I’m not sure what’s worse: discovering that all my Indian colleagues are wild about Oprah (hey, lay off everyone, Barkha, she’s mine); or that Oprah, five days into her life’s Greatest Experience—without me by her side—is wild about India (oi, India is mine). I, like Oprahji, rode off in a taxi from Mumbai airport on my very first day, overwhelmed by the chaos, feeling like I was in a video game, coming to realise there was an underlying peace beneath it all. This is what I have been trying to tell you all these years, forget about the little picture with the lady on the camel that you posted on your vision board by your bathtub: come to India (I want to show you around)!
But you never accepted my invitation; maybe in part because I was sending out my invites, and my story pitches—the widows of Vrindavan etcetera—by ESP.
I know that the Oprah fans of Bollywood and Jaipur think they are real Oprah fans, but I’m sorry, you don’t know anything about it. Once, many years ago, before Oprah had morphed into the glamorous maharani she is today, when her shows were still revolutionary and startlingly profound, delving into issues no one had ever dared touch before, I admitted one of my most embarrassing, uncool secrets in one of my columns: that I have a recurring dream in which Oprah and I are sitting together, discussing important things, world changing things, with great intimacy and mutual love; and that when I wake up, the feeling of having been together is so strong that it takes me hours to realise this is a totally delusional fantasy. Many readers, women who would never consider joining a fan club, wrote in saying they had had similar dreams.
The weird thing is that the dreams did not stop after Oprah ‘became a sellout’. In her magazine, O, the one that only ever features her on the cover, she routinely recommends modest necessities like $300 butter knives and $800 fruit bowls in her ‘Few Things I Love’ section. In one of my dreams, I was telling her how disappointed I was in her for a segment on the show—I happened to see it on a trip to the States, I haven’t owned a TV in years—in which she was teaching the subjects of her vast Queendom how to choose jeans that will make your butt look fab (this was after she’d lost all her weight, and right before she started a school for girl leaders in Africa).
Watching Oprah evolve and change every time I visited home became a way for me to check my own values, to wrestle with my own changing opinions and evolving aspirations. Compared to her, I am nothing, have achieved nothing. Why do some people shine to such an extreme degree while the rest of us hobble along? What is the difference between me and Oprah? How much would I need to achieve to feel that I have lived up to my own potential? What is the true meaning of ‘achievement’? What would I need to do for this world to feel that I gave what I came here to give? “Watching you be yourself everyday makes me want to be myself,” one viewer told her once. Yeah.
In her interview with Suhasini Haider, Oprah said: “My true gift is not as an interviewer. My true gift is connecting one heart to the other, connecting energies. I’m trying to get you to see yourself, your life, in the life of someone else. I know that people tend to see themselves in me.”
Many years ago, I was approached by a couple of top TV producers in my (other) country. They wanted to make me “The Oprah” of Israel, and offered me my own talk show. I was perhaps not courageous enough to go after so grand a dream, maybe because I had recently put on a lot of weight, and my butt was not looking good in any jeans. Besides, I was too busy marching to my own drummer, travelling to far-off lands instead. My wanderings led me to India, my life’s Greatest Experience (besides my kids). I couldn’t leave, and settled down. Now, as you all sit on the lawns of my Jaipur listening to my Oprah speak her truth (in a Fab Indian kurta with tight churridars that do not try to hide a thing), I sit at my laptop in my bedroom, typing out some trivial story for my newsroom, eating sour grapes from a Rs 30 bowl, feeling ready for a new dream.