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Falling in love with a television show host

Koel is the only woman I know who has achieved celebrity status in India at so young an age by her own efforts. I knew she was Aroon Purie’s daughter and a beauty — she looks half her 35 years and loves to display her figure in western-style mini-skirts. Khushwant Singh writes.

columns Updated: Nov 07, 2010 00:56 IST
Khushwant Singh

Koel is the only woman I know who has achieved celebrity status in India at so young an age by her own efforts. I knew she was Aroon Purie’s daughter and a beauty — she looks half her 35 years and loves to display her figure in western-style mini-skirts rather than enshroud herself in saris or salwar-kameezes.

Besides being pretty, she is chirpy and full of smiles. And that despite the fact that she has a punishing schedule to work to keep her weekly TV show On the Couch with Koel to ensure it is a success. She has interviewed men and women who matter — film-stars, godmen, yoga teachers etc — and in every case had to acquaint herself with their careers to put the right questions to make her shows gripping. To overcome my allergy towards appearing on TV, she had Mrs Charanjit Singh of the hotel, Le Meridien, to bully me to appear on her show to answer her questions before a huge audience. I thought it was my right to put her through a cross-examination.

It appeared that her first choice was to become a film star. She appeared in over two dozen films before she launched her series.

I gathered she had inherited the itch to excel and love to display it from her forefathers. Her grandfather Vidya Vikas Puri, migrated from Lahore after partition in 1947, and set up business as a financier in Delhi. He became a multi-millionaire. He decided to buy himself a Rolls Royce which was, and is, the ultimate status symbol of success. He went to London to get one.

The salesman of the showroom snubbed him and told him he could not afford it and not to waste his time. He bought one, brought it to Delhi. At that time only descendants of erstwhile princely families drove in chauffeurs-driven Rolls Royces. Puri was the only commoner driving one on Delhi roads. His son Aroon added an ‘e’ to his surname and became a legend in his life time. He owns the largest chain of media consortiums in India: four TV channels, over a dozen weeklies, including India Today, Readers Digest, Harper Collins and The Thompson Press to print his journals and books. A new addition is the tabloid daily Mail Today.

Aroon is as generous an employer as he is ruthless towards those who fail to deliver the goods.

A case in point is the ‘elevation’ of Prabhu Chawla, his Subjantawala, editor of India Today and get M.J. Akbar on Akbar’s terms to take and run it, as he sensed it was losing on its readability to Frontline (of The Hindu), The Week (Malaya Manorma), above all, to Outlook (of Vinod Mehta).

Earlier, he had packed off Ashok Chopra (now head of Hay House) and brought in Karthika from Penguin Viking to head Harper Collins. In a few months Karthika made it to the three top publishing houses in India.

Coming back to Koel, she has few rivals to contend with. Along the way to success she met and married a handsome young Frenchman Rinchet. She has a wide range of interests which include paragliding, and deep sea-diving. I don’t know anyone who can match her in charm. It is difficult not to fall in love with her.

Religious education

A Catholic Priest, a Hindu Guru, and a Taliban Mullah all served as religious advisers to the theological students at Harvard University. They would get together every a week for tea for discussions.

They agreed that preaching was not that hard. The real challenge would be to preach to animals. They decided to do an experiment. They decided to go to the jungle, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it. A month later they all met to discuss their experiences.

The priest, who had his arm in a sling and bandages all over his body, spoke first: “I went to an African jungle and when I found a bear I read to him from the Holy Book. But the bear began to slap me around. So I grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, holy Mary Mother of Christ, he became as gentle as a lamb. The Pope is coming next week to give him first communion and confirmation.”

The guru spoke next. He was in a wheelchair with an IV drip and both legs in casts. In his best fiery oratory he exclaimed: “Brothers, I went to Indian jungles. I found a bear and read to it from our Hindu holy book. But the bear wanted nothing to do with me. So we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, up another until we came to the Ganges River. I dunked him and his hairy soul in the water. And just like you said, he became gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Lord Shiva.”

The priest and the guru looked down at the mullah, who was lying in a bed. He was in a body cast with monitors and IV’s running in and out of him. He looked up and said: “Looking back, I don’t think it was a good idea to start by first circumcising the bear…”

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)

The views expressed by the author are personal