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Sunday Sentiments

  • Sachin, Kajol and the butt of their jokes

    Posted On July 26, 1999

    By Karan Thapar

    Do you know the saying ‘great minds think alike’? I always thought it had to do with their supposed genius. Well it doesn’t or, at least, it’s not limited to that. Greatness in the sense of celebrity also creates similarities.

    I was in Bombay last week to interview two of our more famous celebrities and it was a revelation. One is a sport star the other a film star. They’re very different people and they probably have nothing in common. Yet their fame has made disparate personalities very similar. I hadn’t realised it but reknown can make different people behave almost identically.

    The first of the duo was Sachin Tendulkar. He’s a naturally shy, soft-spoken, gentle-mannered person. When he answers questions his voice conveys an endearing vulnerability. When he smiles his eyes light up. Despite his fame his boyishness is undeniable.

    The other was Kajol. She’s exuberant and confident, she laughs a lot and when she does it sounds conspiratorial as well as naughty. Her eyes are captivating and she uses them to express her feelings. Despite her sophistication she remains impish. Behind her eloquence is the fun-loving quality of a young girl.

    Before the interview I cautioned both of them about my fear that I would get the introduction wrong.

    “It has to be done from memory” I explained. “Mine is so feeble I can never remember half of what I want to say. So promise me you won’t laugh when I stumble and forget?”

    Both of them agreed. Well, actually, Sachin smiled and Kajol gave me a reassuring “okay, if that’s what you want”.

    That put me at my ease. But my confidence was to prove deceptive. It was a bit like the calm before a monsoon storm. A couple of minutes later the interviews began and I realised how I had become the butt of their jokes.

    “We’ll start in five”, the director intoned.

    “Ready Sachin?” I added.

    “Absolutely” he replied . “I’m standing-by to laugh”.

    Fortunately, I got through the introduction without a fumble but when, after that, I looked at him as I asked the first question I could see he was trying hard to suppress a smile. With Kajol, however, my luck ran out.

    “When she burst upon Bollywood she took the industry by surprise” I started. “Her films have re-written the record books yet her popularity continues to soar. Her fans call her brash, her critics say she’s adorable ”.

    “What?” Kajol interrupted, unable to believe her ears. “You’ve got it the wrong way round!”

    When she finished laughing and settled herself in her chair, she fixed me with a beady look. Her green eyes bore into me and her expression clearly showed she was waiting for me to do it again.

    “Go on” she teased. “This is more fun than I thought it would be.”

    What I hadn’t realised is that the biggest celebrities put you at your ease by cracking jokes. Not just that but by teasing. It breaks barriers, it relaxes, it creates a friendly informality. In their very different ways both Sachin and Kajol had instinctively used the same technique to create a rapport.

    The problem wasn’t that I was nervous – after all I’m forty three and they are twenty six (Sachin) and twenty four (Kajol) – but being so much older I wasn’t sure we had much in common. A two decade age difference can mean you speak a different language even whilst using the same words. Sachin’s and Kajol’s teasing bridged the gap.

    Kajol even gave me a bit of friendly parting advice. As I said thanks and goodbye I noticed her eyes lighting up with mischief.

    “I think you should dye your hair” she said. “If it was all one colour you would look a lot younger. Salt and pepper makes your face look old.”

    “Do you think black hair would help?”


    “Well, what then?”

    “Try white.”

    (For everything else you want to know about Sachin and Kajol but are afraid you may never find out watch Face to Face on BBC on Wednesday the 4th at 10.00 p.m. and again the week after.)

    Bombay versus Delhi

    I find Bombay a mixture of the delightful and the disagreeable. The two don’t merely coincide, they define the city’s eccentric charm. Wherever you search there are examples of their presence. If the city’s cosmopolitan culture is delightful, the influence of Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena is disagreeable. If the sea view and the fresh breeze are delightful, the smell and over-crowding can be most disagreeable. If Malabar Hill and Nariman Point are truly delightful, Pawai and Malad most certainly are not. I could carry on but I think I’ve made my point. It’s in such extremes that Bombay’s soul is to be found.

    Yet there are two aspects of this city that unquestionably set it apart from our own Delhi. One is delightful whilst the other ...... well, judge for yourself. Both, however, are typical of Bombay.

    At the traffic lights on Peddar Road, as you approach the Haji Ali junction, the little street orphans have a hideous surprise in store for the unsuspecting. As you sit in an idling taxi, stuck in one of Bombay’s proliferating traffic jams, they silently approach the car and, when you are looking the other way, shove an innocuous looking wicker-work basket through the window straight into your face. As you gasp, they whip off its cover to reveal a coiled snake.

    When it happened to me I was so taken aback I dived out of the other side door. Unperturbed the street boys waited for me to re-enter the taxi. As I did they smiled and asked for money.

    “Sahab” they chanted, the snake in the box in full view, “paisa do sahab, paisa do.”

    Brave would be the man who might refuse, perhaps even foolhardy. In all the forty years I’ve lived in Delhi I have never come across anything similar. Our street kids have some pretty unorthodox ways of making money but, thankfully, shoving snakes through car doors is not one of them.

    The delightful bits of Bombay are its restaurants. Unlike Delhi, it has hundreds may be even thousands. When people want to dine out they have a real choice and it’s not limited to five star hotels. Of this plenitude there are two that I was totally taken by.

    Off Horniman Circle is a little parsi diner called “Jimmy Boy”. The food is home-cooked and plentiful. The menu has been thoughtfully created. The service is friendly and welcoming. Not being offe’ with the cuisine I asked what Saas ki machchi meant.

    “You guess Sir” Alexander, the waiter, suggested.

    “It’s your mother-in-law’s speciality?”

    “No Sir” he laughed. “This Saas is parsi for sauce. Try it, it’s a local fish with a traditional white sauce.”

    I did and it was delicious. Now where are in Delhi would you find a parsi restaurant or a waiter with a sense of humour like that?

    The other restaurant is presently the favourite feeding joint of the city’s fashionable set. It’s called “Indigo” and the food is an eclectic mix of oriental, occidental and italian. The puddings are irresistible.

    This is where last week Star Plus hosted a party to launch their new programmes. Dinner over, I was at the bar chatting with old friends when a lady on a nearby stool, who I did not know, leant across and admonished me.

    “Don’t be such a Dilliwalla” she said. “Go and try the desert. It’s not gulab jamun and you won’t get anything like it again.”

    She was right. It was a chocolate truffle. It was so good I immediately had two helpings. When she saw me sneaking off for a third she couldn’t resist a little dig.

    “You’re like a little boy tucking-in before returning to school.” And then, after a pause, she added : “I suppose that’s what Delhi must feel like after Bombay!”

    To whomsoever it may concern

    Never judge a book by its cover or, for that matter, an article by its title, particularly when the latter is the creation of a sub-editor and not the work of the author. Unfortunately, that is the position I found myself in last week.

    I called the piece I wrote on Pakistan ‘The Problem of Pakistan’. I thought it expressed what I wanted to say. It was also sober and sensible. However, come sunday morning I found my measured title transformed into a screaming headline in bold black type which proclaimed ‘The Problem with Pakistan is it stinks’.

    The problem with the title is I disagree with it. More importantly, the article which followed disagreed with it. No doubt its hysterical overtones may have attracted readers who would otherwise have skipped my sentiments but it created the wrong impression and, who knows, it may have led some people to the wrong conclusion.

    One other little thing. I repeatedly referred to the founder of Pakistan as Mr. Jinnah. Not because that’s polite, although it is, but simply because I chose to. Stylistically it made for better reading. However in the published version the title was dropped on each and every occasion. That also irritated me.

    For what it matters I now want to set the record straight.

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