Sunday, 4 September 2016



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



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.

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.