Delhi Diary
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Womyn Of Hindoostan
Meeting Salman Rushdie for lunch at Willie Dalrymple's sprawling farmhouse in Gurgaon, I find reconfirmation of a recently formulated theory, which says that there is something completely special about women from the subcontinent. Mr Rushdie's wife, Padma Lakshmi, is an Iyengar Tam-Bram from Chennai. And she has had a magical effect on him. He is positively glowing. Gone is the untidy stubble, the hair is neatly cropped, despite the bounty on his head he looks entirely serene, he has a new state-of-the-art wardrobe. During the lunch you would have had to be blind not to notice that Salman is besotted by Padma—he couldn't keep his hands/eyes off her—and she by him. Those who predicted that this was going to be another famous author-meets-Page 3 bimbette affair have been proved foolishly wrong.

Mr Rushdie is on to his fourth (or is it fifth?) wife and has, as the expression goes, played the field. One or two of his previous marriages have ended in ugly public brawls. Meanwhile, gossip columns of the British and American press were forever linking him to celebrity white women. We were told he had a glad eye; it was not in his nature to be a one-woman man. Enter Padma Lakshmi.

Now consider Vidia Naipaul. Sir Vidia has always been rather keen on women and sex, but was determined not to spend too much time in the pursuit. He confessed he preferred prostitutes because time for both the sex worker and this writer was critical. Naipaul's former literary editor, Diana Athill, tells a lovely story of how Sir Vidia asked her if she knew any "fast girls" so that he could get over the "business" quickly.

Enter Punjabi Nadira Alvi from Lahore. She too has transformed the "prickly" Nobel laureate and beautifully domesticated him. Sir Vidia's proudest possession currently is not the Nobel medal, but Augustus, his cat, who he spoils and engages in long existential conversations. My wife and I have an abiding memory of the Naipauls. We had taken them out for dinner and late at night dropped them at their hotel. Nadira had lovingly wrapped her arm around the man, who reportedly has a Brahminical dislike of touching people, and together they passed through the revolving door, the very picture of a happy, devoted and contented couple.

So, I am back to my original question: what is it about Indian and Pakistani women that tames the most awesomely gifted, ferocious, promiscuous and difficult of men? I don't have a clue, but if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

A Stomach For News?
Dimple Kapadia once famously observed that she never read newspapers because reading them gave her a severe stomach-ache. Dimple will be pleased to learn that scientific research has validated her stomach’s response. A four-year study by Nottingham University reveals that watching an average day’s world events on TV triggers "depression, irritation, anger and anxiety". Such is the "negativity" TV news brings to our screens daily that the study recommends soft, soothing music afterwards to raise the spirits.

Another reason why you should switch off the idiot box and regularly read Outlook.

Stab Me In The Back, Please
After we published the scoop Uma Bharati letter attacking Gen Next of the BJP (Uma’s Letter Bomb, Dec 13), some of the leaders she had ruthlessly assailed were at great pains to convince me that Ms Bharati had "used" Outlook and managed to plant the letter on the magazine. When more than one Gen Next leader fed me this line, I began to wonder why it was so important for them to convince me and, more crucially, party president L.K. Advani, that not only had the lady wilfully violated party discipline once again but she had done so deliberately. I enquired why she would embark on such a patently self-destructive course on the eve of her return to the party. "She is like that, you don’t know her," came the reply.

The truth is that Ms Bharati was livid when Outlook Saptahik printed the secret letter and had a few furious words with our Bhopal correspondent who had managed to obtain it. "You have stabbed me in the back," she told him. Of course, one could argue that even her anger at the leak was feigned, but that would be giving Uma too much credit for hatching dark conspiracies. For all her histrionic faults, Uma Bharati does not have half the guile and news-management skills of her illustrious opponents.

Those Lit-Critters
I thought only editors hated each other viscerally, but, I am afraid, we are no match for competing authors. The history of a prolonged, well-publicised literary feud is based not on sales figures or critical reception or awards received. It is based on bad reviews. If one author gives another author a bad review, you have a vendetta for life—and beyond. Salman Rushdie remembers almost word-by-word the pages of "abuse" a certain Pankaj Mishra showered on him in Outlook while reviewing one of his novels and I reminded Salman that Sir Vidia, who detests Rushdie, had not forgiven him for trashing Among the Believers. The Dalrymple-Guha exchange in this magazine, gossip goes, may have a similar origin. George Orwell in a masterly short essay vividly recounts the torture, tribulations and travails of a writer of the imagination forced to earn a living through reviewing books, not to mention the gratuitous enmities he earns by simply being truthful.

Rushdie, whose new novel is out next September, said to me as I left, "You owe me one." When his long-awaited tome comes out, I won't be giving it to Pankaj Mishra to review. Neither will I offer it to Sir Vidia who anyway does not dirty his hands these days with book-reviewing of any kind.

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Vinod Mehta
Vinod Mehta
Vinod Mehta

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