Shobhaa De and Olga Tellis

Updated: Feb 02, 2020, 08:37 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

'She is an enigma I haven't cracked' l 'There are no wants and demands in our relationship'

Shobhaa De and Olga Tellis, friends of 40 years, at De's Cuffe Parade residence. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Shobhaa De and Olga Tellis, friends of 40 years, at De's Cuffe Parade residence. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Shobhaa De
Editor, author, columnist, blogger and publisher with a career spanning 45 years, De's sharp take on society and politics has made her one of the country's most influential opinion shapers

I remember the first time I met Olga clearly. It was 40 years ago, at a protest march led by Datta Samant in Kala Ghoda. My office [Stardust magazine] was right there. I leaned over from the balcony to see what all the noise was about. I saw this unusual, exotic lady in stilettos and a mini skirt, with her hair piled up on top of her head. She wore ruby red lipstick and had heavily-pencilled sloe eyes. She was the most attractive woman I had seen! I rushed downstairs. It was like a fan girl moment. I asked someone who she was, and they told me she was a journalist. Oh, well! Hmm. Interesting.

Subsequently, I saw her at social occasions, where she would be wearing these extremely risqué gowns with massive cut-outs along the waist. She was like a thousand watts of glamour and sex appeal. We became friends 10 years later.

The friendship grew slowly. It wasn't like we fell madly in love. But then too, our friendship got cemented quickly. I have very few people I can call friends, and hers is the first name that comes up.

Olga is Leo. Leo personality traits suggest someone who is attention-seeking or very bold and out there. She is all that in her writing, but not in personality. She is far more subdued, and reserved. To me, she still remains mysterious. An enigma I haven't cracked. As a journalist, she has always been the person everyone looks up to, because of her high level of professionalism.

If you ask me what we have in common, it would be the things most people would wrongly think of as "trivial"—like rainbows.

No matter which part of the world we are in, if we see a rainbow, we have to text each other. We also love watching sunsets, the moon, the first gulmohars and listening to music.

When I was delivering Anandita [daughter] in 1989, Olga had rushed from work to see me at Breach Candy Hospital with a specific liquid soap. She instructed the nurses to make sure they used it, right after the baby was born, when they were giving me a sponge. I won't forget that.

Olga is actually a very philosophical and evolved person. Her spiritual side fascinates me, because it is not about following a religious path, it is about self-discovery, and I appreciate that. She is one of those few people, who has the right the kind of pride, and a lot of self-respect, which sometimes stops her from asking for help. She certainly lives her truth. At her home, you won't find a refrigerator or a geyser. She has a stripped-to-the-bone existence. It's so rare. I don't know many urban people who choose this for themselves, and she did that very early on.

To me, she's like a river in Russia, which carries with it so many stories—of great czars and czarinas and then also, that of the average Russian. I associate her with the richness, and contradictions of Russia.

Olga Tellis
Tellis is a senior journalist with a career spanning 53 years, best remembered for the Olga Tellis v/s Bombay Municipal Corporation case that she filed on behalf of pavement dwellers

MUCH before the incident at Kala Ghoda, I had run into Shobhaa at the dressmaker's [Amber] that we both went to, at Colaba Causeway. She was modelling at the time, and I think she had come for a fitting. The first thing she said when she saw me was, "You are so beautiful". You won't believe it, but I actually went back home and had a good look at myself in the mirror. Until then, I had never really seen myself that way. While men would stare at me and I must admit, I was quite embarrassed with all the attention and compliments, I didn't care too much for it. Isn't that what they [men] tell every woman? But, if a woman said it, it meant something, especially if it was coming from a beautiful woman like Shobhaa.

I think the two of us became friends after she began to live alone. For some reason, I got involved in her personal life. And the bond that developed was quite a sentimental and emotional one. Somehow, we clicked and friendship happened.

Shobhaa is a great friend, and a fabulous wife and mother. In fact, she always wanted to be a mum. I remember during one of her visits to my office, long before she was married, she told me, " I love kids. I am going to have six of them." I was surprised. And, it's amazing how she did go on to raise six children, and now is grandmother to six, too. I admire how she is so hands-on. She is blessed by God. Touchwood. She's got it all together.

Our tastes in books are quite different. I only read on politics and economics. If I have made an exception, it's for Shobhaa's [writing]. Once, on reading one of her novels, I came across the four-letter word repeatedly, and I was aghast. I immediately rang her up, and said, "I have never heard you use this word." But I love reading her columns. I react and respond to them.

Even if we have had a difference of opinion, it doesn't matter [to us]. Because, this is a relationship where there are no wants and demands. The comfort level is of a different kind. It's the same with her husband [Dilip De], too. There is something so pure about Mr De's friendship. He is incredibly sweet, and I love her family. Shobhaa always makes it a point to take me out for dinner on my birthday, with another friend. It's like a ritual now. Even if we don't meet for days on end, the bond is there. These days, it happens more often, because she is travelling a lot. In fact, last year, we barely saw each other. If I have to see her, I have to go to one of her events. I attended one recently, just so that I could meet her. Hopefully, we will get back to our routine. Shobhaa, to me, is like the stars, moon and air, she is everywhere.

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