(Reviving an old MId-Day column to pay tribute to the Iron Lady)
Last week, newsworthiness-wise, it was a toss-up between Prannoy Roy and Margaret Thatcher. It would've been journalistically propah, I know, to teeth-gnash about the decoding of the human genome. But I just barely got past figuring out that "genome" is the result of the commingling of "gene" and "chromosome", that it has nothing whatsoever to do with gnomes and is the "human alphabet" that will let me figure out why I don't look like an Aishwarya Rai and she does. That is if I learn to spell in a language that has 3.2 million alphabets - at last count.
So I think I'll give genome reading a skip, weakly applauding instead in the sidelines at the awesome possibilities it presents in finding cures for heart disease and cancer and worrying about the equally awesome, though not as noble ones of - how do they say it in cricket - gene fixing?
Getting back to the newsmaker of the week. Which Ifirst thought should be Prannoy Roy, relaunched last Monday on the 9 o'clocks all across India and 53 other countries. And I must say the new, improved Roy is even better than before. Crisper, spiffier, with 88.9% more panache and tele-presence than any other television news personality that I've seen in recent times, including the Beeb's Tim Sebastian. (I know.Got to keep the drool down, the dribbling sound can get a bit distracting.)
But truly, the beard's better seasoned with salt and pepper, the suit more darkly expensive and as creaseless as Roy's tele-prompted news reading. And his mastery over the thrust and parry of tele-repartee is as silkily merciless as ever. The victim that night was the hapless Minister of State for Telecommunications, being quizzed by Roy about his Ministry's stance over the proposed corporatization of the DoT, given the telecom employees' threat to strike. Just as the minister was about to speak, the satellite (telecommunications?) link snapped. The gods, it seemed, had sponsored this relaunch. "Oh, looks like the telecom strike is on already!" chuckled a delighted Roy. When the link was re-established, Roy first let the minister hang himself on his own rambling harangue that was so incoherent and confused (helped by a Bengali accent thick enough to cut into 2" slabs) that it wouldn't have mattered if he'd been speaking on the silting of the Sunderbans. And just when we were all ready to keel over and switch channels, Roy sliced in, thanked the minister profusely, apologised even more profusely for the break in the tele-link, hoping that it wasn't – hold your breath - the minister's fault. Who missed the point completely, but 56 million viewers in 53 countries didn't.
Then there was Maggie Thatcher. Or rather, Maggie's Handbag. Now all well-bred gentlemen know that there are 2 things about a lady that you never pry into. Her age and her handbag, the latter containing everything you ever wanted to know about women but never will, thank God. A British museum, holding an exhibition on women's handbags called "Everything but the Kitchen Sink", commissioned a research to peek into them and found that they contained an average of 14 items, going up to a maximum of 44. Everything from sheep's milk powder to - sometimes in Maggie's case – the Queen's latest speech. We don't know what else was in Maggie's bag. (The Queen's, we know, never has money. What would she have to pay for anyway? Taxi fare?) But Maggie wielded it with such potency when she was in power that it felled political foes, won a war and helped make a greengrocer's daughter into BaronessThatcher and Britain's longest continually serving prime minister (1979-90) since Asquith.
Maggie's handbag became a symbol of the invincible, cast-iron spirit of a woman who, as the BBC put it, thought she was Britannia. And the word "handbagging" entered the Oxford English Dictionary to mean, "to treat (a person, ideas, etc.) ruthlessly and insensitively." So, Maggie's handbag has it this week. And if you want to be empowered by it, the bag, a black Ferragamo, is being auctioned - online some say, at www.handbag.com from today till July 13th. The proceeds of course will be donated to charity. Which one? Breast cancer.