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Does hawking a pot of Shape Up Bust Firming Cream or Waist & Tummy Trim Gel qualify for “distinguished service in trade and industry” to the nation? Are bio-facials and bio-complex weight-loss therapies to be deemed cutting-edge innovations in biotechnology? The answer is a Big Fat No. So how is the blinged-out proprietress of Vandana Luthra’s Curls and Curves (VLCC) now a bonafide Padma Shrimati?
It has become a ritual on Republic Day for the past five decades for His Excellency, the President of India, to confer the Padma awards to extraordinary individuals for “exceptional and distinguished service of a high order”. And, over the years, it has become fair game to find the oddballs and freaks who have crashed the list—not because they are scummy and worthless, but because of the inappropriateness and improperness of their inclusion in the list.
Body-sculpting queen Vandana Luthra may be an ace businesswoman in the body image-obsessed world, but does that necessarily qualify her to stand bouffant head-to-head with men and women who are given bravery awards for fighting for the country; or with scientists and innovators, researchers and historians, social reformers and sporting champions? Is making money a criteria at all? So, while scientists and engineers who send up spacecrafts and discover and chase water molecules on the moon are ignored in the Padma list, Shrimati Luthra is on the 2013 Padma list, for busting the underlying collection of stubborn cellulite, and vacuuming fat cell volume from under the body surface. If nothing else, her inclusion should get the feminists’ teeth on edge.
It’s not the first time a beauty empress has made it to the list—in 2006, herbal queen Shahnaz Husain, who can banish both dandruff and pimples with her ancient plant and herbal technology, was in the Padmashri roll of honour of ’06. Now, how have shrewd and savvy businesswomen, who have used their astute skills in building vast business empires and personal wealth, contributed to building the nation’s wealth? Is training waves of youth as shampoo girls and facial hair plucking boys the advancement of science and art? How does launching campaigns against the obesity epidemic (an ingenious scheme for hustling their slimming products in schools and colleges) a record of service to society?
It’s hysterical, the legion of beauty Barbies that have made it to the Padma list—former Ms World and Bollywood queen Aishwarya Rai was awarded the Padmashri in ’09, for...? And typically it was mired in controversy—with pitched gossip about Rai’s in-laws, the Bachchans, and their close proximity to the Samajwadi Party, a UPA ally, and therefore.... Bollywood action hero Akshaye Kumar was also awarded the Padmashri that year, perhaps for giving us the idealised image of ripped abs and a tamed torso; a year later, Bollywood’s she-man, Saif Ali Khan, under investigations for poaching endangered black bucks, was awarded with a Padmashri, to everyone’s shock and amazement. It’s not just the dolls and dudes and their Padma Shrieks, we have a sarkari vamp too, with her four-year-old Padmashri firmly tucked in her glittering corset. Bollywood’s original item girl, Helen, has also shimmied her way to the Padmas. Helen was the bad-girl-who-got-everywhere, as Kitty, Rosie, Suzie, Lily, who smoked, drank, danced in clubs, and died quickly, as Bad Girls Die Young.
Our netas and babus have a corny penchant for those who revamped them, and this sentimental hang-up goes way back to the early days. Dr Rajendra Prasad, our first president, amended the Padma list to add a “Miss Lazarus from the south”. The concerned ministry, after a massive hunt, found a teacher in Madras, and informed her about receiving the Padmashri. But when the list went back to Dr Prasad, he wrote she was a nurse who had treated him when he fell ill on a journey from Vijayawada to Hyderabad. Nurse Lazarus was found, and that year two Miss Lazaruses got the award! The surgeons who treated ex-president Zail Singh for his eyes, A.B. Vajpayee for his knees, and Dr Manmohan Singh for his heart are all part of the Padma roll of honour.
Bards and courtiers have not been ignored either—does anyone know who Padmaja Phenany Joglekar is? Well, she’s a standard Mumbai vocalist who leapt into the Padma club after singing Vajpayee’s vanilla poems. Interior designer and 10, Janpath acolyte Sunita Kohli got the Padma in 1992, for decorating Rashtrapati Bhavan. The late Y.B. Chavan insisted on a Padma Bhushan for his professor, N.S. Phadke, who was known for his kitschy romances. Is it envy and rivalry that gets people all hot and bothered at the awardees? Many have returned the title on grounds of impropriety and rancour. Maybe giving it up is the best revenge. Or, like Luthra would say, ‘Kiss my cellulite-busted a**!’
(The writer is editor at Altgaze.com)