Thursday, April 29, 2010

Madhuri and I...

I first met Madhuri Gupta at the Republic Day function in Islamabad two years ago and mistook her to be a Pakistani. Blame it on her size, the glitter on her clothes and her perfect Urdu accent!

She was chatting with a few local journalists when I was introduced to her. We got talking about Pakistani newspapers. She told me that I was wasting my time reading English newspapers. “If you want to read real news, read Urdu papers. That’s where the real gossip is,” she said airily.

I was new to Islamabad then, she asked me if I’d seen the city yet. “I’ll show you around,” she offered tossing her golden-brown hair back. For want of something better to say I told her that I liked her sari. She gave me details of where she had purchased it and then we parted with her insisting that “we meet again”. “I will come and see you,” she promised.

For the next two weeks she was on my mind. I had imagined her to be a compulsive shopper who would drag me to scores of stores before striking the right deal and I was dreading her visit. I was glad when she made no attempt to call or see me.

Over the years, we kept bumping into each other. She would tell me how she drove at breakneck speed on the Lahore-Islamabad motorway and I would deliver my “wahs-wahs” on cue. I would usually comment on her hair-colour or her clothes and vanish.

Somehow, she never struck me as an overtly intelligent or a career woman. On one occasion, I asked her if life was difficult for a single woman in Pakistan. She evaded a definitive answer. “Sometimes I don’t cook for days on end. I just eat Maggi and go off to sleep. That’s a problem when you are alone,” she said.

What struck me most about Madhuri was her energy and her confidence. She made friends easily and her excess weight never bothered her.

One of my longest encounters with Madhuri was in December last year. She had just driven back from India and was wearing a smart coat. “I got it from Lajpat Nagar,” she told me.  She said her trip to India had exhausted her and that she was happy to be back in Islamabad.

“I feel I am back home,” she said. The look on my face gave me away. “Home is where you live. Good or bad, this is home,” she let out her trademark loud laugh.

I asked her how much more time she had left in Islamabad. She said she should be out in a few months. “Back to Delhi?” I asked. “No,” she said. “I am hoping to get London or Washington,” she said coolly.

I let out a long “wow”. “Two back-to-back foreign postings?” I asked again. “Yes,” she said, adding that she had done foreign postings before.

“I was in Baghdad earlier,” she told me. I was impressed. I decided that I had misread her all along. She was, after all, an exceptionally bright woman who had been sent by India to Baghdad and Islamabad – the world’s most dangerous cities. She started telling me about her days in Baghdad and I took in every word.

I asked her how her Islamabad posting happened. “Did you want to be here?”

She told me that she had learnt Urdu to be here. “I hired a Muslim woman to teach me. She came home and taught me for two years.  She taught me everything from the scratch. I didn’t even know my ‘alif-bays’,” she said.

I was sure that her love for sher-o-shayri prompted her to learn Urdu. Her answer surprised me. “No. I don’t like all that.” Still I was impressed because I had tried to learn Urdu – but found the going tough.

I met Madhuri the last time in January. I spotted her smiling her polite smile at every body. We exchanged pleasantries but couldn’t quite talk.

When I heard two days ago that Madhuri had been held for allegedly spying for Pakistan, I couldn’t believe my ears – to me she was this woman who would rather worry about the golden on her clothes and her hair than pass on state secrets.


  1. By the torrents of arrests of turncoats..I'm sure more such pests are still in our political-intelligence-military-bureaucratic establishment.There was talk of an MP hiding SIMI terrorists at his home&Naval officer who fell for honeytrap skewed his technical advise in Russian carrier deal.

    My uncle who is an ex-military (bellow officer rank) use to say that his military career has disillusioned him and advised against it.His popular one liner is that corruption is so high in army that a Sardarji(Sikh military officer) would not even spare a hair pin,the officer would straighten it out and take it home..A swami popular here, use to say that high corruption in Asia is due to family attachments and in west they dont steal as much since they dont accumulate money for their children,grand-children&grand-grand etc.
    I guess Madhuri Gupta as a single lady is an exception.Its absolutely appalling that such self-centered&selfish people are sent to sensitive places like Pakistan.Our civil service I guess needs to imbibe a bit of values of selfless-service for nation.

  2. I would normally not like to comment as a butt in but I would like to respond to Mr Kannan here. Repeating your words of wisdom gathered from an uncle who you know was disillusioned in the first place and using that to generalize against all the Armed forces and other sections is extremely distasteful. I personally am offended inspite of myself. (I come from a family of faugis)

    And I think there is no strong correlation between corruption and family ties. People with strong sense of family ties and societal pressures should be deterred to not sully their name and get embroiled in corruption etc.

  3. Madhuri back-stabbed ur trust ... sorry my sympathies.. and more sympathies to India

  4. Who knows what the truth really is...sometimes what can be seen on the face is not what the reality is all about..One can just hope that the real culprit is punished and the innocent are left alone.

  5. This is a first spy story in a long, long time. Wonder how much substance it has.
    Are our agencies so bad, that they took so long to find about this wheeling-dealing?

  6. @Shruti
    I gave sufficient backgrnd info abt before paraphrasing my uncle.High level of corruption in Armed Forces and its repulsive feudal structure is common knowledge and precisely the reason why young generation is not so keen on it.Of course,I wasnt trying to generalize or belittle contribution of self-less service of our jawans and officers.Problem is always with the system not with the people.Our feudal system in Army is sharp contrast to flat(in tolerating dissent&treating soldiers as human beings) organizations like Israeli IDF and US military. If you care to read MoD release, most fragging incidents have happened in peaceful areas.

  7. Story was so interesting that didnt even realize that it was last para, and the revelation about who that Madhuri was a real surprise...

  8. A lot has been tossed up in the media about Madhuri Gupta as the evil self centred-spy, traitor and what not, that I had almost started to view her as a news piece. Your post has made the view more human. Infact, it so very supports the quote -"All that glitters is not gold!" or in her case "All that looked so gold was not real!!"

  9. Yes Kannan, there are RSS terrorists also and ones in army like Srikant Purohit. They are all against the idea of India and are perhaps on payrolls of other secret agencies.


  10. Madhuri Gupta is a perfect wolf in sheep's attire eg. ,she betrayed our country and your trust... proves that how naive we were , that we didnt even go through a proper vetting process for diplomatic posting :(. My sympathies to author must have felt like a big knife in back!!!!

    stay safe

  11. This is an exceptional account. I really think you should save some energy to write a book. Those of us who read you're blog might miss the constant attention, but I think it would be a compelling read.

  12. Kannan, it feels good to see you parked here :)

    Shruti, Kannan means well :)

    Anonymous 1 & 2, thank you.

    A New Beginning, life is so complicated!

    Wordsmith, not a story :) its for real.

    CountyNocturnal, thank you.

    AM, thank you for your kind words :)

    Ashu, thanks for your sympathies :) Will stay safe!

    Anirban, you made my day! Thanks :)

  13. Agree with Anirban.
    This blog may just turn into the most valuable and 'human' account of Pakistan written by an Indian.
    Enjoy reading...would have mixed feelings when your posting in Pakistan comes to an end :).

  14. Woww, the post is so gripping that I didnt realize till reached the end :)

    Please tell me what exactly makes the Islamabad so dangerous that it can be compared to Baghdad?

  15. Anonymous, you are most kind. Thank you and keep reading :)

    Kulsoom, @dangerous -- oh I was just referring to an old Newsweek cover story...
    Thanks for reading :)

  16. hi there, wonderful blog, got your address from a friend of mine, I am an Indian married to a Pakistani girl and living in the UK. Been to Pakistan twice, love Islamabad and Pindi... I hope situation between the two countries improve and we get to both the countries without all the hassle

  17. your stories are fantastic

  18. HI, First of all sorry for not writing in a long time was travelling, well I have story of mine to tell this time , during the times square last week , I happened to be right there when all the action took place, we were really scared and wondered how the locals would react to our brown skin this time, the anger on the streets for the Pakis was indeed frighting and I got asked point blank in a Macy 's store whether I was from Pakistan or Bangladesh , on hearing that we were from Mumbai the entire tenor suddenly changed and I got lines like " have a nice stay" see ya guys around etc.... Does the average Pakistani actually know how the west especially the Americans have started viewing them ??? thankfully the entire South Asia bloc is not getting painted in the same brush , would love to get your reactions on this one

  19. Waiting to read your times square experience. a quick thought...the reception you received after people heard you are from bombay isn't surprising. I got the same receiption about 7 yrs back when i was travelling across US.

  20. Premal, very interesting! Would have loved to know more you blog?
    Pakistanis are very aware and most friends have been articulating their fears.
    Thanks for reading. Stay tuned :)

  21. why are some comments claiming that madhuri "betrayed your [the author's] trust" ?
    i fail to see how, unless you expected her to divulge to you that she was a spy.
    anyhow, as someone mentioned up thread, people like madhuri are harmless, the real cancer are the member parliaments and the ministers who are selling india piece by piece to the highest bidder.

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