Friday, July 29, 2011

Does Everyone Want to Marry a Prince?

Doesn't the whole I wanna marry a prince charming thing belong in fairy tales? Where either an oppressed young woman like Cinderella, or those who are under the clutches of an evil witch/spell need to be rescued by the kiss of true love.

Real life princes though don't come from the same mould. How many dashing, handsome, real life princes do you know? The last time I checked, most of them had balding pates, hardly qualify as handsome, and seem to take an awful long time to propose to their supposed true loves, or those who were patient enough to wait it out.

Plus marrying a real life prince ain't all glitz and glamour. It's more like exchanging a life of freedom for one in a fishbowl. And in this age of social media, keeping anything private can be tough. Especially your past. Unless you lived like Rapunzel until your prince came along, or slept for a 100 years like Sleeping Beauty.

Plus you will still be expected to provide the requisite male heir. A male heir who will serve as a figurehead, not an Alexander who will go off  to conquer new lands. Your every move will be monitored, you gotta love fashion and follow in Princess Di's footsteps - especially if you marry into a European royal house.

So despite all of the above, why are royal weddings so......hyped up? After the mess that was Charles and Diana, the Brits really got all excited over Wills and Kate did they not? Was it just a love of pageantry or do they still believe in fairy tales?

Pic courtesy of
There was so much of hype about a commoner becoming a Duchess. During the telecast of the Wills and Kate nuptials, one television commentator went on and on about how proud Kate's parents must be. That when Carole Middleton first beheld her daughter as an infant, she would never have imagined that one day Kate would marry into royalty, blah, blah. That her life would never be the same bet her life will never be the same again! Till the day she drops dead, her every move will be scrutinised to death!

The way I see it, Wills and Kate seem as ordinary as can be, it just happens that he is heir to the British crown, that's all. Plus Kate is no Diana. Not in the looks department or in the fashion sense. But unlike Charles and Di, Wills and Kate give the appearance of being better matched as a couple. Plus those who expect Kate to turn into some British Jackie Onassis are in my opinion deluded.

And the latest royal wedding concluded earlier this month was that of Prince Albert of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock. Yup he FINALLY got hitched. When I heard that, I was like you mean he wants to have kids the legal way? No kidding.......!!

Pic courtesy of
I never saw the romance in that union. And it appears I might be right. Albert was busy telling everyone that he and Charlene were looking forward to having kids. Based on reports that surfaced barely after the wedding, it appears that Albert might have done some fathering, just not with Charlene.

Which explains all the rumours about the former Olympic swimmer wanting to flee Monaco days before her wedding, and that the couple spent most of their honeymoon in South Africa sleeping apart in different hotels. According to The Telegraph, palace officials have confirmed that Prince Albert faces a paternity test.

For now the couple have put on a brave face, suing a French publication for spreading false rumours of a discord before their wedding. So it remains to be seen how this union goes considering its already rocky start.

Even if Albert is proven not to have fathered a third illegitimate child, In my opinion that stunning blonde could have found a better man than aging, decaying, paunchy Albert.

The other side of the coin.......

Marrying into royalty means marrying into money. Lavish holidays, designer clothes, hobnobbing with the rich and famous. So never mind that "Prince Charming" is not so charming, and what is bearing an heir or two compared to a life of secured opulence. 

Some say that is why Charlene agreed to marry Albert. She would give him a legal heir, and in exchange lead the good life. For now that is mere speculation, but that kind of thing sounds like making a deal with the devil or selling your soul to him!

That being said, the lives of royalty these days is far different from that of a bygone era. Nowadays when even those at the top have to show that they are being stringent, what is so fun about being royal? Even wearing too many jewels could invite criticism.

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Queen Rania famously wore a borrowed tiara to her coronation and lives in a villa instead of a palace. She is one cool royal who uses her crown to effective measure - championing causes to improve the lot of Middle Eastern women and using her business training skills to lure investment to her country.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pope Joan

Was there once a female Pope that sat upon Saint Peter's throne in the hallowed halls of the Vatican? Well according to a certain urban legend there was. Her name was Joan and she reigned for more than two years sometime during the Middle Ages.

 According to accounts written by medieval monks, Joan who was of English parentage, hailed from Mainz, Germany and studied at a monastery there established by English missionaries while disguised as a boy. Women were mostly confined to their homes during those times. As such it would have been unthinkable for a girl to seek admission to a monastery to study.

In his "History of Emperors and Popes," a monk named Martin Polonus writes that  Joan learned Greek and Latin and became knowledgeable in many branches of knowledge. After becoming sufficiently learned, this future pontiff dressed in male attire and went to Athens with a man said to be either her lover or teacher and subsequently made her way to Rome.

By virtue of her learning and talents, Joan known as John Anglicus ( English John) rose through the papal ranks from a curial secretary, Cardinal and then finally Pope replacing Leo IV who recommended her as his successor at his deathbed.

Pope gets caught out

Medieval manuscripts say more than two and a half years into her reign, Joan gave birth in the midst of a papal procession. There are differing accounts as to what happened to her after that.

Some say that both she and her baby were stoned to death. Another account says that her baby was stillborn but Joan suffered the humiliation of having her feet tied to the legs of a horse and dragged through the city until she died. Other records say she was sent to a convent with her child. But in most versions, Joan is said to have perished at the hands of the Romans that day.

As to the father of her baby, he is said to be either a servant or a Bishop who was Joan's secret lover. Scandalous not?

An urban legend

The Vatican says the story of Joan is a myth from the Dark Ages cooked up by the early Protestants to discredit Catholicism. Modern historians and religious scholars tend to concur with the church on this, saying there is not enough evidence to back-up the existence of a female Pope. The general agreement is that Pope Joan is the product of folklore and anti-papal satire.

Myth or fact?

The 15th century Tarot deck includes a  female Pope which was changed to the High Priestess  in later decks
Those who believe the story say there are many clues that point to the existence of a female Pope. For instance a book titled "100 Famous Women" written by Renaissance poet Giovanni Boccassio has Pope Joan at No.51.

Another story says that the intersection where Joan purportedly gave birth was called Vicus Papissa (the street of the Female Pope) and that for more than 100 years, the reigning Popes would take a detour to avoid the shameful place.

The mystery remains......

The story of the female Pope has made its way into print and celluloid too. Last year saw the release of the latest film version of Joan's story titled La Papessa, based on a novel by American novelists Donna Woolfolk Cross.

Johanna Wokalek as Pope Joan in La Papessa
The thing about urban legends is that, no matter how fantastical it may sound, it never dies off. Just like Nessie the Loch Ness monster and mermaids, the story of Joan has survived the Middle Ages and continues to intrigue well into the 21st century.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Diana at 50 or 70?

At what might have been her 50th birthday had she lived, Diana is still the favourite muse of the fourth estate. It's okay that she's not around anymore to create the news that in the past sold millions if not billions in newsprint. All you need is a computer generated image of the late princess with a whimsical take of how her life might have turned out had she survived and voila you have a story!

There is good journalism and there is tacky journalism, and Tina Brown seems to excel in the latter. For someone who knew Diana and had lunch dates with her, could Brown not have paid a more fitting tribute to her in print? C'mon Ms award winning journalist and editor, were you that dry on ideas that you had to resort to putting a dried up looking Diana on the cover of Newsweek. Of all things the Newsweek - that which was once seen as a respectable publication.

But I suppose those days are over, considering that The Daily Beast has merged with Newsweek to form The Newsweek Daily Beast Company. One can only hope that TIME Magazine does not go the same route.

The Tacky Photo

Pic courtesy of
Would Diana really look like this at 50? I doubt it. At 70 maybe. Ms Brown is about 57-ish, does she look as lined and haggard as this? Or perhaps she has had more botox than what she imagined Diana might have had if she were still alive.

The Fantasy Story

As Brown imagines it - Diana would have remarried at least twice on both sides of the Atlantic, Dumped Dodi Al-Fayed for being unreliable, moved to New York,would have had flings with men of power, chosen Prince Charles to be her best male friend, have Camilla as her Facebook friend, been jealous of Queen Rania and bonded with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

Kate Wise......

According to Brown the rising public adoration of Kate would have provided Diana with some tricky moments but she would have had an edge over Kate because of her epic suffering in the eyes of the public. The article also says that secure in her flawless Spencer pedigree Diana would have championed the Middletons against the palace snobs and made Carole Middleton her new BFF.

Well I doubt Diana would have been threatened by younger royals making a mark on the world stage. In her lifetime she had carved out a unique niche - as a fashion savvy royal and as a Florence Nightingale of sorts. To date no one has yet to fill those shoes.

It is likely that she might have dumped Dodi. But being friends with Charles and Camilla.....? Civil maybe but friends? Um that I think would fall under the category of being "Pure Fiction".

For someone who was appointed CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for her services to overseas journalism and who has been honoured with four George Polk Awards, five Overseas Press Club Awards, and ten National Magazine Awards, Brown thinks and writes as one who honed her skills in the gutter press.

If attention is what she wanted, Brown certainly got it with her controversial Newsweek cover. But that kind of journalism will not earn one respect or credibility and certainly no awards.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Aishwarya to Bear the Hopes of the Bachchans

Several delicatessens at some of Mumbai's most prestigious addresses have been a hive of activity since the second last week of June. Their staff have been on their feet way past closing hours churning tray after tray of colourful North Indian sweetmeats.

As the poor workers toil away, the proprietors of these establishments who count the rich and famous among their clientele, are smacking their lips with glee. As savvy businessmen they have anticipated such an event years in advance, and have stocked up on all the sugar and dough required. They are seeing big money and from a very "Big" man at that! Known in film circles and by his adoring fans as Big B.

Big B is about to become a grandpa for the third time. He has two grandchildren by daughter Shweta Nanda. But by all appearances, one could be mistaken for thinking that it's happening for the very first time. On June 21, the Bachchan family doyen tweeted to the world:


Bachchan's enthusiasm however is not merely because he longs to hear the patter of little feet in Jalsa, his Mumbai home. The root of his ecstatic tweet has dynastic significance: "Now cometh the progeny of my son that shall bear the surname Bachchan - the first in this generation...", he said.

Pic courtesy of
The Bachchans - Amitabh, his wife Jaya, Aishwarya and Abhishek are Bollywood's undisputed "first family". One wonders if he harbours hopes of seeing future generations of Bachchans dominating the Bollywood scene in decades to come, the way the Kapoor family has.

When Amitabh first met Aishwarya years ago, he raved about her beauty and reportedly said he would have married her if he were younger. Some years later Bollywood was taken by surprise when Aishwarya and Abhishek wed after a brief courtship.

Well if Big B can't marry Aishwarya, at the very least he can have her "good" genes running through future generations of Bachchans. At this point I'm having visions of Amitabh dressed in animal skins with a club over his shoulder non unlike our Neanderthal ancestors.

I'm sure that if Amitabh had his way, he would have delivered that ecstatic tweet to the world years ago. But instead he had to sit back and watch as his famous daughter in-law starred in movie after movie with no sign of a visit from the stork.

I'm no fan of Aishwarya's. In my opinion her acting is just ok and she certainly doesn't qualify as a style icon. But she is a looker and has made the successful transition from beauty queen to actress. Workwise she has gone where no other Bollywood actress has. The list of movies she has starred in and her popularity beyond the narrow confines of Mumbai's movie world speaks for itself.

Pic courtesy of
In short Aishwarya is sort of India's ambassador to the world. Even Big B can't compete with her in that respect. I mean like how many non-Indian origin films has he acted in? So what amazes me is that Aishwarya for all her achievements is still expected to conform to the traditional role of child bearer, the one who has to produce an heir to ensure the continuation of a dynasty.

Now I'm not saying that successful women should not have kids or anything. But if they choose to, it should be because they want to. It's great that Aishwarya and Abhishek are having a baby and starting a family. But this whole progeny thing, bearing the surname Bachchan.....I mean in which century does Amitabh live in?

One wonders if he will hold out the squalling kid for all his adoring fans to admire the way Simba did in the Lion King. Well one thing for sure, all the sweetmakers in Mumbai will be very busy come November!