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Updated: July 8, 2011 20:55 IST

Proust Questionnaire: “Don’t let the music stop, dance on!” – Shobhaa De

Subha J. Rao
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Shobhaa De answers the Proust Questionnaire, a fortnightly feature which derives its name from the French writer Marcel Proust, whose personality-revealing responses to these questions went on to popularise this form of celebrity confession.

What is your idea of happiness?

It varies from day to day. Rainbows make me very happy. I am an absolute sucker for mushy, melodramatic films. Baby smells. I can’t get enough of my granddaughter Anasuya Devi and her combined smells – a bit of puke, baby cologne, spit, poo – all of it. Just the thought of being at a great bar in a great city with a great person making great conversation – yeah, that definitely does it for me. So does red lipstick.

What is your greatest fear?

Losing control. Mainly over my mind. Being dependent, helpless. Being terminally bored. Being STUCK – mentally, emotionally, physically. The overwhelming desire to flee from tiresome situations and people – and there are so many of both. How far can I possibly run?

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Napoleon. What a man! What courage. What a life. He should have married Desiree, his first and only love. History would have been different. No Waterloo! Moral of the story: Listen to your heart... and save your ass.

Which living person do you most admire?

Binayak Sen. Cerebral. Courageous. Committed. And sexy. Now, if he’d only get on with the damn revolution!

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Impatience. I get easily bored and restless. And I am extraordinarily poor at camouflaging my feelings. This gets me into big trouble. Oh, I am numbers challenged. I can’t count. This can be most embarrassing when calculating tips and taxi fares. My inability to fake it, whatever that ‘it’ is. Dirty bathrooms phobia – there’s got to be a name for this!

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Lack of civility and grace. Boorishness. Vanity. Self-obsession. Crude and coarse behaviour. Pompousness. People who yell at waiters and ask that most annoying question: “Don’t you know who I am?” I’m always tempted to step in and say very loudly, “We all know who you are – the world’s biggest ass****.”

What is your favourite journey?

Into an interesting person’s head and heart. Find me that interesting person.

Who is your favourite painter?

M.F. Husain, by far. Picasso and Frida Kahlo are top favourites. But Husainsaabis above and beyond them all. Simply put, I was privileged to have known a genius. To have watched him at work and play for forty years. What a rare human being. So full of contradictions – arrogant and compassionate, impossible and considerate. But never ever BORING!

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Patience! Why lose time over something that does not captivate your imagination instantly? Nothing really comes to those who stand and wait. Don’t fall for that line ever! Just go grab whatever you desperately desire before someone else beats you to it.

On what occasion do you lie?

When the truth really doesn’t matter all that much. And I can spare someone’s feelings in the bargain.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

Ummmm…. let me put it this way. I have really nice ears. The nape of my neck isn’t bad either. Both remain hidden from view, so I can safely boast!

Which living person do you most despise?

All godmen and godwomen. At the moment, Baba Ramdev.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

No kidding! Goddammit! Are you sure??? Seriously speaking. On the contrary. Go to hell! Hello darling! Devaa Devaa!!!!

What is your greatest regret?

That I didn’t take tango lessons in my youth, preferably in Argentina. That I haven’t met Antonio Banderas. That I am not Woody Allen.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Words. My family and our pet Kiara. The moon. Gulmohurs. The heady fragrance of jasmine garlands.

When and where were you happiest?

Whenever my mother cradled me and placed my head in her lap, gently stroking my hair and forehead.

What is your present state of mind?

Restless. Of course. But restless-happy, as opposed to restless-frustrated.

How would you like to die?

Beautifully, dramatically, with a pen in my hand, a smile on my lips, smelling ofArpege, wearing red lipstick and high heels.

What is your favourite motto?

Don’t let the music stop – dance on! And the Benjamin Franklin quote: Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel. Taking time off from writing. I am a workaholic. Holidays are precious and treated like guilty pleasures. But I have still to teach myself to switch off completely. I’m always on the job, taking notes, scribbling observations. I often say to myself angrily, “Get over it, De. Get a life!”

Shobhaa De is a popular journalist and bestselling novelist. She founded and edited Celebrity, Society and, most famously, Stardust, which made famous an irreverent mix of Hindi and English that came to be called Hinglish. Her last book was the unapologetically titled “Shobhaa at Sixty: Secrets of Getting it Right at Any Age”.

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