Maybe MJ Akbar Didn’t Harass Me Years Ago. Maybe I Imagined it All
Swati Gautam was greeted by Akbar in his hotel room for a formal meeting in nothing but a bathrobe.
(Disclaimer: This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
I totally understand full-time politician and former super-successful journalist M J Akbar’s fear that women are out to irreparably damage his reputation and goodwill.
He was then known as Emperor Akbar.
In the Calcutta of the eighties, when he and a perfect gentleman called Shekhar Bhatia created what was to become independent India’s unprecedented success story in English print journalism – The Telegraph – MJ and Shekhar were two peas in a pod. Fortunately for Shekhar, the wonderful knowledgeable teacher boss that he was, no woman has bothered to remember him with the ‘vengeance’ that has been directed at MJ. I’m not surprised at all because gentlemen ably distinguish themselves from ‘mere men’.
But for Akbar, there is rightly no story because he hasn’t done anything as the women have said themselves, isn’t it?
Akbar hasn’t done anything, so why this distressing clamour?
But Akbar Has ‘Done’ Nothing
It’s perfectly alright to have eyes and it’s up to the eyes to roam about. MJ has them too. Too bad that a few accusers have not liked the way he stares at the opposite sex, completely oblivious to anything else. Why blame poor MJ for his recurring visual moments? And what’s wrong with a signature garment like a bathrobe? Don’t we have our own sartorial choices?
It’s perfectly alright to wear a bathrobe with nothing underneath while meeting young women in hotel rooms. Why shouldn’t anyone do that? Is there a law banning that? And if anything’s wrong with that then it’s with the women who chose to stay back in the company of the bathrobe, only for job interviews they badly needed.
Never mind that this was at a time and place when journalism in India was restricted to a few, very few print media houses and also when women were trying hard, very hard to somehow carve a niche for themselves.
MJ has ‘done’ nothing. True. Rolling glasses down the carpet towards young unsuspecting women and asking them to make a drink for him in the very hotel room where he wore nothing but his bathrobe, is again the way MJ is. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t you and I the way we are? So why shouldn’t he be the way he has chosen to be all his life?
My Encounter With MJ Akbar
That was the run up to the then annual Father Jorris Memorial Nihil Ultra Debate, at St Xavier’s College (Calcutta) Alumni Association, of which I was a young, almost naïve convenor. MJ had moved on from The Telegraph to The Asian Age but the lure of having him as a speaker at St Xavier’s College made me invite him as a speaker.
Akbar asked me to meet him at the Calcutta airport. As he strode down with ‘The Stare’ and a small handbag, he said we would talk in the car. Fair enough. Our conversation in the car was about everything but the debate.
Patiently I thought he was trying to measure me up and my event to his wonderful standards and that I must present myself in a manner that would lead him to accepting my invitation to the college event. At The Taj hotel, he went up to his room saying that he would freshen up and then talk. A while later, I was requested to come upstairs to discuss the event and his potential participation.
The door opened and the Bathrobe welcomed me. Mr Bathrobe was on the bed while I was kind of squirming on the single sofa in the room, unable to exactly fathom what in hell was the matter with the world which seemed perfectly normal sometime back.
Bending down, he rolled the glass in his hand towards me. And I kept looking at it near my feet, petrified and totally lost.
He verbally prompted me to make that drink. I silently and dumbly stared at the glass. When my initial shock wore off, I too bent down and rolled it back at him. That buoyed me up. Giving him a hard stare, I got up and walked out of that dratted room and as far away as I could from The Bathrobe, thankful that he didn’t ‘do’ anything.
Of Law and Universal Law
Small mercies from big Gods are the blessings we women must learn to count instead of trying to put legs on lies in times of blind shamelessness. MJ did not do anything. In fact he had a right to behave as he did. He could not have behaved differently since he must have been wired this way. Perhaps the ugliness is all in my mind alone; perhaps I have not had the sense to decode his legal, perfectly legal behavior that’s suitably propped up by his perception of power and the mirage of never needing to force himself on a woman.
That edition of the Fr Jorris memorial debate went off as smoothly as it always did. No one knew about the terror that I had experienced in trying to (unsuccessfully) rope in MJ Akbar. Till now that is. And that’s because facts need to be shared in times of not just viral fevers but also general elections where women may have an agenda to pursue.
There is law and there is universal law. Preying on others, disrespecting the dignity of those who are vulnerable, being brazen in the face of terribly inhuman accusations and behavior etc may not technically breach the former, but it does, and certainly does violate the latter. The conscience sees it all.
To the many women and the man involved in the so-called web of ‘innuendo, malice of wild and baseless allegations’, remember that there is never any smoke without fire. What you give and what you do, shall always, without fail, come back to you. Have we ever wondered as to why so many women in India have chosen to attack MJ in this manner, vis-à-vis other journalists of his stature?
(Swati Gautam is Founder-CEO of NecessitySwatiGautam, India’s first customised brand of bras. She can be reached at email@example.com. )
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