Archive for the ‘Indian Women’ Category

Actress Ananya Chatterjee

Actress Ananya Chatterjee

I had been away from Kolkata for more than seven years but what makes me feel really wonderful to be back in the city is the warmth of the people I have always known professionally and personally.

Recently when I was invited to the newly-opened seafood and tribal cuisine restaurant, Fishermen’s Deck, on Swinhoe Street, apart from sampling their mouth-watering fare, I was really looking forward to meeting Ananya Chatterjee, who was the celeb guest at the do.

While working as a full-time journalist in Kolkata I had known Ananya well. She was always a straight-talking person, lived life on her own terms, believed in style statements and needless to say, was supremely talented.

The last time we exchanged an SMS was in 2009 when she bagged the National Award for Best Actress for her role in Abohoman directed by late Rituparno Ghosh. I was elated that she had won. She acknowledged my wishes with warmth.

The next time we met was a few weeks back at the restaurant and I was elated once again to see that Ananya hadn’t changed a wee bit. She hugged me warmly and said, “I was looking forward to the adda with you.”

We quickly got down to that between devouring pepper calamari and green rice. Ananya wanted the mutton, made in bamboo, to be specially cooked for her and with her trademark simplicity she told me: “I can only have the crab if you can extract the meat for me from the shell.”

I did that. Then we moved on to the unusual-yet-tasty egg halwa and embarked on a trip down memory lane talking about all our earlier addas on shooting floors, at parties and about a couple of occasions when she saved my day by accommodating a last-minute shoot in her hectic schedule.

The interiors of Fishermen's Deck

The interiors of Fishermen’s Deck where Ananya and I had our chat and yum seafood

While talking about work, Ananya said: “You know I can never accept a script where I don’t have much acting to do. But I am looking at some innovative work which includes a short film.”

Now close on the heels of the superhit short film Ahalya, that stars yet another wonderful actor and down-to-earth human being Tota Roy Chaudhury, Ananya is acting in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s 15-minute Debi.

The film has got an equally talented cast of Arjun Chakraborty, Koushik Banerjee, Reshmi Sen and singer Monali Thakur.

Filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Debi is about the nostalgia of Durga Puja in Kolkata and about homecoming. It is nothing like Ahalya but it has something that is bound to pull at your heart strings and remind you about the Bengali’s love for grandparents, for food and the magic of wearing red during Durga Puja.

It’s nine days to Durga Puja now and National Award-winning director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury couldn’t have picked a better time to release Debi online. This is the time Bengalis all over the world miss the azure of the Bengal sky, what we call the “sarater akash”.

Ananya has beautifully portayed the character of a strong, independent single mom Anu, who comes to her ancestral home during Durga Puja with daughter Lali in tow.

Some relationships don’t change even if you haven’t met for ages – like mine with Ananya’s or Anu’s with her home.

Watch to see what I mean:

Link to Short film Debi

 

 

 

Exit Interview is a fiction published by Rupa Publications

Exit Interview is a fiction published by Rupa Publications

“How many times will you read it? Haven’t you written this book? Then why are you always reading it? Will you not read my books?” my five-year-old son Vivaan was really infuriated.

It was end of May and a couple of days after Rupa Publications had delivered author copies of Exit Interview, my first attempt at writing a fiction, at my doorstep, and I had not yet got over the thrill of holding my book, smelling it and going through it, although by then I knew every page by heart.

But Vivaan wasn’t liking the fact that I was suddenly giving more importance to Exit Interview than Hansel &Gretel and I was even telling him to sleep off on his own while I had work to do.

“Work? What work? You are reading your book. That can’t be work.” He retorted.

I lovingly showed him the acknowledgments page where his name is there. He looked at it and then seemed satisfied that even in the book he continues to be the centre of his mom’s universe.

Vivaan probably will never know that my protagonist Rasha Roy has been actually abandoned so many times for him – for the call of his nappy changing-feeding-cuddling duties.

I started writing the book when my son was 10 months old. I had just quit my job in Dubai and I was at home, writing. Obviously it was expected or I was internally conditioned that way, I suppose, to get up from my laptop every time my son wailed.

Although Rajasri, the wonderful lady who looked after my son was there by his side all the time, I was there too telling myself, “Isn’t this why I left my job?”

Hence the breaks from writing extended to walks in the stroller and playing sessions in the balcony.  Sometimes when I went back to Rasha Roy, my protagonist, I had forgotten what she was doing or what I wanted her to do. My train of thought had been shattered.

There were days Vivaan kept me so busy that I couldn’t write a single line and there were days I would be up all night writing. Some nights Vivaan was so restless and wanted me by his side (we always co-slept) that I also tossed and turned with the next twist in the tale in my head, unable to put it down on the keyboard.

Sometimes when I sat down to write instead of the words the only thing that came was my tears. I was still mourning the untimely demise of my brother Anirban. It had only been 10 months that cancer had taken him away.

But was it Rasha who gave me the strength to carry on, to write the story or was it Vivaan, this little boy, who only knew the sound of my heartbeat, who changed me as a person altogether and gave me the strength to follow my dream?

I wouldn’t know. But four years down the line I have realized Vivaan doesn’t like Rasha. While looking at a newspaper review or a picture of a friend on Facebook holding my book he does get excited saying, “Isn’t that your book?” but the next statement inevitably is, “If you are writing again it better be a book you can read out to me at night.”

Picture taken from the internet

Picture taken from the internet

That day a friend casually said, “Rasha Roy’s story would make a great sequel. Are you thinking of writing one?”

Before I could answer, Vivaan said, “No Rasha, only Puti.”

“Puti? Who’s Puti?” my friend asked.

Vivaan clarified, “She’s a girl from the village who can beat the boys at racing, fight off bank robbers and hijackers, she saved a boy from drowning, she is a supergirl. Mom has made Puti for me.”

The last sentence was uttered with a pride that melted my heart – a pride that comes from his innocence, a pride that he feels about my book but can’t express, a delight that he feels to have the creator of Rasha or Puti as his mom.

Few days back an uncle had come home and asked for a copy of the book. I just had a couple left and needed to send it to someone so I said I didn’t have any.

I quickly realized why people say you should never lie in front of  a child.

“Why? Aren’t there a few copies in the blue bag?” Vivaan said with authority. With great embarrassment I explained to my uncle the reason I couldn’t give those.

After he was gone Vivaan told me, “You should have given him the copies. Exit Interview is intolerable anyway.”

(Any kind of reaction failed me because I was astonished anyway that my son had the good sense to tell me this after my uncle left.)

So looks like I might have to choose Puti over Rasha very soon but I wonder whether Puti will be able to deal with bank robbers and hijackers between me handling homework, school drop off and pick up, freelance deadlines, blogging and my naughty son hitting the sleep button on the laptop at the slightest opportunity.

PS: If you are still interested to read Rasha’s story then for online orders check Flipkart, Amazon India and Amazon International.

Suchismita Dasgupta

Suchismita Dasgupta

“… I think that childfree by choice is the new gay. We’re the new disenfranchised group. People think we’re irresponsible, immoral sluts and that our lifestyle is up for debate.”

Suchismita Dasgupta wrote this on her Facebook wall a few days back. I was not surprised though. She is someone who has always spoken her mind and not always done exactly what society expected her to do. That is why Suchismita, though happily married, has decided not to be a mother.

In this post Suchismita, in her inimitable bold style, has penned her thoughts on being childfree in Indian society:

What’s a good reason to have a child?

Yes, it’s a bit tiring! I got married at 33 and have been hearing since I was 23 when am I going to get married? Then around 30, if I don’t get married now then when will I have kids? Then 7 years after getting married, I am still told ‘but you will make such a wonderful mother’ or ‘you will miss them when you are older’ or ‘it is so selfish not to have a child’ or ‘who will look after you when you are old?’. It has always made me wonder are these reasons good enough to have a child when you and your partner do not want one?

My masseuse came today for the first time. Yes I am 41 and till now didn’t think massage was important. Anyway coming back to the point, she asked me my age etc. and then children? When I replied that I don’t have any her next question was ‘naoni na hoyni’, literally translated it means, you haven’t taken one or it didn’t happen???!!!

How can a child just “happen”?

I find this word ‘happen’ extremely infuriating. In India everything seems to be happening to you. Marriage happens to you, child happens to you, misfortune happens to you and the list is endless. As if we are a bunch of reproduction machines, programmed to get married, consummate the same and reproduce. If you have not done any of them, then you are an irresponsible person bringing shame to the family.

Am I supposed to feel guilty for not having a maternal instinct?

I once had a conversation with a woman; she and her husband adopted a girl when she was about 40. This was soon after our marriage and she took it upon herself to tell me how important having children was. When I told her that I love children as long as they go back to someone else’s home, she said I was plain selfish, someone who doesn’t like children is not worth talking to. Now that suited me fine, I really didn’t care but it made me wonder how patriarchal and institutionalised this whole thought process was. I am sure there would be many (in my shoes) who would have felt guilty after this conversation for not having a lot of maternal instinct.

Suchismita in a Nextiles creation

Suchismita wearing her own design

It’s a well-thought out decision made by two people

In seven and a half years of marriage my husband and I both asked each other many times if the other really wanted a child and was not saying that because of the decision we took jointly and each time after a lot of discussion and deliberation the answer has remained the same. I still think to myself sometimes what if? But then I realise I am too settled in my life as it is right now; there’s no reason why I should change it! It might be for better or for worse but since I do not feel the urge to change it, I won’t do it and I don’t think I owe this to anyone either.

I think there should be a reason to have a child

Everyone should have a reason to have a child. A child should not just ‘happen’ to you because that’s the way you have known things to ‘happen’. Some of my friends and acquaintances have given birth to a ‘bandaid’ child; they gave birth because they think the child will save their relationship.

I feel instant pity for the poor child and the baggage it is born with. Added to this will be the pressure to perform and cope with the constant competition between the parents for attention.

A child is not born to fulfill dreams

Many parents want to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams through their children. I know someone who tells his two-year-old daughter that she has to become a doctor. I see parents treating their children like a talking doll. You go to their place, they call their children and ask them to show all the skills they have acquired. Who cares if the child hates to perform in front of strangers.

I am a doting aunt but can’t do this full time

I as an individual have no such personal crisis or future plans, in fact, I have no maternal instinct either (yeah go on call me a slut) and to be absolutely honest, I feel extremely settled and comfortable in the current state of being and I somehow don’t want to disturb that. My sudden motherhood rushes (like chocolate rush) are fulfilled by my absolute gorgeous nieces and nephews with whom I have a mutual adoration club. In fact, being a favourite aunt to many for the last 16 years, I realised, I cannot do it full time. So whilst being an aunt absolutely suits me, being a mother definitely doesn’t.

Why can’t a woman challenge social norms?

Our upbringing leads us to believe that women are the reproduction agents, who “must” look after children, home etc. We have enough books, films, television to support and coax you into that system. However the time has changed, we don’t think in terms of man and woman as genders anymore. It’s also about time we treat each other as individuals. I (a woman) as an individual may not want to give birth/adopt, breast feed/look after feeding, be woken up in the middle of night, or wake up the child in the morning to take to school. My choice, right?

Making a choice does not mean disregarding a system

Just like you don’t ask an individual (at least I should think you don’t), do you have a car? A bungalow? A pet dog? A Rolex watch? An M. F. Hussain painting? Don’t ask do you have a child? They are all pretty much a matter of choice and affordability.

At this point, I must apologise to some of you who might have been upset by the points I have picked up. That definitely wasn’t my intention. To me/us children have always been a matter of choice; the likes of us don’t believe that we must condone a system if we didn’t want to.

My choice comes with huge responsibility

To me this world has lost its story; and I must say I don’t think that this world deserves another new life, definitely not someone I will be bringing up. So let’s go back to the matter of choice. We all have a right to choose, like you choose to have a child, I choose not to have one. And to be honest this choice too comes with a huge responsibility. One day may be we will learn to respect that. Till then I live with hope.

About Suchismita:

If you have been raving about Sujoy Ghosh’s short film Ahalya then you should also know that Suchismita was the dress designer of the film. Not only that one she was the designer for Kahaani, and some of her designs were used in Parineeta. She was the winner of the Best Costume Award at Madrid International Film Festival 2013 for her work in the Bengali film Koyekti Meyer Galpo. Till date she was been the costume designer for more than two dozen films and one of the noted recent releases is Kadambari.

(From left:) Radhika Apte, make-up artist Aniruddha Chakladar, Tota Roy Choudhury and Suchismita on the sets of Ahalya

(From left:) Radhika Apte, make-up artist Aniruddha Chakladar, Tota Roy Choudhury and Suchismita on the sets of Ahalya

Growing up in Kolkata, Suchismita Dasgupta felt the need of creating comfortable yet exclusive garments using the traditional textiles and techniques. Hence, she formed Nextiles in 2004.

Nextiles focuses on the most important aspects: fabric, fit, and tailoring quality. Working closely with the weavers, embroiderers and printers from all over India, Nextiles’ main focus is to translate the traditional handwork into styles that suit the urban needs.

Nasseruddin Shah, Sujoy Ghosh, Soumik Sen, Swastika Mukherjee, Paoli Dam, Sahana Bajpayee, Aniruddha Chakladar, Ananya Chatterjee, Bidipta Chakraborty and Aparajita Ghosh are celebs who swear by Nextiles.

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RJ Snigdha and Roopa Sengupta organised the event Wonders of Women in Bangalore to salute women of substance

Bangalore witnessed a unique event recently. And there was actually a reason to say WOW. In a glamour-obsessed society when achievers are most often singled out by the way they look, the industry they work in or the network they have, RJ Snigdha decided to organize an event where she felicitated ‘real’ women.

A finalist at the Miss India pageant, a radio jockey and a super mom, RJ Snigdha said, “Since 2012 I have been weaving this project to salute the woman of ‘real’ substance.”

Called Wonders of Women, hence WOW, the event was held to felicitate unsung heroines – women who have battled physical handicaps, domestic violence, social and peer pressure, terminal diseases and have still become achievers and reached professional heights.

Roopa Sengupta, a corporate professional, who helped RJ Snigdha organize the event said, “These ladies have been nominated either by their neighbours, friends, colleagues, relatives or through the social media”

The event is a dream project of RJ Snigdha, who has been an anchor, a host at various large events for the past decade and is now actively into organizing her own events through her own company Get Going for the past four years.
Snigdha said: “Many a times when ‘Super Woman’ or ‘Super Mom’ contests were held, where I have been a participant myself, I have seen that organisers/ judges do not recognise the woman or mom who might have faced umpteen challenges in life and yet approached life head on with dignity and aplomb. This has always bothered me. That is why I started WOW. I believe you just salute women of substance there can’t be a contest about it.”

WOW is a non-profit event and the concept is to recognize and felicitate unsung women achievers who have seen hardships and faced challenges in life and yet are living examples today and inspire many other such women around them.

This touching tribute was followed by a musical evening by an all women band playing and singing upbeat Bollywood songs to enthrall the audience.

An all-women band performing at WOW

An all-women band performing at WOW

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Alaka Sahani won the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013

Alaka Sahani received the National Award for the Best Film Critic for the year 2013. She received the award for her phenomenal writings on Indian theatre and new facets of documentary film making, for writings that took Indian entertainment beyond the staple of glamour. No wonder when entertainment journalists in India are obsessed about chasing glamorous stars for their pictures, quotes and interviews, Alaka chooses to stand apart and says she finds Tun Tun, fascinating. In a no-holds-barred interview Alaka Sahani talks about current state of entertainment journalism in India and why she rarely takes selfies with the stars.

Do you feel that there is an obsession with glamour?

Definitely, yes. As a movie-crazy nation we all are interested in gossip, glamour and stars’ private lives. Most leading newspapers and tabloids cater to this. They have special sections and supplements that feature such pieces along with glamorous photos of stars. An array of websites too feed on Bollywood gossip as well as photographs of stars making an appearance at events, walking the red carpet or sneaking into their lover’s pad. Even an insipid photo of an actor having dinner or coming out of an airport can create a buzz.

However, my understanding is that such obsession is more acute in urban centres. In the Tier-II and Tier-III towns of India, people are more interested in politics, developmental issues and sports.

What kind of articles you feel work with readers but are rarely written or researched?

We hardly come across a piece, unless it’s a blog, which goes beyond an A-lister’s stock replies and brings out his or her quirks, concerns and insecurities (A case in point is this piece I had read long ago http://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/may/16/ewanmcgregor). Also, it is rare to find a star who does not stick to politically-correct answers. That’s the reason Kangana Ranaut’s straight-speak on Anupama Chopra’s show The Front Row was so refreshing and went viral in 2013.

Do you feel the internet has changed journalism to a great extent?

Yes, it has. It gives previously unimaginable reach to all kind of film-related writings – be it a news break on Twitter, Facebook post or blogs. The online department of leading publications too religiously upload Bollywood-related tidbits with attention-grabbing headlines. YouTube has been yet another major gamechanger.

Are stars and PR people manipulating the media?

Absolutely, yes. And this is not a startling fact anymore. In fact, both the parties — stars and their PRs as well as media — feed off each other. Today, money can buy the stars, or for that matter anyone, space and visibility in media.

Gone are the days when journalists and stars shared a very informal rapport. Even though some prominent journalists might have access to top stars, the latter mostly speak to the media only when they want to. For example, when the release date of their movies is nearing or they are keen to clear their stand in a controversial matter or they want to push their pet cause/project.

An article/interview that you would want to write but haven’t managed to write yet.

Someday, I would like to write about popular and talented supporting actors of India such as Tun Tun, Mukri, Kanhaiyalal, Leela Mishra, Om Prakash and Iftekhar. I have grown up on a heavy dose of black-and-white classics as well as movies of the 60s and 70s thanks to my parents. So those worlds continue to fascinate me. I find these actors with their mannerisms and character traits so endearing even though they were typecast.

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedian of India

Tun Tun was called the first woman comedienne of India

How has winning the national Award made a difference to your life and work?

It has not made any major difference in my life so far. But, thanks to this, today I am connected to a lot more people from various fields — the film industry, writers and, most importantly, people from Odisha, my home state. After the award was announced, I received immense warmth and love from all around — my office, family, friends, lost friends and cinema lovers. Recently, my father, a former deputy commissioner of Income Tax, received a thunderous applause at the annual meet of his department’s pensioner’s association which celebrated my award. This was priceless.

In an age when journalists are doing everything to show how happening their lives are you are very low profile despite being a National Award winner. Why?

I am a bit inhibited when it comes to showing off every little achievement. I would like to change that about myself to some extent. To begin with, I will post my bylines on Twitter and Facebook more often.

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from the president of India

Alaka Sahani receiving the National Award from Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India

Most journalists publish selfies with stars on FB I have never seen you doing that. Why?

I believe selfies should be for fun, not to show off that I just met this actor. Since most journalists are fans of stars as well as movie-buffs, I understand there is natural urge to take selfies. Later on, they post it on social media partly due to the pure joy of meeting a film star but mostly to have more followers or grab attention on social media. Stars too understand this and rarely decline a request for selfies.

Having said that, I am not immune to such temptations. I do take photographs with the stars I love as well as with whom I end up having a memorable conversation. In the past, I have put up a photo with Naseeruddin Shah (it’s my favourite. The camera that was focussed on him had caught a hazy reflection of mine on a mirror behind him) and Wong Kai Wai whom I met at IFFI, Goa. I will admit to you that I have selfies with Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan and Dimple Kapadia on my phone. Someday, I should be able to post it on social media. Someday.

What is your opinion on the current state of film journalism?

It is an exciting time for film journalism, given the multiple platforms and wide reach that it enjoys today. While magazines and newspapers continue to carry regular stories related to cinema such as interviews with film personalities, trend stories and gossips, some of the websites and blogs have been putting up in-depth and well-researched pieces. What makes some of them a nice read is the quality of writing.

 

About Alaka Sahani: 

For the year 2013, Alaka Sahani received the National Films Award for the Best Film Critic. She was presented the award for her writings that highlighted facets of cinema beyond glamour and gossip. Currently, she is working as a Senior Assistant Editor with The Indian Express, Mumbai, and heads its Features section.

During her eight-year stint at The Indian Express, she has written extensively on cinema and theatre, apart from covering the Mumbai Film Festival and IFFI, Goa. She have also worked for some of India’s leading newspapers including Hindustan Times (Kolkata and Mumbai) and The Times of India, Kolkata, during her journalistic career spanning over 15 years.

 

Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Strangely Suzette has been on my mind for the last few days. Mainly because of everything that’s been going on about the documentary India’s Daughter. Many friends were asking me why I hadn’t written anything on the documentary on my blog.

I hadn’t because I was angry. One interview of a despicable rapist triggered such a debate and such quick action was taken by the government. But if you Google you will find a 100 interviews and articles both in Indian and international media on Suzette Jordan, the woman who had the guts to reveal her face after being gang-raped on Park Street, but the Indian government never bothered to order a probe into her case. Never bothered to check how a Chief Minister could write off a rape saying “it is a concocted story.”

I kept thinking Nirbhaya is gone but Suzette is there – still fighting, still struggling, still facing her rapists everyday in the courtroom, but her case and ordeal continues to be dragged on and on in a sham called a fast-track court. Nirbhaya’s family was given money, an apartment and jobs, but why did it continue to be a lone battle for Suzette Jordan?

Does tragedy work better in India?

Will Suzette’s death now bring the poignancy that her story lacked so far?

Now she will probably be, finally forgiven, for going to a disco late at night (the worst blunder an Indian woman could commit)? Her struggle will now be glorified, help will come to her family or will she still remain an untouchable, like she had become, because one insensitive lady one day had declared that Suzette was lying when she reported her rape?

When I heard about her death my first instinct was to believe that she had probably been murdered because there were plenty of people out there who would have loved her dead. I couldn’t imagine she had succumbed to meningoencephalitis.

We spoke last on Facebook messenger on February 27 and she wrote, “All okay with me except my back problems.”

This was Suzette Jordan. She might have been fighting a thousand battles at that moment but she always had the positivity to say, “All okay.”

Now I see people are writing that she had a contagious laugh had a great sense of humour. Why wouldn’t she? She was every woman and being a rape survivor did not take away her right to laugh and have a life.

I had once gone to interview Suzette on a summer afternoon and their home was like any other household. Her daughters were excited to spot a feline near their pet cat Hunter. They had a friend with them along with Suzette’s nephew. The kids were telling her, “Looks like Hunter’s got a girlfriend”, and all of them were laughing.

Completely unpretentious and at ease in her two-room modest apartment in Behala, Suzette brought up her two lovely and intelligent daughters being the best mother she could be.

On hearing about Suzette’s demise I thought of her daughters, of her mother Gilda Jordan. What they must be going through. Suzette was so protective about them. Once she said, “I am so paranoid about my daughters that because of me they don’t have a normal teenage life anymore. I am perpetually calling them on their mobiles.”

But the girls never held it against her. They loved their mother with all their heart and despite the fact that their life changed completely after that fateful night the girls continued to be the pillar of support in her life, the reason for which Suzette always said she had the will to live, the will to fight.

But very few people know Suzette’s battles brought small victories for Indian women. Even if the Indian Government did not announce a probe into her case the Delhi High Court invited her twice to know her views on her trial. She had told them that the two-finger test was the most humiliating thing any woman had to go through.

Since then the test has been banned in India.

Suzette was the kind of woman who demanded respect and ensured people gave her that. “Rape is not my shame,” is something Suzette always said.

This statement defined her.

It would be unfair to say that Indian society shunned Suzette Jordan completely. She explained her dichotomous experiences best when she said, “On the one hand I have been invited to talk shows on TV, NGO inaugurations, school seminars and award functions but on the other hand despite my work experience I have not landed a job. After the incident happened if I was asked by my landlord to vacate my apartment, the landlord of my current apartment rented this place to me despite knowing everything about me. I have had parents of my daughters’ friends agreeing to send their kids over to my place to spend time with them because I was scared for my daughters to go out.”

In the last interview that I did with Suzette she had said: “If I have come this far, I am not willing to give up hope. There has to be justice. But once the case gets over, hopefully I will be able to find some peace. I won’t have to remember every gory detail of what happened to me that night and talk about it in court day after day. I won’t have to see the people who did this to me, every other day.”

Justice is what Suzette Jordan deserves, not a candle march not flowers at her grave.

 

jhinuk4

Jhinuk Gupta is a tax lawyer and a brilliant singer

Apart from the fact that their names start with “J”, Jhinuk Gupta and Jhelum Banerjee have much in common.

I should start with their capacity to hide certain facts about themselves. While I have known Jhinuk from school, I never knew she started singing Rabindrasangeet at four and was a topper at the music school Gitabitan, a fact she never wore on her sleeves.

jhelum3

Jhelum Banerjee is a PR professional and singing is her passion

As for Jhelum the first day she walked into office I was quite excited to see a pretty face on TV (Jhelum was then working in serials like Bhalobasha Mondobasha and Ogo Priyotama) was going to be a part of a newspaper team. As I got to know her better I knew Jhelum continued to dabble in theatre and balance sales targets but I never knew she had so much music in her.

If some realizations are beautiful, it’s realizations like these. You know people for ages and then one fine day they take your breath away by their music, something they always carried in their heart, but you never knew.

Jhinuk’s rendition of Aguner Paroshmoni by Tagore during the staging of the dance drama Pujarini, at ICCR recently, had me in goose bumps and Jhelum’s Chhai Ronga Akash, a song which is a part of the album Kolkata Music Diary, which they launched recently, swayed me by its sheer passion.

These two women actually made me fall in love with Kolkata all over again. I realized,despite all the criticism, all our daily woes, all the issues, passion is still the crux of Kolkata’s social fabric. People still dare to dream, follow their heart and indulge in their passion.

Jhelum and team Kolkata Music Diary at the launch

Jhelum and team Kolkata Music Diary at the launch

Jhelum is now a PR professional keeping a hectic day job, yet she found the time to bring together a bunch of talented young people along with brother Pavlu Banerjee and cut an album that resurrects Mohiner Ghoraguli memories.

Jhinuk is a tax lawyer who followed the family tradition of joining the profession while keeping her love for music alive. Jhinuk is married to Rajib Gupta, the grandson of famous singer and music director late Pankaj Mullick, and in 2005 the husband-wife duo founded the Pankaj Mullick Music and Art Foundation, which aims at preserving the work of the maestro.

Looking at these two ladies I thought of my own passion for dance which got lost in a medley of day jobs, deadlines and duties. Or maybe I didn’t have enough music in me to keep the passion alive. Or did I?

Jhinuk and Jhelum taught me to think anew. I guess this is what real passion is all about.It makes others want to be a part of it.

 

 

 

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

There are acid attack survivors who have been suffering for as long as 15 years and nothing has changed after 23 operations but they hardly get any media attention. On the Stop Acid Attacks website I was reading the story of a lady who actually said no to further operations because it did little to better her appearance and discomfort.

There are stories of hope too. The bustling Sheroes Cafe at Agra, near the Taj, which is run by acid attack survivors is a story of triumph.

I have never met an acid attack survivor but photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay has.

Delhi-based photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay (employed with Times of India) is an activist at heart. He uses the social media to keep reminding us about what’s happening around us through his photographs and keeps doing it even when the frenzy around an issue has died down.

Here Anindya talks about meeting acid attack survivors on an assignment and how it changed him as a person.

Over to Anindya….

A couple of years back I was assigned to shoot acid-attack victim Chanchal Paswan in Bihar. She was a high school student when four guys poured acid on her when she was asleep with her family on the terrace.

I cried after meeting Chanchal Paswan

I literally cried after meeting her. I was ashamed to represent a society that harbours such heartless men who could do this to a young girl.

We are supposed to be objective in our outlook and treat every assignment as a job. But it was very hard for me not to feel her pain. Or probably I didn’t? I would probably never know what she felt or feels now.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

They are about inner strength and beauty

Later I again met her at a seminar attended by several acid attack survivors like her and human rights activists.
This was an inspirational shoot for me. I had interacted with almost all of them for assignments before. So they knew I want to focus on their inner strength and beauty through my lens.

The very definition of womanhood has changed for me
I have a daughter. I couldn’t sleep at night after
meeting Chanchal for the first time. After meeting those survivors I realised what is inner strength and mental power. For me the very definition of womanhood has changed after knowing them. I am grateful to Ritu and Chanchal that they allowed me to pose with them.

It is illegal to stock acid, hope the shopkeepers know that

I refuse to call them victims they are survivors for me. It is important to spread awareness about how
harmful commonly available acid is. Shopkeepers need to be made aware that it is no longer legal to stock these in their stores without a license.

Why can’t we employ an acid-attack survivor?

acid 5 Rupa

Rupa is designing clothes and setting up a boutique

As for the survivors, one should know that they need to be treated with as much dignity as the next physically fit person. They are sometimes turned away from jobs that require direct client-dealing, as employers feel it will discourage customers. That needs to change. It is the attackers who should be denied opportunities and be sent away
for reformation, not those who are attacked. Any help has to begin with acceptance. It makes me immensely happy to know Rupa has become a dress designer and Ritu is helping her and Chanchal plans to go back to college. This cafe that they have started is a very positive step and I wish them all the success.

Monetary help is important

Surgeries required by acid attack survivors is very expensive and they need stringent post-operative care. Raising funds for their surgeries can be another way of helping them. Right now, there is no institutional framework to provide acid attack survivors with psychological counseling and monetary help from the state can only go so far. Rs 3 lakhs given by the government is nothing for the treatments they have to go through.

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

When I started writing this post I had meant to write something else, but so much happened in the last few days that I ended up writing something else altogether, changing my mind constantly as I got hooked to the news, analysis and – a letter.

I feel rape has probably become just another morbid story like so many other stories told in India every day. It is something like this: Rape happens, then media goes into a frenzy, helplines, SMS lines, come up, we cry hoarse then we go back to live our own lives, until another rapist strikes.

Women in India live with their instincts. Period! They live on luck too. When luck runs out God help us. (No one else probably will).

I have dozed off in my office car often while returning home after midnight. I just trusted my instincts and the smile of the driver who greeted me every evening.

Are my instincts good? Maybe. My luck? Must be. I have landed in situations too. Many times. But wriggled out using my brain, brawn, threats, other people’s help, mobile calls – and luck of course.

Check: You are lucky if you have not been sexually harassed in Kolkata

So the Uber cab controversy (whether they continue to do business or not in Delhi, about background checks of its employees, about repeated sex offenders being let off on bail) does not seem to bother me because I know one Uber gone will make way for another Unter (German antonym for uber and rightly means “under” and this is a figment of my imagination) and Indian women will be left fending for themselves, as usual. There will be luxury, yes. Safety? Doubtful.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

The media would ride on the controversy wave to do stories but they won’t even know when palms would be greased, permits would be made and the Unter would make inroads into Delhi roads.

In the midst of it all this who is left out in the lurch? The victim, of course. The unlucky one, who was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person and whose instincts just failed her for a moment and finished her forever.

I have been interacting with Suzette Jordan, the Park Street rape survivor. Although she has shown immense courage but it has been a lone fight for her from day one. No one has offered her a job despite her work experience. No one cares how she is surviving with her two teenage daughters or how she is dealing with the trauma of facing her perpetrators in court every day – for more than two years.

Media does not continue to report on the nitty gritty of Suzette’s life because I am sure it is already too mundane to be reported. They took notice when she was not allowed to enter Ginger, a restaurant on Hazra Road in Kolkata. Everyone went into a tizzy, supporting her on social media and some well-known names in journalism, all the way from Delhi, even went on to say that the license of the restaurant should be cancelled,

Does anyone know what happened after that? It’s business as usual at Ginger I suppose.

I read Shenaz Treasurywala’s letter.

I could identify with her letter and I am sure every Indian woman (and sensitive man) could.

If Shenaz writes now about the fear of rape that Indian women feel I had written about it in 2006 in an article in Times of India when rape hadn’t made it to the hot seat of headlines in India yet.

I can see we think similarly and I appreciate she has taken a stand.

But there are people who are saying it’s a PR stunt before the release of her film.

Could be? But would you go and watch some insipid film titled Main or Mr Riight spending Rs 300 from your pocket just because Shenaz here wrote this letter? I wouldn’t. I am sure you wouldn’t either.

And somehow I can’t find the connection how this could help sell her movie unless it’s based on sexual harassment of women.

It is not. And while Shenaz’s letter is still notching up hits on the net the film has already been written off by critics after the first show.

She addressed it to powerful men. Why not? These men have the power to bring change. Don’t they? Amitabh Bachchan’s polio campaign did help eradicate the disease in India. And if the PM of a country does not have the power to bring change who has then?

veeranganas

Veeranganas are an all-women commando team keeping the streets safe in Guwahati. (Picture taken from India Today)

Talking about change. Have you heard of the Veeranganas? It’s an all-woman commando platoon guarding the streets of Guwahati and making it safer for women. Veeranganas have been created as a joint effort by Assam Police and Assam Government after a girl was molested on the streets of Guwahati.

Veeranganas have, for the first time, made me feel that a police force and government are serious about women’s safety. Otherwise if you are asking a woman to SMS before she steps into a cab and then you say you will track her on GPRS I am not sure how serious you are. Would GPRS tell you that four men got up in the cab in between and raped her while it was moving? I would like to know. And would you be able to reach on time to save her? Or would GPRS help you track the rapist after the crime has been done?

When a solution is thrown at us in the name of helpline, SMS et al don’t we need to ask how will it make us safe?

How many of you have used a helpline in times of need? Can you tell me? If you have and help has come your way please let me know. I would like to share your experience here.

Till then I will always side with the Veeranganas  more than the SMS, apps and helplines. The latter create fear for women the former create fear for men.

For me this is being proactive about the issue and not being blasé. And that is what matters.

Tomorrow I will publish an interview of Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay, who talks about meeting victims of acid attack and the impact they had on him.

 

 

 

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

One good thing about blogging is you get to meet like-minded people in the virtual world. Swati Vakharia is an IT expert based in Baroda, with a company of her own. When I came across the website www.womenpla.net started by her, I quite liked the mix of content in the site. We got talking and here are the questions I asked Swati and her replies are interesting and thought-provoking…

What according to you is the biggest challenge Indian women face right now?

In India, we have a list of challenges actually! But the biggest one I feel is “safety”. Why is it that we never feel safe when we are stepping out of our homes? I have visited few other countries and I have seen women safely stepping out, in some places even at midnight.

India is our home and it really feels bad if we do not feel safe in our own country. I have seen many Indians do not allow their daughters, wives, sisters to work or study in other states of the country as they are not sure how safe that place would be for them. This situation constantly curbs the freedom of Indian women.

From the issue of rape in India, to Indra Nooyi’s confessions to Satya Nadella’s remark on pay hike, do you feel that the social scenario for Indian women is turning out to be really morbid?

I feel really bad that India is the 4th most dangerous country for women in the world according to a survey conducted by TrustLaw Women. From safety to self-respect women are always walking on the road of compromise. There is a need in a change of mentality in our society. It’s high time we all take a stand. 

Why did you want to launch a website like Women Planet?

Well, Women Planet is an attempt to get all those (and not only women as the perceived notion might be) together who believe that women hold immense potential to make a real difference. We are looking at this website as a platform to get not only like-minded people but people from different walks of life to share their experiences. The content of the website aim to educate, empower and entertain.

I love the way you write www.womenpla.net beta then cross it into beti. What’s the idea behind it?

Indians most often prefer a boy child over a girl. This is our way of showing that the girl child is equally important. We redesigned and re-launched www.womenpla.net few months back and as it is working in beta mode, we planned to write it as beti to pass on our message in a little different way.

Swati campaigning against female foeticide

Swati (left) campaigning against female foeticide

There are so many websites on women, how do you plan to be different?

I am happy that people are really coming up with something or the other to support women. I am not attempting to be different but I want to give genuine and usable information to my readers so I have a panel of experts where we have doctors, nutritionists, make-up artists, mind healers, psychiatrists, astrologers and more.

You are also having an annual magazine. When most of the bigger magazines are folding up how do you plan to survive?

The annual magazine is our attempt to get connected with more and more people and spread awareness and happiness. We are thankful to some corporate firms who supported us in our first edition of the magazine. The magazine is an extension of the website at the moment and that is why we are giving out free copies. Link for magazine download: http://womenpla.net/annual-booklet

What next from here?

We would like to conduct seminars, workshops, events to debunk myths around women and create new perceptions. We have many ideas and plans and with our expertise in online media, our initiatives in print media and our charitable trust womenplanet.org coming up soon we will be able to execute our plans in a bigger way.

For instance we want to come up with a hand booklet on health and hygiene and distribute them in rural areas where girls really lack the education and information in tackling these things.