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  Opinion   Columnists  12 Jan 2024  Shobhaa De | Golmal in the Maldives… & a new-style star shaadi

Shobhaa De | Golmal in the Maldives… & a new-style star shaadi

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. You can reach her at: @ShobhaaDe(Instagram) and @DeShobhaa(Twitter).
Published : Jan 12, 2024, 10:25 pm IST
Updated : Jan 12, 2024, 10:25 pm IST

Snorkeling Goals, Tourist Tiffs, and Aamir Khan's Wedding: A Captivating Start to 2024

In this Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 file photo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during the COP28, in UAE. The Maldivian government on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024 distanced itself from a minister's 'derogatory remarks' against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media and said these opinions are
 In this Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 file photo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during the COP28, in UAE. The Maldivian government on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024 distanced itself from a minister's 'derogatory remarks' against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media and said these opinions are "personal and do not represent the views of the Government". (PTI Photo)

For the first column of 2024, why not begin with a New Year resolution? I have resolved to learn how to snorkel. So have thousands of loyal Indian citizens. Poochho kyon??? As with much else in our lives, we seek inspiration from our great leader, whose recent snorkeling shot (looking hot!) in Lakshadweep went viral. If he can, we can, we told ourselves after hastily cancelling booking to the “other” destination. The one that is so badnaam right now, even Munni is blushing. Amazing, what a well-staged, well-timed photo-op can do! Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s snorkeling pin-up shot promoting India’s latest tourist spot garnered more social media “likes” within seconds than all the bikini bod Insta posts of loved-up Bollywood couples chilling in the Maldives. So loyal are we to our beloved leader, even diehard Maldives fans promptly turned their tanned backs (and toned derrieres) on their fave luxe resort in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, and started raving about Lakshadweep. Most hadn’t heard of the pristine tropical archipelago of 36 atolls and coral reefs, situated 406 km west of Kochi in Kerala. Very few were confident about the pronunciation (“Dude… Lakha-WHAT??”). But it was suddenly cool to publicly declare undying love for a place with a population of 60K, which is not that easy to get to, and does not boast of sexy holiday options like the Maldives. Till last week, every celebrity worth his/her beach thong was busy bragging about a vaccy in Magical Maldives, flaunting the many, almost unimaginable luxuries available at snob resorts where prices range from Rs 40 lakhs a night per secluded villa, to a more “affordable” Rs 10 lakhs at less posh resorts -- the ones shunned by international billionaires, the Russian mafia and Chinese moneybags. Over two decades, the Maldives entrenched itself in the high-end tourist circuit favoured by the very rich, the very famous and the very desperate. With resorts this remote, the Maldives provided a safe, discreet haven for global rockstars to take a well-earned break from the hungry, prying eyes of the intrusive public and pesky papparazzi. What can possibly be considered more luxurious than sun-bathing naked on a deserted sand bank with nobody around save a few disinterested seagulls…. chilled champagne and Beluga but an arm’s length away?

But wait… the Maldives just blew it! The Maldives messed up big-time last week! How utterly stupid of the three bak-bak Maldives ministers to badmouth India’s Prime Minister? NaMo and his communications team can beat the best global marketers and ad gurus when it comes to optics. All the PM had to do was sit aaram se in a deck chair, staring thoughtfully at a dream-like, picture postcard perfect beach in Lakshadweep. Boom! War was instantly declared by those misguided Maldivian ministers, who felt threatened/insecure enough by the possibility of Indian tourists abandoning their country in favour of their very own island heaven. The consequences of their foolish outburst were swift and lethal. Mass cancellations and a “boycott Maldives” call snowballed across India, as leading movie stars handpicked by the PM’s team raced to post pictures declaring Lakshadweep to be their favourite-est, most amazing holiday spot ever! Errr… one of them (Ranveer Singh) must have been in such a hurry, he posted pictures of the Maldives by mistake! So what? His heart was beating for Lakshadweep, okay? The others had collective amnesia and obviously forgot about multiple posts over Xmas, that showed them frolicking in the lagoon around their Maldivian water villas, proving they are as shallow as the lagoon itself. But our Bipasha Basu is different. She went ahead and posted pics of her birthday break in the Maldives, at the height of the boycott calls. I love her for it. Why be a hypocrite and follow the herd? The trolls were less forgiving!

Well, new converts to Lakshadweep will have to wait till end-2026, when the Taj Group opens two properties in Suheli and Kadmat. The impatient hordes will have to opt for a less luxe experience, which remain pretty pricey nevertheless, starting at 18K a night for a cottage in Bangaram. The bigger question remains: Will a tourist exodus to these remote islands and atolls signal an eco-disaster down the line? I came across a telling BBC clip that exposed the untold story about the Maldives and showed gigantic islands of smouldering garbage, an ugly sight that’s kept carefully away from the tourists’ gaze. The coral reefs there are fading rapidly, and a few have disappeared altogether. Tourists display zero sensitivity towards environmental issues and flagrantly ignore rules. Should we not be more concerned about the possible and permanent damage irresponsible tourists could inflict on Lakshadweep? Is it worth that monumental environmental cost -- just to score brownie points over the Maldives and “teach them a lesson” for the political choices that the nation is currently making? Let them pick China over India! If it’s Saudi Arabia or Qatar money and lifestyle the Maldivians want… hey, it’s their country, their choice. Strategically, the Maldives is important to India. Let’s work on strategy! Not wage a touristy war.

End note: I totally loved the blatant breaking of all desi shaadi rules by Aamir Khan’s daughter Ira, who married her love, fitness trainer Nupur Shikare, and showed the world how couples can script their own weddings, and to hell with convention. Fans were delighted when the  bridegroom wore a ganji and bicycle shorts at his baraat and jogged to the wedding registration venue, where the simply dressed dulhan was waiting in Kolhapuri chappals. “Go shower”, she instructed her brand-new husband after the registration, and off he went with a big grin on his face. Then came a few yoga asanas, head stands and calisthenics on the morning of their traditional shaadi in Udaipur, with a pajama party for friends later, followed by a family singalong at which the father of the bride (superstar Aamir Khan) sang a medley with his ex-wife (Kiran Rao), as Reena Dutta, another ex-wife (the bride’s mother), clapped from the audience. A Christian wedding and some more festivities later, it was a wrap. But not before the father of the bride had shed copious tears. How unique and fun! Hope it sends out a powerful signal to celebs who waste zillions on OTT destination weddings. The Khans and Shikhares powerfully demonstrated how the only thing that counts -- or should -- is the couple’s happiness, along with mutual respect, understanding and deep love for your own. Bravo!

Tags: india maldives relations, prime minister narendra modi, snorkelling, new year 2024