Archive for the ‘WPrightnow’ Category

Photo taken from the Internet. Source

Biman saw a big plastic packet sitting on the Security Guard’s table adjacent to the gate of the building. It looked like a few boxes of cakes. He could see the name of the bakery written on top of the packet. Not the usual ones that Swiggy brings into the building. This one must have come directly from the bakery in their van, thought Biman. He had been away from the gate on a washroom break.

Since no deliveries were allowed to go beyond the gate, things were left at the guard’s table usually, from where the residents picked it up. Not always though…

Many had become so lazy since lockdown happened two months back that they refused to walk those ten steps to the gate to pick up their stuff. They would inevitably make a call to the security guards and ask them to drop it off at their flats.

The company that Biman worked for, which had a contract with the building that he was guarding now, had strictly ordered them not to run errands unless it was emergency medicines for aging residents. So, when the calls came to deliver the pizzas, the biryani, the groceries left by Amazon, the fish left by the fish seller, to the respective apartments, Biman had to say a firm “no”. Then they would request, command and threaten him over the phone.

All for what, so that they didn’t have to step out of their front doors, thought a hassled Biman.

“They are shamelessly heckling the guards to make their easy life even easier. The morons never think I am doing my job and nothing else,” an irate Biman lamented.

Yes, the guards had a few jobs less now, of opening the gates when the cars came in, of jotting down the registration numbers of the Ubers, of getting the guests to sign the register, or keeping an eye on the maids.

But he had ensured that none of those para guys could walk in and ask for money from the residents as they had been doing in other buildings. And when some people came at night saying that they were from the Municipality checking every apartment to make sure no one had fever, Biman had repeatedly asked for their ID that they failed to show. He kept the gates firmly locked.

He had ensured every single person who walked inside the gates used the hand sanitiser, he had made sure the lift surfaces, the stair banisters were cleaned twice a day. He had taken on the mantle of the caretaker, who used to come in the local train. Biman switched on the pump on time, made the gardener cut the wild shrubs, maintained the lift, saw to it that waste was cleared from every home properly by the sweeper.

Despite that it was one undelivered pizza that became the bone of contention. The building president told him that he could have just delivered the box to the lady since she was single and old. Biman had retorted that her young niece had been living with her since lockdown, a fact the president didn’t seem to know.

The old lady had complained about Biman to the building committee. She had told them that she found him ogling at the women and watching porn on his mobile while on duty. The president assured him he didn’t believe her.

“I know you are a good guy. But it’s not in my hands. We might have to let your company know…”

“And then…?” Biman asked, the anger building up in his throat.

“We will see.” He said. His face gleaming with the power he felt on another person’s life decisions.

Biman’s cheeks were burning up. Now would he have to deal with a lifetime of shame for one woman’s laziness?

He thought of his everyday fight with his wife. She worried that he interacted with so many strangers and went back home to sleep with his 3-year-old daughter.

“Can’t you do something else?”

“What else?”  Biman would scream. “People don’t have jobs now. You should be thankful I am still drawing a salary.”

Biman sat at the guard’s chair, crestfallen.

*

“No one took that packet yet?” asked Monohar, Biman’s colleague.

Biman looked at the packet disdainfully.

“You should see them when the bakery van comes these days. They come down in hordes as if cakes are what they are living for. No social distancing, no masks, their tongues touching the ground in gluttony,” chuckled Manohar.

Piya was walking down the driveway towards the guards table. Biman looked away.

“God knows what this young woman thinks about me. A pervert or a good man?”

“Biman da, Monohar da, ei packet ta tomader (this packet is for you),” she said.

“What’s there?” asked Manohar eagerly.

“Some cakes and chicken patties for you,” said Piya.

Biman remained expressionless. Manohar had already opened a box. A grin lit up his face.

“Biman da tumi toh jhor tuleccho (you have raised a storm),” said Piya.

Biman looked at her stunned. She already knew about his shame.

“My mom said that all the women in this apartment have stood up for you in the WhatsApp group saying you are a gem of a person. All allegations against you are false,” smiled Piya.

Nao ebare cake khao tomra (now you guys have some cake). Ma has ordered this for you.”

Biman looked down, at his own gleaming shoes. He couldn’t let Piya see his tears.

– By Amrita Mukherjee

Read More Short Stories On Lockdown

Short Story: The Maid’s Home

Short Story: A Teacher’s Lockdown Lessons

Short Story: Feluda And The Covid 19 Death Case

Short Story: In Love With Social Distancing

Short Story: Washing the milk

Picture from the Internet

I am used to the morning rush. Everyone is, when they have kids going to school and a job to keep. But I find something unsettling about this rush hour now. I am up as usual at 5 am preparing breakfast, finishing the day’s cooking and cleaning up the kitchen before I rush…yes, rush nowhere.

The kids head from the bathroom to the bedroom; I walk from the kitchen to the sitting-room couch and my husband stays put where he is, at the dining table. We have only two laptops at home and we are those middle-class parents who want to give their children the best. My husband and I juggle our jobs on the tab and the smart phone, depending on necessity.

Today there was another necessity, one that was making me edgy. Singing has never been my forte.

I could see from the corner of my eye that bewildered look on my husband’s face. He has never heard me singing, and I had forgotten to warn him that I would be making an exception today.

Seeing his expression I felt laughter threatening to wreck me from within, but I kept singing keeping myself stoic.

It’s Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday today. If schools had been open, functions would have been held; we would have decked up with flowers in our hair and helped the children dress up for the stage.

My voice lacked rhythm, but still I sang with passion as if to hold on to that last bit of my root, my reality that has suddenly become boxed into the gadget that I was holding in my hand.

The mobile has become like my extended body part. It’s constantly pinging with messages and there are at least 10 WhatsApp groups, some of which have students, guardians and teachers in them. There have been a couple of mornings when I switched on the data and no messages came. I was pretty sure that very day I would be asked to put in my papers; I would be told of my inability to cope.

Or maybe they wanted to do to me what they had done to my colleague. Snatched away her classes because she had supposedly been fumbling and asked to log into classes held by younger, tech-savvy teachers and learn from them.

I instantly messaged a colleague.

“Did you get any messages?”

“None today. Very strange,” came her reply.

My stomach had already started tumbling like the insides of a washing machine. It halted.

There isn’t a moment in the day when I am gadget free. When online classes end, the training starts; how to talk, how to make PPTs, how to make online lesson plans, how to deal with the chats and emojis the kids throw up (the kisses and skulls being the favourite and the poop and the bikini occasional aberrations) and then there’s the psychologist as well telling us teachers how to stay calm. I look at the last one as the most important lesson of the day, because I do end up screaming hysterically for my husband or my elder son’s help if I am unable to make those PPTs or unmute the Zoom mic. Power Point was Hebrew to me till lockdown happened. Actually so many things are, still.

For starters I am competitive, but I really have not grasped what’s there to be competitive about PPTs. The slides are worked on, embellished and submitted with an attitude that these works of art will land us a space in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Then there are the relentless comparisons, praises and criticism. Sometimes I feel like laughing but then I have to put in my best. I can’t let my position as one of the best teachers slip. I have worked hard for it for so long. I can’t let a virus kill it.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

In my 20 years of teaching experience the thought had never occurred to me that I would start teaching a new batch of students never seeing them in person for once, but I would know how their bedroom looks, I would marvel at the colour of their walls or make a mental note of the chic dressing table design to be passed on to my carpenter, some day.

Neither did I have a clue that one day I will have to see some of my students’ fathers without a shirt.

Some of the fathers have developed the habit of hovering around the kids in their boxers showing off their rotund paunches in their shirtless avatars. The first time this happened, I can’t even begin to tell you how shocking it was. I complained. My colleagues complained. The management sent out mails that guardians should not be around kids. It stopped for some time. Then someone would suddenly appear in the frame by “mistake” and move away only after ensuring that you are unnerved enough by their uncouthness. Within weeks we learned to mask the unease and carry on as if nothing had happened. There is too much on our plate anyway, a half-naked guardian couldn’t possibly merit our precious time.

And then there are the moms. You would know they are sitting next to the ward listening in intently. Your instincts just tell you they are there, helicoptering. Isn’t this like a dream-come-true for an obsessive mom, the ability to sit next to her child as they take the class? In my online classes I have faced more questions than I have answered in my entire career, needless to say, all prompted by the invisible helicopters.

I have always prided myself to be teaching in one of the elite institutions of Kolkata that comes with the best facilities and best marks. But now I often wish I worked in a lesser-known school that has not been able to put their online act together because they lack the infrastructure, finances or even the will to do so and wish to wait it out till schools re-open.

People talk about spotting rainbows in the sky, click photos of the cottony clouds bathed in the hues of a pink sunset, see the flowers bloom and marvel at the appearance of new species of birds on the window panes, but I have failed to notice any of that. I only know the day has glided into the evening when the fights over the laptops start. My 14-year-old son needs to get the worksheets done, my 10-year-old daughter has to send back her homework and prepare for her impending online exams and I need to make the PPTs, send back the reports of my online classes and sit in at the zoom meetings.

We argue over who gets priority on the laptop like we are fighting for a piece of bread in a concentration camp. But they always win, inevitably.

“You anyway have to help me with my homework, ma,” my daughter says.

Life has done a volte face for her too. I soften instantly thinking who is finding it harder, she or me? The bored, sleepy, yawning faces of my students flash through my mind.

So I am up till late in the night finishing my work when the house has been silenced by slumber. My day never ends. The morning rush goes with me to bed.

*

I had finished my classes yesterday when suddenly my daughter came rushing to me.

“Ma in my Bengali class they are asking for opposites. I don’t know these, please help.”

Without even thinking for a second I jotted down the opposites for my daughter so that she could answer in “class”.

I then realised what I did. I just prompted my daughter in her class. Like the helicopter moms.

Amrita Mukherjee

 

 

 

 

 

This illustration is taken from Saikat Sarkar’s page

“For the last couple of days I have been noticing you are reading books on World War I. Why is that?” Lalmohan babu asked Feluda.

He was sprawled on the settee in Feluda’s drawing room, his head resting on the cushion placed on one hand-rest and his feet up on the other. Two days prior to the lockdown, Lalmohan babu’s manservant had left for his village and that’s when Feluda had insisted that his friend shift to his home at Rajani Sen Road, at Ballygunge.

“At this age you don’t have to fend for yourself all alone. If you are staying with us, I will feel more assured,” Feluda had said, flashing his rare smile.

What was meant to be a lockdown of 15 days had extended to 40 days now and Lalmohan babu, as always, marveled at Feluda’s prudence.

“I am not exactly reading about the World War I, I am rather reading about the Spanish Flu pandemic that took over the world when the war ended in 1918. Then also schools, religious institutions and business centres were closed, people were asked to wear masks, stay at home and practice social distancing,” said Feluda.

He did not look up from his book.

Ki bolcchen moshai, taai naki? (What are you saying? Really?)”

Lalmohan babu had sat up, alert.

Researchers are now trying to use the lessons learnt during the Spanish Flu to contain this coronavirus pandemic. At that time 500 million people were infected and almost 50 million died, but there was no chance of developing medicines or vaccines then. So, before you start hyperventilating and coming up with Doomsday predictions, let me say it’s not that bad a situation now.”

Feluda’s face was still expressionless, but he looked at his friend fleetingly with reassuring eyes.

“You have your online Literary Meet in half an hour. Have you prepared?” asked Topshe as he entered the room after finishing his online classes.

Lalmohan babu looked perplexed. He kept looking at the Kindle tab he was holding in his hand, his expression a trifle dejected.

“My books are on this machine and now literary meets are online. I can’t cope with this Tapesh.”

Topshe worried that Lalmohan babu would start crying. He hadn’t been in the best mental state in the last few days.

“I will help you out. Let’s create a structure of what you will talk about,” said Topshe quickly.

“Idea! Idea!” shouted Lalmohan.

He was literally jumping up and down clappping his hands and Topshe stepped back.

“Like I write under the pseudo name Jatayu, I can have a lit meet as a pseudo person. Tapesh you will be Jatayu in this online meet. You will do this for me right? Won’t you?”

Now it was Topshe’s turn to look aghast.

Then it suddenly happened. Lalmohan babu sneezed. Another one followed quickly.

He breathlessly ran to the window, peeped through the curtain.

“Nobody around thankfully,” he heaved a sigh of relief looking at the deserted road.

Feluda was watching all these histrionics quietly.

“Your phone is ringing,” he told Lalmohan babu.

*

Feluda reached for his cigarettes. The packet was not where it was always placed. Forgetful was the last thing you could call Feluda, but smoking was a very old habit and the hands went for the packet spontaneously. Then his brain got into action and reminded him he had just kicked the butt.

He had been planning to give up smoking for a long time and the lockdown gave him the right pretext. Cigarettes weren’t an “essential” he was going to go out for he had decided.

Lalmohan babu was back to his old position on the settee. The call that had come in the morning had pushed him into immense grief. His niece had contracted the dreaded coronavirus and died in the morning, he was informed.

“Even yesterday morning she had sent me a greeting video on WhatsApp. She never said she was unwell or anything.” Lalmohan babu was murmuring.

“In the last few days she never told you about a fever or cough or anything?” asked Feluda.

Na moshai! Even a couple of days back she had cooked chicken kasha and paratha and uploaded on Facebook. I can’t believe she is no more.”

Lalmohan babu wiped his tears with a white handkerchief.

“Who told you she had Covid 19?”

“Her husband. He told me he had asked all relatives not to turn up since he had quarantined himself.”

“Did he call the concerned authorities to take your niece to the crematorium?”

“No, he said he had called the family doctor, who gave the death certificate. He had called the hearse and taken the body to the crematorium. After that he went into self quarantine.”

Milcchey naa! Hisheb milcchey naa. (It’s not adding up) ”                                                    

Feluda looked out of the window at the blooming chrysanthemum tree, a furrow clouding his forehead.

“Do you have any of her recent photos?” he asked suddenly.

“Many! She sent her selfies frequently with her morning greeting.”

Feluda peered at the photos after magnifying those in the smartphone.

“I am sure you never noticed the marks,” he said after returning the phone to his friend.

“Marks! What marks?”

“She was abused frequently. The nicks and cuts are all over her face. She used to hide it with make-up.”

“Abused! You think so? She was such a happy girl. She never told me anything about abuse.”

“Very few talk about it Lalmohan babu. Do you know their family doctor who gave her death certificate?”

“Yes I know him. I have his number even. I had gone to him once when my house physician was out of town.”

Feluda called the doctor. He had thought he would be a tough nut to crack, but the opposite happened.

“Prodosh babu please help me,” the doctor pleaded.

The man came to my house with a gun at midnight. Took me to his place. He had shoved his wife down the stairs. She had died on the spot. She had a weak heart. I wrote heart attack in the death certificate. I didn’t want to do this. Please can you help?”

“So she didn’t have Covid 19?” asked Feluda.

“Covid! Who said Covid?”

“Now it’s crystal clear. The husband is saying it’s Covid, so that no one would go to his place and he wouldn’t have to give any explanation. If he is in self quarantine people would stay miles away from him.”

Feluda’s next call went to the Police Commissioner.

*

“I can’t imagine you solved a case in one day and that too sitting at home,” said Lalmohan babu.

“This is the new way. Work from home or WFH,” said Feluda.

They were at lunch. Piping hot khichudi was being served.

“I have been seeing you are wasting your time sulking at home Lalmohan babu. You could have very much finished your next mystery novel during this time. I even have the title chalked out – Covider Kobole (In the grip of Covid).”

Lalmohan babu was sprinkling pepper on the khichudi. His eyes widened and his lips broke out into an effervescent smile.

Then it happened. A sneeze came. A resounding one.

– By Amrita Mukherjee

Disclaimer: On Satyajit Ray’s birthday today May 2,2020 this story is written as a tribute to his Feluda. In no way this is an attempt to plagiarise the characters he created.

If you want to read on Ray’s mother Suprabha Ray click here.

Picture taken from the Internet

7 am. The doorbell rang. It took her a bit of time to get out of bed. The young man at the door knew that. So he waited patiently.

“No bread today?” she asked him.

“No supply. But I got cream rolls and cakes,” he said.

Devika Roy liked the idea. At 75, her breakfast had suddenly turned from the usual butter and bread to cream rolls and cake. Apart from the sweet swirl the cream rolls produced in her mouth, she liked the fact that it meant one job less of putting the bread in the toaster and applying butter.

“Did you wash the milk?” The daughter-in-law emerged from the bedroom. She was wearing a frown, the urgency in her voice, disturbing.

“Wash the milk….?” Devika couldn’t quite understand what that meant.

“It’s been a month now and I still have to check. If I don’t check I know you will not do it,” she said gruffly.

Without a word, Devika put the packets of milk under the tap.

“With soap…wash it with soap.” The daughter-in-law commanded.

Devika found her intolerable. Even a month back she was the one taking all the decisions at home. Her daughter-in-law would leave for work, return late in the evening, look after the boy’s homework and retire to bed. Milk packets and groceries were never her thing.

Now she would stand at the kitchen all day like a slave master with a whip and one slip and there was no escape from her fury. All packets brought from outside were cleaned with Dettol, all veggies washed immediately in warm water, she would keep telling everyone to wash their hands, she wouldn’t allow the kid to even go to the terrace, because other residents were going there as well and, she let go of the maids, even the full-time maid. When she wanted to go to her village pre-lockdown, her daughter-in-law just agreed without discussing it with Devika. She found that unacceptable.

Had it been some other time, Devika was sure that her daughter-in-law would have been sent to an asylum, but now her son was beaming and lauding her constantly for keeping the family “safe”.

Mad paranoia, that is what it should be called, thought Devika with a smirk. To someone who had survived diphtheria and cholera as a child, four bouts of malaria in her youth, typhoid in her middle age and dengue in her old age, how could some vague virus really matter?

She even shouted like a mad woman at Devika a few days back when she opened the door to the building security guard, who had come to tell them that he wouldn’t be reporting to duty since he was burning with fever.

“He was saying he had fever and you were talking to him? You even told him to wait and you would get the medicines? Are you crazy?” she shouted.

Crazy, she had called her crazy!! The tears had clouded the corner of her eyes, but her daughter-in-law had completely ignored it. Her son had come to her room and told her to take a break from dish washing for a few days instead.

“I will do it Ma. You rest,” he said.

“You? Your father never did it. I have never seen any man do it in our family,” said Devika.

“It’s okay. Times have changed Ma. You just take rest,” he said.

Devika had stayed in her room since then. Just taking the morning milk remained her job. She didn’t go out much anyway. It was the street below her bedroom window that had always kept her entertained. The street had suddenly died like her daughter-in-law’s emotions.

Her son called her to lunch. She expected the usual boiled potatoes and dal. Her son wasn’t going out to get fish. Her daughter-in-law wouldn’t allow him to go to the bazaar. For the first time in her life, Devika had lived without fish for a month.

Devika sat at the table with a straight face. She didn’t want to get into any conversation on cleaning, sanitizing and the rising number of Corona cases. It nauseated her.

There was rui maccher jhol (rohu fish curry) laid out on the table.

“We got a guy to deliver fish. I know it’s been hard for you,” said the daughter-in-law.

Devika noticed her face had softened, probably for the first time since lockdown.

The overpowering smell of Dettol came from the surface of the table. Devika usually puckered her nose and went through the staid reality called lunch. But now the smell of freshly-cooked fish transcended the pungent odour. Transcended everything.

– By Amrita Mukherjee 

Social Distancing. Pix from the internet.

He badly needed a haircut. He hadn’t been to the gym for a month now. In his profession work from home was not possible. He was tired of mopping the floor and doing the dishes. He thought Covid 19 was a ploy to keep people at home and there was something more to this.

“What do you think it is Meera?” He asked in a huff.

“Surveillence? Are we going to have George Orwell’s 1984 now? Or is it an online experiment? To see how the world can function through the net? Do you think 5G will be introduced soon? Or is it a reboot of the environment? Or was the economic collapse coming anyway and now Covid 19 will be blamed?”

He was almost out of breath.

Meera listened to her man’s rant. It happened every day – morning, evening, night – over the phone. No matter what he said he was never in a hurry to hang up, like before. Meera savoured that. He was serious, frustrated, angry about being locked down at home for 18 days and she was smiling. She thanked her lucky stars they weren’t on video chat. Otherwise her smile would have amplified his anger.

While he was upset, she had found peace. The lockdown had changed her from inside. The ever anxious, watchful girlfriend had suddenly become calm, chilled out. Like every other relationship, hers wasn’t perfect. But she sometimes felt they fought more often than they spoke sweet nothings. They were always at loggerheads because love had a strange way of bringing polar opposites together.

She was a college lecturer, bordering on the introvert, had few friends and her weekends meant staying home, reading or meeting her boyfriend for a movie or dinner. He was a dashing corporate climber for whom networking meant everything. He could be doing that at corporate parties, at the clubs or at the nightclubs he frequented with his gang of friends on weekends.

She was always telling him to slow down. She found his extraneous social interactions loathsome.

Two people greeting with a hug. Pix taken from the internet.

 

And those “hugs?” Uggh!

“Hello hug” he called them but she hated those women coming so close to greet him every time. They had so many fights over it. He found it preposterous that she felt so strongly about just a “greeting hug” and she felt it was ridiculous that intrusion into personal space was called a greeting. A handshake was good enough, why was there the need for a hug?

The world would follow the namaskar now. Meera thought. The Indian namaskar, her beloved namaskar.  Prince Charles had already started. Not long before India would follow.

“You are right if we go by what Yuval Noah Harari is saying, then we might be stepping into a lifetime of surveillance because we care for our health. Our health would be tracked along with our movements to keep the population safe,” she finally said, realizing it had been a one-sided rant so far.

The world might come under surveillance now, but her surveillance on him would end. Those anxious thoughts of women hugging, women getting too close to her beloved, would finally rest in peace.

Social distancing gave her what three years of arguments could not achieve. The pandemic would end, but the fear of the virus would remain. People wouldn’t probably shake hands anymore, let alone greet with a hug.

Silently in her mind she said, “Thank you social distancing, please always stay.”

*

 

Another short story I wrote about life in lockdown:

The Maid’s Home

 

I think I can write a thesis on this topic: How to deal with death on social media. But the problem is I can’t write anymore.

There used to be a time when you would find me in my computer room writing long articles on my favourite subject – technology. I have always been a computer freak, a whiz even, you could call me. In 1986, I imported a computer from Japan, paid through my nose on customs duty. I guess, being a steel magnate does have its perks. You can afford things that your passion desires. My computer room or my “Tech Room”, as my children call it, always remained my hallowed haven, where I would spend all my spare time. But it always remained my own space. I never felt the need to show it to anyone. In fact, except for my family and my staff, no one knew of its existence.

I guess precisely for this reason, I never got on to social media, despite being so tech-savvy. I loathed the whole concept of making your private life public.

As the stack of books on computers and gadgets grew on my book shelf, my acquisitions also increased and my Tech Room became a techno museum of sorts. My children found my room fascinating and I allowed them complete access to it only on one condition – my room, no matter how intriguing, would be kept away from social media.

Although I never stopped them from being on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp, I just wanted them to make sure that I myself never got there, even through accidental photo bombing.

When photos would be clicked at events, parties, get-togethers, I would just vanish in the last moment. My repulsion of social media was that strong and my efforts to stay away from it that intense.

Some realized that I was truly a private person and let me be and some felt pity and spoke behind me, but I couldn’t care less.

I was in my Tech Room that day downloading photos of my trip to the US from my latest model Canon DSLR to my MacBook, listening to some old Bengali numbers on my Alexa, when it happened.

I died.

I had a heart attack. I wasn’t unhappy about dying. I had lived a full life. I had travelled the world, I had grandchildren and I still had school friends. So at 75, I didn’t have any last wish. I was actually raring to explore the other side.

 

My steel business allowed me to leave a Will that would make my wife and children secure and rich. But little did I know then that my ordeal has just begun. I would have to constantly live (or rather die) with something that I had despised all my life.

It all started on the night I died. My elder daughter lives in the US and son in the UK with their respective families. My younger daughter, who isn’t married yet, lives with me.

My son instantly bought tickets and took the next flight down to Kolkata to perform my last rites. My eldest daughter stayed up all night, vacillating between my death and my granddaughter’s upcoming exams. I sympathized with her situation and couldn’t bear to see her crying so helplessly. My sympathies dissipated the next moment though.

She shared the news of my demise on Facebook. Then the endless “RIP” comments started flowing in and she diligently answered each and every person who conveyed their condolences, as if her life depended on it. Her conscientiousness in dealing with those comments felt akin to writing an exam paper.

I always thought grief is personal, but it seemed my daughter’s grief was centered on Facebook and I was appalled how quickly she forgot my disdain for the medium on which she chose to share her emotions. She finally couldn’t make it to my last rites.

I wouldn’t hold it against her because she has been a wonderful daughter and loved me dearly when I was alive. Only a few days back I had spent three heady months with her, savouring her cooking and company at her home in the US. Photos of this trip still lie half downloaded on my computer.

But I could probably never forgive her for doing what she did, as soon as I closed my eyes for good. She ended up triggering a “Me Too” syndrome around my death. Distant relatives, close cousins, long-lost classmates started posting their “wonderful” opinions of me and how they already missed me. I cringed and cringed again when their posts about my demise were quickly followed by pictures of them sitting in the restaurant, coffee shop, movie hall, that very evening. Yes, unfortunately I died on a weekend.

Thankfully, good sense prevailed with my son and younger daughter. They didn’t make any attempt to share their grief on social media.

Or am I jumping to conclusions too quickly?

*

My body lies there in a cushion of flowers and the house is full of people who have come to pay their last respects. Thanks to my long career and a good one too, I did know a lot of people and earned their respect. So the place is now swarming with people, some of whom are famous, from different walks of life.

Oh God! Why is my younger daughter’s boyfriend filming me? I am just a motionless dead body, what’s there to video record? It’s so embarrassing. Why isn’t my daughter stopping him? I just hope, God, I just hope he doesn’t intend to put this video on social media.

A film star has walked in. He’s distracted. Good for me. But wait, what is he doing? Asking the actor for a selfie? Now my nephew also joins him. What is going on? Quick, someone take me to the crematorium. This has to stop!

*

It’s my Shraddh ceremony today. I am truly upset, annoyed, livid, pissed off… All the time I lived, I believed in hospitality to the core. When both my children got married I went to each and every house to invite people and stood at the gate all through the evening welcoming guests with folded arms. My hospitality was always the talk of the town, but I had no idea death changed everything…so drastically.

Despite my wife’s repeated requests, my son and daughter refused to move an inch to invite anyone to my Shraddh ceremony. They couldn’t even make a phone call because they had their own set of beliefs.

“Ma, those who respect Baba would come anyway. We just have to let them know the date and time,” my son argued.

And how did they pass on this information?

Through Facebook of course.

There was the card with my photo on it and scanned in my scanner in the Tech Room and put up on Facebook. It was my first photo entry on social media, but I died a thousand deaths after that.

Never imagined my son and daughter could do something like that. But authority ends with death. I learned that the hard way.

My son is performing the Shraddh ritual and I don’t know why so many people are coming and clicking his photos, doing that. Is it a cherished memory to keep? I don’t know. I don’t understand people anymore.

And then my daughter, her boyfriend, my nephew and nieces are so busy clicking photos with all the famous people. There is a sense of bonhomie all around. That’s alright. I am okay with them enjoying themselves, clicking photos with celebs for their social media accounts. As long as they keep me out of it, I am just fine.

My nieces are all in their new designer white kurtas, sunglasses and designer bags and shoes. I am sure they have shopped especially for this occasion. After all, I am their favourite uncle.

No! No! My two nieces are clicking a selfie with me in the frame. Why me? God! why me? This is unbearable.

My son’s ritual is done. And I don’t know why he is telling everyone to WhatsApp him the pictures they have taken. I am sure he wants to send those to my daughter-in-law, because she couldn’t fly down in the ninth month of her second pregnancy.

Then he himself took a picture of my picture drowned in garlands and sent those to his wife. My daughter-in-law received the photos and went through each meticulously and then she did it.

She also did it.

Nothing surprises me anymore, but even I didn’t see this coming.

She WhatsApped the photo that my son took of my photo, to all the Bengali WhatsApp Groups she was part of, captioning the picture: Shashurmoshai’s Sraddha done. Thank you for all your support.

So there I was, all over UK WhatsApp now.

Sitting there inside my photograph I really don’t know who to channelize my anger at – my son, daughter-in-law, daughters, nephews or nieces.

I might have a slight reason for being a little less angry at my nieces. In their selfie with me, at least my vitiligo does not show.

(The story has been written from real-life incidents although the characters are fictional)

My collection of short stories Museum of Memories has been published by Readomania

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

A case has been filed against Indian singer Papon for kissing a minor girl on a TV Show. Pix from the internet.

When it comes to any kind of incursion into a child’s personal space a child will always look up to the parents for protection and it is any parents’ duty and utmost obligation to ensure that. But when a father says that it is perfectly fine for singer Papon to go ahead and kiss his 11-year-old daughter on camera because he is like a “father figure” to her – mentoring her in the TV show Voice India Kids – then there is something seriously wrong in our society.

Raveena Tandon rightly tweeted that the father might have been saying this under pressure from the channel. In fact, I feel that it could also be an ambitious father who doesn’t want to dash his daughter’s chances of becoming a singing sensation and he has accepted like many others that things like this “happen”.

The first thing that struck me after seeing the video (that incidentally I watched again and again to see if I am being fooled by a wrong angle that Papon later said) is if this is happening in front of the camera and is being passed off as chalta hain, then what must be  going on behind the camera?

See what I mean.

As a mother Papon’s behavior gives me the creeps. It’s not only the way he kisses the girl it’s also about the way he pinches another girls cheeks before that and in the way he puts Holi colours on the girls nose before he kisses her. There is something perverse about it.

When you see the video it’s all out there. I fear no amount of explanation can absolve him. That people instantly reacted on social media, that Papon had to step down as a judge on the show, that so many celebs denounced his behaviour and that a Supreme Court advocate Runa Bhuyan filed a complaint against him and the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights is looking into the case, shows that India is changing. And for the better.

It was alright but not anymore

Recently I met this uncle who belonged to my father’s circle of friends. I refused to talk to him and just walked off behaving we never met. He had a daughter my age. When he got drunk his elbows would go haywire whenever he would go near any woman irrespective of their age. Our fathers and uncle who were perfectly aware of his behavior would tell us to stay away from him at all social dos. That’s the step they would take.

I thought if we had someone like this in our gang of friends behaving like this with our children, what would we have done? We would have definitely told a person like this not to party with us anymore. We would have never accepted behavior like this. That is the difference between our previous generation and our generation. The difference between the India we grew up in and the India our children are growing up in.

Don’t shove it under the carpet anymore

Child sexual abuse is the greatest reality in our society. Unlike rape, eve teasing or molestation, we don’t even know when children are being harassed, how it is happening and how it is scarring a child for life. The onus lies on us to be vigilant. We should teach our children from a very early age to differentiate between bad touch and good touch and they should be able to talk to us if there is any sense of discomfort anytime. Schools are also playing a major sensitization role these days.

Recently a family staying in our apartment building temporarily had two lovely daughters with whom my son became friends. They had an uncle staying with them who was pinching my 7-year-old son’s cheeks, maybe just out of affection, but my son did not approve of his behavior. I always look at it this way that as adults if we don’t like strangers touching us or disheveling our hair out of affection how do we expect our children to accept and enjoy it?

The next day I was stepping out of my house to have a word with this gentleman when my son came running home.

“Ma, I have good news. That uncle has left,” he laughed.

I laughed too. But I told him next time anything happens like this keep me posted I am there for you. I gave him a hug and he dashed off to play.

Women are predators as much as boys are victims

Child sexual abuse is not a gender specific thing when it comes to victims and abusers. Boys are as much at risk and women could be perverse too. There have been plenty of instances.

A report published in The Telegraph, UK says, “When Marie Black, 34, was given a life term in Norwich she was sexually abusing children for 10 years. She was at the centre of an “utterly depraved” sex abuse ring. Black organised parties where children were ‘raffled’ to people who would then abuse them.”

Women are pedophiles and they are into grooming minors too. Many adult men in India today will tell you about their childhood experiences with maids at home, neighbours next door or the aunt who often visited. It is harder for men to talk about the sexual abuse they have faced because there is always a tendency to laugh it off presuming boys don’t face it.

Do check out this video of Demi Moore kissing a minor then you will know what I am talking about.

 

We should never be embarrassed to confront people

 I have seen many times our elders were embarrassed to confront people and talk to them about this deplorable behavior because they were our close relatives, friends or some people important to the family.

I always believe it’s the faith and dignity of our children over anyone else so there is no embarrassment in confronting people.

Also as parents we are more aware now unlike our earlier generation. If I tell my mother that there was this uncle who was like this, she would stare in disbelief and say, “Jah! What are you saying?”

So when I was a child if a man in a public bus offered to put me on his lap because of a dearth of seating space in the transport she would gratefully plonk me there.

Now if a stranger tries to teach my son swimming in the pool. I just holler to him firmly, “You can leave him alone.”

I recently realized that there are behaviours that we have internalized as given and do not protest. I was taught a very valuable lesson by a friend recently. I was sitting in his car when he had gone to get something from a shop. Out of nowhere an old man appeared and started relieving himself in front of the car. The usually shouting, protesting me just looked away, unable to react. My friend came and gave the man an earful and almost beat him up.

I realised sometimes we look away in embarrassment. Using abusive language in front of women and children is another passé in India but it’s high time we point out it’s unacceptable too.

We should use our instincts

Instead of relying on children to come with a complaint and then taking steps it should also be our responsibility to identify a potential predator and deal with the person accordingly.

Recently we had taken our son to a table tennis coaching centre so that he could join classes there. A gentleman took us around and introduced us to some of the mothers who were there with their children. Everything was fine we had almost taken the admission forms when suddenly this gentleman started talking about his surgery and started unbuttoning his shirt in front of all the ladies to show the scars of his surgery.

I felt this was grossly inappropriate behavior and I simply did not feel comfortable leaving my child in his care.

A peck needs to be taken seriously too

After watching the Papon video Farah Khan said it made her feel “uncomfortable”. This is precisely the point. Anything that feels “uncomfortable” is just not done. Period.

Uncomfortable is unacceptable and we should not wait for uncomfortable to turn into unbearable before we react.

Papon might be the fall guy in this case but this sends out a strong message to all those indulging in behavior like this behind closed doors. If you are discovered God help you!

 

 

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.