Archive for the ‘Fitness’ 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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The other day I was talking to my friend and ex-colleague Subhomita Dhar. We started our careers in journalism in the same month in the same newspaper in Kolkata and then we both ended up in Dubai, although she first, me a few years later. She worked in the largest newspaper there and I worked in the biggest magazine house. We both became moms while balancing our jobs and then one fine day we decided to give it all up.

I remember it was my last day at work. I had finally taken the decision, something I felt I should have taken much earlier. Then I could have done away with developing cervical spondilosis, sitting with the baby on my lap all night and sitting at the desktop for 9-10 hours a day, that too exactly six weeks after I had given birth to my little boy.

My urge to hurry home as soon work got over to be with my son was not looked upon kindly by my boss. She always felt that sitting around longer meant more commitment and productivity and I on the contrary, felt that I was managing my time well enough to finish work in advance. The skirmishes became a daily affair and the issues remained perpetually unresolved.

I had always been an extremely career-oriented person and not having a full-time job was the last thing on my mind. I felt my job defined me. I loved my identity of a journalist, who had worked in the best newspapers in India. My pay pack gave me that financial freedom that I always enjoyed.

But the moment I came home my son clung to me in a way that would put an octopus to shame, stirring an emotion inside me that I never knew existed. When I had to carry him to the bathroom even to wash my face, that financial independence, that post I had acquired by sheer hard work, all started paling into insignificance. It took me 10 long months to finally decide that I wanted to be with him 24X7.

It was probably the hardest decision that I had ever taken in my life. Since the day I appeared for my MA exam I had never been jobless, and I was in office till 6pm on the night I went into labour. I was bordering on the workaholic, actually. But I guess my clingy son and an insensitive boss made me change my attitude to my job and life altogether.

But the day I put in my resignation I was determined about one thing that changing nappies and catching up on lost sleep was not the only thing I would be doing while at home.

Within two months I was sitting and writing the first draft of my book, freelancing a bit, I had started my own blog too and of course changing nappies. Little did I know then that I was also re-inventing myself.

So was Subhomita. She had continued in the job longer than I had done but as the days passed she felt her over-bearing nanny was taking over her home, taking decisions for her daughter and sometimes even for her. The final nail in the coffin was when one day Subhomita came home from a night shift and the next morning her nanny told her that she should have tiptoed and shut the door silently because she disturbed her sleep.

Subhomita Dhar gave up her full-time job to be with her daughter and today she is a fitness expert and runs her own fitness studio.

“But as I look back, probably the main reason I quit my job was to be at home when my daughter came back from school, I wanted to be there to hear her stories,” said Subhomita.

Subhomita decided it was time to take charge of her home. Like me it had never happened that she had not worked but she quickly settled into her at-home-mom role dropping and picking up her daughter from school, cooking and doing the housework but things didn’t end for her here either.

She had grappled with weight issues as a young woman and she was determined to change it all. She had been taking fitness classes earlier but now she had more time to devote to vigorous fitness training and learn the nuances of the training process. She started swimming and practicing healthy cooking and learning the virtue of a healthy diet.

We often met for kids’ play dates at the beach and at the coffee shop and we exchanged notes on our transformed lives and future dreams.

We both faced a lot of jibes and judgmental comments for our transformation into mushy moms from career women. But no one actually knew, probably not even us, that we were rediscovering our capabilities beyond our full-time jobs.

That was 2013.

I gave up my full-time job to be with my son and concentrated on writing and became an author.

In 2017 we are both back in India. She lives in Noida in NCR and runs a weightloss studio Dance to Fitness. I live in Kolkata now and I have two books to my credit, a novel Exit Interview published by Rupa Publications and another a collection of short stories Museum of Memories published recently by Readomania, both have been well read, critically reviewed and have been on the bestseller shelves for months. I am already on to my next. Blogging has allowed me to have a distinct voice of my own and I have managed to write some in-depth articles in international magazines and websites.

“I never thought I would run a business one day. I guess giving up my job motivated me to do different things. It’s a great feeling to make people feel good about themselves.”

Dance to Fitness (Crossing Republik) offers Aerobics, pilates, weight training and diet counseling only for women. It has been running successfully for close to two years now enriching the lives of hundreds of women.

This post is for all those who think that women are taking the easy way out by giving up their careers post childbirth.

You never know they might be just preparing to walk a tougher path and take up new challenges. It’s not being crazy to give up a job for your baby it’s actually, at times, an immensely sensible decision.

Samah Hamza Junaid donated her kidney when she was 22

Samah Hamza Junaid donated her kidney when she was 24

I have known Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly, a media consultant based in Kolkata, for years and I have met Samah Hamza Junaid, a marketing and PR professional working in the hospitality industry in Dubai, through blogging. Both have done something in their life which many of us would laud but when it comes to doing it ourselves we might end up having second thoughts about it.

Samah, the daughter of a Bangladeshi mother and Palestinian father, donated her kidney to her ailing father when she was just 24. It’s been three years since then and Samah says: “Organ donation is beautiful and people need to do away with misconceptions and fear associated with it.” Samah has written about her entire experience in her blog A Day In The Life Of ME.

Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly has pledged all his organs

Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly has pledged all his organs

Shubhojit, on the other hand, has an altogether different reason for acquiring his donor card and says, “I wasn’t sure people were taking my after-death wish seriously, so I went ahead and made it clear that I am serious.”

Some cynics might say what is the big deal about donating your organs when you are dead? But I would say it is. Because when you are doing that, you are surmounting age-old superstitions and religious beliefs, not something everyone can easily do. That’s why Aishwarya Rai’s failed eye donation campaign in India is a sure pointer to how most people think and that is why so many people die every year waiting for a donor.

In my entire life Samah and Shubhojit are the only two people I know who have done something like this so I thought it would be inspiring to share their reasons and experiences…

“I still work out six times a week and my father has regained his health” -Samah

How did your father react when you told him you would give him your kidney?

His initial reaction was silence. I convinced him that I will be okay by showing him websites that educate people on the beauty and simplicity of organ donation and explain how it does not impair your lifestyle. But he was still worried. Then I asked him, ‘What would you do if you were in my place?’ He answered in a heartbeat that he wouldn’t think twice, given the same circumstances and he would give all he had if required. 

And people around you…what was their reaction?

People around me were shocked, some by the thought of a young girl putting her life at risk and some by the generosity and extent of my courage. Some people even made my parents feel guilty by asking them how they could accept my donation. I politely smiled at everyone, who volunteered to find a good donor so that I would not have to donate. They couldn’t find anyone. Today the same people (family/friends) praise me for my ‘courage’. Now that they see the normal and active lifestyle I am leading, I am pretty sure they are gradually putting all organ donation myths to rest.

Did you have to make any lifestyle changes after the donation?

There have been no lifestyle changes at all. I have always been very cautious about my health, eating the right kind of food and exercising six times a week. Having one kidney to do the job of both, I would say I am extra cautious now in terms of not slipping on my fitness goals. I still have my cheat days and over-indulge, but most days I maintain the same healthy lifestyle that I did, prior to the surgery. The only possible change would be getting annual health check-ups done to keep a tab on my numbers.

Samah with her father Faeq Hamza

Samah with her father Faeq Hamza

Thankfully I have not. Rather people say that I have earned a place in Heaven. However, I really think there is a lot more to achieve, correct and repent for in this world to make it there.

What is the greatest satisfaction you have got out of your donation?

The greatest satisfaction out of my donation would be my father’s smile, his energy and him brimming with health and guarding it as though he has something precious. Also, I have come out as a stronger person, nothing scares me anymore – needles, pins, tattoo, cuts, bleeding, pain. Also, it has taught me to be more compassionate. Initially what I did was just out of love for my father, but now the act has opened my eyes. If you can add years to someone’s life and God has given you that power, then why not? I admire, salute and respect people who go out of their way and donate to non-related patients.

Would you encourage others to donate?

Others should do it only if they are completely sure they can, have acquired enough knowledge about the process and are not scared about it. We can get over our fears at times and at times we can’t. That’s normal. But if you really want to contribute, don’t let anything hold you back, listen to your heart. What transpires is a beautiful miracle – a gift of life.

Would you pledge your organs for use after death?

I want to pledge my eyes. I would love to bring light into one person’s life.

“Apart from my organs, I have donated my body to medical science” – Shubhojit

What does it mean to have a donor card?

Having a donor card helps in making people aware of my wish to donate. It will also hopefully help in resolving any issues that people have after I die. I have also asked that my body be donated for medical science. That would help in reducing pollution and carbon footprint as there would be no need for cremation.

Many people talk about organ donation but never manage to take the step. What was your push?

I was worried that people might not realise the seriousness of my wish.

Shubhojit's donor card

Shubhojit’s donor card

What procedure did you have to go through in order to donate?

I have not donated as yet so I don’t know the procedure. For registering as a donor, I did it online.

So you are okay with donating your kidney if someone needs it now…

Absolutely. If someone really needs my kidney and I am a match I will not think twice before donating.

After your death how will one ensure that your organs reach the right people?

There are no right people or wrong people. I just hope that young people get it. My job is to donate and who gets it does not make me anxious because hopefully I will be happily dead then.

Why do you think people have a mind block about organ donation?

I think religion and the greed to go to Heaven are the two main reasons for which people do not donate. This is also one of the main reasons why most of the criminals and corrupt people are highly religious.

Do you know anyone who has done the same like you?

No. But, I hear of a lot of people looking forward to doing so, especially after they are a few pegs down. It is perhaps because we become nobler then than when sober.

What satisfaction did you get out of donating your organs?

I haven’t thought about this actually. I will be dead, remember!

Julie Campos Farmer doing yoga on the Umm Suqeim beach in Dubai

Julie Campos Farmer doing yoga on the Umm Suqeim beach in Dubai

If you are on the quest for any kind of luxury you can be sure your pursuit will end in Dubai. In this emirate of the UAE you just have to name it and you get it – of course it will come with a steep price stag.

For instance I wanted the luxury of attending an yoga session on the beach with a group under the aegis of an able instructor, enjoy the sunrise, feel the sound of the waves as I close my eyes in my yoga posture and then finish off the session with a dip in the sea. Not that I am some kind of a fitness freak or hardcore yoga enthusiast but the whole thought of a session like this filled my being with blissful energy.

I checked if this is possible in Dubai. It is. Some five star hotels offer sessions like this on their private beach for prices between Dhs80 and Dhs150 a session ($22/Rs 1,200 and $40/Rs2,250 per session). I wasn’t sure if I was ready to part with that kind of cash to bring to life my yoga-on-the beach fantasy.

Then I read in the magazine Aquarius that yoga instructor Julie Campos Farmer, through her organization Fields Of Yoga, offered such a class at the beach at Umm Suqeim 1 on Saturday mornings and, that too completely for free. I tried to read the fine print and thought there must be a catch somewhere, a donation expected maybe. Nevertheless I shot an email to the given address and got a warm reply from Julie herself asking me to join the next Saturday session and I very happily noticed that at the end of the email it was written:

Timings:  7:00-8:15am (please plan to arrive at least 5 min early)
What to Wear: comfortable clothes that will allow you to bend and stretch. Bring or wear a swim suit if you would like to join us for a swim after the practice.
What to bring: a bottle of water, a yoga mat and a towel
Rate: Free!

Yoga session in progress

Yoga session in progress

I have been to the Jumeirah Beach many times but never to this tiny tranquil patch at Umm Sequiem 1 next to the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. As I stepped on to the beach the 7am-sun created a lovely warm hue on the inviting blue waves that met the azure of the sky in the horizon. I could spot the Burj Al Arab in the distance. The collective sight made me feel grateful to the bedside alarm clock, for a change.

Julie, a Yoga Alliance (200-HR RYT) certified teacher, who has done her training in Goa, greeted me with a warm smile and didn’t seem to be judgmental about my love handles. She gestured me to take a place at one of the mats that she had placed on the beach. The session had already started and she was instructing those attending the session with gusto.

Take it easy if you can't do a posture is what Julie says

Take it easy if you can’t do a posture is what Julie says

There were six other people in the class, five women and one man, who followed Julie’s moves with precision and the instructor on her part, did her level best to assist her students. My eyes kept drifting to the tranquil setting. I saw two men set off on a kayaking adventure oblivious to the yoga session in progress on the beach. Then I spotted the lone speedboat in the distance and a woman emerging from the sea in a bikini just like Ursula Andress. I closed my eyes and the sound of sea lapping on the shore filled my ears. I breathed a fulfilled sigh. I couldn’t believe I was getting all this for free.

The setting was absolutely tranquil

The setting was absolutely tranquil

Kayaking enthusiasts in the backdrop

Later when I asked Julie why she didn’t charge for this session she answered in her inimitable simplicity, “Dubai is a place where people are always pursuing wealth. I have a studio at home where I charge Dhs50 per session but I thought Sunrise Yoga is a great way of doing something worthwhile for which you don’t charge.”

Julie’s morning session is often attended by as many as 15-20 people. “I have regulars and first timers. My sessions are open to everyone – from a labourer to a well-placed person. I have had regulars, who have been on business trips and taken the taxi straight from the airport just to be in time for the session. I have had whole families trooping in with three generations in tow, and there have been women dragging along their unwilling boyfriends, who have later admitted that they enjoyed the session immensely.”

What about tourists? “This is a great way to explore Dubai,” says Julie adding, “I often get emails from tourists much before they land here telling me to book a place for them at my beach yoga session.”

Julie started Sunrise Yoga in January 2012 and apart from the summer break – which she will be taking after two weeks because it will get too hot to practise yoga in the open and she will be travelling to her home in California also – she is always the first to reach the beach and lay out the mats. “There have been days when I have had only one person attending the class. I am alright with that too. Actually the turnout depends a lot on how people have had their Friday nights,” she smiles.

Yoga reaches its crescendo when Julie does the headstand and asks us to try. I, of course, prefer to stand and watch while one of the enthusiasts, who has been doing yoga for 25 years, gives it a try with a bit of help from the instructor. The session ends with a prayer as Julie says, “Let’s thank god for giving us this lovely place to practise yoga, for giving us health.”

I did my own small prayer though, thanking god for bringing me this amazing experience, this luxury for FREE.

Here’s how Julie did the headstand:

Step 1

Step 1

Step 2

Step 2

Step 3

Step 3

To enjoy yoga on the beach email Julie at: fieldsofyoga@gmail.com

(Photographs: Amrita Mukherjee)