Tuesday 19 May 2009

Interesting read....

GOOD GIRLS DON’T SMOKE
Sajni Kripalani Mukherji

The author teaches English at Jadavpur University, Calcutta

I can remember the first semi-adult location in the early Sixties where one smoked when we were students at Presidency College. It was almost unthinkable that girls could smoke where a professor might see them. Nor did we: we were a little goody-goody then. We did, however, frequent the Coffee House across the road and even without smoking, came home with the smell of Charminar in our hair and on our clothes. Those were more relaxed times and an adda was unthinkable without our male friends, and very rarely an intrepid female one smoking Charminar, while we solemnly discussed politics, poetry and philosophy. That aura became the sine qua non of the adda for a long time afterwards. In Oxford, I would sometimes nostalgically light an unfiltered Gauloise or Gitanes in my room like some kind of offering to a deity of ambience, much to the amusement of my Indian and non-Indian friends. I didn’t start smoking myself until a while later. It was a gesture of defiance, a symbol of independence, a moment of doing something with the belief that I could take the consequences. It was also infinitely relaxing. On the frantic pre-tutorial nights, I would allow myself a coffee-and-cigarette break each time I completed a part of the tutorial essay. But the smoky addas continued unabated. I can remember the startled or amused expression on the faces of the Italians in Florence, of the French in Paris, and most of all, the simple villagers in Austria (where I hitch-hiked) at the sight of a demure sari-clad woman wearing sneakers, a hat and a knapsack, striding along, cigarette in hand.

Back in Calcutta in the late Sixties, of course one had to contest the image of ‘good girls’ not smoking. I have to say, in most situations, eventually the consensus was, “Okay, she smokes, but she doesn’t bite or do anything else that’s nasty.” So I got away with it for some more time. Even senior in-laws by-and-large allowed it, away from their sight. My own parents were quite upset, initially, but later my mother would sometimes pinch a cigarette or two from my father’s pocket for me. At an undergraduate government college, my first teaching post, I smoked only very occasionally in the staff common room. I smoked when I was most relaxed, and I couldn’t really relax in that particular ambience. JNU in Delhi was definitely better. There we smoked happily in the tea jhuggis around the campus, in meetings and, of course, in the Calcutta-style addas, of which there were many. And Jadavpur was much like that — always at Milan’s, Mani Babu’s, in my own room, sometimes elsewhere on the campus, in interminably long meetings.

The odd note of disapproval began to creep in when the dangers of smoking became more and more advertised and visible. But the adda was still incomplete without it, the subtle way of detecting who were liberal enough to accept you as you were. A smoking woman-friend and I went to Santiniketan some years ago and were sitting comfortably on the grass in the khowai, smoking cigarettes and bonding, as we do well. A while later, a bunch of young boys cycled past. They couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old. Suddenly one of them shouted in a totally friendly way: “Oh Thakuma! Cigarette kheyo na. Cigarette khaowa khub bipajjanak.”

I have to say the real objection has come from the next generation. My own daughter, who grew up passively inhaling nicotine fumes, is now a conscientious objector, as are several nieces and nephews, and some students too. I am deeply sensitive to their wish for my continuing health as well as for a purer environment. Occasionally, a conscientious objector raises objections in a meeting and I have to check myself from reaching for the comfort of a cigarette throughout. That affects me: it makes me sleepy, no matter how much coffee is served. I do believe, though, that a total ban would make us all give up or only secretly indulge this ‘disgusting’ habit. I am all for it, but I must say, I sometimes long for all those early innocent days, when smoking was something more than just a nasty addiction.

Not worth it....

I sit and stare, pretending to be busy...
But I am not,
I cannot work for the life of me...
All I want to do is sleep, sleep and sleep some more...
Wake up and eat...
And then back to sleep...
I need motivation to get back to normal life...
But I dont want motivation to get back to dreadgery...
I dont want inspiration...
I just want to sleep and not even dream...
I am not sad,
Just a little lost...
Impatience with myself does not help...
Not having friends around does not help...
Talking does not help...
Everything seems too much of an effort...
Nothing seems worth it...

Friday 15 May 2009

Feminism...

Most of the times when I have told a friend that I am a feminist, the response has been pretty interesting. Most men have reacted with a lot of cynicism and mirth. However sensitive and mature a man is, when it comes to feminists there is an odd weariness, which actually thinly covers loads of insecurity. But I must say that I do know some men who genuinely believe in equality of sexes and are pretty vocal about their ideas.

From women the response is more varied-- some are awed that someone can openly claim something like this, some claim that they are not strong enough to be a feminist, some even say that isms like feminisms are not for them, if you can get them liberties it is fine, they will enjoy it but they wont so much lift their fingers to do some work themselves. But most predominantly women are confused as to what exactly it entails to be a feminist. Like for example some girl had once asked me " if I am a feminist, I wont let my dad pay dowry for my marriage, but would I also not cook for my husband? How do I draw a line on how much of a feminist I want to be or it is right to be?". We launched into a debate about my essential problem of having to draw a line, while she argued that it is fine to have ideas, but in real world you need to compromise between your ideas and practices.

Posting the following article because it tries of address the same problem who is actually a feminist and what it entails to be one. I found it quiet interesting, read and please let me know what you think.

An online war has broken out in the women's movement sparked by the Jezebels, young bloggers who flaunt their hard drinking and unashamed promiscuity and who are infuriating traditional feminists. Amelia Hill and Eva Wiseman report
Sunday 17 May 2009 http://www.guardian .co.uk/world/ 2009/may/ 17/feminism- america-sex- promiscuity- drinking

It seemed like a coup for feminism when Slate, an online magazine, launched a new, women-focused website, Double X, last month. Declaring its dedication to "tackling subjects high and low" in voices that were "unabashedly intellectual without being dry or condescending" , Double X burst on to the blogosphere, seemingly ready to tackle the knotty question of what it means - and takes - to be a fully liberated woman today.

Except that, instead of squaring up to the sexual politics of the outside world, the site chose to fight its first battle with one of its own, accusing Jezebel - one of America's biggest and liveliest websites for women - of damaging women, degrading its own writers and betraying the quest for true sexual equality.

Jezebel is a tabloid-style website dedicated to "Celebrity, sex, fashion for women - without airbrushing" . Based in the US , it has almost 900,000 readers across the world. Its writers lead divided lives: landing some hard-hitting feminist punches - such as raising funds for the victims of "honour" killings in Basra - while at the same time writing salaciously and candidly about their choice to live lives of unashamed promiscuity.

It was in response to one of these articles that Double X lit the fuse that has set the online global community alight. Under the heading "The trouble with Jezebel: how Jezebel is hurting women", it accused its rival of mistaking self-indulgence for acting in pursuit of a political goal.
Double X columnist Linda Hirshman, also a contributor to the New York Times and the Washington Post, referred to an hour-long television appearance by Tracie Egan, a Jezebel blogger who goes by the moniker "Slut Machine", and Maureen "Moe" Tkacik, in which the two young women refused to engage with a serious discussion about sexual politics and culture. Shrugging off a question about rape and sexual responsibility, Tkacik casually explained why she didn't report her own date rape to the police. "I had better things to do," she said. "Like drinking more."

After the programme, presenter Lizz Winstead explained how shocked she had been by the behaviour of the young women. Writing on her Huffington Post blog, Winstead said: "They do not understand the influence they have over the women who read them, nor do they accept any responsibility as role models for young women who are coming of age searching for lifestyles to emulate."

In last week's article for Double X, Hirshman singled out Egan and Tkacik as "a symptom of the weaknesses in the model of perfect egalitarian sexual freedom". The Jezebel website, she argued, is guilty of promoting the belief that modern-day feminism is simply "doing what feels good to you". In doing so, it uses the language of old-style feminism to betray the movement's ideals.

Hirshman, author of Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, added: "It's the supposed concern with feminism that makes the site so problematic. The Jezebels are ... a living demonstration of the chaotic possibilities the movement always contained." The writer said that she found the attitudes particularly surprising because they "look a lot like the natural heirs of feminism: young, college-educated, urban (mostly New York ), single, hard-working, sexually liberated".

Her accusations have reverberated around the global online community. The Jezebel website has responded with "Who are you calling a bad feminist?", in which Hirshman is decried as creating a "victim-shaming diatribe" and for promoting a feminist philosophy that is deeply sexist. "I have seen misogyny and, most of the time, it looks a lot like the ideology Hirshman has the audacity to call 'feminism'," the article stated.

The argument has become so furious that others have stepped in, with all guns blazing. Speaking to the Observer, Naomi Wolf, author of Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries, agrees with Hirshman. "Third-wave feminism is pluralistic, strives to be multi-ethnic, is pro-sex and tolerant of other women's choices," she said. "It has led to an embrace of what was once so politically suspect - the notion that you can be a 'lipstick lesbian' or a 'riot grrrl' [referring to a feminist punk movement that emerged in the 90s] if you want to be, that you can choose your persona and your freedom for yourself.

"But that very individualism, which has been great for feminism's rebranding, is also its weakness: it can be fun and frisky, but too often it's ahistorical and apolitical. As many older feminists justly point out, the world isn't going to change because a lot of young women feel confident and personally empowered, if they don't have grassroots groups or lobbies to advance woman-friendly policies, help break through the glass ceiling, develop decent work-family support structures or solidify real political clout.

"But feminists are in danger if we don't know our history, and a saucy tattoo and a condom do not a revolution make," she added. "The fact is, we know the answers to western women's problems: the way is mapped out, the time for theory is pretty much over. We know the laws and the policies we need to achieve full equality. What we lack is a grassroots movement that will drive the political will. 'Lipstick' or lifestyle feminism won't produce that movement alone."
Julie Bindel, a feminist campaigner and journalist, admitted being infuriated by women like Egan and Tkacik. "Feminism is not the freedom to act like a dickhead," she said. "These women are individualists, not feminists. They are lazy, bone-idle women who have no interest taking part in a political movement for change but are trying to get credibility for their selfish lives by playing identification politics. You can't claim to be a feminist simply because you're a woman."
Sandrine Levêque, campaigns manager at Object, the human rights organisation which challenges the sexual objectification of women in popular culture, agreed. "It's almost like what was seen as sexist 20 years ago has been repackaged as empowerment and liberation for women in the 21st century," she said. "It is difficult to make choices in today's pornified culture which bombards us with the message that raunch culture is where it's at for women in 2009."
Younger feminists, however, are more inclined to be critical of Hirshman. "When it comes to Double X, I think we're just left with questions - is it feminist, or is it not feminist? Why did it host a story blaming another woman for not reporting being raped? What is promiscuity? What does that mean? To me, it speaks of trying to slut-shame women who are having consensual sex as and when they want it," said Jess McCabe, editor of the F Word, a British website that describes itself as feminist.

"There is no such thing as a bad feminist. Feminism is a social justice movement, it is not about chiding other women, or establishing yet another set of standards for women to be judged against. We all mess up - we've all been raised in a sexist, racist, transphobic, heteronormative society, and guess what, that affects our behaviour. We all also differ in terms of what feminism means to us."

Ellie Levenson, author of the forthcoming book The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism, is also critical of Hirshman's definition of "good" and "bad" feminism. "A lot of the criticism against Jezebel is against women being open about their sexual antics," she said. "Feminism is about women choosing how to behave and having the same rights and freedoms to behave badly as men do, so in order to make these choices we need to be able to read about women who have made all kinds of choices."

The main problem with feminism today, added Levenson, is that it has become a word that people don't want to be associated with. "But when you start asking them whether they believe in equal rights for men and women they say, yes, absolutely. So it is the word and not the concept that is the problem."

McCabe agreed. Feminism today may be characterised by infighting and factionalism, she said, but the movement is very definitely alive and fiercely kicking. "Just look at the number of feminist groups launching up and down the UK , from the Million Women Rise march in London , from the resurgency of reclaim-the- night marches, from the growth of feminist blogs," she said.
"The tide is slowly growing, and it is badly needed," she added. "Things like the rape conviction rate being so pathetic it is almost non-existent, women's services facing closure and the pay gap actually increasing - there is more of a need for feminist activism than ever."

Simple pleasures in life....

  • Freshly washed hair...
  • Wearing freshly laundred clothes...
  • Smell of agarbati...
  • Smell coming from mom's kitchen...
  • An evening with friends, laughing over anything and everything...
  • A new book with a great pace...
  • Just finished book....
  • Cups of green tea...
  • Hitting the bed after a long and stressful day...
  • Opening an old trunk...
  • Family chat at dinner time...
  • Catching up with a cousin or a friend after a long time...
  • Watching school/ college going kids and remembering my school days...
  • Watching the rain...
  • Getting wet in the rain...
  • Kicking a pebble on the road...
  • Going for a long walk...
  • Smiling at a stranger...
  • Listening to music...
  • Window shopping...
  • Star gazing....
  • Moon worshipping...
  • Anticipation of a visit or a gift...
  • Look at the old family photographs...
  • Weddings...
  • Gatherings where chaos and laughter reigns...

To be added as and when...

Thursday 14 May 2009

Growing up....

Lost and alone on some forgotten highway,
traveled by many, remembered by few.
Looking for something that I can believe in,
looking for something that I'd like to do with my life.
There's nothing behind me and nothing that ties me to
something that might have been true yesterday.
Tomorrow is open and right now it seems to be more than enough
To just be here today, and I don't know what the future is holding in store,
I don't know where I'm going, I'm not sure where I've been.
There's a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me,my life is worth the living,
I don't need to see the end.


For the first time you are down and out. Probably the first time in your life you are shattered. You know what pain is all about. Gut wrenching pain that follows when you realise that what was, is no more. You know that there just isn't any hope. Initially you begin by being very angry, you throw tantrums, believing arrogantly that your tantrums would bring it all back. Soon the hard way you realise that your tantrums are falling on deaf ears. No one is listening, no one cares. After days/ weeks/months/years of being angry, a helplessness comes. This helplessness is accompanied by a desperation. A desperation to get it back, to try one last time. To see if the magic is still there. Still somewhere you cling onto the belief of the magic....you tell yourself that the magic is too precious to be given to you, just so that it could be snatched away again so soon. But alas....your muddled attempts do not bring it back. Instead what it does is show in clear black letters that it is time for a closure. Some more resistance happens from your side. You cling onto stale memories for dear life. You are almost afraid to let go. Letting go is giving up on a way of life, giving up means beginning to stop loving. You dilly and you dally, till one day you can no longer delay any longer.

The first step is the most terrifying, but once you have taken the first tentative step it becomes better. Suddenly one day you wake up to realise that you have forgotten some vital piece of your past. Oh what joy that brings. You feel liberated. And then there would be those lonely days and everlasting lonelier nights. While the rest of the worls blissfully snores away, you are unable to sleep. While the clock hands move at excruciatingly slow pace, the seconds hand ticks on and the minutes hand refuses to move. You cry and cry, at some point tears dry up, but still you don't feel any better.

You think....
Perhaps love is like a resting place
A shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort
It is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble
When you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home

Perhaps love is like a window
Perhaps an open door
It invites you to come closer ( you wrote close)
It wants to show you more
And even if you lose yourself
And don`t know what to do
The memory of love will see you through
Oh, love to some is like a cloud
To some as strong as steel
For some a way of living
For some a way to feel
And some say love is holding on
And some say letting go
And some say love is everything
And some say they don`t know

Perhaps love is like the ocean
Full of conflict, full of pain (you wrote - change)
Like a fire when it`s cold outside
Or thunder when it rains.......

Somehow the night passes and you fall asleep when the first crows wake and start their morning cry. The next days go better. Till you dream a dream which brings everything crashing back. You watch a movie and suddenly a memory hurts you with so much intensity that you double up in pain. The dangerous thing is that it could be anything- a movie, a song, a book, a stamp, a stranger on the road, the ringing of the telephone, chance meeting with an old friend, an old pen or a note......memories are cruel with sharp tentacles which pierce at the most vulnerable. In your vulnerability you start imagining that thing are once again going to be ok. You imagine that someone is singing....

Lady, are you crying,
do the tears belong to me
Did you think our time together was all gone
Lady, you've been dreaming,
I'm as close as I can be
And I swear to you our time has just begun

Close your eyes and rest your weary mind
I promise I will stay right here beside you
Today our lives were joined, became entwined
I wish that you could know how much I love you
Lady, are you happy, do you feel the way I do
Are there meanings that you've never seen before
Lady, my sweet lady,
I just can't believe it's true
And it's like I've never, ever loved before

You start making stories and excuses in your head as to why he is not with you, how much he loves yu but inspite of that how he has to be away. But like all dreams and delusions, this also comes to an end to be replaced by the bitter reality. You start asking yourself....

Is it love?
When your heart, feels like it’s broken
Is it love?
And you just can’t take anymore
Is it love?
When the good times have all been forgotten
Is it love?
And you fear there won’t be anymore
Is it love? ooh ooh
There’s no answer, there seems to be nothing to say
In your anger would you even hear anyway
It was magic but somehow you’ve broken the spell
It was heaven and somehow it’s turned into hell
Is it love?
When you know that your heart has been broken
Is it love?
And you just can’t take it anymore
Is it love?
When you feel more than you could imagine
Is it love?
Now there’s nothing that’s worth living for
Is it love?

You realise that this cannot be love. If love was there at some time in the past, it is no longer there. You see people all around you happy, moved on, onto new loves, new lives, new dreams. One day you wake up to find yourself cold and lonely and no one to care whether you are dead or alive. Suddenly living with a bunch of old faded memories becomes too suffocating. Suddenly you no longer want to be a character out of a Dickinson novel, you want a life, you want to love and live, to breathe in the fresh air, to feel the spring in your soul, to stop crying, to laugh out aloud, to smile at strangers, to find little babies cute and to check out the nice young man walking by. It feels so good, it is like being alive after a long long time. It is spring indeed.

You have lived through and survived.....and you know....

This is what its like falling out of love
This is the way you lose your very best friend
This is how it feels when its all over
This is just the way true love ends

First of all theres no one to talk to
When there is they just dont seem to hear
Words dont seem to matter much anyway
They cant describe the pain
They cant explain the fear
Then the nights grow cold and hard to live through
Still you hate to see the morning come
Somehow tomorrow doesnt matter much anymore
The future holds no promise
Your lifes already done

The you find your heart no longer flutters
You no longer look through a lovers eyes
Whats to see when the world falls down around you
You simply cant believe it
But it comes as no surprise

Whats the sense of failure
Its such an incredible loss
Its all the things youll never do
And all the dreams that will never come true

This is what its like falling out of love
This is the way you lose your very best friend
This is how it feels when its all over
This is just the way true love ends
Oh this is just the way a true love ends
I dont believe a true love ever ends

Suddenly you are no longer 23. You are all grown up with a head of 40 and it feels marvelous to have coped with the loss and come out smiling and wise.

Inspired by John Denver's songs.

Indian elections 2009


Time for a new government in India. As usual the exit polls are busy with predictions, television channels have gone mad with election reports. Allies, ex allies, would be allies, enemies, sworn enemies turned friends, need to thawed enemies and turned into allies etc are all having field day. The nearer the results come, the higher the tensions rise and the king/queen makers get busy.

The election advertisements this time round are also superb. Congress has bought the rights of 'Jai ho" and playing it to whoever will listen. BJP also has some sleek campaign materials. But last elections showed us how the superb ad campaign of "India Shinning" by BJP backfired on them.

Hoards of celebrities have joined the election fray. Some seem interesting like Mallika Saravai contesting as an independent candidate from Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She is contesting against none other than the BJP prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani. It is unlikely she could win the election against Advani. But it is really commendable for her to try. At least for people like her, secularism is not entirely lost from the state.

Yesterday it was my chance to vote. Election in West Bengal was in the last phase. I belong to the constituency of South Kolkata from where the controversial Ms Mamata Banerjee contests. As far as I remember we have always made her win. In spite of all her political blunders, Kolkatans have retained their faith in her because she is the only person who is vocal against the never ending left regime and their atrocities.
Yesterday when we went to vote around noon time, out booth was pretty empty. It took us about a minute to vote. I have that quintessential ink mark on my finger as a proof of my voting. Was reading in the newspaper that this ink mark has become the latest cool thing among the fashion conscious. It was pretty quiet and peaceful in our area. But there were incidents of violence in Bengal.

So far there hasn't been any surprises in this election. Same old leaders, expected prime ministerial candidates. Lets see what surprises the results bring.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

To do.....

Long last.....

  • I am blogging....

  • It rained in Kolkata yesterday and what a rain with proper dust storm followed by thunders. And today morning it was cloudy and soon after I flopped in front of my office computer it started to rain cats and dogs.......ah....I wish I could be on the terrace getting wet.....I so miss our terrace in my ex Jangupura barsati in Delhi. All I needed was a pipping hot mug of green tea and my camera.

  • Hot and horrid weather of Kolkata has taken a beating. It had become really unbearable and responsible for a very lethargic me.

  • Oh I love the first day of rain after a long and hot summer. I know the monsoon is still ages away but believe me folks at least in Kolkata it is feeling like monsoon has come....

  • I went swimming on Sunday, this is after literally a decade. What fun, wish I had got back to it earlier.

  • I fit into a very old kurta which is precisely 10 years old and even then had not fit me very well. And now it fits me very well.....ta da!

Pending...

  • Get out of my lethargy mode and get back in touch with my friends, especially the Delhi ones;

  • Regularly write in my blog....

  • Take photographs, right now I have completely stopped taking them.....

  • Try and exercise regularly....
  • Eat healthy-- cut out temptations and fight demons.....(can you hear my sword swishing?)

P.S. This list for some reason reminds me of a conversation that I had with a friend long time back. She was aghast to discover that the guy she was dating had put her in his to do list (like call her, miss her and of course love her)....


Cant wait...

  • To vote tomorrow....

  • To eat all the mangoes I possibly can....

  • For the monsoon to set in....

  • For the rains to fall incessantly....

  • To jump over puddles of rain water, just like good ol' school days...:)

  • To eat Hilsa and her eggs, Bong's version of caviar....

Slowly....

  • Getting into the rhythm of living in Kolkata.....when I stay away from Kolkata, I miss home so much....this stint of my working in Kolkata is like reliving nostalgia every day....it was bugging me initially, but now started to enjoy the slow uneventful days and the home comforts as well as the disciplines which haven't changed much for the 30 year old working me!
  • N.B. This photo is courtesy google.