Sunday, December 30, 2012

Before you go out tonight....

I've been trying to lie low. In fact, on 10th December I said goodbye to the year 2012 and went to bury my head in the sand, hoping the year would just speed up and pass us by. I chose a cold quiet destination for our holiday, far from the noise and merrymaking this season usually brings.
But no. I have been denied that peace, that silence to lick my wounds in. For in the past two weeks in shock and horror I, along with the rest of the world, have been watching the Delhi gang rape case.
First it was the act itself. Rape is always such a dastardly crime. The thought that a young college-going girl returning from a movie with a friend could be raped on a public bus. Whoa, weren't we always told to take the public transport? "Safer than taxis, specially after night fall," we were told when young. So when did the rules change?
Secondly, I repeat, the girl was not alone; she was accompanied by a friend. A male friend. "Safer, better than being alone," my mother would have said.  So after watching "Life of Pi" a serious movie, for God's sake, not even a "Dabang" type Bollyrot, the friends hail a bus and clamber on.
Now the bus. That was something. It wasn't exactly a public bus. How many times do we really pay attention to a bus that is coming on a  route? Unknown to the two friends, this bus and its occupants were quite a piece of work. The bus itself had no permit or fitness certificate, something passengers are never in the know of anyway. It was used to ferry school children (a thought that makes me shudder more!) and the drivers etc had chosen that fateful Sunday to gorge on chicken curry, rice and alcohol and then decided to take the bus for a run to pick up passengers to further sponsor their party. And what a party that turned out to be!
Fourthly the men made provocative and lewd comments. The boy was beaten unconscious when he dared protest and his friend was raped. Not once, not twice but many times. I care not go into that dark corner.
Fifth, the heinous nature of the assault. The six men used rods to break the walls between the victim's anal and vaginal canals and pulled out her intestines. Is that sex!!!?
Next, the men obviously had had enough to satiate their masculinity for the time being. Both the girl and her friend were stripped and thrown off the bus. By Delhi's roadside.
Oh yes, they were taken to hospital We all know the story. We all heard the details and waited for   the men to be arrested. Today they are under-trials at the Tihar jail scorned at and abused by the other inmates. I was joyous when I read somewhere that the other inmates beat them and made them eat their own shit. Serves them right, I thought.
All six men have been arrested. All await trial. One I have heard is a minor. I like to think that since there is nothing minor about the nature of his crime, he shall not be protected by reason of his physical age. If I could have my way I would recommend chemical castration. Or having an iron rod shoved up their insides. Death would be too easy. 
With growing dismay we heard of the multiple surgeries on the girl, her gangrened intestines which had to removed, her statement to the police, we listened to the noises made by several politicians and we watched while the  nation came forward to protest and hold candlelight vigils and marches. Not just in Delhi but all over the country. We heard the voices of the innocent, the protesters, the voices that clamoured for safety of women on the streets, the sane voices against violence perpetrated on women. And we also heard the ugly sounds of groups and factions trying to get some political mileage from the incident. Sitting in my quiet hotel in Darjeeling we watched as the protests turned violent and clashes broke out. In horror and resignation we learnt of the police man who died in the clash and then heart in mouth heard that the girl was shifted to Singapore to a speciality hospital.
She died. I guess we were hoping against hope even after hearing about the sepsis and infection and then cardiac arrhythmia and brain damage, but we hoped.
And as a nation we mourned. We were returning from Darjeeling to Bagdogra when the news hit us. It was a brilliant day like the others before it, the sun shone on the Kanchenjungha range and the hills glowed. Only I saw gloom everywhere. The mood was dark, intense and dull. With growing horror I saw my Twitter TL fill up with hate messages against our leaders, our politicians, our police and the entire system. India is mourning. And India is angry. India wants the death sentence, stringent rape laws, fast track courts for crimes against women. India wants justice.
Many people feel the government, our leaders and the police system have failed us. Maybe they have too. I will not argue with them.  Not now.  (But before I tolerate one more message asking me to boycott the Republic Day, I will say this is the time, if ever there was one, for us to pledge ourselves to the Republic and the Constitution which promises us, among other things, equality.) But to get back to where I was, anger is good. Having someone to blame is also very good. Very therapeutic, I have been told.
But stop. hold it right there. Think. Before casting the stone at others, it's time to introspect.
Are we ourselves somehow to blame for this?
Have we somehow contributed to this mindset of the men that they think any woman is theirs for the taking?
Yes, and the answer is yes.
Each time a girl child is abandoned by the roadside, we fail all women.
Each time a woman agrees to abort a female foetus, women are dragged deeper down.
Each time we offer prayers for a male child, we show them how superior they are.
Each time we take a girl child out of school and make her do household duties or marry her off we show the boys they are better.
Each time we showcase a daughter in the hope that the eligible so-and-so will choose her, we let her down.
Each time we laugh with the guys just to be one of the guys when they pass a lewd comment we have betrayed our sisters.
Each time we allow a man to take the decision about what we will do with our lives, who we will marry, we have failed. Each time a mother looks away even when she knows her married son is having an affair because "it's a male thing", we lose.
And each time we think the be-all and end-all of life is marriage we drag ourselves deeper into the mire.
Yes, we have harmed ourselves. We are to blame. We, our mothers our grandmothers and the ones before have perpetrated this myth for generations, that men are somehow blessed and deserve more. We ourselves are guilty of this crime and the million others against women which we accept as part of life here in India.
"Pah", you say, "this happens only in the villages!"
Look around you; I am sure in the cities, among the so called educated, among the elite, you know some of these women who dominate their daughters-in-law just because she has married her "little God";  show utter scorn that a woman has borne a daughter and titter uncontrollably when "uski toh beti hui hai"! In buses, on streets, even in places of worship we constantly have to protect our bodies from being pawed. We not only have endured this, we teach our daughters to protect themselves. I am frightened. Not only for our daughters but for every unborn girl child in this country. For unless we can change ourselves from this line of thought, we shall never be able to change the way our boys, who will eventually become men, think. It's a arduous task, can we dare to try? Can we teach our sons to respect women and not look upon them as mindless creatures that run after a man for the deo he uses or the bike he drives? Can we teach them that women think and feel and have desires and ambitions and are so much more than just a life support system for a vagina?
Have I made you think?
or am I keeping you from that party?

Friday, December 14, 2012

While I was sleeping.

For about three months this year I have been off the radar. My father in law suffered a cerebral stroke in mid-September (as most of you know) and until he passed away six weeks later, I spent almost every waking moment by his side until they frog marched me off the hospital premises. Now after everything is over and I am coming back to the world of the living , so to speak, I find my daughters have done quite a bit of growing up. The whole episode was in any event very traumatic for them.  Not only were they very attached to their grandfather, it was Isha who found him in the bathroom when he had the stroke and ran and alerted us that morning of 16th September. Somehow for a while she blamed herself. I was too busy running circles around the hospital to realise how much it had affected her until one night I found her crying quietly into her pillow and my husband and I gathered her in our arms and gently explained it was not her fault and in fact she had probably saved his life by alerting us when she did. I realised that day that I needed to tune into their lives a little more. Fortunately the puja vacations popped up and I was free once again to stare desolately into the Critical Care Unit leaving my daughters to the care and affection of other members of our XL family. Somehow they managed. I was myself impressed with the sense of responsibility they showed in organising things at home even when we had no maid. Homework was done, studies were taken care of and exams were prepared for without any help or prodding from me. Late at night I would return home and find them quietly asleep, uniforms neatly left on their chairs ready for the next morning. I kissed them goodnight, turned off the lamp and each day I thanked someone up there for looking after them. I had visions of happy, well-adjusted,  disciplined children and was covered in the warm golden glow of motherhood. Somewhere amid all that Isha turned 13  and Amisha turned 12. They did not crib once that their birthdays were low key affairs or they could not have their friends over or that there was no party with the works. They were content with whatever was arranged and never complained. I have to thank the rest of the family and a few friends for making the days a lot brighter than it would've been without them.

And now that the rigmarole is over, it's like coming back to earth after a three month hiatus. I look around, stunned into silence: that golden glow is tarnished, the vision has rapidly faded. Somehow the girls have changed:
Isha's become a teen-ager. Add to that all the horror stories you have heard about teen-agers. She is more opinionated, more aggressive, more irritable. Her favourite words are "it's complicated,"  followed by "you won't understand". Hence anything you ask her is complicated. She does not ask to be cuddled as much and when she is not fighting with her sister  is content to watch whatever nonsense she watches on uTube or TV. At 7 pm week nights, without fail she begs to watch some shit called "dil dance and dosti"  or whatever and devours each episode of Grey's Anatomy! Once in a while you will call and call and call and she will not reply because she is sitting inside the television and can't hear you. And the phone calls. Even past ten at night (sacrilege, my father would say) a small voice says "Aunty just once please, can I talk to Isha pleeease, it's very urgent?" I growl. I want to ask who has died. But my daughter has run into the loo or the guest room with the cordless phone, obviously, these "complicated" conversations cannot be held in front of a parent!!!! Being naturally talkative, sometimes when she is in an amiable frame of mind she volunteers some information about some school friend she or some friend has "problems" with and I quietly listen, not daring to offer unsolicited advise, grateful that I am being allowed a foot into her complicated world. It's on the tip of my tongue to tell her that if they watched less TV they would realise real life is less drama and more about being who you are and accepting others for who THEY are. But I hold my tongue. Obviously I do not understand. And obviously she does not want me to complicate her life any further!!!
As for the younger one Amisha, THAT I can understand. Or so I thought, until she has now taken to keeping a virtual pet called "Poo"! Imagine, late at night she cuddles up to me on my bed and says "Ma, tomorrow in the morning before you go to Court can you feed Poo a hamburger and wash his bum?" I almost fell off my bed in shock! She is someone who reaches home from school and the phone rings. That friend she had spent the last five odd hours with is calling to tell her that she too has reached home. I do not know what they talk about but she and her little group of four friends drive me up the wall with their constant calls. At least it's not complicated. It only makes me, my husband and the phone bill go through the roof! Amisha, when she is not busy fighting with her sister is creative, she likes making things. Some of them I must admit are quite impressive. So now our house has become the dumping ground for every scrap picture frame, art paper and other knick knacks she picks up from her piano class! Her piano teacher has a picture framing studio at home and happily encourages her creative bent of mind. Only here I find strange packets in the wardrobe stuffed haphazardly so the door cannot close. I take them out. One has about a hundred one inch pieces of wood. The other has bigger pieces. Another has pieces in different colours. The next one has bits of plastic. I threaten to throw them all away. "But I'm making something," she insists, " please let it be." Endearingly, she throws her arms around me, she can be very sweet when she wants something. I surrender quietly.
Yes, I have been quiet lately. Can you blame me?

Monday, December 10, 2012

May I take your leave?

Today, after a long time I sit and try to write. I've decided it's time for my annual piece summing up the year that was. Yes, the words come out slowly, chokingly and I force them out until they emerge, a gooey mass in my palm, much like that tube of oil paint you did not quite recap properly and the top end has hardened.
Yes, yes, I know, the year has not quite ended...three weeks to go. You all have those year ending parties and Christmas to look forward to..... It's just that it just FEELS like it's over, at least for me... so why not let the passing year close a bit early, just this once, for me at least? 
The single most important and tragic thing that has happened this year is the loss of my father-in- law. It was sudden and unexpected and shortly after a terrific vacation we all enjoyed in the UK in summer. There were other events, the year had its shares of joys and sorrows, fights and tantrums, I guess, but I seem to have forgotten them just now.  Once in a while those summer vacation pictures come rolling around as my screen saver and I stare at them wishing the days were once more in my hands and I could somehow hold on to them forever. But nothing lasts forever, least of all the people we love. Save in our heads and our memories.
Oh it hurt like hell. Right from that moment when we had to admit him to hospital for the long vigil in silence and desperation to the time when we took him home that last time for his final journey. I can recall each moment of angst and anger, rage and frustration, tenderness and prayer. And now too, although more than a month has passed, I have not gotten used to it. There are no calls to be made in the morning, no one asks if I am home and we are trying to get used to the silence that walks by our side and visits us in the evening. I waver between anger and pain. I rage against peace and insist there is no justice. But even in my most illogical moments I can see both my fathers and my mother-in-law looking down at me surrounded by other dear faces telling me to let go, to forgive, to move on.
So that's what I am trying to do now: move on. My father always said that life is for the living. But I have been ignoring many precious people in my life simply because I've not felt up to it yet. Because I've been busy licking my own wounds and bearing grudges I want to bear. And if there's anything the year has taught me, it's that life's too short and unpredictable. So I am going to try and make the phone calls I have been deferring, I am going to try and open my heart to all the well meaning people who have been trying to make the right noises. I am also trying to find it in my heart to forgive those trespasses on my soul, real and imagined, as I can just hear a voice telling me to "let them do what they want, as long as YOU are true."  
Ah, yes, 2012 has been a roller coaster of an year. And like all rides, it has to end. I plan to spend the year-end quietly holed up in this remote hotel in Darjeeling far away from the hustle and bustle of the Mall. Yes, we were supposed to visit in October, Baba was very eager to go. But we had to cancel. I know I will find him (and all those that I love and who are no more) waiting for me there in the silence of the hills, in the sun as it reflects off the Kanchenjunga, in the peace of the morning mist.
And I shall take that oil-paint in the palm of my hand and set about painting this white canvas into vibrant life and colour.
Best wishes for 2013, everyone. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thoughts to a father from a daughter on his 75th birthday.

Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee led an intensely active life until the early hours of Sunday, 16th September when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhagic stroke. The night before, it being his wife's death anniversary, he had arranged a musical soiree at his residence. As in the past three years, friends and family members attended the occasion, the house was fragrant with the smell of jasmine, music filled the hall and Baba attended to each guest in his own unputdownable style, urging people to eat one more fish orly, just that one other dessert. So how could we ever imagine that less than twelve hours later, that man would be lying comatose in an hospital bed? 
Oh he did not go gently. He raged against the dying of the light. For a short while we saw a glimmer of hope as on the eighth day he regained some consciousness but then again we watched as he suffered setback after setback, valiantly fighting until one by one his organs failed him. We sat by his side, keeping silent vigil. Day after day after day bled into one, our lives stood at a standstill until on the morning of 5th November he passed away quietly, with my husband and me on either side of him, holding his hands as he slipped away into the good night. His face slowly relaxed into a smile. It shone with new found peace and bore no trace of the struggle he had faced for the last fifty days. Only our lives fell apart.
So what can I say about the man who stepped into my father's shoes from the first day I met him? It's easy being a parent, I realize that now. It's easy to love flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood. But to love a completely strange adult girl you have never hitherto met, whose views are different from your own, whose trust has to be won, whose love has to be earned.... how many men can be a father to such a child? I always say that it's not easy getting married. All of a sudden after a peculiar round of rituals that you do not really register you are handed a rather long list of aunts uncles and an assortment of relatives and told that this in your new family. The in-laws. That dreaded word. I too was wide-eyed when I first met them all. And wary. Today, cocooned into the heart of this extra large family I have realized one thing: it must have been just as frightening for everyone else as well. For they too must have been wary of this strange short girl with unruly curls and an even more unruly tongue when I stepped into the household. But they made me comfortable. My parents-in-law never once let me feel I was a stranger in their home. I was welcomed. I was loved. I was allowed to grow, to find my own way, to forge my relationships with the people around me. And because I did not have my own father by my side, Baba tried to be that too. I wish I could say I welcomed it and made it easy for him, but I did not. But he did not give up on me, he managed to chip away at my armour till today my two fathers have blended into each other, where I cannot say where the love for one begins and the other ends. Many unfortunate people go through life without a father. I have been blessed: for I had two.
Justice UC Banerjee was a tiger in the Courtroom. I learnt that the day I stepped into the High Court as an intern. Each day I would find my way into his Courtroom to watch the proceedings there. Lawyers who raged in the corridors outside were torn apart, Justice Banerjee was renowned for his strictness and sense of justice. I have watched with glee as one lawyer got shouted at for not being properly attired and another berated for making noise: little did I know then that one day I would end up marrying his only son! In private and at heart, Justice UC Banerjee was a family man: a good husband and an indulgent father: a man with simple needs who only wanted his family to be happy. And that heart was wide enough to embrace me as I was, warts and all. Baba was my cornerstone, my sheet anchor. He made me feel safe. Today with him gone even the sun feels that much harsher, the night is deeper and the stars do not shine so brightly any more.
The rituals are over. The house, our lives, now limp back to normal. I shall be returning to work and the haphazard routine of our lives will fall back into motion. Only there will be no one calling me in the middle of the day to ask me if I'm feeling okay just because I had a headache in the morning. No one to plan a surprise for my husband with. No one to buy me that brick red suitcase set just because my eyes glowed when I saw it. No one to arrange for Chinese food to be delivered to me in Court just because I felt like it. No one to take such pride in my writing and egg me on to write more. I shall miss the gold of his voice, the comfort of his arms and the strength I derived from the knowledge that he's nearby. I shall miss our jaunts to Salt Lake where I now dread to return to his bedroom and find that he is not there. I shall miss our holidays together when he would sportingly climb on the precarious rocks on the Treshnish Isles or uncomplainingly shiver through the bitter cold of Bhutan in January. I have so many happy sun-kissed memories that my heart is full. I am lulled by the knowledge that I can draw on them at anytime and he will be with me.
For Baba is here with me now. Peering over my shoulder trying to read what I've written urging me to scroll down so he can read the rest. And there are times, trust me, when I feel that I only have to turn and he will be standing here : immaculately attired, every hair in place, a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye and he will cock an eyebrow at me and say 'bye'.
I dare not turn. I cannot say goodbye.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

here there be beasts....

There are memories and then there are memories. Some you want to push away so deep that nothing can drag them out. No matter what. But then something happens and every one of them come spilling out.....and once it does nothing can stop them. Like the girl in Guwahati, the 17 year old that was molested while people watched. All day yesterday I followed the outrage on twitter. I decided it could not affect me but the thoughts stayed. Even this morning I fought what I have come here to write today. I played on the ipad, I cooked, surfed facebook till I got bored and still the thought will not leave me. So here I am, bear with me. 

I was a young girl growing up in Calcutta in the eighties. Calcutta was considered a relatively safe place. The people were supposed to be friendly and helpful, women were safe. I don't know about the women then but it was certainly not that way for young girls. In broad daylight young girls were pawed. And it wasn't like we were alone...our families were there. Coming out of a cinema hall, shopping on a busy street, walking down the Grand Hotel Arcade...nothing can erase that feeling of shock, horror, humiliation and revulsion we felt. And you turned, amid a sea of people the hand was lost. Just a grab...yes yes, maybe that innocuous looking man, that older one shuffling the time you turned, or raised an alarm, all there was were people walking away!And raise the alarm sounds very simple, no? But not for a young teenager who suddenly feels awkward and alone. I used to huddle close to my dad, making him wonder why I suddenly clung onto him. (not that that was a guarantee, these hand have a snaking characteristics, but yes, it made me feel braver!). It took me a while to tell my dad because I thought he would not believe me and I thought there was  something wrong with me!!!!!!
But then I learned early enough that this was something that happened to all girls my age, anyone who dared emerge from the safety of their homes and cars, that is. Anyone who was remotely trying to be woman enough in a man’s world.
And the horror of travelling on public transport! Sure enough on a crowded bus there are always some men who lean towards the seats reserved for ladies. (my friends and I used to call them 'leftists' because the ladies seats used to be towards the left of the bus!!!!). Oh yeah, we learned to laugh. And we learnt to cope. I took to carrying safety-pins in my pockets. Any unwelcome hand that came even close got a sharp little prick. I learned to keep my eyes on myself and not gaze out of the window. I learnt to be alert. Maybe I pricked a few innocent hands too but no one  ever complained and I was past caring! While walking on the road I developed an unique "duck walk" which meant anyone who got close got a shove of the elbow. Years later, as a young graduate when I first went to Court I occasionally took the bus, the rules had not changed. Even now the elbows help me on the road. And in a crowded elevator those elbows come in handy again. No I do not take the bus anymore, but when I walk on the road, I do the elbow trick without thinking. Its part of who I am. I've learnt to protect myself. But I have noticed something else too. These people, they do not prey on older women. They pick young girls. Girls on the threshold of puberty, young unsuspecting teenagers, these are their targets. Two years ago my daughter came home crying. She had gone out to the stationery shop with the maid and  someone had touched her. She was 10. I raged. I explained that she had to be careful. She had to protect herself and be alert. I told the maid that she too has to be more alert. Since hen my daughter is wary. She was telling her younger sister the other day that when she walks on the road she has to keep her elbows out! It fills me with sorrow that this is something we learn so early. 
But why? Why is it like this? 
In India we call the country our mother. We worship the female form for strength and virtue and bow down at her feet. Why, then, this utter disregard and disrespect for the female? Why do Indian men turn predators on the street? What perverted pleasure do they get? These questions have no answers. And no place is safe. Even in a crowded temple. Yes, that very place where people come to worship, for peace, for sanctity, even there. Is it any wonder that each time the word "temple" comes up, I have a bitter argument with my husband? I firmly believe that God or whoever It may be does not reside there! No way. 
Does it have to be this way? 
I can't see things changing not until the man on the road undergoes a sudden and miraculous sea change. In attitude, in thought, in action. Not unless the male is taught to respect women. But how do you expect that in a country where female foeticide is practiced  even in so called well-to-do 'educated' families, where the birth of a male child is hailed and daughters-in-law turned out of their homes because they gave birth to a girl? And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The discrimination is everywhere. Each time a girl is singled out and commented at, each time a man follows a young girl or brushes past her, each time a little girl is asked to fetch and carry for her brother "kiyun ki woh beta hai"! 
I hate bringing up my two girls in this environment. I look around me, I read the papers and I am frightened. Very frightened. Thankfully their home and school environment is healthy and complete. But what when they leave, their homes, their schools? I am fearful for them, I teach them the best I can and hope they too shall learn to cope. 
The rest is darkness.

Friday, July 6, 2012

While the cat is away.....

Now like any pati vrata Bharatiya naari, (husband loving Indian woman) I am entirely devoted to my husband and constantly endeavoring to make life more comfortable for him. I do not disturb him when he's working (except maybe to remind him that my credit card payment is due!) I do not tell him to drive me to the market so I can do my shopping, I do not buy jewellery. I do not expect him to hold my hand when I cry or even expect him to visit my mother!All in all I am a very undemanding wife.
On the other hand, my world centres around him. Rushing home, planning dinner, seeing to the girls studies, ensuring he has his medicines, ensuring that the clothes are ironed and no one makes a noise when he's sleeping, little things, I know, but I'm nice like that!
But I have this little secret that makes my life whole and keeps me from falling apart. I love it when he goes out of station. I have my own little holiday, my me time. Like yesterday for instance. Hubby went to Delhi for some case. As soon as I heard the day before, my heart said "yay". I happily packed everything he would need including the medicines in little pill boxes and looked appropriately quiet as he left.
I made no dinner. I didn't even tell the maid to make anything.  The girls quickly finished studies and started communing with the TV. We dreamed of biriyani and then settled down to having 'wai wai' for dinner which was consumed by me off a big plastic mixing bowl in front of the computer and washed down with a rum and coke! I played on the ipad until I began to think a trip to the loo could be accomplished with a simple swipe and watched all the stupid stuff my daughters watch on TV. After they went off to bed I watched some more mindless TV! Then I went to my room where the girls were sleeping and turned on the PC and sat and read (almost) every status update on facebook and twitter. I BBMed a girlfriend late into the night! And before I finally slept I cuddled my daughters till they started squirming in their sleep! Morning came, I woke up feeling refreshed and relaxed (after all it IS Friday!), made no tiffin but gave the girls some lunch money instead. I had two cups of tea (something I never do) and harvested strange crops in my smurf village. I listened to music while getting ready  and I drove to Court catching up with Bollywood trash on the radio. I listened to every word of "munni badnaam hui" and "Bodyguard" and marvelled at the ingenuity of the song writers! And now I'm back home after listening to some more nonsense on the radio! And the spouse returns tonight but in all probability it will be too late to go to either of the two formal invitations we otherwise would have had to attend!!!!
Good fun, I say! A good time-out.

Now I gotta go. Make sure there's food on the table while I wait for hubby dear to return!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

By special request: ITC hotels photography competition.

I rather fancy myself as a photographer. (Don't you?) Holidays, there I go, click-click camera on the ready. Even on occasions at home, be it my daughter's birthday, my brother in law's wedding, even the occasional get together family dinner. I specially loved photographing the girls when they were small. (And that was the age before digital cameras so it wasn't all just click and delete if you don't like it!) And I like to think I'm pretty good at it too.... Having said that, I am not happy about lugging a huge camera with multiple accessories around. I was happy with my Sony cybershot or even my BB camera and milked them for all it was worth. So to me, a photograph contains a memory, a moment in time: it would be good if it is also pleasing to the eye but one does not need a fancy shindig bazooka-like thing to take photos. We are not shooting for the National Geographic Magazine. Nor are we entering a photography contest here!
Or are we?
I was recently contacted by Neha Jain from ITC hotels regarding a photography contest currently being held by ITC hotels and she asked me to post a blog on this. Now a few lines are okay but I don't do endorsements. But then I sat and thought about it and remembered how much I love ITC. Or rather, the food at ITC. Just thinking about their kakori kebabs or biriyani makes me want to grab my purse and land up at Dum Pukht right now! A promise of their Christmas lunch buffets have me starving for three days in advance! And my favourite place is the Westview Bar and Grill, not only do they not allow children (wicked) they serve an amazing selection of grills, in fact just the thought of a baby octopus grilled with garlic and butter has my tummy rumbling!
Having said that, ITC is not a place we indulge in often. It's reserved for special occasions: prices aside, we do not want it to become "just one of those places". Specially for the girls. You see what I mean? So every, or rather, most occasions at ITC have been special. I have memories of the place. Flaming B52s and crepes Suzette. The cheese platter and the suckling pig! Our anniversary dinner followed up at Dublin. The yard glass at Dublin (sadly, they do not do it any more, last I went) Seeing Adam Gilchrist, Gautam Gambhir, Brett Lee and others during the IPLs(my girls were maha excited....!), taking "special guests" out for dinner, a birthday here, an anniversary there. But sadly, most of those memories are in my heart. I have no digital images, except for that of a cousin accidentally blowing up a glass of flaming B52 in her face! (Heh heh!)
So there goes. There must be others like me here. Come on, if you're reading this. Dig up those old pics, join the contest. It ends on July 15, so do hurry. Here's the link:

For some unforseen reason, if the link is not showing up, try copy pasting this on your browser:

Me? I'm just gonna sweetly ask my hubby to take me out for dinner to ITC this weekend, just to take photoos!!!!

Monday, June 25, 2012

This will not make me very popular with a lot of ladies I know.

Lets take another look at rape. Its the ultimate violation of the personal right and liberty of a woman. Not to mention a child or an elderly lady (yes, strangely that happens, too). But I am not here today to discuss the rape of a child or an elderly lady, in fact I am here discussing the rape of young and middle aged women in the cities. Sadly, that happens only to often. In and across all metros in India one reads about rape cases with shock, horror and revulsion. We outrage about it and go on our way. Then some top notch cop comes out with a statement that women should not wear skinny jeans or revealing clothing or something to the effect that the women "asked for it" and we outrage even more!
To what avail?
No, I do not think anyone ever asks to be raped,I do not think showing some cleavage or looking sexy means that a man has the right to impose himself upon you. Yet I do believe that one can behave and dress appropriately so as not to attract unwarranted male attention. Before you condemn me, let me explain.
See that woman in a tight clinging spaghetti top and hot pants that reveal her bum cheeks for the world to see? Yes, yes, she's dancing with that other hot girl in a mini.They look like they are having a blast. They both look good, a treat for the eyes. Yes, yes, all male eyes follow them across the floor, most lecherously, some even try to get closer. They flirt a little maybe, even allow someone to buy them a drink! And when they leave for the night, they step into their car and zip off. I can find no fault with that. Girls will be girls and girls are entitled to their fun.
Then there's the other woman, dressed more conservatively falling over her table, she's apparently tipsy and she is sitting with a bunch of strange men she only met tonight. The friends that she came with are long gone, she preferred to stay back and enjoy the atmosphere. When she leaves, instead of relying on a cab which is abundantly available at this particular place, she decides to leave in a car full of strangers who promises to drop her home.
Um? Any guesses about who may be complaining to the cops the next morning?
I'm not taking anything away from the seriousness of the crime or the heinous nature of rape. Take a busy street like Park Street in Calcutta at say, 9 pm. We are stuck in traffic. Two impatient teenagers jump out of their car which is also stuck in traffic and wriggle in their tight mini halter dresses headed for the disco on the corner. All I see are the eyes of every driver, paan-wala, roadside romeo, taxidriver and the passers-by. Can you imagine the lustful thoughts going on in their heads? Men will be men, you say. True, and then again more men will also be animals. Could the girls not have the sense of remaining in the car till they reached their destination instead of putting up this display?
Lets not hedge here. Or act naive. We live in India where men in general and particularly the common man on the street are sexually starved perverts. How else can you explain the pawing in a crowded street, the wandering fingers on a crowded bus? Even children and girls on the verge of puberty are not spared. In fact they are often the targets as they are too shocked to react or raise an alarm.
I look around me. The women of today want to wear what they want and do everything that is so socially accepted in the West. I am not against that. By all means wear your hot pants and jeans and cleavage showing bustiers and boob tubes. but please do so responsibly. While we are free to act and dress in a liberated manner, please do not forget where you are. Unfortunately we may end up aping the West in thought and dress but the mindset of the common man on the road remains frustrated and deprived, their mind sets remain full of sati savitri images of women at home while all other women are available and/or sluts. You'll be surprised, I have had educated men tell me "if a woman goes out of the house to work, it is likely she is having an affair" Another one I know actually sits at his work place and imagines every woman colleague to be horny because their husbands cannot satisfy them!
Yes, punish those bastards, castrate them even, gouge their eyes out, have stringent rape laws and appropriate punishment. But after what? After you or another young girl just like you has been mutilated and scarred for life? Is that not too high a price to pay for one reckless night?
So stay safe girls. Party hard, have fun but stay safe. And play safe.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

CSAAM April 2012-This one’s for the children.

The past days, my Twitter TL and inbox are awash with stories of child sexual abuse thanks to the CSAAM (Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month, April 2012) organised by some very dedicated bloggers and social networkers. It is no coincidence either, late last month, a friend on twitter, @kiranmanral, asked me if I would write an article for CSA awareness, I was skeptical. “The legal aspect,” she said. I reluctantly agreed in a totally non-committal manner. “Let me see if I have anything intelligent to say,” I said, hesitantly.
Then I started reading up about child sexual abuse, not only in India but all over the world. The things I read made my toes curl. The stories wrenched my heart, some made me cry, some filled my heart with shame, anger and fear and each one made me wish I could somehow turn back time and hug those children and give their childhood back to them.
And no, I still have not found anything intelligent or ground-breaking to say. But I do need to get this off my chest. For my children, for every child everywhere. And most of all for the children we all once were!
Records show that India is home to more than 375 million children, comprising nearly 40 percent of the country’s population, the largest number of minors in any country in the world. Despite its holier-than-thou preaching of non-violence, tolerance, spirituality and respect for elders, statistics also show that India hosts the world's largest number of sexually abused children, at a far higher rate than any other country.
Yet, we do not hear about it. Why? “
The main causes are disbelief, denial and cover-up to preserve family “reputation”. Although, in fact, the problem of child abuse in India is highly pervasive, there is pretence that it only inflicts the West. What is even more striking is that in Western countries like those we like to ape, there are laws to bring such pedophiles to book. Child sexual abuse is recognized as a problem and treated with sensitivity and offenders dealt with severely.
But that is not how it is in India. For years, we have hidden this menace, swept it under the carpet and looked the other way. For “honour”, for “what will others say”? Indian adults often exercise a near-feudal hold over their children, demanding complete and unquestioned obedience. In the name of “respectability”, often, the child’s own personality is lost. A culture of silence and shame also swirls around cases of sexual abuse against children fogging the issue. (Unsurprisingly, the notion of shame is the single largest culprit in perpetuating sexual abuse against India’s children.)
No, I was never abused myself, but I know of enough people who have been. That child I know who complained to the mother because her ten-year-older sibling put his hands inside her panties was slapped and called a liar. Another was protected and cloistered by her parents but the uncle in question was never faced and allowed to go Scot free for “what will others say”. The third thought “at least when Papa sleeps with me he smells funny but he is nice, and does not beat me like the other men my Ma insists I sleep with!” Another 8 year complained to her parents and was told, “you are born a female, deal with it!” by the father while the mother just sighed. Yes, these incidents all happened at homes just like ours, well educated, “respectable” families in the 70s and early 80s. The children, if they ever were allowed to be children, are all grown. The first one grew to be a rebel and does not conform to any of our society’s morals. She takes intense pleasure in shocking her parents and their so-called values! The second withdrew into a shell and still has problems meeting anyone outside her immediate circle. She did not marry, could never let any man close. The third, luckily, was “saved’ by an unmarried Aunt who took her away from her family and she has been able to keep the nightmares away. “Most nights, anyway,” she whispered to me. And the fourth one left home early, married an abusive husband and now fights for the custody of her children. She also finds comfort in alcohol. And these are minor examples. I am skimming the surface here.
Do you still think any of these children grew up without angst, agony, mental distress or guilt? Just until the other day, we did not even recognize the problem much less address it.
Ironically, despite the magnitude of the problem, Indian courts offer little relief to victims, even if, in rare cases, it reaches such a stage.
The only legal recourses available to such victims are the extensions of “rape laws” or the laws relating to sexual molestation, which apply to women and are stretched to apply to children as well.
But rape laws only recognize sexual crimes involving “penile penetration” and are totally dependent on medical evidence. Such evidence is difficult to procure as child sexual abuse is usually not one isolated case but a whole series of them. It may even involve episodes in which the offender doesn’t even touch the victim.
The sexual molestation law, on the other hand, covers all sexual offences “that outrage the victim’s modesty,” other than penetration. Though this law can be used in child sexual abuse cases, its reference to “unusual sexual offences” makes it difficult for child victims to use this option as a legal remedy. Since the definition of sexual abuse is nebulous, victims are largely at the mercy of the court’s discretion. On rare cases when abusers are booked after a cumbersome legal procedure, India’s conviction rate is abysmal despite the country’s sophisticated and complex set of laws.
Sexual abuse of children is a very real problem in India, and the situation is aided by the absence of effective legislation and the silence that surrounds the offence. The definition of child abuse varies from country to country. Acts that result in physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect of children fall under the purview of law in almost all developed nations. In India, child abuse exists in many forms, but the laws are still ambiguous and most children suffer in silence. In India, which places a high premium on chastity of women and yet has the largest number of child sex workers in the world, there is no single, specific definition of child abuse.
As late as in May 2009, alarmed at the growing instances of child sexual abuse, (or rather, at the fact that such cases are now finally coming out into the open) the Delhi High Court has called for a more stringent law which will also act as a deterrent, saying the definition of rape under section 376 IPC should be made age and gender neutral.
Justice S Muralidhar was hearing the appeal (Tara Dutt Versus State) of a man sentenced to two years imprisonment for committing "digital rape'' (inserting finger in vagina) of a five-year-old girl. The judge was upset that lack of a suitable law prevented the courts from inflicting the same punishment on him as that reserved for a rapist.
He observed “…..this Court considers that the inadequacy of the law has prevented the trial court from awarding a sentence greater than 2 years of imprisonment. Need for an urgent change in the law.”
"The offence of a child sexual abuse is an extremely grave one. Innocent and tender children are abused sexually through a variety of means, one if which is the present case. Such incidents leave a deep scar on the psyche of the child and has the potential of adversely affecting the child's emotional and mental development. The harsh truth is that these incidents are more frequent than we imagine and very often goes unpunished by the child suffering the trauma silently,'' the court observed, dismissing the appeal.
“Despite the report of Law Commission of India lying with the government for over nine years and the Supreme Court in 2004 hoping that the Parliament would make appropriate changes, it is a matter of grave concern that nothing has been done till date. The absence of a stringent law can only have the pernicious effect of crime continuing undeterred,'' the HC added, saying it was high time that definition of rape was made "age and gender neutral'' so that cases like Dutt's could be dealt with severely.
In case you are interested, the judgment can be found here:
So. In an attempt to protect children against sexual abuse, the cabinet, finally, on Thursday, the 4th March 2011 cleared a first-of-its-kind legislation which threatens stringent action against the offenders. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill is aimed at protecting the young ones from sexual abuse, sexual harassment and child pornography. The necessity for such a law was underlined in government data that shows that more than half of India's children have been subjected to such abuse. For the first time, the draft Bill distinguishes a sexual offence committed against children by persons in position of trust and authority over children, including a police officer, a remand home warden, hospital staff and school authorities. It categorises these crimes as being of "aggravated" nature with stringent punishment. The punishment for "aggravated sexual assault" is imprisonment of up to seven years with a fine, while penalty for "penetrative sexual assault" is at least five years in jail and a minimum penalty of Rs 50,000. Crime against children has been classified into that of " penetrative" sexual assault, which could be of aggravated nature also, and that of non-penetrative kind, which could again be of aggravated nature. For further reading on the draft Bill, see
And what is the status of the Bill? Pending, of course. With more urgent things like the Lok Pal and corruption and the like, we have kept our children waiting.
And in effect, what will happen if and when such a Bill is passed and made into law? Will families come forward? Will a parent bypass “honour” and "family name" for the sake of a child? Or will the silent subservient children just remain silent? The cynic in me says that our hypocritical society will just choose to shut it out. And hide behind a strict curtain of “this happens only in lower classes”. "
The 'Study on Child abuse India 2007' conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development acknowledges that child sex abuse takes place in schools - and how. One out of two children in schools have faced sexual abuse. And overall, more boys than girls face various forms of sexual abuse - ranging from inappropriate touch, exposure to pornography or violent sexual assault.
During a study on child abuse in Kolkata, Elaan, an NGO, found that 4 out of 10 boys faced sexual harassment in school. Generally the age of maximum abuse is between 9 to 12 years. The national study found that the abuse gained momentum at the age of 10 and peaked between ages 12 to 15.
Child abuse is the physical or psychological maltreatment of a child by an adult often synonymous with the term child maltreatment or the term child abuse and neglect. There are many forms of abuse and neglect and many governments have developed their own legal definition of what constitutes child maltreatment for the purposes of removing a child and/or prosecuting a criminal charge. The report by the Department of Women and Child Development on the implementation of the Convention of Child Rights in India, prepared for the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, has identified child sexual abuse as a priority issue for immediate action.
Apart from the legal dimension, child sexual abuse also has pronouncedly psychological and emotional elements. Worldwide surveys point out that such abuse negatively impacts a child’s physical, emotional and mental well-being, leading to severe behavioral and psychiatric disorders. Suicidal tendencies and drug abuse are common long-term effects.
A World Health Organization survey also points out that there is an unambiguous behavioral and emotional pattern in the abused. Usually the child hardly talks about the incident. And, even if he or she does, often, no one takes it seriously. That in turn triggers feelings of self-doubt and guilt, exacerbating the child’s feeling that it is his or her fault. As the child matures, compulsive behavior reinforces this guilt. Small wonder that many adult sexual and behavioral problems, according to psychoanalysts, trace their provenance to childhood abuse.
Yes, our society teaches us to respect our elders, it also teaches us unquestioning obedience. But what, when the elder is not worthy of that respect? What, when the very hand supposed to protect the child exposes the child to such abuse? How many of us, sitting in our sterile lives can imagine a monster like that entering our homes, living with us, breaking bread with us? How many of us talk to our children about it before it may be too late?
I recall a few years ago my daughters had a piano teacher, a 40-year-old male, who used to come to our house on Thursday afternoons when, generally, only a maid was at home. A dear friend, whose daughter’s learnt from him, had referred him. My elder daughter was seven. One bright day as I was egging the girls to practice the piano, my younger daughter piped up. “But Didi can only play sitting on the teacher’s lap!” An antenna went up. I stopped, “what?” I probed further. Yes, he insisted my daughter sit on his lap. Despite another stool being present. “And why do you not say anything?” “I did,” my daughter said, “he makes me uncomfortable, but he said he would tell you that I was not trying!” Alas. Had my piano ambitions distressed my daughters? I shudder to think that this “minor aberration” may have gone unnoticed. I called the man up then and there and told him he need not return to my house. The fees were due, he had erroneously left his cell phone cover at our home. But he did not say a word, quietly agreeing to my diktat. In my mind, that was in itself a confirmation of his guilt: so was I wrong? Was I hasty? No. I did not want to wait and find out. When I told my husband later, my hands were still shaking. Even now I shudder to think what may have happened.
I wish I could say that my daughters, who are now aged 11 and 12 are safe now. I have explained “good touch and bad touch" till I go blue in the face but I have no such guarantee. My only consolation is communication, a healthy relationship with the girls that ensures that they can, at any time, discuss anything with me without fear. At least that is what I have tried to instill in them, I keep my fingers crossed that our relationship remains that way.

And here’s what Wikipedia has to say on child sexual abuse in India:
“Nineteen percent of the world's children live in India,[164][165] which constitutes 42 percent of India’s total population.[166]
In 2007 the Ministry of Women and Child Development published the "Study on Child Abuse: India 2007."[164] It sampled 12447 children, 2324 young adults and 2449 stakeholders across 13 states. It looked at different forms of child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse and girl child neglect in five evidence groups, namely, children in a family environment, children in school, children at work, children on the street and children in institutions.
The study's[164] main findings included the following: 53.22% of children reported having faced sexual abuse. Among them 52.94% were boys and 47.06% girls. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest percentage of sexual abuse among both boys and girls, as well as the highest incidence of sexual assaults. 21.90% of child respondents faced severe forms of sexual abuse, 5.69% had been sexually assaulted and 50.76% reported other forms of sexual abuse. Children on the street, at work and in institutional care reported the highest incidence of sexual assault. The study also reported that 50% of abusers are known to the child or are in a position of trust and responsibility and most children had not reported the matter to anyone.”

I want my children to read all this. I want my children to know the stark realities and yet I do not want them to grow up in an air of hate mistrust and suspicion. Not all adults are ogres, there is no need to paint a darker picture than it already is. They have enough to deal with without having to battle doses of gloom and fear. So I talk to them. I talk to each of my children, even my daughters’ friends, my nieces, nephews and friends’ children. I may shock them at times, but I tell them exactly like I think it is. I share my anger, my angst, my beliefs, and I also share the joys the kindnesses and the hopes. I try to teach them to be careful, alert and watchful and yet not give in to blind prejudice; I try to tell them that we are all there for each other. No matter what.
Imagine a room full of children, singing: loudly, lustily. There’s the one just mouthing the words, another sings flat and yet another is off-key. Some look the other way, while others only hum. Forget all that. Listen with your heart. And you will feel the joy surge around you….. I wish every child that joy. I wish every child could live it’s childhood in a world where the big bad wolf is confined to fairy tales and wicked stepmothers and ogres only a figment of the imagination!
Lets try to make that a reality, shall we?

Monday, February 13, 2012

ready for the funny farm!

Well its official now. I am ready to be committed. I have become that breed of person I cannot stand and never sympathise with: a hyper-mom. Let me tell you how it happened.
My daughter's sitting for her first ever final examination from Wednesday, the 15th.
Now, not being a phenomenally remarkable student, there is some tension about this.
First she has no concept of studying for an examination which has a extensive syllabus of eight to ten chapters for each of nine subjects thanks to the bright educationists who have decreed that there should be no examinations till class six.
Then she is the kind who reads something and then promptly forgets it. Unless it is set to music and sung by a high falsetto voice claiming to be male. A la Justin Beiber.
Thirdly she needs prodding. “Isha you have your exams coming up, there are only three days left. Go study.”
And lastly she is confident. " Chill, Ma, I have it under control.” (While it is also a fact that she has lost her science text book and all my hair is standing on end trying to procure a copy before the exam. She told me this last night.)
So horror of horrors when, last night she declared that she would 'study late'. I went to bed, uncertain of what I should do. The dear spouse said I should relax and promptly regaled me with gentle snores. The lights blazed in the next room. I hesitated. I decided she was old enough and I should "let go".
I “let go” all right. Only to wander into her room half a dozen times. Twice to comb her hair, thrice to ask if she was sleepy or needed any help and a few times just to see. (I shudder at the fact that she listens to music too)!!! Okay, so it was a few more than half a dozen times. So?
Now I admire those mothers in the ads who set an alarm and wake up, every hair in place, to hand a steaming mug of Complan or Horlicks or whatever to their children who smilingly drink it and declare their undying love for the milk and the mother. I am not so lucky. I followed the scritch-scratch noise and trail of blazing lights to the kitchen and found her gorging on bhujiya and sauce accompanied by a glass of Tang. I almost fainted. She shooed me away. “But I will clean up, Ma, don’t you worry. Its late, YOU go to sleep.” Sigh.
It was well past one. I resigned. I thought of myself sneaking about the house at all hours at that age and went to bed. Ah, but sleep is so elusive when you want to sleep. I shut my eyes and tried counting sheep.
Scuffle-scuffle. The bathroom lights go on.
As she exits I whisper, “have you brushed your teeth?”
“Ma, you scared me!” She whispers back.
“Whatever….”. I mutter.
The light in her room was on for another 30 minutes or so. Then the bedside lamp for another ten. I lay silently in the dark wondering when I had completely lost it. Was it right after she was born or has it just crept upon me slowly?
Of course I fell asleep after all the lights finally went off. At my own risk and cost and expense. So that explains the circles under my eyes, the bleary look on my face and my grunting. . while the daughter in question chirps about the house in the morning having slept till eighty thirty.. Take me away, keep me in a padded cell or I may permanently damage something here.
Till that happens, however, I have thought about it and I have a plan to tackle the situation so everyone will come out it alive. Tonight, I take a sleeping pill!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I learnt a new Bengali word today: “ucchhed”. It means ‘eviction, I have been told. Each day on our way to court outside the PG hospital there’s this silent line of people bearing placards that say something “ucchhed”. By the time I read that word (printed extra large, of course), we are past the place and try as I might I cannot seem to get the rest. So today I dared break the sanctity of the serious silence in the car in the morning and ask my husband:
“what is ucched?”
He didn’t growl, not then, but he came close, “eviction”
“Hawkers,” he was frowning but I decided to push it.
“So they want it or no?”
This time he growled. “ why don’t you read the thing? It’s obvious.”
Well I am not completely daft, even I know obviously hawkers do not want to be evicted, but if I was to read that whole thing on the placard I would have to stop the car, disrupt the rush hour traffic and actually ask one of the guys to stand still so I can read the placard. Then I would probably ask the chap what it meant! (Why don’t they just have a translated version, in English, or am I the only one with this problem?)
I decided to push my luck and went on to explain why I did not “read it”. I also tried to add that I had been trying to read it every morning for more than a week and could never get past the “ucchhed” part.
But I was not allowed to complete. I bristled for a while when I was told to shut up. Then, another though struck me. After what I felt was sufficient time, I raised my hand to ask a question. (Yes, sometimes I am suicidal.)
Hubby grunted, “now what?’
“So what is bicched?”
“Ah yes, as in marriage separation, ‘bibaho bicched’, THAT, I understand.”
But then, since the words sound similar, should they not mean something like each other? I muttered under my breath, ensuring hubby did not hear me. He would not take kindly to any further discussion, his face told me that. And we had reached Court.
Time to think of serious things.
But the thought stuck.
And I have figured that the words’ meanings do have some level of similarity, eviction, separation from accommodation and separation….as in separation…you get the drift? But I am digressing.

Thing is, I really couldn’t be bothered with the plight of the hawkers. A lot has been said and done. Politicians have changed their policies faster that their starched dhotis and things remain the same. Peaceful or loud, a demonstration is a demonstration and a strike is a strike. Today’s leaders are yesterday’s protesters, the one advocating peace is the one who rioted in the first place, the one quelling mob violence is also the one who used mob violence when it was useful.

Politics is a strange place with no principles. That’s the only rule: there are no rules. I do not understand it nor do I want to. We all know of many lawyers who make a smooth transition from law to politics to law, alternating between the black coat and the khadi jacket effortlessly. No such career options for me, i'm afraid, I am ill equipped to deal with these things, my ideas of how things should be do not coincide with the vote bank.

Like the men who spit in public. I think they should all be sent to jail. Or made to clean the spit with a toothbrush.

Like the taxi driver who violently waves his hand indicating he is going left and then startlingly zips off to the right unmindful of the fact that you have screeched to a halt and are praying the guy behind you will not ram into you. I think he should be whipped on the hand as soon as he dares stick it out!

Like the driver who honks for no reason in standing traffic, just because. I think he should be locked in a cell with only the high pitch sound of the blaring horn for company. For at least 24 hours.

Like the litter-bugs. Specially the housewives who slyly throw a plastic bag of smelly trash out on the street when they think no one is looking. They should be made to carry it about for a week, tie it round their necks so the rotting smell does not leave them!

Like the pedestrian who cannot walk on the pavement but insists on sashaying on the road headphones stuck in the ear oblivious to traffic signals or pedestrian crossings. They should be hung upside down from a traffic light on a hot summer day!

Like the guy who stands on the corner and liberally douses the wall with expletives from his urinary bladder because he can. He should be dunked in the vile stuff for a week.

Like the hawkers who take up more than half the pavement and thrust their wares in front of your face in the hope that you will buy something you do not want to buy in the first place. The guy who sits on the pavement and insists his mehendi is the best, the one who chases you with a remote controlled feathered toy (?) till you are safely inside a shop, the one who hangs female innerwear strategically on the roadside like some horror display. Yes, since they are demonstrating against their ucchhed (eviction), lets be kind here, I think they should all be sent to the Sunderbans to help build the embankment which the government has unsuccessfully been trying to build for almost three years since the “aila’ struck! You don’t believe me?
Check today’s Telegraph. Front page. Or try this link:

Alas. Not quite cut out to be in politics, am I?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Santanu Chatterjee

Santanu Chatterjee, 22 November 1943 - 9 January 2012, Executive Director, CESC Ltd, Working President of the Global Alumni Association of Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur, blah, blah, blah.... was quite a well-known figure in Calcutta. He touched the lives of many people, a lot of persons in the city can lay claim to have interacted with him in his professional capacity, whether with the Loss Control Cell of CESC or as working at its various facilities, including law.

But that is not the man I came here to talk about. That is not the man I remember. The man I remember is lolling on the beach at Digha, smiling at the stars at Murari Pukur, laughing, joking and talking to us for as long as I remember. Santanu Chatterjee was a colleague of my father’s. A colleague who became a friend not only of my father’s but of the whole family so that the lines blurred and he became part of our family. He never tired of telling us stories as we were growing up, always finding time to talk to us even when there was a ‘boroder party’ at our place and the rest of the house just expected us to stay out of sight! Accompanied by his wife, Amita, a dignified, accomplished lady, Shantanu kaka was part of growing up, a part of our lives.

He is the man who took me to see the fountain of lights in the Maidan even before it was open to the public, the one who laughed with us and never tired of berating us with stories of my father, of Court, the legal intricacies of the Electricity Act and some of the top-notch lawyers all over the country. Now when I say it, it seems dull and boring but he had a way of holding your attention when he told you a story, so you never tired of it, even if you had heard it before. He came into our lives and stayed. He stood by us though my father’s illness and stayed with us even when he was gone. He never pacified us with false hopes but he was just there and that was enough. I remember kaka as the man who went with us when nervously I went to officially meet my would–be in-laws, effortlessly slipping into my father’s shoes. The man I remember is the one I ran to late one night asking him to be my father and ‘give away’ the bride at the time of my marriage. He is the one who often invited us, shared time and space with us, ever smiling, ever helpful, eternally kind. He is the man who developed my interest in serious war films, his stories of the Desert Fox and General Patton were more interesting than the movies themselves. His interests ran everywhere, his anecdotes held me enthralled. He is probably one of the few people I know who did not judge me and always treated me, not as an errant child, but with respect, as an equal. Though I was never worthy of being his equal.

Yes, unfortunately, over the years I had been seeing less and less of him. Though we spoke very occasionally on the phone and promised to catch up sometime soon, time passed, lives carried on and we did not get around to that “hoi hoi”. Life has a way of doing that: spins you in its web and by the time it spits you out, you find you are older and often, have not been there for the things that were important. The last time I met him, about three months ago, I had gone to invite them for my book launch. He was happy I had written a book and promised to read it. I am sure he did too, only I blame myself for not having found the time to call and ask him about it. That day, he seemed lonely for company, he asked us to stay a while longer. But we had other obligations, I excused myself, saying, even believing, I would be back another time....not knowing that time was the only thing he did not have.

Santanu Kaka suffered a massive cerebral stroke on Friday, 6th January. The main artery went and burst in his brain and the CT scan the next day showed extensive internal bleeding. The doctors all opined that surgery was out of the question and if he lived he would be in a comatose and/or vegetative state. They refused to say anything for certain before 72 hours were up. But kaka did not give them a chance. He passed away just around his allotted 72 hours, he would never have wanted to live the kind of life the doctors had said he would. It was so against his spirit, against all he was and stood for. I heard about his stroke and went to the nursing home only to hear them say he was no more. I stood by his bedside and almost told him how sorry I was that I had not been by his side, but something made me stop. For in my mind I could hear the laughter of two friends who are together once again; two friends who would never want me to back down or surrender to fear.

So, peace, Kaka, wherever you are. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Enigmatic 2011

So. Another year is over. 2011 has stretched and twisted its tentacles in our faces and passed us by. And it is time for me, once again, to recapitulate the year that is gone. So sit back, gentle reader, I shall try not to bore you for too long.
One thing that has struck me about 2011 is that it has had more than its fair share of misery and deaths. Everywhere, people we know or know of, have passed away, leaving our lives just that much emptier. Far too many visits have been made to the crematoriums and funerals; the year has been pockmarked with them. And yet, life too has triumphed, joys have walked hand in hand with sorrow, and the children’s laughter has found it’s way into my darkest dreams…..
The year, if you really think about it, passed by in a flash: a flash flood of work and routine that increasingly seems to become overbearing at times. In it all was the usual medley of Isha and Amisha’s studies, their exams, their class work, their projects and all the assorted paraphernalia of two unruly tween girls! I laughed, cried and as usual muddled my way through the trials of parenthood: screaming my head off one instant and teasing them through another. Yes, the girls’ year passed in a cacophony of noise and colours: Isha has made it to the school choir and she wears her badge with pride. Amisha is engrossed in her craft and even I have to admire her very creative creations from time to time! The rest of my children are thriving and well, my nephew left for Canada to study, leaving more space for us in the car when we go out on our mad excursions but he is missed.

And there is always space in our lives for him. My nieces are well and my youngest nephew who turns all of two this month charms everyone with his smile and baby talk.
One of our holidays took us all the way to Kashmir, which was, truly, paradise on earth. This was my first visit and the raw beauty of the place swept me away. I found myself confiding in my husband that this was one place I could actually live in. And that is a feeling that I rarely, very rarely, have for places I visit. We also had two amazing trips to Bandhavgarh-Panchmarhi-Jabalpur and to Guwahati-Kaziranga. The jungles left me wanting more of that birdsong, the stillness, the monkey chatter, the solitude of the setting sun…. but it also made me realise I have become that much older, the dust made me breathless, the cold entered my body and chilled my bones!
And although I never mention politics or world events at these annual diaries, this year I shall make an exception. For the year also saw the deaths of quite a few well-known personalities, Jagjit Singh, Bhupen Hazarika, M.F.Hussain, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse, Liz Taylor, Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand, to name a few. No I did not know any of them personally although I had on occasion listened to Jagjit Singh live on stage, but somewhere in my mind forms a picture. It figures all these personalities, jamming and dancing together and having a hell of a party where-ever they are, forever reminding us that life’s too short for hang-ups, life’s too short for grudges.
And of course in India, when you say 2011, you cannot but mention Anna Hazare. The self proclaimed leader of the people who seems to have captivated the hearts and minds of a million Indians the world over. Initially I too listened. For who does not want to eliminate all forms of corruption from our lives, who wants scandals and scams? We are just peace loving individuals and want peace. But then I turned away. I too want a corruption free nation but I am not willing to sacrifice my freedom and democracy for it. I do not agree with Anna’s means, his autocratic diktats and his attempts to hold the country to ransom. On many social networks many of you have asked why I dislike him. I shudder to think that the common man supports him! It will indeed be a sad day for our nation the day Anna Hazare (or someone like him) leads us.
And I cannot help mention the AMRI tragedy, at a hospital right up our street, one that I have visited on multiple occasions, one where Amitesh has stayed twice. Somehow it was too close to home. All that day I remained glued to the news in shock and horror and the next day, for the first time that I can remember, the newspapers made me cry.

Amid all that, Amitesh has become exceptionally busy, I see him less and less as his work hours have increased thanks to his appointment as a government lawyer. Ah yes, I forgot, we have thrown off the yoke of Communism, that too was in 2011! (Though, frankly, if you ask me, the more things change, the more they remain the same……don’t tell hubby I said that!) .
On a personal front, 2011 saw my first book being published, yes, I hope there will be more! It was a moment of joy and pride, especially at the book reading in October. I sat there and gave a silent thanks to all of you out there who believe in me, all you who read through my ranting from time to time and most of all to my dad, who, I still believe, watches over me! And I have been busy too. Not just professional work but also other filial and maternal responsibilities, in fact it got so bad at times that I wished I could just leave it all and run away where the jack hammering of duties and responsibilities could not follow me! (And who knows, maybe someday I will get rid of this Maya lady and just dive into the depths of indifference! Hah.)
Anyway, so while I have been living my sterile life in my sterile tower and being content in my discontent, the world carries on, presumably exactly as it should.
That’s one thing the year has taught me: we are all individually too insignificant to matter. And yet together we make the larger picture. So lets broaden our horizons, stay alive, stay interested and may the new year that stretches languidly in front of us hold joys that we never thought possible. Let’s reach out, share, give. Not of money or wealth but of ourselves.
And yes, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “in the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”