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Maharani Gayatri Devi

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

What is it with these iconic Indian women – that makes three of them about whose exciting lives and activities I last heard in college about 10 years ago in dusty books in the Miranda House library, about whom there were mysterious references thrown around in conversations between my mother and her parents, three women who were always for me, part of the hazy past, the paradoxical and confusing 60’s, all now gone.

She passed away yesterday, and was hardly in my mind a feminist icon, though definitely a strong female aspirational figure. The one thing I did always know about her was that she was once accepted by Vogue, that bastion of strict stereotypes of female anatomical acceptability, as being one of the ten most beautiful women in the world. Oh, and that she was the brand ambassador for a diamond jewelry brand, and that caused a big debate on whether celebrity endorsements have gone too far, too cheap.

But, like Princess Diana, or Grace Kelly, or Marilyn Monroe, or Aishwarya Rai, she has the irresistible appeal of someone who ‘s young, beautiful, intelligent, connected, royal and unattainable. These women all hew so close to What Constitutes GlamorTM, and do so well per the unfair standards imposed on them that they’re celebrated so much more than any ordinary achievers who didn’t have to confirm to such standards.

So I went and did some research, and discovered six kewl things about the late Maharani Gayatri Devi:

  1. She had a governess named Miss Oliphant (ha! beat that, Kipling, or Saki)
  2. She helped set up one of the oldest girls’ schools in Rajasthan. While I think that sex segregation in schools is actually not good for equality, sometimes that is the sweeter pill for orthodox cultures to swallow: the first step to getting girls an education. And I know from my experience in a girls-only institution that once you take the boys out of the picture, the excuses used to keep women away from physically intensive and stereotype-challenging activities (e.g. leadership of various student councils, sports, public speaking, mechanical/mathematical contests, even lifting heavy objects, like desks and tables) mysteriously melt away. So, thanks, Maharani.
  3. She drank (alcohol) and played sports, both openly and publicly, and was good at tennis and riding: “Apart from tennis, she was an expert rider herself and both husband and wife greatly encouraged young polo players”
  4. She and that other legendary post-Independence royalty, Gwalior Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, had a lot in common, – both of them were members of non-Congress parties (like most Indian royals, really) and they held elected office. Their power was not necessarily derived from the powerful men they married or gave birth to or were fathered by – their power was derived from exactly the same source that all political power in India has been derived from – class, wealth, income, education, caste, royalty, and an existing powerful family structure or genes (could be maternal or paternal).
  5. Gayatri Devi’s mother, Maharani Indira Devi of Baroda, was a regular Princess Kickbutt herself. She was supposed to marry the Maharaja Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior in 1910 (she was eighteen, he was forty). She didn’t want to marry him, but it was an arranaged marriage she couldn’t get out of. So she sent him a secret letter explaining her position – this by itself was really bold, but she stood her ground and Scindia graciously called the marriage off (why hasn’t this been made into a kickass Hindi movie again?). And then she had a roaring clandestine affair with the Prince from CoochBehar and married him a couple of years later. Now the sordid wedding-scandal could’ve affected relations between Baroda/CoochBehar and Gwalior, but the women held it together.
  6. She not just held elected office, she was a regular ultra-achiever there as well: she was “the woman with most staggering majority that anyone has ever earned in an election.” Contrast this with Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who received barely 5% of the vote in a two-way contest in Haryana.

This is exactly the paradoxical nature of things in desh, especially of social change movements, that P and I were talking about the other day. For instance, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar and our (my) obsessive interest in it: it could and does stand for the cheesy, cheerful oppressive triteness of reality shows everywhere – for gender stereotypes, for bad fashion choices, for drastic invasion of privacy, for utter Lowest Common Denominator dialogues – which it does, but it’s such a breath of feminism still! (Rakhi deserves a whole ‘nother post – she’s getting to be a fascinating, intriguing character after all). For another instance, see this: “In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, 40 former rulers decided to fight with modern methods: they formed what was, in effect, a trade union to battle for their rights”. I fear sometimes that I’m totally forgetting how to grasp complex ideas by staying out here in the Wild West.

Anyway, I’m revising my opinions of the Maharani as just a pretty & privileged lady – I’m so off to read this woman’s autobiography.

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Kambakkht @#!@$#@$#

July 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Mr. Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia, Hon’ble Smt Pratibha Patil called. She wants the Padma Shri back.

Is Akshay Kumar gunning to be India’s Judd Apatow? In which case, why is India’s Angelina Jolie wannabe (*cough* Posh Spice wannabe *cough*) acting in his movies again?

And who’s going to break it to either of them – and to the rest of bollywood – that feminist != man hater and/or frigid? (Please, even Hollywood’s gone beyond. Not!)

Of course, they’d’ve happily gone onto feminist = ugly, hairy, old, etc…but arre, phir piktchar kaun dekhega yaar? Hence.

Yes, Kambakkht Ishq sounds like one sick, stupid, and (worse) utterly boring flick (No, I haven’t seen it. No, I don’t intend to. Yes, I review films I haven’t seen). The first weekend after a three month movie strike in Bollywood (except for New York, which was released a couple weeks ago) is probably the only time it would’ve got the opening it’s got. Also kudos to the people marketing the movie because they made what I thought was an utterly boring trailer, but one apparently not nearly as offensive as the actual movie (unlike some other trailers which picked the worst parts of the movie to showcase).

The saddest part? Apparently Kareena’s character goes from blaming her dad for her parents’ divorce to realizing that it’s all her mom’s fault. I just hope to the Good Lord that she doesn’t subject her own mother to this appalling movie and its sleazy sub-text.

UPDATE: Apparently great minds do think alike.

a red-letter day?

July 1, 2009 Leave a comment

in suede.

Categories: diary, fashion