Picture from the internet

…And to think of it now majority of the work force throughout the world is working at home because of lockdowns and the coronavirus pandemic. When I started working from home this was unthinkable and, in fact, the whole concept was accompanied by wrong notions of loss of productivity and lack of commitment. What one would do in the office one would never do at home – this was something that was oft repeated by work bosses in the year 2010. But now…

My first work-from-home stint

I was in Dubai when my son Vivaan was born and I went back to work when he was only one and a half months old. I was given the option of working from office for 4 hours and the rest 5 hours I worked from home. I reached office at 8am instead of 9am, was there till noon, and was home before son’s bathing time.

This schedule worked for me like a breeze as I could be with my baby when he needed me and could work at the laptop as well filing copies, editing articles and doing interviews over phone or email for the magazine I worked in. But my bliss didn’t last long.

In a department that worked with a skeletal staff my boss decided to take leave for a month to attend the wedding anniversary of her in-laws in India- strangely people she was perpetually cribbing about in front of her colleagues. But it was their 50th wedding anniversary, she had to be there organizing the show for a month and then parading in Kanjeevarams as the perfect Dubai-return bahu. I obviously did not fit anywhere in the picture.

So my bliss was quickly slaughtered at the altar of bahu duties of the boss. I was asked to be at work 9-6, holding fort while she was gone. I had requested the management to give me remote access so that I could check the pages, do the edits and final proofing and continue working from home. That wasn’t an impossible task especially in a techno savvy place like Dubai. But they simply refused to give me access at home and said the final work couldn’t be done without coming to office and they didn’t feel “safe” giving remote access. (Not that I was working with any kind of confidential data.)

So in the end it was basically the belief that an employee, especially a new mom, wouldn’t put in her best in her work-from-home avatar.

Hence I was back to work, slogging out at my desk, being the perfect professional and churning out my supposed 100 per cent.

I quit my office job

Within 10 months I quit my job. Did I regret it? Yes, to some extent because I never went back to earning a pay pack like that every month no matter how many big projects I landed as a freelancer. Did I like working from home? I loved it because I could be with my son. I could work on my schedule in my own way and I could do other things like writing my books.

But working from home did come with a lot of negative connotations. Wearing fashionable clothing and driving to work every morning to a swanky office is one thing, and sitting in your pyjamas at the laptop placed on the dining table every morning, keying in some stories and interviews is completely another thing.

You could feel you are working but others might not. I had grabbed a work-from-home offer as the consulting editor of a health and travel magazine and was keeping rather busy all day, I was writing my debut book Exit Interview even. But tinkering at your laptop in your nightdress and occasional weekly meetings and interviews are not actually work. I realised soon. No one told me but it was written all over their faces. My demotion had happened in the eyes of my family, relatives and friends, something from which I could probably never rise.

Picture from the internet

The challenges of the work-from-home schedule

It’s actually more challenging to work from home than at the office. The world is realizing that right now I am sure. There are articles everywhere now telling you how to set up a work space at home, how to keep the self motivated and how to separate yourself from the household.

Let’s face it, it’s just not possible.

As someone who’s been there done that, I have realised you cannot stick to your work desk when the baby is crying, the cook is asking for instructions or elderly people at home can’t do without their daily dose of serials and the TV will blare. You like it or not, you will have to accept it.

It’s been 10 years now and I am still asked to move my laptop all around the house because someone has something more important to do in that space at that moment. Sometimes I refuse and let my anger speak, sometimes I move because I don’t want to lose my concentration in fruitless argument.

The seriousness that people had when I left home with my leather bag on my shoulders is clearly missing when they see me moping around on the laptop in my shabby home clothes. And you can’t really blame them for that, can you?

Related Reading: You might like this short story of mine on WFH The Bekaar Blogger

WFH has made me stronger

I must say I have developed concentration that wouldn’t falter if the walls in the house collapse on me and my time management and multi-tasking abilities have become so much better. If the son is playing with his friends in the same room and the TV is on and Sreemoyee is crying her head off on the screen, I don’t flinch at my edits. My mind is there fully and the world around is shut off.

It’s actually an art and people who have been pushed to their homes suddenly and gasping in their WFH routines will learn it over time.

And by the way, those who have been writing off WFH people like us for so many years will now realize how much harder it’s to function from home than to be at work. Like a friend of mine said, “I start at 7 am and can’t finish even at 11 pm.”

True, no matter how hard you try the WFH schedule could become a 24×7 thing draining you out completely. And you could be setting your own deadlines but the office could now give you work at unearthly hours and you wouldn’t be able to say no.

You could miss the coffee breaks and lunchtime banter with your colleagues but you could be there for your kid when he gets back from school. A friend of mine looks after her bedridden mom and works from home in the IT sector. It’s a Herculean task she has been performing for years now. Now that her entire work force has shifted home they would probably finally realize the mountains she has been moving to stay on deadline.

Now when people say they are finding work from home crazy, I say “meh” rolling my eyes just like my son would.

Related Reading:This post was written on my WFH experience My boss is always touching me

Witnessing WFH history

Picture from the internet

 

There was a time when WFH was looked at as the end of a career, was treated with disdain and with the repeated question, “What do you actually do?” Now WFH is a norm, everyone is doing it and I feel victorious and validated.

From the time when WFH was not looked at as an option at all, to a time when I have never met my employers except on Skype calls, things have changed drastically, thanks to technology. I have remote colleagues whom I have never met but we do talk about kids and deadlines on messenger. And now, of course, about the added load of housework because of the lockdown and virus scare.

But in our WFH world social distancing already exists. You don’t share details about yourself beyond the basics and when an employee leaves the job, that’s it. There’s no connection left after that. This is inevitable because the bonds you build sitting next to a colleague in office can’t really be built remotely.

“After this lockdown I will never complain about going to work I am sure,” said a friend. True. When you don’t have access to something anymore you learn to appreciate and value it. That’s why when the door flies open and people barge in when I am on a Skype call I now smile. I don’t lose it. WFH has taught me to appreciate the finer aspects of life.

There is no doubt in the maid-dependent Indian social setting (to think of it this is the first time since I stepped on this earth we are managing without maids) WFH in the lockdown scenario is truly tough. Work calls are greeted with, “I am mopping the floor can I call back?” or “I am finishing the dishes will be there in 2 mins.” It’s acceptable and not a wee bit unprofessional. We are all aware of the work-home balancing act we are doing.

In fact, this Lockdown WFH has come as a great wake-up call where bosses and managements all over the world are realizing that it’s possible to keep the ball rolling with a cut down of costs and carbon footprints.

And if we believe the futuristic reports then many companies who can function remotely could be still sticking to the WFH system even when there’s no lockdown.

I will end with a funny story. America has recorded higher sales of tops without bottoms, recently. As a friend shared on FB recently she had flung her top and jacket on her printed pyjamas she wears at home for a Zoom meeting. Then she got up to get her mobile.

Ahh! The hilarious WFH dichotomies.

PS: I wrote this blog between doing the dishes and frying cabbage pakodas that didn’t come out too well. But hope this post did.

 

I think I can write a thesis on this topic: How to deal with death on social media. But the problem is I can’t write anymore.

There used to be a time when you would find me in my computer room writing long articles on my favourite subject – technology. I have always been a computer freak, a whiz even, you could call me. In 1986, I imported a computer from Japan, paid through my nose on customs duty. I guess, being a steel magnate does have its perks. You can afford things that your passion desires. My computer room or my “Tech Room”, as my children call it, always remained my hallowed haven, where I would spend all my spare time. But it always remained my own space. I never felt the need to show it to anyone. In fact, except for my family and my staff, no one knew of its existence.

I guess precisely for this reason, I never got on to social media, despite being so tech-savvy. I loathed the whole concept of making your private life public.

As the stack of books on computers and gadgets grew on my book shelf, my acquisitions also increased and my Tech Room became a techno museum of sorts. My children found my room fascinating and I allowed them complete access to it only on one condition – my room, no matter how intriguing, would be kept away from social media.

Although I never stopped them from being on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp, I just wanted them to make sure that I myself never got there, even through accidental photo bombing.

When photos would be clicked at events, parties, get-togethers, I would just vanish in the last moment. My repulsion of social media was that strong and my efforts to stay away from it that intense.

Some realized that I was truly a private person and let me be and some felt pity and spoke behind me, but I couldn’t care less.

I was in my Tech Room that day downloading photos of my trip to the US from my latest model Canon DSLR to my MacBook, listening to some old Bengali numbers on my Alexa, when it happened.

I died.

I had a heart attack. I wasn’t unhappy about dying. I had lived a full life. I had travelled the world, I had grandchildren and I still had school friends. So at 75, I didn’t have any last wish. I was actually raring to explore the other side.

 

My steel business allowed me to leave a Will that would make my wife and children secure and rich. But little did I know then that my ordeal has just begun. I would have to constantly live (or rather die) with something that I had despised all my life.

It all started on the night I died. My elder daughter lives in the US and son in the UK with their respective families. My younger daughter, who isn’t married yet, lives with me.

My son instantly bought tickets and took the next flight down to Kolkata to perform my last rites. My eldest daughter stayed up all night, vacillating between my death and my granddaughter’s upcoming exams. I sympathized with her situation and couldn’t bear to see her crying so helplessly. My sympathies dissipated the next moment though.

She shared the news of my demise on Facebook. Then the endless “RIP” comments started flowing in and she diligently answered each and every person who conveyed their condolences, as if her life depended on it. Her conscientiousness in dealing with those comments felt akin to writing an exam paper.

I always thought grief is personal, but it seemed my daughter’s grief was centered on Facebook and I was appalled how quickly she forgot my disdain for the medium on which she chose to share her emotions. She finally couldn’t make it to my last rites.

I wouldn’t hold it against her because she has been a wonderful daughter and loved me dearly when I was alive. Only a few days back I had spent three heady months with her, savouring her cooking and company at her home in the US. Photos of this trip still lie half downloaded on my computer.

But I could probably never forgive her for doing what she did, as soon as I closed my eyes for good. She ended up triggering a “Me Too” syndrome around my death. Distant relatives, close cousins, long-lost classmates started posting their “wonderful” opinions of me and how they already missed me. I cringed and cringed again when their posts about my demise were quickly followed by pictures of them sitting in the restaurant, coffee shop, movie hall, that very evening. Yes, unfortunately I died on a weekend.

Thankfully, good sense prevailed with my son and younger daughter. They didn’t make any attempt to share their grief on social media.

Or am I jumping to conclusions too quickly?

*

My body lies there in a cushion of flowers and the house is full of people who have come to pay their last respects. Thanks to my long career and a good one too, I did know a lot of people and earned their respect. So the place is now swarming with people, some of whom are famous, from different walks of life.

Oh God! Why is my younger daughter’s boyfriend filming me? I am just a motionless dead body, what’s there to video record? It’s so embarrassing. Why isn’t my daughter stopping him? I just hope, God, I just hope he doesn’t intend to put this video on social media.

A film star has walked in. He’s distracted. Good for me. But wait, what is he doing? Asking the actor for a selfie? Now my nephew also joins him. What is going on? Quick, someone take me to the crematorium. This has to stop!

*

It’s my Shraddh ceremony today. I am truly upset, annoyed, livid, pissed off… All the time I lived, I believed in hospitality to the core. When both my children got married I went to each and every house to invite people and stood at the gate all through the evening welcoming guests with folded arms. My hospitality was always the talk of the town, but I had no idea death changed everything…so drastically.

Despite my wife’s repeated requests, my son and daughter refused to move an inch to invite anyone to my Shraddh ceremony. They couldn’t even make a phone call because they had their own set of beliefs.

“Ma, those who respect Baba would come anyway. We just have to let them know the date and time,” my son argued.

And how did they pass on this information?

Through Facebook of course.

There was the card with my photo on it and scanned in my scanner in the Tech Room and put up on Facebook. It was my first photo entry on social media, but I died a thousand deaths after that.

Never imagined my son and daughter could do something like that. But authority ends with death. I learned that the hard way.

My son is performing the Shraddh ritual and I don’t know why so many people are coming and clicking his photos, doing that. Is it a cherished memory to keep? I don’t know. I don’t understand people anymore.

And then my daughter, her boyfriend, my nephew and nieces are so busy clicking photos with all the famous people. There is a sense of bonhomie all around. That’s alright. I am okay with them enjoying themselves, clicking photos with celebs for their social media accounts. As long as they keep me out of it, I am just fine.

My nieces are all in their new designer white kurtas, sunglasses and designer bags and shoes. I am sure they have shopped especially for this occasion. After all, I am their favourite uncle.

No! No! My two nieces are clicking a selfie with me in the frame. Why me? God! why me? This is unbearable.

My son’s ritual is done. And I don’t know why he is telling everyone to WhatsApp him the pictures they have taken. I am sure he wants to send those to my daughter-in-law, because she couldn’t fly down in the ninth month of her second pregnancy.

Then he himself took a picture of my picture drowned in garlands and sent those to his wife. My daughter-in-law received the photos and went through each meticulously and then she did it.

She also did it.

Nothing surprises me anymore, but even I didn’t see this coming.

She WhatsApped the photo that my son took of my photo, to all the Bengali WhatsApp Groups she was part of, captioning the picture: Shashurmoshai’s Sraddha done. Thank you for all your support.

So there I was, all over UK WhatsApp now.

Sitting there inside my photograph I really don’t know who to channelize my anger at – my son, daughter-in-law, daughters, nephews or nieces.

I might have a slight reason for being a little less angry at my nieces. In their selfie with me, at least my vitiligo does not show.

(The story has been written from real-life incidents although the characters are fictional)

My collection of short stories Museum of Memories has been published by Readomania

Ankit Seth with actor Bobby Chakraborty at an anti-addiction campaign called I am the King of My Mind

Ankit Seth with actor Bobby Chakraborty at an anti-addiction campaign

What’s an urban Indian child’s life like these days? The day starts with rushing to school with a back-breaking bag, cramming for constant tests and exams, shuttling between tuitions and activity classes then going to bed tired and drained, only to wake up the next day to follow the same old routine. Where are the playgrounds and where is the time for play? How many children have the freedom to just while away their time playing inane games? How many can do things they like doing?

In a scenario like this a boy like Ankit Seth is like a breath of fresh air. A student of South End Centre School (Howrah) Ankit is someone who has always been doing things differently. He is following his heart and making a difference in other students’ lives. He is devoting all his time for a cause he is passionate about.

A big kudos should go to Ankit’s parents for letting their son pursue his passion and to actor Bobby Chakraborty for showing him the way. Ankit is a young anti-addiction crusader who has been juggling his studies, his TV roles and his passion with a rare deftness.

Ankit can be an inspiration for kids today. Read his interview to know why…

You met Bobby on the sets of Mouchak when you were in Class II. How did you get involved in his anti-addiction campaign?

When I met Bobbydada on the set of Mouchak in 2013, I felt I found my best friend.  He was a great co-actor, guide and teacher too. I played his son in the serial, which was a great hit with the audience. I found him different from everyone else around. I used to watch his photos and videos when he used to go to schools and colleges for his campaigns. I used to see photos of other students who used to go with Bobbydada to schools and colleges as ‘active soldiers’. I understood and felt deep respect for his self less work that he does through his campaign I am the King of My Mind. I wanted to be a part of it and help the society too. But then in 2013 I was too young and Bobbydada said that he will make me an ‘active soldier’ when I grow older, which ultimately happened in 2016.

Ankit with Bobby on the sets of Mouchak. He was in Class II then.

Ankit with Bobby on the sets of Mouchak. He was in Class II then.

When was the first time you accompanied him on a campaign and how was the experience?

My debut as an ‘active soldier’ happened at Narayana School, Howrah in 2016 when I was in Class 5. The session had students much elder to me from Classes 8 9, 10. The main challenge was to get over my stage fright and convince older students with my views. They might not have paid any attention as I was just a kid of Class 5. But Bobbydada had trained me and guided me with my presentation so nicely that my presentation met with a huge round of applause. I felt encouraged to carry on. For how many years now you are with him in this campaign and how many schools have you visited? With 2019 it will be the fourth year as an ‘active soldier’ for me and till date I have been to 16 sessions.

Tell us about your best memories on this anti-addiction campaign trail…

There are many encouraging and inspiring incidents that I have experienced as an ‘’active soldier’, but the one that happened in Techno India group Public School, Bolpur, was really memorable. I was in the Class 6 at that time and I was addressing students as old as the Class 12 in the session. I think I gave my best and after the session, students much elder to me, actually made a queue to take a selfie with me and asked for my autograph.

What I mean is, this happens very often with Bobbydada, very naturally, because he is elder to all, he is a known face and he inspires everyone. But when the same thing happens to a kid like me, it proved that I was able to impress and inspire my elders with my point of view too.

Another one happened very recently in National Gems Higher secondary school, when almost every line I spoke, every incident I narrated about my life, every principle I believe in, was met with encouraging and loud claps which made me sure, I was able to connect with my generation.

You have been to a college too. Is it difficult to address people who are so much older than you?

Before going to my first session at a college (The Heritage College) Bobbydada had a special training session with me, keeping in mind that it will have students even elder to 12th graders this time and chances are more that they might not listen to me at all. When I started with my presentation there, I could feel they were really not interested but I was ready with all my tricks to make my presentation interesting and inspiring. After the session when I received appreciation from the Principal, the teachers, the CEO and the students, I felt satisfied and happy inside.

At Nava Nalanda, Shantiniketan

How do you prepare for the presentations?

There are intense rehearsal sessions before every session with Bobbydada. We keep in mind the strata of the society, the ambience, the general audience, the geographic location of a particular school or college and shape my presentation and the language of the interaction likewise. Possible improvisations are kept in mind and rehearsed too which might come in use during the session.

Have your peers ever laughed at you for your passion? How did you deal with it if anyone expressed doubts about your efforts?

All I understand is Bobbydada has taught me how important it is to be out of the herd, out of the crowd, against harmful popular trends to prove my identity and make my life worth it. Such a life is obviously found strange by all who would only follow others blindly without a reason or a question. But there in lies my pride as an ‘active soldier’, I don’t do what everyone does. I am making use of this life that God, my parents and Bobbydada have given me. So nothing else and no negativity matter.

Do you still act in serials?

Yes I do, but due to studies I had to cut down on offers on television because shooting on television is time consuming. At present I am shooting for Deepabolir Shatkaahon for Akash Bangla channel. My next film is due for release, which has Bobbydada in it too as my co-actor. It is Ek Je Achhe Shohor directed by Riingo Banerjee.

At Heritage College

How do you balance studies and all these activities?

My parents and Bobbydada have taught me time management. I plan everything and move ahead as per that plan. Studies of course are a priority, but if we can all do time management, we can take out time for our passion, hobbies, social responsibility and for pleasure too.

You will be in Class IX now, do you think you will be able to devote as much time to the campaign?

Yes I plan to carry on my support towards this cause till my last breath. Even if I can’t physically assist Bobbydada to a school or college, my work and effort to spread our mission will continue in one way or the other. If there is a will, there is a way.

I heard once you got bit by a scorpion but still went with Bobby for a session. How and why?

Yes it happened the day before we were scheduled to travel to Shantinekatan at Techno India Group Public School, Bolpur. I had to be taken to the hospital to drain off the poisoned area bitten by the scorpion.

My right foot was hugely swollen. I could hardly walk. Bobbydada and my parents asked me not to go to Bolpur. But I told them, if Bobbydada can do so much of hard work, not for money or any material gain I can bear this much of pain too.

I am happy I went and in that school, I think I gave my best presentation till date ,which I have already mentioned and it resulted into students much older to me, making a line for my autograph and selfie.

Ankit Seth telling peers how to say no to addiction

What is the satisfaction you get from doing this campaign?

It is a selfless job, not for money or for any material gains but to raise an awareness among boys and girls of my age, younger and older to me to lead a healthy life, believing in HCF- Health, Career and Family. Bobbydada always tells me that the easiest thing in life is to get lost in a crowd. Like Bobbydada I want to be a face in the crowd, I want to be an example to my generation, I want to make my life useful to the others and not only think about me and my selfish gains in life.

How do you want to take it further when you grow up?

I want to help Bobbydada in every way possible when I grow up to spread this mission all around the globe. I can feel that the support for this much needed awareness is very, very less, even if we are doing it for free!! I find this very strange! Nevertheless we have come a long way with whatever support we are getting from schools and colleges here or abroad. I want to make sure this support increases, as I grow up.

What do you think you have gained out of your efforts?

As an ‘active soldier’, I have found a huge change in my personality. Previously when used to tell people, not to smoke, drink or if I went to a hookah bar, they used to shut me up. But after I have become an ‘active soldier’ and they listen to me now with a lot more importance. I have become a more confident person. I find a purpose in my life. I was able to change someone in my family from the bad habits …and lastly I have gained Bobbydada in my life.

What kind of support do you get from your parents?

If my father Mr Sekhar Seth and my mother Mrs Sima Seth, had not supported me and encouraged me to do something good for the society through this awareness drive by Bobbydada, I would have been just any other kid, studying, watching cartoons and hanging around with friends only.

What would be your advice to people of your age regarding studies, extra-curricular activities and being the “King of their mind”?

I want to tell my generation is believe in the formula HCF….If your Health is ok…you will have a good Career…which will keep your Family happy.

I want to tell them to rule their minds and control their minds. I AM THE KING OF MY MIND should be our mantra.

I want to ask them 3 questions:

(1) why should you waste your parents money on poison when you have 101 constructive and charitable ways to spend it?

(2) When someone like Bobbydada, coming from the glamour world, getting everything free can control himself from this poison and yet be ‘cool’ and ‘fashionable’ why can’t we all control ourselves?

(3) When the manufacturers themselves are writing on their own products like cigarettes, alcohol, gutkha that IT IS POISON AND INJURIOUS TO HEALTH, why will you still buy it? What is your education and intelligence for?

I would ask them to join our Facebook group ‘MY ANTI ADDICTION CAMPAIGN’ and spread good vibes in the society.

Guest of Honour

Posted: April 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

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If there is something that anyone living abroad can share in abundance, it’s their guest experiences. Apart from the literal baggage that they bring with them, some do leave you with an emotional baggage of memories that you wish didn’t happen. You often sigh in relief that those are just memories that wouldn’t be re-lived because chances are you wouldn’t let those guests into your house – ever again.

This story is about a similar guest experience of Leela and Ankush. The couple moved to Dubai five years back. Child free and well placed, they lived in a sprawling two-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city, with a pool on the terrace and an upmarket mall across the road.

When Leela’s ex-colleague’s sister from Kolkata, Namita, someone she had never seen in her life, moved to Dubai and had made the customary call to her – something anyone grappling in a new place does- she had obviously invited them for dinner.

drawing room

Over mutton and luchi cooked by her Bengali Chef, she had told them of every possible thing she knew about Dubai, except for the fact that Namita and her husband Ajit were the last guests to be entertained in their plush apartment. The next day they were moving to a one-bedroom apartment next door because they couldn’t afford the rent anymore.

It had become like a ritual for new settlers in Dubai to come calling, but very few actually returned the dinner invitation or stayed in touch once they got busy with their lives and with Namita and Ajit, Leela expected the same to happen. So she thought it was unnecessary to tell them that this posh abode, that she was so proud of, wouldn’t belong to them from the very next day.

After that grand dinner, as expected Namita and Ajit got on with their lives, the invitation wasn’t reciprocated and the phone calls too started dwindling. Leela and Ankush settled in their one-bedroom home. They weren’t as welcoming to guests anymore because that sense of pride they had in their home was gone. They had nothing to show off. The only saving grace was the smaller space. For a cleanliness freak like Leela, who took up the dusting cloth the moment she returned from office, there were less nooks and crannies now from where dust had to be eradicated.

guests.jpg

Almost a year had passed when suddenly one day there was a frantic phone call from Ajit, all the way from Kolkata.

Didi, please help. We are returning to Dubai tomorrow but I came to know our rented place has been taken over by the landlord. He had sent me some legal notice earlier but I could not make out because it was in Arabic. Didi can Namita stay with you for a few days till I find a new place? I won’t stay with her as my office is giving me five-star accommodation,” he said.

All in one breath.

Leela was in shock.

How could she tell him about their fall from grace, about the absence of a guest room in their home?

“Umm…can’t Namita come back later after you have found the place?”

Leela was over her initial shock.

“She has to go back with me. We bought tickets on an offer and we will not get any refund if we cancel them. Please didi, a few days only. We have no one else we can ask for help in Dubai.”

Leela said she would call back.

Her anxious call went to Ankush.

“The Malayalees would help anyone from Kerala,” Ankush philosophised. “Although I am not sure what the Bengalis would do,” he added.

So it was decided that this Bengali couple would help out this other Bengali couple from Kolkata whom they had met only once, but since they didn’t have anyone else in Dubai, they would be the pillar they could lean on. Just like Malayalees supported each other in their community.

Ankush went a step ahead. He wanted to give Namita their bedroom but Leela wouldn’t have any of that. She felt their sofa bed in the sitting room was comfortable enough.

“You are not understanding Ankush. If Namita has the bedroom Ajit will move in too and they would junk their plans to find a rented apartment. Two month’s rent saved in Dubai is a lot of money,” said Leela.

Ankush gave her the daggers but in his heart he probably knew Leela made sense.

The next day they arrived, Namita looked a wee bit apologetic but Ajit walked around like he owned the apartment.

“Can I get a towel? Need a shower badly,” were the first words Ajit offered.

Leela handed him a brand new Marks & Spencer towel.

“Your washroom is so small, the other house had a bigger one. But thankfully you still have a bathtub,” said Ajit.

Leela cringed. She wasn’t sure if her effort at being a Malayalee was the right decision.

They devoured lunch cooked by the Bengali Chef, who had been retained, that Ajit was quick to point out.

“Good to see you still have the cook.”

Post lunch, Ajit wanted a drop to his accommodation from Ankush.

“Which hotel?”  Ankush asked starting the car.

“I refused the hotel accommodation. Don’t want to be a burden on the company because of what happened. I will be staying with a colleague who lives in a single accommodation nearby.”

Ajit wanted to get a drop on the main road and walk to the house, but Ankush insisted he could not leave him with his luggage like that. When they approached the run-down two-storey building with the community litter-bin standing in front of it, Ankush realized the reason for Ajit’s reluctance to let him near it.

From the next day, when they left for work, Namita was sleeping on the sofa bed. When they were back they found her in the exact same position. But magically a stash of utensils had piled up in the sink and food crumbs were everywhere, the fridge looked raided and Ajit’s washed clothes and underclothes were hanging in the balcony.

After three days of this, Leela took leave from work. Ajit appeared at meal times and he claimed he was looking for an apartment and attending office. After meals, Namita always went back to bed and Leela to the sink.

Then five nights later Ajit made an appearance at 11pm.

“I can’t sleep in that house anymore. Bedbugs. Too many. Haven’t been sleeping at night. Will sleep here from now on.”

“Bed bugs!!??” Leela shrieked.

“Why didn’t you tell me? That means you have been bringing them here,” she said agitatedly.

“Namita’s washing my clothes with care,” said Ajit matter-of-factly.

“But she is washing your clothes here only. In our machine.”

“Can you give me a blanket please? I am very sleepy,” Ajit said. He had no intention of extending the conversation.

“And Ankush da a T-shirt will help. I didn’t get any night clothes.”

Ankush handed him a blanket and a T-shirt. He glanced at Leela to gauge the impact of the information just shared. It wasn’t good.

Leela stayed up all night scanning every inch of the bed and kept complaining that she could feel bug bites. Ankush knew his wife bordered on OCD when it came to bed bugs. They had lost some friendships too because of this ugly creature.

In the next few days Leela upturned all the furniture and searched every corner for that dreaded black crawling dot. Her unslept eyes had dark circles and she had extended her leave.

But despite this catastrophe Leela strangely remained loyal to their pledge of helping the “hapless” couple out. There was only one thing Leela insisted. Ajit had to choose in which house he wanted to stay because he couldn’t keep going back to a bed bug -infested house and then sleep in their house. Ajit’s choice need not be elaborated.

At the end of eight days, Ajit finally announced that he had found an accommodation.

“Take the blanket, bed sheet, towel, T-shirt everything with you.”

This was Leela’s first reaction.

A few months later Namita called to inform she had laundered everything they took and wanted to return those. Leela remained generous. She asked Namita to keep everything.

*

Leela was in a meeting. It wasn’t a known number. There were three missed calls. Fourth time she picked up.

“Leeladi my name is Anindita your neighbour Umesh kaku gave me your number. It’s been three days I have moved to Dubai. He said I should get in touch with you. I was wondering if we could meet for coffee.”

“Anindita, I am afraid I am busy for the next eight weekends.”

This story has been published in the UK in the Durga Puja 2018 issue of Panchmeshali- The Diaspora Magazine. (Photographs taken from the net.)

 

Jeeja Ghosh with her daughter Hiya (Picture from the internet)

Jeeja Ghosh is the Brand Ambassador for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections appointed by the Election Commission of India, which wants the forthcoming elections to be the most inclusive one.

“The EC has organized camps to enroll voters with disability. Initiatives are being taken to make the polling booths accessible. I am happy to help in every way I can,” said Jeeja, who has been an inspiration to many.

She shared with me that she has helped in the creation of Cards to educate the disabled on the voting modalities and procedures.

Jeeja Ghosh needs no introduction. Born with cerebral palsy (a condition caused by lack of oxygen in the brain either during pregnancy or birth) and an indomitable spirit, she has overcome many a hurdle to tread into uncharted territory.

A graduate in sociology from Presidency College (now Presidency University), Jeeja did her post-graduation from Delhi University. Most would have stopped at that. But Jeeja went on to do a second masters in Disability Studies from Leeds University, UK. Back home, she became the head of Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy.

She gave up the job last September because she intended to challenge herself further. She, along with partners Chandra Sen Gupta and Sayomdeb Mukherjee, co-founded non-profit organisation ‘Inclusion Infinite Foundation’ as well as limited liability partnership firm Ebullience Advisors. Both are startups breaking new ground in the sector and replace the charity-based model with a rights-based one. The idea behind two companies is that one will be able to support the activities of the other.

At a very personal level, Jeeja had pierced yet another glass ceiling when she and her husband Bappaditya Nag adopted a baby girl, Hiya. In doing so, she became the first Indian woman with celebral palsy to adopt a child. Now, 11 months later, she is relishing the new role even as she confronts new challenges that motherhood entails.

“Motherhood is extremely rewarding and enjoyable. But it is also challenging,” she said candidly.

The biggest challenge, Jeeja said, has been to find a nanny for Hiya. The realisation that she needed help was very early. “Looking after a toddler can be demanding. Hiya is a very ebullient child. She runs all around the house. I need someone to run after her,” she explained. But these challenges pale in comparison to the joy that Jeeja and her husband are experiencing. “Watching her grow every day is a wonder. The twinkle in her expressive eyes, the dimple in her cheeks when she smiles… she never ceases to charm us,” said Jeeja.

Hiya, Bappaditya and Jeeja (Picture from the internet)

Bappaditya, who met Jeeja in 2008 and fell in love soon afterwards, tied the knot in 2013. That his father was orthopedically disabled and mother was blind in one eye meant he had some idea about disability. But he learned about cerebral palsy only after meeting Jeeja. “I fell in love with her naughtiness, her humour. She is also my mental strength and support,” he said.

Realising pregnancy could be risky for Jeeja, the couple decided to go for adoption and applied to Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) in 2016. The road to motherhood was not smooth as the couple struggled to convince the adoption committee that she was capable of motherhood. They met the child in Keonjhar, Odisha, where she was abandoned at a hospital by her biological mother after her birth in January 2018. They instantly fell in love with her.

But it took several trips to Keonjhar, mails to various authorities and furnishing documents to get the nod. On the way, humiliating questions were thrown at her. The district child protection officer described cerebral palsy as a ‘mental disease’ and expressed apprehensions about Jeeja’s communication skills. Finally, in June 2018, the authorities handed the five-month-old baby to the couple.

In December, Jeeja lost her octogenarian mother, a dementia patient, who lived with her. “My mother never gave up on me. She faced a lot of challenges during my childhood. I am now ready to face the challenges that Hiya throws at me,” said Jeeja, chin-up and ready to rock the world.

(This article is written by Aloke Kumar, who shared this first on his Facebook wall)

For more on Jeeja read here.

Those who have been following my blog will know that I believe in challenging perceptions with every post I upload. This International Women’s Day I am very happy to narrate another story that shatters all ingrained perceptions about women.

When you ask a carpenter to come over to your house to make a wardrobe or fix a broken bed or a table, you would not expect a woman to walk in. But the time has come when you should not be surprised if a woman does this work for you. There are no gender stereotypes anymore. Literally!

Recently, some women were invited to an art gallery, where various objects were displayed inside a wardrobe. They were asked a simple question: Which of the things they saw were made by women? As each of the women inspected the objects, all guesses gravitated towards the objects, like clothes, jewellery, art etc. Not one participant thought that the wardrobe itself could have been made by women.

They were then introduced to India’s first all-women carpentry team trained by the NGO Archana Women’s Centre. Greenply, in association with this Kerala-based organization, that works towards empowering women has done, what till now, was unthinkable in India.

(This video is directed by a woman too, Anandi Ghose.)

Breaking stereotypes

When it comes to training women to earn a living most NGOs focus on teaching them sewing, embroidery, organic farming or making dairy products. No one thought women could work with wood and make a wardrobe from scratch. Archana Women’s Centre has been empowering women with skills that include unconventional trades like building technology, carpentry, ferro-cement technology (making of thin but strong structures for buildings), bamboo technology and production of concrete bricks.

The fact that Greenply has come forward to collaborate with women carpenters, trained in the centre, is a big step forward.

The website of Archana Women’s centre says: Archana Women Centre moved into its own office magnificently constructed by a women masons group in the year 2006. It was erected to challenge the conventional male centered concept of development by empowering the marginalized and under privileged women in the society and arm them with the weapon of self reliance and dignity. AWC is determined not to follow the traditional jobs which keep women low paid, low in status and low in self image. Instead, AWC tries to initiate more and more women especially from the construction sector, who are destined to stay as helper for all their life, to the dignified and highly paid jobs of masonry, carpentry, ferro- cement technology, bamboo technology etc.  Our goal is to dismantle the barriers of gender discrimination prevailing in the technical employment sector, by means of training, empowerment and continued motivational support to women.

Our goal is to dismantle the barriers of gender discrimination prevailing in the technical employment sector

On the other hand women play a definitive role in Greenply’s business enterprises. Their plant in Tizit, Nagaland, employs over 130 women – nearly a third of the workforce. It also works with a network of over 550 female architects across the country. At every stage, they strive to find ways to empower and include women in their ecosystem, where they can drive the industry forward with their enterprise.

With this initiative, Greenply turns those efforts towards the one discipline which, despite being so closely tied to their industry, has so long been a man’s domain – carpentry. And they make just one appeal to all – stop saying women can’t.

Today happens to be my blog’s Seventh Anniversary. It has been an eye-opening and fulfilling journey so far.

HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY!

 

The cover of the two books The Secret Diary of Kasturba Gandhi and Ms and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that shook India

I read two books recently that give a striking insight into the marriages of two stalwarts of India’s independence movement, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. It’s been a few days I have finished the books, but I have still not been able to decide who was worse off – Kasturba Gandhi or Ruttie Jinnah.

Mr and Mrs Jinnah by Sheela Reddy and The Secret Diary of Kasturba Gandhi by Neelima Dalmia Adhar are books that are painstakingly researched and well-written and take you deep into the lives of two women who married men, who were the harbingers of freedom for the nation.

But did these ladies experience freedom in their personal lives?

Although they came from ostensibly dissimilar backgrounds culturally, religiously and financially, both had one thing in common; that they had to put up with frightfully selfish men, who put their own priorities above all else. They had to keep grappling with the ambitions of their husbands, their mood swings and their workaholic temperaments.

Kastur Kapadia, who was the third wife of Gandhi at the age of 13 (his earlier two wives did not see life beyond six months of age) realized very early in her marriage that her husband, as old as her, wanted complete control over her every move. She had to seek permission from him even if she went to the temple with her mother-in-law, something other women in the household didn’t have to do. Gandhi was obsessed with Kastur, stiflingly controlling and suspicious as well. Determined to make her literate he would teach her late in the night, which the young wife found loathsome and heaved a sigh of relief when his attention shifted to the bedroom.

From the age of 13 to her last days as a prisoner at the Aga Khan Palace, Kasturba Gandhi remained a guinea pig for all her husband’s social experiments.

Gandhi with wife Kasturba. Pix: From the internet.

Starting from the time in South Africa, the first to bear the brunt of Gandhi’s austerity drive – when he thought he was living a far too luxurious life as a successful lawyer – was his wife Kasturba. Suddenly she found herself with no house help when pregnant with her third son and was cooking for a house full of people and doing the chores, although Gandhi helped her when he was at home. But life wasn’t easy doing things for a house full of guests and boarders and things turned really bad when Gandhi decided that they had to clean their own chamber pots placed under the bed in each room. That was Gandhi’s way of fighting untouchability because in pre-independent India the job of cleaning the latrines at upper cast homes was the job of the untouchables.

Hence Kasturba was expected to clean up her own pot and even their guests’ pots if they forgot it. She found it revolting and nauseating. But when Gandhi found her muttering to herself in anger, he threatened to drag her out of the house. Humiliated and angry, Kastur went back inside in tears.

Gandhi came down hard on Kasturba whenever he thought he needed to teach her a lesson. Sometimes he apologized, sometimes he didn’t. But Kastur stayed like a pillar by his side often travelling the length and the breadth of the country and got involved in community service ardently.

In stark contrast, Ruttie Petit also travelled everywhere with her husband Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but always in first class compartments unlike the Gandhis, who travelled in the second class or even third class compartments.

Ruttie’s (Rattanbai) life was diametrically opposite to Kasturba’s. It began and ended with luxury of a kind that many can’t imagine. Being the daughter of Parsi Baronet Sir Dinshaw Petit, she grew up studying in English medium schools, was looked after by an English Governess, lived in a palatial sea-facing mansion, holidayed at their estate at the French Riviera and she was the centre of attention at most parties in the Mumbai high-society circuit slaying all by her charm, exquisite beauty and sense of style. Ruttie could have married anyone she wanted, but she fell for her father’s friend Jinnah, who was 24 years older to her. During her time, a Parsi-Muslim marriage was just unthinkable, the price of which she paid all her life.

Ruttie Jinnah and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Pix: From the book Mr and Mrs Jinnah.

She was madly in love with Jinnah, being able to hold his attention talking about the only topic he cared about–politics. He asked Sir Dinshaw for her hand but he refused and a few months later even brought a restraining order against Jinnah so that he could not meet his daughter.

This probably made Jinnah more steadfast in his resolve because the highly successful lawyer was the last one to cower down to such pressure tactics. It was only through the morning papers that Sir Dinshaw came to know that Ruttie had converted to Islam and married Jinnah. He didn’t even know that Ruttie had left home, so meticulous was Jinnah’s planning.

The marriage created an uproar in the Parsi community. Ruttie’s parents had to disinherit her and vow to never see her again in order to save their faces in their community. At 18, this didn’t matter to Ruttie as long as she got the man of her dreams and set off for her month-long honeymoon in Nainital, but it hit her only when she came back and realised her social life was completely gone and she only had Jinnah to turn to for company. This led to a festering sadness that lingered all through her marriage and took the shape of deadly depression, although in those days no one could come up with a correct diagnosis of her bouts of illness in the latter stages of her life.

Kasturba, along with the Gandhi family also faced excommunication from the Modh-Baniya community when Gandhi went to England to study law. Her parents could not even see her. But the large and united Gandhi family came to her rescue, especially her mother-in-law Putli Ba, who realised how difficult it was for her to bring up two sons on her own when Gandhi was away in London for three years and then again for three years in South Africa.

Unlike Ruttie, who did not find any support from Jinnah’s brothers and sisters to fight her loneliness, Gandhi’s tight knit, conservative family was Kasturba’s solace.

But each time Gandhi came back, a passionate re-union was always followed by Gandhi taking over her life which she detested. But there was little she could do against his diktat. That could be practising walking in constricting shoes from morning till night on the deck of the ship when she travelled to South Africa for the first time or not being able to send her four sons to school because Gandhi did not believe in formal education. Neither could she do anything to ensure a better future for her eldest son Harilal, who, like her, always bore the brunt of Gandhi’s belief that his family members should not get any special treatment. Harilal festered all his life in anger and remorse for he believed his father treated him wrong and ended up being an alcoholic and lived a life in debt unable to look after his wife and children. Torn between the two, she chose to stay with the husband like the adarsh bharatiya nari and weep for the son.

Ruttie, on the other hand, despite her free-thinking spirit, her education, her grasp over politics and her ability to hold conversations with the most learned people, felt trapped in her marriage. She wanted to be an equal partner to Jinnah in the freedom struggle but that did not happen. Neither did he ever appreciate her love for literature and poetry and her ability to write beautiful verses. He didn’t even know that Ruttie nursed dreams of being a published poet like Sarojini Naidu, her idol and the only friend she turned to in her loneliness.

In their marriage, she felt she did not exist as it was always Jinnah, his work, his politics, his schedule, his ambition, his travels and the need for his space when he would be holed up in his study and read newspapers. He wanted Ruttie to be with him and he depended on her too, but on his own terms.

Jinnah was protesting against the building of a memorial of the ex-Governor Lord Willingdon at the Town Hall in Bombay and for the first time a 20,000 strong crowd had turned up to support him. Doused in the fervor, Ruttie, who always wanted to play a proactive role next to her husband, had given a speech that added to the enthusiasm of the crowd. That was the first and the last time she gave a public speech. Jinnah rather preferred to see her sitting in the first row listening to him whenever he spoke and wherever he travelled.

Now, it might seem that unlike Jinnah, Gandhi was more encouraging towards Kasturba. But a deeper look would show that Kasturba was always the instrument that he used to teach the lessons he wanted to propagate. When Gandhi declared that everyone living in the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa, his first ashram, would have to have food without salt and sugar, Kasturba surreptitiously gave sugar to her youngest son to make him eat because he was refusing the bland food. Gandhi rebuked her in front of all making her an example so that others won’t vacillate.

And when it came to his vow of celibacy, he just sprung it as a surprise on her after the birth of their fourth son saying they would be like brother and sister henceforth sleeping in separate rooms. Her views, feelings did not matter at all. No explanation was given to her either.

Neither did Jinnah bother about Ruttie’s feelings. He never had any inkling that Ruttie was suffering because of her exclusion from the community and that she might need his shoulders to lean on. He thought Ruttie was just happy picking him up from work at 5pm, having dinner after that, just the two of them, and he thought that as long as he did not ask where Ruttie was spending all his money all would be fine between them. When she teased him or coaxed him to go on a holiday or have an extra serving of the food she had cooked he never noticed Ruttie’s depression, loneliness and her deep disappointment with him.

In the initial years of their marriage the very few people, who visited their home (Jinnah was opposed to both attending and throwing extravagant parties) were hosted by them together, but later on they had separate sitting rooms to receive their guests and author Sheela Reddy even hints that they might have slept separately.

Ruttie became a mother at 19, but she had a far greater bond with her menagerie of dogs and cats than with her daughter. Neither did Jinnah care about his child as long it had its own posse of nannies and servants and they both did not manage to name her till she was almost 6-years-old. In her frequent correspondences with Sarojini Naidu and her two daughters Padmaja and Leilamani, mention of which is there in the book, Ruttie did not for once mention her child.

After her child was born her first act of defiance was to travel to Hyderabad alone to meet her friends Padmaja and Leilamani without Jinnah. He did not approve of it but he wasn’t the kind either to get into altercations over it. He let Ruttie be. But this attitude ended up creating such a chasm between them that Ruttie went on to travel to Europe alone and even did drugs in Paris and later on the very thought of staying in the same hotel room with Jinnah made her uncomfortable.

Ruttie moved away from Jinnah both mentally and physically and she took up every opportunity to rebel. She felt stifled in Jinnah’s regimented life and also felt hurt in his absolute lack of interest in her.

Unlike Ruttie, Kasturba did not squander away her life looking for freedom in her own way. She instead concentrated on her four boys and became a Satyagrahi and worked for women’s empowerment proving herself to be the befitting wife of a man, who was hailed as God by his countrymen.

Kasturba and Mahatma Gandhi literally grew up together spending 62 years of their life with each other and she often guided him in the early years giving a direction to his life that perhaps Gandhi acknowledged in his heart. Ruttie on the other hand came to Jinnah’s life when he was 40. He was already a hardened lawyer, who had his firm beliefs be it in politics or personal routine and his wife often stuck out like a sore thumb in his life.

Despite Ruttie’s rebellion and frequent illnesses, Jinnah didn’t see it coming. Jinnah hadn’t imagined she would leave him. But she did, one fine day, saying it was over. She moved into a new place and started living on her own. Jinnah in his characteristic way did not try to woo her back but was there for her every single day when she fell seriously ill.

But the call of politics was more important to Jinnah than his personal crisis. Just when the ice was breaking between the two of them and Jinnah’s visits cheered her up, he left for Delhi for the legislative session leaving her forlorn. Ruttie died on her 29th birthday on February 20, 1929 after remaining married to Jinnah for 10 years. The cause of her death was probably an overdose of sleeping pills.

Kasturba died on February 22, 1944 suffering from pneumonia and Gandhi denied her penicillin because he did not believe in conventional medicines.

The last decisions about their life were taken by their husbands.