Jaipur: Talk show queen and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, in a session moderated by NDTV's Barkha Dutt at the Jaipur Literature Festival, spoke on her India trip, the Mumbai traffic which seemed straight out of a video game and lots more.
Here is the full text of the entire discussion:
Barkha Dutt: A very good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As you can see from the super-excited response here at the Jaipur Literary Festival, I do not need to introduce, at all my next guest. We all love, admire and respect Oprah Winfrey so immensely. She is easily the most loved and influential person on television anywhere in the world. Isn't that right? Did you know? Did you know, listen to this guys, did you know that poll after poll in the United States of America routinely says Oprah Winfrey has way more credibility that any president or any head-of-state. And I am seeing so many young girls and women in the audience today, and women especially love Oprah, don't we? In fact, women routinely say that Oprah Winfrey is the person, across the world, that they admire and love the most. But here's the important thing about Oprah Winfrey, her impact goes well beyond television, she's remarkable and inimitable on television, but that's not, according to me where her real impact is. It's in the world that exists outside the television studio. Many people say that Barack Obama could not have become President had Oprah Winfrey not endorsed him. We're at a literature festival, Oprah's book club, Oprah's Book Club has revived the love for reading at an age of a 140 characters on Twitter and diminishing attention spans, she has brought back authors literally from the dead by reviving a love for classics. And most movingly, she is blunt and outspoken in her advocacy for causes that matter to her, girls, issues of gender, issues of race. In fact, just this month, the first graduation has taken place from the Leadership Academy in South Africa, a special school for African girls.
Oprah Winfrey: Yay for that.
Barkha Dutt: And while the lady sitting next to me is remarkable on TV, I think the most remarkable part of her that perhaps some of us don't know that well, is her own remarkable journey to get to where she has got. Born to rural poverty in Mississippi, she grew up with her grandmother who was a wise woman, who said when she was just a kid, that Oprah had a special gift. She has tirelessly advocated for victims of sexual abuse, bravely sharing her own experience of having being abused as a child, you've got to hand it to her for doing that. And, she is as I said, out there, empathetic on the one hand, and driven and outspoken in her ideological convictions on the other hand. As a woman, as a TV person and as an Indian, it's my absolute pleasure to welcome Oprah Winfrey to the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Oprah Winfrey: You did that so well, I'm looking to see is there a prompter? You're just talking?
Barkha Dutt: Are you giving me a job?
Oprah Winfrey: I would welcome giving you a job, you know I have a network. You just did that all, you just ..
Barkha Dutt: From the heart
Oprah Winfrey: Amazing. Because I'm looking to see where is the prompter?
Barkha Dutt: There's no prompter
Oprah Winfrey: There's no prompter, Bravo on that. That's good.
Barkha Dutt: Thank you, that's the best compliment I've ever got.
Oprah Winfrey: Good
Barkha Dutt: You can see just from the reaction here how much people are excited to see you here; how you've been mobbed by cameras, sometimes not so pleasantly, are fixated with you here in India. I've got to ask you, you know what I'm going to ask you?
Oprah Winfrey: No I don't even know what you're going to ask. I don't
Barkha Dutt: See this is the problem with interviewing the master. Alright. I've got to ask you, what struck you about India the most stand-out thing that you're going to take back with you, because I know you've met Indians from all classes, all walks of life, you've been in the slums in Mumbai, you've dined and partied with the glitterati, you've met ordinary middle-class and upper middle class women, you've seen the sites. What strikes you?
Oprah Winfrey: What strikes me, what has impressed, I have 3 things, major, so can I do 3 instead of 1?
Barkha Dutt: Absolutely.
Oprah Winfrey: What has struck me the most is arriving in Mumbai, and I was with my god-daughter, my best friend's daughter and we were driving, being driven and she said, you know, this is like being in a video game. And we don't know which way to look and you're like "Oh my gosh is that car going to hit us?!" And so, my first impression was that it was, it's a bit chaotic and then I realized there's an underlying calm or flow, that everybody else here gets the flow, and that as a foreigner, you have to get in and move with the flow. Now, before we came here, Deepak Chopra, great thought leader of our times, I called him wanting to do an interview with him and he said he was going to be coming to India and I, I have a vision board, I keep a vision board. First vision board ever started was to get Barack Obama elected. It just had Barack Obama, and then I went back; that vision board was right by my, in my bathroom by the bathtub. So every morning I would say, "Barack Obama President, Barack Obama President, Barack Obama President." Then, this was in 2007. Then, I had to go back and put 2008 so that whoever was listening would know I didn't mean Barack Obama President 2012 or 2016, so I only had that as a vision and then I put a picture, after Barack Obama won. I put a picture I cut out of a magazine of a woman on a camel, and it said 'Come to India'. Come to India', and I've held that as my vision, on my vision board, for the past 3 years. So this idea of coming with Deepak, I went, 'Now it's time to fulfill the vision'. So first impression, coming in the city, chaotic. And then being in the city with more people than I've ever encountered in my life was, still feeling, not a sense of being unsafe. I was feeling there's calmness underneath all of this, what is going on. So what I will take with me is this sense of calmness, the fact that, I was speaking to Deepak yesterday and saying, "What is it?" There is no rage, even though there are lots of people in the street and there's lots going on. There is a genuine respect and a sense of karma. The fact that the biggest thing I would take away is that people don't just talk religion here, they live it. They live their practice. I'm most impressed with the fact that, you know, when I've been in Colaba with a family in 6x6 feet, 5 people slept in the same room, where there's a father raising, a mother raising her 3 daughters and there's an altar in their home. And I've been at Aishwarya and Abhishek's home and there's an altar in their home. I've been in middle class homes and there's an altar and there's a practice of going inwards and looking at yourself, and something greater than yourself is an actual practice every day. It's not just something people talk about.
Barkha Dutt: So basically, you've figured out that there's a method to our madness.
Oprah Winfrey: I'm not sure what the method is.
Barkha Dutt: We don't know.
Oprah Winfrey: I don't know what the method is.
Barkha Dutt: We don't know either.
Oprah Winfrey: No, like, what is it with the red lights? I mean, does the red light mean stop or not? Or is it just there for your entertainment? I don't get it. What is it? I mean, the light is red and everybody just keeps going. But you all seem to know what you're doing. I can tell you this. I would never be able to drive in this country. Not doing that, not doing that. Yeah, okay. That's one, two; and three would be, the sense of family tradition. Now, when I had Aishwarya and Abhishek on my show, I was asking the question, as Americans do, like how on earth do you all live with your parents? What's that all about? And he said to me, "What is that all about that you don't?" And it's the kind of thing that's really a foreign concept to those of us in America, because you're just waiting to get out of the house. But having spent some time, and having a dinner at a home with a family with 4 generations in one house, I now get it. I really get a sense of how really glorious it is, that this is a country that has no respect for nursing homes, because you take care of your family and you don't put your family in nursing homes. I think that's a, I'm most amazed by that.
Barkha Dutt: Before I get into asking a little bit about the families you met, you said there was this vision board with a woman sitting on a camel, so I've got to ask you, did you sit on a camel?
Oprah Winfrey: No.
Barkha Dutt: Why?
Oprah Winfrey: Well, no one has offered me one yet.
Barkha Dutt: Okay.
Oprah Winfrey: No, I did go to the queen's house the other night, the princess. As I entered there were the camels and the elephants and I was like oh, there's the vision board, there they are. I'm not riding one but there they are. Yes.
Barkha Dutt: You know that now you've said that no one's offered you one, when you exit, there's going to be a line of camels at the door like I just know it's going to happen, so we'd better get ready for that shot. More seriously, you spent time with a family in a slum in Mumbai, where you met this little girl, Anchal.
Oprah Winfrey: Anchal
Barkha Dutt: Anchal. And I know from talking to your team that you were absolutely moved by her. Tell us a little bit about what this little girl represented to you?
Oprah Winfrey: Well, it's important to me, you know. I'm doing shows; my new series on, and it's called 'the next chapter'. And it was important for me to do this country and try to represent a broad point of view and not just show one thing. And we all know that there are millions and millions and millions of poor people in this country and we all know that the slums are bad. But it is my role and I think I take it as my responsibility to be a connector to the human heart space. So it's important for me that when I'm telling a story, I want people to feel and know that the heart of the people you're watching is the same as your heart. They may come from different circumstances but they're all the same. So I didn't want to show the absolute worst. I remember being in Africa, several years ago and I remember my staff and producer had been in a village in Africa and they came back and they had this footage of a child eating out of the trough with a pig and I said, I won't be showing that, because that isn't the only impression, and that would be an impression which would be a lasting impression. So I don't want to show that. Because if you're a viewer, sitting at home in America or India or wherever, and you see a child eating out of a trough with a pig, you think that that demeans the humanity of that child. So it was important for me to go to the slums, but not show the worst of the worst. Because what I wanted for people to see was that people could live in poverty, but still have a sense of hope and meaning in their lives. So my team has been here, members of my team have been here since Christmas, the day after Christmas, looking for families that were the best representation of various and diverse, so for me, education is the most important thing in the world, because for me it opens the door to freedom and possibility. And my team knows that I really appreciate educated girls because when you, no disrespect to men, but when you educate a girl you change her family, you change her community, you change. So, they were looking for particularly, a family that had girls in it. So this little eleven year old girl, It was all I could do not to say can I take you home. And every time I go home, my partner Steadman says I come to the airport wondering how many children have you brought with you.
Barkha Dutt: And how many have you?
Oprah Winfrey: This time, this time none. But I was so impressed with her because, she lives in this tiny little space. I can't even figure; I couldn't figure out how everybody slept. How did they sleep? Probably spoon fashion. And she still is a star in her class and you know, wants to be a teacher and wants to be educated and wants to educate her little sisters and so I am always; when I see that little girl, I think people watching will say, "Oh my little girl is like that." And it humanizes the story, the way that it makes people connect. That's why I wanted to do it.
Barkha Dutt: I found it interesting because you're so attached to Africa that that particular image that you described, you said that you didn't want to show that back home. Is there a sense that you had coming into India, seeing all of our paradoxical realities- the rich and the poor, the glitterati, the impoverished, that you did not want to go back home with just the picture postcard of poverty. This is a crazy, complex contradictory country.
Oprah Winfrey: Yes, and that's why, if you show people eating out of garbage, then people think that those people are not like me. If you show someone who's living in dire circumstances, but still wants the opportunity for a better life for themselves, it's still the same story, it's the same story. But it allows you to see that there is light in the story. My whole reason for creating a network is literally to bring little pieces of light. It's to continue to spread little pieces of light in the world, to illuminate the possibility of the human spirit, so that I see in this eleven year old Anchal the possibility for my own daughter, I see the possibility for her own life. So that's really what I'm trying. I'm a connecter.
Barkha Dutt: You are.
Oprah Winfrey: I'm a connector with stories. I use stories to connect people and show our humanity, not our lack of humanity.
Barkha Dutt: I mean your empathy is what makes you so mesmerizing, Oprah, but you also met with the widows of Vrindavan.
Oprah Winfrey: Oooh, yeah.
Barkha Dutt: That must have been a bit of a chilling experience, because even for many of us, we're cloistered from that reality, sometimes we don't want to confront it.
Oprah Winfrey: Well I have to say, that meeting with the widows, caused a shift in my own consciousness. You know, as I was saying, I wanted to use, and chose to use this platform of television for illumination. But there was a moment standing there with Dr Giri who's taken in as many widows as her pocket book will allow, that I realized that the marginalisation; you know I've spoken for years about the marginalisation of women, I've spoken for years on my shows about the need for women to own their own voices and to be able to hold the space for themselves. And that the greatest freedom in the world, the reason for freedom is that you get to decide for yourself what to do with your life. That's what real freedom is. And I'm not just an advocate for that, I live that, you know, being a woman who stands inside herself. So standing in the Ashram, with all of these widows who have been discarded simply because their husbands died. The shift for me was, this should not be allowed to happen. I immediately emailed my friend, Maria Shriver, who for years has held a woman's conference in the state of California, and I sent her the pictures of the widows, and said that you and I have to combine our efforts and we have to get with every other woman that we know, to combine our efforts and to make sure that this kind of thing gets eradicated in the world. It doesn't make any sense. Where intelligent women stand to allow the pervasive discrimination of a woman because her husband died, for something you don't have any control over. So you become a second class citizen. But I also had an 'Aha' moment in the midst of it because it's so easy to judge and say, "Oh my God, look at what they're doing". In the midst of interviewing Dr Giri, she said you know it happens, because I was asking is it just a, is it a caste thing, the situation? Or is it a class situation? Because certainly if you are a woman of privilege and your husband dies, this doesn't happen to you. She said you know it's subtle. When you're a woman of privilege and your husband dies, you just don't get invited to as many parties. You're not included, true? And you know when she said that, for the first time I thought, you know I've never spoken to widows in the United States, I'm sure it's true all over the world. Over the world, it happens. What I saw with the widows with her, is the extreme, but you just become a little less in the eyes of your friends because they think that death is contagious, and if it happened to you, then it reminds me that it could happen to me. So I think that attitude, that shift in attitude, needs to happen. Shift in consciousness, needs to happen all over the world, but certainly here. I'm going to be working with Dr Giri to see what I can do to support that. It's one thing to support the widows. And then she was saying you have to chant all day for 2 rupees and a bag of rice and you're discarded by your families. That doesn't make any sense to me. I couldn't understand the paradox of a country that loves its family, loves its tradition and has such respect and honour for their elders, and how do you get cast aside because your husband has died. Women outlive men all over the world. So automatically being, being made a second class citizen. That is a big issue for me.
Barkha Dutt: You have, as you said, been exposed to the paradox of India, the glitterati ..
Oprah Winfrey: India is a paradox.
Barkha Dutt: India is a paradox
Oprah Winfrey: Yes.
Barkha Dutt: Did you find that you had an image of India from that vision board in your head, and you came here and some of your own views and assumptions were revised? Did something surprise you?
Oprah Winfrey: I would say that I came here with an open mind, and had not just my mind open but an expanded heart. I would say, as I said to, I've been emailing back to my friends and texting. This is really one of the greatest, if not greatest, life experiences I've ever had. And the reason is that when you're in the heart of India whether it's in Jaipur, or Agra, or you know Mumbai or out in the countryside with the widows, you feel like you're in the center of something bigger and greater than yourself. And you feel like, like that, although almost everybody looks the same, lot of Indians in India, that there's still so much diversity, that you feel like you're in a part of humanity, that your humanity is being expanded in a way that you just don't; I just don't feel that in, or haven't felt in other places, because you know, as we're driving to Agra, there I saw a picture of an ox pulling a cart, with some metal beams in it, and I know that that ox was, I was thinking that ox was thinking, "I wasn't made for pulling steal". The ox is like, "Woahhh, too much." And then on one side there's a woman in pink sari, a beaded sari with a motorcycle helmet on, sitting on the side. And alongside her is a guy on a donkey. So I go, I guess this is India. We're not in Chicago anymore. So I feel, I feel opened by the experience, I feel expanded, I feel like enriched. Deepened and enriched, which I feel that's what real travel is supposed to do. And there's no travel that's worth anything unless you get to meet the people. The reason why it was such an enriching experience was that at one of the homes in Mumbai, I sat with 5 women from different generations, different backgrounds and different social classes, different. And so, for me, all the experience is about talking to the people, you know, the buildings are fine, the Taj Mahal is beautiful, very nice, he really loved her, I would like to say, he really, really, really loved her, to build that monument. But that's all well and good, but it means nothing, as you know, without the people. And all experiences as I have come to know, experiences or piece of cake, whatever it is better, if you can share it, better if you can share it, yes.
Barkha Dutt: You think you're going to ask for a Taj Mahal to be built for you?
Oprah Winfrey: I think it would be completely unnecessary. I think my life has been the Taj Mahal, I think.
Barkha Dutt: I have to ask you, will you come again.
Oprah Winfrey: Yes. And the reason why, is because, you know, we've spent more time here doing the story than we have anywhere. And we thought, "Oh gee, we can get a good picture of what the story could be over here. You can't. You have to come back again, and then you have to come back again. I met a wonderful cardiologist the other day, he has a center in Delhi, I don't remember his name, Deepak knows him. Yeah, okay.
Barkha Dutt: Trehan, Dr Trehan.
Oprah Winfrey: Dr Trehan and the stories he was telling me about the work that he was doing, infusing traditional medicine, what we call in the United States alternative medicine, so interesting to me. And so I thought, gee, we have to tell that story. And then there are people, I'd love to tell that story. So I have to come back, I've got to come back.
Barkha Dutt: That's good to hear. We'd love to have you back. Wouldn't we? We'd love to have her back.
Oprah Winfrey: This is so, you know what is so amazing to me? I don't know why I didn't know this, because I knew we were on in a hundred and twenty-one countries, but I'm really sort of focused in my own world in Chicago, and now in California with the network. So we're sitting in the hotel in Mumbai with my god-daughter and she said, "Do they get the show here?" and I said, "I don't think so." I know now, you do. And I said, she said, "You don't think so?" and I said, "No, we wouldn't have had that much problems at customs if they would have got the show here." Because the guy he looked at my, he looked at it and looked again. You know that moment there, when you're standing there and you're wondering, is my name in a computer? Then you hear a little beeping sound, and I thought, oh my bells are going off, it actually was a car outside backing up, but anyway.
Barkha Dutt: Now, I think what's so specially about you, is that you give a voice to the ordinary and to the people who live on the margins, especially when it comes to women and girls. Does that come, before I ask you about South Africa and your school there, does that come from your own experience? I know and I read this, not just did you grow up in poverty and fight it, you sometimes wore dresses made from potato sacks to go to school. You knew what it was like to face the discrimination of growing up black in America. Did your own experience make you grow up, get all this privilege, self-made completely and say I'm not going to allow this to happen to other girls, I'm going to change it for them?
Oprah Winfrey: Where are the questions coming from, do you not have a sheet of paper?
Barkha Dutt: You've got to give me a job.
Oprah Winfrey: Really good, really good, really good. Certainly, everyone here, you're the product of everything that's ever happened to you. You are who you are at this moment because of everything that's ever happened to you, everything that you carried forward for yourself. So certainly, being born a child of poverty, in what was really apartheid America at the time, had a big influence on who I am today. I would say I was born at the right time, because the greatest gift to me is that even though I was born in a segregated southern United States, Mississippi at the time, my great fortune was that I was never put into a segregated school. So, not for one moment, was I ever indoctrinated with the idea that I was less than anybody else. I could feel it all around me. I could feel that my grandmother's greatest hope for me was that I would one day grow up and be a maid like herself. She wanted me to be able to work for a family that, she was just like, "I hope you get some good white folks. I hope you get some good, white folks.", because that's her dream. That was her dream for me that I would be able to work for a family, that would be able to give me some level of respect and, you know, maybe let me take clothes home. It wasn't even her dream that I could become a teacher in a segregated school, but just that I would be able to work for a family that would not disrespect me. So, my grandmother never lived to see that I became an educated woman and was able to do all the things that I have done. But the truth is this; somewhere inside myself, my grandmother had raised me to be religious and going to church. And I had developed a personal relationship with God. And my personal relationship with that which is greater than myself, is the fundamental reason why I was able to hold on, because I could believe that there was a life bigger than my front yard. I could believe that there was something greater than what my grandmother saw for me. I actually did believe, the Bible says that we are God's children, and I would go to sermons and hear the minister preach that "You are God's child". So I thought that he was my daddy, because I didn't have a daddy, so I thought that, "Oh! God is my daddy" So, growing up believing that God is my father, and through God I can do all things, that is the fundamental reason why I think that, in the midst of everything that I was told to believe about myself. And we all know you become what you believe, not what you think or what you want. It's what your heart believes that you can do, holding on to the vision of what you can do. It's what you thought, that I was saying yesterday. You can either see yourself as a wave in the ocean or you can see yourself as the ocean. So, I believe that I belong to the greater ocean, that is the Sea of God, and so for that reason I have never believed that there was a ceiling. I didn't believe it, when people told me, that you couldn't be or you couldn't do. I just did not believe it. I just didn't believe it. So I acted like I could.
Barkha Dutt: And you did.
Oprah Winfrey: And then I did. That's what happened. Which is, I would have to say, the great gift is that I was never put in a school. My life would have been completely different had I been put in a segregated school with teachers telling me that I was less than. So, by the time I went to kindergarten, I was almost six years old, but my grandmother had taught me to read the Bible. So I knew a lot of Biblical terms from the Christian Bible. I went to kindergarten and on my first day there I wrote on a sheet of paper all the names of the disciples, I wrote Nicodemus, and my kindergarten teacher said, "Who wrote this?" And I said, "I did 'coz I know a lot of big words" And I got put into first grade on my first day of kindergarten. And then, and that's when I learnt to negotiate for yourself. That's when I first learned it; you got to speak up for yourself. And then this is what I learnt in the third grade, in the third grade, I loved to read, so it's so appropriate that I am at the Jaipur Book Festival. Loved to read. Third grade, I turned in a book report early. We were given an assignment. I turned mine in. We had two weeks. I turned it in the first week, like 2-3 days, because I was finished and wanted another book. I learnt from that lesson in the third grade, that when you are excellent, people pay attention, because my third grade teacher told the fourth grade teacher, who told the fifth grade teacher. So that by the time I got to the fourth grade they were like, "You are that kid who likes to read. I know you. You are the kid who turns in your things early." All the other kids hated me. All the other kids hated me, but I learnt then, that when you are excellent, people notice. So I developed this principle of trying to be really, really, really good at whatever it is that you are doing. You try to do that the very best, no matter if it is flipping fries at McDonalds or if it's working at a tailor shop and all your job is to fold the cloth. That whatever you do, you do it really, really, really good, you're the best, and people notice that about you and say, "I want that girl. I want the girl that folds the cloth that way." That's true.
Barkha Dutt: To me, and I know to so many people here, one of the most moving, I would say, campaigns of your life, has been to get justice for girls who have been the victims of sexual abuse. And you came out, on your own show, and spoke about being a victim of sexual abuse as a child. How difficult was it for you to do that? And what made you decide to do it?
Oprah Winfrey: Well, when I first started, when I was going to start my national television show, I had an attorney who came to me and said that "Is there anything I should know about" The guy who was running my company, "Is there anything I should know about?" and I said, "No". And as time went on, more and more things came out, he goes, and "I asked you if there is anything I should know about?" The reason it came out on the show is because I was interviewing somebody who was a victim of sexual abuse, and I wanted that person to know that she was not alone. And so it just came out. You know, in all of my shows I am always looking for, what is the thread of truth? And my producers will tell you that over the years I've done thousands of shows and actually the greatest lesson to me about truth came when I was interviewing skinheads in the Ku Klux Klan. And in that moment I realized that this is a platform. It is not just a show, it's a platform. It's a platform for an energy exchange and I am putting energy out into the world that is not resonating as positive energy, and I don't want to do that anymore. And I learnt that with the Ku Klux Klan. But, to answer your question, when I was interviewing a woman who was sexually abused, I had done it a couple of years earlier, interviewed a woman, and I so wanted to tell her, I so wanted to say, "That happened to me too" and I didn't have the courage to do it. And I thought if I ever got an opportunity again I would not hide in shame about it, but that I would let that other person know. So I really just did it for that one person. I wasn't thinking about everybody else. And then, after I did it, because when you've never told anybody, you think that you are the only one. So when I first heard somebody say I am like, "Oh my God! This happened to somebody else?" So then I interviewed somebody else, "Oh! It happened to somebody else?" So I wanted her to know that this too had happened to me. And then, you know, it seemed like millions of other women said that "It also happened to me" In our country the statistic says that 1 out of 4 women. I don't know, it could be higher. I certainly believe that it is higher in Africa. I see you are holding The Color Purple. There is a wonderful line, those of you who've seen The Color Purple, where the character that I play, Sofia, says, "All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers, had to fight my cousins. I never thought I had to fight in my own house. A girl child isn't safe in a world full of men" she says. "A girl child isn't safe in a world full of men." And so, when I read that book The Color Purple for the first time, I thought again, "It happened to someone else"
Barkha Dutt: And then you got the Clinton Administration to actually put through what was known as the Oprah Bill, a database of all offenders against little girls who have been sexually abused.
Oprah Winfrey: The fact is that I finished my show, and one of the things I said at the end of the show is that my deepest regret is that I wasn't able to make a big enough, wasn't able to move forward the understanding, throughout the world, of what that means. Because, everybody thinks that it is the actual act of being molested or abused. It isn't. It's the shame that it causes. And that shame that colours, and really for many girls, and boys, I'm now finding out, defines who they are for the rest of their lives. It's the story that they tell themselves about who they are after being abused. So, you're right, the act itself is minimal compared to the lasting impact and its effect. So getting people to see that you are not your circumstances, you are not what happened to you, but you are what is possible for you, has been one of my goals, one of my missions, because of what happened to me. And I know how long I, sort of, suffered in shame and embarrassment about it, and wanted other people; you know, life, your information, everything you have, is better when you share it. And as soon as I; that's why I love sharing ideas, I love sharing experiences, and I love sharing what I have with other people. And my other people just happen to be you, the world.
Barkha Dutt: You've obviously committed yourself, in many ways, to improving the lives of young girls. And the Leadership Academy in South Africa, the first graduating class just passed out. Tell us a little bit about that.
Oprah Winfrey: Yay! I was saying yay, because it is no small thing taking on a school from scratch 8,000 miles away. So this idea started when I was sitting in Nelson Mandela's living room in 2002 and we were having a conversation about poverty and what could you do to begin to change poverty. The only way I know, I said, is through education because that's the open door. That's how you unlock everything so people have choices. I said, you know, "One day I'd like to build a school in South Africa, a girls' school". And he jumped up out of his chair and said "You want to build a school?" He calls his Minister of Education that day. I was thinking one day I wanted to build a school. I wasn't thinking that day. But the process started. I met with the Minister of Education by that evening and it was a dream that I had held within for a while. Why? Because I tried other ways and I think this is true for everybody; your life on Earth expands exponentially when you can find a way to give what you have to somebody else. And it doesn't matter what that is. I'm in a position that I can do that in big ways. But every single person who hears me right now, if you can look inside yourself and figure out how you can just take what you have; for some of you it's your ability to listen, it's your ability to be a friend; it's your ability to connect. For some it's like you can actually do physical things, like you can cook, or you can bake, or you can sew, or you can share opportunities, or you can open a door for somebody, or you can use your kindness and your grace in a way so that the energy of yourself moves out into the world, in a way that when that comes back to you, it gives to you. That is the reason why I am so enriched and am so blessed. Because, every day for 25 years I spoke to millions of people around the world. And I spoke, I would get on the elevator, go downstairs in silence, every single day before every show, either have a short little prayer or just silence, with the intention that every single show would land in the heart and mind of whoever was watching, in such a way that they would feel that light, whatever it was that I was trying to do. That is how I live. I live with; just before coming on here today, I am not just speaking for myself, but I want the energy of God, the space of God. My favourite quote is "In God I live and move and have my being". To speak through me so that something that is said here, through you and through me, will reach you in such a way that you use yourself. Because it really is all about using your life. I'm going to make sure that the series that we are doing here in India, all of you get to see. But yesterday, speaking with Deepak, it was so powerful, because we were talking about the multitude of galaxies on Earth and how really it is a miracle that each one of us gets to exist and gets to exist at this particular; just think about it, the chances of you being here. I mean, the little sperm hitting the egg, swimming up the channel, and there lands. Yeah, go back, all the way there. And there lands. And bam, there we are. Just the fact that we are here and are alive at this time and what each of us brings to each other. In Africa there is this wonderful expression called Ubuntu, which means "I am because we are". And my entire school is founded on that principle of "I am because we are". It means that without you this wouldn't be possible. So I built the school going from village to village looking for girls who were just like me. Like myself, in that born poor, as I was, raised by a grandmother, no running water, no electricity. Living in what most people would call poverty, but the thing about it is that you don't know you are poor until somebody tells you and you have something to compare it to. And then you go "Damn! I was poor" So I was looking for girls like that, who had the ability and the desire to succeed, to be leaders in the world, because that's how you are going to change the world, one woman at a time through leadership. Leadership is the key. So, I wanted to build a leadership academy that, in spite of the patriarchal society in which most of those girls are raised, they will still be able to honour the society and their families, be respectful of it, appreciative of it, but hold on to themselves. Have a voice for themselves that would allow them to be seated at the table wherever the future of the world is decided. That is what I wanted for these girls and so I created a school that allows that to begin to happen. The process to defining yourself, creating an identity for yourself, that goes beyond other people's definition of who you can or should be.
Barkha Dutt: We all know about your battles as a young girl, but now that you are this rockstar.
Oprah Winfrey: No. I know some rockstars. I am not a rockstar.
Barkha Dutt: Okay, superstar. I don't even know what words to use.
Oprah Winfrey: I've hung out with Bono a couple of times. That's a rockstar, but okay
Barkha Dutt: The question is, even as this immensely successful woman, do you feel that your gender makes your experience different? Do you feel the world scrutinizes you differently because you are a woman?
Oprah Winfrey: I don't feel that, because I don't allow myself to allow other people's criticism of me that is not valid. I appreciate a good critique. I've learnt some things. In the earlier part of my career I would read everything and I remember reading, when I first started doing a talk show in 1978, that said "She talks so much. She ate the furniture. She ate the chairs. She didn't let anybody else get a word in" And I read that and I thought, "Yeah, I do talk too much". So I learnt from that criticism to listen more. And I remember that when we were going to Nelson Mandela's house for the first time, my partner Stedman, and I was so nervous, and I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know. I mean, it's 10 days, it's Nelson Mandela, what am I going to say?" And he said, "Why don't you try listening?" Which, if you're sitting at Nelson Mandela's table, is a good thing. There is nothing I can say to him. I should try listening.
Barkha Dutt: Can I ask you, since we are at the Literature Festival, there is a young girl holding The Color Purple and you've got a book club that makes or breaks authors. Doesn't it?
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah. Well, I wouldn't say it makes or breaks. You know what? That book club started because, as most things start, very organically with me. And that is born out of what I wanted for myself. There was one of my producers and I who shared books. And every Christmas, she would, for a Christmas present, still, pick the book that I most liked that year and she would have it leather bound and write an inscription, whatever. And we were sharing books and she said, "Why don't we try this on TV?" I said, "You can't do books on TV, Alice". Her name is Alice McGee. "You can't talk about books on TV because people don't even read books. They certainly aren't going to listen to you talk about books they haven't read". So she said, "What if we can get people to read the book first?" So we started with this idea of the book club on TV and we started with just 5 little minutes at the back of a show. Let's just bury it, so that we have the whole front show and then if nobody watches the back end its okay. And then go on TV first and try to get as many people as you can to read the book. So we did that just as a little fun thing for ourselves, to entertain ourselves.
And because I used to this, for those of you who are authors here before I had a book club, I would look in the back of the book you know where your picture is and you sneak them and they look nothing like the pictures but that's the truth. You couldn't identify and didn't line up from that picture but anyways I used to go to the back of the book, see where the author lived and call them. This is before cell phones and everything and you people were actually listed in the phonebook, and I would call up the authors to talk about the books, just because I loved talking about the books. And so after the book club I thought that's great I won't have to track them down and talk to them. I can talk to them on my television show. So it started just for me and for one of my producers, Alice, and turned into this major idea of exposing the world to books. You know I thought people who were 40 years old coming up to me and saying that they haven't read the books since they were in high school, which is unimaginable to me, because that is what I do for pleasure, that is what I do to relax myself, if people would say, I wonder what you are doing, sometimes when I am tweeting, people say I wonder what you are doing? Well if I wasn't tweeting I would be, my ideal day is to be able to spend a day reading a great book, and knowing that I have another one tweet because sometimes I will be in the middle of the book. It just happened I was in the middle of the book and you have to slow; when I was reading, Yeah shorter arm for the first time, I was so good that I could slow myself down because I am going to get to the in, you get about 600 pages and if it is 600 pages you got to slow yourself down and you have got 200 pages left, so my ideal thing is knowing what is the next book. This is a good place to figure what is the next book to read, because I know what you are going to ask me, now what are you reading?
Barkha Dutt: I wasn't going to ask you that
Oprah Winfrey: You were going to ask that
Barkha Dutt: I can still have a couple of surprises even with Oprah Winfrey. My question was going to be Toni Morrison, is obviously a big flavour
Oprah Winfrey: Oh yes because I chose her more than, she is my favourite living author
Barkha Dutt: She is?
Oprah Winfrey: Yes my favourite living author, and you know even though a lot of people, you know her magical realism is difficult for some people at first. I remember when I first called her up after reading Beloved, I said, found her in the back of the book, she actually did look like her picture, found her in the back of the book and couldn't get her directly. I remember calling the fire department in her city and asking them if they could call Toni Morrison. Poor me. Anyway I got her on the phone and I said Miss Morrison I just finished reading your book Beloved and I have to tell you it took me sometime because I was going over the pages, does anyone have ever tell you that they have to read these sentences, and then go over them again and then go over them again? And she said, "that my dear is called reading". That's it so, yeah when you have to go over it and then what happened on that last page and then, so yes, I think I have read everything that she has done.
Barkha Dutt: As a poor student in New York I used to save up by second hand copies of her book.
Oprah Winfrey: Really
Barkha Dutt: Yeah, I love her
Oprah Winfrey: Do you have a favourite of hers?
Barkha Dutt: Beloved!
Oprah Winfrey: Beloved. It is actually isn't my favourite. Bluest eye is my favourite.
Barkha Dutt: Really?
Oprah Winfrey: Yes and the reason why, and that was her first one and actually the simplest read I think, and the reason is, why is, because I did that book as a book club, and I thought it was really about black girls not living themselves. And then we got emails and women from all over the world; we got Indian women who were darker skin, Indian women who said I know that story, we got Mexican women, I know that story, Chinese women, I know that story, that is my story. So I love it because it speaks to the core that I believe, that without your own identity, without knowing who you are, you literally go insane. There is no life without knowing who you are
Barkha Dutt: One of the really interesting things that your Book Club has done is to revive the classics, Leo Tolstoy, Marques. I read somewhere that 800 thousand extra copies had to be printed of Anna Karenina because you recommended it
Oprah Winfrey: Yes
Barkha Dutt: Why the classics?
Oprah Winfrey: Well it was becoming more and more difficult for me, because I was choosing all the books by myself, and because people thought I had a whole team of people doing it. It was just me you know. I would run into somebody who would say "Oh! I just read this book Shantaram", as it happened to me in South Africa. They said you should read this book. That's how I could find books, the same way everybody else will also find books, and when I was, you know it can get difficult sometimes to keep track of what was coming out, who was doing the book because I was reading books just not for myself anymore, I was reading a book thinking, will a million other people? At least I need a million other people. I know a million is nothing here in this country, you can get a million people found near the store. Anyhow, I said there are a lot of people, a million people, here it's a restaurant, it's true, but I would read the books and read the books, no longer read the books for just what I like, but I think at least a million other people will like this book. And so it got to be an issue for me, trying to find new books that I thought would be great material, and doing that every month, and so I knew I could depend on the classics and I never read Anna Karenina. And so I thought life is better when you share it, much better when you have a bunch of other people reading along with you, and I was always intimidated by the Russian authors, and I broke my intimidation with using other people, bringing the whole world along.
Barkha Dutt: Now you have had a couple of controversies with the book club, James Frey whom you demolished on live television for making up bits of his book
Oprah Winfrey: Is the word demolished?
Barkha Dutt: I think it is? Didn't you?
Oprah Winfrey: Okay. Well you know what I would have to say about that? Do you know what is she talking about? James Frey, I would have to say, did you see the show that I did, the second show?
Barkha Dutt: I did. When you called him back.
Oprah Winfrey: When I called him back, that was a big lesson for me, because when everybody said I demolished him or I took him to the whipping post and I did all of that I couldn't see it. I literally could not see that is what I have done. This is the author, who had come on the show for a million little pieces, and I was so into that book and was so excited to have him on and was defending him when people said that impossible for somebody to go to the dentist and get the teeth pulled, and I said no he really did it. So I was very disappointed when I found out that parts of the book were not true and very defensive on the area. When I look back at myself I realise that it was 100% my ego trying to defend the truth and in all of my interviewing years, no matter whom I am talking to, and I have done the worst you know, women who have murdered their children and the fathers who have murdered their daughters, and I thought when I looked at it again, years later, that I had more compassion for murderers and that I was defending my territory, defending my name and defending my brand of the Book Club. And in so doing I had forgotten to be compassionate, and had forgotten to listen to him, because I didn't even give him a chance to say anything. I was really on the attack and so my apology to him was not for having said it, or not for having defended it, but for the way in which I did it. The way in which I did it. I apologize for putting him under the spot and talking to him. I mean he just told some stories that were not true, and I treated like he had murdered someone so I apologise for that.
Barkha Dutt: Do you feel, I asked you this because you are on twitter, people say that twitter or using it as a metaphor for the internet, for the social media, is diminishing our attention spans, it is stopping us from reading. Did you feel that?
Oprah Winfrey: I do
Barkha Dutt: You worry about that
Oprah Winfrey: Yes I do because when I am on it I could be reading a book right now, ya I do I think it is. Deepak you should speak about this later, because I saw you on the news talking about this the other day, about how there is a part of our brain, that when you are on the computer and you are on twitter, doing that all the time, it did have the same effect on the brain as alcohol or drugs. And so I think that I have got lost in it myself, when I started, I started tweeting and then I am into somebody else, you know, I have been sitting here for hours, that's an hour of my time and what have I done, what am I saying? I am talking about nothing and I could have been spending that time more usefully, do you all not find that with yourselves? Has everybody in here signed my no phone, driving? Okay, good. Because this is what I would like to say, texting and driving is stupid. It's stupid. In India, it's insane. You cannot text and drive in India when the people don't obey the red lights. Oh my God, it's insane. You can't do it, it's crazy.
Barkha Dutt: Okay now, I am getting the sign that we have got limited time, so to end I am going to ask you, America is heading for another election
Oprah Winfrey: I knew you were going to
Barkha Dutt: Oh I have to, I have to
Oprah Winfrey: I am so out of politics, I am so out of it
Barkha Dutt: Will you endorse him again?
Oprah Winfrey: I already have.
Barkha Dutt: I know but do you feel as strongly about it as you did the first time around?
Oprah Winfrey: No. I believe in him, I love him, I appreciate him, I think he has done a, of course could make mistakes, you are walking into the White House. You have the whole world waiting to see what you are going to do, watching your every move and he is a man. He is a man and I mean that in the best way. I meant meaning a world leader and he is a man. He is not God, he is a man and so as a man you make mistakes sometimes in the world. I feel that the world for God, that we are at the brink of depression in our country and then, that you know, we were, nobody knows if we are going to be having breadlines, that may be an exaggeration, but he was able to stop that from happening. And then it so doesn't happen. Everybody is like, well they forget, and I think that it's a difficult job and I think that his next 4 years are going to be even more successful for our country. And then people are going to get back at work and it's going to be a really good thing that he remained in office. I feel very strongly that he will remain in office. I am not being overly confident about it, but when you look at the other party? I am just saying.
Barkha Dutt: That says everything, doesn't it? One last question, your first show was marriage advice, how to get married to a right guy, your very first show. You never got married; you said you are not the marrying kind. What's the marrying kind?
Oprah Winfrey: That's a good question for the women of India, a lot of marrying kind over here. I never got married because I live in a country and culture that allows me to have a choice. If I were going to be married, I think the person I have chosen to partner over the years would be a wonderful person to do that with. I think, had we got married, we would have probably been divorced by now and he would agree. I am not saying this disrespectfully. He would agree because I really am my own woman, and I don't really confirm very well to other people's ideas about who and when I should be. And you know being married calls for some conformity, it does and I think our lives work very well the way we have set it up. But that's for us and I am not saying you know, I have got great, great, great respect and now I would say admiration, from what I have seen in this country, the way the women are able to be married, what do they call it, develop a love marriage?
Barkha Dutt: Arranged marriage
Oprah Winfrey: Arranged marriage and many people say that we were in arranged marriage, but now we are in a love marriage. I have great respect for your ability to do that, because I was, your ability to do that, but because I wasn't raised in this culture, that's not even a part of the way I think. So I think, based upon who I am right now, that will be very hard for me if somebody were going to arrange a marriage. That would be very difficult for me at this time. Although I think I am too old now right!
Barkha Dutt: No. Is she too old?
Oprah Winfrey: No, but you do where nobody is arranging anything anymore. Well the arrangements are over for you, nobody cares whether you get arranged or not really. So I never did because it wasn't for me. You know I was engaged for a short period and I think what I wanted is what everybody wants. Certainly a lot of women, I think I was in my 30's, I wanted to know if he cared enough about me to want to marry me, but as soon as he asked me, I started to get my girlfriend Gail; as we were talking, they were talking about doing a shower for me and I said, please don't do a shower, please don't do a shower and she said, why not? And I said I just don't have cold feet, my feet are in a bucket of cement. I don't think I can do it, I don't think I can go through with it, so it wasn't for me.
Barkha Dutt: Well I think some did our best when you said you are your own woman, you have lived on your own terms. It's been an absolute delight and honour to talk to you. Can we please say thank you to Oprah Winfrey and ask her to come back again
Oprah Winfrey: What a great job...No piece of paper.
Barkha Dutt: Thank you very much.
Oprah Winfrey: You are brilliant girl.