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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why strong is the new beautiful

We often fantasize about working out. Some of us are disciplined enough to continue our regime even on the busiest of days. However, today I read a motivational story about the unexpected consequence of staying fit.

A woman who lives in the US got a call from her sister in April that her father is not well. When she visited him in Delhi, she learned that he had been diagnosed with the final stage of lung cancer. She decided to spend the last few months with him. He was frail from the illness and unable to go even to the restroom on his own. She lifted him and carried him when no one else in the family could. Her strength was from regular exercise that she had started only a few months prior. Maybe she was preparing herself even before she knew. Unfortunately, her father passed away. But she will always be content to know that she could help.

Similarly, I was happy to read about the woman who carried her fiance to safety after they had a hiking accident. He had fallen off a ledge and broken his leg. Waiting for help would have resulted in further blood loss. She decided to take the matter in her hands. Quite literally. And that saved both his limb and life. I thought- what a lucky man! Wish I could be a woman like that. Of course, the adrenaline rush helped. But she needed the mental strength along with the physical stamina.

Gone are the days when dainty was beautiful. Women nowadays are strong, capable both physically and financially. The soccer mom who shuttles her kids in an SUV from one activity to another, the daughter who cares for her aging parents/in-laws, the wife who offers to pay the bills- are now the ne plus ultra of muliebrity.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Thoughts after watching the Hindi movie Pink

We watched Pink last night. I asked SG what was his takeaway from the movie. He thinks it tries to convey that we should treat everyone equally-man or woman. He was referring to the double-standards of society when it comes to judging 'character' from habits. For example, drinking, smoking, partying are indications of loose morals for girls, while boys are just having fun. Pre-marital sex is a mark of a whore but when boys do it -it is the mark of a man.

What enrages me most is the sense of entitlement some of these bastards have. I have always held the opinion that if you need to force yourself upon a woman/man, you are worse than an animal. Even they have courtship and mating rituals.

The movie also dug up some memories of my time in NCR. During undergrads, a stalker used to bother me by calling up on my phone asking me to meet him, threatening to kidnap me if I didn't agree. When I discussed the matter with one of my father's colleagues- a well-respected senior police officer- he advised me to keep a low profile. Kya zaroorat hai (dance) program karne ki?

That day I realized the degree of bias people have when it comes to women who seek help. That man had two daughters himself. I kept wondering if he would have said the same to his daughters. I am sad to say that he probably would have.

So, the best thing to do is keep a low profile, keep your head down, eyes glued to the street. Become invisible. Because God forbid, if someone notices you, they might think they are entitled to your body, your dignity, your consent.

Consent. This is another thing that people need to be educated about. Even a street walker or your wife can withdraw her consent for physical intimacy. If a girl agrees first, then changes her mind- it is still a 'No'. If a girl is intoxicated and can not verbally give consent, you should stop. Saying 'No' is not a game. She is NOT playing hard to get.

That brings me to the Code of Behavior for Girls: Don't laugh. Don't be yourself. Don't blink. If some twisted pervert sees this as an invitation and something untoward happens, you will get to hear: Aisi ladkiyon ke saath aisa hi hota hai.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Why I wear makeup

I don't think I am unpleasant without makeup. In fact, I feel that I look my best in the morning after a good night's sleep. I like going out without it most of the times. But with an eyeliner and a lip-stain, I feel more vibrant. Happy. Ready to take on the world.

So, anyone who wants to shame you for it can go you-know-where. Even the most well-meaning people will say,'You look pale,' when you are not wearing any makeup.

Also, women are still judged by the way we look. So, don't try to preach us when we try to look good and mislabel it as 'vanity'. We are not doing it for your attention. We are doing it to feel good. And there is no reason or occasion necessary. I might try on a new gloss and go for a run - just because I want to.

P.S. The post isn't a reaction to any personal experience. Just a reflection on general attitudes.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Loss (flash fiction)

The kid would have been three years this August.

I still remember the day when my Obstetrician/Gynecologist examined me with great patience and explained what I saw on the screen: 'There’s no heartbeat. It is not alive.'

It took a while to sink in. 'Are you sure?' My husband asked.

The doctor appeared slightly offended,' I have never given a wrong diagnosis in 25 years of my career.'

He had a right to feel hurt. He was the Chief Ob/Gyn in a reputed hospital and a philanthropist.

I was eight weeks pregnant and had known of its existence since the sixth week. The pregnancy test showed a 'plus' on the strip and at once fear, incredulity, and anticipation paralyzed me. I showed it to my husband, aware that we were not ready for a kid. We hadn't talked about it. He jumped with joy, hugged me, and started kissing me like I had given the best news of his life. I sighed with relief. He seemed happier than I was.

But soon, I started feeling strange. I didn't 'feel' pregnant, even though the hormone levels in my urine did. I started dreaming of dead relatives and grew increasingly superstitious about it. My late grandma asked to see my baby in my dreams. Was she preparing me to let go?

The doctor gave us some time to mourn and left the room. My husband remained stoic, hugging me while I wept. Then he took me to my salon appointment. I had a long-due haircut and a pedicure. I let those people work on me without really enjoying it. They knew something was wrong when they saw dry tears on my face. I didn’t want to explain. I painted my nails blue.

Later in the evening, he took me out to a concert we had been looking forward to for months. I wanted to skip it, but he insisted that we should go. I slept through the first half of the show when the supporting band performed the opening act.

Soon Muse took over and started singing ‘Unsustainable’. When they sang ‘Hysteria’ I wanted to scream too. It wasn’t sadness anymore; it was rage. The splendid lasers and visual aesthetics evolved with every song, sometimes into a stock market ticker, at others a roulette wheel that selected ‘New Born.'

He reminded me that it was my one of my favorite songs from the movie Haute Tension. I couldn’t remember it. I felt tired and wanted to leave for home. The smell of beer and the sweat of the crowd- everything got mixed into an overpowering odor that choked me. There were still a couple of songs left when I urged to leave before the crowd broke out of Oracle Arena.

We drove back home, and I called my mother, talking only about the concert until she asked ‘What did the doctor say?’ I was hoping to stall the news till she reached home from work – it was just past noon in India. But I told her anyway. I can’t lie to her. She kept quiet. Maybe it was better that she was busy when she got the news.

At night, before going to sleep, I talked to 'it' out of habit. I knew it couldn’t listen then; it couldn’t listen now. But I had to tell it I loved it through the two weeks I knew it. However, I had to let it go.

Friday, June 10, 2016


বাবা খ্রীষ্টান, মা হিন্দু। তাই বড় হওয়ার সময় কোন নির্দিষ্ট ধর্মের প্রভাব সে অনুভব করে নি।  স্কুলে ভর্তির সময় এডমিশন ফর্মে লেখা হয়েছিল, 'No religion'  বয়স যখন পনেরো, তখন প্রতিবেশীর ছেলেকে বিনা চিকিৎসায় মৃত্যুর মুখে ঢলে পড়তে দেখে। পরিবারের লোকজন 'Faith healing '- এ বিশ্বাসী, তাই অসুস্থ ছেলেকে ডাক্তারের কাছে নিয়ে যায় নি তারা। কিন্তু বিশ্বাসে রোগ নিরাময় হয় না। সেদিন থেকে নিজেকে নাস্তিক বলে ঘোষণা করে নিজের কাছে।

ইউনিভার্সিটিতে মাস্টার ডিগ্রী করা কালীন অনুরূপ সংস্কারমুক্ত সহপাঠীদের সঙ্গে পরিচয় হয়।  Indian Rationalist Association (IRA)'র সক্রিয় সদস্য তো ছিলই , তার সাথে Modern Freethinker পত্রিকার সম্পাদনাও শুরু করে। তার লেখা প্রবন্ধ অনুবাদ হয় ইংরেজি, ফরাসি, জার্মান, স্প্যানিশ ও ফিনিশে। 

বন্ধুদের সঙ্গে মিলে অনেক ভন্ড সাধুদের বুজরুকি ফাঁস করে দেয় তাদের ভক্তদের সামনে। 

ইউরোপে লেকচার দিতে ফিনল্যাণ্ড থেকে নিমন্ত্রণ আসে।  যখন বিদেশ যাবার জন্যে গোছগাছ করছে তখন খবর পায় যে মুম্বাই-এর এক অজ্ঞাতনামা চার্চে যিশুর মূর্তির পা চুইয়ে জল পরছে।  দল বল নিয়ে উপস্তিত হয় সেখানে। অনুসন্ধান করে জানতে পারে যে পাশের টয়লেট খারাপ হয়ে গিয়েছে। জল জমছে আর capillary action-এ জলের ধারার সৃষ্টি হচ্ছে।  আর সেই নোংরা জলকে অলৌকিক ভেবে অনেক ভক্তরা বাড়ি নিয়ে যাছে, বউ বাচ্চাকে খাওয়াচ্ছে। 

এই রহস্য ফাঁসের ব্যাপারে একটা স্থানীয় চ্যানেল সাক্ষাৎকার নিতে চায়।  এক বাবাজি তাকে কোপে ভস্ম করে দেওয়ার প্রতিজ্ঞা করেছিলেন । সাক্ষাৎকার চলাকালীন অনেক মন্ত্র পড়েও যখন বাবাজির কার্যসিদ্ধি হয় না তখন বিফল হয়ে বাবাজি দাবি করেন- এই ব্যাটা শয়তানের দূত। এবং শীঘ্রই নিপাত যাবে। এর বিনাশ সুনিশ্চিত।

কিছু ভাড়া করা গুন্ডা ষ্টুডিওর বাইরে অপেক্ষা করছিল। তারই মধ্যে একজন তার বন্ধু ও সহযোদ্ধাকে ছুরি মেরে জখম করে।

অন্য দিকে Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) তখন Section 295(A) of Indian Penal Code এর অজুহাতে নানা পুলিশ থানায় তার সংস্থার বিরুদ্ধে FIR করছে।  295(A)-এর উৎপত্তি হয়েছিল ১৯২৭ সালে পরাধীন ভারতে। তখন সাম্প্রদায়িক উত্তেজনা খর্ব করার জন্যে এই নিয়মের সৃষ্টি। যার দরুন যে কোন ব্যক্তিকে পুলিশ বিনা তদন্ত, বিনা প্রমাণে  গ্রেপ্তার করে অনির্দিষ্ট কালের জন্যে হেপাজতে রেখে দিতে পারে।

যুদ্ধের প্রস্তুতি নেবে সেই মানসিকতা তখন তার নেই। সহকর্মীর রক্তাক্ত দেহ আর ষ্টুডিওর বাইরে সেই গুন্ডাগুলোর মুখ মনে পরে যায় বার বার। এরা এত অন্ধ কেন?

বন্ধুদের অনুরোধে সে ফিনল্যাণ্ড একটু আগেই পৌঁছে যায়।  সেখানে কিছু পরিচিত মানবতাবাদীদের আনুকূল্যে ভিসা ও একটা ভাড়া বাড়ি পেতে অসুবিধে হয় না। ভাবে হয়ত ঝামেলা কমলে দেশে ফিরে যাবে।

কিন্তু CSF ভোলার পাত্র নয়।  তারা প্রিতিজ্ঞা করেছে যে প্রসিকিউশন হবেই।  সে যখনি দেশে ফিরুক।

অনেক বছর হয়ে গেছে। মা গত হয়েছেন।  এখনো সে রোজ Skype-এ  IRA'র মিটিং করে।  কোথায় কোন ভন্ড সাধু কিভাবে লোকদের ঠকাচ্ছে তার খবরাখবর নেই।  তাদের জব্দ করার পরিকল্পনা করে। এ রুটিনটা তার জন্যে খুব জরুরি।  যুদ্ধ চালিয়ে যেতে হবে।

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


I think of her often. A petite woman in her forties, with bright vermillion on her forehead. I knew she was a Bengali from the shankha and pola she was wearing. Along with her husband and three daughters aged 16, 12, and 6, she had migrated from Bangladesh to NCR for better prospects. I heard her say once that her husband's brothers had cheated him off their paternal property.

She looked like she had seen better days. But in a new country and with language barriers, she wasn't left with many options. She didn't speak any Hindi, and she needed the money to help raise her kids. Someone from her neighborhood cleaned my house every day. She asked me if she needed someone to cook for her. I ate most of my meals outside or at the office canteen, and didn't need any more domestic help, but she looked like she could use some help, at least, until she found some footing. Reluctantly, I asked her to start the next day.

What she lacked in culinary skills, she made up in enthusiasm. She made sure that she came early at the break of dawn and cooked whatever she could before I went to work. Once I was late, and she insisted I don't skip breakfast. I asked her to feed me while I got dressed, She started to weep.

I asked her what was the matter, and she said: আমারে ঘিন্না করে না ? (Don't I disgust you?)

The question took me by surprise. Why would I be disgusted? She was tidier than some of my co-workers. Her saree might not have been expensive, but it was always clean. If anything, I feared that she might think I am a spoilt brat, too lazy to grab a bite before I started the day.

Soon, she picked a few words in Hindi, enough to have a functional conversation. That got her more work. But she always found time for me. I often got late at work, so I gave her a spare key to my house. She was trustworthy. The only thing she ever misplaced was my passport before my TOEFL exams. I had to reschedule. Otherwise, she had been most helpful during my last few months in India.

During my long hours of Full Length Test (FLT) practice, she slinked in and out of the house, reminding her daughters who sometimes accompanied her: দিদি পড়াশুনা করে, ডিসটার্ব করবা না।  (Didi is studying. Don't disturb.)

I was practicing to sit for 4 hours more than anything else. GMAT, like any other professional exam, was an endurance test.

One day, she told me,' দিদি আমি একটা বাড়িতে কাজ করি। অনেক গুলা  ছেলে এক সঙ্গে থাকে। এর মধ্যে একজন  কইসে আমার বড় মেয়েরে বিয়া করব। ওরে সিনেমা দেখাইতে চায়।  (Didi, I work in a house where a lot of young guys live together. One of them said that he wants to marry my eldest. He even wants to take her out to the movies.)

I stopped breathing for a second. What if a scoundrel was trying to exploit these good people? Then I admonished myself. Maybe someone had good intentions. Her eldest daughter was exceptionally beautiful.  Maybe someone had fallen in love with her. I expressed my pleasure and smiled benignly. Hoping to God that her dreams came true.

A few weeks later, I came home to see her daughter sitting in the dark. I switched on the lights and asked where her mother was. She said that her mother was running a fever, and so she was doing the rounds instead. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying.

I asked her what happened, but she kept crying on. I held her to my bosom. I think I knew why.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Treasure

It was a small headline that read,' Cult film sparks hunt for a fortune.' The newspaper tabloids reported the death of a Japanese woman in a field outside Detroit Lakes in Minnesota. She had reportedly been looking for a hidden treasure, depicted in the movie Fargo. I felt I needed to get inside her head and know what was driving her to search for something that did not exist. What were the last moments of her life like?

Armed with morbid curiosity and my camera, I set out to search the breadcrumb trail she had left behind during the last few days of her life. The first place I went to was the police station where a long-haul truck driver had brought her after she was found wandering alone by the highway. Barely clothed to ward off the cold of a Minnesota winter, he thought she’d freeze to death until she got some help. AT first, the police officer on duty thought that she was a prostitute. ‘No one dresses like that in that weather. No one sane.’ He said to me.

He had tried to talk to her, but she barely spoke English. The only word he understood, which she kept saying over and over again was –Fargo, Fargo, Fargo.

She had shown him a map with an X. He could identify some marks that looked like roads, trees, and a lake. Could she have been looking for the money mentioned in the movie Fargo? He tried to explain that it wasn’t real. That it was just a movie. But she kept insisting on being there- almost pleading in a language he did not understand.

He decided to take her to the bus station. On her way, she kept clutching at her stomach and said something. He suspected that she might be pregnant. Did she want the money for her unborn child?

It was important for her to be with her family in this condition. Why was this woman wandering in the streets instead? He told her to reach out to him if needed and asked her to go home. She walked away.

‘I shouldn’t have let her go on her own. Why didn’t I do more for her?’, he lamented.

Upon further investigations, I found that she had checked into a cheap motel nearby. I asked to be let into the room she was in. I lay in the bed she had laid and looked out of the window that opened to a parking lot and a neon sign. It was depressing. I gathered my things and went out.

I asked the bellboy if she had gone anywhere. He said that she had taken a taxi. I found the cab driver who drove her there and asked him to drop me where he had dropped her.

It was the middle of nowhere.

I walked in the cold air with the sound of silence. Soon, I reached the place she had been found dead. She had died of exposure. They had found her with her face was buried in the snow. A cold, lonely death.

The last person I wanted to speak with was the lead investigator of her death. He told me that she had made a long phone call before her death. He also gave me her last known address in Tokyo.

After a long flight, I knocked on the door of a two-storied house. An old lady opened the door. She was the landlady of the Japanese woman. I had a translator with me who eased me into the conversation. I grabbed at the bits as she spoke swiftly.  The dead woman was a country girl who had found a job in the city in a travel agency. Through her work, she had met an American gentleman who was in Tokyo for business.

The landlady believed that they were engaged to be married when her tenant lost her job. The fiancé left for his country too. After months of waiting and no contact from his side, the girl decided to go to America on her own where she thought he lived. In a town called Fargo.

Based on true events.