And quiet the Padma flows
Every year, around Republic Day, I wait with bated breath for the National Awards to be announced and no, I am not talking about the sterling cinema awards which this year went to two of the finest actresses of modern India: Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Raut.
It is the Padma that captivates me.
The fact that someone in the Government of India is so blinkered, continues to amaze me year after year and this year, I am most thrilled with Saif Ali Khan being awarded the Padma Shri. And why not? He comes from a sterling pedigree: his father remains one of the most charismatic cricketers India has ever seen and a hunter of great acclaim; his mother is the Chief of India's censor board and Saif is a versatile actor who even beat Shahid Kapoor of Jab we Met to 'Jab they Met' as soon as Kareena in her size zero switched loyalties.
Look at Saif's contribution to nation building. He today has the same award as some of India's finest sons and daughters. He is on par with two acclaimed television anchors; on par with legendary theatre people; on par with those who created the RTI; on par with some of the most stellar industry figures and so on.
He has made the bandana look cool; he and Kareena make a fine couple and are the poor man's answer to a certain Brad and Angelina and to top it all he has some royal blood which comes in handy when you take aim at black bucks. But don't get me wrong. I am fond of Saif and I believe he is a good actor. Omkara was splendid. But then do we give him the Padma Shri for one film? Is this what the award really is about or are we seeing a decline in our standards? I believe it is the latter and to blame Saif would be unfair.
The Padma awards, like everything else in the country are on sale and have been for a long time now. There is no reason why Ratan Tata shouldn't have been given the Bharat Ratna or for that matter Biki Oberoi given the Padma Vibhushan aeons ago? There are others who have actually changed the way India thinks and lives but they seem to have been forgotten. Why not a Padma for the creator of 'Aman Ki Asha'? Lobbies are always at work and there is today a travesty when even editors and media professionals are awarded the Padma, and then go onto accept it. There are some exceptions and I salute them.
Padma Bhushan Sant Chatwal
There are several reasons why the eminent hotelier who lives in New York (Manhattan as he will tell you) got the Padma Bhushan. He is a Gandhian mixed up with Jeetendra. His austerity knows no borders. In the true spirit of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, he held an austere wedding for his son several years ago and all the nice kind people of India and the world attended the wedding functions, which sadly could not be contained to one or two events.
Coke (not to be confused with Coca Cola) was one of the key highlights of the wedding: it is another matter that the poor boy who got married has just finished a rehab program at Byculla in Bombay and not Beverley Hills for addiction to the fine thing. There are several other achievements that the President of India recognized before bestowing this singular honour on Sant Chatwal.
Many years ago he is rumoured to have defaulted in the United States and was also allegedly being sought by the FBI: no, they were not planning to give him the Medal of Freedom: they were just keen to lock him up until he was protected by yet another man of tremendous integrity and honour: William Jefferson Clinton (called Bill by Amar Singh and his ilk): Bill loved Sant and who wouldn't? Sant owns several hotels in New York, sorry Manhattan, which is a tremendous asset for man to meet interns far away from the Oval Office. Chatwal is also the Clintons' minder. Rumour again has it, that it was Sant Chatwal and no one else who got the Indo-US Nuclear deal done which is why the nation owes him a debt of gratitude (never mind what he owes the banks) and therefore to my mind, even a Padma Bhushan is small fry for a man who has achieved so much.
His white shoes and near-white attire are in sync with the persona that this country has begun to love and no, its not because he is close to the Establishment that he got the award:
it is based on merit and we in India have a fascinating regard for people who achieve so much and still manage to stay away from prison!
The other thing we must admire in Sant is his network of friends. He will be found at every wedding that matters in India, right next to Lakshmi Mittal: another Indian who has given so much back to India. These are the stellar people that we need to worship with acclaim. And this is why I respect the committee that selected these honourable people: or at least SOME of these honourable people! Look at some of the committee members: Tarun Das, the man who gave industry a voice; Kapila Vatsayan, a noted historian who sadly ignored history while awarding the Padma to Sant and so on. Of course the committee also included India's Cabinet Secretary who does not have a laptop powerful enough to google Sant and discover his shenanigans. But then this is why we are such a unique nation.
Whoever said merit has no place in India. Look at Sant and then think again. The next time the Padma award is bestowed on some convict in Tihar, you can then talk about equality and justice Till then, I too shall wait for the investiture ceremony of Sant. And I can take a bet, that evening too, he will be in white.
Things have come to such a pass, that the next time you get a Padma deservingly, a lot of people will have their doubts as to why you got it? The award is more sullied today than ever before and the lady who resides on the hill and is our President needs to understand this quicker than later. We have a penchant for ruining institutions: let's not make a mockery of an award that India should be proud of, but is increasingly viewing it with suspicion and mockery. Leave, at least the Padma, alone.
More about Suhel Seth
Managing partner, Counselage