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Public lives, Private Ltd

The matter of public figures making a too-doo about the sanctity of their private lives is silly, writes Mondy Thapar.

india Updated: Dec 28, 2007 01:07 IST

The trouble with two consenting adults becoming ‘close’ in this country is that one of them just might be a politician. Or even more scarily for public propriety, a statesman (of whom later). Let’s be honest here. When those worthies bounce off their chairs in consternation about Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam’s friendship with former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, they’re just pretending to be sophisticated by stating that they’re really worried about the ‘security implications’ of the Alam-Singh friendship.

Bakwas! What they really are upset — and excited — about is the possibility of an Indian politician playing nookie with a fellow subcontinental outside the bonds of marriage. So much more refreshingly honest is the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid of Ludhiana, who has issued a fatwa against Alam for staying at the residence of a man who is not her husband in Patiala.

Why do Indians develop a fire under their chair when a public personality develops an amorous relationship with someone other than his missus? The relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten keeps causing much consternation among patriotic Indians. The possibility of what lies in the lines of Lord Mountbatten’s 1948 letter to his daughter, “She and Jawaharlal [sic] are so sweet together, they really dote on each other in the nicest way...”, can elicit a (painfully repressed) response akin to hearing about the erotic life of one’s parents.

The matter of public figures making a too-doo about the sanctity of their private lives is silly. Sure, they made a Faustian deal and we are terribly interested in what happens behind the curtains — or, in the case of American presidents, below the desk. But why can’t we — till yesterday, people who were most blasé about the personal-public divide — at least learn from the French and be interested in the private lives of public figures without hyperventilating as we wag our fingers in judgment? Don’t tell me that we’ve become like the Americans, ready to howl about relationships between adults because they have nothing better to do?