Tuesday, 7 March 2017


MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP: ENDURANCE RUNNER SUMEDHA MAHAJAN SPEAKS ON HER INCREDIBLE JOURNEY TO SUCCESS AND ABOUT BRAKEFREE
 
(WHY SUMEDHA CAN RELATE TO THE MOVIE DANGAL)
 
She has fought asthma and a degenerating bone disorder. She ignored a patriarchal society that finds it difficult to accept a girl as an athlete. She challenged all odds and is a success story today. Sumedha Mahajan is indeed an inspiration. If the movie Dangal was an eye-opener to how women are treated and groomed by their families in sports, Sumedha’s life is no less than a filmy tale. Though she comes from a North Indian state which has one of the highest rates of female foeticide, Sumedha’s parents treated their children equally, though they often faced the wrath of their extended family for being ‘so liberal with their girls.’
 
Like Geeta and Babita of Dangal, Sumedha and her sister Mrinalini were coached by their father in tennis. Though her dad was a great friend and loved his girls beyond words, he was a tough coach and showed no sympathy even when asthmatic Sumedha would go breathless during her training sessions. She had to take inhalers and again go for practice. Even her long hair was chopped off and she had to get up every morning at 5am for her training. But Sumedha feels her dad gave her immense strength and she owes a lot to him. 
 
Sumedha’s health was a constant challenge. It is really tough to believe that a girl who has been suffering from asthma could even think of sports! But she did. She overcame any challenge by sheer tenacity. In her childhood she often had to miss her tennis tournaments because of her asthma attacks. Next, came a degenerating bone disorder and SI joint dysfunction in 2012. Her spine and hip joint malfunctions forced her to take a break from running between 2013 and 2015. But she was unperturbed. She returned to the tracks in November 2015 and won the 100km trail ultra in Bangalore.
By 2016, she gave up running and decided to launch her own women sportswear brand called BRAKEFREE. Her 30-day experience while running in the Delhi-Mumbai Marathon and her interaction with several female runners from India, made Sumedha believe there is an immense need for quality sportswear for women. The women sportswear brands in the market till then were mostly international brands that were high priced and difficult to afford for most Indian sportswomen. Hence most women in India were forced to wear men’s sportswear. As she says: 'Quality sportswear for women is a basic necessity for all women athletes. When I tried to talk it out with international brands with which I was associated, I was told they can’t help. Instead, some sarcastically suggested I should launch my own brand if I was so concerned about women athletes and their sportswear.'
'I took it as a challenge and risked all my finances, took loans and severed ties with prestigious brands that I endorsed, to launch my dream brand BRAKEFREE. As an athlete I realized every sportswoman needs comfortable, sweat free and odour free clothes to help her perform on the tracks or courts. That is the basic necessity, something that was lacking.' Sumedha also believes Indian parents must encourage their girls to take up sports and this country should spend more on women athletes. 'Most sports grants that colleges and universities receive are spent on male athletes, this must change.’
Sumedha is so correct. Last Olympics was an eye-opener where the medals won by Indians all came from female athletes. Her brand BRAKEFREE is supporting a few female athletes too and trying to promote sports among girls.  Like Sumedha has miles to go before she sleeps, so does her brand BRAKEFREE has challenges ahead, to compete with internationally established sportswear brands.
 
But BRAKEFREE was Reborn to Win and so shall it be.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

RAINS OFF A SMOKY SKY: TALE OF CONSCIOUS AND SUBCONSCIOUS 

PRITAM MANDAL

NOTION PRESS: Rs 300

I took an instant liking to the book the minute I received it. And why not? The cover says it all. Nostalgia, rains, romanticism and rediscovering oneself. Every page of the book reflects the tale of a woman who steps out into the world of her dreams, from the small village to the big cities of the world. With it she carries the tale of many like us, who harbour dreams of doing it big but in the end realises the ultimate is to rediscover oneself, rather than enjoy the fruits of a long cherished dream.

Pritam is an IITan and studied abroad. No wonder the protagonist Anurita, who calls her other personality as Rita, also comes from a village like Pritam does and pursues her education to become 'someone' in this world that runs on money and fame. She becomes that 'someone,' from her village life, she fulfils her ambition, goes abroad and starts working. The author pens down the village life with a lot of truth and passion. Anurita's growing up days is a tale of any woman. From her friends in school to the males of her locality and how their gaze towards a growing girl changes over years, her first kiss when 'Aviroop uncle' forces himself on her and how she even enjoys that infringement in her life. They are all vivid images of how a village or a town girl goes through as she aspires to be that 'someone' in life.

The best part of the book is the dual personality that probably all of us have. When we start speaking to and dealing with our own inner strengths and demons. Anurita does the same. She is lonely despite having a great group of friends at her workplace. Anurita is fit for this cut-throat world but her inner self Rita is not. Rita is a  die-hard romantic, fantasises, and finally breaks down when she meets with an unexpected tragedy. Pritam is a great story-teller and a nature enthusiast. His depictions of fireflies and other minute details of the nature around Anurita is a proof of that.

A great read too as the style of story telling is pretty out-of-the box.

 

Friday, 23 December 2016



A Bouquet of Emotions

A short story is a love affair, it comes glancing by, like fleeting emotions. Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s first fictional work Long Island Iced Tea, is a collection of short stories that adheres to this myriad world of emotions and dreams. As one flips from one story to the other, a dream unfolds within a dream, capturing ephemeral desires, tears of betrayal and loss of trust. Having spent more than two decades as a celebrated movie journalist and editor of Stardust, Mukherjee brings in decisive moments of human relations with elan, probably ones he witnessed in real life, behind silver screens.
His female protagonists are bold, ready to break social rules. They challenge social diktats, yet at times die within confines of common female attributes of jealousy and betrayal of trust. Like his protagonist Madhurima of Madam, The Shot Is Ready is insecure, she is the silver screen diva and not ready to leave her throne even to a more talented daughter. A reader can instantly relate to a complex mother-daughter relationship through Madhurima. While, rebel Lopa ((On The Other Side) is ready to bear the love child despite resistance from family and even after being abandoned by the man she loved. But a woman’s heart can be emotionally vulnerable too. Mukherjee captures this vulnerability through Moushumi (A Broken Frame), a woman betrayed by all because she could not conceive and produce an heir.
The irony of a short story evolves and culminates in an unexpected twist. True to this trend, Mukherjee’s short stories create an almost poetic atmosphere, presenting a unified impression of temper, tone, colour and effect. If Madhurima’s daughter Naina forgives her mother and moves on, Lopa has a shocking news to face in the end, while Moushumi reveals a greater surprise through her death. Such spins and twists make Long Island Iced Tea stand out from the rest.
The cover page of the book by Pinky Roy is chic and happening, lifting the mood of the title.
Long Island Iced Tea; Ram Kamal Mukherjee
Jufic Books

Wednesday, 30 November 2016



SHE NO MORE FEELS THE PAIN IN HER VAGINA
(DIARY OF A GIRL RAPED BY HER OWN UNCLES REGULARLY WITH FULL SUPPORT OF HER PARENTS)


This post is a part of Save The Kids Campaign. About a girl from North India repeatedly raped by her uncles (maternal and paternal) within the family home with full support of both mother and father who allowed them to do so for money. She is now a young woman, who has left home, pursuing her career and about to be married to a man who has loved her beyond her body. The following is an excerpt from the interview taken by a reporter of that girl.


“It’s been years. I don’t feel the pain in my vagina anymore”.

“But why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“I was shocked. Ma used to see my vagina bleed, she never did anything. So, I thought it’s something to be done regularly. I was 7 then. I am 20 now.”

“Since then? Till you moved out? Every day?”

“Almost, till I planned to move out.”

As we were enjoying tea, I looked into her eyes. She had no expressions. She didn’t really care much about it. I grabbed her pack of smokes. We shared one. I noticed a faint smile on her face.

“You know, every man in that family tried to touch me. Mama, Kaka, Masa.
but Baba…”

“What? What did he do?”

“He didnt stop them!”

She opened her pursue to buy Candy Floss. I could see condoms in her purse. I didn’t ask anything, I knew she’d tell me everything. After all, she was going to be engaged with my brother.

“He didn’t stop them because he wanted to earn without working and I was the only option for him, even though he didn’t let any other man touch me BUT my relatives and he claims that with pride.”

“Why the hell didn’t you go to the police, Shruti?”

“Because when I tried doing something, I was asked how were my boobs grabbed and I was asked to demonstrate and then…”

“AND THEN?”

“I was asked to strip and show them the marks.”

I noticed tears rolling down her eyes. She is one of these over excited women you’ll ever meet. Always smiling and always jumping, and always smoking. Always with no gaps.

“And then?”

“Regularly hota aya hai na. Hota gaya. (It happened regularly). I crossed my puberty. My school was very strict and I had no friends. My own parents betrayed me. You think my school would have helped me?”

“Look, I am going to write for this site that’s going to publish this story. I want you to tell me everything so that we can stop another Shruti.”

She paused. Lit another smoke, gave one to me.

“I was 7 when I was raped. My mother served him tea in the very room. My dad took money from him, I was in pain. Something below my stomach was paining and I couldn’t understand anything.

Next day, mama had come over. I was so happy. He entered my room with Nutties and raped me just like kaka did. He held my breasts so hard and then he put fingers in my vagina, and it was hurting me so much.

I wanted to run away, I was crying and screaming, he penetrated something and I felt like I was dying and then I was lying on the floor, naked. My pet, Tito, licked my head and arms and sat there, without barking. This continued. Just because they wanted to derive pleasure, I was raped by Kaka and Mama on the very same day just before my Exams. My vagina bled, days after days. I didn’t feel the pain anymore. Their penises were so familiar and so friendly, yet so unwanted. I was always ready with my legs spread, with my clothes off my body. Baba and I hardly spoke then, I couldn’t tolerate them, in fact, I was pregnant and I was asked to choose abortion, obviously!”

“How are you now?”

“I am awesome. I am getting married which was something I always wanted to avoid. A man fell in love with this torn body which has been used in every way by many men. SEX, not love. Now, I am getting the love I deserve and that makes me smile. I have left them now, I live with my friends and I am happy.”

“Why don’t you file a complaint against them?”

“I can’t. Baba is involved. Let them be. I am strong enough to stop another me, Police kya karegi? Just like you are penning down and recording, others will too and this will spread. Laws in this country will not help you, you can help yourself, you can help others, and authorities will not do anything.”

“What are your plans in the future?”

“I am going to complete my degree here. Get married, continue my studies abroad and then work with Raj.”

“How many babies do you want?”

“I will never have kids. I have complications. I have been raped more than 30-40 times, I can never have babies, but I want to adopt so many dogs and so many cats and live happily”.

A pack of smokes got over. We exchanged a very deep look. I hugged her and she left for work. She has grown up with men in her family exploiting her breasts and vagina in every possible dirty way. No, not that she isn’t raising her voice against them, she is doing the necessary by talking to people who are willing to share her experience but she doesn’t wish to penalize them because she loves her parents. She works with NGO’s now and studying Psychology.

She is smiling but do we really know the intensity of the “help stop, help me!” behind her smile?

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

WRITING THE WOMAN'S LIFE:

(DALLAS BASED AUTHOR AND POET LOPAMUDRA BANERJEE'S THWARTED ESCAPE TOUCHED EVERY CHORD WITH MY OWN LIFE AS AN INDIAN WOMAN)



When I first met Lopamudra at her book launch, I thought her latest book Thwarted Escape was more about the journey of a middle class Bengali girl from the suburbs of Kolkata to the grand dreamworld of USA that became her adopted home. I was expecting something of a Jhumpa Lahiri kind of memoir. In fact, the author herself told me so, that she was trying to fathom how far one can go away from her ancestral roots. I thought thus the book is all about the self identity of a woman far away from her hometown.

But once I started reading (and I must say the poet in Lopamudra has expressed herself in every word she uses, like a lyrical melodrama) I realised the book is more about an Indian woman's journey and her experiences on her way right from childhood to adulthood through the so called shames of puberty. I viewed the book from an angle that I could relate to. Kolkata of the '80s and early '90s when we were all in school and the various characters of an extended families, convent schools, the yearning to be convent educated, the child molestation from within the family. It's like the author takes us on a journey of flourishing womanhood and never forgets to shout and tell this world as a woman we indeed had to fight our way through at every crossing of our growing up years.
She explores the Durga, Draupadi and Sita in every woman. For her "Goddess Durga or Mahamaya is the Supernova created by the omniscient, omnipotent male trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar. Sita and Draupadi, the two pillars of epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, fuelled in me the desire to enquire the essence of patriarchy." What strikes a chord with me is her curious mind since childhood and how she questions every step of even subtle challenges that a woman faces in her growing up years through her puberty, through her first crush, her school days, even slapped by her father for faking the report card grade. Yes, we have all lived it at one time or the other. That's why Thwarted Escape is so real and brings forth emotions, that every reader can relate to.

And yes, Lopamudra is bold enough to speak out at last through her words against child molestation, a subject that was usually a hush hush in those days. How she was molested by some from within the Bengali community she had grown up in as a child, on a Kali puja night. And the trauma that still haunts her. Even the way a dark complexioned woman is treated in the marriage market and how the author keeps her heart above all these mundane happenings in life she had to go through, just by seeping in he splendours of nature and her love for words. She calls it the 'pretty looking prison of my blossoming womanhood.' That's where the rebel in the woman gets expressed. Lopamudra is undoubtedly a rebel. She not only questions what goes on around her, but she also tries to criticise it in her own words, bringing down the age old traditions of the Indian society that primarily aimed at awarding the woman a second class citizenship. "The sunlight sits tight, over my skin, my face, my arms, preventing me from being the coy woman, the forsha or fair maid." A typical example of how a woman is weighed in the marriage market.

So rather than calling Thwarted Escape as just 'An Immigrant's Wayward Journey,' I would surely love to call it the Walking Woman's Tale, a woman who has crossed continents, walked miles and miles through roses and thorns and yet a woman's mind that still loves, still cries for the loss.    

Sunday, 4 September 2016

MOTHER TERESA IS A SAINT TODAY BEFORE ALL; FOR ME AND MY FAMILY SHE WAS MORE THAN A SAINT DECADES BACK

(SAINT TERESA OF CALCUTTA HELD MY HANDS IN 1995 AND SAID SAYAN WAS AN ANGEL AND YOU CAN'T HOLD ANGELS BACK. I BELIEVED HER. WHO KNOWS, MAY BE THAT ANGEL AND HIS SAINT ARE ROAMING THE GARDENS OF HEAVEN TODAY?)



I met her during times of utter grief. Sort of directionless was I then, a terrible void of losing one's dearest to a two-day fever, finding the family torn apart and leaving back higher studies and dreams forever. But one look at her, and those eyes that spoke of nothing but goodness, even an evil spirit would have shed his or her cloak and embraced peace. My turmoil put to rest as she walked out of her room each day and I met her as I went to work as a volunteer with Shishu Bhavan. She would just hold my hands, and say 'he is there, he was an angel, they don't live for long on this Earth. But he is there.' Being a student of science, I never believe in miracles, but I do believe in energy, and if not anything but Mother's soft wrinkled and fragile hands on my young hands itself was like a miracle. Flow of energy from within her, that touched me and made me brave. And yes, I could share my grief and spread my love amidst hundreds of children, some maimed, some born with abnormalities and some yearning for love. I became one of them. For years I took detours on way to office and to college, just to spend hours with her children and to have a glimpse of her ever smiling face. My grief was thus taken care of. I learnt what is life all about by 21.

And I believed her. I still believe her, though other than Christmas or birthdays I do not get the chance to go to Shishu Bhavan any more. Mother had held a special prayer for us in 1995, for she was so overwhelmed by Sayan's (my brother who left us at 12) works that she even decided to write the preface to his book that was published after his death. I do not know if saints exist, I do not know if there is a world beyond this, but I know there are humans who are beyond the parameters of definition. I met many sceptics later, who when heard of my association with her, would often say, :"Oh she was a missionary, her sole work was to convert people to Christianity." I had only one answer for them, if change of religion gives food and clothing to children and old people, to the diseased and the sick, then so be it. And I personally am ready to embrace a religion that will ensure I do not die of hunger on the streets of a city that sees expensive cars like Mercs and BMWs zoom past. But I have no hard feelings towards such people who even today are giving posts on social media trying to malign a saint, I just feel pity for those who didn't get a chance to meet her and still talk about her. For I met her, she held me, and even today as I write I can feel her gaze on me, her hands on my hands and her smile on my heart. I feel blessed and at peace.    

Monday, 29 August 2016

MR. TOURISM AND CULTURE MINISTER, I CAN ASSURE YOU RAPISTS DO NOT NEED TO SEE LEGS POPPING THROUGH SKIRTS TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO RAPE, IT'S RISE OF PERVERSION AMONG INDIAN MEN THAT YOU BETTER ADDRESS!

(WHEN WILL INDIAN MEN STOP BLAMING WOMEN FOR GETTING RAPED BECAUSE OF THEIR ATTIRE AND WHEN WILL MORONIC MINISTERS LIKE MAHESH SHARMA STOP GIVING DIKTATS AS TO WHAT FOREIGN TOURISTS SHOULD WEAR!)

Yes Mr Minister, I love wearing skirts and dresses as they allow me to walk and run far more freely as my work demands, than the authentic Indian attire, saree, that is far more of a titillating attire than a skirt or a dress can ever be!  So Mr Minister please stop sending diktats as to what foreign female tourists should or should not wear. India is truly a multi-ethnic nation that has never interfered into any dress codes. Ancient temple architectures are a true reflection of that, where we see choli clad semi-nude women depicted in style. For that's what they wore and how they celebrated their sexuality. Fortunately in those days majority of men were normal and appreciated their beauty with an artist's eye rather than thinking of using a female body to meet his perverted hunger. So by sending diktats please do not bring down the image of the average Indian men by stamping on the idea that majority of Indian men have become so perverted that just skirts can turn them predators!

India’s tourism minister Mahesh Sharma on Sunday said foreign women should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in the country’s small towns and cities “for their own safety”. Discussing tourist security in the north Indian city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, Mahesh Sharma said foreign tourists are given welcome kits that include safety advice for women travelling in India.
“In that kit they are given dos and don’ts,” he said. “These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends.” The kit says: “Some parts of India, particularly the smaller towns and villages, still have traditional styles of dressing. Do find out about local customs and traditions or concerned authorities before visiting such places.”

Sharma however clarified that he didn't wish to set a dress code for foreign women. ”We have not given any specific instructions regarding what they should wear or not wear. We are asking them to take precaution while going out at night. We are not trying to change anyone’s preference,” he said. “It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research. “The minister doesn’t realise the implications of such irresponsible statements,” she added. Kumari said the remarks reflected “the syndrome of blaming women” for what they wore and where they were. She said: “But the problem is men and boys in India. They go for all kinds of misogyny and sexual acts, rapes and gang-rapes. It’s important to say how to punish the perpetrators of crime and stop the nonsense of ogling women and following them."

National crime statistics show 92 women are raped each day in India. 79% women face eve-teasing everyday. Tourists can be subjected to the same harassment and worse, most recently in July 2016 when an Israeli female tourist was assaulted by a gang of men in the Himalayan resort town of Manali. A Japanese woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in 2014 in Bihar and a Russian assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi in 2015, among other cases.