At 5.45 PM today, Indian Standard Time, I was on television. You couldn’t see me. No, I had not magically transformed into an invisible creature. This was a phone-in where someone calls you and says you will soon go live on air. It made me check my breathing. Sometimes one does not feel so 'live'. Thoughts of me floating somewhere in the ether were quite tantalising. Then I could hear the host of the Pakistani channel (that is also beamed in the US) making important comments about some major political issues regarding India and Pakistan, and then I heard my name.
I mean, I have been called my name, and several names, many times. But someone telling an audience that here she is felt like a magician presenting a rabbit from a hat.
He was exceedingly polite and polished. I did what I always do – grrr…whirr…well, I had lots of opinions which should have stayed in their place, my head. The problem is that where this issue is concerned my views are rather unconventional. Here they were asking me about peace and I effectively said, what peace, we are antagonists. Why can I not just sometimes say things that sound good?
I also had the luxury of not being visible. This is a tip for people who do phone-ins. Please dress up as though you are on TV. I was in my home clothes, which might sound ridiculous to someone who does not know about home clothes. Home clothes are what you never ever wear outside the home. In fact, sensible people would not wear such clothes at home. So, I was, if anyone is interested in these details, wearing a rancid lemon T-shirt and a pale blue skirt that Monika Lewinsky would not wear even if someone else was on the phone. I gave this interview on Indo-Pak affairs lounging like Barbara Cartland. I know I should not state this publicly but it is all about sleeping with the enemy, no?
Then I had this bright idea of quoting a poem by a Pakistani woman poet. I have wanted to do that several times and always something happens. This time they had breaking news, so the poem went unheard. Nawaz Sharif came in the way. And I thought it was my use of the word “Damn’ that made the host say, “Humse baat karne ke liye bohat shukriya (Thank you for talking to us)”.
I think I sighed in reply.
Anyhow, I have no clue how it went and whether I sounded like Caligula doing a Cleopatra or Hamlet blowing hot air into a skull. I know it sounds arrogant to imagine that I got anywhere close to a Shakespearean tragedy. Maybe, it is much ado about nothing.
It isn’t the first time. Over a decade ago a BBC World correspondent wanted to talk to me about Indian sexuality. I met her at the hotel and she had this really big contraption into which I had to pout about Indian sexuality. She was quite surprised I knew so much. I said I was Indian. And, well, I read a lot about sexuality. I think she liked me because after she shut the contraption, she opened it again. This time she wanted to know my views about the bindi, the dot on Indian women’s forehead. I did not know these were two disparate themes and immediately jumped in about how the dot denoted something sexual.
A few years later, I got another call from the BBC. I started to get quite intellectually horny now. After all, we did have some good times, eh? Anyhow, the voice sounded like a gentleman's in the classic mould of gentlemen. I imagined him wearing a bowler hat and carrying a parasol as he walked down to the pub and sat on the leather chair, the wood-panelled walls making honeyed reflections in his glass.
He cut my internal monologue short with a matter-of-fact question about a high-ranking police officer who had misbehaved with a high-ranking female administrative officer. He had patted her on the butt and she had taken him to court. Because he was solving terrorist issues in Punjab, no one was taking any action against him. Apparently, the verdict had been announced and it was in her favour. So, what did I think? I wasn’t aware of the verdict. The Indian news channels had not yet announced it.
I honestly said I did not know. Well, I was not supposed to know because you see the BBC always gets the news first. I asked the gentleman to call back because I wanted to confirm it! I had an opinion, of course I did. And I said what I wanted to, including that it wasn’t just about the rear. It denoted a whole emotional and physical space.
Okay, thank you, it was wonderful speaking to you, he said.
It was? I can imagine him later chuckling into his glass of lager, the froth curving along with his smile.
I like to make people happy.
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PS: It is hugely embarrassing that for an Urdu show - which the one today was - I requested to speak in English. I do not feel proud about it and for one who writes okey-dokey stuff in the language (or at least close to the language) this was not on. The reason I did it is because we were talking politics and I did not want to goof up more than I might already have.