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.

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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.

 

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.