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


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…”


“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



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



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.’