Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wedding Bells!

With only a few days away from Suzie’s wedding in Cornwall, England, I could hardly hold my excitement of what it is going to be like, when she is all dressed up and ready to make her commitment to Mark. Would it be a Church Wedding or would the Priest come over to a beach party to pronounce them man and wife? Would she wear a wedding gown or would the Sporty couple wear their swimsuits and surf the sea as their unique wedding Do? Would they seal their “I do” with a kiss or just fall into a hug? Or would they fall with a big splash into the sea and kiss underwater?

Questions! Questions! Questions! I thought it best to quell the query with a visit to a shop in Delhi that caters to western wedding needs which is what Christians in India wear at weddings.

I was in for a big shock!

No, Christians in India wear saris at their weddings and the much adorable gown was worn at Parties and sometimes at weddings. This explains why, in Delhi, where you have a sizable population of people from the northeast, who are mainly Christians, not to speak of converts from the hills and the surroundings of Delhi, whose great grand fathers took to Christianity, a century or two ago, while the British were here, there were no Christian Wedding Shops in Delhi except one or two.

This took me on a trail finding one, through Google search.

Tucked away behind the Afghani Market, also known as Kabul India Restaurant Market at Lajpat Nagar II, near Dr Lal Path Lab, you will find a little door on the right side of the road, if you are coming in from where they make those lovely yummy Afghani naan (bread).

Don’t judge the inside by the door outside! The little basement design-cum-tailoring Shop is a veritable joy to enter. It was like entering a fairy tale shop and getting lost in what they had to offer there. I was enthralled and just could not stop clicking pictures for memory.

Glady Vaiphei Hunjan, who owns the shop, came to Delhi from Manipur, which is in northeast India, to study and stayed on. She says,

“Yes, the gown is coming back after a spell of about ten years when it wasn’t seen much at weddings. It is now being worn for parties and people prefer the less cumbersome and by now, a multi-purpose gown at the wedding than a sari.”

It takes almost a month to tailor a wedding gown, she told me.

“There are many levels of work to be done to make a wedding gown, starting with the choice of the fabric, the design, the embroidery and the lace etc. It takes time…”

And how much does a wedding gown cost? Naturally, it all depends on the design!

I went back to think of Suzie. Will she buy her gown ready-made or will she have it tailored, will it be white or will it be any other colour?

Times were changing and what I saw Cindrella wear, in the book, was not the only colour gowns are worn today. Indeed, fancy wearing a yellow gown for your wedding day!

If it could be tailored at Glady Vaiphei Hunjan’s ‘Sincerely Bridal’ I am sure there were people who would like to wear other coloured gowns.

I, for one would love to wear a rainbow gown!

Here take a look inside Sincerely Bridal

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Film review: Iti Mrinalini directed by Aparna Sen
The film begins with Aparna Sen, actress and director, writing her suicide note. She is addressing all the major events in her life as a famous actress and why she has now decided to end her life. There are a handful of pills within her reach which she is going to consume once the she has completed her letter. The night goes on, and she has dismissed the last of the house help and told her that when she comes in the morning, she must not disturb her if she is sleeping. Also, she is not going to take any calls. That understood, Aparna Sen prepares for a suicide that can’t fail. An empty stomach, without a dinner, is a killer, if those pills reach their destination.

The film goes into flash back to tell the audience, why a young Aparna, played by Konkana Sen has arrived at this stage in her midlife. And then the audience is left choice less to decide whether, she was the strong personality she always plays her roles around, or just a woman trying to be ‘different’. She is standing on soft soil, where the social system is concerned.

A young Aparna, now Konkana Sen becomes a famous actress and quite naturally falls in love with the director. They have a child together, but of course, the child is not born in India, but in Canada, where her brother and sister in law are childless and in desperate want to adopt the baby she was going to give birth to. After the birth of the child, Konkana returns to her life as an actress to be duly visited by her daughter, once in a while. As far as giving birth to a child outside marriage, Aparna Sen the director had ensured to play safe, by getting the couple, that is herself and the director married in an obscure temple, for as you might have imagined already, the director was of course a married man.

The film ends with many other losses – Konkana has lost her daughter in a plane crash, just as her daughter had made up her mind to spend a year with her biological parent. The older version of Konkana, that is Aparna herself, loses her man to his wife and son and just as she was about to consume the pills, an old love, from Auroville, calls to say he is coming to her.

A ray of hope makes her change her mind to choose life instead. She throws the pills and takes her dog for a walk. But in a twist of fate becomes a victim of a bullet shot out at a man escaping the police.

The film closes with a clear message – when the moment of death is nigh, nothing can stop it from happening. Second, her death matched the death of her first lover, the hunted and wanted revolutionary, from her college days, who was killed by police firing, in the jungle, as he tried to run from them.

As a film, Iti Mrinalini fails to deliver the punch it could have easily. Ventesh Films, Kolkata, famous for making films that defy social norms, and are only screened in Kolkata and the west, like Chicago, perhaps could not take the chance of a film that might not be well received by aam junta, Bengali bhodrolok, who is willing to arm chair think of breaking the boundaries of social norms, but rarely has the spunk to go ahead with it.

Sen, should have walked away with a stronger theme. If her heroine was bold enough to have a relationship with a married man and bear his child, she ought to have shown more muscle power by bringing up the child herself and not finding a convenient excuse of giving it for adoption albeit only to her brother. Besides, if the child were to have been comfortable with two mothers, a biological one and a real, caring surrogate mother, Sen ought not to have killed her in an air crash, just as she was coming home to her biological mother. This was a cowardly step, because, by doing this Sen, deleted the possibility of a actually placing a debate and discussion before her audience and allowing them, our Bengali bhodrolok to go home relieved – “Jak, bhaloi hoyeche meye ta mara gelo. Ja e bolo, ei tah ki hoy? - Good the girl did not survive. Whatever you may say, can this be an accepted way of life?”

Really, she displayed weakness throughout the film and was a great disappointment for the intellectual elite, who look upon her as someone who can affect change.

Iti Julia Dutta

Aparna Sen
Konkana Sen Sharma
Priyanshu Chatterjee
Srijit Mukherjee
Rajat Kapoor

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The English Papers IV - Being single; Being Mum

Try as you might, it is only by imitation that one learns style and presentation.
Jill Cadman and Fiona

I watched Fiona intently, without being offensive and I remember her busy English home may have not had everything in place, because, really she had a lot of stuff in her head to do, as a lady working with the government, but there was always that thing about style she maintained in her day to day life. Indeed, she was soft spoken and met my eyes, when she talked, rather infrequently making sure I was being addressed, but not rudely stared at. Polite and perfect with her diction, her relationship with her daughter, who had just become a mother and lives close by too, reflects the same spirit of respect and non-interference, although she is a great support to her, naturally.

“I like the way; you are so respectful of her.” I said.

“Oh yes, I would always be that with her.”

Quite naturally, Jessica, her daughter displays the same respect for her little baby who is only 6 months old.

“I can’t have her picture published, because, she has to permit me to do so. She will have to grow up to decide for herself.” She said, when I asked for a picture of her baby.

In an age of Facebook, where the boundaries between personal and public is dimming out fast, it is important to draw the lines somewhere and not go the whole hog and tell it all to the world.

Again, this is a show of respect, no matter what the age of the human is.

Fiona comes from a line of single mothers. Interestingly, her grandmother, mother, she herself and her daughter are all single mothers. Like my mother, who chose to be a single mother, despite my father being alive, the women in Fiona’s line too, made the same choice. This fact, this points out to one thing for sure – parenthood, is a choice we make ourselves and how we are going to fulfill the role is again a personal choice. This choice undermines social norms to place the individual’s personal choice above all, no matter what the price may be that one must pay for this bold decision.

Fiona makes the breakfast and dinner; a single, working woman would do in urban India too. It is simple, quickly made and does not require time to cook it up and place it on the table. A quick bowl of porridge with a toast, butter as you please, honey and a cuppa, is just right to start the day with. At dinner, time she spends with herself is with a glass(es) of wine and some soft music playing in the background. She reads a lot, both at work and off it and her single room with bath, drawing-cum-dining room and a kitchen flat in London is a haven of books, not so much novels. She is a serious reader from a very intellectually engaging time, the sixties.

On my way back to India, I spent time with her alone for two days when we went to Oxford. Really, Oxford cannot be covered in a day, or a month, or a life time. But the little town can be admired for its rich history. Our guide that day, a lovely lady, who said her brain was melting underneath the heat of the May sun, gave us a list of people who had passed out of different colleges in Oxford. Pity, she forgot Dr Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate, perhaps because his name was a true tongue twister and preferred to talk about names she could remember. I was proud to hear Dr Manmohan Singh’s name but not so happy about her saying that Indira Gandhi, the once Prime Minister of India, passed out of here and Sonia Gandhi her daughter in law, also passed out of here. Indeed, I had raised my hand to rectify the mistake by saying that Indira Gandhi attempted to pass out of here but regrettably did not and her daughter in law we know was studying the English language somewhere here but are not quite sure she succeeded in her Exams, but we are certain that she was a waitress in one of the Cafe here where she met and then married India Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi. Well, better sense took over and I sheepishly put my hand down, remembering quite clearly what my English Headmistress, Miss Thompson, always told us, when in England, do as the English do - maintain a tight upper lip.

“I will always think of you when I am at Oxford.” She wrote, and I agreed we had a lovely time, walking the streets of Oxford, hopping on and hopping off the Oxford sight-seeing bus, many times over. Yet, the real feel of Oxford is not yet in my blood and perhaps that will only happen when we can both go once again, not like two friends walking its hallowed streets, where many a stalwart walked but as a  family, with Jessica and her pretty baby with us.

When I look back, I think of all the little things Fiona did for me, someone, whom she had met the first time in her life and I feel once again, it is a way, a style of presentation of who she is, that I will always remember her by.

Like all the people I met, who were a part of Jill’s life, I know, Fiona had heard of me a lot and so there was a bonding spun around a common friend, our own dear, dear Jill. But, now, a warm friendship has kindled in our hearts too, separate and yet, strongly, bound by our common love for Jill.

Isn’t it lovely, how love grows? 


Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: The Temple Is Not My Father by Rasana Atreya

The oldest profession in the world prostitution, takes on a serious side in India, when one reads cases and books on what is called the devadasi system in India, which is rooted in religion. In Rasana Atreya’s new Novelette, The Temple Is Not My Father, the reader encounters the shocking realities of how, the system is both used and abused by bigoted family instruments which can bring up an immense amount of anger towards those, who force women to corners of society, where life is but a bleak existence of no hope.

Godavari, named after a river in India, is the third daughter of parents who have had five daughters, which in itself is ominous, because, only a son is an auspicious addition to a family. She has been sold at seven to the temple by her father, where like many devadasis in India, is wedded to Goddess Yellamma. Frequented by one after another man, on a daily basis, she becomes pregnant and bears a baby girl, Sreeja. Godavari’s mother has shown much resistance to this, but with an adamant husband to manage, she has lost to him. But, she decides not to allow, the plight of her daughter to be repeated with her granddaughter. By willing all her wealth to Godavari, she has raised the wrath of all her children, including her son, who ought to have inherited the wealth of his mother. Shunned by family except a single sister, Krishna, Godavari lives a solitary life with her daughter, in a house inherited from her mother.

Soon, their solitary life is interjected by two delightful girls, Neeraja and Vanaja, who have been sent by their chastity-obsessed parents living in the US to India, to live and study with their grandmother, for fear that the girls now coming of age may give in to poor moral standards existing in the US, and date and mate with boys! A great relief for Sreeja, daughter of Godavari, the little girl begins to know the value of friendship, with the two girls and also learn from them. But their grandmother is not happy at the association and stops the girls from coming. When finally they are able to break loose, it is only to tell Godavari that they would be sent away to boarding school so that they can be kept away from social outcasts like Godavari and little Sreeja. This is a blow to Godavari.

In the mean time, before the two girls leave, an NGO run by Asha garu takes little Sreeja away from her mother, and gives her for adoption, so that Sreeja can have a normal life, ands not as a shunned by society, uneducated daughter of a devadasi. This breaks Godavari’s heart but she survives the pain by focussing on changing her life too. She too joins an NGO and begins to learn computer and is guided into a life of saving children from prostitution. This is how she meets Raji, who is mimed from the torture of being given to prostitution at the age of seven. It takes Godavari three years to make the girl speak even a single sentence.
The book ends with a typical Rasana Atreya sign off – a tremendous twist in the story most readers would never have imagined in their wildest dreams.

Tibor Jones Asia Prize nominee, 2012, Rasana Atreya, is not only a story teller par excellence now. She is a Brand. She writes stories from the heart of India based on social structure that continues to exist despite its urbanization. She is disturbed by this and no reader can put her book down without feeling waves of disturbance themselves. Her writings rise the bile in your belly and make you want to go and change the system and yet, it is true, that perhaps those who stand to protect us, actually are the perpetrators themselves. Whether, it is The Temple is Not My Father, or her book which was nominated for the Tibor Jones Asia Prize, Tell A Thousand Lies, Rasana Atreya, jars you to sit up and think.

And the twists and turns of her stories are at once, a great art in story telling at the same time, very natural to Rasana Atreya as an author and a Brand.

You can read her book, by downloading it here: