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Rich, beautiful and ambitious, a Parsi marchioness was the prototype for those who aspire to be famous for being famous
Vikram Doctor

British Empire Cancer Campaign at the Dorchester Hotel, or the National Children Adoption Association do at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The powerful society ladies who ran these shows knew they could rely on her to help.

hen Bapsy Pavry, Marchioness of Winchester, died in 1995 the obituary writers had fun. The British have a taste for irreverent memorialization especially when the subject is neither important nor has lived to the unwritten codes of British life. And Pavry despite determined, even desperate, efforts was neither the former nor quite managed the latter. An enthusiastic self-publicist prone to circulating documents extolling her own virtues, wrote the Daily Telegraph, which even republished the obituary in an anthology entitled Rogues. It gleefully described her greatest moment of mortification when her husband, the Marquess of Winchester, left her soon after their marriage in 1952 to live with an ex-girlfriend, who happened to be the mother of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Pavry was neither willing to grant a divorce nor accept the change. She flew to the Bahamas where Mrs Fleming lived and staged a dharna outside her home. The obituary quoted a neighbour describing her as an overweight Indian lady clad in a dingy sari, pacing the main road occasionally pausing to raise and shake her fist towards the main house. She fought and won a case against Mrs Fleming for enticing her husband, but it was reversed on appeal. She never got him back, and returned to Bombay where her father had been a senior Parsi priest and where she still had a home. She lived between London and Bombay and spent her time writing hundreds of letters to celebrities and usually received replies from their secretaries. The city doesnt have many memories of her. Sunama House where she lived is still there at Kemps Corner, but mostly seems to be divided among commercial properties. Parsis of a certain age recall her remarkable feat of marrying a Marquess despite having grown up in the racial divides and snobberies of the British Raj. After she got married all the lords and ladies of England had to bow down before her! one of them once told me. This probably didnt actually happen, but it is true that in the peerage of England the Marquess of Winchester

ranks just below the Dukes, and Pavry would have had that status. Pavry hasnt been entirely forgotten. Duncan Fallowell, a British writer with a quirky range of subjects, has recently profiled her in his book How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits. Fallowell writes about people who, one way or the other, didnt quite fit the worlds they lived in or aspired to and, as a result, have fallen from general memory . Pavry fits Fallowells title to a T, but he is more sympathetic than the obituarists, writing that her desire to advance herself was a high romantic passion capable of crossing into the absurd; on occasions she was importuning, maddening, pitiful. She never stopped her efforts, least of all for self-reflection, and there is something almost heroic in her breathtaking resilience, her social crudeness, her absolute refusal ever to pick up a dropped hint


But she also practiced more questionable tactics: whenever she read in the paper of anyone important suffering a bereavement, she would fire off a letter or condolence and thereafter sweep into the memorial service like an old friend of someone who was usually a complete stranger to her. Todays social climbers send tweets.


Pavry also knew the value of a signature style. Pictures of her show a striking looking woman who knew the best way to stand out was not to dress just like others. She stuck to her embroidered Parsi saris, always worn with the pallu covering her head. Just after she married the Marquess and it seemed like they might go to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, she had what must have been a deeply satisfying exchange of letters with the College of Arms, which oversees protocol in the UK, on the correct way to wear a sari on such a formal occasion. She was told that the sari would have to be cream or white and she would have to wear a tiara over the drape on her head.

commodated in an inconspicuous position, hidden behind a pillar. She may not have minded this, since what mattered was being there. But the rejections must ultimately have hurt even her and she came back to India. Yet India offered her little. Well before marriage she had made sure her efforts were well chronicled in the Times of India there are stories of her travels and, of course, of her legal battles. She would also receive invitations to the Viceroys events in Delhi, but now in an independent country there was no Viceroy . There is one report of her going to meet Governor-General C Rajagopalachari in 1948, and in deference to the new nationalism she no longer uses her title, but is simply described as Miss Bapsy Pavry. But there was little further scope for social climbing in Bombay .


And so for almost 40 years she wrote her letters to celebrities and world leaders, interspersed with travels during which she tried to meet them, at least long enough to get pictures taken (which were then sent to the newspapers). Fallowell notes how little the letters change over the decades, except that in time she was writing to the children and grandchildren of people she had written, and carefully keeping the replies. In a world of good manners it is amazing what pushy people can achieve, he writes. Fallowell notes how there are no personal letters from friends or family in her papers her life was focused on associating with celebrities and by extension becoming one. Only just before she died did a letter appear that graciously fused the two. A letter to the Queen Mother, in 1995, is replied to by Margaret Rhodes, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth and lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother. One wonders if it was Pavry that Rhodes was referring to in her own memoir, The Final Curtsey (2011) when she wrote that every letter had to have a response, even if written by some poor person who was mildly deranged. But one can see the compassion in this, because as Fallowell writes, that slight personal touch would have made someone like Pavry so happy, coming as it didfrom none other than Elizabeth the Queen-Empress herself, wife of George VI, the last King-Emperor of India. Eight months later Pavry was dead and the obituary writers were being rude, but perhaps she wouldnt have cared. In the end, Pavry lived her life on her own terms, deriving the pleasures that come from social climbing and self advancement and leaving her legend, such as it is, for all the hordes of climbers who have come up after her.


Those descriptions could apply to many socialites today, and Fallowells profile suggests that Pavry set the prototype for so many people who want to be famous just to be famous. For example, she knew that it was best to have a basic achievement that could then be endlessly milked. She wrote a book, The Heroines of Ancient Persia, and was forever after described as a famous litterateur, even though she never wrote another. The book helped in the letterwriting she sent copies to celebrities, institutions and universities. For that singular gift, thank-yous arrive from the Library of Congress, the Royal Geographical Society, Harvard University, writes Fallowell as he examines her papers nine big boxes, donated to the city of Winchester, along with one million pounds, to make sure the city kept them (she also got them to name a hall after her). Pavry did start with a few benefits. As a well-off young Parsi woman she studied abroad, at Columbia University , and had gone through the ritual of being presented at the British court in 1928, to mark her social debut. But from then on she was on her own though she did have the benefit of having a brother, Jal Pavry . He too wrote one book, on Zorastrianism, and boasted of being an Oriental scholar, though most of his time


Yet she never got the chance to do this, since by the time of the Coronation, the Marquess had left her. Perhaps he only marEVERY INCH ried her to spite Mrs FlemTHE STYLISH SOCIALITE ing, who wasnt willing to marry him for the Pavry knew the best way practical reason that to stand out was not to she would lose her exdress just like others. She cellent widows penstuck to her embroidered sion. The Marquess had Parsi saris, always worn no money, which might with the pallu covering have been another reason her head a rich Parsi woman was appealing. He was also extremely old almost 90 when he married. All he really had to offer was his title, and for Pavry that was enough. But he had to be around for her to use it, which explains Pavrys bitterness once he left. Fallowell describes her desperate attempts to attend the CoronaSTEP 2 | WORK FOR CHARITIES tion, all firmly deflected by the BuckingFallowell writes of how Pavry worked for ham Palace staff. She slowly found hercharities, another standard socialite tac- self shut out of most British society tic: one discovered Bapsy helping out the events, though occasionally she was ac-

seems to have been spent accompanying his sister in social climbing. After his death Pavry would make bequests in his name, of course, writing to everyone to inform them of this.

Have wheelchair, will travel

Joeanna Rebello Fernandes | TNN

Narrow doorways, cracked pavements, small toilets all travel is adventure for the disabled. But now some operators are wheeling out hurdle-free holidays
guides to help visually impaired people like himself find their bearings. Museums should have tactile instructions, navigational cards or audio guides, he adds. When I went to a museum in Mysore with my parents, they were too exhausted to explain all the exhibits to me. What about guides trained in sign language for the deaf-mute? Neenu Kewlani, who has scoliosis and polio, points out that specialised travel is the prerogative of the rich, who can afford to travel by air or in their modified vehicles and stay in pricey barrier-free rooms. In 2011, Kewlani and three of her wheelchair-bound friends, Arvind Prabhoo, Nishant Khade and Sunita Sancheti, set off on a 84-day tour of 28 state capitals. They experienced first-hand the inadequacies of the road and pointed these out to state governments and non-profits. When more disabled people are visible on the streets, it will encourage others to come out too, says Kewlani, who travelled with a portable shower chair and bedpans as public toilets make no room for wheelchairs. However, the disabled wont venture out until provisions are in place to guarantee their safety and comfort away from home an admittedly daunting task in India where in classic cart-before-horse logic, hotels want to see the numbers before they make structural changes. Change will be slow in coming but it will arrive, entrepreneurs like Piya Bose are confident. The founder of Girls on The Go, a travel company exclusively for women, is planning to set up a travel vertical for the disabled. Shes beginning with a series of recces to holiday spots, starting with Goa (which entails identifying an accessible beach). People need to understand the business potential of this segment, she says, Even countries in East Asia and Africa are ahead of us in this regard. Bose wants to eventually customize tours for travellers with different kinds of disabilities, no doubt the beginning of a long and promising journey .

nclusive travel is one of those tides that washes into public consciousness each time news breaks of a voyager in a wheelchair, only to recede from collective memory when the deed is done. The challenged itinerant is left to deal with problems like fitting through a hotel room door, boarding a plane or finding a toilet. Lately , however, several initiatives have been introduced that could have the disabled out and about in greater numbers. Varun Jain, a 29-year-old paraplegic from Rishikesh, is an inveterate traveller who launched his inclusive travel company two years ago. Travel My Way aims to reach out to wheelchair-confined travellers. Having travelled often I recognized the need for travel companies and travel assistance providers for the differently abled, says Jain, who set about auditing hospitality and transport providers in the hills, and listing locally available caregivers. He also sensitized taxi drivers about how to interact with travellers with special needs. A camp operator near Mussoorie went so far as to make his campsite obstacle-free for the wheelchair-bound. They may not partake in adventure sports but they should have the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie at a campsite, Jain believes. About a year before Jain floated his pennant, a socially-oriented company called Travel Another India (TAI) and a disability advocacy collective from Ladakh called PAGIR embarked on a project to make Leh wheelchair-accessible through Himalaya on Wheels. They identified monuments, hotels and lodges, assistive facilities and itineraries that catered to those in wheelchairs. Hotel owners built larger rooms so people in wheelchairs could navigate more freely. Even the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council promised to act on our recommendations for accessible pavements, says Gouthami, founder of TAI.

Varun Jains firm Travel My Way focuses on inclusive travel

Entrepreneur Piya Bose plans to set up a travel vertical for the disabled. Shes beginning with a series of recces to holiday spots, starting with Goa (which entails identifying an accessible beach)
Shivani Gupta, founder of AccessAbility, at Pangong Lake

Further south, in Bangalore, Vidhya Ramasubban started a taxi service called Kickstart when she realized that the unavailability of adapted vehicles could curtail the mobility of the disabled (and also the elderly and infirm). Her fleet of modified

cars has front seats that swivel out and ramps. The three-month-old service currently has more pensioners as clients than people with disabilities, but she hopes that will change. As more of the disabled get jobs in the corporate sector theyll want to

travel more, she predicts. However, despite best efforts, such enterprises are not making the expected numbers, even though the estimated number of people in India with disabilities is 21.9 million. Even the ministry of tourism has lately woken up to their potential to contribute to domestic tourism and has identified Accessible Tourism as a new vertical to be developed. Theyve started by issuing

guidelines to make tourist facilities, hotels and monuments barrier-free, and instituted an award for the Most Barrier-Free Monument/Tourist Attraction. The problem is that people with disabilities have little or no faith in Indian establishments going beyond the brief. I know that in India one cant depend on public transport. Even some hotels that claim to be accessible on sites like TripAdvisor are not really , says Shivani Gupta, founder of the consultancy AccessAbility . Gupta, a PG in inclusive environments, is often called to weigh in on structural modifications in buildings to render them disability-compliant. While the ministry of tourism has issued star ratings for accessible hotels, and the Archeological Survey of India has committed to making historical sites accessible, much of the change is only on paper. Moreover, a wide range of disabilities demands a wide range of adaptive interventions, which are not comprehensively made, she points out. Prof K Raghuraman, who teaches English at the Government Arts College in Chennai, suggests braille maps and city





of expats termed India as one of the friendliest countries, boosting its rank on the expat experience league table to 7 out of 37 countries. Thailand was the friendliest reported that India is improving as a place to live and work


Gaps new ad campaigns are eagerly awaited for their pathbreaking themes. They feature celebrities who are known as much for their intellect as their star value. An admirable array of muticultural faces from across age groups have modelled their clothes from Ken Watanabe and Liev Schreiber to Lucy Liu and Madonna. The latest Gap campaign has again broken new ground it features a turbanned Sikh, the strikingly handsome New York jeweler, actor and aesthete Waris Singh. The ad comes at a time when race crimes against Sikhs are being reported not just from small US towns but also big, liberal cities like New York. In recent months, young Sikhs from across


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Islands BR

of the expats were sent to India by their employer (global average of such lateral mobility was 7%)



More than 7,000 expats rank India the 7th most hospitable country to AR relocate to

OM India ZA AE

Thailand MY

ID Australia Singapore

India is the 4th least expensive for expats, after Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan



Source: HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, 2013

of expats are likely to own a home in India as compared with Canada (46%), USA (40%) and Australia (39%)

Indian summers got a thumbsdown with 47% saying it was difficult to adjust to the weather

professions and backgrounds have been engaged in creative initiatives to familiarize Americans with their religion and the turbans place in it. These include tie-a-turban campaigns as well as online initiatives like the Singh Street Style blog that makes the pag a style statement. In April this year, Jean Paul Gaultiers spring collection featured a stylishly turbanned man. It drew some flak for portraying Sikhs as exotic. The Gap ad, however, has mostly elicited praise on the official Facebook page. One by Nancy Ewelike read: I simply love the photo. I love how his culture is being embraced (from head adornment to full beard). Well done, GAP! The turban as a marker of a peace-loving, stylish people? That message shouldnt take too long to sink in.