Oh, what a lovely scandal!

Amongst the gifts which the English brought with them when they landed in village Kalikata were their language, superior military tactics and white women. The locals had not seen such fair skin and they could only admire these creatures from a distance.  
But soon the locals also saw a more sinister side of the recent import and that was a streak of scandals!

Arguably the first scandal in India recorded in the English language was in 1784 concerning the very promiscuous Ann Chargil. She was an opera artist who was married to a young captain in the militia of the East India Company. When the gentleman was posted to Company Bahadur, Ann followed her recent husband. Given to public display, Ann’s rare beauty and talent both ran riot in the English settlement. Sundays witnessed pistol duels in the countryside with lovers  firing at Ann’s husband and poor he trying to save his reputation and her honour.

Things came to such a pass, that Warren Hastings had to post haste write to His Majesty’s government seeking the recall of Ann Chargil forthwith and His Majesty obliged.
Thereafter, the English speaking press led by the ever scurrilous William Hickey continued to wallow in reporting scandals of the Burra Sahibs much to the enjoyment of the  lesser mortals until he ran out of advertisement support.

No change

Three centuries and three decades later,  the fashion has not changed, only the skin had changed its colour. Therefore, when Halappa was caught on camera with his lungi just still in the fallen position and his friend’s raped wife, no one in the league of politicians was overtly out of breath. Most of them also had incidents of ‘other’ women hidden in their closets.

Blessed are those who retain a short memory. They can at least look forward to trailing the scent of scandals and discover new ones. Pity those who cannot forget the old scandals. They are left heavy with their stories even after  they have lost their colour and sensational value. Thus, newspapers rarely take to recall their old stories and the younger generations of readers are, therefore, none too wise of their era. But ask their parents, and the bulb lights up. “We had the biggest scandal in our time,” is a sentence which many elders recall when prodded. There was that Profumo guy incharge of the Defence of England and he had a mistress serving both him and the Soviets, called Christine Keelor. And if one was not enough there was an Indian connection called Pamela Singh. The girls were buddies. Christine ended her life but Pamela became a salon photographer and held exhibitions in India. As for Profumo, well he lost his job to say the least. 

But let us return to India.

Bapu was spared a scandal, but a lot was done to get at least one scandal stick to Nehru. First it was a friendship with Pamela Mountbatten, then it was one Sadhvi, who was alleged to be around. Thank goodness he remained above board. 

Great & famous

Scandals only make to print if they involve celebrities. They can be politicians, civil servants and sportspersons. And attached to all these celebrities are celebrity women. Obviously great men and famous women can both create scandals, and occasionally precedence.

Recall two decades ago when the West Indian cricket team was touring India, a young model of Delhi called Neena Gupta tagged along Viv Richards. The team left for home but after one year it was discovered that Viv Richards had not left India entirely. He had left a love child with Neena. Miss Gupta told her detractors that she was a mother and her child did not require a father. Neena Gupta became, perhaps,  the country’s first career woman to work as a single mother and set an example for some other equally liberated members of her gender. Now that was a scandal as it broke all existing norms of social conduct for conservative Indians.

Being unfaithful if you are a celebrity can be a dangerous game to play. It becomes a scandal because we all expect celebrities to be role models for their generations. 

Thus, when Sourav Ganguly disappeared from Kolkata for sometime only to be discovered by two enterprising young journalists, in a South Indian temple planning to marry the actress Nagma, all hell broke loose in Kolkata. Ganguly had to make a hasty retreat as angry crowds laid siege to his house and his wife Dona reportedly walked out supported by Sourav’s fans. A long round of apologies by the ‘Prince’ finally brought Dona back to her home. Of course many local journals on the brink of bankruptcy, were revived as their circulation increased manifold and even staid newspapers wrote reams on this affair.  

But how would you deal with politicians, who act brazenly.

Political variety

In North India, Amarendra Singh, former chief minister of Punjab, flaunts a girlfriend from Pakistan. Then a bunch of ministers in Mayawati’s government got themselves rid of their secret love life. Remember Amar Mani Tripathi, one such minister who got his poetess love Madhumita bumped off and now cooling his days in the company of his wife, in jail with a life sentence. Another MLA, Anand Sen Yadav is also in jail after having bumped off his friend’s daughter, Shashi, with whom he was having an affair.

Film artistes seem to enjoy a licence to stay outside  normal social conventions An instance is the Dharmendra- Hema Malini couple. Then there is the Sunny Deol–Dimple Kapadia couple. And the latest in this chain is Sridevi-Boney Kapoor duo. A large number of film artistes in South Indian cinema have stables of mistress and wives which no one calls scandalous. All these people seem to be happily married ever after, and to hell with the law.

There is one section of public persons, who are never in the scandal print line. This is so because they themselves write on scandals. Yes, our newspersons are no dyed white souls. There are some celebrities in the media, I am aware of, who have been having torrid affairs with their opposite genders, but while all know of these affairs, no one writes on them. Perhaps all is forgiven, because these affairs do not impinge on their professional work.

Official perk

In India,  having a mistress tucked away in some house near the place of work, is considered a perk of the office. For politicians and their cronies, it’s a sign of manliness and clout. The sentiment really goes back to primitive tribal traditions where the chief  had the pick of the women in his tribe to bring forth more members to count.

Indian literature is replete with stories of timid women rebelling against feudal traditions seeking their ‘lordships’ in having many women around them. The most celebrated case I am aware is of Gulabo, a prostitute in Varanasi, who was attached to a landlord. Once after being insulted, Gulabo disappeared from the city to emerge ten years later as a graduate to seek a job in a local college as a teacher. As luck would have it, one of the members of the college board was Gulabo’s former lover, and he strongly protested while recalling the woman’s past. It was Madan Mohan Malaviya, who hearing of the scandal, intervened and got Gulabo the teacher’s job. Gulabo retired finally as the Chief Inspector of Schools in the early 1930s. 

The ordinary man in the street is forgiving until he sees  flagrant violation of certain norms. For instance, no one is likely to frown if one keeps a mistress. But if this person mistreats the second woman, then all hell can break loose. Occasionally such liaisons also get a lot of public approval as in the case of MGR-Jayalalitha friendship. Neither of the parties ever suffered from each other’s closeness simply because MGR did not mistreat his wife during his lifetime. 

In a land which worships a relationship like that of Lord Krishna and Radha, I think all can be forgiven when others follow the tradition. Monogamy is a Christian code, and I for one would not wholly endorse it. We have a tradition of celebrating life and that means more and merrier. But don’t be cruel and exploitative. Then you will get into print, and worse into the television tube!
(The writer is former director general of Indo-Tibetan Border Police, a renowned author and film critic.)

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