This is a blogpost by Shobhaa De' . . .
There came a masala story which had the hungry media vultures scampering – an ageing model’s tragic suicide. Hardly headline news. But there it was, on every channel and newspaper. Poor Viveka Babajee hadn’t received even half this level of coverage during her lifetime as she struggled to keep up appearances, keep body and soul together, in the big, bad and coked out world of Mumbai modeling. She was considered over the hill and ‘finished’ within the glam fraternity – that in itself is a killer judgement. Combine her downgraded professional status with personal traumas, and you have a tragedy waiting to happen. For newshounds, this is another sensational tabloid scandal involving a pretty woman, a rich boyfriend (or many) and a lifestyle that shocks those outside the charmed circle. What most press reports aren’t saying is that what really killed Viveka was not a thwarted love affair but corrosive insecurity and despair.
It is a common story. Some girls can handle it better than others. Some manage to escape. Some don’t. Viveka didn’t. But look around you and you’ll find several walking wounded models struggling to stay afloat…. stay alive. The route taken is familiar – get discovered, get to Mumbai, get assignments. The first two or three years are generally heady and brilliant. The money rolls in, wealthy admirers pile up, lifestyle options multiply… and with luck, Bollywood beckons. All this before the girls reach their sell-by date ( 25 at the outside). Once your shelf life is over, the assignments dry up and even those panting middle aged, married men move on to younger chicks working the circuit. The first sign of desperation is when such a sought- after girl finds herself in the social wilderness and starts looking for lolly from other sources. She has bills to pay, loans to service, and an image to protect. Creditors start breathing down her neck… and with the heat getting a bit too hot to handle, the girl panics. Most times, she is miles away from home, living by herself in a suburban flat without support systems of any kind. She makes alcohol her best friend. In order to keep meeting her new ‘best friend’, she lets it be known she’s open to attending parties thrown by strangers – for a fee, of course. There are shady ‘party agents’ who round up hard up models and small time actresses for clients (mainly prosperous traders from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi) but at least the booze is in plenty even if the money is pathetic. Then come the shadier proposals to spend a weekend in Goa or Dubai – the money is not big, but it covers shopping kharcha. What the hell, a girl’s got to have the latest cell phone and ‘IT’ bag.
From this stage to full time hooking takes no time at all. The stakes are further lowered – but what is on offer is far more addictive – coke. Party girls in frilly frocks are always welcome at power evenings that need a strong glamour quotient – that is exactly the model followed by organizers of sporting mega events worldwide. But there is a catch - the cocktails that keeps these evenings in high gear do not flow out of glasses. The powerful hosts behind these parties know there is but one hook to get these girls to hang on - cocaine – lots and lots of the white stuff. Champagne and coke become the preferred mix. Throw in sex with strangers, and what starts off as a ‘fun’ thing, soon turns into the blackest nightmare ever with no escape. Dirty weekends grow into four and five day orgies. The protagonists are usually society’s top drawer men – industrialists, movie stars, ex-sports people, tv producers. And of course, the fashion crowd from Delhi-Bangalore.This is where girls like Viveka descend into a private hell from which there is no ‘out’. They are literally and metaphorically at a dead end. Strapped for money, strapped for love, strapped for security on any level – they turn the searchlight inwards in search of salvation. Some find it, most don’t.
Viveka’s suicide is being compared to Nafisa’s. And, no doubt there are unmistakable parallels. The main thread involves their respective backgrounds. It was hard to believe Viveka’s family is originally from Satara – a small, obscure town in Maharashtra. That makes Viveka a Maharastrian-Mauritian! What was a girl like that doing in a biz like this? Perhaps she was lured into it with promises of big time success. Ditto for Nafisa, who was also a misfit in the murky world of modeling. Both girls were above average in looks and intelligence. Yet, both got mixed up with men who gave them grief and treated them badly. Both chose a violent exit after giving up on life and themselves. Their contemporaries are made of sterner stuff – some have married ( and divorced) foreigners, others have switched to choreography and event management. Photographs of Viveka’s friends at her funeral, tell their own story. Shockingly enough, some of the girls who showed up to pay their respects clad in pristine designer white , posed for the cameras like they were at a fashion week showing. What should have been a somber occasion was converted into a celeb circus. Viveka’s funeral provided some much needed eye candy and a few photo-ops to the starved media. So much for the current crop of ramp scorchers. Then are still others who fled India and left their old world behind. I was surprised to run into the lovely Shyla Lopez who now lives in Moscow with her Russian husband and a young son. Did she look happy?? Ummmm…. I’m not sure.