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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

My fellow blogger Fiza very beautifully brings out through this short story that how we have become immune to violence in other people’s lives but it just takes a simple step to stop it….Do read

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We Are Aware: Stop Domestic Violence
by Fiza Pathan

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Calvin was reading the Times of India in his sitting room when he heard the doorbell ring. Folding the paper and keeping it aside, Calvin sauntered to the door, peeped through the keyhole and beamed. On the other side of the door was his old school friend Jonathan with a can of coke in his hand. Calvin opened the door and the two men hugged each other after which they sat down in the sitting room. Jonathan kept on drinking his coke while he narrated to Calvin the happenings at his work place in Mahim. Calvin listened patiently but his hands were longing to hold and get back to his newspaper, especially the sports section.

Just then, a sound of broken glass was heard. Jonathan stopped in mid sentence while Calvin seemed unconcerned. The sound of the broken glass was followed…

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Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Diwali in Dubai is truly a festival of lights. More than a week before the festival the balconies in numerous apartment buildings, in predominantly Indian neighbourhoods like Bur Dubai and Karama, look resplendent in beautiful lights and you cannot help but stop in your tracks to gaze at the breathtaking displays. On Diwali the diyas are lit at the doorways, sweets exchanged and colourful rangolis created.

And Diwali is also a time when people, you may not know too well and might not meet a lot during the entire year, call you over to their house to attend puja and aarti. It’s all part of the bonhomie that the spirit of the festival represents.

It was one such family home I stepped into this year only to leave with the feeling of sadness.

This family owns a sprawling apartment with a yearly rent of  at least Dhs 120,000 (Around Rs 2 crore), in an upmarket locality in Dubai. The extremely well-educated lady of the house was decked up in a saree and gold jewellery. The children and the man of the house, who is equally educated and holds a top post in a big company in Dubai, were wearing jazzy ethnic too.

Among the guests thronging the puja I noticed an elderly lady in a simple saree which was a stark contrast to the dress code in the household. She was occupying an inconspicuous corner among the last row of guests. Through the minimal interactions the family was having with her, I realized she was the mother-in-law.

As the puja started the family rattled off the shlokas (hymns), all from memory and I shifted in my place uncomfortably, thinking that I can’t chant a single shloka beyond the first line.

Then in my mind I started blaming my parents for my unawareness of the puja rituals and the sacred hymns because they never had a puja at home and my mother always said, “Be good to people. God resides in them. That is how you perform puja everyday.”

I ended up being different. I like going to temples, churches and dargas to pray. But yes, my mother has managed to pass on her beliefs to me to a great extent – I respect all religions, hence all human beings.

So here I was at the puja, arms folded, hoping for God’s blessings. The family took turns doing the aarti. First it was the lady of the house, then her son, then daughter, then husband. What about the mother-in-law? I thought it would be her turn next. But her turn never came. She performed pushpanjali and silently left the room.

I later came to know she was not allowed to perform aarti because she was a widow.

After all the education, all the money, all the veneration for God, they make an old lady stand in one corner and don’t let her perform aarti because she lost her husband?

I thought of my friend who lost his father at 12 and ensured that her mother ate non-vegetarian and wore colourful sarees, and lived a life away from these archaic Hindu customs. He stood up for her during his sister’s wedding and ensured that his mother was present at every ritual. I thought of my father and uncles, who had done the same with my grandmother more than 50 years back.

I felt thankful for what my family taught me and felt less regretful about not knowing the shlokas. I felt thankful that they instead told me about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the man who introduced the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856.

As the prashad was being distributed I left their home wondering if God would be able to deliver them from darkness into real light one day.

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