| Hunter S. Thompson
Every time I see Shobhaa D', the Khushwant Singh in me comes out. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that an ardhanareeshwar-cocktail of Khushwant Uncle at his lecherous worst and Neeta (the Queen of the Meeows that SD brilliantly invented for her Stardust gossip-column in the Seventies) at her cattiest best coalesces inside me and demands to be let loose. This time the occasion was the Delhi launch of Ms D's latest offering ' a sort of philosophical how-to book on marriage Indian-style. All the usual suspect components were present: the rooftop restaurant of the Taj Mansingh, glitterati stacked up as if they were going out of fashion, hordes of Page 3 journos and their shutterbug tails, some waiters serving fancy canapes and other waiters serving mediocre French wine and luridly coloured cocktails.
After enough sun-gun moments to give everybody within a ten-foot vicinity of herselfship a deep tan, Ms D' finally came to the little stage that had been prepared for her. As she stood there, the accolades began. Suhel Seth, veteran son of Calcutta, acute as ever: 'If V.S Naipaul is the Amitabh Bachchan of Indian writing then Shobhaa is the Shah Rukh Khan!'; loud applause; the person from Penguin (who should have known better): 'No discussion on Indian writing in English can be complete without talking about Shobhaa D'. She is the first successful commercial brand in Indian literature!'; more mad applause, a few glasses shattering, and so on, till Lady D' did what she does best and took control.
Soon, the bar was closed temporarily and people were listening, spellbound, to Shobhaa and a dozen of her best friends, six 'ber-Glitt Capital-Couples who had graciously agreed to have a little symposium about their happy espousalations. 'Marriage is an idea,' Shobhaa expounded, 'but the vidhi and the paperwork is just a moment. After that it's the two of you who have to make the idea work.' One by one the happy hub-wife teams developed on this theme. 'What about sex' 'Well, it's important of course, but young people today have to be told it's not the only thing.' 'No,' I found myself muttering, shielding my eyes from all the massed diamondery, 'There's money. That matters too.' Hearing this, the two women standing next to me laughed. I was vaguely aware that one of them was the Ace of Page 3 reporters. As to the other woman, I noted that the lady was roughly my age, very striking to look at, wearing a very nice sari, and obviously not short of a gold mohur or two.
Soon, I was overhearing a discussion which ranged from whether Shobhaa had ever used any plumping substances for her lips, etc. ('Never! She's a close friend of mine and I can tell you every bit of her is a natural beauty!') to how many affairs the happily married Ginni-ogo-shunchhos on stage had had or were having even as we watched them extol the virtues of holy wedlock. Taking my cue from this, I turned to my accidental companions and said 'What about divorce' Why isn't anyone talking about divorce' The striking lady, whom I was beginning to recognize as member of a famous ex-royal family, nodded in agreement, 'Quite right!' she said. 'What about someone like me' I asked, encouraged, 'I am a divorced father of two.' The lady grinned back: 'And I'm a divorced father of three.'
Even as I reeled from this Agassi-like return of serve, a Page-3 shutter-pest came up and waved to me delicately. He needed me to clear the frame so that he could get a shot of the striking lady and I obliged with the alacrity expected of all non-celeb commoners. As the photographer bowed, simpered, cajoled and flashed, I found myself thinking about the many strange creatures the modern media have created.
If the modern media have created strange creatures then it is equally true that some very weird people have helped create the contemporary media as we know them. The other day one such weirdo ' one of the best, most powerful and brilliant of American writers ever to put finger to typewriter key ' placed a gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.
Bizarrely, a few minutes after I got the news of this man's suicide, some of the accolades repeatedly thrown at Shobhaa D' began to play themselves back in my mind: 'She's an iconoclast', 'She has always charted her own path', 'She re-invents herself constantly'. But this guy who just killed himself was all these things multiplied by a thousand, but with one exception: Hunter S. Thompson invented himself only once, liked what he had concocted, and he stuck to that persona all the way to the gunpowder end.
Born in 1937, Hunter Stockton Thompson had no business making it till the year 2005 and the ripe old age of 68. Having played daily Russian Roulette with every mix of drugs and alcohol imaginable through most of his adult life, (not to mention a constant loving relationship with all sorts of deadly firearms), Thompson should, by any reasonable logic, have joined the long roll-call of American legends from the Sixties who died young ' the Hendrixes, the Morrisons, the Allmans and the Joplins. By his own count, there were at least thirteen occasions across his life that he had had no right to survive. But survive he did, and how, till he decided for whatever reason to pull the plug on the fading carnival of his life.
At its peak, the carnival had three main elements: nothing, no project, no travel, whether a journey across the United States or a trip to the bathroom, was undertaken without the escort of a frightening medley of chemicals, natural hallucinogens and booze; at the core of each trip, each assignment, was the unwavering laser of a desire to blow apart the humbug that ruled American life; the distillation from the intoxicants, the travel and the moral outrage was a series of crystal-clear, viciously poetic and gut-splittingly funny writings. Even the disastrous assignment that led to the invention of 'Gonzo' journalism, where Thompson and Ralph Steadman, the great English satirical draughtsman, were sent to cover the Kentucky Derby, and where Thompson, smashed out of his mind, just sent in raw, disconnected pages from his notebooks to meet the deadline, was a bravura performance in taking a multi-edged scalpel to the Southern rich for whom the horse-race is such a central event.
From this, and from yet another craziness in Las Vegas, emerged the classic Hunter-Thompson style. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was followed by Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and whether it was an exchange with a tipsy Southern dowager or a conversation about American Football with a tense and tight-lipped Richard Nixon, Thompson's own presence was never removed from the writing. His lasting contribution to modern journalism, for which many, including this writer, will always be grateful, was to take the old axiom ' 'Always take the writer out of the writing' ' and turn it on its obsolescent head. His stroke of genius was to bring in the subjective experience of the writer and to use that as a lens through which to depict the often surreal goings-on he witnessed.
At the end though, perhaps no drug could have been more mind-bending for the good doctor than reality itself. In one of his most oft-quoted lines, Thompson said this of the man for whom he used to save his best vituperations: 'Richard Nixon represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character.' But recently, writing about the last US presidential elections, Thompson was obliged to face up to an even grimmer spectre: 'Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush. Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him' If Nixon were running for president today, he would be seen as a 'liberal' candidate, and he would probably win. He was a crook and a bungler, but what the hell' Nixon was a barrel of laughs compared to this gang of thugs from the Halliburton petroleum organization who are running the White House today'
It's a pity, of course, that Thompson won't be there to see the day when this latest gang of thugs to rule Washington DC come to their inevitably ignominious end, but let's at least be thankful to him that we've had both early warnings and a clear picture of how exactly this new edition of 'Fear and Loathing: Worldwide' works. And when George W. Bush, Cheney and their co-criminals finally stand formally exposed and disgraced you can be sure that one tall, crazy-looking American dude in a large white fishing hat will be celebrating with the rest of us in spirit.