Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rishikesh - State of emptiness!

Come with a plan, when you visit Rishikesh and see it going in the direction you never planned it to go.

I arrived rather happy to get away from the Delhi pollution on Diwali day and found I was stranded in the middle of the road. The destination I was going to required me to take the autorickshaw, but there just weren't any at sight.

“You will have to walk the distance. It’s Diwali!”

Just as I was about to walk it alone, a man on a motorbike came along and I hitched up with him to reach my destination. 

Rishikesh is just one of those places you go when you want a ‘quick-fix spiritual high’ especially when you don’t have the time to bathe your spirit in a long adventure inside. Call it the ‘beach bum’s’ easy route to ‘An-Lighten-Mint-Tea’, Rishikesh offers a complete spiritual bath in 24 hours! You may come with a head full of actions you need to take in the next 3 hours, but by the time you wake up in the morning, the next day, you will have forgotten every bit of what you were to do and in its place you find, that you are in deep relaxation, as if there is no tomorrow and nothing to do!

Quell that panic rising inside, let go and flow with the tide.

Rishikesh lies on two sides of the Ganga and both sides give you a gorgeous spread of sound, lights, market-place buzz and ample large doses of the spiritual. Two bridges, Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula connect the two sides of the bank of the Ganga and the constant flow of people, carts, animals, humans, scooters and motor bikes make it a busy passage, almost akin to the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata! On the other side of the bank, away from the main road lie ashrams for travelers who want to stay there and visitors too.

Come October, the place begins to crowd with what I have coined to call the ‘spiritual junkies’, meaning to describe people who will lap up anything – books, ideas, yoga, nature cure, indeed anything alternative, including dope which is abundant in the locality, with the dhatura plant growing wild around.

Yet, Rishikesh is the land of the ancient sages. It carries in its heart years of meditation and silence. It is one place where every sage has had their stay and many have meditated there. It is a destination which is not only known for the ‘other-worldly’ pursuits, but also for this worldly desire. Adventure Sports; mix with yoga and naturopathy, the ordinary coexist with the extraordinary to make it the most quintessential spot closest to Delhi, India.

For the one who rejoices in body, there is an abundance of ways to pamper it; for someone, who believes that the body is but a boat that carries the soul from one side to another, you have the ferry service at Ram Jhula, which takes you directly to Parmatma Niketan, or the abode of God.

But the best of all however, is to cross the bridge from a state of desire to a state of emptiness.

More on Rishikesh click HERE

To book into International Yoga Week starting March 1st to 7th, 2015, bookings starting November 1st 2014, Click HERE

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review - The Guest by Suneetha Balakrishnan

Such a pretty story is the first thing I said to myself as soon as I put my Kindle down, having finished Suneetha Balakrishnan’s story The Guest on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

Set in an unknown destination, the story is about three people, Saraswathi, who is the widowed mother of the single child, Sameer, who is married to Kavitha and their story together.

Saraswathi is happy to have Kavitha enter her family as her son’s wife, as she feels Kavitha has a deeper connection in her personal life, which is over and above what she has with her son. Sameer on the other hand is a loving and caring man, but like many single children is lost in his own world. Kavitha adjusts and even enjoys her little family, even as she is a working woman with all the stresses of being one. 

The story takes the reader to the family and its day to day happenings, until, one day, just one single day, everything seems to go wary. An otherwise smooth running family is caught in misunderstandings created by an act, which then races the reader through quite a nail-biting journey, when really the reader joins the family, running helter-skelter to resolve the problem. But finally, when the reader does come to the end of the story, h/she is delighted with what there is to discover. And that becomes the reason for the entire book to have been written – The Guest. Who is this guest? Wherefrom has he come from? The delightful and happy ending tells it all bringing joy to the reader and smiles that sit comfortably on the lips, for a long time, thereafter.

Suneetha Balakrishnan, is a Journalist, author, and writes stories and poems in Malyalam and English. Her writings mix the traditional with the modern. Her characters reflect the same personality; they are at heart traditional and yet use a modern life with its paraphernalia of electronic gadgets and all. 

The characters in this book are well cut out, but the only thing I really missed was some juicy romance between the two protagonists, Sameer and Kavitha. Indeed, I am sure this will follow after The Guest has arrived!

Would you care to find out too?

Find out Here

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cross Over and Embrace!

The Transgenders in India have been recognized in India, for the first time in the Aadhar Card. Recently their request to be included in Voter ID as transgenders/third gender, has been rejected by the Election Commission in Mumbai. Please see link below.

While the debate on gender continues and really, in all honesty, I oppose ‘labels’ purely because, it is too restrictive, I do hope for more for the transgenders in India.
Recently, I came across a community quite close to my home. They had just been visiting someone’s house in the locality and I was on my way out to work, so only a few words passed between us.

“So, where do you live?” I asked one of them.

“Kalyanpuri.” She answered. I knew my house help too lived there.

“I have a question to ask you,” I continued gingerly. “What do you call yourself?”

“Kinnar… we call ourselves Kinnar.”  She said smilingly, knowing how interested I was in her.

“May I visit you, one day?” I asked.

“Please come!” she said and called out to her friend to give me her visiting card. “The number beneath Sai Baba is mine. The lady on the other side is my Guru.”

“Thank you!” I said politely, my interest shooting up in leaps and bounds. “I will come.”

They were all so beautiful, wearing gorgeous saris and trinkets on their neck, fingers and toes.

There really is something amazing about people you cannot define. They become mysterious to our eyes. And this becomes the source of desire.

Ever since, I met a few transgenders in a close encounter a few years ago, in Bhopal, I have felt a deep seated attraction to them. Of late, working on my third novel, I have places where I needed to research on them, at a very close heart to heart, at home spaces and I was already wondering how I could do that. There is so much literature on them, yet, being with a community, spending time and sharing meals with them, makes a huge contribution to your thoughts.

While issues of visibility plague LGBT movement in India and Laws are still primitive and not supportive, it is hard to keep ones head above the water and fight for recognition, income, and Legal status.  They earn only by ‘blessing’ new born children and are rarely employed with the Government.

I, of course promised to let my Kinnar friends know of every birth in the locality and every marriage! They would calculate the rest. Not too difficult in Delhi, where B follows M, within a year!

On the one hand, transgenders have always been vocal about themselves but we have taken too much time to recognize their presence among us. By giving them no legal status, we force them to marginalized quarters in our cities and towns, where, they are shaded out from the rest of society. 

Their economic status does not improve, because, our society and legal system does not permit them the right to education nor earning a livelihood, just like others. And in this respect, they are far more in hiding, than they would like to be.

Indeed, to include them in our society, we need to embrace them in our lives. We need to open up and challenge ourselves to cross over.

To know more on the Kinnar Community, click Here

EC rejects transgenders demand Here

Thursday, October 09, 2014

House of Dolls

4 sets surge navy blue pleated skirts
6 sets full length white cotton shirts
6 sets white cotton knickers
6 sets blue cotton knickers
6 pairs of white socks
6 pairs of blue socks
2 blue full length cardigan
2 blue pull-over
2 sets of ties
1 blue blazer

...and the list went on and on. Suggested stores: Mohini Stores, Police Bazar, Shillong.

The tall list of clothing for school were packed in a trunk and I was taken one Sunday afternoon to Pine Mount School, Shillong and left there to become a boarder among people I had never met or seen in my life.

I remember being totally frazzled mentally trying to make sense of the situation. My throat hurt trying to hold back the tears until, I was taken to the restroom, where I locked myself up to cry. I could hear someone bathing in the cell adjacent to the toilet but when there was a voice that said, 

“Who is there?” I almost choked with fear of being found out.

The girl left the bath cell and raised an alarm upon which, there was much thumping on the door.

“Open the door, I say, open the door.”

I reluctantly did so and there in front of me was a burly woman, whom I got to know later. She was our Matron and of course, I did not like her at all.

Where was my mashi I wondered? Why was I left among strangers? I wanted to run away that minute. But soon the evening began to lose its brightness and I was led by the seniors to the Assembly Hall, where I remember distinctly, being carried by a ‘big’ girl and swirled around in a dance to someone playing on the piano.

They did their best to make me laugh, but something had already died inside me. I would be forever shy of people I did not know and I would always fear that I might be abandoned. I would also fear loss of loved ones, most of all, Laika and my home full of dolls. It is not as if I was not told before that I was going to boarding school. I knew about it because there was so much discussion about in our house that I whispered to Laika – “I think I will be going away Laika. They are packing my bags, just like I helped Mamoni pack hers, remember?”

Laika knew when I was going. He had refused to eat that day. The English Headmistress at School, Ms Thompson had warned my local guardian, my family that no matter what they must not visit for a while and even if they were in tears and in panic, visiting me was not allowed till a month went by.
However, when they did visit, I was already distanced to them. I believe the first taste of being distanced from even myself, had already started then. I longed to see my family now, for what they brought along with them for me and I rejoiced when they left, on what they left with me.

Patsy, my first doll from overseas was one!

Dear Chotomoni,

Thank you for sending me Patsy from London. She is very pretty and everyone in schools loves her. We are all so happy when she closes her eyes when she goes to sleep and opens them when she wakes up.

She drinks her milk from her bottle but she has a bath only twice a week, on those days I have a bath too. After her bath I put on her lacy socks and white shoes and her pink, painted with flowers dress. I also place on her neck the blue necklace.

She too will be going to school, but since mother and daughter can’t study in the same school, she will go to Loreto Convent while I remain in Pine Mount School.

I don’t cry in the night anymore because, Patsy sleeps with me all night.



That was one of the first letters I wrote aided of course by our Class Teacher. Bless her!

Stories from childhood by Julia Dutta, in anticipation of “Terry and His Little Brothers”

You might also like to read: Until death do us part by Julia Dutta

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Mago Jaio Na!

Picture Credit: Panchali Sengupta, Kolkata, India

Ma go Jaio Na – Don’t leave us and go away, Mother!

She visits us only once every year. It is looked forward to by Indians all over the world and for Bengal and Bangla people in India and the world, it is one festival that brings all and everybody together in celebrations. 

In Shillong too, for days before the pujas, there is an air of celebration in the air. When I was a child, I got over four new dresses for every day of the celebration. The dog in the house got a warm water bath and scrub and a new collar. Our dogs were registered with the Shillong Municipality Office and had a number given to them, in case they got lost or ‘stolen’.
For all four days of the celebration, our kitchen was closed and we all ate at the pujo mandol (tent) and our dog ate at house, his normal, meat soup and rice. Only Zarak was vegetarian – he ate only rice and dhal! Imagine, for the size of a lion, Zarak refused meat! Unbelievable!

The pujas happened in the Jail Road Boys High School and many other places. Our family, visited everywhere but participated at the Jail Road puja because it was closest to our house.

Every year, when the pujas were over, Shunu carried the gigantic idol of Durga ma, and her children, Ganesa, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartika, along with the asura and lion on his shoulders along with three other men on her journey to the river, where she would be immersed, to symbolise to her return to her ‘husband’s house, Sivaloka!

The earth visiting deity came once from her husband’s house to destroy the evil in the earth. The earth is her mother’s home! Symbolic of creation, the earth, is Ma Durga’s . 

That year, when Laika and I sat near the washing area, behind the kitchen to watch Shunu take Ma Durga on his shoulders, to the river, was the year, that finally put a stamp on my fate, as my Mashis, my mother’s younger sisters were going out of Shillong. I was to be sent to boarding school. My crime?

Laika and I were engaged in a kissing act, which had been banned! Needless to say, we were caught in the act by Shunu, as he was passing by with the goddess on his shoulder. Since our house was clearly visible from the road, Shunu had seen me and Laika ‘in the act’!

Actually, this cute participation between us was only an excuse. My family was worried that I may get an infection, but the fact is: where there is love, there is no fear of infection.

My mother had left for her first employment, my mashi was to be married and would leave for Bombay, my youngest aunt had got admitted to a College attached to the University of London and she would be leaving soon. Naturally, I was to be sent away to the boarding school in Shillong.

Like Shunu, who chanted, continuously as he carried the idol on his shoulders, I too had pleaded in tears, when I saw my mother, leave for her job:

“Ma go, jaio na! – Mother, don’t leave me and go!”

Memories from childhood, by Julia Dutta, in anticipation of Terry and His Little Brothers.

Picture credit: Panchali Sengupta in Kolkata, India