Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Much ado about six inches stick of muscle!

So why are we as a nation, so hung on a six inches stick of muscle?

When Reena Mehra, fresh out of college picked up a black stone polished symbolic icon called a lingum sitting on what she imagined to be a shallow tub with a drain out built in it and began to use it as an ash tray, her aunt in Delhi was horrified.  She shrieked,

“Reena! What are you doing girl? This is the holiest symbol in our lives – the Shiva Lingum!

Now, how can you blame Reena for her lack of knowledge? And how can you blame her aunt for her blind faith in anything that resembles a phallus?

Brought up on a diet of worshipping the shiva lingum, it was is not only a symbol of the “highest knowledge” which means salvation from the cycle of birth and death, it was a symbol of the union of purusha and prakrati, the feminine and the masculine energies, one an active force, the other a passive yet creative force. It is symbolic of the union of man and woman, for without this union, the world would cease to exist. It was her God. Such blasphemous acts as reported earlier on, of using a God as an ash tray, were unthinkable for her.

But Reena, poor soul, brought up in quite a different manner, could hardly feel with her aunt. She was a fruit basket she thought. Imagine using a stone for a God! In any case, what was God anyway?

The recent furor in Delhi, India,over the rape of a young girl by six men in a public bus, has caused as usual uproar of voices from different quarters. Politicians are using the incident to play up on the public mind, media is filling up its space with minute by minute report of the girl’s health and the Delhi Police chase to capture the culprits, etc etc. It is perhaps the worst time for the Delhi Police for the winter has now sat over the Delhi sky too, and while they would have had their time out with the “bottle” after collecting the “hapta”(bribe) for every other petty crime, they now have to chase the culprits, and in this they will not be paid, their hapta, or so we hope.

In all this you don’t hear a single loud resounding voice speaking on patriarchy, which is so deeply rooted in our society and cunningly woven into the fabric of our religion. The smart strategy was so well conceived that we cannot rise and rebel in the full, because we are preconditioned in one way or the other to let it pass; albeit after some hue and cry from all quarters. Up until today, India has not hung a single rapist, despite the fact, that where rapes happen almost every day, or week, and are reported, is the capital of the country.

Whether you think of Manu’s laws, or the state of Draupadi in the Mahabharata, one seems to wonder at how deep the roots of patriarchy must go, that text could be written to say that Draupadi, the wife of all the five pandava brothers, could be sold for the price of winning a game of chess by her own husband! It goes to show, that even if the Mahabharata was created by many authors over many years and lifetimes maybe, nobody seemed to object to women being always looked upon as commodities. If for five thousand years a text is read, re-read and read again, and the role of the pandavas are not questioned, if life after life, one reads about the unspeakable audacity of Rama demanding that his wife Sita, who was stolen by Ravana, prove her “purity”, which in other words means that she had not slept with him, and generation after generation is made to read such text and imbibe them at early childhood, what can you expect out of a nation full of phallic worshipers?

There is a serious problem here, in the way, we are handling our women and unless that undergoes change and is uprooted from its roots, we as women in India can never be free of abuse.

But then, who is going to bell the cat? Won’t our worship of a six inches stick of muscle come in the way?

Think while you enjoy: One Billion Rising Sri Lanka | Campaign Song (Tamil) | Rise Women, Rise Up!

Read more:

Nilanjana Ray like Justice Balakrishnan can’t see sense in hanging the culprits. They say it would not solve the bigger problem that rapes happen in India every day:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How much cleavage must one show?

Hard bargaining is a way of life in India. If the cost of a product is X, then, in the buying process, the customer might start bargaining from exactly 50% of the price of the product, scaling up to 60 – 70% of the price and finally strike the final blow, by threatening to leave without buying the product if it can’t be delivered at that price. The salesman at this point agrees to the customer. He too, has marked up the price by 25% knowing that he will face a hard bargain come hell come high water.

This entire process has seen the customer and the salesman engaged with each other for a good 15 minutes, which can be said to be a waste of time.

Traditionally, the salesman arrived with his goods to the Indian home, threw it open to everyone in the family to choose from, then, it finally came to the head of the family to make the purchase. The process may have had the salesman, strike a large deal albeit having spent an enormous amount of time with the family, sometimes even sharing a meal with the purchaser. It was time invested in the family, knowing that there would be repeat sales here, over time.

In the present day scenario, when the purchaser must go to the sales outlet, it is upto the salesman to decide how much of cleavage he must show, to make the sales happen in minutes or let it pass.

The difference is between crass and class. In the case of the former, one might start on a high price and end up pulling it down sizably, thereby, showing a lot more than what was asked for. But, in the latter, one would put a price and not move from it, not allowing bargain at all. So the pricing becomes suggestive of a certain class which says politely this much and no more.

If a magazine whose only income comes from the advertisements it receives, says no to ads which are more than five in the magazine, it shows it belongs to a certain class. Readers will have more reading material than have to sieve through page upon page of advertisements, they did not pay for. This is classy. The advertiser may pay a higher price for the ad in such a magazine, but is going to be noticed and perhaps read and acted upon, than a magazine full of so many ads, that the reader thrashes all the ads, including most of the magazine.

This is the point of smart selling - less always mean more, while more is an often an underachiever in the long run.

Coming back to our point, how much cleavage must one show? Would you prefer to reveal just enough to keep the desire going, or would you reveal it all, and end the desire for more in a one-time sales, or repeat low-priced sales, is the question every salesman must ask? What is preferred - Class or crass? Can we afford to sell apples at the price of bananas?

Think while you watch:

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Fuzz, fizz n finizz!


Only very recently I put down a book I read with great interest called The Wave Rider, by Ajit Balakrishnan, who in the late 90s started when India had not really woken up to the idea of Internet. Ajit Balakrishnan drew a lot of examples from the US and Europe to show how the Age of the Information dawned riding past many others starting Iron Age, age of industrialization etc. The book did not however cover one of the fallouts of the Age of Internet.

Dear reader, a story I came across is presented here.

: What’s the good word in 140 characters?

“He’s coming! He’s not coming! He’s coming! He’s not coming!”
“What are you picking all those flower petals one by one for, as if you were Ophelia in Shakespear’s Hamlet?” Bharat asked.

“He’s coming! He’s not coming! He’s coming! He’s not coming!” Lakshmi continued

“Oh c’mon, who is coming?”

The dew fresh relationship between Bharat and Lakshmi had only just begun, after both found each other on Facebook. They had been on Orkut too.

Lakshmi worked at an Agency that provided content for Company websites and spent a sizable amount of time on Facebook and Twitter. After all, 140 characters did not need too much creativity to write. Or maybe it really did! But, it was easier to keep the engagement on, with a line, all the time. It bugged Bharat a lot. He had to know everything that was going on in Lakshmi’s life.

“Is he your boyfriend from Orkut?”Bharat asked rather irritated, to which she gave him a chilling cold look.

Two people who have recently fallen in love having Orkuted and Facebooked for a long time and were meeting for the first time, by a lake, would have been differently engaged with each other five years ago, but today, both met physically but continued their engagement with each other on FB. SmartPhones in hand, they stood next to each other at the lake occasionally looking up to meet each other’s eyes.

The virtual world had changed everything! People preferred to communicate via Facebook, Twitter, Orkut and other Social Networks, more than they liked to meet in person and socialize. In fact, both Bharat and Lakshmi had planned this meeting over days, trying to make it possible to meet in person, instead of virtually.

“But we are always talking to each other, on phone or on FB”, Bharat objected, but Lakshmi was keen to meet him personally. Who knows, maybe there was no Bharat at all? Maybe the virtual picture on his FB profile was not what he really looked like! There were so many questions on her mind.

But now that they met, the excitement lasted only a few moments, because, after the initial meeting, both went back to their SmartPhones and continued with their conversation by posting on their FB and Twitter accounts!

It was like the fizz in a Coke bottle. Bubbling over and fizzling out all at the same time.

“He’s coming! He’s not coming! He’s coming! He’s not coming!” Lakshmi doled out in a deadpan voice, her eyes glued to her SmartPhone.

“Ah now I know! You are talking about Salman Rushdie!”

“Nah! I don’t read at all, except messages. Do you?”

“I read some lines from his book on FB – hang on I will Share it with you by tagging you – here it is!”

Lakshmi read the first few lines and lost interest.

“It’s too long,” She whined. “140 characters are all I can read, like in Twitter.”

“Then I will write our love story on Twitter in 140 characters!”
“LoL” Lakshmi re-tweeted

“Lakshmi met Bharat @ Sujan Lake and Tweeted and FB each other. It was awesome - all Fuzz, Fizz and Finizz - Muuaah”. Bharat tweeted

A host of retweets began: From Dipti, Dilip, Sandhya, Sonu, Bunny and hoards of others, spiraling away, all over the net, when suddenly Lakshmi received a retweet from one Ms Sexy Samantha which read like this: Lakshmi met Bharat @ Sujan Lake? I will show you nicely Bharat when you come home tonight – your wife!”

Quickly Lakshmi retweeted by tagging Bharat and adding: @bharat She’s coming! She’s coming! Your wife is coming to get you!

“@lakshmi nonsense!” Tweeted Bharat, “I am single, ready to mingle! Me Samson, you Delilah”

“@bharat Awesome Dude!” Lakshmi tweeted back, “Look behind you, before you leap forward LOL”.

But, by then all hell had broken loose. Bharat turned sharply to the left as a burly woman in her mid-twenties came charging towards him, a Police baton in her hand.

“Amma!” Bharat wailed, but it was too late. In quick succession, Lakshmi lost no time to take to her heels as her mobile clicked several picture of a Bharat’s wife roughing him up. She uploaded the picture on her FB account and made a public posting with a catch line: Man gets beaten by wife who catches him on Tweeter, tweeting sweet nothings to his FB beloved.

Needless to say, that picture with message spiraled and was Shared 356 times! Aaaaw! And Oh man! ROLF, LOLzzzz, filled posts after posts on FB, the message, went viral over and over again!

It ended the virtual love between Lakshmi and Bharat, only till they made new profiles on FB, Twitter and Orkut, calling themselves, Neversaydie and Loveis4ever.

Shortly they received a Friend’s request from Kababmeinhaddi.

There are absolutely no prizes for guessing who Kabab-mein-haddi is!

The end

There you go, dear reader, sons and daughters of the Information Age, I believe the Internet Age may just go out like a bubble as easily as it came, in a fuzz, fizz n finizz, unless Ajit Balakrishnan has something else to say. Or like the lovebirds, the AoI evolves into another. If @ajitbalakrish is right, it will never say die!


: Today happens to be Ada Lovelace's 197th birthday Picture taken from Google doodles the evolution of computers

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Until death do us part by Dr Madhvi Karol


“Untill Death do Us Part” by Julia Dutta

It is a book on a bold subject that deals with female sexuality. Unapologetic, Julia Dutta fearlessly traverses the murky waters hiding within its womb many situations that are kept under wraps for fear of social ostracizing. She writes without inhibitions exploring various relationships which are normally talked about only in hushed tones. Protagonists in most her stories push the boundaries till they break free.

A few stories deal with sexual encounters between adults and children and the coping mechanism they devise to overcome their guilt besides the usual reaction of Indian adult psyche to push every unpleasant situation under the carpet. In few stories people accept what should not be accepted, and in others the characters fight tooth 
and nail to be accepted socially.

The author has not minced words. Her expressions draw you straightaway into the intricacies of relationships and their eventual outcome. The book is a bold attempt to lay bare passions with impassioned clarity. The wisdom gained through years shine through in later stories, the last one dealing with meditation and vipassna.

It is a well edited book. I loved the language and flow of stories. They draw you instantly into their woven web. Do read it.


Please note:
The Kindle for PC reader program is a legitimate application offered by Amazon. It's OK for people to use it to download and read books offered under the KDP free promotion program.

You can download Kindle for PC by going to Google search and writing: Free Kindle download for PC. Then wait for the next free Kindle download of the book which will be announce by me, Julia Dutta

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Roll of Honour by Amandeep Sandhu

Front facing: The author with his books

Clearly there are three issues that make up the 242 pages of Amandeep Sandhu’s second book, Roll of Honour.

The first is the life of Appu, the protagonist in his last year in an army school in Jassabad, Punjab. Albeit a little surprised at the level of sexual abuse that goes on among the boys at an army school, the bullying of juniors by senior boys, if one has been a boarding school product, like I have, you realise that there is one thing or the other that does plague a boarding school, especially when the lights go out and the students find their freedom to go wild. But in the light of the goings on outside the school and in Punjab at large at that point, one wonders if the violence expressed inside the school, is not compounded by the disturbance outside.

Secondly, the book is set in the year is 1984. It is a year marked for state sponsored carnage against the Sikhs by the then late Indira Gandhi’s Government. The monk turned Leader, Bhindranwale fighting for the right for a separate state, Khalisthan, for Sikhs is killed and has now has become a martyr. His movement gathers youth and old alike towards the issue of a separate state. Just at that time, Operation Blue Star happens causing a tremendous uproar in the country. The Sikhs rise in rebellion, deeply hurt at the desecration of their place of worship, The Golden Temple at Amritsar. Indira Gandhi is assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. All hell breaks loose. Thousands of Sikhs are killed across Punjab and Delhi, indeed the entire country, in what can only be termed as the most inhuman acts of state sponsored terrorism on the innocent.  In this background, our protagonist relates the gory incidents that take place to his friends at school and outside. Yet, his desire to leave school is not entertained by his father, who is battling to keep his son away from home, where a schizophrenic mother, could ruin his sons’ prospect of doing anything worthwhile in life, that being join the army. The dramatic sequence of events is related, the text shifting from the present to the past and back to the present.

Be that as it may, clearly, and most importantly, there is a deeper and denser meaning that emerges from the reading of this book, that being, the underlining, loud voice that literally shouts out to the reader revealing an insight into the relation between violence and sex. Freud stares out of the pages smoking a thoughtful pipe, his eye brows perched high on his forehead, a knowing smirk on his mouth, pointing facts one can’t turn one’s face away from –

(a)    Give a man freedom to have sex, he may never be violent.
(b)   Allow him to love and be loved, by whomever, without any gender bias and he may never resort to violence.
(c)    Take sex away from him, restrict it, and subvert it, the force of the suppression will well up as violence.
(d)   Both sex and violence is about power, they are two sides of the same coin.
(e)   Throughout the book, the power play of both spread their fangs on each page.
(f)     For the reader with an interest in Freudian interpretations of sex, one longs for what Sudhir Kakkar, our renowned Psychoanalyst, from Delhi would say about this book.

Is the author listening?

Publisher: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd
7/16, Ansari Road, Daryagang
New Delhi  110002
Author: Amandeep Sandhu
Price: Rs 206
Pages: 242

Read more:

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

FREE! FREE! FREE! on 7th and 8th February!

My book will be featured as part of KDP promotional days on February 7th and 8th (Thursday and Friday) US times.

DOWNLOAD FREE Until Death do us part:
Click on Link for Kindle Version:

What is Until deathdo us part about?

Until death do us part is a collection of stories which is pitched on this conviction that, no matter what the situation is, every person has something to take away even from the worst situation. In fact, as it has proved in the past, the worst is often the springboard of success.
It does not matter what social background they are from, and what support system they have with them, most so called victims, survive and do well in their lives. Until death do us part reiterates the fact and places the power where it belongs, to the protagonist of each story, who are women, placed in India. These stories are of love, in its different colours and images, which break the cast of how we, as a society have grown or learnt to understand the meaning of love. Or NOT love. It challenges us to look at human interaction and circumstances in a different light and forces us to believe that after all, as women, we are the Directors of our lives and hence, we will in one way or the other, make the best of our past and present.

The struggle to find one’s own identity as a woman, breaking out of a mould and series of expectations, has long been a difficult one to tread. Yet, women, across the globe have done it. In India, the social pressures are far greater to conform and there are ways and means by which society and family makes it mandatory to conform. Or get cast out.

The struggle, in the subcontinent has been therefore at two levels – one, to become aware of one’s own separate identity, and two, to see the actualization of it. The process has not been less fraught with problems especially that in many cases it might have turned out to be a lone battle. Yet, for those who took up the sword to severe the old ties with age old thoughts and practices, have gone ahead, not looking back at what they have left behind. For those, who on the way, laid back to return to the security of an identity bestowed by society and family, it has been a choice. The importance lies there – choice – the will to take our destiny in our hands. Whether this way or that.

Hence, it is possible to say that the victim story is long over. No matter what the situation is, every person has something to take away at every stage, where the only constant is choice, right from birth to death.

Read about Srividya, in Until death do us part, and many others in this collection, who executed this choice every time. Also in the manner the stories are arranged, the toughest situations are gradually overcome to finally settle on One, the last story, where the wandering self finally comes home to itself.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My first book of collected short stories

Sindh – Stories from a vanished homeland by Saaz Aggarwal

First things first! If you have Saaz Aggarwal’s second book, Sindh – Stories from a vanished homeland, in hand, quickly turn to page 68 and begin your study of Sindh, geographically and politically.

Sitting on the banks of the Sindu (Indus) river, the land called Sindh was rich with art, culture, poetry and trade. For generations, even from Chandragupta’s time or just before Greeks frequented India passing through these lands. Writes Saaz Aggarwal, ‘The Sindh region was home to advanced urban Indus Valley settlements, most famously Mooan jo daro…’Having passed from the Maurya Empire to Darius I, to Persia, to finally Arabs, the land had seen many changes and adopted to it all. So there is was a land with people who belonged to the world, for how is it possible not to imbibe the cultures, arts, artifacts of kingdoms and people who come into your land and make it their home?
Now you can sit back and begin to google search the sites I have listed below. The maps will take you on a very pleasant sight-seeing tour but don’t lose your way, in the lost land. Return as quickly to read the stories of so many men and women who braved the India/Pakistan divide to make India their home. It is easier said than done, because, if you see what they left behind and where they had to start their life from, you wonder, where their steely strength comes from.

Wikipedia says: Hyderabad, around which most of the stories are based, is the 2nd largest city in the Sindh province of Pakistan. It is the 6th largest city in the country. The city was founded in 1768 by Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro upon the ruins of a Mauryan fishing village along the bank of the Indus known as Neroon Kot. Chandragupta Maurya’s Empire spread from east to west covering substantial land across the north western region (see map below)
Given this very rich, prosperous background, from as far back as 3rd century BCE – and maybe earlier - all was lost as India became independent.  Accustomed to a life of opulence, abundance, high education and rich trade, when partition happened, they had to leave everything behind, to seek shelter in India, as refugees. Rich and poor alike, ran from Pakistan occupied Sindh, by ship and train to arrive in India, many times, even stripped of their last belonging on their bodies, women and children raped. Not only that, the Indian government overwhelmed with the aftermath of partition did little to see to their welfare. From rich and abundant kitchens, many had to bear the extremely pathetic state of refugee camps to survive with their families. Yet, the stoic community quickly got into the act of rehabilitating themselves and starting out all over again, as petty business men. Thankfully being a business community mainly with many scholars too among them, they had scattered all over the world, in Asia, Europe, Africa and America, Japan, China and Indonesia,   much before the exodus took place. Friends and relations did whatever they could to help the families, but a major chunk came to India, spreading themselves in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and trickling onto other states as well, to quickly make their life again. In the absence of any money, they had to use their mind and muscle to generate livelihood for themselves and their families.

They never looked back as they busied themselves with their new life.

Saaz Aggarwal has mixed her best in this book: On the one hand, it is a carefully researched historical novel and on the other it is a novel of real life stories from many individuals and families who have lived to tell their stories.  Mixed with a generous helping of Sindhi recipes, the book is written in such a manner, that it is possible to pick and chose what you want to read. If you are a history lover, then read the historical data presented, but if you are one who yawns at the very word called history, just skip those pages and devour the real life stories told by different people from a wide range of professions and homes. And of course the best part is hidden in the kitchen – Saee bhaji, Sindhi papad, dhodho, Sindhi kadhi and all those lovely delights, your mouth will water, as you read!

Although the book is about Sindhi Hindus, I was glad, not to have come across the word brahman till I came to page 270. But there, those chaps make their presence felt to perform rituals etc. In a community such as the Sindhis, where the brahmins have no other importance, I would have been delighted if the Sindhi brahmin performed a dervish, instead!

The book is heavy in weight and thought but Saaz Aggarwal’s gift for your grandparents couldn’t have been anything else, for they too had left everything behind in Sindh to start life from scratch, in Mumbai.

Sindh - Stories from a vanished homeland, deserves a place in every home, which has known pains, struggle and survival after partition. It must rub shoulders and spine with other books written about Sindh, in libraries, schools and colleges, where we preserve partition stories written from memory of those who are alive to write or speak of it.

And last but not the least, we need to rise and give a standing ovation to a “smart, courageous and emancipated people” – (Pg 227, Putli’s story) who have made India their home.

Saaz Aggarwal is a Journalist, writer, poet and painter. 

: Black-And-White-Fountain, 2, Flemington Terrace, Clover Village, Wonowari, Pune 411 040
Author: Saag Aggarwal
Price: Rs 400
Buy copies online:
Feedback and inquiries:

Maps and must reads:

Sindhi Passage to India map

Recent findings prove that Indian merchants from Tamil region have been travelling to Arab nations, even as far back as 1 CE :

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another man's wife by Manjul Bajaj

“ It was an old, old tribal custom and only hearsay now. If a girl spat on a boy’s face it meant she had marked him out as hers.” p 199, Another man’s wife.

We however are not talking about that, but let’s face it, if you ever henceforth pick a book by the author Manjul Bajaj, be sure you are going to tread on grounds, that make for some absolutely wonderful stories, from the very heart of rural and urban India, which not only tell a story well. In this sense, Manjul Bajaj is marked..

In her second innings, Another man’s wife, a collection of 9 stories, Bajaj, takes the reader through a series of issues deeply rooted in our Indian society, and makes a delightful combination with the hot and hungry inner climate of her protagonists. Call it the need to explore or actions following needs of other kind, all the stories, twist and turn, and surprise the reader with a plot that is well thought out and crafted with the reader in mind.

What is the price of displacement? Why must we leave our home and hearth in the villages, to earn our living in cities, what is the cost of this displacement? What are the boundaries of love or sexual communion, what are the consequences of actions, does love last or must it be fueled by fantasy to live on, or does raw intimacy revive distanced relationships, is there a right thing to do, or all actions have their own cycle to complete, is there a continuation of life which once blown out, returns again giving even a murderer a chance for redemption? The author grapples with you by her side, with all this, through a journey of words, stories that make you sit up and think and discuss, long after you have pun the book, down.

There is no shame, no need to tame language and make it polite. The raw rugged rage of thoughts and words come straight from the belly, with no lace, no veil to cover. .

All the stories have strong protagonists, whether male or female, and all cut out a story, you least expected they would when you began to read it first. The twists and turns, the surprises and the large heartedness, all come together, so beautifully, that at the end, although as a reader one might have had a list of ifs and buts coming up, occasionally and punctuating the flow of thought, at the end, one feels that all is right in love and war. Besides, even in the worst case of being wronged, there is an inclusive end and characters are not left out there in the dark, to make sense of themselves.

The editorial work is fantastic and in the title story, the play of emotions, basic instinct, the war of bodies and of minds is a masterpiece to die for, the perfect dance of writer and editor - so exquisite the beat of the drums and the blow of the conches, one might have been a spectator of the very kurukshetra itself, only it is happening in the bedroom and your fire too is rising blow by blow, as this animal display of an instinct called sex moves, caresses, urges, pleads, attacks your senses too, with words that are noisy and restless to penetrate your body and your mind. Well done, Manjul Bajaj.

In this book, there are no lose ends and no question marks left. Bajaj has tied up the stories beautifully and in all of them, she has found her solution, bold, benevolent, without borders or boundaries. So if in her first book, Come before evening falls, she did sit on the fence at times, in this one, she has resolved her differences and cast pearls of wisdom strewn all across the book, like little nuggets, you’d love to keep forever.

I, however, will keep the best pearl of wisdom held close to my heart, a story I would like to re-read again, that one story, I truly call the ‘Meet the author, story,” – Marrying Nusrat.

: Manjul Bajaj
Edited by Nandita Aggarwal
Publisher: Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt Ltd
4th/5th Floors, Corporate Centre
Plot no 94, Sector 44, Gurgaon, India
Price: Rs 350
Buy: In bookshops across India,  &  Flipkart

Friday, October 12, 2012

Charms is the spirit of freedom, Charms is the way you are!

In earl 1980s Mohammad Khan, re-branded Charminar cigarettes, in a fresh new pack, with a red band. The design of the packet was faded blue jeans as against its old one, with the Charminar at the center of the yellow packet. What’s more he gave it a Headline that struck and stuck to everyone’s heart – Charms is the spirit of freedom, Charms is the way you are. The old name, Charminar, was replaced by one that rang a bell in every heart.

The youth in India went crazy. Suddenly, the Charminar cigarette which even sold at .50 paise a packet of cigarettes became a rave. You smoked, I smoked and we all smoked Charms, because it addressed what we felt deeply – the spirit of freedom, to be who we are. Even those who aspired for that state broke out of the shackles of age old conservatism and had a taste of freedom, albeit it was only a cigarette – Charms.

Wazir Sultan Tobacco Company, had never found a better campaign for their product. Nor ever known what it was like to lose the recall of their company name, for their own product, Charms!
Mohammad Khan had re-written the history of the famous Charminar at Hyderabad. The Nizam’s palace became a Museum, and Charminar became Charms.
But, just for the sake of old times, before Charms became the word on every lip in India, here’s Hyderabad most recently visited:

And just in case you are a fan - Interview with Mohammad Khan:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sarada Devi - the mystery behind the mystic woman

At five she decided whom she was going to marry
But when he did not come to fetch her even after she reached  puberty, she went out to be with him
This despite the fact that she had heard that he had gone mad
When on the first night together, instead of erotic love being expressed, her husband prepared to worship her as “jagat janani” or Devine Mother, she accepted his devotion gracefully
Their marriage was bereft of any romantic physical intimacy
They bore no children, therefore
And when he died, she did not throw away the symbol of a married Bengali woman. She continued to wear her shakha,pola,bala
Not only that, she took on another role, giving “diksha” or the mantra to the many followers of her husband, most of whom were men
He left her nothing, not even a pension and yet, she had no word of complaint when she went back to her home in Joyrambati and had nothing to eat or wear, that could hide her shame. The same torn sari, tied up wherever there was a tear, is all she had
Suffering did not tell on her face, but broke the heart of many of her ‘sons’ who volunteered to look after her till she died

Sarada Devi, or what she is better known as Ma Sarada Devi, has been uplifted to the status of the spiritual mother by the religious order which sprouted out of Bengal, The Ramakrishna Mission. Indeed, she was the wedded wife of the temple priest, Sri Ramakrishna, at Dakshineswar, in the mid-1800. Ever since his passing away, and over some time, the order of sannyasins, started by no other than our own Swami Vivekananda, made a quick move - they placed her on a pedestal which perhaps she well deserved for the kind of person she was and appeared to be, in the eyes of the Order as well as many others across the world.

This write is not to analyse the devotion she might have had towards her husband. Rather, it attempts to look critically at Sarada Devi, from the three states of being – the body, the mind and the spirit in order in the hope of coming to some conclusions vis-a-vis her and these states of being.

Women’s bodies have been looked at for centuries as property belonging to the parents or the husbands, sons of the woman. It has been taken for granted that because, she may be physically weaker she needed protection. But really the hidden story is different. Indeed, it is her sexual self, her child bearing capacities, which have been clothed in the garb of protection, and taken custody of, to ensure that she moves from the hands of her father, to the hands of her husband and then to the hands of her sons, as if she were a commodity wearing a chastity belt over her whole being, mostly her physical body.

Yet, that body is hers only - Its language, expression, desires, longings, pains, the celebration are only hers to experience, because that body belongs to her.

In the light of the above, can we say that Sarada Devi had none of these factors that defined her body too? Had she no requirement to fulfil its needs as all of us do? Or are we to say that she was beyond these temporal dimensions that mark a ‘common’ woman? We can’t say that, because, she had shown some mental indications which show us that albeit at a tender age of five, she did choose whom she is going to marry, when he did not return to fetch her, she went to meet her husband. She was grown up and like other women may also have had the desires that are common to all of us, as also a sense of duty to be with her husband. This serves as an indicator that she ‘knew’ there was more to being a wife. And she was willing, or else why would she have gone, knowing or having heard that he had gone mad? But, we are always wrapped in a haze of lack of information on this quarter. Rather, the strategy used is what has been used frequently on women, time and again, the plan, never to talk of those desires and thus, perforce, push her to a status which is more comfortable for men to associate her with, by forcing upon her a state of a demigoddess and add a prefix, Ma, before the name, so she is also safely clothed in another over rated ‘motherhood’ state. By doing this, the male bastion, and in connivance with them, society and other women, who have got used to being looked at through the eyes of one half of society, stamps out two things immediately – (a) not acknowledging that she was human (b) discounting the body of a woman with desires and a voice of its own.

This is the first conclusion. It has been the habit of men to discount the body of a woman and thereby overrule any desires attached to it, by pushing it into the domain of “motherhood” and idolising it to the extent that the woman may herself forget that her body has any other desire, except that of motherhood. Her duty now is to bring up the next generation of men and women, the latter to again follow her example. In the absence of motherhood, she is either cast as barren or made to wear the garb of a demigod in order that she may never be looked at as a woman in the first place with desires.

The same connivance ails Sarada Devi too, although as we move ahead we will realise that her own sense of being, was far higher than what she could be comfortable boxed into - What shall we then say about her, when we see that she is willing to accept her husbands’ engagement with her, as if she were a goddess? Did she receive some kind of ego message from such an act? I think not! For after the puja and the private ceremony was over, she had quickly settled to a life of a wife, as they existed in poor homes of a temple priest of those times in 1800, especially this one, who at one level the elite in Bengal dismissed as a schizophrenic, and others adored as a spiritual and godly man. Was it not hard on herself to live in a small room, with a mother in law on the top floor, cooking all day long for a line of men or followers who came to visit her husband? Was it not a difficult time for her to manage a life, so close to her husband and yet so far away? Here again, what were her feelings, is it possible to get all her happiness from the world, and be only in close proximity of her beloved?

We are not aware of what went on in the mind except that she seemed to be a perennial flow of good feeling and love for all. I question this, because, I don’t hear her own voice but I read what others want to say of her. Has history obliterated even a simple cudgel between husband and wife, or her dissatisfaction with the hoards of young boys who came at all times and expected that they would be fed by the ‘mother’? Was the kitchen fire her only companion and if so, what were the conversations between them? Again, you feel the desperation, an uneasy unrest at how to keep up an image, society can and will delete all information that prove otherwise. In doing so, they wipe out an entire human being, who is gendered female, and force a ghost of an image, they can deal with.

In protest, I draw my second conclusion: (a) either history has wiped out Sarada Devi’s feelings and her right to her own body and its expression in whatever language or voice it so wanted to speak out in or, (b) she had the enormous capacity to bear the circumstances of her life and that brings us to the realisation that perhaps she was in a state of acceptance at all times about the goings-on in her life, nevertheless.

The ability to bear and accept the circumstances of one’s life is beyond psychology. As long as we are in the body or the mind, dissatisfaction dogs us at every twist and turn, sometimes doing a fox trot, at other times, locked in confusion and at still others deliberating the need to ‘trust’ existence, etc. Etc, but once it moves beyond these two domains, all the argument dissolve in ‘just Being’. This is a heightened state of being, whose path of arrival is through the dense jungle of mind and body dynamics. It belongs to the domain of the spirit, which ensures that one is already empowered within and therefore can generate the skills required to bear and yet, go beyond the normal hubbub of life and its happenings. ‘To be of the world, but not of it’, is often quoted at the closest resemblance to that state of being. The person is so fortified; they rise above it all and enjoy a state of autonomous existence, although, for the rest of the individuals around, externally they see the person as the same. I believe that Sarada Devi, was in this heightened state of being, already, even before she chose her husband. Her trials and tribulations, her forbearance, only play out once she is with her husband and thereafter, after he is no more in his body.

Ma, the term used to describe a woman who has borne a progeny or one who is forced into that box is too normal a state of being, indeed, too ordinary, for an autonomous being.

We see the world and all around us, in exactly the capacity we have in your vision of the world. Therefore, I question again as I arrive at the last conclusion, has history been unjust to a woman, who far exceeded their vision of her? Do we need to relook at Sarada Devi, in a different light? Is there no need to enquire further on who she really was, beyond what we are told already? Must we also join and silence the voices of a mind and body and submit with mute devotion, the written word, without trying to re-write a history that has been obliterated?
Granted the assumption then, Sarada Devi was indeed an autonomous being, yet, this conclusion has not been arrived at by a thorough study of a life, intricately hidden, in a mesh or words that push the bar up over her existence and force her to be seated on a pedestal she probably never wanted to be on. And if she were as I draw an empowered being herself, the footpath would as clearly be as good as a golden pedestal.
Justice must be done and not denied any more.

This article expresses my thoughts on the subject. On 12th September, 2012, I attended the Opening Ceremony of Ma Sarada Kutir, in Vrindavan, India. The history of this place known as Kala Kamli Kunj, marks the beginning of Sarada Devi, giving diksha or matra to Jogen maharaj in 1886. Thereafter, she went on to initiate many others. The present Kutir, has broken the taboo associated with the Ramakrishna Mission, that being, the path of a spiritual life is only ordained to those who have taken a vow to sannyas. In this Kutir, there are rooms available for ‘travellers on the Path’ who can take a booking on single occupancy only basis, to spend time alone, for spiritual practices of their own. This is a breakthrough because, it now goes on to express that the Order has accepted, that the normal householder can be a highly spiritual person, just like Sarada Devi herself. To make further enquiries or to book for a stay, write to

To know more on the ceremony and the history of the Kala Babu Kunj which it what Ma Sarada Kutir was known formerly, read:


To know more on Sarada Devi read:

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Film review: Amu directed by Sonali Bose

Sonali Bose’s debut film Amu is a story of an adopted NRI child, played out by Konkana Sen Sharma, who returns to her family in India to film the ‘real” life of India, but gets caught up in the discovery of her own roots in India.

Kajori Roy, fondly called Kaju, is fresh out of the States complete with twang and all and is here trying to capture India in the raw. Kabir, (Ankur Khanna) is not entertained by the thought but helps her to capture as much as she can get out of India, that is Delhi, where the film was shot. This leads Kaju to Kalyanpuri, the central hub of where the 1984 riots and massacre against the Sikhs took place after the gunning down of the then, Prime Minister of India – Smt Indira Gandhi. To her horror, Kaju discovers that her own origin was from there, quite unlike what her mother, Keya Roy, played out by Brinda Bose had told her. In a medley of events, research and angst of finding out her real parents and whether they were still alive, Kaju and Keya, hit a new level of understanding, compassion and empathy, as they jointly clear the cloud and the misunderstanding covering the past of Keya’s adoption and Kaju’s true identity, which is really enmeshed in the happenings, the carnage and the loss thereafter, of her entire family in the riots. Kaju is Amu, the only surviving child of her parents adopted by Kajori Roy, because the circumstances lead her to do so.

The film travels through the pathos of lives that survived the carnage and what became of them. It is truly worth seeing.

In an effort to present perhaps a personal history, Sonali Bose’s film, leaves the viewer wondering on two things:
(a)    The film was lack luster if one looked at it from the point of view that here was one Kaju coming to film a country her genes belonged to.
(b)   However, the viewer find themselves suddenly having to deal with Kaju’s own origin, and her personal history.
(c)    Worse still, the viewer must now be forced to see the carnage of the 1984 riots and the repercussions, which wind around Kaju’s own life as well.
The viewer wonders: What is the film maker trying to deal with? Is it the NRI sudden and ridiculous eye on in the India that is poor? Or is it the story of Amu coming out finally from its obscured past, even hidden and forgotten? Or is it the story of the riots of 1984 being played out so that history never forgets what happened then? How State sponsored violence can be planned and executed? What is the real message of the film?
The answer is in all. You may like to view the film for its attempt at trying to revive the memory of the past. You may also like to view the film for it very close brush with perhaps the real story of adoption, of the film maker herself, which can be seen as a plausible reason why there is a sense of confusion the viewer is left with, which probably reflects the film maker’s own person confusion on this matter. However, she has tied it up very beautifully at the end. The Kaju you meet at the beginning of the film, is matured, more thoughtful, albeit not so bubbly.

Brinda Karat was fabulous and the mother-daughter, relationship built by Keya Roy and Konkona Sen Sharma as Kaju is indeed, beautiful and so real.

Cast ( Only one Big Starer)
Konkona Sen Sharma as Kajori Roy
Brinda Karat as Keya
Ankur Khanna as Kabir
Kuljeet Singh as Gurbachan Singh
Bharat Kapoor as Arun Sehga
Lushin Dubey as Meera Sehgal

2005: National Film Award: Best Feature Film in English
2005: FIPRESCI Critics Award.
2005: Gollapudi Srinivasa National Award – Best Debut Director (India)
2005: Teenage Choice Award, Torino, Italy (Cine donne Film Festival).
2005: Jury Award, Torino, Italy (Cine donne Film Festival).
2006: Star Screen Award – Best English Film (India)

External links (via Wikipedia)
Back in time: Immediate cause leading up to the 1884 Sikh Riots:

Which then lead to the assassination of India Gandhi followed by State Sponsored carnage and brutality at Kalyanpuri and Trilokpuri in East Delhi and indeed other areas of Delhi which had a high population of Sardars. The two neighbouring areas of Trilokpuri and Kalyanpuri were donated by Indira Gandhi to Sikh famililies and indeed, these areas saw extreme loyalty to Mrs Indira Gandhi. The complex issue has been studied and painstakingly researched by Uma Chakravarti and Nandita Hasker and published in a book called - The Delhi riots: three days in the life of a nation (Buy: )