Shobhaa De | A not so grand goodbye to 2023… and here’s to 2024

The Asian Age.  | Shobhaa De

Opinion, Columnists

Any and everything is converted into a self-seeking image building activity.

Maharashtra Dy CM Devendra Fadnavis pays tribute to the martyrs who laid down their lives while fighting terrorists during 26/11 attack, on its 15th anniversary in Mumbai, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (PTI Photo/Kunal Patil)

The party season is on big time. Of course, I am referring to the political parties bickering and haggling – hahaha! In Mumbai, our deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis ki biwi -- the high-profile, showbiz lady Amruta Fadnavis (she looks unrecognisable and completely altered in every new photo op), organised an event featuring all her Bollywood friends like SRK and others, to perform at a concert marking the terror attacks of 26/11 -- right in front of the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel -- the worst-hit target of the four-day dastardly, coordinated shooting and bombing attacks. Thirty-one lives were lost and 28 people were hurt at the Taj during the lethal siege, where the employees of the hotel put up a heroic fight against the terrorists. More than a decade and a half later, it is the horrifying visual of the famous dome of the magnificent hotel on fire that became the most recognised symbol of the attack. Mrs Fadnavis’ glamourous, high-profile event was described as a “homage’’ to mark 15 years of 26/11 and salute the “Spirit of Mumbai”. The mythical spirit of our great city has excused, condoned and forgiven too many sins over time. When all else fails, netas and sundry self-styled do-gooders invoke this mysterious spirit and exonerate themselves of further responsibility. This time, our sweet Amruta not just chose the wrong venue to host an event billed as the Global Peace Honours under the auspices of the Divyaj Foundation, but unfortunately for her, the grand show got rained out by an unseasonal shower. Clearly, the gods did not approve of such a skewered plan that was supposedly meant to remember those who had lost their lives. Despite the storm clouds, Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde was in attendance. Alas, SRK’s performance got washed out.

Meanwhile, the Taj Mahal Hotel, as always, sensibly skipped the glam-sham and sho-sha, by marking the sad occasion in a far more dignified and appropriate manner. Visitors and regular guests at the hotel were touched to see the families of those who had died during the attacks (police personnel included) being warmly and courteously hosted for a four-day stay by the management. It was a somber and sentimental time for the families seeking comfort and solace over their loss. Surely, Amruta should have known better than to use such a tragic moment to stage an extravagant entertainment programme? What about the staggering costs involved in the elaborate production at the Gateway of India? The security forces and the police personnel on duty? The same amount of money could have been deployed towards assisting those directly affected. But then, that would not have generated photo-ops…

The real tragedy of the “mad-for-publicity” neta culture is precisely this. Any and everything is converted into a self-seeking image building activity. So many weeks after we watched the ICC World Cup go to the Australian team, we are still licking our wounds, consoling ourselves and passing the buck, unable to accept the basic truth that two exceptionally talented teams battled for the cup: and one had to win, the other to lose. That’s it. But our politicians are still stupefied and upset that THEY were robbed of their moment of glory and gloating. Reliable sources say that huge posters of our boys in blue with the Prime Minister had been printed well in advance and were to be extensively used, especially in Rajasthan, as election propaganda. The boys were going to be felicitated and given handsome rewards in the state, while being hugged by the chief minister. Elaborate victory parades had also been planned in New Delhi, speeches rehearsed and outfits readied for the grand moment… one more feather in the PM’s cap. That was not to be. But so what… who says a great leader cannot convert a loss into a positive occasion? There he was, invading the private, sacrosanct space of the team, accompanied by a camera crew. Our cricketers were not given the much-needed privacy at a time they needed to bond with one another and accept the outcome of the match, outside the intrusive gaze of the cameras. “Yeh toh hota rehta hai…’’ said our Prime Minister, after putting away his prepared victory speech, as he grabbed the hands of the visibly uncomfortable players, and embraced an emotional Shami, shoving his head to rest on the broad prime ministerial shoulder. The intention must have been noble and good, as Virendra Sehwag commented when he said: “I have never seen a head of state offering this kind of moral support to a national team after a defeat…” Neither has the world!

India sure is flying high with our Top Gun Prime Minister achieving another first -- getting into the cockpit of a Tejas fighter aircraft in cool gear that Tom Cruise would covet.

No matter. At the time of writing, star cricketers are being bought and sold like onions during the IPL auctions. And it would appear, it’s back to business as usual. In India it is cricket mania that wipes all other news off the front pages. Yes, the miners were rescued in a mind-boggling mission that demonstrated Indian ingenuity and courage once again. Ironically, with all our engineering expertise and brilliance that successfully sends spaceships on daring missions to the moon, we were stumped. Finally, six “rat hole” miners achieved the impossible. Shockingly, it is these very “rat holes” through which kids in Meghalaya enter the mines to extract coal. This is a tragedy that should never have happened.

Cheer up, folks. It’s Ho Ho Ho time across the world. Santa is on his way to Bharat with a bagful of goodies. Mumbai’s social calendar is crammed with high-octane Xmas launches and parties galore. The freaky weather with thunderstorms and lightning has served a purpose after all -- the air quality has improved and children are breathing more easily. The skyline is visible after nearly a month. And as a Xmas bonus, we are told that the much-awaited Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), the 21.8-km-long Sea Bridge (the longest in India) is likely to open officially on December 25. That is, if Aaditya Thackeray doesn’t sneak in and steal the thunder from the BJP once again by taking an unauthorised ride, accompanied by photographers of course.

Enjoy the festive season folks… you have nothing to lose but sleep and money.