12 December 2010

Bolpur/Santiniketan sights

Trips to Bolpur help me breathe, literally. I have never really been a big-city person, as I realize on trips to smaller cosier towns like Sirsi or Bolpur. I could trade a lot of the easy convenience and razzle-dazzle of the city for lungfuls of fresh air, any time.

The power cuts in Bolpur are exasperating, of course. So, are the mosquito battalions. Here are images from a recent trip to Bolpur when we had the Navanna puja at home (a sort of thanksgiving after the harvest).

I hope to keep adding to this collection, so check back :)

11 November 2010

Is sex sexist? And, is something wrong with what women study?

Does heterosexual sex necessarily involve subjugation of women?

Is the feminist movement toothless or even unnecessary today?

If women can’t reach the same professional heights as men, is it because they studied the wrong subjects in school?

These are some of the questions being currently discussed in Germany as a result of a public spat between feminist and author, Alice Schwarzer (left), and the minister for families, pensioners and women, Kristina Schröder.

To me, it seems Schwarzer is looking at how child birth often pushes the woman out of economic production. Because, the value of reproduction, the value of a woman’s time and effort in reproducing a human being is still unaccounted for, taken for granted. Corporations myopically question what they are to gain from the reproductional function of women. But then they are quite adept at conveniently pretending they operate in a social vacuum, when it suits them to do so.

It is only in few countries like Sweden where mothers receive huge support in terms of maternity leave and childcare facilities. Other countries, even developed ones, are still dilly-dallying about what they should be doing for working mothers.

About the second question, it reminds of me something that happened in the first year of living in Kolkata. I was looking out of my office window when I saw some CPM cadres march by, shouting “Inquilab Zindabad!” I asked my boss what they were revolting against, what was their agenda, what was the revolution in the 21st century about? My boss, a CPM loyalist, was very offended and said something about keeping the spirit of revolution alive.

A movement loses fizz when its goals are reached or its members get compromised. Have the feminist movement’s goals been reached? Clearly, no. And, when I say no, it’s not only about how even competent women find it difficult to become the CEO of their company, but the ingrained, implicit, and often explicit violence that women are conditioned to bear and even propagate. So, have we women been compromised? Or, been led to believe that all’s well as long as we match up to men.

I sometimes think in terms of the three generations in my family: my grandmother worked shoulder to shoulder with my grandfather in the fields, cooked for him, and raised a family of nine kids.

My mother had to struggle to get through college, not because she could not afford it, but because it was not she who decided things in her life.

In my life, it seems however, that most important decisions are mine. Yet, when I peer at them, I find quite a few of them to be the result of conditioning so strong that I don’t even realise they are not mine.

Yet, the differences between my grandmother’s life and mine are profound. And, both she and my mother have always dinned it into me how important it is to a woman to have her own source of income.

To me, feminism is not about being equal to a man. It is about being recognized and treated as a human being. It is about being able to decide for myself. It is about being able to reach my potential unhindered by my gender. And, I recognize that a lot of these freedoms hinge on who controls the purse strings. Not that an economically independent woman is not exploited, but she can afford to negotiate terms better.

And, about Schroeder’s statement on women’s under-performance being linked to the subjects they studied, I, like Schwarzer, must say that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

04 October 2010


I shook my head twice when I was reading Summertime. Was I reading a novel by J M Coetzee (in picture) or was this written about someone else? But that couldn’t be: the subject of the book shared the same name as the author.

For some time, I was lost. And one of Coetzee’s purposes was achieved. To puzzle the reader, to leaver her perplexed about his personality – is the novel autobiographical, or even taking from the truth in some places, at least? But then why would anyone want to portray himself as one having no ‘sexual presence’? And this laceration of his sexual self continues throughout the book.

Summertime, a collection of fictionalized interviews about Coetzee, is like Coetzee grabbing the reader by the neck and asking her to stop asking questions about him: what is the author like in real life? What of his sex life? What of the things he believed in? Coetzee seems to say, ‘Find the answers in my text, and not in me.’ What one writes may not necessarily be taken from the author’s life. So, even an attempt to scrutinise the author’s life for what he lets out in his work can, in a sense, let his writing down.

For, when one tells stories, one is trying to communicate with the story as a medium. There’s nothing cardinally wrong about looking for an author’s inspiration in his/her personal life: but, what’s the point? What is this obsession with knowing the source of something? Why should something be because of something, and not just exist?

I know the all-too human obsession behind knowing, of course, but Coetzee wants to snub this voyeuristic urge.

It’s also as if to compete with other descriptions of himself: by creating one himself. And, in doing that, try to dispel the aura of a ‘great writer’. What is a great writer but one who reports best her life experiences, sketches in detail the life-pictures she sees around her? So, how much credit for the ‘great writing’ should be attributed to the people in the writer’s life, to the stories she is witness to?

The book obsessively sniggers at the whole idea of ‘great’ and I do see the point of doing so. Some of our so-called literary persons would do well to read this book.

07 September 2010

To remember and let go - Lost Season 6 Finale sums it up!

Lost Season 6 ended yesterday. It kept me awake for pretty long in the night. Apart from the superb cast and gripping plot, there’s something more about Lost that will stay with me for some time, hopefully for ever.

Lost is, after all, about faith, love, seeking, and finding. What stops us from reaching is that we haven’t started yet. What stops from believing is that we think it’s too difficult. Which it might as well be. Yet, we can’t give up trying, for, if we do, we are no longer living.

The struggle to believe, to keep the faith, to love, to heal, to remember, to let go, and to move on informs Lost, as it does life.

Lost was a microcosm of life as we see it all around us, only told through the guise of a story. The island was not just a place where the usual adventures that bring in the TRPs happened, it was also a place for adventures for the soul.

What are we supposed to do, if there’s no one to give instructions? What are we to make of our life?

Where are we supposed to be, where are we supposed to go?

Where, anyway, are we, and who, anyway, are we?

Are we born with our strengths and gifts or do we find them? Are they finite or can we grow them?

These are a few of the important questions that thread through Lost.

I never thought a TV series could touch me so, but it has. And, now I can’t wait for Season 7 (yes, you read it right, SEASON 7!!).

23 June 2010

Bhopal: a lesson in remembering

Things don’t right themselves with the passage of time, unless they are righted. And the way they are righted, is, first, you say sorry. Next, you put things in place and clean up. Thirdly, you learn and remember not to forget.

Bhopal is still all wrong, any which way you look at it. No one has said sorry, no one has mopped up the mess that is the Union Carbide factory, no one has put things in place for the victims. Lastly, nothing has been learned and we have forgotten to remember.

Just because it was all 25 years ago, doesn’t put a distance between us and the poison gas that can be a part of our lives, too, at any time, any place. Think about it, look around you, and you will realize that things have hardly changed when it comes to governmental apathy, corporate cruelty, and general thick-skinnedness of everyone concerned.

The TV channels have taken it upon themselves to set one thing right: the media’s treatment of the whole tragedy. But, far from reassuring me about a sound press, it makes me think if trial- and sometimes government-by-media is our only way out, God help those who are at the receiving end of the media’s cold shoulder.

Yet, the Bhopal ghost couldn’t have reappeared at a better time, when the US is busy being self-righteous and gladly pointing fingers at BP. What did the US government do to penalize Union Carbide? How many billions did it ask Warren Anderson’s company to pay up?

But the US’ hypocrisy is no reason to let off the Indian government easily. The contamination of JP Nagar in Bhopal started right from the day Carbide began operations in 1971 and was a documented fact by 1981. In fact, it is this mess that will take up the thousands of crores to clean up.

And, as we all know, such a violation of our earth and water is commonplace throughout our country.

The real wars that need to be fought are well within the border, they need to be fought for the earth, the air, and the water. But where do we begin..? We all carry a little of Bhopal in our lungs.

02 June 2010

A point is proved

The Trinamool Congress’ victory in the West Bengal civic polls is not an overnight event. It was cooking all along, when the apoliticians were busy sighing that even if they wanted to vote for someone apart from the CPM, there was no alternative; when the ruling media houses of the land went a step further than the CPM itself in Mamata-bashing or Mamata-ignoring.

Today, the people’s movement symbolized by the Trinamool victory has simply become so huge that it cannot be ignored any more. The ‘rabble-rouser’ has become the mass leader. The jeering media houses have become cheer(ing)leaders and are jostling each other for a Mamata-byte.

Do things really remain the same the more they change?

Personally, Mamata’s journey is very inspiring. One person, a woman at that, took on the entire might of a huge near-monolithic structure called the CPM, despite even physical attacks, in an almost hopeless scene – if this is not the stuff of legends, what is?

Her fight gives you the strength to believe in the impossible. In an age where you find few political heroes, Mamata stands tall. Any further electoral victories will not be ‘surprising’, as the TV channels put it. She has proved her point.

My name is Red

A more comprehensive review (and one that I liked) is here.

Am making a very, very brief note, of course:
The tussle between tradition and individuality or the attack of Western influence is at the heart of the book. So, is a murder mystery, that is weaved through till the very end.

But tradition, too, originated once perhaps as a streak of individuality and then got institutionalized. The fear that the chief royal miniaturist shows in the book towards the Western trend of portraiture, is the age-old fear against anything new that has the potential to shake up your world.

It got me thinking about the place of art in Islam. I’d love to do further reading on this. Any suggestions?

02 April 2010

How death happens

Hmm, this has almost become a quarterly blog. Well, what can I say? So many things have been happening workwise that I should say I’m lucky to be able to breathe.
There were a couple of things that I sorely wanted to blog about.

Like the crow nest in front of my office which will perhaps never be filled. Two crows were trying to build a nest since quite a few days. There was nothing that couldn’t find a place in their nest. Twigs were passé, they even wanted to put a bucket handle up there. I have no idea about structural design, but am pretty sure the bucket handle just wouldn’t have fit in the fragile nest.

And, in the end, it was the nest that killed one of the crows. They had put in a lot of plastic thread in there, and, I don’t know how it happened, but yesterday I saw the crow dangling from the branch of the tree, still bound to its nest by the nylon string.

Is this what they mean, when they say, life is what happens to you when you are busy planning other things? Sometimes, death happens that way, too.

Like it happened at Stephen Court. I drove past it a week ago, and the building looked gaunt, violated, and out of place on shiny, cushy Park Street. What’ll we do about tribals being shot down in some remote village when we can’t get things right in the heart of this metropolis?

Kolkata is full of such Stephen Courts, so where will you even begin? They pay much less rent than the prevailing market rates and the building goes to waste. So, people walk past dangling wire bushes and up creaky staircases, thinking some idiot somewhere is responsible for all this. The owners of the building are nameless, perhaps dead, even, and everyone else continues in a state of inertia (and some false pride to do with heritage buildings) all too common in Communist Bengal.

This is not the first major fire in the city’s recent history, and something tells me, it’s not the last, either.

04 January 2010

Tavern news

A couple of days ago, The Telegraph had this on the front page: Last meal at NY’s Tavern on the Green.

And in spite of globalization and shrinking virtual worlds, I didn’t relate to this story. It is not as much as about the restaurant, as it is about the correspondent’s personal nostalgia about the biggies he met and the scoops he got there. Ho-hum.

Secondly, why is it on the front page? Yes, they could have been short of Page 1-ish stories, it being 1 Jan and all, but what about the story about 70 persons killed by a suicide bomber in neighbouring Pakistan? Maybe, bombings have become routine in Pakistan, but it’s still no excuse for the NY restaurant story to be prioritized. Oh, but then, maybe the enlightened editors at The Telegraph didn’t want to spoil the New Year cheer. Well, that’s understandable.

Thirdly, the story deals with the Tavern only superficially, and soon turns into a long-drawn treatise on why the correspondent thinks the recession in the US is far from over. The economy's impact on the restaurant definitely needed to be brought up in the story, but not at the cost of the story. There are no quotes from the restaurant regulars, the owners, in fact the entire story has no quotes at all. Neither is there any mention about how it looked on its last day, did they have anything special on the menu, nada.

And, we are still talking about a restaurant here.

02 January 2010


I recently read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. After a long, long time, this was a book that had me licking for more from Page 1.

I have often thought that when you meet the work of a true artist, you get the feeling that he/she knows you, knows something about you that can make you smile or cry a tear. They know something about you that you never bothered to discover. I got this feeling when I read Shantaram.

Roberts writes of a love so intense that everyone can’t know or comprehend and makes one wary of the pain that must invariably accompany such searing love. He writes of the human heart’s incredible ability to hope and the will to fight through impossible circumstances.

Yes, at times, the book flows rather too well, events in the book are too much in harmony with each other. For instance, Ulla appears with movie-like precision in the plot. Perhaps, this was intentional to make it look more like a work of fiction, something made up, and not autobiographical.

The way he puts words to feelings caught my breath. Simply brilliant. My copy of the book is marked up in so many places for the words I loved, like, “But wisdom, in one sense, is the opposite of love. Love survives in us precisely because it isn’t wise,” or, “a prairie of longing”.

All the things that matter in life – love, friendship, integrity, and even death – Roberts’s involvement with each is touching. I loved this book for being so unabashed about its sentimentality, even as it takes us through the lanes of organized crime in Mumbai. So much in the book is so incredible like Roberts’s escape from the high-security prison in the middle of the day. I have not read a book that’s as compelling as this and is yet a literary masterpiece at the same time. Nothing could match up to the pulse of this book. And all, written in a way to make you pause and look up and think for a long time.

I can’t wait to watch the movie, what with Johnny Depp and all. But it can never be better than the book, of course.