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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!

 

 

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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 (http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/bettii/index.html). 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 (https://www.facebook.com/sataparna.mukherjee.5), 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 (https://www.facebook.com/sangeeta.bauli?fref=ts) 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: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-nasa-denies-selecting-18-year-old-west-bengal-girl-for-top-scholarship-2185132

 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: (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/science/science/030316/shocking-nasa-shrugs-off-west-bengal-teenager-s-gip-scholarship-claims.html)

 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 (https://www.facebook.com/bigyan.org.in/?fref=ts), 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.

On the evening of Feb. 14 my mother and I spotted a young girl from our balcony on the sidewalk opposite our house, barely able to walk. A guy quickly came up behind her and gave her support so that she would not fall. Then two more men in their early 20s stood with her. They put two glasses of yellow-looking fluid on the top of a random car and started taking selfies with the girl, crushing her in their midst. She kept leaning on one guy or the other and they took turns in picking her up, groping her, touched her wherever possible and all this we kept watching from the balcony with rising fear.love

My 75-year-old mother, who reads the newspaper every morning from the first to the last line, and who couldn’t be more clued in on violence against women in India, was alarmed that the intention of the young men was just not right and we should take the initiative to save the girl. “What if they are making an MMS? What if they have given her a date rape drug? What if they plan to rape her?” my mom’s mind went on an overdrive.

I first told her, “For all you know the girl is consenting in this.” But as the minutes ticked by the groping and touching and picking up and photographing continued without a break. I also started getting alarmed.

My parents have been living in the same locality for the past 34 years, and it’s a locality where almost everyone knows everyone. Although a number of new restaurants and stores are coming up in the locality in recent times because of the convenience of the location, the essence of the place continues to be the same.

I noticed from the balcony that all the security guards, of the neighboring buildings and restaurants had also noticed. Some people in the locality stood a distance away and watched but they didn’t know if it was okay to intervene.

At my mother’s behest I finally went down and intervened. I asked the girl her age and she promptly said she was 17 and pointed at the tallest in the group of three men and said, “He is my Bha-lentine and I am in a relationship with him for three years. We are celebrating Valentine’s Day.”

I said, “That’s fine but which Valentine would allow his friends to grope his drunk girlfriend openly? Don’t you think something is wrong here?”

I added, “Are you aware that drinking below 18 is illegal?” pointing at the half finished bottle of whisky that was standing on the footpath next to them.

The girl, who was unable to stand straight for a moment, was suddenly all erect and spoke clearly, without slurring. She said sorry promptly.

I asked for her parents’ phone number and wanted to call them so that they could take her home and told her if she did not hand me the number I would call the police.

The word police had two kinds of effect. While the girl recoiled and said she was immediately going home the boyfriend said, “I am calling the police because you are harassing us.”

I said, “Yes please go ahead we are all waiting for the police. We will all tell them what has been happening here.”

By then a crowd had gathered and the boyfriend realized that they all knew me well and we were together. He decided to step back. “He will drop me home,” the girl said and started walking while the boys followed her.

As I had predicted, the girl knew what she was doing and maybe this was her idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day. I am not being judgmental. At 17 it is only expected that a young girl will be adventurous, will be eager to break the rules but what irked me was she was probably compromising her dignity, her safety by doing what she was doing. And no, she was not on a date rape drug, she was perfectly fine.

As the crowd dispersed it pained me to hear someone say, “This is why girls are violated in India.” Words I absolutely loathe because it shifts the blame on the girl but in this case I did not know how to react, what to say.

For the full article go to Asia Times

“… 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

Suchismita Dasgupta

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.

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.

Suchismita in a Nextiles creation

Suchismita in a Nextiles creation

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 has 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.

Sunny Sarkar in a black winter jacket which she has brightened up with a violet scarf

Sunny Sarkar in a black winter jacket which she has brightened up with a violet scarf

Soumyasree Chakraborty was applauded for her courage and her style when she wrote “I am fat but I know how to rock my style” a few days back. Sunayana Sarkar applauds her too.

Like Soumyasree, Sunayana has never let her weight come in the way of her confidence or her style aspirations. While we were studying together in Presidency College, Sunayana was the one who was choreographing us for the fashion show competitions and helping us bring home the prizes. She went on to choreograph Bollywood stars Bipasha Basu, Celina Jaitley and Koena Mitra, when they were all modeling in Kolkata.

Sunayana is settled in the USA, a mother of a four-year-old daughter and a senior vice president at a global marketing communication company. While she has adopted a more casual approach to fashion, she still loves to dress-up and experiment with new make-up on occasions. (She was the one to get me my first eye-lash curler when I didn’t even know how it looked).

But Sunayana feels there is the urgent need to talk about health in plus-size women.

Over to Sunayana:

I have struggled with my weight since I was eight years old. Just like Soumyasree, I have been lovingly nicknamed “Muti”, “Fatty” and “Fats” by some of my friends. My fashion in teenage years was limited to salwar-kameez, baggy T-shirts and skirts and if I had gone camping then there was no need to carry a tent because my clothes would have served the purpose.

Sunayana is completely comfortable and confident in a pair of shorts and T-shirt

Sunayana is completely comfortable and confident in a pair of shorts and T-shirt

Discussing fat people was never anyone’s agenda

Growing up in India in the late 80s and early 90s, the cultural norms dictated that fat girls should hide their body and western outfits were almost a strict no-no. It was not until I moved to the US in 1998, that I started to wear outfits like everyone else — shorts, tank tops, pants, dresses, swimsuits — partly because they were available and also culturally acceptable. So, I really want to congratulate Soumyasree for opening our eyes and starting a dialogue in our culture on a topic, which was never even considered worthy to be on anyone’s agenda.

Sunayana looking classy in a silk saree.

Sunayana looking classy in a silk saree.

Beauty is skin deep and confidence matters

Between my baggy T-shirts and oversized skirts, I never ceased to feel that I am beautiful and I never felt the need to lose weight to look beautiful. I love food and refused to sacrifice an extra helping of my sister’s Chinese food or my mom’s pudding just to fit into a jeans or a dress. I have always believed beauty is skin deep and if I am confident and happy it is all that matters.

Social media is glorifying anyone with a double digit size

We are starting to see that growing consciousness of beauty in all shapes and sizes in USA over the last few years starting with Dove commercials to plus size runway models. Social media is reveling and glorifying anyone with a double-digit size, who is daring to be a model or celebrating their beauty in photos that have not been photo shopped.

This really feels good because I am also one of them. But what is starting to bother me is that in the process of being politically too correct, we are starting to overlook a very important part of this conversation. It’s about HEALTH.

It’s a stupidity not to talk about health

Health is such an integral part of our beautiful self, that it’s almost a stupidity to not talk about it.  At an annual check-up in 2007, my doctor warned me about serious health issues, if I did not lose weight and change my reckless eating habits. Over the next two years, I was able to lose more than 20 kilos through healthier food, portion control of indulgent food and an active lifestyle.  However, I gained back most of the weight during pregnancy and the first year of motherhood.  I was so focused in learning how to balance motherhood and career, I forgot to take care of myself.

Now that my daughter is four years old, I have managed to get back to healthier eating habits and am going to the gym. But I have a long way to get to my healthy weight or Body Mass Index (BMI) and I am still struggling with health issues, which is very much a result of my overweight or obesity (depending at what time of the year, you weigh me).

Sunayana in 2009 when she had knocked off 20 kgs

Sunayana in 2009 when she had knocked off 20 kgs

Health is critical for happiness

I realize how health is critical to my confidence and happiness, which in turn makes me look beautiful. A healthy weight is co-related to how we feel and that reflects on our beauty.

This conversation is patronizing at times

While I love the celebration of my size 12 beautiful self, I am starting to feel this conversation is patronizing when no one is talking to me about how those extra pounds may not be good for my heart or my bones. I applaud the new consciousness about beauty that is emerging in India but I hope that India is not going to get warped in the political correctness like USA and leave out the discussion on the need to be at a healthy weight.

Rocking a floral summer dress on the streets of New York

Rocking a floral summer dress on the streets of New York

Doing justice to the monochrome trend.

Doing justice to the monochrome trend.

sunny2

Going the casual way in a pair of specs and a green shirt.

Black Resham-Gheecha from Baanshi by Aditi Sircar

Black Resham-Gheecha from Baanshi by Aditi Sircar

Fashion is not something I have ever written about in this blog but today I write about someone who’s constantly making a fashion statement rising above the negative comments and criticism that often come her way.

Soumyasree Chakraborty, a content writer by profession, has proved that to look good you don’t need to bow down to archaic social perceptions – the slim and fair kinds – all you need is oodles of confidence and a will to dress up.

What makes Soumyasree’s sartorial journey special is that she didn’t let other people’s perception of her body image come in the way of her fashion aspirations. When most of us are spending time on what suits us and what doesn’t and we are discussing crash diets to slim down in a jiffy for special occasions, Soumyasree is collecting accessories, clutches and shoes to ensure that she is impeccably turned out and in the rest of the time she is tossing up her favourite dishes (she is an amazing cook).

It’s because of this attitude of her’s and her lovely dress sense (each blouse of her’s is a fashion statement in itself) that she is in this post today.

PS : When I asked her if I can write “fat” in the headline or does she want me to write “plump”, her quick reply was, “fat” is just fine with me. I guess this attitude is what defines her.

She’s penned down her own thoughts for this blog. Over to Soumyasree:

When I discovered that Westside offers Plus Size clothing both in Indian and Western options, I was too excited and bought a couple of tops. This one is a single piece with a layered  look, teamed with an ankle-length jeans. To break the monotones, the turquoise necklace seemed to be a savior -- a gift from brother-in-law who got it from Darjeeling.

When I discovered that Westside offers Plus Size clothing both in Indian and Western options, I was too excited and bought a couple of tops. This one is a single piece with a layered look, teamed with an ankle-length jeans. To break the monochrome, the turquoise necklace is the saviour — a gift from brother-in-law who got it from Darjeeling.

When I was three years old the helper of my school bus named me “motu”.

When I was in my early teens a self proclaimed neighborhood macho man named me “moti bahenji”.

When I was 24, I got to try on western wear on myself for the first time.

Now that I am in my 30s I got featured in a Facebook page that has about 6500 followers, as cover girl to celebrate “women in all shapes, all forms everywhere in the world.”

As you can see, my sartorial journey has been an interesting one indeed! As I was growing up, it was a very natural thing for me to accept that whatever I would like in a shop, while shopping, would not come in my size; and this applied (and still does) to shoes as well. Sigh!

I was made to believe flab had to be covered under ill-fitting clothes

Whatever came in my size were for people decades older to me. So from a very young age I had to take to clothing that were not “in trend” for people my age. Added to that was the fact that my parents (and later on my in-laws) are pretty conservative in their approach. I was given an impression that flab was meant to be all covered up under loose (read: ill-fitted) clothing, and I started to believe in it. So much so, that when I set foot in the US, post marriage, I was sent off with a suitcase full of sarees and salwar suits to nearly sub-zero temperature, and I did not utter a word of protest.

So you see my experiments with clothing started out of necessity. I urgently needed to replenish my wardrobe with attires that would help me survive in that weather. By that time the husband too had warmed up a little with his new bride and suggested, “Why don’t you look for attires that would give you a shape instead of making you look dressed up in a sack?”

“What?” I exclaimed. “Don’t you know those stylish trendy stuff look good only on certain types of bodies? Flab should always be kept under cover.” But he eventually won. I started to explore options and eventually had a blast experimenting.

The US trip was the game changer

My husband is someone who could live in jeans all his life -- so matched up to him with my jeans and they say black is slimming, so is a natural favorite. Induced some color with beads from Nakshaa by Rijula Duttaroy. Belle shoes from Clarks.

My husband Sougata is someone, who could live in jeans all his life. So matched up to him with my jeans and they say black is slimming, so is a natural favorite. Induced some color with beads from Nakshaa by Rijula Duttaroy. Belle shoes from Clarks.

Being in the US, that houses a huge number of plus size people, made sure that there was an inventory of bigger sized clothing available for me to experiment with. Right from Walmart to J.C.Penny, from Macy’s to Saks Fifth Avenue – all had special sections for bigger women. Apart from that were brands like Lane Bryant and IGIGI that catered especially to larger women. I felt like a kid in a candy store. What I liked was finally available in my size. It made me aspire to transform how the world views beauty and fashion.

I have to work doubly hard to prove that plus-sized people can have a presence

Soon it became a favorite pet project of mine. Especially because being a plus size woman I have to work doubly hard to prove that we plus size women can have a nice presence too. You could be sexy, stylish, sophisticated in whatever shape and size you are in. The trick is not to hide the flab, but to accentuate the curves. The key is to find the right fit and apparels that would bring out the best in you and then accessorize properly to create a well coordinated ensemble. Once you start doing it, you shall start enjoying it too. It is like an art project; creating your own style board, each day, each time.

I completely ignore criticism which is not constructive

The more you experiment the more you’d discover what can bring out the best in you. Oh and you also have to learn to ignore criticisms that are not constructive in nature! I get it all the time! Especially since I love cooking and my Social Media feeds have photographs of my culinary experiments, people gleefully attribute my cooking to be the culprit that makes me obese. (As if, I cooked and ate at will when I was three years old, or thirteen, as a matter of fact.)

Then there are people who label me a narcissist for uploading my dressed-up pictures on my own timeline. (Get a life! It is my timeline – you always have the option to unfollow, unfriend or even block!)

But when you are happy the way you are, you become an expert in dodging anything that can mar your happiness. After all you get only so many years in one life, and you better fill them up with happiness and positivity!

Dyed Tussar with Cross Stitch Embroidery pink from Sanskriti by Lalia Duttagupta. Accessories include a matching clutch and a simple necklace.

Dyed Tussar with Cross Stitch Embroidery pink from Sanskriti by Lalia Duttagupta. Accessories include a matching clutch and a simple necklace and ring.

I have teamed bright colours and played with my hair. I salute weavers of Bengal in  a matka silk saree from Angachaya by Nisupta Bhattacharya.

I have teamed up bright colours and played with my hair. I salute weavers of Bengal in a matka silk saree from Angachaya by Nisupta Bhattacharya.

I dress up for each occasion

Layered dressing when done right looks good on plus-sized people. I also avoid tops that have snug necklines. Seen here in Jeans from Alto Moda (the Plus Size section of Pantaloons), Top is from San Francisco based plus size brand IGIGI. Jacket from Lane Bryant, a plus size American brand.

Layered dressing when done right looks good on plus-sized people. I also avoid tops that have snug necklines. Seen here in Jeans from Alto Moda (the Plus Size section of Pantaloons), Top is from San Francisco based plus size brand IGIGI. Jacket from Lane Bryant, a plus size American brand.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not someone who believes that only the West can churn out fashionable clothing. I am still equally comfortable in my sarees and salwar suits. It is just that I would no more wear them for say a pool party or for a picnic; just as I would not wear jeans to a family wedding or a traditional religious ceremony. In fact those who know me can swear by my obsession for sarees. But then that is another story altogether!

I am now settled in my skin

By the time we relocated back to India the plus size fashion scenario saw a little shift in gear, albeit a very slow one. Departmental stores like Pantaloons and Westside today host a separate section for plus sized women. There are brands like Mustard Fashions and Amydus that specialize in plus size clothing. Apart from that designers too have become less snooty about designing for bigger people – this gives you the option to get tailor made trendy clothing according to your taste and budget! No, the struggle isn’t over yet. People still stare if they see a plus sized woman wearing a Sundress or let’s say a pair of Capri or a pair of Bermuda. But as you feel settled in your skin, you shall start feeling happy about your experiments, and all the positivity would make you ignore the naysayers with grace and élan.

Handloom from Cupraa by Sarmishtha Som

Handloom from Cupraa by Sarmishtha Som

Batik on tussar from Angachaya by Nisupta Bhattacharya

Batik on tussar from Angachaya by Nisupta Bhattacharya

The highlight of this attire is the specially designed blouse.

The highlight of this attire is the specially designed blouse.

Anshu's Rongeen Collection by Pritha Mukherjee. Notice the Bengal special jamdani in the pallu. Necklace: Tantra by Meher Dasgupta. Bracelet: Nakshaa by Rijula Duttaroy

Anshu’s Rongeen Collection by Pritha Mukherjee. Notice the Bengal special jamdani in the pallu. Necklace: Tantra by Meher Dasgupta. Bracelet: Nakshaa by Rijula Duttaroy

A different take on the Bengali fave red and white saree. Saree and the unique blouse are both creations of Nextile by Suchismita Dasgupta. Jewelry: RuHH by Debarpita Sen

A different take on the Bengali fave red and white saree. Saree and the unique blouse are both creations of Nextile by Suchismita Dasgupta. Jewelry: RuHH by Debarpita Sen