17.9.11

Publicly Private Lives

An Indian politician has separated from his wife; they are headed for divorce. It becomes front page news and once again there is talk about the privacy of a public figure.

He has stated:

“I have noted with considerable dismay and anguish the growing tide of speculation in the media about my private life, particularly the status of my marriage. While it is true my wife and I have separated, the speculation about motives and about my future course of action are unfounded, untrue and deeply hurtful to all concerned.”

Let us look beyond the obvious.

Contemporary politicians, in these days of social networking, are quite happy to express their candour, whether it is their views about their work, the opposition parties, their own colleagues. At a certain level, they are ensuring a constituency. It is fair enough.

I am most certainly not saying that they should be targeted. That is cheap. But a statement like the one above makes one think of divorce as something that needs to be covered up. When he got married, there were two kinds of reactions; now that there are problems, there are other kinds of reactions. This is how people respond in real life.

To his credit, he did come out with it but only after, one reckons, the rumours started.

Is it his fault or the way Indian society operates? Then why does our media become voyeuristic when it comes to what Berlusconi and DSK are upto? Did our media respect the Clintons or even Diana and Charles? In fact, when they visited India, pictures of her alone at the Taj came with the tag of martyred woman on cold stone bench.

Our own soft targets are not spared. Remember the reports of the octogenarian N.D.Tiwari caught with a group of women (my post is here) and then the demand for a DNA test by a man claiming to be his son? Why was it flashed all over? Did it have any national importance? Of course, this was not considered a ‘clean’ situation. Supposedly, feelings were not involved.

There have been insinuations about the most revered leaders, too. What about Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jinnah? Later, there were whispers about Vajpayee, Jayalalitha, P.V.Narasimha Rao, even Bal Thackeray. Indira Gandhi’s marriage was a constant source of curiosity, and it was a curious alliance indeed.

In Pakistan there was talk about Asif Ali Zardari’s affair with some expat; Ghulam Mustafa Khar’s ex-wife wrote a book (two, in fact) based on her life with ‘My Feudal Lord’.

People from other professions are constantly under the scanner. Are their private lives not of any importance? News channels run loops about these and newspapers carry long features exploring every angle. It is not just film stars, but also corporate heads. Why, when Shashi Tharoor, a politician, got married, one Mumbai paper had disgustingly displayed before and after cosmetic surgery pictures of his wife. This was low, not because he is a public figure but because she is entitled to her private space and this was a personal matter. She has not chosen to discuss her marriage or her life.

One reason for the intense scrutiny is that the politicians have become a bit too chatty. It is not about exposing human frailties – they don’t have to; it is pretty obvious that they are not infallible, even if some might like to believe they are. It is a flurry to humanise their role, so they indulge in small talk. I recall a few interviews where I wanted this ‘other side’, but due to the nature of the medium and the larger canvas to understand motives it did not become a mere cool quotient.

Recently, there were reams written about some ministers undergoing weight-reducton surgery. How important is this? Had there been articles about their pot bellies before, they would have screamed about it being a private matter. Why the two standards?


For me, the most important aspect of this debate is how a situation like divorce has an impact on a person, and we fail to realise that you do not have to be a public figure for that. Private individuals go through such intense scrutiny too and we hear of all kinds of comments posted on sites about people who are not well-known. As a person who has been through it, I can only say that it is painful for the people involved and despite being pretty much a recluse (a situation that is often chosen as an escape) one is not spared. So, where is the privacy of the private individual? Does anyone care about that?

Watch news clips and, at best, you wlll have pixelated faces to hide the identity. But more often than not, cameras just swoop down and microphones are thrust in faces. You might say, nobody knows those people, they are not running major establishments. They are running their homes, they are probably working, they have families. And their neighbours and friends are watching. They want to know, in fake sympathetic tones, “What happened? Could you not make it work, you know for your own good?”

And you, you of the otherwise bold stand, are made to shut up. What do you say when you did not know how it happened and it does not take one person to make it ‘work’? What do you do when suddenly knights of the night assume that you might need some company?

No one likes their lives to become other people’s fantasies. No one.

11 comments:

  1. Sorry about the pending replies to the other posts...will do so a bit later.

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  2. These people are rich, powerful, successful and good looking. They can get the best the world has to offer be it houses, spouses, cars, food, schools and careers for their kids. So if they are in trouble of some kind we ordinary folk want to know so our feeling of envy might shrink a bit. So if rich powerful handsome Omar is breaking up with his hot wife, we want to know why. Is he upgrading to a new trophy wife, is he experiencing any pain because of it? Is there a mistress involved. Sure I wish I could get the action he gets but it ain't happening in any way. So all I do is read about the fancy life of these fancy people. Its the same situation all over the world. Most working class working people are leading miserable lives. Did you ever notice that most tabloids are purchased not by the upper crust but by the very commoners? That's who the media is catering to. I want to know what's going in the lives of these rich people so I can forget my own empty meaning less life.

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  3. Hi Farzana,

    Thoughtful post.

    My folks stayed together as long as they could "for the children's sake." In countless ways, their 'sacrifice' was a nightmare for us four kids. They divorced shortly after I, the eldest, flew the coop at eighteen. Later, I divorced rather than subject our kids to a similar nightmare -- though I later learned my 'sacrifice' had not shielded them from any horror.

    Perhaps we can blame it on the gods' caprice . . .

    You wrote:

    >>For me, the most important aspect of this debate is how a dituation like divorce has an impact on a person, and we fail to realize that you do not have to be a public figure for that. Private individuals go through such intense scrutiny too and we hear all kinds of comments posted on sites about people who are not well-known.<<

    Indeed we do. And there was the 'grapevine' (or 'gossip fence') before such marvelous technology. Certainly there is an aspect of news to the 'rumour mill' and, while there remain those who consume such gossip as particularly juicy treats, in a community (or a circle of friends, associates, acquaintances) marriage, for many, yet remains a link in a chain of alliances to various extent (yes, even among the less-than-toney). There are investments -- *if* only emotional. Thus, there will be judgements, betrayals and vindictiveness -- even among those only peripherally involved.

    >>As a person who has been through it, I can only say that it is painful for the people involved and despite being pretty much a recluse (a situation that is often chosen as an escape) one is not spared. So, where is the privacy of the individual. Does anyone care about that?<<

    An 'individual' to various degree is *always* perceived as a threat to the collective. Hence privacy -- or some facsimile thereof -- is rarely an option unless one keeps one's head down. :)

    For what it's worth, I've found a closer examination of the institution of marriage, both historically and contemporaneously, to have been helpful in my own situation.

    M.

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  4. Sai:

    I can understand curiosity, but I do not agree that tabloids are purchased by commoners. Again, how do we define commoners? Also, leading miserable lives is not restricted to any particular financial status. And you have quite unattractive celebrities also being under scrutiny. If only you read the tabloids you’d know how empty and miserable famous lives are. Some become famous solely on the basis of that…

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  5. Mstaab:

    Thanks, Mark, for sharing.

    I am aware of the consequence of such ‘sacrifice’.

    There are investments -- *if* only emotional. Thus, there will be judgements, betrayals and vindictiveness -- even among those only peripherally involved.

    Sometimes it acts as catharsis by projection. A contemporary, quite certain I would not open up to her, used a smart tactic when she first introduced herself: “Hi, I am a single mother”. I thought that was a strange way of identifying herself in a non-personal situation (we were at a meeting). But it worked and I did open up, to regret a bit later because then she began to see it as a threat perception for ‘single’ space!

    Which brings me to your other comment:

    An 'individual' to various degree is *always* perceived as a threat to the collective. Hence privacy -- or some facsimile thereof -- is rarely an option unless one keeps one's head down. :)

    And then be called an ostrich or a stick in the mud!

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  6. >>. . . she began to see it as a threat perception for 'single' space!<<

    I'm far from certain single-motherhood (or single-fatherhood, for that matter) as an institution is entirely divorced from the collective. :)

    >>And then be called an ostrich or a stick in the mud!<<

    There is that, lol. Some may wish to draw one out solely for company and/or an accessory (of the bangle or headscarf persuasion); some have in mind to use one as the ball in a game of table-tennis. One may go along; or not.

    Yes, we hear things. By way of yet another analogy, we are all prospective canvases for another's brush; one would do well to choose their pigments with care . . .

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  7. Mark:

    >>. . . she began to see it as a threat perception for 'single' space!<<

    I'm far from certain single-motherhood (or single-fatherhood, for that matter) as an institution is entirely divorced from the collective. :)

    Oh no. It probably is a result of the collective! Manipulated isolation by the mob, with no hope for Godfather-like

    By way of yet another analogy, we are all prospective canvases for another's brush; one would do well to choose their pigments with care . . .

    How can the canvas choose the pigments?! Or are you suggesting that as the painter one should mutate for a while into the painted and feel the tarring? It would still not be as black as the black of the tar, so to speak...

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  8. Who are you, and what have you done with Farzana?!

    >>How can the canvas choose the pigments?!<<

    Hell-o-o. "Analogy," picturesque, kinda like -- not meant literally; but figuratively. Farzana would have known this.

    >>Or are you suggesting that as the painter one should mutate for a while into the painted and feel the tarring?<<

    I would hardly dignify this with an answer, whatever-your-name-is. Even commentor Alka Gurha notes, "Very unlike you." And who said anything about mutations, hmm? And WHAT is this:

    >>It would still not be as black as the black of the tar, so to speak...<<

    Who paints with tar? And where did I even mention color (I wrote "pigment"), much less black or blue or green? Ah, but you wanted to change my "collective" into "the mob," and suggest some "manipulated isolation by the mob with no hope for Godfather-like" . . . "Godfather-like what?"

    Wait a minute. "Tar" (and feather) + "mob" = crow. Crow might suggest "priest," as it did for certain folk back in the day. Godfather-like would thus = Pope. Are you trying to paint me Catholic, whoever-you-are?

    Not hardly. My religion is not nearly as organized, lol. Nor do I endorse religious parties. :D

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  9. Mark!

    Who are you, and what have you done with Farzana?!

    Nothing. Just let her play...

    I did get the analogy and the literal queries were rhetorical. Are you Mark? he would have known this ;)

    >>Or are you suggesting that as the painter one should mutate for a while into the painted and feel the tarring?<<

    I would hardly dignify this with an answer, whatever-your-name-is. Even commentor Alka Gurha notes, "Very unlike you." And who said anything about mutations, hmm?


    Oh, come on. The reference was not like me was to the Gujarati accented stuff. My name is FV. The comments are moderated so why would I let someone pass off as me on my own blog? I mention mutations because I was wondering about empathy. The tarring was a mere play on words.

    What is this:

    >>It would still not be as black as the black of the tar, so to speak...<<

    Who paints with tar? And where did I even mention color (I wrote "pigment"), much less black or blue or green? Ah, but you wanted to change my "collective" into "the mob," and suggest some "manipulated isolation by the mob with no hope for Godfather-like" . . . "Godfather-like what?"

    Wait a minute. "Tar" (and feather) + "mob" = crow. Crow might suggest "priest," as it did for certain folk back in the day. Godfather-like would thus = Pope. Are you trying to paint me Catholic, whoever-you-are?


    What??? Far be it for me to put you into such slots. Tarring with the same brush=what if the paint is tar=tarred again by collective=mob=family/peers=isolation-no romanticismation/luxury of Godfather (from the film)=...I was just extending the solitude parameters here.

    I guess I am a bad communicator.

    Whoever I am :)

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  10. You communicate just fine, Farzana. I was merely demonstrating how the "canvas" can choose -- or reject -- the artist's pigments. :)

    The suggestion or sly implication that one is not oneself (which we hear and see a lot of these days -- of late, in cyberspace most notably under the lever of "protection" from identity theft) can also be used to sort of prepare the canvas to receive another's pigments. Ask the shrink, Sai Kumar Reddy.

    Back in the day it was called "character," lol -- which, thus "impressed," had and has the effect of making folks quite predictable. And, for the marketing gurus, etc., predictable = exploitable. Or, effectively, barring that, tar-able.

    Mark <----- always helps :)

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  11. Mark:

    Cyber identity as canvas is probably designed to receive others' pigments for it is a falsity anyway. Perhaps this too is a collective intrusion/embellishment of the individual. What then needs to be protected - the self, the fake persona, the level of pigmentation or the overshadowing of the 'tarrer'?

    I hasten to add that these are rhetorical queries!

    ~F...a shade less...

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