Leno and David Letterman would be vying with one another to have you on their shows. You would fly your own airplane like John Travolta (though you’d probably give a miss to all that Scientology nonsense).

Or you would become a world-class cricketer, totting up centuries and notches on your belt with equal facility. You would get within breathing distance of Sunil Gavaskar’s record, you would be an all-rounder to rival Kapil Dev, like Imran Khan, you’d be another big boy who played at night in more ways than one.

Whatever your dream when you were young – whether it involved sports, the movies or best-selling books – I am sure it always had three elements firmly in place: fame, money, power (though not necessarily in that order). And of course, sex. That was a given if you had fame, money and power. But not just any old sex – it was always sex with a woman or man whom the world lusted after but you had snug in your bed.

Well, 20 years on, things aren’t looking quite as peachy, are they?

If you are like most of us, you’re probably stuck in a dead-end job that doesn’t give you enough satisfaction, money or free time. Your spouse doesn’t look like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. Your kids treat you as some kind of bad joke rather than a hero or even a role model. The only holidays you can afford are off-season package holidays in a crummy resort in Goa – and that just once every two years.

And then you open the paper one day and see that that git from your school, that idiot who used to copy your homework every single day, has been appointed the head of an international banking corporation. Or that girl who used to come at the bottom of the class has published her first novel to rave reviews.

You log on to Facebook and find that your friends are having the best time in Koh Samui or the Maldives. The villa here is fantastic, reads their update, wish you were here. Well, so do you – but you can’t afford the air fare let alone the stratospheric cost of the said villa.

You go to your college reunion after many years and schlep out of your Maruti only to find a slew of Mercedes Benzes, Jaguars and BMWs lined outside. Everyone inside is holding forth on the million-dollar deals they negotiated in the past week, they are parading their trophy second wives who all look like Kareena Kapoor in her size zero phase. They hold forth about how their kids have got scholarships to Harvard and Yale (not that they need it, you understand, they can totally afford the fees) and how they’re planning to buy an apartment in Manhattan to be near them.

Honestly, who wouldn’t have a mid-life crisis listening to all these uber-success stories?

You just have to look at poor Vinod Kambli to see what I mean. Here is this young gifted cricketer, best friends with the batting prodigy of all times, convinced that he is going to go places. And yet while his buddy Sachin goes from one batting triumph to the other, poor old Vinod gets left further and further behind on the road to fame and glory.

Are you surprised then that he ended up on Sach Ka Saamna, holding forth on how Sachin could have done just a bit more for him?

Of course, not everybody having a mid-life crisis chooses to self-destruct on national television. Some men have affairs with their secretaries or run off with women young enough to be their daughters. Some women take up shopping as a vocation, others take to horizontal jogging with their fitness instructors. And then there are those who buy a big-ticket car that announces they’ve arrived, even though it’s clear to everyone that they haven’t even got started.

Everyone deals with a mid-life crisis in their own way. But in almost every case, it is sparked off by a bad case of envy.
Ladies special

The brouhaha about female fighter pilots shows how feminists are falling prey to the culture of entitlement

I know I’m going to get sack-loads of hate mail for this (bring it on, ladies!) but I simply have to say this. When it comes to women being inducted as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force, I’m one with Vice Chief Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, who famously voiced his reservations on the subject.

As Barbora explained, an obscene amount of money goes into the making of a fighter pilot. So, it makes no sense to train someone who would then take ten months off on maternity leave. Hence, if women are to be inducted as fighter pilots, they should undertake not to have children until a specified time.

Honestly, what is so chauvinistic about this statement that it has feminists foaming at the mouth with indignation? It’s a valid point, surely? If the Indian state is going to spend several crores on training someone with a specific set of skills, it stands to reason that it would want these skills to be available to it for a certain period of time.

In the Indian Air Force, that period is defined as 14 years. If a male fighter pilot quits before that, he has to compensate the Air Force for his training costs. So, if women are also expected to serve for 14 years as well – without taking nearly a year off on pregnancy-related leave – what is so scandalous about that?

After all, isn’t feminism all about equal rights for men and women? Isn’t it all about equal pay for equal work? And in that case, isn’t it a given that women should be held to the same service standards as men? So, why target Barbora for saying something that should be obvious to everyone, irrespective of gender?

No, there was nothing remotely sexist about the Air Vice Chief’s statement. But what is indubitably sexist is what some women are doing: claiming special rights for female fighter pilots – when they finally are inducted into the Indian Air Force – merely because they are women.

It’s not the Air Vice Chief who should be apologizing for his remarks. It’s the women who are making a mockery of feminism who should say sorry to the rest of us.

Surely it is self-evident that if women are to gain respect at the workplace it has to be on the basis of equality. We have to embrace a level playing field, not ask for special sops for the girls. And anyone who does ask for special treatment is a traitor to our cause.

And yet, such is the culture of entitlement has begun to take root within the ranks of feminists that their demands have now become faintly ludicrous if not downright surreal. Now, it is no longer enough that women get enough time off to have babies, they should also be able to able to work flexible hours or part-time once they rejoin office. What’s more, despite putting in less work (for the same pay) they should still remain on the fast track for promotion.

Surely, this kind of self-serving nonsense beggars belief. Why should a woman who puts in fewer hours, makes a lesser contribution be treated on par with her other colleagues – male or female – who are far more invested in their jobs just to fulfill the demands of political correctness? And why should women take for granted their place in the sun no matter how long they have been in the shade?

None of this makes any sense. I am not suggesting that we deny women the right to a family life, or make it impossible for them to have a healthy work-life balance. I am merely making the point that these are choices that women make. And when they decide to put family first they cannot realistically expect to be treated the same as someone who puts work first.

Unfair? Not a bit. You make your choices and you take the consequences. After all it makes little sense to replace the much-derided glass ceiling with a baby vault into the boardroom.

So, if you are female and want to become a fighter pilot, then there are some sacrifices you will be expected to make. Postponing childbirth will be one of them. Because no matter what the posters may tell you, you really can’t have it all – well, not all at the same time, certainly.

The kind of militant feminism that says otherwise actually harms the cause of women. It makes women – especially those of an age to have babies – a much less attractive employment prospect. And it pre-disposes businesses and employers to choose men over women instead.

But more than that – and this is what really worries me – it leads to the infantalisation of women. Instead of being seen as equal partners in the business of life they are projected as some sort of special-needs minority group that needs extra protection. Rather than being seen as strong adults they are portrayed as helpless little kids who need looking after.

That is what is truly offensive. That after all these years, we are still asking for special dispensations to help us cope.

If we don’t want to be treated like the weaker sex, perhaps it would make sense to stop behaving as if we are, in fact, weaker.
Battle of the sexes

What do men hate about women?

We are all very familiar with the list by now: of all the things that women hate about men. Not just about the men in their lives, but about men in general as well. And strangely enough, this list remains much the same, even if the women themselves vary vastly. It doesn’t really matter if you’re talking to a teenager in London, a mother of two in Mumbai, or an octogenarian in Ohio, their complaints about men are startlingly similar.

Top of the list, of course, are all those everyday irritants that make men impossible to live with. They leave the toilet seat up; they never pick up their clothes from where they left them (in a pile on the floor, if you must know); they leave sodden towels lying around; they never close any cupboard that they have opened; and they are incapable of turning the lights out.

And that’s just the small stuff. Then come the biggies, the kind that can wreck relationships if you don’t watch out. They don’t listen to anything; they are incapable of having a serious conversation; they never want to discuss their feelings; they don’t understand the feelings of the women in their lives. I could go on, but I’m guessing that you’ve got the general drift.

But surely, just as there are some (well, several actually) things that women loath about men there must be stuff that men hate about women as well? I would certainly think so. But because men, on the whole, are such uncommunicative creatures, we never really get to know about their pet peeves about the opposite sex.

So, in the interest of promoting greater understanding between the sexes, I decided to conduct some strictly unscientific research among the men of my acquaintance to find out what they hate about women. Here are my findings, in no particular order of importance:

• Women talk too much. And they talk all the time. Just when you’ve settled down to watch television they will start nattering about something about the other and insist that you turn the volume down to listen to them. They will burst in on you in the bath to discuss some pressing matter that can’t possibly wait. They will nudge you awake in the middle to the night to share what is bothering them.
• Even if you put aside whatever you are doing and listen to them, they insist that you are not really paying attention (and it doesn’t help if you can repeat everything they have said back to them). You are just pretending to listen, they complain, your mind is somewhere else (on the game being telecast live, perhaps?). Really, there is no pleasing some people.
• If you manage to convince them that you have been paying close attention (perhaps by turning off the television?) they find something new to complain about. Now, it’s not that you don’t listen. Now it’s about how you don’t understand. And there is no way to convince them that maybe, just maybe, you do.
• They constantly seek approval. If they are getting dressed, it’s “Do I look fat in this?” or that old favourite “Does my bum look big in this?”. And there’s no right answer to questions such as these. If you say no, then you are implying that there are some outfits in which they do look fat and big-bottomed. And if you say yes…oh my God, all hell will break loose. There will be sulks, they will be tantrums, and you will never be allowed to forget what you said.
• This seeking of approval thing doesn’t end there though. They want your opinion on everything: what jobs they should take/quit; where to send the kids to school; what birthday present to buy your mum; whether to invest in shares or real estate. Except that it soon becomes clear that they don’t really want your opinion at all. They have their own opinion on such matters and your role is simply to agree with them.
• They nag all the time and about everything. Why haven’t you shut the cupboard door? Why are your clothes on the floor? Why don’t you use a coaster under your coffee mug? Why haven’t you opened that fixed deposit yet? Why can’t you help with the children’s homework? Why do you think that my bum looks big in this? Why don’t you love me anymore? Why aren’t you listening to me? Why, why, why?
• And then, when nothing else works, they cry. For all this talk about equality of the sexes, women are not above getting the waterworks going if it helps them get their way. And as we all know, men are like putty in the hands of a weeping woman.
• But what men hate most about women is that they simply can’t win with them. Come over all chivalrous and they accuse you of treating them as the weaker sex. Be all tough and macho and you are told off for being a chauvinist pig. Stay strong and silent and they say that you’re not in touch with your feelings. Be all weepy and sentimental and they despise you for your weakness.

Honestly, it’s enough to make a grown man cry.
Lining up

Why does nobody respect the sanctity of a queue?

Okay, I’ll come straight out and say it. I’m a bit funny when it comes to queues. Even if I say so myself, in most other areas of life, I am so laid-back that if I pushed myself any further I’d keel right over. My motto in life is simple: nothing matters very much and very little matters at all.

But put me in a queue and I turn into a regular nutter. Suddenly, nothing matters more in the world than that nobody – and I mean NOBODY – jumps the queue. It really doesn’t matter what I’m queuing for, or how long the waiting time is. No sooner have I joined the line than by some miraculous process – the workings of which I have yet to fathom – it becomes my mission in life to maintain its sanctity against all encroachers.

By some strange alchemy I am transformed into the Queue Queen and you trespass onto my territory at your own peril. So, even as I mentally calculate how long it will take me to get to the front, I keep a beady eye out for infiltrators who may be mounting a stealth offensive from the back or from either flank.

If anyone as much as inches forward I turn on them baring my teeth and snarling, “I’m sorry but we’re in a queue here.”

Most people take one look at the crazy glint in my eye and hastily back off, muttering something stupid like, “Um, sorry, didn’t realize that.” Those who are brave – or foolish – enough to brazen it out (“Oh, but I was here a moment ago, just stepped out for a bit…”) get the full force of my wrath.

By the time my tirade reaches a crescendo, I am practically frothing at the mouth while my fellow queuers gather their children close to them and warily step away from this mad woman who has turned a rather alarming shade of crimson.

Once order had been restored and all is right in the queue world, I finally register the looks of horror on the faces around me, and try to make a quick recovery. Schooling my scowling features into a weak smile, I say to nobody in particular, “I really don’t understand why people have to try and jump queues.”

But no, it’s a lost cause. Nobody is willing to make eye contact let alone risk speaking to the raving lunatic in their midst.

Do I know that this is demented behaviour? In the rational part of my brain, sure I do. Is jumping a queue such a serious offence in the overall scheme of things? Of course it isn’t. But try as I might, I can’t help myself.

The moment I join a queue, I seem to undergo a personality transplant. It may be at the immigration counter of some international airport, at my local Barista where I stop by to pick up a cup of coffee, or even at a shop till. In fact, I still remember with horror the time when I had a spectacular meltdown at my bank while queuing to cash my cheque.

It happened like this. All law-abiding folks had made a single line behind a sign that said “Queue here” and were waiting to be called to one of the five counters that were operating. A young man entered, cheerfully ignored us as we stood around patiently, walked straight up to a counter that had just gotten free and presented his cheque.

I looked around at those queuing alongside me, but nobody seemed particularly perturbed by this blatant transgression. Well, I wasn’t going to ignore this flagrant disregard of queue etiquette even if everyone else had been lulled into somnolescence.

“Excuse me,” I hollered from the back. “We’re all in queue here.” The queue-jumper ignored me. This called for direct action. I abandoned my place in the queue, stomped off to the counter and began berating the cashier for serving someone who hadn’t bothered to queue like the rest of us. A shouting match ensued and by the time the general manager came out to investigate what the fuss was about, I was spluttering with rage and not making much sense. But on the bright side, the queue-jumper was now cowering at the back of the line.

Okay, I am willing to admit that perhaps there is something a teeny bit odd about my obsession with the sacrosanct nature of queues. I am even prepared to concede that it is not the end of civilization as we know it if somebody tries to break one.

But can somebody – anybody – explain to me why we Indians suffer from a chronic inability to stand in a queue without wanting to push ourselves ahead of everyone else? Everywhere else in the world people line up patiently all the time, waiting their turn like the civilized human beings they are. So why are we so unwilling – or unable – to enter into the spirit of things?

And then, there’s that other existential question to which there is no good answer. Why is it that no matter which line you choose, the queue you join always seems to move at the slowest pace? That’s also true of traffic lanes, but that, as they say, is the subject of another rant at another time.
Virtual loss

Will we end up being the first generation without a history?

At the fag end of a fabulous holiday in the Maldives, I lost my mobile phone. It happened like this. The hotel had set up a picnic on a platform in the middle of the Indian Ocean to showcase the setting sun. The flowers on the table were gleaming in the soft candle-light, the champagne was chilling in the ice-bucket and I was happily recording the scene on my camera phone.

I set it down beside me so that I could pop one of those delicious looking canapés in my mouth. And just then, a huge gust of wind blew it right off the platform, depositing it into the depths of the ocean. All I could do was stare open-mouthed with astonishment.

In that instant, the euphoria generated by the beauty and serenity of the Maldives, the sense of well-being engendered by several hours of hedonistic massages and serious pampering in the spa, was destroyed, leaving me devastated and near-tears.

Overreaction? You might think so, but I couldn’t possibly agree.

You see, I hadn’t just lost a mobile phone, easily replaced by a visit to a shop. I had also lost a significant part of my life. Along with the phone, it had vanished in the depths of the ocean, taking my memories with it.

It wasn’t just the many pictures I had taken on holidays like this one, snapshots of birthday celebrations of close friends, or even portraits of my niece, the newest – and dare I say, cutest – member of my family. It was also the many messages that I was saving from friends and colleagues that marked important moments or events in my personal and professional life.

On a more practical level, the loss was just as immense. I had lost my entire contact list, built up over several years in journalism, which – true to form – I had neglected to back up on my computer.

Not that computers guarantee any kind of safety either. I have lost count of the number of times friends have called me in despair because their PCs/laptops have crashed wiping out the entire library of pictures that chronicled their lives and the music list which contained the songs they lived it by.

But then, that’s the danger of adopting a digital lifestyle. Your entire history is at the mercy of technology which can erase it in a moment – and, of course, sooner or later it does.

It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? But despite the fact that these worst-case scenarios are all too common, none of us have any compunction about embracing the virtual age with a vengeance. Going digital is all the rage, and we are all buying into this trend.

One of the first casualties of this is the art of letter writing. We no longer write home recounting our adventures or even detailing the minutiae of everyday life. We simply pick up the phone and have a casual – even desultory – conversation, send a terse sms to say that all is well, or dash off a rushed email that is deleted as soon as that inbox begins to get a bit clogged.

No meaningful conversation or dialogue is possible in these circumstances, nor is it feasible to have a fruitful exchange of ideas or information. The era in which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s letters to his young daughter Indira were thoughtful and informative enough to form the basis of three books – Discovery of India, Glimpses of World History and the recently released Letters from a Father to his Daughter – is well and truly over.

Somehow A Father’s Smses to his Daughter doesn’t have quite the same ring. And that appears to be the best that our generation can do, given that these days all social intercourse seems to be conducted by digital means. We speak on the phone, we communicate through email and sms, we store our records – both written and pictorial – on the computer. It’s almost as if we are determined to leave no physical evidence behind as we go through the motions of our lives.

Our parents’ generation left behind a plethora of material, a rich and colourful record of lives lived in letters and pictures. Today, the letters may be yellowing, the photographs fraying at the edges, but they still have an immediacy to them. We may not recognize all the faces, the handwriting may have faded but these mementoes give us a glimpse into the past, imbue us with a sense of personal history,

So, I can’t help but wonder our generation will we leave behind? A couple of compact discs, an overflowing email in-box? That’s assuming of course that we haven’t lost all of this in the interim in a computer crash or two.

The way things are going, we look set to vanish off the face of the earth leaving behind no visible traces. And that could well make us the first generation without a history.
The age divide

Men get away with dating younger women; but older women are laughed at for dating younger men

You’ve probably heard about the incident as well, given that it was splashed all over the entertainment media. At an after-party at the Oscars, Madonna finally came face to face with former husband Sean Penn, one of the victors of the night. The couple – known as the Poison Penns in their heyday – was meeting for the first time since their spectacularly acrimonious break-up. And nobody was laying any bets on it being an amicable meeting.

And of course, it wasn’t. Sean took one look at Madonna’s new boyfriend, the 22-year-old model named Jesus (honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up), who was accompanying the Material Girl to the event and sniggered, “What Madonna? Another kid already?”

Yes, I know, hilarious, isn’t it? How incredibly funny to see a 50 year old woman cavorting with a man in his 20s, right? I mean doesn’t the woman realize that she shouldn’t be going to bed with someone she could have given birth to?

I mean, really, when you do this kind of thing you’re just asking to be sent up – and not just by bitter ex-husbands, but by the rest of the world.

Ask Demi Moore, who has been the butt of jokes ever since she took up the much-younger Ashton Kutcher. Much mirth was occasioned by the fact that her boyfriend was closer in age to her daughter, Rumer, than he was to Demi herself. And when Kutcher posted a picture of his wife’s bikini-clad bottom on his Twitter feed, everyone duly tut-tutted that this was what a woman got for marrying a child.

In fact, the jokes got so bad at one point that the couple even appeared on Saturday Night Live to mock themselves in a skit. Ashton joked about being married to a much older woman and the camera panned to where Demi was sitting in the audience, kitted out as an old crone in her 90s.

Oh my, how we laughed!

But when you sit back and think about it, what is truly funny is how men with much younger wives are never made the target of such low-brow humour.

Look around you. The world is littered with examples of old (in some cases, very old indeed) men who are cavorting with women young enough to be their daughters, hell, even their granddaughters. But this is somehow seen as proof of their sexual magnetism, their virility that survives even into old age.

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has a wife about three decades younger than him. Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood left his 50-something wife for a 20 year old Russian waitress. Donald Trump’s wives get younger with every decade. Hollywood star Tom Cruise’s wife Katie Holmes is much younger than him. And now Mel Gibson has to give away half his billion dollar fortune to his 50-something wife after being caught canoodling with a 30-something called Okasana (honestly, what is it with these Russians?), with whom he now has a child -- his eighth, in case you're wondering.

But these men never become the target of tired old (no pun aimed at) jokes the way that the women do.

Have you ever asked yourself why?

Well, I’ve been thinking about it since I read that the Madonna-Jesus coupling is a thing of the past. Why is it that woman in their 40s and 50s stir up such strong sentiment when they go out with younger men? Why are we so unfazed at the sight of an older man squiring a young woman? And why are we rendered so uncomfortable at the thought of an older woman dating a younger man that we have to seek refuge in humour?

If you ask me, it’s because society demands that women above a certain age – once they’ve got married and had their babies – should become invisible to the predatory eye. Once they’ve served the purpose of procreation and have crossed their early 30s, they should retire gracefully into Mommyland and never be seen again as sexually active creatures with desires and cravings of their own.

And God forbid, that they should ever be seen with younger boyfriends. That is the last taboo, and one which can only be dealt with by a steady dose of humour.

Popular culture mimics this prejudice. You can have a 60-something Amitabh Bachchan romancing the 30-something Tabu in Cheeni Kum, and nobody thinks much about it. In fact, the audience is encouraged to think of her crusty old father, who opposes the matches, as a stupid spoilsport who doesn’t seem to get that true love trumps age.

But there’s shock, horror, all around when the gender roles are reversed in Hindi cinema. When Akshay Khanna falls in love with the much-older Dimple Kapadia in Dil Chahta Hai, everyone from his friends to his mother to the disbelieving viewer is outraged. What can he see in that old wrinkly anyway?

And I find it telling that while Amitabh gets his happy ending with Tabu, Dimple Kapadia is killed off at the end of the movie so that order can be restored to the universe.

Older men can get away with dating younger women. Hell, we probably even admire them for it. But an older woman who lays her eyes on a younger man, must be taught a lesson – and shown her place in the natural order.

Clearly, when it comes to sexual politics, the gender divide is as strong as ever.