Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The Bengali version of Birangana was Published in the August issue of Femina Bangla

Nisha’s shift always ended at 3 am. Others at the call centre switched between early and late shifts, but Nisha preferred the late shift because she gave tuitions in the evening. At 23, she was juggling a job at a call centre and teaching a dozen school children just to pay the medical bills for her mother, who had been suffering from a rare bone disease for the last 5 years. Since her father’s demise two years back, it was just the two of them.

Nisha had lived in this lane in Bhowanipore since her birth. Theirs’ was a sprawling old mansion that had seen good days but now that there were only two women living in it, they had to be doubly careful about bolting all the doors to the balconies and the terrace carefully from the inside. Her mother was more scared of thieves and intruders, although she wasn’t. She felt pretty safe in her home, cocooned from the outside world in the locality she lived in, because here everyone knew everyone else. While going to work she would wave at the para (locality) boys steeped in concentration over the carom board. One of them would invariably say, “Sabdhane jash. Taratari phirish.”

While getting back home, usually one of her male colleagues would be there in the car and they would wait till Nisha unlocked the front gate, went inside and locked it again. Sometimes there was the concerned colleague who would disembark the car and wait till she went inside and sometimes there was also the selfish colleague who would insist on being dropped off first.

That night Nisha was travelling with a selfish colleague who also lived in Bhowanipure, but he insisted that he got dropped off first. Nisha was the last person to tell him that this was the most boorish thing to do. She dropped him off and proceeded towards her home.

As she was opening the lock of her gate, she realised the driver also didn’t have the patience to wait. He just screeched off. Nisha thought after a long day at work it was probably unfair to expect chivalry from a driver at 4 am, who was anyway driving through half-closed eyes.

Then it happened. Nisha felt someone was holding her by the waist from behind and the next moment she felt someone thrusting something inside her mouth and the scream got stifled in her throat. Now she could see clearly in the moonlight.

There were five men, one of whom she knew from the locality. They were now trying to push her into the waiting Maruti van. Nisha gathered all her strength to push them away, but they were too powerful. Then she saw a blinding light.

The light came from the headlights of three bikes that had stopped. The next moment the men were shrieking in pain. They had been hit by something. She was now free. While one man was lying on the floor, the other four managed to get into the car and scoot.

“Are you alright?” a woman asked Nisha.

Her head was still reeling. The lady held her and she steadied a bit. She was in a black short kurta and black leggings. Her hair was long and she would be around 30. She was wearing black sneakers.

“Do you know him?” she asked pointing at the man lying on the footpath.

“Yes, he lives in the locality,” I replied.

“He will be a good example then,” she said.

The other two ladies were similarly dressed and now stood beside them. They both were carrying some kind of gun which Nisha later came to know were taser guns.

“Who are you?” Nisha asked.

“We call ourselves Birangana.”

Nisha wasn’t quite ready for what the Biranganas did the next day. They came back in their black clothes and black bikes and paraded the man all around the locality saying he had been caught last night assaulting a woman.

“If a man is trying to take away a woman’s honour, it is his shame. And it is our mission to ensure that any man who tries to assault a woman feels ashamed. Terribly ashamed,” they said on the loudspeaker.

Nisha had thought that people would retaliate, they would criticize this action. Instead the women clapped and jeered and many men slapped and kicked the offender supporting the action of the Biranganas.

The story in Femina Bangla

*

The college lecture hall was packed with at least 200 young women. Nisha sat in the front row.

The lady at the mic was saying, “During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 when the Bengali Nationalists wanted a separate state and clashed with the Pakistani Army, rape was used as a weapon of war. The Pakistanis tied up hundreds and thousands of women and gang raped them and most were dumped in mass graves. Those who survived, to give them dignity, the newly established state of Bangladesh called them Birangana. But this led to their further social ostracization and these women still live in the shadows in Bangladesh and Pakistan. We believe a woman should not only be called a Birangana because she survived rape, but she should be a Birangana because she put a stop to the culture of rape.”

There was pin-drop silence. Everyone was listening in rapt attention.

“We believe that rape is a weapon of power that is used over women to subjugate them, to take away their freedom and honour. Our society has progressed leaps and bounds, but rape continues to be the scourge of our society. Each and every woman lives in the fear of sexual assault. At home, in the workplace, on the street, in public transport – are they ever completely safe?”

Nisha’s mind trailed off to that night when the three Biranganas saved her. It has been two years since then and much has changed.

The Biranganas had started a women’s movement in Kolkata demanding safety of women. Women joined the movement in hordes and they quickly spread their wings to the rural areas as well. They were all over the state on their bikes in groups of threes, especially after dark, patrolling the streets. They had been able to bring down the crime rate against women in the state of West Bengal from 17 per cent to 2 per cent in one year.

Nisha’s association with the Biranganas changed her life entirely. She no longer needed a male colleague to drop her late at night, she did not feel the cold sweat when she turned the key in her lock at 4 am.

Achieving this state of mind meant back-breaking training in the Birangana training centres, but she took it without complain. She toughened her body and mind and became an expert in self defense.

Nisha could hear her name being called. She was to speak now.

“I survived an abduction and rape attempt, but I decided never to live in fear. A woman is truly independent when she doesn’t have to look over her shoulders when she is walking down the streets. I don’t anymore. It is a very liberating feeling,” she said.

Nisha came out of the lecture hall with a smug smile sitting on her face. She was in a black kurta and leggings and black sneakers. She took her black bike off the stand. It vroomed into life.

She had to report to patrolling duty. She was a Birangana now.

  • BY AMRITA MUKHERJEE

You can check out my collection of 13 soul-stirring short stories Museum of Memories here

 

 

 

 

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Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Controversy’s favourite child Salman Khan has done it again. This time he has rubbed the media the wrong way. At the promotion of his film Kick, his bouncers roughed up a few photographers while Salman added insult to injury saying that those who wanted to stay back, could do so and the rest could carry on (read details http://www.ibtimes.co.in/after-shraddha-kapoor-photographers-boycott-salman-khan-kick-actor-says-he-respect-their-604409)

While the photographers have come together and put a ban on clicking this Khan till July 25, the date of release of his film, many Khan friends and associates are putting the blame on them for being too aggressive and high-handed.

While reading this report my interaction with Salman Khan in 2009 came to my mind. He had come to Dubai to promote his film London Dreams. He was supposed to make a late night entry and the PR who was coordinating with us accordingly, even told us that we might have to hop in to his hotel as late as 11pm or even midnight. Salman never arrived and the PR stopped taking calls.

A couple of days later another PR informed us that he would meet the press at Grand Hyatt at a more reasonable time, 12noon, and he was willing to give one-on-one interviews. When I arrived, we were told that he was running late so all journalists were asked to gather together as an informal press conference.

I was particularly keen to meet Salman because most of my journo friends said that he was a delight to interview. One even went on to say that in the explosive quotes department, Salman might just take second place to Rakhi Sawant if he was in the right mood.

I was disappointed that there would be no one-on-one interaction, but I was more than happy to see that I had been given a chair just next to Salman’s empty one.

I always thought among the Khans, Salman was the only one who had really shaped up like good wine – he had become more handsome with age, more entertaining, a better dancer and a better person, considering that when he broke up with Aishwarya he went and broke down her apartment door and then when he broke up with Katrina he let her have a life with Ranbir…or whoever…minus the threats and the persecution from him.

I had really started liking his Being Human endeavours and wanted to ask him a host of questions on that.

Salman entered the room, looking as handsome as ever, his long hair tied back with a hair band – a fashion statement not many people could carry off. He came and sat next to me. Then my troubles started.

Salman lit a cigarette. I was three months pregnant then but wasn’t showing or hadn’t broken the news to my other journo friends present there. And I felt odd breaking the news like that in order to stop Salman Khan from smoking. So I started thinking quickly.

I told him, “I am acutely allergic to cigarette smoke. Can you please not smoke?”

Salman did not say a word but kept looking at me unapologetically as he took another drag from the cigarette.

My mind was racing. I thought that just for sitting next to Salman Khan I could not expose my unborn to cigarette smoke. I quickly got up and told him that I needed to sit far away from him. He just shrugged.

I found a place at the farthest corner of the room. I shouted my questions from there and he shouted back his answers. I even managed to snap him out of his disinterested mood by asking questions on Being Human, the only thing he was ready to talk about apart from London Dreams of course.

Later on I thought would Salman have stopped smoking if I had told him that I was pregnant? I have my doubts. Because allergy to cigarette smoke is a grave enough reason to make anyone stop smoking. In fact, it’s basic human courtesy to stop smoking if anyone says he/she finds it uncomfortable to inhale cigarette smoke for health reasons. I feel this basic courtesy applies to film stars also. And I have met many stars who are actually courteous enough to ask, “Can I smoke?” before they light up.

But Salman treated me with the same attitude he extended towards the photographers at the Mumbai event – stay if you want to, go if you want to. I came back with a very bitter taste in my mouth but I was happy I could take my stand, not expose my baby to the smoke toxins and get my job done, get the interview that is.

PS: It’s another matter that my 4-year-old son is now a big Salman Khan fan.

 

Finding my past in Muscat through Facebook.

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat

When we were planning a trip to Muscat from Dubai one of my friends said, “If Dubai is Kolkata Muscat is Panskura. Or to put it in a more international parlance if Dubai is New York Muscat is a sleepy US suburb with nothing to do there. Definitely not a place for a holiday.”

But I wasn’t daunted. I had been to Musandam in Oman in 2007 and loved the fjords and the green sea, loved the dhow cruise with the dolphins swimming along and enjoyed the snorkelling experience. I was determined to check out Oman’s capital Muscat this time and these comparisons did not really matter to me. An added bonus was my desire to reconnect with three people.

One was Swati, who was my junior in Times of India and is settled in Muscat now, second was Sumita my friend from university. I had reconnected with both on FB. And third was Swati’s husband Rahul. My husband, Rahul and I had all started our lives together in Asian Age. Being the crime reporter he often took me to do crime stories with him, an experience that I probably wouldn’t have managed to acquire without him, because despite women joining journalism in hordes crime reporting is often considered a man’s forte even today.

Armed with these two desires – one to see Muscat and the other to reconnect with old friends we set out for the five-hour drive to Oman.

The drive itself was uplifting. As the silky sands of Dubai’s deserts made way for the rough yet ravishing Hajaar Mountains the topography changed from one place to another along with the elevation.

The road to Muscat

The road to Muscat

With the mountains in the backdrop Muscat looked like a city out of Arabian Nights. Most of the houses were painted white, were not beyond four-storeys tall and had an old-world-charm that instantly appealed to me. Swati and Rahul’s home, where we were putting up for our three-day trip, had the best views of the mountain and the city. Every time I looked out of the window I was invaded by a sense of calm and peace.

View from Rahul-Swati's home

View from Rahul-Swati’s home

A typical road in Muscat. Pix credit: Swati.

A typical road in Muscat. Pix credit: Swati.

Muscat wasn’t anything like Dubai that was for sure. But I liked it instantly. It had the best roads, well-stocked supermarkets, bustling eateries and a couple of nice malls. It was definitely not Panskura or for that matter a sleepy US suburb, where life never throbs.

I was keen to explore the natural beauty of Oman so we headed for the Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat the next day. At the end of a lovely drive down a mountainous road a mesmerizing sight awaited us. The biggest dam in Oman is probably the most beautiful dam I have ever seen.

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat. An hour's drive from Muscat.

Wadi Dayqah Dam in Quriyat. An hour’s drive from Muscat.

The picnic spot next to the dam

The picnic spot next to the dam

The view from the dam

The view from the dam

And the long stretch of the virgin Quriyat beach was another beautiful sight. Apart from us, in the entire stretch of the beach there was only one Omani couple and a group of boys playing football in the distance. It felt like a world where nature still had its say.

Quriyat Beach

Quriyat Beach

Omani couple sitting together

Omani couple sitting together

With a three-year-old son in tow it was not possible to cover much especially when I had to keep his sleep time and eating schedule in mind. But still we managed to see the Matrah Corniche (the heart of old Muscat) and the lovely Qurum Beach and managed a word with god in Muscat’s famous Shiv Mandir.

Qurum Beach

Qurum Beach

Sunset at Qurum beach

Sunset at Qurum beach

And then it was my turn to meet my university pal Sumita who lives in a lovely villa opposite the Azaiba beach. I realized it’s nothing like connecting with old friends, nothing like marveling at our children hitting it off immediately and nothing like taking a collective look at our plumper selves, laughing about it and saying, “Did we ever imagine we will meet like this?”

For me Muscat wasn’t a holiday it was a journey. It was a realization that some people don’t change. Yes Rahul still has that laugh that was so famous in Asian Age. Swati is still that bubbly girl I knew at work only now she is also an efficient mom to a four-year-old son and a brilliant cook. And Sumita is still that bindaas girl I spent hours yapping with at University but now she has two wonderful daughters to have her conversations with.

As for me I think I am still the kind who believes in herself. That’s why I never believed Muscat is like Panskura and made the journey to this quaint city and came back with a bag full of memories.


How we reduced Dubai’s ecological footprint and helped others too.

The junk that we collected on JUNK  DAY

Re-cycling might be the buzzword the world over now, but residents of Dubai are only recently waking up to the possibilities of re-cycling. Although there are separate roadside bins for dumping plastic, tin cans and paper, most often we don’t separate our trash and just dump it together. There are also phone numbers one can call to take away heavy waste like furniture, but it is not uncommon to see sofas, dining tables and beds lying by the giant garbage bins by the sidewalk. In a report published by Time Out Dubai in 2011, WWF Living Planet ranked the UAE as having the third-biggest ecological footprint per capita in the world, after Qatar and Kuwait. The report said most of Dubai’s waste ends up in landfill.

Harsha Lulla

Jigna Bhatt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this data in mind and after witnessing all the re-usable junk landing up in our apartment garbage room on a daily basis, three of us – Harsha Lulla, Jigna Bhatt and myself, Amrita  Mukherjee – got together to create junk that would make a difference. To introduce ourselves all I can say is three of us have one thing in common – we have all swapped our successful 9-6 jobs for a more rigorous 24×7 position of being full-time moms and we all want to use the little time we get away from our mamma duties, in a constructive manner. Harsha was working as a production manager for 16 years in a jewellery manufacturing and exports firm handling a team of 200 workers while Jigna has been a junior scientist, a college lecturer and a life science teacher and I have been a journalist. So organizing a JUNK DAY in our apartment building in Karama, Dubai, wasn’t too difficult a task considering our experiences in planning and management.

What is a JUNK DAY?                                                                                       

I had got this idea of organizing a JUNK DAY after I read the interview of Faisal Khan in Friday magazine published by Gulf News. Canadian-Indian Faisal junked his real estate business to do something that would make a difference to the community, keep the environment clean and earn him a living too. He started the organization Take MY Junk UAE, that not only saves furniture, home appliances and electronic goods, from landing up in the landfill they also give away clothes, books and other re-usable things to labourers for free.

Faisal’s idea of a JUNK DAY: Residents of an apartment building coming together and putting their junk in one place for them to pick up.

What we did

STEP 1: After we decided on a date to organize the JUNK DAY in our apartment we ran the idea by an enthusiastic supporter, our watchman Belal Hussain. Belal very pertinently advised us to keep the JUNK DAY on a Saturday instead of Friday when many families are on a day-out or stir out of bed late. We decided on Saturday, September 22. Then we posted A4 fliers near the lifts on the ground floor and in the basement.  Over prompt email Take My Junk UAE confirmed pick-up at noon on that day.

STEP2:  After a couple of days when we were sure that all residents had gone through the fliers we visited each and every home in our building – that has 92 apartments – urging them personally to join the JUNK DAY. Of course, we divided the task between the three of us. The response was overwhelming. Almost all residents said they would join barring just a few who had given away all their junk to charities during Ramadan and pre-summer holiday cleaning. But many of them said they would still search their cupboards for something to bring along on JUNK DAY.

STEP 3: Two days prior to JUNK DAY three of us met to look at the homes we had covered, people we still needed to get in touch with and if anybody mentioned any heavy furniture that needed dismantling. Overall we were happy with the response.

D-DAY, JUNK DAY

I was finishing feeding my son his breakfast when Harsha called to say she was rushing back from the gym and would meet me at our stipulated point at the ground floor garage. I could feel my heart beating a trifle quickly. The question on my mind was, “Would there be enough goods for the Take My Junk truck to fill up?” I still wasn’t sure. But as the lift opened I was greeted by a beaming Belal. “People have been keeping the stuff here from 7 am in the morning although you kept the time between 11am and noon,” he informed us.

Our junk collection point was already over pouring with huge plastic bags full of clothes, shoes, books, stationery. I could spot an odd laptop, a children’s scooter, a wooden dining table, a computer table, a TV table, kitchen appliances and utensils, in the heap. I have never been so happy to see so much junk.

As Harsha and I stood there meeting residents we made new friends among our neighbours, some of whom I had never met before, despite living in the same building for nearly two years. Some children came forward to help their parents place the junk, some got down to a game of football, while we chatted and enjoyed the bonhomie.

The friendly Take My Junk UAE team arrived on the dot and put all the junk together in huge black plastic bags. And yes, their truck did fill up. Check out our photographs below.

Harsha, her friend Priyanka who came to join us from a nearby apartment building, Shubha, Tripti, Ritu and Chandana

Watchman Belal Hussain is happy with the response

Helping mamma with the junk

A bunch of colourful clothes

Take My Junk guys packing the stuff collected

Taking the all the junk away

What we learned

It did not take us a lot of time and legwork to reduce our ecological footprint and make a difference in someone else’s life. It just needed someone to take the initiative. Thanks to JUNK DAY we also got to know we have generous and enthusiastic neighbours. Last but not the least, while standing there and interacting with our building-mates we also lost some calories, piled on some vitamin D and reduced the stress hormones by sharing a laugh.

What happened to our junk?

Take My Junk UAE answers my questions.

 Where do the clothes, shoes, toys, books and stationary usually go?

Take My Junk collects the unwanted items and then refurbishes them and sells them or redistributes them for free to labourers, maids or low-income families in Ajman and Sharjah. We try to provide quality goods to families that cannot otherwise afford to purchase new items.

How does a junk day in an apartment building help you?

A JUNK DAY in an apartment building helps us greatly as it saves us the cost, time and effort which would otherwise be wasted in collecting junk from each household. By selling or gifting your unwanted items to Take My Junk, you are not only helping those in need but you are also making a positive impact to the environment. Because Take My Junk ensures items are RE-USED, these items are prevented from ending up in landfills. We also RECYCLE items that cannot be re-used. Through this combination of recycling and re-use, we are helping to conserve our precious natural resources for generations to come.

 What do you do with the sale proceeds?

After expenses, Take My Junk donates a share of the revenue generated to Ajman Medical Clinic. The clinic has a Medical Fund that provides for many labourers who need medical attention. The “Take My Junk fund” provides a free voucher to men, who cannot afford to pay for a medical consultation.

 Can you give us a couple of examples of how junk collected by you helped somebody recently?

Mohammad Alam, a 26-year-old signboard installer said, “Due to long working hours I always had a pile of household chores like cooking, washing, drying, cleaning etc. My roommates and I recently got a washing machine and a TV from the Take My Junk warehouse. We now watch our favourite TV programmes, while the washing is being taken care of by our new machine.”

Firoz, a 35-year-old bus driver, said, “Recently, our air conditioner broke down and we had to face the fierce summer heat during Ramadan. At Take My Junk warehouse we picked up a window AC at the most affordable price. My friend also picked up a camera. It’s helped us capture our big smiles in one small photograph, which we’ve shared with all our families.”

How can we help you more?

Firstly, Take My Junk UAE thanks you and your neighbourhood for organising the JUNK DAY and contributing items for the poorer sections of our society. Hope you can organize more such days in future. You can help us immensely by spreading the awareness of our services, by passing the word on to your relatives and friends, so they can call us when they want to dispose and discard any of their unwanted items. Take My Junk UAE believes and runs the business by the philosophy of “One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Treasure”. We would like more and more people to join us and help us recycle and re-use and help us make our very own contribution towards a greener environment. We also encourage volunteers to come and help us sort the junk in our warehouse in Ajman. There is always a pile of junk that needs sorting or heaps of stuff to be distributed. Please email us at info@takemyjunkuae or call us on + 971 50 179 4045 to schedule community service days.

What next for us?

We are planning a pre-Diwali JUNK DAY on public demand (more precisely neighbourly demand!!).