Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

The cover of the two books The Secret Diary of Kasturba Gandhi and Ms and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that shook India

I read two books recently that give a striking insight into the marriages of two stalwarts of India’s independence movement, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. It’s been a few days I have finished the books, but I have still not been able to decide who was worse off – Kasturba Gandhi or Ruttie Jinnah.

Mr and Mrs Jinnah by Sheela Reddy and The Secret Diary of Kasturba Gandhi by Neelima Dalmia Adhar are books that are painstakingly researched and well-written and take you deep into the lives of two women who married men, who were the harbingers of freedom for the nation.

But did these ladies experience freedom in their personal lives?

Although they came from ostensibly dissimilar backgrounds culturally, religiously and financially, both had one thing in common; that they had to put up with frightfully selfish men, who put their own priorities above all else. They had to keep grappling with the ambitions of their husbands, their mood swings and their workaholic temperaments.

Kastur Kapadia, who was the third wife of Gandhi at the age of 13 (his earlier two wives did not see life beyond six months of age) realized very early in her marriage that her husband, as old as her, wanted complete control over her every move. She had to seek permission from him even if she went to the temple with her mother-in-law, something other women in the household didn’t have to do. Gandhi was obsessed with Kastur, stiflingly controlling and suspicious as well. Determined to make her literate he would teach her late in the night, which the young wife found loathsome and heaved a sigh of relief when his attention shifted to the bedroom.

From the age of 13 to her last days as a prisoner at the Aga Khan Palace, Kasturba Gandhi remained a guinea pig for all her husband’s social experiments.

Gandhi with wife Kasturba. Pix: From the internet.

Starting from the time in South Africa, the first to bear the brunt of Gandhi’s austerity drive – when he thought he was living a far too luxurious life as a successful lawyer – was his wife Kasturba. Suddenly she found herself with no house help when pregnant with her third son and was cooking for a house full of people and doing the chores, although Gandhi helped her when he was at home. But life wasn’t easy doing things for a house full of guests and boarders and things turned really bad when Gandhi decided that they had to clean their own chamber pots placed under the bed in each room. That was Gandhi’s way of fighting untouchability because in pre-independent India the job of cleaning the latrines at upper cast homes was the job of the untouchables.

Hence Kasturba was expected to clean up her own pot and even their guests’ pots if they forgot it. She found it revolting and nauseating. But when Gandhi found her muttering to herself in anger, he threatened to drag her out of the house. Humiliated and angry, Kastur went back inside in tears.

Gandhi came down hard on Kasturba whenever he thought he needed to teach her a lesson. Sometimes he apologized, sometimes he didn’t. But Kastur stayed like a pillar by his side often travelling the length and the breadth of the country and got involved in community service ardently.

In stark contrast, Ruttie Petit also travelled everywhere with her husband Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but always in first class compartments unlike the Gandhis, who travelled in the second class or even third class compartments.

Ruttie’s (Rattanbai) life was diametrically opposite to Kasturba’s. It began and ended with luxury of a kind that many can’t imagine. Being the daughter of Parsi Baronet Sir Dinshaw Petit, she grew up studying in English medium schools, was looked after by an English Governess, lived in a palatial sea-facing mansion, holidayed at their estate at the French Riviera and she was the centre of attention at most parties in the Mumbai high-society circuit slaying all by her charm, exquisite beauty and sense of style. Ruttie could have married anyone she wanted, but she fell for her father’s friend Jinnah, who was 24 years older to her. During her time, a Parsi-Muslim marriage was just unthinkable, the price of which she paid all her life.

Ruttie Jinnah and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Pix: From the book Mr and Mrs Jinnah.

She was madly in love with Jinnah, being able to hold his attention talking about the only topic he cared about–politics. He asked Sir Dinshaw for her hand but he refused and a few months later even brought a restraining order against Jinnah so that he could not meet his daughter.

This probably made Jinnah more steadfast in his resolve because the highly successful lawyer was the last one to cower down to such pressure tactics. It was only through the morning papers that Sir Dinshaw came to know that Ruttie had converted to Islam and married Jinnah. He didn’t even know that Ruttie had left home, so meticulous was Jinnah’s planning.

The marriage created an uproar in the Parsi community. Ruttie’s parents had to disinherit her and vow to never see her again in order to save their faces in their community. At 18, this didn’t matter to Ruttie as long as she got the man of her dreams and set off for her month-long honeymoon in Nainital, but it hit her only when she came back and realised her social life was completely gone and she only had Jinnah to turn to for company. This led to a festering sadness that lingered all through her marriage and took the shape of deadly depression, although in those days no one could come up with a correct diagnosis of her bouts of illness in the latter stages of her life.

Kasturba, along with the Gandhi family also faced excommunication from the Modh-Baniya community when Gandhi went to England to study law. Her parents could not even see her. But the large and united Gandhi family came to her rescue, especially her mother-in-law Putli Ba, who realised how difficult it was for her to bring up two sons on her own when Gandhi was away in London for three years and then again for three years in South Africa.

Unlike Ruttie, who did not find any support from Jinnah’s brothers and sisters to fight her loneliness, Gandhi’s tight knit, conservative family was Kasturba’s solace.

But each time Gandhi came back, a passionate re-union was always followed by Gandhi taking over her life which she detested. But there was little she could do against his diktat. That could be practising walking in constricting shoes from morning till night on the deck of the ship when she travelled to South Africa for the first time or not being able to send her four sons to school because Gandhi did not believe in formal education. Neither could she do anything to ensure a better future for her eldest son Harilal, who, like her, always bore the brunt of Gandhi’s belief that his family members should not get any special treatment. Harilal festered all his life in anger and remorse for he believed his father treated him wrong and ended up being an alcoholic and lived a life in debt unable to look after his wife and children. Torn between the two, she chose to stay with the husband like the adarsh bharatiya nari and weep for the son.

Ruttie, on the other hand, despite her free-thinking spirit, her education, her grasp over politics and her ability to hold conversations with the most learned people, felt trapped in her marriage. She wanted to be an equal partner to Jinnah in the freedom struggle but that did not happen. Neither did he ever appreciate her love for literature and poetry and her ability to write beautiful verses. He didn’t even know that Ruttie nursed dreams of being a published poet like Sarojini Naidu, her idol and the only friend she turned to in her loneliness.

In their marriage, she felt she did not exist as it was always Jinnah, his work, his politics, his schedule, his ambition, his travels and the need for his space when he would be holed up in his study and read newspapers. He wanted Ruttie to be with him and he depended on her too, but on his own terms.

Jinnah was protesting against the building of a memorial of the ex-Governor Lord Willingdon at the Town Hall in Bombay and for the first time a 20,000 strong crowd had turned up to support him. Doused in the fervor, Ruttie, who always wanted to play a proactive role next to her husband, had given a speech that added to the enthusiasm of the crowd. That was the first and the last time she gave a public speech. Jinnah rather preferred to see her sitting in the first row listening to him whenever he spoke and wherever he travelled.

Now, it might seem that unlike Jinnah, Gandhi was more encouraging towards Kasturba. But a deeper look would show that Kasturba was always the instrument that he used to teach the lessons he wanted to propagate. When Gandhi declared that everyone living in the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa, his first ashram, would have to have food without salt and sugar, Kasturba surreptitiously gave sugar to her youngest son to make him eat because he was refusing the bland food. Gandhi rebuked her in front of all making her an example so that others won’t vacillate.

And when it came to his vow of celibacy, he just sprung it as a surprise on her after the birth of their fourth son saying they would be like brother and sister henceforth sleeping in separate rooms. Her views, feelings did not matter at all. No explanation was given to her either.

Neither did Jinnah bother about Ruttie’s feelings. He never had any inkling that Ruttie was suffering because of her exclusion from the community and that she might need his shoulders to lean on. He thought Ruttie was just happy picking him up from work at 5pm, having dinner after that, just the two of them, and he thought that as long as he did not ask where Ruttie was spending all his money all would be fine between them. When she teased him or coaxed him to go on a holiday or have an extra serving of the food she had cooked he never noticed Ruttie’s depression, loneliness and her deep disappointment with him.

In the initial years of their marriage the very few people, who visited their home (Jinnah was opposed to both attending and throwing extravagant parties) were hosted by them together, but later on they had separate sitting rooms to receive their guests and author Sheela Reddy even hints that they might have slept separately.

Ruttie became a mother at 19, but she had a far greater bond with her menagerie of dogs and cats than with her daughter. Neither did Jinnah care about his child as long it had its own posse of nannies and servants and they both did not manage to name her till she was almost 6-years-old. In her frequent correspondences with Sarojini Naidu and her two daughters Padmaja and Leilamani, mention of which is there in the book, Ruttie did not for once mention her child.

After her child was born her first act of defiance was to travel to Hyderabad alone to meet her friends Padmaja and Leilamani without Jinnah. He did not approve of it but he wasn’t the kind either to get into altercations over it. He let Ruttie be. But this attitude ended up creating such a chasm between them that Ruttie went on to travel to Europe alone and even did drugs in Paris and later on the very thought of staying in the same hotel room with Jinnah made her uncomfortable.

Ruttie moved away from Jinnah both mentally and physically and she took up every opportunity to rebel. She felt stifled in Jinnah’s regimented life and also felt hurt in his absolute lack of interest in her.

Unlike Ruttie, Kasturba did not squander away her life looking for freedom in her own way. She instead concentrated on her four boys and became a Satyagrahi and worked for women’s empowerment proving herself to be the befitting wife of a man, who was hailed as God by his countrymen.

Kasturba and Mahatma Gandhi literally grew up together spending 62 years of their life with each other and she often guided him in the early years giving a direction to his life that perhaps Gandhi acknowledged in his heart. Ruttie on the other hand came to Jinnah’s life when he was 40. He was already a hardened lawyer, who had his firm beliefs be it in politics or personal routine and his wife often stuck out like a sore thumb in his life.

Despite Ruttie’s rebellion and frequent illnesses, Jinnah didn’t see it coming. Jinnah hadn’t imagined she would leave him. But she did, one fine day, saying it was over. She moved into a new place and started living on her own. Jinnah in his characteristic way did not try to woo her back but was there for her every single day when she fell seriously ill.

But the call of politics was more important to Jinnah than his personal crisis. Just when the ice was breaking between the two of them and Jinnah’s visits cheered her up, he left for Delhi for the legislative session leaving her forlorn. Ruttie died on her 29th birthday on February 20, 1929 after remaining married to Jinnah for 10 years. The cause of her death was probably an overdose of sleeping pills.

Kasturba died on February 22, 1944 suffering from pneumonia and Gandhi denied her penicillin because he did not believe in conventional medicines.

The last decisions about their life were taken by their husbands.

 

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Sharmistha Mukherjee Cheema’s passion for cooking made her start her FB Page Delectable Delicacies and then …

Even if they are far away some people have a way of infusing joy in your life everyday and Sharmistha Mukherjee Cheema is one such person. I studied in Presidency College in Kolkata with Sharmistha and her smile was as infectious then as it is now. But as we were busy with our chats in the college canteen over fish chop and coffee, listening to lectures in class and exchanging notes in the library, we hardly got to find out much about each other beyond the college campus. I didn’t know then that Sharmistha had a passion for cooking, which I now know, 20 years later.

And with this passion, sitting in her beautifully decorated home in Delhi, she has done something for her classmates, living in all corners of India and abroad, that we never imagined was possible. Through her Facebook Page Delectable Delicacies – that has almost 700 members – she has brought out the closet cook in us and connected us over food.  Tossing up recipes, clicking snaps and putting it up on her FB page is a simple pleasure in life that we all look forward to.

Sharmistha is like the Guru now, holding our hand and leading us through her simple yet veritable recipes and we are savouring the excitement of the journey as much as the tastes we are creating ourselves.

From tossing up four-course meals for parties to experimenting with traditional dishes, Sharmishta’s college mates are being creative in the kitchen most of the time and then when the photographs go up it’s bonding time over comments. We share recipes and feedback too.

Sharmistha has managed to make Delectable Delicacies a group where you go to feel energized and creative. Apart from our college crowd there are plenty of other enthusiastic members who inspire. In other words Sharmistha has created a space in the Social Media, which is real, which is happy, which is de-stressing and motivational.

Here’s an interview of the lady herself where she talks about how it all started and how Delectable Delicacies is touching lives. Over to her:

 

Prawn Cocktail, a favourite from Peter Cat and Mocambo in Kolkata, made by Sharmistha

When did you realize you have a thing for cooking?

I realized it very early, when I passed out from school and before joining college. There was a period when my mother was away from home for a month or so and I started cooking and experimenting with recipes.

When did the idea of starting this FB page come to you?

The idea came to me when I shifted to Delhi in 2014. Since I had left my job and I had ample time a lot of my friends used to ask me for recipes. So I decided to start a page where they can have easy access to those recipes.

On a daily basis how much is this page Delectable Delicacies a part of your life or how much do you think it touches the members’ lives?

On a daily basis, it is a huge part of my life because that has given me a sort of recognition. It inspires me to try out new recipes. It has also helped me improve my food photography skills. Well, the members get to know what they could opt for in breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has also inspired a lot of my friends, who were closet cooks, as it gave them the confidence to try out different stuff and post their recipes.

Sharmistha has a variety of mutton dishes in her repertoire

Have you become a better cook after starting the group?

In a way, I would say yes, because it has helped me in expanding my knowledge about food. It keeps me accountable to keep experimenting and learning more about different cuisines. I constantly try to post recipes that might not be widely known, so it helps me keep up with current food trends, and in some cases, it also compels me to revisit my memories and draw inspiration from there.

Is the group an example of the power of social media?

Initially, my group just consisted of my friends. It was at a time where there wasn’t much hype about social media. But in the present, social media has become extensive. It’s not just my group that has given me recognition, but also other groups on social media of which I am a part. The power of social media has allowed me to establish connections across the world.

Can cooking be therapeutic?

Definitely, but given that I am in the mood for it. Everyday cooking can actually be exhausting.

How do you manage to rustle up so many varied dishes in so less time?

I think it’s just because I love to eat and try out different dishes. Lack of variation in what I eat on a day-to-day basis bores me. My love for food is indirectly proportional to my patience level, so I try to find an in-between.

You are acknowledged as a culinary expert by many hotels and restaurants. How did they come to know about you?

I credit all the groups that I am a part of for that. I have been regularly posting my recipes on various groups and it is through those that people have come to know about me.

When they invite you to their food tasting sessions what do you bring to their table?

I ensure that I bring my basic food knowledge. I research a lot about Indian cuisine and I have a fair knowledge about world cuisine because I have been exposed to it and I am generally a food nerd, who likes to read up on food a lot. I also ensure that I give my inputs that might help them enhance their dishes.

Have you thought about showcasing your culinary skills to people beyond your guest list?

We did a pop up a few months back where we showcased traditional Bengali cuisine. I always try to rake up traditional Bengali recipes and share it with the group.

The spread at her home on Bengali New Year

Chicken Bharta another Kolkata favourite

QUICK Takes

A blunder you will never forget: Making pakodas for Punjabi Kadhi for the first time. The pakodas were as hard as deuce balls.

The dish that gave you the confidence: The first dish that comes to my memory is Chicken Bharta, which I made when I was 19.

The dish you are most jittery about cooking: The only thing that I am jittery about is frosting a cake, it really makes me nervous.

The best compliment ever: Recently my friend, who is a Bengali based in Delhi, had a proper home-cooked Bengali meal after a long time. He almost had tears in his eyes, and he said that it reminded him of his mother’s cooking.

Your kind of comfort food: Anything with egg.

The street food you die for: Singhara and Telebhaaja – only in Calcutta

The thing you envy in other cooks: I only envy cooks who can frost well

If you ever start a restaurant it would be…

A rustic café with a European vibe that has a menu that constantly changes according to the season.

Desserts are her speciality

10 tips that will make cooking a simple and relaxing process
  1. Cook what you want to eat.
  2. Don’t complicate recipes by adding too many ingredients.
  3. Stick to local produce as much as possible.
  4. Take it easy—choose a recipe that’s simple.
  5. Do your research.
  6. Prep in advance.
  7. Don’t let the recipe constrict you.
  8. Play around with ingredients.
  9. Cook with your loved ones.
  10. Sip some wine to keep yourself sane.

 

 

 

Sipra Banerjee, Uttam Kumar, Supriya Devi and Amiya Banerjee (extreme right)

Dr Amiya Banerjee, my mother’s brother, my uncle, whom I call Chhotomama, is not only an acclaimed scientist he is someone who has worn many feathers in his cap. Not one to ever boast of his achievements or experiences, Chhotomama never spoke about his association with the doyen of Indian cinema Uttam Kumar and actress Supriya Devi.

All our life I had heard our relatives talking with pride about Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi staying in my Chhotomama’s home in the US in the late 70s. After Supriya Devi’s recent demise, for the first time I got talking to Chhotomama about Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi. What he told me is truly interesting.

Here is the conversation:

How did you meet them?

In the September of 1979, we – The Tagore Society of New York – invited Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi to spend some time with his devoted admirers and we featured some of his films.  We wanted to behold in person the greatest Nayak of our time. My friend Ramkrishna, a close associate of Uttam Kumar, worked tirelessly to convince him to accept our offer. The rest was history!
Being the President of the Society, I had the privilege and honor to host them and spend some extraordinary time with them during their stay at our home.

Did you make any special preparations before they came?

There was palpable excitement in our home before their arrival. We could not do any special arrangements except making our guest room in our Verona home in New Jersey neat, clean and welcoming. Both my wife Sipra and I were busy with our respective work schedules during the day. I was a faculty staff at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, NJ and Sipra was in the faculty in New York University Medical School in NYC. She had to commute everyday to the City and we were also taking care of our 11-year-old daughter Rini and 4-year-old son Arjun. Even if we wanted to make special arrangements we couldn’t because we were so busy juggling work and home.

Uttamda and Supriya di always expressed happiness in our home and never for once complained about anything. Our house was located atop a hill and had to be approached by a winding road and had the most breathtaking view of New York City. They loved the view.

While going to bed at night the very thought that two of the biggest stars of Bengali cinema were sleeping in my home in the next room was the most surreal feeling. Many of our guests, who stayed later in the same guest room, would ask us with awe, “So this is where they stayed?”

How were they as guests?

At home they dressed up simply and ate simple food. They never had any special demands. Supriyadi became like our elder sister.  She had an indelible simplicity around her. Despite being such a huge star she never thought twice before helping out Sipra in the kitchen. Although Sipra did most of the cooking and did not allow her to do much but she was always ready to help.

Uttam Kumar mesmerized the Indian community by his charm, his politeness, and above all by his unforgettable smile. We all started to call him Uttamda and I was awestruck when he started calling me Amiyada. He told me his reason was that everyone around called me by that name, so why not him.

Uttam Kumar, Supriya Devi and Sipra Banerjee exploring New York. The photograph has been clicked by Amiya Banerjee.

Tell us more about Supriyadi

Uttamda and Supriyadi had a wonderful relationship. They chatted, joked with each other and were always in a good mood. Here is an interesting anecdote which exemplified Supriyadi‘s simplicity. One morning Uttamda was sitting alone in our living room downstairs post breakfast when I had the opportunity to talk to him. I hesitantly told him, “Uttamda you may not know but we are very distant relatives.” He excitedly wanted to know how. I told him that his first wife Gouri was the daughter of my uncle Dr Dhirendra Nath Banerjee’s brother-in-law. Uttamda immediately said, “Tumi tahole Phanibabur chhele?” (You are Phanibabu’s son?)  He told me how much he admired my uncle and his family.

Next time when I was alone with Supriyadi, she suddenly asked me, “Amiyada  tumi nischoi amar upor rege acho?” I was surprised. She said, “Ami je tomar Gouri r katch theke tomar Uttamda ke niye niyechi.” I looked at her she looked so sincere. I was touched by her simplicity and honesty.

Supriyadi was always thinking about Uttamda‘s family. Sipra took her for shopping where she was more interested to buy gifts for Uttamda’s newly born grandchild and other relatives. She did not buy much for herself.

We explored NYC all of us together sometimes taking a cab, sometimes the subway and sometimes on foot. They found it really liberating to be able to walk around without fans chasing them. But at a restaurant in NYC one Bangladeshi staff member recognized them and immediately came to our table with drinks saying it was on the house. They both accepted his warmth with humility.

We never imagined that there would be so much madness at the screenings and at the shows. Bengalis came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of them and there was often mayhem. In the midst of this Uttamda stayed completely unfazed so did Supriyadi.

In fact, once a lady just went ahead and hugged Uttamda and started screaming to her husband, “Tolo! Tolo!” The husband initially was flabbergasted but then he swung into action and started clicking with his camera. Supriyadi would smile at all this because I am sure she was so used to seeing women going berserk seeing Uttamda.

Amiya Banerjee, Supriya Devi, Uttam Kumar and Sipra Banerjee at the stars’ home at Moira Street

Then how did the invitation to their home happen?

When they left after a month of busy stay with us (also visiting Toronto and Los Angeles) Uttamda asked me and Sipra to promise to call him when we would visit Kolkata in January 1980. Deep in my heart I was not sure if they would remember us. They were such big stars I was sure they would be busy so I never picked up the phone to dial their number when we were there.

When Ramkrishna called me he proved me totally wrong. He told me excitedly that he was searching for my contact fervently on the behest of Uttam Kumar.  The star wanted to invite us to his home for dinner. I was dumb-struck because, never in my wildest dream I thought the Superstar would remember us.

How were Uttam-Supriya as hosts?

Uttamda and Supriyadi welcomed us to their home standing at the top of the stairwell. They were truly happy to see us. Supriyadi hugged Sipra with genuine affection. At the time of dinner she told us that she personally went to Gariahat market to buy galda chingri and ilish macch. She cooked everything herself. The taste of the dishes clearly testified her prowess in cooking.

That evening at their Moira Street residence will remain etched in my memory as one of the best evenings of my life. I met legendary singer Shymal Mitra, a close friend of Uttamda, for the first time. And I had the rare honour of singing sitting in front of him. The evening was full of music  – Uttamda and Shymalda both sang – plenty of drinks and ended with a sumptuous dinner, the taste of which still lingers on my tongue.

Their hospitality was simply impeccable. The party ended around 2 am. Their driver dropped us home. Tragically, Uttamda passed away in the same year in July.

Uttam Kumar singing at the party at his place

Did you keep in touch with Supriyadi?

After Uttamda passed away we met Supriyadi only once. We went to see theater in North Kolkata and she had acted in that play. It was probably in 1982 or 83. We met her backstage. She was very happy to see us. I regret very much that we did not visit her or keep in touch after that even though we visited Kolkata many times.

 

Dr Amiya Banerjee is a scientist. His many breakthrough researches in virology have been highly acclaimed internationally. He is a former Chairman of the Departments of Molecular Biology and Virology in the Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland , USA. He is a well known Ranbindrasangeet singer and has been one of the favourite students of late Debabrata Biswas. He has held important posts in various Bengali organizations in the US and has a huge contribution in keeping the Bengali culture vibrant and thriving in America.

 

 

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.

The Bengali version of Birangana was Published in the August issue of Femina Bangla

Nisha’s shift always ended at 3 am. Others at the call centre switched between early and late shifts, but Nisha preferred the late shift because she gave tuitions in the evening. At 23, she was juggling a job at a call centre and teaching a dozen school children just to pay the medical bills for her mother, who had been suffering from a rare bone disease for the last 5 years. Since her father’s demise two years back, it was just the two of them.

Nisha had lived in this lane in Bhowanipore since her birth. Theirs’ was a sprawling old mansion that had seen good days but now that there were only two women living in it, they had to be doubly careful about bolting all the doors to the balconies and the terrace carefully from the inside. Her mother was more scared of thieves and intruders, although she wasn’t. She felt pretty safe in her home, cocooned from the outside world in the locality she lived in, because here everyone knew everyone else. While going to work she would wave at the para (locality) boys steeped in concentration over the carom board. One of them would invariably say, “Sabdhane jash. Taratari phirish.”

While getting back home, usually one of her male colleagues would be there in the car and they would wait till Nisha unlocked the front gate, went inside and locked it again. Sometimes there was the concerned colleague who would disembark the car and wait till she went inside and sometimes there was also the selfish colleague who would insist on being dropped off first.

That night Nisha was travelling with a selfish colleague who also lived in Bhowanipure, but he insisted that he got dropped off first. Nisha was the last person to tell him that this was the most boorish thing to do. She dropped him off and proceeded towards her home.

As she was opening the lock of her gate, she realised the driver also didn’t have the patience to wait. He just screeched off. Nisha thought after a long day at work it was probably unfair to expect chivalry from a driver at 4 am, who was anyway driving through half-closed eyes.

Then it happened. Nisha felt someone was holding her by the waist from behind and the next moment she felt someone thrusting something inside her mouth and the scream got stifled in her throat. Now she could see clearly in the moonlight.

There were five men, one of whom she knew from the locality. They were now trying to push her into the waiting Maruti van. Nisha gathered all her strength to push them away, but they were too powerful. Then she saw a blinding light.

The light came from the headlights of three bikes that had stopped. The next moment the men were shrieking in pain. They had been hit by something. She was now free. While one man was lying on the floor, the other four managed to get into the car and scoot.

“Are you alright?” a woman asked Nisha.

Her head was still reeling. The lady held her and she steadied a bit. She was in a black short kurta and black leggings. Her hair was long and she would be around 30. She was wearing black sneakers.

“Do you know him?” she asked pointing at the man lying on the footpath.

“Yes, he lives in the locality,” I replied.

“He will be a good example then,” she said.

The other two ladies were similarly dressed and now stood beside them. They both were carrying some kind of gun which Nisha later came to know were taser guns.

“Who are you?” Nisha asked.

“We call ourselves Birangana.”

Nisha wasn’t quite ready for what the Biranganas did the next day. They came back in their black clothes and black bikes and paraded the man all around the locality saying he had been caught last night assaulting a woman.

“If a man is trying to take away a woman’s honour, it is his shame. And it is our mission to ensure that any man who tries to assault a woman feels ashamed. Terribly ashamed,” they said on the loudspeaker.

Nisha had thought that people would retaliate, they would criticize this action. Instead the women clapped and jeered and many men slapped and kicked the offender supporting the action of the Biranganas.

The story in Femina Bangla

*

The college lecture hall was packed with at least 200 young women. Nisha sat in the front row.

The lady at the mic was saying, “During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 when the Bengali Nationalists wanted a separate state and clashed with the Pakistani Army, rape was used as a weapon of war. The Pakistanis tied up hundreds and thousands of women and gang raped them and most were dumped in mass graves. Those who survived, to give them dignity, the newly established state of Bangladesh called them Birangana. But this led to their further social ostracization and these women still live in the shadows in Bangladesh and Pakistan. We believe a woman should not only be called a Birangana because she survived rape, but she should be a Birangana because she put a stop to the culture of rape.”

There was pin-drop silence. Everyone was listening in rapt attention.

“We believe that rape is a weapon of power that is used over women to subjugate them, to take away their freedom and honour. Our society has progressed leaps and bounds, but rape continues to be the scourge of our society. Each and every woman lives in the fear of sexual assault. At home, in the workplace, on the street, in public transport – are they ever completely safe?”

Nisha’s mind trailed off to that night when the three Biranganas saved her. It has been two years since then and much has changed.

The Biranganas had started a women’s movement in Kolkata demanding safety of women. Women joined the movement in hordes and they quickly spread their wings to the rural areas as well. They were all over the state on their bikes in groups of threes, especially after dark, patrolling the streets. They had been able to bring down the crime rate against women in the state of West Bengal from 17 per cent to 2 per cent in one year.

Nisha’s association with the Biranganas changed her life entirely. She no longer needed a male colleague to drop her late at night, she did not feel the cold sweat when she turned the key in her lock at 4 am.

Achieving this state of mind meant back-breaking training in the Birangana training centres, but she took it without complain. She toughened her body and mind and became an expert in self defense.

Nisha could hear her name being called. She was to speak now.

“I survived an abduction and rape attempt, but I decided never to live in fear. A woman is truly independent when she doesn’t have to look over her shoulders when she is walking down the streets. I don’t anymore. It is a very liberating feeling,” she said.

Nisha came out of the lecture hall with a smug smile sitting on her face. She was in a black kurta and leggings and black sneakers. She took her black bike off the stand. It vroomed into life.

She had to report to patrolling duty. She was a Birangana now.

  • BY AMRITA MUKHERJEE

You can check out my collection of 13 soul-stirring short stories Museum of Memories here

 

 

 

 

I had started to write this post in a certain way. A visit to Facebook changed it completely though. And I am glad it did because this post is undeniably about Facebook and social media.

I chanced upon this picture of this lady in a golden gown, looking like she would pop any moment. There was her husband kneeling down and kissing her bulging tummy. The picture had been clicked by a professional photographer whose credit was also given there.

I should have gone, “Aww, how cute!” but I cringed instead. I somehow felt this was the most private moment of an expectant couple that they had not left any stones unturned to turn public. But that is what social media is all about isn’t it? Making the private public and ensuring the public desire that private.

For the complete article click here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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