As you may well have noticed, today is International Women’s Day. Yes, yes, we’ve all heard that tired old refrain: Every day is Women’s Day. And no, it wasn’t funny a decade ago, and it’s not funny now. Nor are the annual fulminations of 'how Women’s Day is a farce because we really haven’t come a long way (baby)' very helpful.
So, this year, I decided to celebrate the day by listing some of the women I think are worth celebrating.
Real life heroines: Clockwise from top left: Nora Ephron, PD James, Smriti Irani, Mamata Banerjee, Madonna and Sania Mirza
Her most famous saying was: "Be the heroine of your life, not the victim." But I have to confess that Ephron is the heroine of my life, and has been ever since I first read her in college.
She had the brilliant knack of tapping into her own life to come up with universal truths that every woman could identify with (take the title of her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, for instance). So, her story became our story, and our stories became hers. There could be no greater tribute to any writer.
There is much to admire in Phyllis Dorothy James’ fiction: her intricate plotting, her mastery of suspense, her writing style, and her ability to create characters (Adam Dalgliesh, Cordelia Grey) that we fell in love with. But there is even more to admire in James’ life.
A civil servant, whose husband died early of a drug and alcohol overdose leaving her to bring up their two young daughters, she published her first book at 42, having written it while working full time.
And then, there was no stopping her. She wrote 14 books featuring Dalgliesh, two featuring Grey, and wound up her writing career with a Jane Austen tribute novel, Death Comes To Pemberly, at the ripe old age of 91.
If a fiction writer made up a story like that of Irani’s, she/he would be accused of over-egging the pudding. She left the family home after finishing school, heading to Mumbai to make a living (where she famously worked at McDonald's).
She participated in the Miss India pageant, and then hit the big time with her role as Tulsi in the TV serial, Kyunki... Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi... In 2003, she joined the BJP, and had such a meteoric rise that 11 years later, at 38, she became the youngest cabinet minister, in charge of the crucial portfolio of Human Resources Development.
That’s an impressive resume by any standards. But what is even more impressive is Irani’s amazing ability to shrug off the many unpleasant personal attacks on her and concentrate on doing her job.
I can hear those gasps of disbelief all the way from Calcutta to Delhi. But bear with me a moment and let me tell you the story of a young woman, born in the most humble of circumstances, who took on the might of the communists in a state which they had ruled for decades, without a thought for her own personal safety.
She stuck to the task until she had driven them out of office. But even after assuming office as West Bengal chief minister, she never forgot where she came from. She still lives in her old, two-room house, wears the same crumpled cotton saris, and has the same fiery zeal that she displayed as an activist.
It takes a special talent to excel in a sport at an international level. And Kom’s achievement is even more special because of the many obstacles she had to overcome to become a champion boxer: her early life in the disturbed area of Manipur, the lack of training resources, the paucity of support for her chosen career. But not only did Kom triumph, she also made a comeback to boxing after having twins, shutting up all those who had written her off.
Her achievements in tennis are there for everyone to see, but what I admire most about Mirza is the way she has chosen to live her life completely on her own terms. She wore short skirts on the tennis court despite the attacks by Muslim conservatives.
She stood firm by Shoaib Malik, the Pakistani cricketer she fell in love with, marrying him amidst a swirl of controversy. And she showed both grace and courage, standing up to the bullies who would deny her Indian identity post her marriage.
What an absolute trouper she is! She took a tumble down the stage at the recent Brit awards, landing on her head and shoulders with an almighty thwack. Lesser beings would have been rushed straight to hospital after that.
But not Madonna: she stood up, shook off the dust, and carried on with her act as if nothing had happened. No wonder the Material Girl has been a star longer than most pop stars of today have been alive!
Say what you will about Farah Khan’s school of filmmaking (yes, it’s full on escapist masala fare, but so what?) but there is no denying that she is one of the most bankable names in the movie business now.
Her last release, Happy New Year, was one of the biggest grossers of 2014, raking in a record-breaking `350 crores. And with it, Khan proved that while it may be hard to gain entry into the Big Boys Club that is Bollywood, it is not impossible to beat them at their own game.
From HT Brunch, March 8
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