Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What’s Bhai-Bon Phonta?

Posted: October 29, 2022 in Uncategorized
Anshuman giving Bon Phonta to elder sister Enakshi.

Among all the photos of Bhai Phonta that were on FB, these photos caught my attention. Nayana Hajra, my college mate had captioned her photos Bhai-Bon Phonta. A small change, a simple change in the concept, but it could make a big difference.

Bhai Phonta is a predominantly Hindu ritual where the sister prays for a brother’s long life. With time it has become a day when the sisters give a grand feast for the brothers and they give them gifts, it’s a day of showering love and sharing bonhomie. It’s a beautiful ritual.

Nayana, who is the proud mother of two lovely children, daughter Enakshi (Tiya) who is in Class X and son Anshuman (Dabloo), who is in Class IV, decided to tweak the ritual a bit and make it relevant for both her children. So in her house there is Bhai-Bon Phonta, brother-sister give each other phonta.

As I got talking to Nayana she told me, “I don’t know when I started this but as far I remember it’s always been like this in my house. It was always on my mind that why sisters don’t have their share of rituals or primarily the attention. Why not equal love like equal rights?”

I don’t know when I started this but as far I remember it’s always been like this in my house. It was always on my mind that why sisters don’t have their share of rituals or primarily the attention. Why not equal love like equal rights?”

– Nayana Hajra

Nayana just went ahead and changed the line to: Didir kapale dilam phonta, Jom duare porlo kata, Jom deye Jamunake Phonta, Ami diyi amar Didike Phonta

It is said change begins at home. You create the world you want your children to grow up in, first at home then outside it.

Wonderful thought Nayana! Kudos!

Enakshi giving Bhai Phonta to her brother Anshuman.

For Nayana Hajra (right), Bhai-Bon Phonta is a ritual that preaches equality in love.

On the last day of this difficult year I wanted to focus on a positive story. Saswati Mukherjee is an inspiration. Not only because at 70 she started her YouTube channel Ruchi Bodol where she shares her recipes, but she is a lady who could rise like the Phoenix and turn her grief into a creative endeavour.

Families who have lost a loved one to cancer will know how hard it is to see someone suffering from so much pain. Saswati Mukherjee went through all the travails of caring for a cancer patient. But when she lost her husband to cancer she didn’t allow grief to take over her life and wallow in self-pity.

Instead she started learning a new medium, taking videos of her recipes and launched her YouTube Channel. Her channel has been a source of new ideas to many people couped up at home in the pandemic this year.

It gives me great happiness to share Saswati Mukherjee’s interview on my blog and end this year on a positive note. Her words are so inspiring, her journey so wonderful.  

  • Tell us a bit about yourself.

Born in a conservative Hooghly family, I somehow grew up to be the rebel among six siblings. I had what they call an untamed soul — I climbed trees, ran track and dared boys to beat me in swimming. As a teen, I wanted to be a gymnast and began taking lessons behind my mother’s back. All was well till I broke my nose during a particularly difficult vault and my mother came to know. Oh, furious she was! As my sporty dream took a tumble, I steered all my energy into studying to become a teacher. Then, love happened. I married the most amazing man there was. And although I finished my BEd in Calcutta and received job offers, I decided to raise a family with this man instead of pursuing a career. At 70 today, I look back in joy and pride; no regrets at all.

  • How did cooking become your passion?

To be honest, cooking was never really a passion. In fact, when at 22 I tied the knot with my childhood sweetheart, I didn’t know how to make dim bhaja (that is what my husband liked to call an omelette).

But, I decided to learn the ropes after an attempt at bhindi paratha (a recipe he borrowed from a Gujarati family during a work trip to Ahmedabad) which turned into a slimy kitchen disaster.

– Saswati Mukherjee

An  aunt who was an excellent cook took me under her wing and I have never had to look back since.

  • Did the pandemic prompt you to start your YouTube channel on cooking?

No, a personal tragedy did. I lost my soulmate to cancer earlier this year and was on the verge of depression when our daughter came up with the idea. She suggested I rustle up recipes that her father made or loved, but for viewers on YouTube. Given the number of winters I have seen, I am understandably not tech-savvy and was reluctant at first. She convinced me that she would take care of filming/editing. While I miss my husband every waking minute, I must admit cooking for our channel #RuchiBodol is the best therapy I could ask for. It helps me connect with him at a whole new level.

  • How do you experiment with your recipes?

Besides our shared love for sports (both of us ran track), my husband and I were travel enthusiasts. Exploring new places almost always meant trying out local food.

On our trips across India, Asia, Europe and Latin America, we not just savoured local delicacies, but brought home recipes of sauces and table condiments, which I currently mix ‘n’ match to make fusion food. My daughter too comes up with ideas to keep me going.

  • What makes you the happiest when you are shooting for your channel?

The thought that he’s smiling at me from the happy isles. He loved my style of cooking and would have been thrilled to see me pursue it for an audience.

– Saswati Mukherjee
  • At your age not many people can start something new like this…how hard or how easy has it been for you?

It has been anything but easy. Not just because of age, but for what we’ve been through and are still going through. My husband survived a brain stem stroke in 2013 and I was his primary caregiver until he was detected with squamous cell carcinoma in November 2019. Lost him this January. Can anything be harder than losing your partner of nearly 50 years? But, I must admit that my family — my doting son-in-law in particular — has been my rock.

  • Would you say that you have turned the difficult times in your favour?

I would, wouldn’t you? We, as a family, have found the best possible way to cope with a tragedy. My personal irreparable loss dwarfs the pandemic for me.

  • Your recipes are very experimental and international, has your cooking always been like this?

Like I mentioned before, my recipes are rooted in our travels. Hence, the international flavour. The main objective is to prepare something offbeat and delicious — just the way my husband liked it.

  • What is the greatest satisfaction of having your own recipe channel?

My daughter says every new subscriber, every thumbs up, every comment brings a smile on my face. She is not wrong. Being acknowledged for these recipes, which for me are trips down the memory lane, does bring a sense of accomplishment. And, I can feel him putting his hands together for me.

  • Do you have any favourite YouTubers you look up to?

Well, I have always loved watching cooking shows on television. Nowadays, I follow the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Rachael Ray, Sanjeev Kapoor, Varun Inamdar and Ranveer Brar on YouTube.

  • You are an inspiration for the next generation. What is your message to them?

Dale Carnegie, whom my husband often quoted, once wrote “the most important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all”. If I can be a YouTuber in my seventies, nothing should stop GeNext from following their dreams. Remember, you are always stronger than you think. 

If you liked this beautiful interview from an inspiring lady go ahead and subscribe to her channel Ruchi Bodol. It’s a great way to start the year, isn’t it?

Ankit Seth with actor Bobby Chakraborty at an anti-addiction campaign called I am the King of My Mind

Ankit Seth with actor Bobby Chakraborty at an anti-addiction campaign

What’s an urban Indian child’s life like these days? The day starts with rushing to school with a back-breaking bag, cramming for constant tests and exams, shuttling between tuitions and activity classes then going to bed tired and drained, only to wake up the next day to follow the same old routine. Where are the playgrounds and where is the time for play? How many children have the freedom to just while away their time playing inane games? How many can do things they like doing?

In a scenario like this a boy like Ankit Seth is like a breath of fresh air. A student of South End Centre School (Howrah) Ankit is someone who has always been doing things differently. He is following his heart and making a difference in other students’ lives. He is devoting all his time for a cause he is passionate about.

A big kudos should go to Ankit’s parents for letting their son pursue his passion and to actor Bobby Chakraborty for showing him the way. Ankit is a young anti-addiction crusader who has been juggling his studies, his TV roles and his passion with a rare deftness.

Ankit can be an inspiration for kids today. Read his interview to know why…

You met Bobby on the sets of Mouchak when you were in Class II. How did you get involved in his anti-addiction campaign?

When I met Bobbydada on the set of Mouchak in 2013, I felt I found my best friend.  He was a great co-actor, guide and teacher too. I played his son in the serial, which was a great hit with the audience. I found him different from everyone else around. I used to watch his photos and videos when he used to go to schools and colleges for his campaigns. I used to see photos of other students who used to go with Bobbydada to schools and colleges as ‘active soldiers’. I understood and felt deep respect for his self less work that he does through his campaign I am the King of My Mind. I wanted to be a part of it and help the society too. But then in 2013 I was too young and Bobbydada said that he will make me an ‘active soldier’ when I grow older, which ultimately happened in 2016.

Ankit with Bobby on the sets of Mouchak. He was in Class II then.

Ankit with Bobby on the sets of Mouchak. He was in Class II then.

When was the first time you accompanied him on a campaign and how was the experience?

My debut as an ‘active soldier’ happened at Narayana School, Howrah in 2016 when I was in Class 5. The session had students much elder to me from Classes 8 9, 10. The main challenge was to get over my stage fright and convince older students with my views. They might not have paid any attention as I was just a kid of Class 5. But Bobbydada had trained me and guided me with my presentation so nicely that my presentation met with a huge round of applause. I felt encouraged to carry on. For how many years now you are with him in this campaign and how many schools have you visited? With 2019 it will be the fourth year as an ‘active soldier’ for me and till date I have been to 16 sessions.

Tell us about your best memories on this anti-addiction campaign trail…

There are many encouraging and inspiring incidents that I have experienced as an ‘’active soldier’, but the one that happened in Techno India group Public School, Bolpur, was really memorable. I was in the Class 6 at that time and I was addressing students as old as the Class 12 in the session. I think I gave my best and after the session, students much elder to me, actually made a queue to take a selfie with me and asked for my autograph.

What I mean is, this happens very often with Bobbydada, very naturally, because he is elder to all, he is a known face and he inspires everyone. But when the same thing happens to a kid like me, it proved that I was able to impress and inspire my elders with my point of view too.

Another one happened very recently in National Gems Higher secondary school, when almost every line I spoke, every incident I narrated about my life, every principle I believe in, was met with encouraging and loud claps which made me sure, I was able to connect with my generation.

You have been to a college too. Is it difficult to address people who are so much older than you?

Before going to my first session at a college (The Heritage College) Bobbydada had a special training session with me, keeping in mind that it will have students even elder to 12th graders this time and chances are more that they might not listen to me at all. When I started with my presentation there, I could feel they were really not interested but I was ready with all my tricks to make my presentation interesting and inspiring. After the session when I received appreciation from the Principal, the teachers, the CEO and the students, I felt satisfied and happy inside.

At Nava Nalanda, Shantiniketan

How do you prepare for the presentations?

There are intense rehearsal sessions before every session with Bobbydada. We keep in mind the strata of the society, the ambience, the general audience, the geographic location of a particular school or college and shape my presentation and the language of the interaction likewise. Possible improvisations are kept in mind and rehearsed too which might come in use during the session.

Have your peers ever laughed at you for your passion? How did you deal with it if anyone expressed doubts about your efforts?

All I understand is Bobbydada has taught me how important it is to be out of the herd, out of the crowd, against harmful popular trends to prove my identity and make my life worth it. Such a life is obviously found strange by all who would only follow others blindly without a reason or a question. But there in lies my pride as an ‘active soldier’, I don’t do what everyone does. I am making use of this life that God, my parents and Bobbydada have given me. So nothing else and no negativity matter.

Do you still act in serials?

Yes I do, but due to studies I had to cut down on offers on television because shooting on television is time consuming. At present I am shooting for Deepabolir Shatkaahon for Akash Bangla channel. My next film is due for release, which has Bobbydada in it too as my co-actor. It is Ek Je Achhe Shohor directed by Riingo Banerjee.

At Heritage College

How do you balance studies and all these activities?

My parents and Bobbydada have taught me time management. I plan everything and move ahead as per that plan. Studies of course are a priority, but if we can all do time management, we can take out time for our passion, hobbies, social responsibility and for pleasure too.

You will be in Class IX now, do you think you will be able to devote as much time to the campaign?

Yes I plan to carry on my support towards this cause till my last breath. Even if I can’t physically assist Bobbydada to a school or college, my work and effort to spread our mission will continue in one way or the other. If there is a will, there is a way.

I heard once you got bit by a scorpion but still went with Bobby for a session. How and why?

Yes it happened the day before we were scheduled to travel to Shantinekatan at Techno India Group Public School, Bolpur. I had to be taken to the hospital to drain off the poisoned area bitten by the scorpion.

My right foot was hugely swollen. I could hardly walk. Bobbydada and my parents asked me not to go to Bolpur. But I told them, if Bobbydada can do so much of hard work, not for money or any material gain I can bear this much of pain too.

I am happy I went and in that school, I think I gave my best presentation till date ,which I have already mentioned and it resulted into students much older to me, making a line for my autograph and selfie.

Ankit Seth telling peers how to say no to addiction

What is the satisfaction you get from doing this campaign?

It is a selfless job, not for money or for any material gains but to raise an awareness among boys and girls of my age, younger and older to me to lead a healthy life, believing in HCF- Health, Career and Family. Bobbydada always tells me that the easiest thing in life is to get lost in a crowd. Like Bobbydada I want to be a face in the crowd, I want to be an example to my generation, I want to make my life useful to the others and not only think about me and my selfish gains in life.

How do you want to take it further when you grow up?

I want to help Bobbydada in every way possible when I grow up to spread this mission all around the globe. I can feel that the support for this much needed awareness is very, very less, even if we are doing it for free!! I find this very strange! Nevertheless we have come a long way with whatever support we are getting from schools and colleges here or abroad. I want to make sure this support increases, as I grow up.

What do you think you have gained out of your efforts?

As an ‘active soldier’, I have found a huge change in my personality. Previously when used to tell people, not to smoke, drink or if I went to a hookah bar, they used to shut me up. But after I have become an ‘active soldier’ and they listen to me now with a lot more importance. I have become a more confident person. I find a purpose in my life. I was able to change someone in my family from the bad habits …and lastly I have gained Bobbydada in my life.

What kind of support do you get from your parents?

If my father Mr Sekhar Seth and my mother Mrs Sima Seth, had not supported me and encouraged me to do something good for the society through this awareness drive by Bobbydada, I would have been just any other kid, studying, watching cartoons and hanging around with friends only.

What would be your advice to people of your age regarding studies, extra-curricular activities and being the “King of their mind”?

I want to tell my generation is believe in the formula HCF….If your Health is ok…you will have a good Career…which will keep your Family happy.

I want to tell them to rule their minds and control their minds. I AM THE KING OF MY MIND should be our mantra.

I want to ask them 3 questions:

(1) why should you waste your parents money on poison when you have 101 constructive and charitable ways to spend it?

(2) When someone like Bobbydada, coming from the glamour world, getting everything free can control himself from this poison and yet be ‘cool’ and ‘fashionable’ why can’t we all control ourselves?

(3) When the manufacturers themselves are writing on their own products like cigarettes, alcohol, gutkha that IT IS POISON AND INJURIOUS TO HEALTH, why will you still buy it? What is your education and intelligence for?

I would ask them to join our Facebook group ‘MY ANTI ADDICTION CAMPAIGN’ and spread good vibes in the society.

Guest of Honour

Posted: April 11, 2019 in Uncategorized


If there is something that anyone living abroad can share in abundance, it’s their guest experiences. Apart from the literal baggage that they bring with them, some do leave you with an emotional baggage of memories that you wish didn’t happen. You often sigh in relief that those are just memories that wouldn’t be re-lived because chances are you wouldn’t let those guests into your house – ever again.

This story is about a similar guest experience of Leela and Ankush. The couple moved to Dubai five years back. Child free and well placed, they lived in a sprawling two-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city, with a pool on the terrace and an upmarket mall across the road.

When Leela’s ex-colleague’s sister from Kolkata, Namita, someone she had never seen in her life, moved to Dubai and had made the customary call to her – something anyone grappling in a new place does- she had obviously invited them for dinner.

drawing room

Over mutton and luchi cooked by her Bengali Chef, she had told them of every possible thing she knew about Dubai, except for the fact that Namita and her husband Ajit were the last guests to be entertained in their plush apartment. The next day they were moving to a one-bedroom apartment next door because they couldn’t afford the rent anymore.

It had become like a ritual for new settlers in Dubai to come calling, but very few actually returned the dinner invitation or stayed in touch once they got busy with their lives and with Namita and Ajit, Leela expected the same to happen. So she thought it was unnecessary to tell them that this posh abode, that she was so proud of, wouldn’t belong to them from the very next day.

After that grand dinner, as expected Namita and Ajit got on with their lives, the invitation wasn’t reciprocated and the phone calls too started dwindling. Leela and Ankush settled in their one-bedroom home. They weren’t as welcoming to guests anymore because that sense of pride they had in their home was gone. They had nothing to show off. The only saving grace was the smaller space. For a cleanliness freak like Leela, who took up the dusting cloth the moment she returned from office, there were less nooks and crannies now from where dust had to be eradicated.


Almost a year had passed when suddenly one day there was a frantic phone call from Ajit, all the way from Kolkata.

Didi, please help. We are returning to Dubai tomorrow but I came to know our rented place has been taken over by the landlord. He had sent me some legal notice earlier but I could not make out because it was in Arabic. Didi can Namita stay with you for a few days till I find a new place? I won’t stay with her as my office is giving me five-star accommodation,” he said.

All in one breath.

Leela was in shock.

How could she tell him about their fall from grace, about the absence of a guest room in their home?

“Umm…can’t Namita come back later after you have found the place?”

Leela was over her initial shock.

“She has to go back with me. We bought tickets on an offer and we will not get any refund if we cancel them. Please didi, a few days only. We have no one else we can ask for help in Dubai.”

Leela said she would call back.

Her anxious call went to Ankush.

“The Malayalees would help anyone from Kerala,” Ankush philosophised. “Although I am not sure what the Bengalis would do,” he added.

So it was decided that this Bengali couple would help out this other Bengali couple from Kolkata whom they had met only once, but since they didn’t have anyone else in Dubai, they would be the pillar they could lean on. Just like Malayalees supported each other in their community.

Ankush went a step ahead. He wanted to give Namita their bedroom but Leela wouldn’t have any of that. She felt their sofa bed in the sitting room was comfortable enough.

“You are not understanding Ankush. If Namita has the bedroom Ajit will move in too and they would junk their plans to find a rented apartment. Two month’s rent saved in Dubai is a lot of money,” said Leela.

Ankush gave her the daggers but in his heart he probably knew Leela made sense.

The next day they arrived, Namita looked a wee bit apologetic but Ajit walked around like he owned the apartment.

“Can I get a towel? Need a shower badly,” were the first words Ajit offered.

Leela handed him a brand new Marks & Spencer towel.

“Your washroom is so small, the other house had a bigger one. But thankfully you still have a bathtub,” said Ajit.

Leela cringed. She wasn’t sure if her effort at being a Malayalee was the right decision.

They devoured lunch cooked by the Bengali Chef, who had been retained, that Ajit was quick to point out.

“Good to see you still have the cook.”

Post lunch, Ajit wanted a drop to his accommodation from Ankush.

“Which hotel?”  Ankush asked starting the car.

“I refused the hotel accommodation. Don’t want to be a burden on the company because of what happened. I will be staying with a colleague who lives in a single accommodation nearby.”

Ajit wanted to get a drop on the main road and walk to the house, but Ankush insisted he could not leave him with his luggage like that. When they approached the run-down two-storey building with the community litter-bin standing in front of it, Ankush realized the reason for Ajit’s reluctance to let him near it.

From the next day, when they left for work, Namita was sleeping on the sofa bed. When they were back they found her in the exact same position. But magically a stash of utensils had piled up in the sink and food crumbs were everywhere, the fridge looked raided and Ajit’s washed clothes and underclothes were hanging in the balcony.

After three days of this, Leela took leave from work. Ajit appeared at meal times and he claimed he was looking for an apartment and attending office. After meals, Namita always went back to bed and Leela to the sink.

Then five nights later Ajit made an appearance at 11pm.

“I can’t sleep in that house anymore. Bedbugs. Too many. Haven’t been sleeping at night. Will sleep here from now on.”

“Bed bugs!!??” Leela shrieked.

“Why didn’t you tell me? That means you have been bringing them here,” she said agitatedly.

“Namita’s washing my clothes with care,” said Ajit matter-of-factly.

“But she is washing your clothes here only. In our machine.”

“Can you give me a blanket please? I am very sleepy,” Ajit said. He had no intention of extending the conversation.

“And Ankush da a T-shirt will help. I didn’t get any night clothes.”

Ankush handed him a blanket and a T-shirt. He glanced at Leela to gauge the impact of the information just shared. It wasn’t good.

Leela stayed up all night scanning every inch of the bed and kept complaining that she could feel bug bites. Ankush knew his wife bordered on OCD when it came to bed bugs. They had lost some friendships too because of this ugly creature.

In the next few days Leela upturned all the furniture and searched every corner for that dreaded black crawling dot. Her unslept eyes had dark circles and she had extended her leave.

But despite this catastrophe Leela strangely remained loyal to their pledge of helping the “hapless” couple out. There was only one thing Leela insisted. Ajit had to choose in which house he wanted to stay because he couldn’t keep going back to a bed bug -infested house and then sleep in their house. Ajit’s choice need not be elaborated.

At the end of eight days, Ajit finally announced that he had found an accommodation.

“Take the blanket, bed sheet, towel, T-shirt everything with you.”

This was Leela’s first reaction.

A few months later Namita called to inform she had laundered everything they took and wanted to return those. Leela remained generous. She asked Namita to keep everything.


Leela was in a meeting. It wasn’t a known number. There were three missed calls. Fourth time she picked up.

“Leeladi my name is Anindita your neighbour Umesh kaku gave me your number. It’s been three days I have moved to Dubai. He said I should get in touch with you. I was wondering if we could meet for coffee.”

“Anindita, I am afraid I am busy for the next eight weekends.”

This story has been published in the UK in the Durga Puja 2018 issue of Panchmeshali- The Diaspora Magazine. (Photographs taken from the net.)


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

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

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

The interview:

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

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

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

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

Sutapa Basu did extensive research to write the book

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

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

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

How did you do the research for the book?

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

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

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

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

How long did you take to write this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on next?

Another historical fiction. Maybe a nonfiction book too.

About the author:

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

Wonderful piece on writing and “becoming” a writer…

Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray

By Tumpa Mukherjee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indrani Ganguly is the Managing Editor at Readomania

On International Women’s Day I start a series of interviews of women who are fortunate and motivated to be doing what they like doing and what they have always wanted to do. I start the series with the interview of Indrani Ganguly, who was a journalist but editing books gives her the greatest happiness. She is the Managing Editor of the publishing house Readomania. She is a stickler for perfection but not one whose opinion would override others. She believes in her own independence and individuality and respects others’ individuality too. She is one gutsy lady with a great sense of humour, a devoted mother and someone who has the conviction to achieve her goals if she sets her sight on it.

In this interview Indrani talks about the hard work that goes into making a book and her positivity is something to learn from.

How was your experience of editing Onaatah, the National-award winning film converted into a book, which is being launched today?

Onaatah–daughter of the Earth‘ written by Paulami Dutta Gupta is one of the most relevant and sensitive stories that I have edited. Though the peg of the story is dark, the treatment is not. What starts on a poignant note turns into a story of hope. There is no feminist statement or activism in the book. It is a story about simple people and how they help rehabilitate a rape victim by treating her with love and compassion. We see that while the urban educated people treat a sexually assaulted woman as an untouchable and a pariah, the simple rural and uneducated people have better senses. There is a lot of class-based hypocrisy in our country when it comes to a sensitive topic like rape. This book addresses that.

The movie has won the National Award and been showcased in most important film festivals across the country. Rape is a life-altering event, but it is not the end of life. I sincerely hope ‘Onaatah‘ manages to sensitize people and make them treat a raped woman not as a victim but as a survivor.

From being a journalist to a books editor, how has your journey been?

Having done my post-graduation in Journalism specialising in Print media, I started my career in the newsroom. It is one of the most exciting places to be in. The energy is high octane and edition-time atmosphere is insane. Initially I was baffled but soon got sucked into the world of deadlines, minute-to-minute agency wire checking, staying around for run editions and working the graveyard shift. The transition from media to publishing was brought about by a location shift in 2005. Though the pace wasn’t as hysterical, I was doing one non-fiction book every five days. So I wouldn’t call it slow either. I had a very supportive senior editor who taught me the technical nuances and I took to manuscript editing like a fish takes to water. I started fiction editing from 2012 and realised how creative and fulfilling it is. A good editor can turn around a mediocre manuscript to a brilliant one by developing it. There has been no stopping since then. I continue doing academic and non-fiction editing but fiction is what I do every day.

What it is like to be the Managing Editor at Readomania?

Overwhelming actually! Readomania’s Director Dipankar Mukherjee has placed immense faith in me and I cannot let him down. The responsibilities have definitely increased as expected. We have some very interesting titles lined up this year. We also plan to build the children’s literature line. Dipankar wants me to be responsible for that. We are also going big on non-fiction and will also classify our fiction titles. I connect a lot with Dipankar’s vision and I want to stand by him and turn it into a reality. Also Readomania is like one big literary family with a young and dynamic team and some extremely talented authors.

MSQ is your first book as an editor of an anthology and it’s selling like hot cakes. Why do you think people are picking it up?

Technically Mock, Stalk & Quarrel is my second anthology, first as a solo editor though. I was the editorial mentor of Defiant Dreams–Tales of Everyday Divas. That was my first experience as an anthology editor. MSQ is definitely my baby. It is a collection of satirical tales, which emanated from a nationwide contest conducted by Readomania in the summer of 2016 to identify powerful voices that could wage an ideological war against issues that matter. It is an extremely relevant book especially in today’s socio-political milieu. This book takes on some serious issues that ail our country, in humorous, ironical stories. There is a lot of angst in people’s minds and we felt that could be channelled into hard-hitting satire which would not only force people to read but also discuss and debate.

What was the toughest part of editing 29 satires?

We at Readomania are very particular about the quality of our books. Each Readomania book goes through three editorial stages – development, copyediting and finally, at least three levels of proofreading. Things are easier and quicker when it comes to single-author books. Anthologies, however, take a little more time as I had to individually develop each of the 29 stories, send them back to the respective authors for rework and then copyedit the rewritten stories. The manuscript was proofread at four different levels by a team of editors and then finally me. The toughest part, I would say, was harmonising with 29 extremely sharp brains. An editor needs to be very tactful and also accommodating when dealing with so many creative people. She is after all the captain of the ship.

Heard MSQ could make it to the record books? Why is that?

Yes MSQ India’s first satire anthology. We not only created something relevant but also something unique. We will be approaching Limca Book of Records soon for the official endorsement.

You have a fantastic sense of humour and a way with punch lines; how good are you with writing satire yourself?

Ha ha, thanks. Not many appreciate my wry wit though but it is now an intrinsic part of me. If I didn’t have the essence of satire in me, I don’t think I would have been able to develop and edit this book. Satire exists as a way to ridicule and critique the follies of humanity. Through its heavy use of sarcasm and irony, contemporary satire is a sort of glass that reveals some of the silliness of modern life. However, one has to be careful that humour doesn’t become slapstick; irony doesn’t become pithy. I think I have that understanding and feel I can dish out satire too.

Coming to your personal life, you are a single mom with a lovely daughter. Have you ever thought about writing your personal journey?

My life has been quite eventful for sure. A dear friend of mine actually wrote a story on my life which garnered a lot of votes in a short story contest. I think in prose. I always pen down my feelings, although I never share those with anyone. There have been many ups and downs in my life since my preteen days, events which have shaped my personality. Maybe one day I will chronicle everything for my daughter and if she feels it is worth sharing, we can have a book out of it.

How difficult or manageable life has been as a single working mom?

Initially it was extremely tough but now I guess I have got used to it. Work for me was an escape. I used to work for very long hours and it was causing health issues. I still work long hours and most weekends too but I also keep some time for myself. Work no more is an escape; it is a source of tranquility. A child is ideally brought up by both parents, but not everyone is so lucky. I try to fill the gaps in my daughter’s life as much as possible. I don’t treat single parenthood as a handicap. It is in fact empowering. There are some challenges of course. I do wish I could travel a little more though, both for work and pleasure. It does become overwhelming when you have a deadline and also a PTM to attend. Most nights I am busy helping my daughter with her school project after 11pm. But at the end of the day I ask myself—would I have been happier if I had all the freedom in the world but not my daughter with me? Of course NOT! I have now learnt to balance everything in my life and am a happy person. And my happiness reflects in my daughter’s smile.

What would be your message on International Women’s Day?

Your life is your own story. People will come and go just like characters in a story. Do not let anyone’s presence or absence affect you so much that it alters the course of your journey. Stand up for your rights and do not let anyone take you for granted. Love your friends and stay connected with them. And ladies, education is your best friend!



Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn't believe the NASA scholarship news

Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn’t believe the NASA scholarship news

Since Ayoti Patra wrote on her Facebook note that Sataparna Mukherjee, the girl from Kamduni in West Bengal, has possibly not got a NASA scholarship, she has been bombarded with abusive messages but at the same time she has shown the right path to the Indian media (here is the original story) who quickly took up her lead. But who is Ayoti Patra and what made her take this step?

Here she is in her own words:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a PhD student of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. I did my M.Sc from IIT Kanpur and B.Sc. (Honours) from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi. I have spent my entire childhood and did all my schooling from Hyderabad. Although I am a Bengali, I have been to West Bengal only to visit my relatives. I mainly spend my time on theoretical research on ‘Optimal Control of Quantum Systems’. Apart from that, I also listen to Hindustani Classical Music being trained in it.

Where did you first read about Sataparna Mukherjee and the NASA scholarship?

I subscribe to a couple of news channels on Facebook. I came across it in the Times of India, The Logical Indian, etc.

What made you doubt the credibility of the news?

The news article had not one but multiple flaws.

-Getting a single offer valid for graduation, post-graduation and PhD without even clearing the 12th boards is something that can NEVER happen in real life.

-One cannot get an offer for studying Aeronautical Engineering for a theory in black hole! To do research in black hole, you need to study Astrophysics which is unrelated to Aeronautical Engineering.

-She will simultaneously study English at Oxford University! This is impossible again.

-NASA, a federal agency of the US making an offer to an Indian for studying in UK! It has to be a big joke.*

* For the sake of completeness, I would like to mention that it is possible for an Indian citizen to work at NASA as a postdoctoral research fellow, as a contract worker or as a PhD student affiliated to a US university. My university is less than 10 miles away from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, where my husband works. He is a PhD student of Astronomy at my university and works on a project at NASA. This is the official page of the project he is working on ( If you click on the ‘People’ tab, you will find my husband Arnab Dhabal listed there.

 What did you do after that?

At first, I just commented on the news articles that this cannot be true. I did not use any foul language but I was abused by quite a few people. Without doing a basic search about NASA or about my background, they said things like “You are a fool”, “People like you who always find faults and cannot appreciate true achievements are a shame to the country”, “It is because you are so stupid that you are nothing today, and she will go to NASA in a few months”, etc. It frustrated me a little and I became curious to find out some more about the girl. I searched for her Facebook profile (, through which I got the links of the two videos. Once I watched them, I thought enough is enough. Being a physicist, I took the nonsense about black hole quite personally. I decided that I have enough evidence against this news and I must do something about it.

 Were you aware that you were actually taking on the entire Indian media when you wrote your facebook post? Did you think that your post might go viral?

Definitely not. I am very inactive on Facebook and have a dormant profile. I was not even sure if all my friends could see this post on their wall. I had no idea it would get noticed and have an impact.

Do you think Sataparna has been duped or is she lying?

When I posted the note, I believed it could be either of the two options. But since then, I am gradually inclined to believe that she is probably lying. Since the post went online, I got a few messages from people claiming that they know her and that she plans to file an FIR against me. Some also claimed that she was a poor student who does not have maths as a subject. I have no means to verify if these claims are true. But this morning I received a message (image attached in the email) from her friend ( which was written in a very bad tone challenging me to meet them face to face if I have guts. If she was duped, she should have clarified that she made a mistake or in the least looked into it herself. Instead, I have seen news reports like this where she still maintains that she did indeed win some NASA fellowship:

 Does it make you happy that many people and a section of the media followed up your post?

Yes, certainly. I am glad I was able to make a difference.

 Does it bother you that many news agencies are not giving any credit to you but are going ahead with their own stories about the hoax?

My only intention while writing the post was to expose the hoax, not to gain fame. Since that has been achieved, my job is done. However, I did not expect to see my surname changed from Patra to Mitra as in this article: (

 Have you done something like this before too? (getting to the bottom of a hoax that is)

I always do to the extent I can. The only thing I have done differently this time is to publish my findings, the response to which has been overwhelming. I would like to thank everyone who has appreciated my work. This has certainly motivated me to be more vocal and spread awareness. In fact, let me grab this opportunity to promote Bigyan – a Bengali science magazine for the general audience (, which was started by some of my friends.

 Your message to the Indian media and young people…

The media is very powerful and should act responsibly. They should not indulge in the race of being the first to get a sensational news out. Proper verification of the authenticity of a piece of news should be done before publishing it. Readers should not blindly trust whatever they see on social media either. A simple internet search can go a long way.

Another matter that I would like to draw attention to is that in India, too much importance is given to personal achievements like getting admission into a top international college, getting a high rank in IIT etc. Even the highest salary package becomes news these days. These are definitely important for the person concerned, but should not be grounds of hero worship. I believe that instead of focusing on these type of achievements, young people should focus more on the actual impact that someone brings about, be it in art, science or industry. Invention of a new technology should be bigger news than someone getting a NASA internship. The reason we have Sataparnas and P.V. Aruns today is because of the glorification of the wrong kind of accomplishments by the Indian society.



Sharmila Bhowmick got to the bottom of the mobile phone scam

Sharmila Bhowmick got to the bottom of the mobile phone scam

A refrain that we often get to hear is investigative journalism is dead. But Sharmila Bhowmick is clearly not one to believe in that. That is why she went all the extra miles to get to the bottom of one of the biggest scams happening in India in recent times.

To know about it read her article here 

Sharmila tells us how she did it:

It just sounded too good to be true”

One of the most interesting stories ever; basically where a few simple questions thwarted a major botch up. After the gala launch of ‪#‎Freedom251, I only just decided to land up at their factory to follow up on what had caught the imagination of the country: an unbelievably cheap phone at Rs 251.

The look and feel of the place spoke for its self. In a rushed interview, the company owners said that they had not got factories yet, they didn’t yet have a phone; but they had procured 25 lakh bookings online. It pretty much seemed like a product being sold on the basis of an idea. It is the age of selling ideas anyway, and Goel seemed to have caught that nerve.

Next day, I found something new, vouchers of Freedom251 being sold in the village markets of interior Noida to really poor people. No mention was made by Goel & Co about on ground sales before.

On the first day after the mega launch when I went to the corporate office he said , “I have completed my target of 25 lakh bookings.” Then someone from his office later in the evening said we have registered 7 crore bookings online.
Next day, I discovered they were selling vouchers to really poor people which was not even mentioned by them when we spoke.
Then I spoke to these people who were buying the vouchers and they said, “We were told its a Government of India scheme, under the Make in India scheme so we have booked 4-5 phones for gifting during festivals.”
The numbers said almost 1 lakh people had booked more than one phone each since it was just Rs251 and they had already paid for it.
I wrote an article on what I found out about the voucher.
Next day the company started saying, “We will sell 25 lakh phones, offline too.”
So basically it came to 50 lakh phones they would make and sell between April 10-June 30 without a factory or even a phone model to show.
However the booking on ground stopped immediately after the story. The promises and plans from the company kept changing and evolving.

With all doors closing and an FIR lodged by one of its vendors; yesterday Goel confirmed that he is refunding all the money. But added that as and when the phone does get made, it will be delivered on a cash-on-delivery basis.

They still don’t have a factory, they still don’t have a phone to show.

The whole point in doggedly following the story to this end is only to show, how easy it is to sell anything to the mass. It also shows how reporters really increasingly need to go to the closest point of the origin of news to get the truth out. You get nothing at media events, go to the ground and while on the ground, go closest to the spot.

Had I not gone as far as the Ringing Bells office gates, I would have possibly never been able to bring out what it was all about; and possibly a lot of water would have passed under the bridge before someone shouted SCAM!

“For journalists there is never any substitute for leg work”

There is always a good story to be told. So find it, and say it well. That is simply the inner guide I look for while hunting for a story. Only this, has led me to break and bust quite a few virulent scams – sand mafia, real estatae scams, a Muslim’s-only apartment scam where poor Muslim’s were conned – over the last few years. Use technology well, but don’t become its slave. A good reporter has sharp eyes, a sharp nose and is never credulous. A good story today is still a harvest of great foot work and real interaction with human beings. Go to the ground; while on the ground, go closest to the spot. There is no substitute for leg work. Reporting is and will be, the soul of journalism.

“I was so thrilled to report stories I worked without money in my first job”

It was one day, while waiting for a professor to arrive in class and then being told that she was not turning up, that I decided that I would rather use my time productively, while doing some real work and not waste time. I dropped out of my MA course, after a full year’s labour; much to the chagrin of the professors for wasting a precious JU- Comparative Literature MA seat. I started working for free with MJ Akbar’s Asian Age. I did somehow complete a journalism diploma from the University in an evening course, after work. By the way, since high school and since I was 17, I have been financially independent and even funded my own education.

The Asian Age was the most thrilling experience ever. I used to submit my stories written in long hand, when someone introduced me to computer typing. Soon, I got hired by Newstime, a Hyderabad-based paper’s Kolkata bureau to cover the Calcutta political scene. After this, I joined The Hindustan Times, Kolkata. I became the only girl, in an all-male bureau, covering hard news. But the scenario changed after a few years, when women joined.

I left Kolkata for Delhi in 2004 and joined HT digital, New Delhi. I arrived in Delhi without an appointment letter, just on the basis of a word of my would-be boss, Sanjay Trehan. However, I was given the letter within minutes of reaching office.

I was producing the world pages for the portal and then Sanjay quite unbelievably gave me permission to write a preposterous single-woman column: Girl Talk. The column, though outrageous at times, became very popular.

After a while, I decided to quit mainstream media for a bit, and got hired by Sankarshan Thakur, the then Executive Editor of Tehelka to write for and produce its feature pages. I did that for close to a year. After a year, CNBC hired me to research and write a documentary series of shows called Business Legends, the pillars of India’s corporate history.

I got to work closely with Victor Banerjee and direct him as well. I also produced a series called the Lessons-In-Excellence, a sort of master-class series on business strategy. This was my longest stint at any place ever. In eight years, I produced hundreds of documentary films and shows.

But as they say, once a reporter, always a reporter. When I heard Times of India was launching an edition in unchartered journalistic greenfield like Noida and Gurgaon, I had to put my foot in.

The real human stories, seldom lie in the centre of buffed and polished metropolis they are always in the subaltern, the hinterland. NCR is like that. It has the issues where the rural meets the urban, how lives are changing; how cultures are clashing; how the glitz of the urban is inducing aspirations and the fall out of that. You actually live within a few kilometers of a real village and a kilometre away from the country’s biggest mall. It is an interesting landscape, with numerous untold stories, waiting to be told. I’m enjoying every bit of it.

Sharmila Bhowmick 39, is an Assistant Editor with The Times of India. When she is not on a story trail, she is either painting or sculpting. She lives with her six-year-old daughter.