Celebrity talk show host Oprah Winfrey who was in India made a special appearance for a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012. In an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN's Suhasini Haider, she spoke about her experience in India and the Salman Rushdie controversy.
Here is a full transcript of the interview
Suhasini Haidar: There is no list of the world's most influential people that doesn't have Oprah Winfrey on it. So I am not going to introduce her. I am just going to welcome her here on the special show on CNN-IBN. Thank you so much Oprah for joining us and 'Namaste'.
Oprah Winfrey: Thank you. Namaste
Suhasini Haidar: Our first question, really, why India? Why now?
Oprah Winfrey: Well, it's been a part of vision that I have for my self. I actually have a vision board where have these ideas and things I wanted to accomplish. And on my vision board was a picture I cut down from a magazine, a picture a woman is on camel wearing a sari and it said, come to India. And I passed that everyday for three years and finally I was looking to interview Deepak Chopra who is favourite author of mine. And I was thinking where should I interview him and I know if I go to India I can interview Deepak Chopra in India, in his own country. I can go to the Jaipur book festival and accomplish all of them with one goal in mind and that is to see India. What I have learnt is you can't see it in one or two week, that India is so complex. And I would have to say it's the greatest show on earth. I mean I have never seen anything like it. It has been mind-expanding but I would say a heart-expanding, a human expansive trip. I am glad that in my lifetime I was able to see it.
Suhasini Haidar: Well the subliminal advertising worked on that board that 'Come to India' and you came to India. You are here at the Jaipur Literature Festival and ofcourse the big news has come from another author, Salman Rushdie. The question is does it bother you that Salman Rushdie has had to stay away from Jaipur Literature Festival?
Oprah Winfrey: You know I tried to stay away from the political decision made by other people for whatever reasons. It doesn't bother me because I was coming for my own reasons and my own agenda and when I heard that he was coming I was excited. And then I heard that he wasn't coming whoever made that decision, made that decision for reasons they saw fit.
Suhasini Haidar: Absolutely but one of the reasons was certainly the amount of hate groups, the amount of anger against him for a book that he has written, that is banned. As somebody who has promoted so many books on the book club, the real question at the heart of it. Do you think its right really for that kind of fear of hurting people's sentiments to keep an author like Salman Rushdie away?
Oprah Winfrey: I would first of all say that I am not in a position to judge because I don't know what the security measures were or what kind of precautions were put into place, to handle somebody, who they felt would be at a security risk. And so any comments that I would make will be just speculation on my part because I wasn't involved in discussions. I, for one, am not a person who believes in the banning of literature, in the banning books, but I also understand as a person who lives a public life that being able to keep whatever event you are having, safe.
Suhasini Haidar: You said you were excited if Salman Rushdie had come over here, of course, two of his books are on your booklist. There is 'Midnight's Children' and 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories'. What do you think him as an author?
Oprah Winfrey: Well, obviously I am impressed with him as an author and the written word is something that has always caused me a great sense of stimulation and personal. I don't know what is the word? I get lost in books and so to be able to have a conversation with someone who is able to use the words the way that he does, that would have been very interesting and simulating to me. But somebody made another decision so.
Suhasini Haidar: Alright let's talk about the rest of your trip here. You have been in various parts of India, meeting with women from very diverse backgrounds. Tell us a bit about that.
Oprah Winfrey: Well, I think you can't come to India and experience the country unless you try to experience some of its diversity. I think what has impressed me the most, well many things impressed me the most and I will say that many times. And I thought 'that was the most, that was the most'. But what impressed me is that you have a whole country, a people who are Indian but there is so much diversity among everybody, and to be able to talk to women who lived in Colaba and to be able to talk to the people who lived in more prestigious environment, and to be able to sit at the table literally with all of them and to share ideas and to see them disagree about what it means to be woman in India. That is the question I was asking. What does it mean to be a woman in India and the truth is there isn't one answer for that and depending upon where you were born and how you were born, and what you believe system is, what the tradition is, it is a completely different experience being woman in India. What I figured out is, it's worlds apart, coming from privilege versus not. But the sense of tradition and honour for that which is bigger, older, wiser then yourself is something that I will take away. When I sat at a table with women from five different backgrounds and I said if you could borrow anything from America then what would it be? Almost every body said the sense of being able to speak up for your suffers of women. And I would say if I would have to borrow from you, is your sense of tradition and your principled way of living and your understanding that religion isn't just something to be spoken but you actually practice and live it.
This whole idea of karma which we actually speak about a lot in the United States but that is lived here, it's sort of an organised chaos going on. And I can't figure it out actually you have to live here for number of years to figure it out. I don't know how you figure out traffic here. I mean what is red light mean if you keep going through it. First I thought something is wrong with that red light, and then I realised and what is that then I asked what this red light mean. And somebody said the red light is optional because the way we look at it.
Suhasini Haidar: If you like to stop?
Oprah Winfrey: If you like to stop, you stop and that the way everybody looks at everything. The fact that everybody allows, there is an allowance for the other person. There are millions of people out on the street, they all driving and trying to get to their various destinations but there is no road rage. There is an allowance for, you know every minute I think I am gonna be hit and one moment I thought I gotta let go.
Suhasini Haidar: Did you let go?
Oprah Winfrey: I let go. I said alright I am gonna let go.
Suhasini Haidar: You said let go but this is not the end of spiritual journey as it were inside India. You are now going to an ashram
Oprah Winfrey: I am going to ashram and I am not telling you where. And the reason why and you ask me what are my impressions. It's really, I would say it is going to take me a moment to take it all in. Because everyday I have been in another environment. I was driving to Agra in the fog and the mist did come down and I didn't know better I think I was dreaming. This feels like another world, that's why I said it's a great show on earth. You look outside your car window and there is a woman in a pink sari with jewels on it, wearing a motor cycle helmet and she's riding on the side. She is not even straddling because how can you straddling wearing a sari. She is riding on the side and carrying a baby on the back of a motor cycle and there is no seat belt. And then right behind her, is a carriage which is pulled by an ox and that ox is straining to pull metal rods. And I was thinking of the ox thinking, 'I wasn't meant to pull. Deal.' And then on the other side there are donkeys and little taxies. And then inside the little taxies, I started counting how many people can sit in a taxi.
Suhasini Haidar: How much your perception has changed from that poster that you saw a women with sari sitting on a camel. How much your perception of an Indian women change since you came here?
Oprah Winfrey: I don't have a perception. I just thought of Indian women as being, unfortunately, I am not saying.. okay.. so don't take it out of context, may be you know, dazzled in a sari and very submissive and that the whole culture is like moving in the same direction. I thought there was one India. What changed is that I realise it as complex as every person practically and that there are many Indias. You can see the oxen pulling a cart on one road and turn the corner where all these motor scooters. You can be at a Bollywood party on a beach and you can be in Colaba in the slums in another moment and they are all true.
Suhasini Haidar: And its all different. How did you feel wearing the sari, we saw you wear the sari quit a few times?
Oprah Winfrey:Well you need help first time. It's not a thing you can just wrap around yourself and take yourself out to dinner. You need a little sari help. By the end of the evening I was having sari troubles because the first part was dragging on the ground and people saying you need to pick up your sari. So I think the Indian women have been really gracious to be wearing it because I was having sari troubles it falling and then she said we have been wearing this since we were fourteen and this is your first time.
Suhasini Haidar: Let's turn to your new show, your new chapter your 'Next Chapter'. After 25 years, 4500 shows you decided to start this. Why?
Oprah Winfrey: You wanna know why. Right? Because in everybody's life, mine and yours at some point you make a decision. That sitting in the chair and asking interviews, questioning people may be won't be the thing you wanted to do this way again. And for me, the interviewing process is all about connection. It's not just about getting the interview, it's about how do I use what I have. Because my gift and every body draws out what yours is and mine isn't talking or interviewing, people think that's what it is. I feel my gift is trying to connect one heart to the other. Heart is an easy word but what I am really trying to do is trying to connect energies. I am trying to get you to see yourself, your life, your humanity in the life of someone else.
Suhasini Haidar: Is that connection really because people see you as someone who has struggled and succeeded, not just some one who just succeeded?
Oprah Winfrey: I know that everybody brings to whatever moments you have by now, whoever you, everything that has happened to you before this moment has prepared you for this moment. So I think what people see at me and what I saw or at least was able to identify with early on in my career is that people see themselves in me. I got a compliment when I first started my television show nationally from a woman in Michigan and she said 'watching you be yourself everyday makes me wanna be more of myself'. And I carried that around for long time.
Suhasini Haidar: You can't be Oprah you can be yourself .
Oprah Winfrey: You can be yourself. So how do you figure out, how do I take qualities, the energies, the vibrations that makes you feel 'aah gee I want someone that'. How do I take that and use that for myself.
Suhasini Haidar: But you have done more in terms of when you are saying in terms of giving off yourself or sharing bits of yourself. You shared very intimate details about yourself. The information there's the abuse you suffered, the drug abuse that you went through. Do you ever regret sharing so much of life?
Oprah Winfrey: The reason why I don't regret sharing anything is because at the heart of one each of us we really are all the same. And everybody in their life has endured, if you lived to be past ten you had some suffering, you had some regrets. But you had things happened to you, you wish hadn't happen. You had something that made you feel disappointed, made you feel that you were not worthy and that's the number one condition I think people suffer from that keeps them from moving forward. Everybody believes I think to great extent that they deserve to be happy. You hear people talk that 'I deserve happiness I deserve this, I should eat this, I deserve it'. But the biggest fallacy I think is people don't understand the difference between what they think they deserve and what they are worthy of and I have to come to know through just living that you are worthy because you are born. The fact that you are here whether you live in a slum or on the beach of Mumbai, that your worthiness remains the same and there is no human being who is beneath you and there is no human being whom you are above.
Suhasini Haidar: That's certainly a very, very deep thought. Oprah I am going to ask you question you ask many people. What do you know for sure?
Oprah Winfrey: That's good. What do I know for sure? I know the human condition is such that everybody regardless of their status or position in life has the ability to look up, to look forward, to look to the future. If you can hold on to something that is greater than yourself I call that God, if you can hold on to a belief in something that's greater then yourself.
Suhasini Haidar: In the top 20 things that Oprah knows for sure that you wrote last year. One of the things you wrote, when people show you who they are, you believe them the first time. Is there someone you met that you didn't want to believe?
Oprah Winfrey: Well that is a lesson that came to me from my friend and mentor Maya Angelo. She has been a mother-sister-friend to me and she said to me because I started my whole business and not knowing anything about business. And to start my business as an entrepreneur, owning myself starting this company and not knowing anything about it but wanting it as a family. A family is a family and a business is a business and you have to be able to separate the two. And so I made many, many mistakes in beginning when people will show me particularly if a person shows he has lack of integrity. The very first time you see that somebody stands you up, I say this to women, if some body makes a date with you and say they I will be there for certain time and they were not there. That's a big red flag. If it happens again, let me just tell you. They have shown you that I don't have respect for your time and so it took me a while because I was always trying. I had what you call the disease to please for many years as many women do because she is living the life for other people and you just want people to think you are nice and you don't wanna people to be upset and you wanna do whatever make things ok. And when you do that you have a tendency to let people get away with things that they shouldn't and you end up creating a life where you are doormat and people were wiping their feet. So that's how I learnt that lesson my friend said to me when people show you who they are, may be you need to believe them first time, not the 29th time they don't have to show you and then show you again. So that's one of my greatest lesson.
Suhasini Haidar: We got a lot of question coming in from our viewers, one of them asking 'what is your advice for people looking to find self belief?'. This is pretty much what you trying to spread out?
Oprah Winfrey: Well it's not one thing and I don't have anybody does it and I am not trying to anybody what religion to be. Because I have great respect for all religions and seeing everybody either with they an altar or temple or some way honouring that which is greater then themselves and there home in this country is really impressive to me. And the thing that I will take away from India is that people live their religion. They don't just talk about it.
Suhasini Haidar: Alex in Mumbai asking “now that you have seen India, what would you do for Indians if you were made the PM of the country for a week”? What would you do to help the situation.
Oprah Winfrey: If I was the Prime Minister for a week, I will try to meet with all the education specialists in this country and I would begin developing a programme for this is IF and this is not saying what anybody else should do but I am saying is I would do it because I believe the only way to end poverty and to bring a sense of liberation and ultimate well being to every human being, after you have fed them, clothed them and given them shelter, is education.
Suhasini Haidar: There is a question on leadership is coming to you from Shivangani asking "would you consider standing for elections as President in the US?".
Oprah Winfrey: Shivangani many things in your life, they say never say never. Never ever, ever never.
Suhasini Haidar: Alright you are very sure about and finally Oprah you said never about another question. We heard this week you are saying at the Taj that this will be your last visit to India. Is it your last visit to India?
Oprah Winfrey: No I didn't say it was my last visit to India I was misquoted. I said this was my last visit to the Taj because I don't think I ever need to see the Taj again. I saw it and see it he really loved her and it's a kind of thing once you see it actually somebody told me this four time and I don't need to see this four times. India, I will be back again and again, because I think every where you go, you see a different India and I think that every country is, and the I think the essence of every country, its not, its monuments, its mountains but its people and I felt a sense of warmth and sense of connection to the people. It is completely unexpected. But yes I will return because I want more of the greatest show on earth.
Suhasini Haidar: Alright Oprah thank you so much for joining us on CNN IBN in Jaipur. I am Suhasini Haidar.