Teesta Setalwad is my friend. Well, was my friend, is my friend, whatever the past continuous terminology is for someone you’ve always been fond of, but have lost touch with over the years, after college. I was at St Xavier’s and she, in Elphinstone, at a time when ‘Elphie’ was a college of repute. Xavier’s was un-autonomous and our ‘sheher’ was Bombay. I had friends in Elphie and a daily vada pao and beedi got me entry past the surly watchman. Back in the late ’70s, bribery via food occasionally outweighed fiscal temptations.
Teesta Setalvad. Pic/AFP
Teesta was politically inclined, even as a teenager. Elphinstonians had that march over us Xavierites. They wanted to change the world; we just wanted to change lecture timings. While we quoted John Lennon, they were devoted to Lenin.
Teesta’s father, Atul Setalwad, was a famed lawyer. We sat one evening at their beach-facing home in Juhu. He had sensed early that he had an unusual daughter, one who wouldn’t tread the same path most young ladies did. I sensed a fatherly pride mixed with ferocious protectiveness. And the fear that most fathers who’ve raised fearless daughters have.
Sure enough, my friend Teesta stands in the centre of a storm today. But she stands unprotected, as the Gujarat police and other organisations go after her.
She is supposed to have ‘usurped’ some single digit crores of foreign money for her own purpose. (If only some real multi-crore scamsters could be investigated with the same zeal).
Some of this foreign funding has apparently been utilised for ‘hairdos’ in Pakistan. Yes, I can clearly see Teesta flying specifically, not to Paris, but to Peshawar for a blow dry and cut. Pakistan has always been the fashion capital of the world, right? Also she is accused of investing heavily in romantic novels — I always knew she loved Marx and Maugham. I hadn’t realised Mills & Boons was on her reading list.
I did meet her 10 years ago at the navjote ceremony of a common friend’s kid. She had already taken on the Gujarat government, so her life had taken a nasty turn. Back then, it was clearly not the witch-hunt it is today. But she had received threats. And my lasting memory of that evening was us laughing and gorging on mutton dhansak, while her Hulk Hogan lookalike security guard, stood watchfully behind her.
Teesta has spent the better half of her adult life fighting for other people’s human rights. But what about hers?
Hang on, kiddo, justice will prevail. Excuse the pun.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at email@example.com