Monday, 1 August 2016



I have been reading about Mahasweta di (that's the name we used to call her by) since last few days after she left us all, hearing about her on chat shows etc. Other than a very few close friends of mine, hardly anyone knows that me and my family were deeply involved with her Kheria Sabar Kalyan Samity and that she was a solid rock support to my mother after my mom lost her son way back in 1995. Several trips to Rajnowagarh, (a tribal hamlet in Purulia of West Bengal, from where  Mahasweta di primarily carried out her activities) in those years had opened up a whole new world to me and my parents amid all the grief and loss we faced.

I shall forever remember this humble lady not as a feminist, but as a humanist, who with all her love and affection could embrace anyone. What she said to a grieving mother (my mom) was phenomenal. "Madhugiti, I have seen many mothers lose their children, but I have seen very few who have donated all the money you earned and kept for your son to educate many other children in this remote area, where most kids have never even seen a book before, let alone know what a school is all about. I have seen mothers go mad with pain, or clasp on to their surviving child, (in this case me), but I have never seen anyone who overcame grief and carry on silently supporting those who are oppressed in this society." These were her words. Needless to say, my mom became very emotional and cried profusely before her. She had tears too, she was equally emotional and always spoke from her heart and not from her head.

Now that she is no more, our thread of acquaintance with her will forever be alive amidst those vivacious children who come to the school in Garasagma (another tribal hamlet nearby), a school named after my brother Sayan. A trip to that school which is located in a pretty remote area will bring to light the condition in which humans survive. For urban people like us its truly an eye opener. Some of the children have never even heard of a comb. They don't know they can oil their hair!  Their palm leaf-thatched huts often are not enough to save them from relentless rains during monsoons. They look dirty, some do not wash for days as even drinking water is scarce in this extremely dry belt with very little agriculture possible on the rocky laterite soil. Mahasweta di used to mix with these people like her own kin. She participated in their dhamsa madol (special drums used by tribals) dance beats, often bought them these instruments and also local wine to keep the lot happy in their own world. She would sit with them, enjoy their local wine and other delicacies and also participate in their festivals resembling that scene of Utpal Dutt enjoying a Santhal dance in Satyajit Ray's Agantuk. She is popularly called Sabar Ma by the people

Gopi babu (descendant of the local zamindars) gave away his lands to Mahasweta di to set up this organisation. He is again a trendsetter. Unfortunately, Gopi babu has lost his voice and cannot speak anymore. But other relentless workers of the area like Jaladhar Sabar look after the activities. Speaking of activism, Mahasweta di was completely dedicated to these oppressed people. I still remember way back in 1998, the famous Budhan Sabar case. She called my dad and said : "Alok, you have to fight this case. And you will not be paid. They have killed the man in custody." My dad fought this case and many others later, obviously free of cost, against the atrocious legal provisions made during the British era branding tribes like Kheria and Sabars as criminals, which was never scrapped by the central government after independence. As a result police could pick up anyone belonging to these tribes, without any criminal charge and put them behind bars.

Mahasweta di had fought relentlessly to abolish this act and give these people a decent human livelihood. Every time we shall go to Purulia henceforth, we shall miss her, even that Ballygunge Station Road home where my parents often went, or her voice on the telephone even a year back saying: "Ei Alok achhe?" asking for my dad. But I shall never miss her undaunted spirit, that taught me to fight against all challenges since an early age. She will live forever among those tribal kids who can still laugh their hearts away at the sight of painting books that our children would probably not even look at.  

Sunday, 24 July 2016


(Meet the Oracle professional who writes bilingual poems to keep herself sane in an otherwise insane world)

Well, I met this ever smiling, somewhat eccentric Ananya at a poetic meet and instantly could see a part of myself in her eyes, in her enthusiasm and her smile. What I later realised is she dons many a crown, juggling between kids, a high profile IT job and of course her poems that flow mellifluously off and on in both Bengali and English. I wait for them to pop up on that Facebook screen every night. She also happens to be an active member of Poetry Paradigm, the group of elitist poets who made poetry popular in Kolkata.

Being a working mother myself, I was pretty surprised as to how she manages all. Well, it was because poetry comes to her naturally. Writing is a sort of release for her.
She has been working as a software professional for the past 12 years at Oracle India Pvt Ltd. She had to start off remote working after her son was born. Luckily, her company gave her an option of working from home. But that too wasn’t easy. “I admit I have had my crazy moments when I wanted to shut out the entire world, tear my hair apart and just disappear.”
 Ananya remembers when her son was a few months old, he would wake up in the afternoons, howling to his heart's content while she had a deadline to complete and the code just would not compile. She would take him on her lap and work. But her son, and later her daughter, gradually got used to their mommy working in her small corner and let her do so. And with an amazing husband, who is a wonderful hands on father, when he is around, thankfully Ananya never had to worry about anything in the house.
After marriage and child birth Ananya had briefly stopped writing. But somewhere inside, there was this gnawing sense of incompleteness that would not let her rest. One night, her mother asked her why she did not write anymore. She said, “Your creativity is the only thing that will stay, it is the only part of you that is yours in the truest sense of the world.” And Ananya opened her heart and soul, till the burst of emotion flooded into her, words started to follow and a verse was formed.
To Ananya, writing poetry is an amazing feeling. It starts off with an idea making circles in her head. She actually savors them, keeps stirring and cooking them , till they sound perfect. “In fact, after I write a poem down, there is almost always an emptiness which I can faintly relate with the pangs of postpartum depression. Not only my own experiences, very often a simple sight triggers an imagination that is quite involuntary. Which is why, most of my poems have a fair share of fantastic elements.”

Poetry Paradigm was a dream come true for Ananya and was born out of her friendship with Joie Bose, a stellar poet and a superb human-being. The team went from strength to strength when Ashoke Viswanathan,  Saira Shah Halim and Arthur Cardoze became a part of their vision. Ruchhita Kazaria and Devdan Chowdhury joined later. “Our movement got a big upheaval with the support of a large number of University students who joined us because of their love of poetry, and here finally, was a group that gave them the platform they needed to voice their passion. They now proudly call themselves the Youth Brigade of Poetry Paradigm.”

Despite her supportive family, Ani, as she is popularly called in poetic circles, has faced bitterness too. Poetry and bitterness! Quite surprising, but well that happens too. She met with deceit , and hypocrisy and she blames her own naivety to a large extent for that. “When such incidents pulled me down, I always got a lot of support from my family.   But, everything seems worth the pain when a message from a complete stranger pops up at the dead of the night. A message that tells me how my poem told his or her story and made him or her feel a little less lonely. Though I write for myself, when these creations act as a source of  inspiration for fellow human-beings, it indeed is a special feeling.”

Ananya’s first solo collection of poetry titled The Poet & His Valentine was published in 2014 . This was followed by a joint anthology Another Soliloquy where she teamed up with the very talented Shruti Goswami . Her last book The Blind Man's Rainbow got published in winter, last year. She has translated Bengali verses of veteran thespian and poet Soumitra Chatterjee, which appeared in a coffee table book of his paintings, titled Forms Within. “Translating his poems was a matter of pride for me.
I have had the honor of being published in various international e-zines and anthologies. Seeing my poem in the august company of splendid poetry from poets all around the world is a humbling experience.”

While writing bilingual poems, Ananya never consciously tries her hand in any particular language. She gives in to her impulses. “English and Bengali are two very different languages, and I have tried never to think in one and express in another. The nuances of a language, its beauty, richness and distinctiveness can be best appreciated, if and only if one thinks in the same language one finally puts into words.”

To round off this fairy’s poetic journey in her own words:


‘I will sleep now...
Take my womanhood
Off this flesh and
Hang it on a corner peg
For these hours of slumber
I will lie
Neither poised as a woman,
Nor alert as a mother..
But curled up like
An unborn fetus
I will snore, sexless
And forget everything
Even my gender
Till the morrow brings
More news of
Writhing, shrieking women
A severed umbilical cord
a severed hymen.’

Saturday, 18 June 2016



Dear Mommy-Daddy,

                  My friends were laughing at me the other day when I said I was born from my daddy's womb, that I was fed on the milk that daddy produced and mommy-daddy as I call you happens to have the most beautiful mind I have ever come across. I also made a card for you, with your perfect dreamy eyes that often looked at me when you rocked me in the cradle. Little did I realise, those eyes had been shadowed with clouds of sorrow that you covered up so well with your love for me. You were the abandoned wife, weren't you? The man they all call daddy had left you for another woman. I was only a few months old then.

My friends said their fathers do plush jobs, provide them with luxurious cars and trips abroad, but you too earn a lot and give me all the comforts that I could ever have. Mommy-Daddy I never missed a male figure in my life, you were stronger than a man and you always say I am the man of your life. Hence you never needed to remarry or find solace from any of your male friends. But I am not jealous, if you wish you can marry again, but I shall call that man uncle. You will always be my dad.

The day you had cut your finger in the kitchen knife while cooking and blood streamed off from your wound, I almost thought you would die. But seeing the horror in my eyes you were so calm despite the hurt and bandaged off the finger yourself. I realised not just mentally, physically too you were stronger than any daddy that my friends would ever have. Can you imagine Satyaki's daddy almost fainted the other day when we put a rubber lizard in the driver's seat. He squealed and shouted and it was almost like meeting a ghost. I told him my daddy is the strongest, even live cockroaches cannot frighten my Mommy-Daddy.

Piu told me the other day in school that you do not shave and hence you cannot be a daddy. But I said you do, when we go for swimming you often use the razor, and I have seen so many men staring at your lovely smooth legs. I told Piu you are a black-belt in karate and when she was trying to scare me off by saying if we had robbers breaking our home, you cannot save me like her dad can, I told her you can ward them off single-handedly. You had taught that auto driver a good lesson the other day, who tried to overtake you and then use foul language because you protested his rash driving.

However, you are not as tall as other daddies are or not so muscular, but who cares? I know you can carry me on your shoulders, just like I shall carry you someday when you grow old. And best of all you can sing so well, and put me to sleep when most other daddies sit up all night watching TV or movies and ordering their kids to go to sleep alone in their rooms. You are always there with me till I get into a dreamy sleep so that I do not feel frightened of the dark.
Yes, you are the daddy with a very soft heart. you never scold me, you try to make me understand if ever I do anything wrong, or play a mischief, you don't forget even the most minute details of my school needs, be it the tiffin I wished for or the homework I forgot to do. I am so proud of you Mommy-Daddy, and hence I made a card and bought a lipstick for you with the money that grandma gave. I know fathers do not wear lipsticks but Mommy-Daddy you have such wonderful lips, they look lovely on you.

Happy Father's Day to you,
yours sonny-boy.

Monday, 13 June 2016



As we mourn those killed in the Orlando gay club shooting, that reflects how unpredictable and unsafe the world has become, another news of terrible human brutality caught my eyes. The story of 19 Yazidi girls caged in an iron cage and burnt to death alive infront of hundreds of onlookers just because they refused to have sex with the jihadis. May be the news did not make waves like the Orlando shooting did for it was a routine violation and torture of women that take place in the war ravaged ISIS controlled states of Iraq and Syria. But just to think a group of men fighting in the name of Islam and calling themsleves jihadis cannot be put to task is a disgrace to the countries around the globe that proclaim themselves protectors of Human Rights. And well, that refers to USA too. And even to think how 19 pretty girls who had the guts to stand up against the torture and refuse to bed the men despite knowing they would be killed, shudders me.

It’s believed that the gunman in Orlando was inspired by a radio message sent by the ISIIS spokesperson calling all Muslims across the globe to ‘Kill Anyone, Kill Anywhere, Kill Anytime’ during Ramadan. It thus seems this very ideology made these so-called fighters burn down women who refused to become sex slaves. The Yazidi are an ancient group who have lived on the Ninevah Province, in Iraq, for hundreds of years. They are followers of a religion that is a mixture of of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam. A a result, Islamic State militants consider them to be devil-worshippers. Most of the Yazidi population, numbering around half a million, remains displaced in camps inside the autonomous entity in Iraq's north, known as Kurdistan. Though the Human Rights Watch has repeatedly warned the world leaders that 'The abuses against Yezidi women and girls documented, including the practice of abducting women and girls and forcibly converting them to Islam and/or forcibly marrying them to ISIS members, may be part of a genocide against Yezidis,' no one took notice.

Just like we have Maoist sympathisers all across India, but hardly any to protest against the repeated torture that even the girls and women recruited as comrades face. They all represent a bunch of pervert menfolk whose prime objectives seem to be spraying bullets mindlessly or having forced sex. The story of the 12-year-old girl Jhumpa (name changed) who fled a Maoist camp of Chattisgarh recently is unnerving indeed. She was sent to the camp by her parents who were convinced by Maoist leaders of the region that she would get money and good education if she joined the camp. Poverty stricken, as the family was, they were happy to part with their 12-year-old. But the chilling confessions of this tribal girl shows how she was passed on from one leader to another and was serially raped. In pain, she was once hospitalised too. She spoke of how a comrade had her throat slit and killed as she objected to the serial exploitation that women in the camps face.

And it’s indeed suprising that these leaders who claim to fight for the downtrodden and exploited tribals, themselves turn into oppressors. Many tribal women who joined platoons attached with the Jharkhand regional committee of CPI-Maoist narrated multiple cases of sexual exploitation by senior Maoist leaders and how many of them underwent repeated abortions. And who doesn’t know of Kundan Pahan, a dreaded Maoist leader of Jharkhand Regional committee, who brutally raped women cadres.

To all you revolutionaries aka terrorists, yes, you are bringing in revolution undoubtedly, you are teaching how to turn humans to beings worse than animals, you are teaching young girls that men are nothing but sexual predators, you are tearing buds and throwing them on graves of your so-called jihad and freedom movements. Wish you will someday be wiped off from the face of this world, else humanity will be wiped off soon.

Monday, 6 June 2016



I learnt about Dehradun and its adjoining landscapes through the pages of Ruskin Bond.  When the birds sing in the sleeping valleys, and children trek down slopes to their schools with an occasional flower peeping through branches or a sunset sending its hues around, this Himalayan heaven somehow used to turn my adrenalins on. They still do. And it did to another woman, originally from Pune. Entamologist Preeti Virkar, who does not wish to settle with her PhD in some plush cityscape, but amid the hills and valleys of Dehradun, where she came as a student and work on her own farm. Preeti is on of those rare Indian women who chose a life of difference.

Yes, she wishes to be a farmer and uplift the farmers around by educating them on organic farming. Dehradun is famous for Basmati rice. But she wishes to teach farmers to grow fruits and vegetables and make them the primary crops too. On the outskirts of Dehradun is Ramgarh, a small village in the Doon Valley, home to a farm called Navdanya or 'Nine seeds.' A narrow road with a hand-made board that you may easily miss, ribbons past trees covered with mangoes that touch the ground. The landscape brings out the romantic in you and also the hidden child. Trees lie on either side of the road. Often one comes across someone picking mangoes that have fallen on the ground, or climbing on branches that hang tantalisingly low. They remind you of your own stormy days when the onset of a summer norwester would unleash the wild child in you and make you run for those fallen mangoes.

All around are different kinds of vegetables peeping. Ladies finger, millet, bottle brush hang artistically outside a thatched roof, that one would find at the entrance of rural homes in Kumaon and Garhwal. Even dairy farming is done and farmers are hired to plough the fields. The best thing that Preeti has thought of is the seed bank. Her experiences in studying Biology has made her understand that a famer's most precious jewels are seeds. Preeti believes if a small farmer has one cow, a patch of land and saves his own seeds, he can cultivate his own land and sustain his family. The Navdanya seed bank has 2,000 varieties of seeds. Farmers that come for training here are shown how to store them in cane baskets lined with a mixture of cow urine, dung and soil that is used as green manure too. Seeds stored in this way will never get infected by pathogens and thus harmful chemicals are not needed.

Over decades India has lost its traditional methods of farming to the Green Revolution. The thought was that you can't do farming without chemicals if you have to feed the masses, actually backfired with a host of diseases caused by pesticides and fertilisers. I often realise and so do my parents that even the taste of seasonal vegetables that were a favourite with every Indian dish have somehow lost their tastes too due to overuse of hybrid seeds and chemicals. But what we were growing traditionally was so much healthier. Studying for a degree in wildlife science at Dehradun's Wildlife Institute, Preeti, first came to Navdanya as part of a study project. She then started giving sessions to interns here and joined full-time last June. She believes "The Green Revolution brought in mono culture. Organic farming on the other hand, has everything to do with diversity. Look around -- nature is so diverse -- have you seen a jungle with a single variety of trees?"

Farmers and interns share and learn from each other. They live on the farm where they clean their rooms, wash their dishes and eat simple vegetarian food. The solution to wash dishes is made of reetha (soap nut), that is soaked in water to make a shampoo-like liquid that generations of Indian women have used for their hair. The dining room has mementos left by farmers and visiting interns -- sculptures, paintings, baskets, lamp shades made of dried grass and leaves. Even you can encounter Pahadi cows here. India has 37 varieties of cows, though we mostly have a fascination for cows like Jersey, not native to India. These cows may produce less milk, but are drug resistant and provide good labour. Then there comes the concept of natural manure like the vermi compost, made of tiny earthworms who are considered as natural soil tillers.The natural manure made from kitchen and farm waste like used tea leaves is a wonderful nutrient for the soil. Everything that comes from the 60 acre farm is recycled. Most of the food served comes from the farm itself. Navdanya has a staff of over 35, has 122 seed banks in 18 states and has a large community of farmer members.

Organic products are more expensive because they need a lot of hard work, cannot be grown out of season, but the flip side is that they have long term health benefits. Preeti believes: "Large companies have alienated us from what we actually grew. We have been doing organic farming since our civilisation began." Indians are not eating a proper diet because we have forgotten what is good and that is resulting in either malnutrition or obesity, she feels. Hope more women like Preeti from cities will use their higher education for farmers and well might be turn into farmers themselves. That will bring in not just a new kind of green revolution but even a social revolution to India.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016



When an eight year-old child bride dies in Yemen on her wedding night after suffering internal injuries due to
sexual trauma, one wonders if I am witnessing Hell on Earth itself, or if Heaven and Hell are utopic ends of a myth. Child marriages were legally banned in India even before my mother was born thanks to some visionaries like Raja Ram Mohan Ray and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar who along with the British rulers had the good sense to abolish many such inhuman practices against women that plagued the society. And though in many Indian rural areas girls are married off before attaining 18 years of age, (the official age of getting married in India), atleast they are not married off to men five times their age.
However, in Mulsim countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, such practices are rampant and their law and society is bound by the same with not a single sane voice to be heard anywhere from the often rich oil producing nations. It is reported that over a quarter of Yemen's young girls are married before the age of 15. Not only do they lose access to health and education, these child brides are commonly subjected to physical, emotional and sexual violence in their forced marriages. A law was created in Yemen that set the minimum age for marriage at 17. Unfortunately, it was repealed after more conservative lawmakers called it un-Islamic.
I first got a taste of the Hell as I mention when a few years ago I chanced upon Sultana, a book that delves into the life of a Saudi Arabian princess, a woman born to fabulous, uncountable wealth but who in reality rebels against the practices where girls as young as five are raped repeatedly by older men of the family who wish to have sex with virgin girls. Sultana cries for freedom, she had private jets to enjoy, jewels, mansions all across the world, but when her own brother and his friends rape young Egyptian girls as young as six for just fun and pleasure, when her own sister is assaulted by her husband who was five times older to her on her wedding night, she decides to break free. However, to little avail. And as I went through the pages, gripped by the tales of thirteen-year-old girls forced to marry men five times their age, young women killed by drowning, stoning, or isolation in the women's room, a padded, windowless cell where women are confined with neither light nor conversation until death claims them, I realised behind the veil of religion, and a secret society there still are nations in this world where sex, money, and power reign supreme. And for me that’s Hell for a woman.
Human rights organizations have called for the arrest of the Yemeni husband, who was five times her age.
Al Nahar, Lebanon, reported that the death occurred in the tribal area of Hardh in northwestern Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia. This brings even more attention to the already existing issue of forced child marriages in the Middle East. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides. Furthermore, of the 140 million girls who will marry before the age of 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15.One of the main issues is that there is currently no consistent established definition of a "child" that has been agreed upon worldwide.  This leaves various interpretations within countries and little protection for those who are affected.
And as we are short of days celebrating another International Woemn’s Day, I wonder at times, have I already known what Hell is? Thank God I never witnessed it, as I was born in a nation and in a society where women atleast have a voice that can be used to protest against atrocities. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016



Recently, India's Union minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi, proposed to legalise
sex determination of the foetus which was so long illegal in India unlike the West to stop the practice of female foeticide, that is particularly rampant in North and West India. So much so that the male female sex ratio has gone down to 550 girls to 1000 boys in states like Haryana and Punjab compared to above 950 girls to 1000 boys in states like West Bengal and Kerala. Once made legal, the government will be able to keep a track of cases of female foetuses till they are born ensuring they don't get killed in the womb. It's more like exposing you to porn sites at an early age to teach what you are supposed to see and what you are supposed to censor. Such a proposal will also help doctors to shrug off responsibilities, who for all these years had earned large sums by helping patients abort female foetuses.
Even if we consider Ms Gandhi's proposal will help the government in tracking the abortions and will be easier than punishing the doctors and laboratories that illegally carry out such practises, one wonders what happens when these female children are born.
Apathy alone can kill female newborns who have been forced down a family by the government allowing them to be born instead of being killed as a foetus. Every newborn needs lot of care, nutrition and love while growing up in the initial months. Which obviously many girl children do not get in India.
In the west, pre-natal sex determination has worked because it's a society where men know how to respect women, fathers are happy with both sons and daughters, such practises of aspiring for a male heir was evident in 17th and 18th century Europe that in India we still practise in the 21st century. It's surely a shame on us but what's more shameful is when such practises are found to be more rampant in urban than rural areas where the so-called educated rich and middle classes thrive.
What is even more alarming is the way women (mothers and grandmothers) either keep on giving birth if the first few children are girls in hope of having a son, and how they also participate in the illegal sex determination practice. I have personally experienced a female classmate of mine who was married in Delhi long ago calling me and saying how her mother-in-law took her to have an ultra-sound test to find out if the foetus was a boy or a girl. Thankfully it was a boy! When I gave birth to a boy I have seen women in the nurseries who had girls welcoming me and literally crying at their misfortunes for giving birth to daughters. And that too I had my baby in one of the costliest leading hospitals of a city that is considered to be utterly progressive in ideas compared to the rest of India. When my so-called progressive and USA settled brother-in-law once mentioned that my husband's income is vital despite my earnings as Man is the Provider!
So when shall we change? We shall change only when our fathers not only give us their sperms to shape us but also their respect, when our husbands will not return home and ask for a cup of tea and snacks perfectly knowing that they themselves can make their own dishes and that wives too are working in offices and tired at the day's end, when we stop stereotyping the responsibilities, when we teach men since childhood that Man is not the provider, when men will voluntarily become stay home dads and allow their wives who are talented enough to earn what they earn themselves and become the provider instead, when women learn to respect women and mother-in-laws rise up to daughter-in-laws' causes and stop allowing the family from doing sex determination tests, when women defend themselves against atrocities instead of asking brothers and fathers to accompany them on streets to protect their modesty and ofcourse when we respect the birth of a healthy child instead of asking "What's the news? Girl or a Boy?" We should instead ask "What's the news? A healthy child or not? Is the baby kicking, is the mother keeping well?