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.

 

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The Legend of Genghis Khan by Sutapa Basu has been published by Readomania recently

Sutapa Basu’s earlier two works Dangle and Padmavati had strong women protagonists. But this time she has turned her attention to a man. It’s not just any man it’s Genghis Khan, the historical figure, who has been known as one of the most ruthless conquerors in history. Basu’s story brings forth different aspects of the character of a man that has rarely been talked about. The writer for instance, points out that Genghis Khan believed in equal rights for women and property rights for widows and gave administrative position to women in his army. This was at a time when women were treated as mere shadows of men.

In this interview Sutapa Basu says why she wanted to write a book on Genghis Khan, how difficult it was for her to do the research and how she took help from a Mongolian language expert.

The interview:

In both of your earlier books Dangle and Padmavati the protagonists have been women. Is it the same with Legend of Genghis Khan?

No, it is not. Here the chief protagonist is Genghis Khan, an ultra-masculine figure.

We know very little about the lives of women during Genghis Khan’s time (1162-1227). Does your book shed light on that?

Certainly. A unique aspect of Genghis Khan’s administration was the revolutionary change in the status of women of his Empire. These changes are remarkable given that during the 11th and 12th century women were little more than chattels of men across the rest of the world and especially in the so-called civilized Europe. Genghis Khan bestowed women with equal rights as men so that they were respected as matriarchs of their families. Property of widows remained with their families. Thus, his men went into battle with an assurance that their families will not be deprived on their death. Even a share of the plunder was handed over to the bereaved families. Genghis Khan encouraged women to train in warfare and often during his campaigns they were given administrative roles in his army when the men were busy fighting. The conquest of Nishapur during the Mongolian campaign of Khwarezm was spearheaded by Genghis’ daughter.

Sutapa Basu did extensive research to write the book

Why did the character of Genghis Khan interest you and how did the idea of creating a mystery woman and weaving a story around it come to you?

After the accolades Padmavati received, I was encouraged to go beyond Indian history and look for a World History figure to write about. I began to research and quite soon Genghis Khan stood out among historical personalities. He was head and shoulders above all. I realized that other than a couple of academic books, nothing much had been written about him that would interest story seekers. And yet his life itself had been like an unbelievable story. Very little was really known about him other than the fact that he was a ruthless conqueror. As I delved further into his life, I was intrigued to discover endless depths to his personality. There was no question of looking anywhere else for my protagonist for the great Khan had eclipsed everyone else.

The idea of creating the mystery woman came from one of the many anecdotes connected to Genghis Khan’s life.

How did you do the research for the book?

I researched by reading printed books and downloaded PDFs of books on Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire, saw documentary films on Genghis Khan and did online research on customs, food, clothes, language, maps, environment specific to the historical period and region. I was very fortunate that I was guided and mentored by the famous historian and Mongolist, Dr John Man. I got all the regional terms in the book validated by an expert in Mongolian language.

“I was very fortunate that I was guided and mentored by the famous historian and Mongolist, Dr John Man.”

Was it difficult to write a book on a historic character like this or did you breeze through it?

I certainly did not breeze through it. There was a great deal of concerted research and painstaking effort but when my passion is involved nothing seems like work, nothing seems difficult. I enjoyed every bit of it.

How long did you take to write this book?

It took me around 7-8 months to give my final manuscript to the publisher.

What is your writing regime like and do you have any rituals, superstitions or eccentricities?

I prefer to write at my desk in my study, though I do jot down points on my phone or a small notebook on my bedside table when inspiration strikes. Usually, I try to write every day. My only superstition is I don’t discuss the topic of my book with anybody other than my publisher until it is published.

There are a number of books available on online sites on the legend. How is your book different?

I discovered a few academic books written by Dr John Man. There are English translations of The Secret History of the Mongols and ‘Ala-ad-Din’ Ata-Malik Juvaini’s Genghis Khan, The History of the World Conqueror which I read.

My book is different because it explores the whys of Genghis Khan’s life. I have attempted to find the man behind his universally redoubtable fame. Who was he? Why did he do what he did? What makes him tick? I firmly believe that through my story, Genghis Khan will come alive for the readers. He will no longer be a cardboard cutout of a bloodthirsty barbarian that many historians have made him out to be. Readers will see him as a man of great strength and indomitable will who struggled against and won over circumstances that would have destroyed a lesser man.

“He will no longer be a cardboard cutout of a bloodthirsty barbarian that many historians have made him out to be.”

Padmavati was made into unauthorized copies and were sold at roadside stalls. Did this flatter you or distress you?

I would say piracy of a book is a compliment to its author. Yes, I was very flattered that there was such a demand for my book that book pirates found it profitable to make it into contraband.

As an author what makes you most happy and terribly sad?

I am most happy when a reader identifies so much with my protagonist’s pain that he/she passionately accuses me of wrongfully putting the protagonist through so much suffering.

Sad? I am sad when I see people spending so much on food, clothes or other luxuries but not on books even though they cost much less.

“I am sad when I see people spending so much on food, clothes or other luxuries but not on books even though they cost much less.”

What are you working on next?

Another historical fiction. Maybe a nonfiction book too.

About the author:

Sutapa Basu is the best-selling author of Padmavati, The Queen Tells Her Own Story (2017, pub Readomania), a historical fiction. She has authored a psychological thriller, Dangle (2016, pub Readomania) and her second historical fiction, The Legend of Genghis Khan has been released on 20th September this year. A poet, author, publishing consultant, she is the 2016 First Prize winner of the Times of India’s Write India Campaign for Amish Tripathi.

Sharmistha Mukherjee Cheema’s passion for cooking made her start her FB Page Delectable Delicacies and then …

Even if they are far away some people have a way of infusing joy in your life everyday and Sharmistha Mukherjee Cheema is one such person. I studied in Presidency College in Kolkata with Sharmistha and her smile was as infectious then as it is now. But as we were busy with our chats in the college canteen over fish chop and coffee, listening to lectures in class and exchanging notes in the library, we hardly got to find out much about each other beyond the college campus. I didn’t know then that Sharmistha had a passion for cooking, which I now know, 20 years later.

And with this passion, sitting in her beautifully decorated home in Delhi, she has done something for her classmates, living in all corners of India and abroad, that we never imagined was possible. Through her Facebook Page Delectable Delicacies – that has almost 700 members – she has brought out the closet cook in us and connected us over food.  Tossing up recipes, clicking snaps and putting it up on her FB page is a simple pleasure in life that we all look forward to.

Sharmistha is like the Guru now, holding our hand and leading us through her simple yet veritable recipes and we are savouring the excitement of the journey as much as the tastes we are creating ourselves.

From tossing up four-course meals for parties to experimenting with traditional dishes, Sharmishta’s college mates are being creative in the kitchen most of the time and then when the photographs go up it’s bonding time over comments. We share recipes and feedback too.

Sharmistha has managed to make Delectable Delicacies a group where you go to feel energized and creative. Apart from our college crowd there are plenty of other enthusiastic members who inspire. In other words Sharmistha has created a space in the Social Media, which is real, which is happy, which is de-stressing and motivational.

Here’s an interview of the lady herself where she talks about how it all started and how Delectable Delicacies is touching lives. Over to her:

 

Prawn Cocktail, a favourite from Peter Cat and Mocambo in Kolkata, made by Sharmistha

When did you realize you have a thing for cooking?

I realized it very early, when I passed out from school and before joining college. There was a period when my mother was away from home for a month or so and I started cooking and experimenting with recipes.

When did the idea of starting this FB page come to you?

The idea came to me when I shifted to Delhi in 2014. Since I had left my job and I had ample time a lot of my friends used to ask me for recipes. So I decided to start a page where they can have easy access to those recipes.

On a daily basis how much is this page Delectable Delicacies a part of your life or how much do you think it touches the members’ lives?

On a daily basis, it is a huge part of my life because that has given me a sort of recognition. It inspires me to try out new recipes. It has also helped me improve my food photography skills. Well, the members get to know what they could opt for in breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has also inspired a lot of my friends, who were closet cooks, as it gave them the confidence to try out different stuff and post their recipes.

Sharmistha has a variety of mutton dishes in her repertoire

Have you become a better cook after starting the group?

In a way, I would say yes, because it has helped me in expanding my knowledge about food. It keeps me accountable to keep experimenting and learning more about different cuisines. I constantly try to post recipes that might not be widely known, so it helps me keep up with current food trends, and in some cases, it also compels me to revisit my memories and draw inspiration from there.

Is the group an example of the power of social media?

Initially, my group just consisted of my friends. It was at a time where there wasn’t much hype about social media. But in the present, social media has become extensive. It’s not just my group that has given me recognition, but also other groups on social media of which I am a part. The power of social media has allowed me to establish connections across the world.

Can cooking be therapeutic?

Definitely, but given that I am in the mood for it. Everyday cooking can actually be exhausting.

How do you manage to rustle up so many varied dishes in so less time?

I think it’s just because I love to eat and try out different dishes. Lack of variation in what I eat on a day-to-day basis bores me. My love for food is indirectly proportional to my patience level, so I try to find an in-between.

You are acknowledged as a culinary expert by many hotels and restaurants. How did they come to know about you?

I credit all the groups that I am a part of for that. I have been regularly posting my recipes on various groups and it is through those that people have come to know about me.

When they invite you to their food tasting sessions what do you bring to their table?

I ensure that I bring my basic food knowledge. I research a lot about Indian cuisine and I have a fair knowledge about world cuisine because I have been exposed to it and I am generally a food nerd, who likes to read up on food a lot. I also ensure that I give my inputs that might help them enhance their dishes.

Have you thought about showcasing your culinary skills to people beyond your guest list?

We did a pop up a few months back where we showcased traditional Bengali cuisine. I always try to rake up traditional Bengali recipes and share it with the group.

The spread at her home on Bengali New Year

Chicken Bharta another Kolkata favourite

QUICK Takes

A blunder you will never forget: Making pakodas for Punjabi Kadhi for the first time. The pakodas were as hard as deuce balls.

The dish that gave you the confidence: The first dish that comes to my memory is Chicken Bharta, which I made when I was 19.

The dish you are most jittery about cooking: The only thing that I am jittery about is frosting a cake, it really makes me nervous.

The best compliment ever: Recently my friend, who is a Bengali based in Delhi, had a proper home-cooked Bengali meal after a long time. He almost had tears in his eyes, and he said that it reminded him of his mother’s cooking.

Your kind of comfort food: Anything with egg.

The street food you die for: Singhara and Telebhaaja – only in Calcutta

The thing you envy in other cooks: I only envy cooks who can frost well

If you ever start a restaurant it would be…

A rustic café with a European vibe that has a menu that constantly changes according to the season.

Desserts are her speciality

10 tips that will make cooking a simple and relaxing process
  1. Cook what you want to eat.
  2. Don’t complicate recipes by adding too many ingredients.
  3. Stick to local produce as much as possible.
  4. Take it easy—choose a recipe that’s simple.
  5. Do your research.
  6. Prep in advance.
  7. Don’t let the recipe constrict you.
  8. Play around with ingredients.
  9. Cook with your loved ones.
  10. Sip some wine to keep yourself sane.

 

 

 

Wonderful piece on writing and “becoming” a writer…

irevuo

“Don’t be a ‘writer.’ Be writing.”William Faulkner

Ten steps to being a writer. Five rules to writing a great novel. Or seven rules. Or fifteen. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how many rules, how many steps, how many lessons, who gives the advice, and what intentions they had behind it, because most of you don’t even see the staircase.

You want to know the truth?

View original post 560 more words

A case has been filed against Indian singer Papon for kissing a minor girl on a TV Show. Pix from the internet.

When it comes to any kind of incursion into a child’s personal space a child will always look up to the parents for protection and it is any parents’ duty and utmost obligation to ensure that. But when a father says that it is perfectly fine for singer Papon to go ahead and kiss his 11-year-old daughter on camera because he is like a “father figure” to her – mentoring her in the TV show Voice India Kids – then there is something seriously wrong in our society.

Raveena Tandon rightly tweeted that the father might have been saying this under pressure from the channel. In fact, I feel that it could also be an ambitious father who doesn’t want to dash his daughter’s chances of becoming a singing sensation and he has accepted like many others that things like this “happen”.

The first thing that struck me after seeing the video (that incidentally I watched again and again to see if I am being fooled by a wrong angle that Papon later said) is if this is happening in front of the camera and is being passed off as chalta hain, then what must be  going on behind the camera?

See what I mean.

As a mother Papon’s behavior gives me the creeps. It’s not only the way he kisses the girl it’s also about the way he pinches another girls cheeks before that and in the way he puts Holi colours on the girls nose before he kisses her. There is something perverse about it.

When you see the video it’s all out there. I fear no amount of explanation can absolve him. That people instantly reacted on social media, that Papon had to step down as a judge on the show, that so many celebs denounced his behaviour and that a Supreme Court advocate Runa Bhuyan filed a complaint against him and the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights is looking into the case, shows that India is changing. And for the better.

It was alright but not anymore

Recently I met this uncle who belonged to my father’s circle of friends. I refused to talk to him and just walked off behaving we never met. He had a daughter my age. When he got drunk his elbows would go haywire whenever he would go near any woman irrespective of their age. Our fathers and uncle who were perfectly aware of his behavior would tell us to stay away from him at all social dos. That’s the step they would take.

I thought if we had someone like this in our gang of friends behaving like this with our children, what would we have done? We would have definitely told a person like this not to party with us anymore. We would have never accepted behavior like this. That is the difference between our previous generation and our generation. The difference between the India we grew up in and the India our children are growing up in.

Don’t shove it under the carpet anymore

Child sexual abuse is the greatest reality in our society. Unlike rape, eve teasing or molestation, we don’t even know when children are being harassed, how it is happening and how it is scarring a child for life. The onus lies on us to be vigilant. We should teach our children from a very early age to differentiate between bad touch and good touch and they should be able to talk to us if there is any sense of discomfort anytime. Schools are also playing a major sensitization role these days.

Recently a family staying in our apartment building temporarily had two lovely daughters with whom my son became friends. They had an uncle staying with them who was pinching my 7-year-old son’s cheeks, maybe just out of affection, but my son did not approve of his behavior. I always look at it this way that as adults if we don’t like strangers touching us or disheveling our hair out of affection how do we expect our children to accept and enjoy it?

The next day I was stepping out of my house to have a word with this gentleman when my son came running home.

“Ma, I have good news. That uncle has left,” he laughed.

I laughed too. But I told him next time anything happens like this keep me posted I am there for you. I gave him a hug and he dashed off to play.

Women are predators as much as boys are victims

Child sexual abuse is not a gender specific thing when it comes to victims and abusers. Boys are as much at risk and women could be perverse too. There have been plenty of instances.

A report published in The Telegraph, UK says, “When Marie Black, 34, was given a life term in Norwich she was sexually abusing children for 10 years. She was at the centre of an “utterly depraved” sex abuse ring. Black organised parties where children were ‘raffled’ to people who would then abuse them.”

Women are pedophiles and they are into grooming minors too. Many adult men in India today will tell you about their childhood experiences with maids at home, neighbours next door or the aunt who often visited. It is harder for men to talk about the sexual abuse they have faced because there is always a tendency to laugh it off presuming boys don’t face it.

Do check out this video of Demi Moore kissing a minor then you will know what I am talking about.

 

We should never be embarrassed to confront people

 I have seen many times our elders were embarrassed to confront people and talk to them about this deplorable behavior because they were our close relatives, friends or some people important to the family.

I always believe it’s the faith and dignity of our children over anyone else so there is no embarrassment in confronting people.

Also as parents we are more aware now unlike our earlier generation. If I tell my mother that there was this uncle who was like this, she would stare in disbelief and say, “Jah! What are you saying?”

So when I was a child if a man in a public bus offered to put me on his lap because of a dearth of seating space in the transport she would gratefully plonk me there.

Now if a stranger tries to teach my son swimming in the pool. I just holler to him firmly, “You can leave him alone.”

I recently realized that there are behaviours that we have internalized as given and do not protest. I was taught a very valuable lesson by a friend recently. I was sitting in his car when he had gone to get something from a shop. Out of nowhere an old man appeared and started relieving himself in front of the car. The usually shouting, protesting me just looked away, unable to react. My friend came and gave the man an earful and almost beat him up.

I realised sometimes we look away in embarrassment. Using abusive language in front of women and children is another passé in India but it’s high time we point out it’s unacceptable too.

We should use our instincts

Instead of relying on children to come with a complaint and then taking steps it should also be our responsibility to identify a potential predator and deal with the person accordingly.

Recently we had taken our son to a table tennis coaching centre so that he could join classes there. A gentleman took us around and introduced us to some of the mothers who were there with their children. Everything was fine we had almost taken the admission forms when suddenly this gentleman started talking about his surgery and started unbuttoning his shirt in front of all the ladies to show the scars of his surgery.

I felt this was grossly inappropriate behavior and I simply did not feel comfortable leaving my child in his care.

A peck needs to be taken seriously too

After watching the Papon video Farah Khan said it made her feel “uncomfortable”. This is precisely the point. Anything that feels “uncomfortable” is just not done. Period.

Uncomfortable is unacceptable and we should not wait for uncomfortable to turn into unbearable before we react.

Papon might be the fall guy in this case but this sends out a strong message to all those indulging in behavior like this behind closed doors. If you are discovered God help you!

 

 

Sipra Banerjee, Uttam Kumar, Supriya Devi and Amiya Banerjee (extreme right)

Dr Amiya Banerjee, my mother’s brother, my uncle, whom I call Chhotomama, is not only an acclaimed scientist he is someone who has worn many feathers in his cap. Not one to ever boast of his achievements or experiences, Chhotomama never spoke about his association with the doyen of Indian cinema Uttam Kumar and actress Supriya Devi.

All our life I had heard our relatives talking with pride about Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi staying in my Chhotomama’s home in the US in the late 70s. After Supriya Devi’s recent demise, for the first time I got talking to Chhotomama about Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi. What he told me is truly interesting.

Here is the conversation:

How did you meet them?

In the September of 1979, we – The Tagore Society of New York – invited Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi to spend some time with his devoted admirers and we featured some of his films.  We wanted to behold in person the greatest Nayak of our time. My friend Ramkrishna, a close associate of Uttam Kumar, worked tirelessly to convince him to accept our offer. The rest was history!
Being the President of the Society, I had the privilege and honor to host them and spend some extraordinary time with them during their stay at our home.

Did you make any special preparations before they came?

There was palpable excitement in our home before their arrival. We could not do any special arrangements except making our guest room in our Verona home in New Jersey neat, clean and welcoming. Both my wife Sipra and I were busy with our respective work schedules during the day. I was a faculty staff at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, NJ and Sipra was in the faculty in New York University Medical School in NYC. She had to commute everyday to the City and we were also taking care of our 11-year-old daughter Rini and 4-year-old son Arjun. Even if we wanted to make special arrangements we couldn’t because we were so busy juggling work and home.

Uttamda and Supriya di always expressed happiness in our home and never for once complained about anything. Our house was located atop a hill and had to be approached by a winding road and had the most breathtaking view of New York City. They loved the view.

While going to bed at night the very thought that two of the biggest stars of Bengali cinema were sleeping in my home in the next room was the most surreal feeling. Many of our guests, who stayed later in the same guest room, would ask us with awe, “So this is where they stayed?”

How were they as guests?

At home they dressed up simply and ate simple food. They never had any special demands. Supriyadi became like our elder sister.  She had an indelible simplicity around her. Despite being such a huge star she never thought twice before helping out Sipra in the kitchen. Although Sipra did most of the cooking and did not allow her to do much but she was always ready to help.

Uttam Kumar mesmerized the Indian community by his charm, his politeness, and above all by his unforgettable smile. We all started to call him Uttamda and I was awestruck when he started calling me Amiyada. He told me his reason was that everyone around called me by that name, so why not him.

Uttam Kumar, Supriya Devi and Sipra Banerjee exploring New York. The photograph has been clicked by Amiya Banerjee.

Tell us more about Supriyadi

Uttamda and Supriyadi had a wonderful relationship. They chatted, joked with each other and were always in a good mood. Here is an interesting anecdote which exemplified Supriyadi‘s simplicity. One morning Uttamda was sitting alone in our living room downstairs post breakfast when I had the opportunity to talk to him. I hesitantly told him, “Uttamda you may not know but we are very distant relatives.” He excitedly wanted to know how. I told him that his first wife Gouri was the daughter of my uncle Dr Dhirendra Nath Banerjee’s brother-in-law. Uttamda immediately said, “Tumi tahole Phanibabur chhele?” (You are Phanibabu’s son?)  He told me how much he admired my uncle and his family.

Next time when I was alone with Supriyadi, she suddenly asked me, “Amiyada  tumi nischoi amar upor rege acho?” I was surprised. She said, “Ami je tomar Gouri r katch theke tomar Uttamda ke niye niyechi.” I looked at her she looked so sincere. I was touched by her simplicity and honesty.

Supriyadi was always thinking about Uttamda‘s family. Sipra took her for shopping where she was more interested to buy gifts for Uttamda’s newly born grandchild and other relatives. She did not buy much for herself.

We explored NYC all of us together sometimes taking a cab, sometimes the subway and sometimes on foot. They found it really liberating to be able to walk around without fans chasing them. But at a restaurant in NYC one Bangladeshi staff member recognized them and immediately came to our table with drinks saying it was on the house. They both accepted his warmth with humility.

We never imagined that there would be so much madness at the screenings and at the shows. Bengalis came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of them and there was often mayhem. In the midst of this Uttamda stayed completely unfazed so did Supriyadi.

In fact, once a lady just went ahead and hugged Uttamda and started screaming to her husband, “Tolo! Tolo!” The husband initially was flabbergasted but then he swung into action and started clicking with his camera. Supriyadi would smile at all this because I am sure she was so used to seeing women going berserk seeing Uttamda.

Amiya Banerjee, Supriya Devi, Uttam Kumar and Sipra Banerjee at the stars’ home at Moira Street

Then how did the invitation to their home happen?

When they left after a month of busy stay with us (also visiting Toronto and Los Angeles) Uttamda asked me and Sipra to promise to call him when we would visit Kolkata in January 1980. Deep in my heart I was not sure if they would remember us. They were such big stars I was sure they would be busy so I never picked up the phone to dial their number when we were there.

When Ramkrishna called me he proved me totally wrong. He told me excitedly that he was searching for my contact fervently on the behest of Uttam Kumar.  The star wanted to invite us to his home for dinner. I was dumb-struck because, never in my wildest dream I thought the Superstar would remember us.

How were Uttam-Supriya as hosts?

Uttamda and Supriyadi welcomed us to their home standing at the top of the stairwell. They were truly happy to see us. Supriyadi hugged Sipra with genuine affection. At the time of dinner she told us that she personally went to Gariahat market to buy galda chingri and ilish macch. She cooked everything herself. The taste of the dishes clearly testified her prowess in cooking.

That evening at their Moira Street residence will remain etched in my memory as one of the best evenings of my life. I met legendary singer Shymal Mitra, a close friend of Uttamda, for the first time. And I had the rare honour of singing sitting in front of him. The evening was full of music  – Uttamda and Shymalda both sang – plenty of drinks and ended with a sumptuous dinner, the taste of which still lingers on my tongue.

Their hospitality was simply impeccable. The party ended around 2 am. Their driver dropped us home. Tragically, Uttamda passed away in the same year in July.

Uttam Kumar singing at the party at his place

Did you keep in touch with Supriyadi?

After Uttamda passed away we met Supriyadi only once. We went to see theater in North Kolkata and she had acted in that play. It was probably in 1982 or 83. We met her backstage. She was very happy to see us. I regret very much that we did not visit her or keep in touch after that even though we visited Kolkata many times.

 

Dr Amiya Banerjee is a scientist. His many breakthrough researches in virology have been highly acclaimed internationally. He is a former Chairman of the Departments of Molecular Biology and Virology in the Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland , USA. He is a well known Ranbindrasangeet singer and has been one of the favourite students of late Debabrata Biswas. He has held important posts in various Bengali organizations in the US and has a huge contribution in keeping the Bengali culture vibrant and thriving in America.

 

 

Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray

By Tumpa Mukherjee

On October 3 this year it was the 125th birth anniversary of Suprabha Ray. The present generation has hardly heard her name and perhaps the world knows her just by one line – wife of Sukumar Ray and mother of Satyajit Ray.

But her existence and identity was much more than this one line. I am privileged to be born in a family, which knew her very closely. My dadu (my maternal grandmother’s own brother) Dr Surit Mukherjee, was her physician. But she treated dadu like her own son till the last day of her life.

Dadu was popularly known in his time as Noshu babu and I called him Chini dadu. It is unfortunate that Chini dadu is no more with us but everyone, who had ever interacted with dadu, still speak about him with fondness and respect.
In my family my mamas, mashis called Suprabha Ray Tulu mashi. They still speak about Tulu mashi. She was a very strong and dignified lady. After the untimely death of Sukumar Ray and the failure of their family printing business, she moved with her three-year-old son to her brother’s place. But she was never a burden on him.

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan”

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan founded by Abala Bose. I have heard stories from my mom and mashis that she used to tell my grandmother that nobody knows how she struggled and brought up Manik (Satyajit Ray) single handedly.

She was excellent in knitting and stitching especially Kashmiri stitch. In fact Kashmiri wallahs (people coming from Kashmir to sell products in Calcutta) would be stunned seeing her Kashmiri stitch. She was a brilliant cook and excelled in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. She made excellent payesh and she would keep it for my Baromama (mother’s elder brother) because he was very fond of payesh.

She had made a sweater for Manik using two strings and by making knots with the strings, but later on gave it to Baromama. He told me that whenever he would wear the sweater, people would ask him who made it.
It was Chini dadu who convinced Suprabha Ray to accept Manik’s (Satyajit Ray) decision to marry Moinku (Bijoya Das). She was initially not sure because they were first cousins.

Later when Satyajit Ray, after his marriage went abroad, Chini dadu and his family, comprising my dida (Joytirmoyee) and their daughter Krishna and son Bachu, went and stayed with them.

Krishna mashi called Suprabha Ray Didimoni. She told me every morning she would wake up and sing Brahmo upasana sangeet in front of Sukumar Ray’s photograph. She was a very good singer. She had recorded a song with HMV in Calcutta. She used to teach Krishna mashi and tell her stories of Brahmo Samaj, Sukumar Ray and other things that interested her. She would draw two lines and then would make different types of floral designs. She was a perfectionist in everything. from cooking to knitting.

Every afternoon she would sit with my dida and other women and would teach them different types of stitches, different types of cutting, making shameej (a blouse worn mostly as undergarment by women of late nineteenth and early twentieth century), katha. She used to make panjabi, pyjama for her sons which included my dadu.

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate. 

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate.  In fact she had made a lovely bust of Gautama Buddha which I saw occupying pride of place in Ray’s Bishop Lefroy Road home.

In fact, during Krishna mashi’s wedding it was Manik (Satyajit Ray) who had drawn her biyer piri (flat wooden desk type where traditionally Bengali brides sit for marriage).

Suprabha Ray breathed her last on November 27, 1960. It was Chini dadu who performed the last rites. Since Manik was heartbroken and refused to light the funeral pyre, Chini dadu performed the last rites.

I am told she was very down-to-earth, simple, but a strict disciplinarian. It is very sad that very few people know about her talents and potentials. I think she got completely overshadowed by her genius husband and internationally renowned film maker son. I think she was a woman who suffered happiness and sadness simultaneously. After seven years of her marriage her son Manik was born and at that time Sukumar Ray fell ill and subsequently died of Kalazar. From the age of 2 years 4 months she brought up Manik alone .

Satyajit Ray is a renowned name, in fact, a cult figure in Bengal. He enjoys a demi-god status among Bengalis. But he never inherited the creative instincts of his family through direct interaction with his paternal side. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury died six years before his birth. Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was two years 4 months old. But it was his mother who brought him up, taught him, looked after him, cared for him, communicated their creative, literary legacy to him. But it is an irony of patriarchal society that Satyajit Ray is referred mostly as grandson of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and son of Sukumar Ray. Suprabha Ray has faded into oblivion.
But she has always remained with me ever since my childhood through oral narratives of my family members.

Tumpa Mukherjee is working as Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology , Women’s Christian College, Kolkata and is researching for a book on Suprabha Ray.