My fair ladies: the costume designer and the altruist
Now that the Commonwealth Games are over, Mani Shankar Aiyar and others who fled the city have returned to Delhi to resume their tirade against those who organised them, writes Khushwant Singh.india Updated: May 21, 2011 16:41 IST
Now that the Commonwealth Games are over, Mani Shankar Aiyar and others who fled the city have returned to Delhi to resume their tirade against those who organised them. I am in agreement with Mani Shankar as far as believing that a country that can’t afford feeding its people and providing them shelter had no business to squander thousands of crores on such a grand scale.
However, I am happy to see our boys and girls made quite a haul of gold, silver and bronze medals. Apparently, our guests enjoyed our hospitality. According to a banner front page headline news in Mail Today, sewage pipes in the Games Village were clogged with used condoms and had to be opened up to let the water flow. Foreign and indigenous ladies of leisure did flourishing business.
But what impressed everyone were the opening and closing ceremonies. I have never seen spectacles on such a grand scale, so artistically conceived and skillfully executed. I hope they are shown on TV for times to come. And those who planned and executed them be given gold medals studded with diamonds.
By sheer chance I got to know a person who designed the costumes of the dancers and tribals who took part in them. It was Seerat Narindra, cousin of the actor Kabir Bedi. She was born in Milan in 1977 and spent many years in Italy. She enrolled in the University of Milan, and apart from other subjects got a diploma in dress designing.
She put in skills she had acquired in Italy and India to make the costumes authentic. I first met her when her uncle BPL Bedi (Kabir’s father) was on his last visit to Delhi. He wanted to hear qawwalis before he returned to Italy and asked her to invite Giani Zail Singh and me to the function.
I was very taken by Seerat’s looks: tall, fair and well-proportioned. At our last meeting, I asked her why with all her assets she had not got married. She gave me a withering look and replied tersely: “I’m married to my job.”
I construed it as telling me to mind my own bloody business and not to stick my dirty nose into her private life.
My neighbour Reeta Devi Varma is very birthday conscious: She told me: “I was born the same day and year as Amitabh Bachchan — October 11, 1942. We are Libra, represented by Scales of Justice. But see, where he has gone — right on the top and where I am — at the very bottom.” It is true that the careers of the two are poles apart. He is an Uttarpradeshi of Hindu-Sikh lineage. She is Assamese-Bengali and describes her religion as Hindu-Buddhist-Osho. He celebrates his birthdays lavishly, entertaining his friends and relations. Millions of his fans throughout the country also celebrate the occasion. He earns crores of rupees everyday. She earns nothing but goodwill. He is amongst the richest of the rich. She is a beggar; ever asking for money from anyone she meets. She does not throw any birthday parties. Instead, she drops in my home with a couple of stray dogs (she has picked up seven abandoned from the streets). She takes a sip of my single malt. I have kebabs specially made for her dogs. I give her a birthday present which she accepts as her due.
Why do I take notice of Reeta Devi? She was a stunning beauty when I first set my eyes on her over 20 years ago. I did not know she lived in the neighbouring block. Her husband Bheem Varma (nephew of Maharani Gayatri Devi) had given up his job and spent most of his time feeding stray dogs and taking those sick to the vet. After he died, she took up the task. She received government allowance from Maneka Gandhi, who was then a minister in the central Cabinet. She found another patron — Kapil Sibal. He gave her a mobile clinic and money to hire doctors and nurses and buy medicines.
Likewise, Sir Elton John gave her a second mobile clinic. So she is out from 6.30 am to 6.30 pm, treating the poor in Delhi slums. Occasionally, she drops in on me in the evening and tells me triumphantly: “Today we treated 560 patients.” She has been promised a third mobile clinic by the Ansals and money to hire doctors, nurses and buy medicines. By the end of the year, she hopes to deal over 1000 sick men, women and children, every day.
I am sure there are thousands of men and women in our country who spend most of their time, energy and money looking after other people. I happened to know only one — Reeta Devi Varma. That is why I look forward to celebrating her birthdays in my home.
Love makes mad
A lady who was not keeping too well asked her husband, “How much do you love me?”
Man: So much that after your death I will go mad.
Wife: Will you remarry?
Man: What can one say! A mad man can do anything.
(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)
The views expressed are personal