Celestial Bodies: Three Generations, one connector – Womanhood

Image: Cover Image of Celestial Bodies

Books are the best mediator between cultures-be it in terms of exchanging ideas about language or people’s being. The best way to tell the stories of the lives and culture of people living in foreign nations is through artfully crafted stories. Before picking up the novel Celestial Bodies, I had only prejudiced thoughts about the lives of the women in the Middle East. By the time I finished reading the novel, my prejudices started shattering. Instead, I developed an urge to meet the women characters, created by the author, Jokha Alaharthi, of  Celestial Bodies (originally Sayyi-dat al-qamar), the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019.

It is the story of  an Omani family, told through three generations and the way the lives of the people belonging to the different generations of the family were shaped by the rapid social changes taking place in their country  throughout the twentieth century, and especially since the country’s emergence as an oil rich nation in the 1960s. The fiction is written in a not-so-usual format. There is Abdallah, the narrator of the story who is omnipresent throughout the novel and then there is Maya, Abdallah’s wife who lacks any sort of emotional attachment to her husband. While Abdallah’s narration appears in every alternate chapter, the narrations of all the other characters appear in the subsequent chapters.

Salima and London are the mother and daughter of Maya, respectively. The story revolves around these three women, belonging to three generations of the family. Maya is an obedient girl who follows the norms of the Omani society, especially the ones outlined by her mother Salima. Salima was raised by her conservative paternal uncle and this instilled in her a traditionalist mindset. Salima’s orthodox view of life is reflected in the way she raises her daughter. Abdallah, the son of the merchant Sulayman, is Maya’s husband. The two got married before Maya could finish her studies. Maya does not listen to anyone while naming her daughter.

Maya has two sisters, Asma and Khawla. Asma loved to read during her growing-up years. However, her marriage to the painter Khalid changed her and made her realise that her desire for a traditional life, as per the norms set by the Omani society for their women, was much greater than her love for books. In spite of her husband’s best efforts and constant support, Asma decided to quit her studies and focus all her energy towards becoming a good and dutiful wife. Khawla, on the other hand, prioritised her studies over marrying her cousin Nasir. She keeps waiting for her cousin Nasir to come back from abroad to marry her. In this process she would deny any proposal of marriage with anyone else.When she finally gets married to Nasir, he had some secrets that spoiled her life.

The narrative traces the story of a generation of slaves in Oman and their historical background. You get to know all slave women were not of the same stature. Zarifa and Masouda are two slave women, but you see there is a difference between the status of Zarifa and Masouda. Slave women’s status in the society would vary as per their connection to the affluent men.

Although the story revolves around the adversities and layers of women’s life, special emphasis was given on the life and being of Abdallah, the father of London and the husband of Maya. In Abdallah, you find the traces of a modern man, who is empathetic, who does not shy away from exposing his vulnerabilities. When Maya scolds and beats London for choosing a partner of her choice, it is Abdallah who stands by the side of London. Abdallah’s disturbed childhood, toxic upbringing, and Zarifa’s (the slave woman who would raise Abdallah after the demise of his mother) affection for him makes the reader rethink the entire system of raising one’s biological child and the hidden toxicity involved in it.

Patriarchy causes threat to women’s liberty, but it does not let men go untouched. Azaan (Maya’s father) falls for Qamar, a single businesswoman with immense beauty. Qamar’s love for Azaan is different and she does not want to own him. She just loves his company. While Azaan finds solace in Qamar. They have no plans to get married. Azaan reads poems of great poets to Azaan, some she understands, some she does not. But Qamar gives Azaan an outlet to express his inner poet.

What looks like family drama at the surface level introduces the reader to an unknown Middle Eastern world, which is in stark opposition of ideas we have about the burqa/hijab-clad women. The silent revolt of Sanjar and his father against slavery, Zarifa’s secret affair with Sulayman, the merchant, everything gives us a vivid idea about the changing cultural landscape of Oman.

Complex characters and their not so usual names gives the readers a run for their money. One needs to flip back time and again to keep a track of the stories unfolded. As a reader, it becomes difficult to remember the bond and the relationships the characters share. But, at the end the novel makes the reader aware about the women’s struggles in Oman or Muscat across generations.

The emotional turmoil a woman has to face because of her financial dependence on men is well portrayed. The novel does indicate the oppression of patriarchy on both men and women. As a reader from India, I found similarities between the social location of women in our country and women of Oman. Whether, it is Maya’s non-attachment to Abdallah or London’s unrequited love for an abuser, everywhere you see women’s liberation is not as easy as we think and it certainly is not equivalent to the financial status of women.

Revisiting Traumas to Repair Tomorrow

Revisiting Traumas to Repair Tomorrow

My Reading of What we Talk About When We Talk About Rape

Who loves to read about rape? Isn’t rape basically a form of violence – that no one wants to hear or talk about? Isn’t rape something to be read or heard on news portals and something to be avoided at every cost? The answer is a big and emphatic Yes and while all these points seem to be logical on the surface level, one needs to read an eye-opening book like this one to burst the bubble that they are living in. In a country that is rampant with the belief that “it’s better to die than be the victim of rape”, talking about multiple facets of rape deserves real guts.

Oppression implied in identities

When Sohaila introduces herself as a “brown bisexual middle-aged atheist Muslim survivor and an immigrant writer without a shameless gene”, the first thing that a socially aware person will do is hold their breath and try to understand the nature of discrimination she has faced in her life due to the various intersectional elements of her identity.

Consoling words from the reader

Some of the readers – both survivors and otherwise might find the title a little bit triggering, but when you already have shown enough courage to pick up this book, I would advise you to calm yourself and read about the unequivocal thoughts of women who have been raped irrespective of their social location. The writer takes you on a journey to tell you about the feelings of women across the spectrum. While you anticipate accounts of women being violated in the most dreadful manner, Sohaila’s years of work with the survivors across the globe make you find solace in her words when she says, “your rape is worse than mine”. 

The writer (survivor’s) account

Sohaila was gang-raped in Mumbai at the age of 17 when she was on a vacation. Her male friend, who was accompanying her that day was threatened and abused while she was being raped. She skipped death by constantly keeping the rapists engaged in a conversation, but she was mentally bruised. Thanks to her ever-supportive parents, she was able to come back to normal life and eventually got married to a very supportive partner and now, lives in the US with her 9-year old daughter and her partner. Sounds like a plot out of a Bollywood flick, right? But only Sohaila knows that after almost 3 decades, how the hazy details of that dark night haunt her even today.

Bravely fought the survivor 

What makes her a warrior is her choice in the course of time. Instead of keeping silent, Sohaila received a grant in the states to do her undergraduate thesis on rape survivors in India. Eventually, she worked with various organizations as a rape crisis counselor. While she worked rigorously to heal the scars inside her, her compassionate nature inspired her to listen to stories of fellow survivors from across the globe.

The nuances in a nutshell

Summarizing the nuances involved with sexual abuse has never been easy. But Sohaila’s attempt does justice to the cause. She has divided the book into 29 chapters, where each chapter analyses rape from multiple angles. There are pain and agony in every chapter, but the best part is that nowhere does she put the blame on the victim.

 Going further, the writer narrates stories of victims both from India and abroad. For example, she talks about a woman who went to the states by her husband where she was beaten and raped by him. Sohaila talks about girls in the so-called developed countries and how they are raped/violated by their boyfriends. From the women being raped in their bedrooms by their husbands to the women protesting in Tahrir Square, the book gives due and equal importance to each and every one.

Rape as a weapon of war is nothing new to learn for many of us, but it is more disheartening and at the same time comforting to learn that in Bukavu, there is a hospital devoted to treating rape-related injuries like fistula.

When the writer states that “we would have a healthier sexual society if sex was destigmatized”, your inner self starts cross questioning her. In the same context, she talks about BDSM, affirmative consent and a lot more, where being unaware of the nuances involved might prove to be extremely dangerous for one’s health. 

Not just this, Sohaila also establishes a connection between the trauma from rape/sexual abuse and bad oral health. Getting to know why survivors avoid going to the dentist is eye-opening information for us, who can only imagine the pain they went through. But you see a ray of hope when a female doctor whose family had survived holocaust, came in rescue of these women only to treat them according to their comfort levels.

Does she talk about male rape survivors? Yes, albeit. Does she talk about sex workers getting raped? Does she talk about human trafficking? Yes, everything we can think of when we talk about sex, affirmative consent and pleasure are touched upon in this book.

The takeaway from this book as a cis-man

I feel that almost every cis-man, irrespective of their sexual orientation finds themselves in the folds of two hardbound covers – sometimes as a perpetrator and occasionally as a victim. If not the two, we at least find ourselves as silent spectators. As I delved deeper into its pages, I realized that a healthy and formative sex education curriculum would have saved us from abuse as well as prevented us from being a catalyst to someone else’s misery.

Through her writing, Sohaila wanted to tell us that rape damages the heart and soul of a victim. But what it fails to affect is the courage and the will to live a normal life. While all these years, we have heard policy makers, parents, politicians, administrators and most importantly men talking about rape, what we didn’t hear is the narratives of the survivors themselves, Sohaila brought all these women’s voices together. In the folds of this book lie the accounts of the women who share with us their feelings when they were being violated. Here, a woman tells you when to stop and when to proceed. And through the accounts of these traumas, the writer inspires women to shout, cry, take revenge, but above all live and not give up.

The Colour of Freedom Looks Red – Random Thoughts on 6th September

The Colour of Freedom Looks Red – Random Thoughts on 6th September

Since morning, I am getting wishes like “congratulations on 1st anniversary of queer independence”, “Azaadi Mubarak” and some other overwhelming messages. My partner was a little nostalgic and messaged me last evening ruminating the memories of 5th September, 2018. I clearly remember how I was dreading the negative outcome, so much so that I puked. As if my whole life was dependent on this judgement.

Today, when I look back, I feel that if I say it wasn’t a life changing moment, it would be dishonest on my part. But have things really changed in last one year? Expecting a direct answer would dilute the complexity involved in the entire LGBT movement and discourage the complexities of our lives. People around me who label me as a pessimist, always discourage my idea of critiquing the existing laws. The privileged class would say, you cannot expect revolution in a day. As if they would care to put themselves in our shoes just to feel how to live on the margins.

Look at the way, upper caste queer Hindus hail the present regime for ‘making us free’. Just peep into the virtual queer groups/dating apps to get amused by the aggressive language they use against people who do not match with their idea of being. Look at the stalwart savior gay rights activist from Mumbai, and how he spits venom every time he posts something on his social media accounts. Another kid from Mumbai who travels abroad to talk about peace, does not leave a scope to show his true colors and praise the present regime for snatching away the rights of persons of many other identities which may or may not intersect with queer identities as well.

I was shocked to see when a trans-person sought vote for Gautam Gambhir on their social media account in last Loksabha Elections. People remind me, everybody cannot share your opinion and expecting so makes me a fascist, good piece of advice indeed. But how do I live in peace when you accept me for being gay but want to throw me out of the country for having my roots in erstwhile East Bengal? You invite me in your parties and other occasions with my partner, but you support the government who jostles hard to take away my right to adoption or surrogacy?

I shiver in fear when Muslims/Transpersons/Adivasis/Dalits/Bengalis from Assam are threatened, killed, harassed and murdered for being just themselves, and a certain group of my acquaintances keep calm or the worst, enjoy these moves. I fear when a manual scavenger dies and cry inside assuming what if he was a gay or bisexual man and he had a male partner? Could his partner mourn his death, the way we, the privileged ones can do?

I still remember how a Sanghi who I had a huge crush on, reacted when I told him about my sexual orientation. I remember how the renowned English professor from my college, called gay sex unnatural after the 2018 judgement. I remember how my colleagues would make fun of homoromanticism and nobody would take any action against them because apparently, they were just joking and I should know well how to take jokes.

All these thoughts are gushing in my mind every time I see someone posting a picture stating they are free. Maybe they are or maybe they know it well how to ‘adjust’, unlike me, who thinks one has no right to humiliate me and shove their nonsense down my ears as a joke. After all it is not my responsibility to educate them about intersectionality. An important question to ask today is that why do people in the margin have to take your shit while you do not stop being an entitled asshole?

স্বাধীনতা হীনতায় কে বাঁচিতে চায় হে

Image result for স্বাধীনতা

শাহ ফয়জলের কথা ভাবছিলাম, একটা মানুষ দেশের প্রতি আস্থা, ভরসা রেখে কঠোর পরিশ্রম করে এত সম্মানিত একটি পদে চাকরি জয়েন করে। হয়ত ভেবেছিল এভাবেও তো পরিবর্তন আনা যেতে পারে। দেখল এ তো এক ভুল-ভুলাইয়া। এতো সম্মানের/ আরামের চাকরি যা পাওয়ার জন্য লোকে বছরের পর বছর মাথার ঘাম পায়ে ফেলে পরিশ্রম করে, সেই চাকরি সে ছেড়ে দিল, পাড়ি দিল এক কঠিন পথে। কিসের আশায়, কী পাবে বলে – আমি দিল্লীর সুরক্ষিত, স্বাধীন (আপাতত) পথে হাঁটতে হাঁটতে ভাবতেও পারব না ওর মনে কী চলছিল।

অগত্যা এই অধমের দেশ ভক্তির কথা মনে পড়ল। আগের এক পোস্টে বলেছিলাম আমার দাদু পাঠশালার মাস্টার ছিলেন। একদিন স্বাধীনতা দিবসে কোলে করে/কিছুটা হাঁটিয়ে স্কুলে নিয়ে গেলেন। আমার তখন বয়স কত ৩ বা ৪, বা বড় জোর ৫, এখানে বন্ধুদের বলে রাখি, আমি সরকারি স্কুলে পড়েছি, আর তখনো গ্রামে কিন্ডারগার্টেন ছিল না। তো স্কুলের বাচ্চারা তখনও জাতীয় সংগীত ভালোভাবে গাইতে পারে না (দাদুর নতুন বদলি হয়েছিল ওই স্কুলে)। দাদু তখন সগর্বে বললেন “আমার নাতিয়ে গাইব”। সে কী আনন্দ, কী মজা, গর্বের বিষয়। বুক ফুলিয়ে লজেন্স নিয়ে বাড়ি ফিরলাম। সেই যাত্রা শুরু।

গ্রামের বাড়ির ঠিক সামনেই ছিল পাঠশালা। ১৫ই আগস্ট/ ২৬শে জানুয়ারির দিন ঘুম থেকে উঠেই, স্নান করে স্কুলে ছুট। রীতিমতো পূজোর আয়োজন করে, এক দিদিমণি স্নান করে ভেজা চুলে ফুল নিয়ে আসতেন, চটি খুলে তারপর পতাকার বেদীর তলায় দাঁড়াতেন। শ্রদ্ধায় ভক্তিতে মাথা নুয়ে আসত, সজোরে চেঁচিয়ে স্লোগান দিতাম বন্দেমাতরম, ভারত মাতা কি জয়। প্রতিবারই আমি লিড করতাম। পাঠশালা থেকে মাধ্যমিক – একটি বারও এই নিয়মে বাদ পড়েনি।

কলেজে এসে দেখলাম আরেক রূপ, এখানে দেশভক্তি অন্যভাবে প্রকাশিত হয়। ৫০ পয়সার লজেন্সের বদলে আমরা পেতাম মিষ্টি। আর লিড করতেন ষন্ডা মার্কা ছাত্রনেতা আর মি…ক প্রিন্সিপাল। জয়েন করলাম এবিভিপি। দেশভক্তির আরেক অধ্যায় শুরু হল। একদিন এক বামপন্থী অধ্যাপক বললেন “আমার তো স্বাধীনতা দিবস নেই কারণ আমি তো স্বাধীন হয় নি”। মনে মনে খুব ক্ষেপেছিলাম সেদিন উনার উপর। ভদ্রলোক এতো জ্ঞানী, এতো বিতর্ক সভায় আমাকে প্রস্তুত করে দিয়েছিলেন কিন্তু তাও পছন্দ করতাম না উনাকে, কারণ আমি তখনও জাতীয়তাবাদী ছাত্র নেতা।

ঘোর কাটল দিল্লীতে এসে। দেখলাম আসল দুনিয়া তো এখানে। আসল ভারত তো এই, হিন্দী-হিন্দু-হিন্দুস্তান। তাও ২০১৩য় মনেপ্রাণে চেয়েছিলাম কংগ্রেস হারুক। কিন্তু এক বছরেই টের পেয়ে গেলাম কি দুর্বিষহ দিন এগিয়ে আসছে। পড়তে লাগলাম শ্রেণীদ্বন্দের কথা। সমকামীতা তখনও অপরাধ, সেই দৃষ্টিকোণ থেকেই ক্লাস/কাস্ট/বুর্জোয়াদের৷ বুঝার চেষ্টা করলাম। নিজের ভুবন উন্মুক্ত করার চেষ্টা করলাম। মনে মনে এবিভিপি ছেড়েছিলাম অনেক আগেই, এদের রীতিমতো প্রশ্ন করতে শুরু করলাম যেদিন এক কচি বাচ্চা (আর এস এস করে) আমি সমকামী বলে আমাকে যা তা শোনালো।

একবার রাজপথে দাঁড়িয়ে প্রজাতন্ত্র দিবসের অনুষ্ঠান দেখার ইচ্ছে ছিল, ২০১৪ বা ১৫ তে এই ইচ্ছেও পুরো হল।দেশভক্তি যে কী পাগলামোর রূপ নিতে পারে নিজ চোখে দেখলাম। বিশ্বাস হারাতে লাগল যখন মব লিঞ্চিং শুরু হল, যখন সমাজের নারী, দলিত, প্রান্তিক লেখকদের লেখা পড়তে শুরু করলাম (কাশ্মীর তো বুঝি না আজও)।

কাল ফেসবুকে লিখে দিয়েছিলাম আমাকে আজকের দিনের শুভেচ্ছা না জানাতে তাও কিছু উটকো লোক গায়ে পড়ে কথা বলতে এসেছে। ঝামেলা পাকানোর জন্য। Dharmesh Chaubey কাল বলেছিল আমাদের আজকের দিনটা একটু শক্ত থাকতে হবে, উদাহরণ আজ সকালেই পেয়ে গেছি।

অনুভব করলাম আমার ভাবনাই সত্যি। স্বাধীন হয়েছে উঁচু জাতের উঁচু স্তরের পুরুষরা এবং কোনো কোনো ক্ষেত্রে উঁচু বর্ণের ফর্সা মহিলারাও। বাকিরা রয়ে গেছি তাদের আজ্ঞাবাহী বা সেকেন্ড ক্লাস সিটিজেন হয়েই।

Doubt but Do Not Demoralise Yourself

Doubt but Do Not Demoralise Yourself

Do you often doubt the path that you have chosen to embark on? Aren’t your thoughts aligned with the crowd? If the answer is yes, then welcome, we are on the same boat, mate! We, the millennial kids have grown up in the era of consumerism and post-truth where sticking to the politics of non-hatred and non-discrimination is not easy.

We are constantly told that what majority thinks is the only way out. While the minority rights are being curtailed and capitalism is swallowing up every last resort of resentment, mechanisms/theories/stories are being cooked up to justify these events. It is we, the handful of people who stand up for the rights of marginalized are questioned (read threatened) and mocked to demoralize us devising top-notch strategies.

But there are moments in life which restore our faith in humanity and belief system with double force than the one that erodes.

I am known to be a naysayer and a trouble maker in my circle especially for taking offense and nurturing radical leftist thoughts. Moreover, I do not bow down to half-baked knowledge especially in this era of forced nationalism and fake news from whatsapp university. I prefer to keep my source of information verified and trusted.

I know, there is nothing called ‘right’ in some cases. And even the extremes of sanghis and musanghis would reiterate my words – sticking to their belief system of hatred. But my point here is not to prove myself right. The point is who do you stand for – universal human rights or selective human rights. I strongly believe and stand for the former and I also believe that as long as the last marginalized person in the room is feeling unsafe or unwelcomed, I am not being true to myself.

From astonishment to disappointment

Anyway, instead of drifting away from the main topic, let me describe the incident that prompted me to pen down my thoughts. When the media first announced India’s supposed strike in Balakot and nuclear war was being fought in the studios, a colleague of mine distributed sweets. Let me not get into the details of who all hailed the move.

I was appalled by the mere thought of an air strike, no matter which country had initiated it. On social media channels, I could see hundreds, yes, I repeat hundreds of people including me, from both sides of the border talking about spreading love and not hatred.

I could not do much to contest my colleague’s move, given the fact that the majority, say 98 percent of my fellow workers were happy and they relished the sweets while discussing war over coffee or tea. And I was the only one, who was feeling suffocated at the mere thought of losing lives on both sides of the border just to satisfy the bloodlust of a few. I asked the office boy what these sweets were all about, and he boldly reverted “desh ki jeet me mithai baat rahe hai”. I was not in a state of mind at that time to tell this poor fellow that in war, nobody wins. I only said, I won’t have these sweets, to which he mocked me in his heart.

A sparkling ray of hope

Lately, I am learning to keep my thoughts to myself – as they can be seditious to anyone at any given point of time. And I cannot afford an argument with the ones who choose to live in ignorance. I was filling a cup of coffee when the same office boy who mocked me in his mind that day, came to say, “Sir I watched a video of Buddha the other day. He was saying nobody should be celebrating wars, after all it is humans who are killing their fellow human beings. After watching the video, I realized that you were right to not have the sweets that day. Because, no matter which part of the border, we live in, we all are humans.”

These were the exact words, as I write. I did not want to spoil this blissful moment. I thanked him for remembering such an insignificant matter. Because, it was only he who knew this incident. I just told him, yes if 10 people are committing mistakes, 10 lakhs should not be punished for that.

This is not the worst of times

My faith in my belief system was reinstated that day. My inner self reiterated that I am on the right path. Here, the changes may come slow, but one step at a time and you don’t even realise that you are leaving an impact on somebody’s life for a positive change. We as individuals might not bring a massive change right in the beginning, but we can at least create ripples in a still pond. You never know, sometimes the ripples might actually touch the banks and the result might be truly applaudable.


Do People Meet for a Reason: Some Random Thoughts

Do People Meet for a Reason: Some Random Thoughts

Ever since I have had a brief conversation with a senior employee in my office regarding humbleness, being grounded and the power of universe, hundreds of sporadic thoughts have been making rounds in my mind. She believes that people always meet for a reason. It is the universe that brings like-minded people together to form a part of each other’s circle of friends. Let me give you a little background to understand this better.

This lady called Gangotri joined our organization a couple of months back. After a couple of days, I discovered that she is a Bengali woman from Kolkata. Call it unprofessional or a way to rebel against the system, but I find it odd to speak to a Bengali in Hindi. But, I chose to remain professional and never talked with her in Bangla, especially because of the designation that she was holding.

Moreover, in my past experiences, I have seen people in such senior positions hardly speak to the junior employees going out of their ambit. They talk of only business. Surprisingly, last month, in one of the occasions, she spoke to me in Bangla and since then I have felt connected to her, despite the differences in professional ranking.

A prolonged conversation

One day, while she was passing by, she noticed Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island lying on my table. She picked up the book and a long conversation about the book began between us and continued for around 20 minutes in the middle of the office and by the time our discussion was over, I had realized that we had talked not only about the book but also about her thoughts about Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and what not.

She made me feel so comfortable in my own skin that I didn’t hesitate at all to discuss complex political topics like the Kashmir issue, the Dalit movement, the history of the Naxalite movement etc with her and even an extremely controversial subject like ‘state oppression’. I was stunned to see someone of her stature listen to me with so much of compassion in her tone.

Bidding goodbye

We could not speak much after that and soon, I came to know that she had resigned and only had 2 working days remaining. I felt bad because I thought that I had found a new friend and a new companion in her. She was the first person among my colleagues with whom I could talk about state oppression and uncountable number of things, which nobody else cared to listen to.

Things end to beget a new beginning

When I enquired if the news was true, she nodded. I said, “I thought that I found a new friend here”. She replied, “Who said that we are not going to be friends anymore?” I felt that her thoughts were echoing mine. Only a few people can enter our inner circle and she became one of them. She told me that she felt that people meet for a reason. And how can I forget her parting words, “And no matter where we are, friends are always a call away.”

Her words consoled me. I feel that apart from common interests, our background, and ten other things in between, it is the vibe that brings people together. Some people attract more than the other and it is the nature of the person that matters the most. I feel that it is the depth of knowledge and the degree of humbleness that define the vibe and decide their likeability among the masses.

Shallow people with half-baked knowledge and prejudices create a world of their own. They live in an echo chamber and constantly deny the struggle of ‘others’. Gangotri made me realize that one’s social status is not always proportionate to their degree of humbleness. She told me about this one incident, when standing in front of the mighty Himalayas somewhere in Uttarakhand at the darkest moment of night, she noticed the headlight of a car blinking in the curves of the mountains, she could realise how insignificant we are in front of something as gigantic as the Himalyas.

I do not know if we are ever going to come across each other’s paths, since she is leaving for abroad. But she was right, we meet for a reason. And every individual we meet in our life leaves an impression on our minds and help us in becoming a better person.

Gun Island: The Story of Delirium, Derangement and Displacement

Gun Island: The Story of Delirium, Derangement and Displacement

Do you think the beauty of the world is better implied in greyness or you think the binary of black and white rules? If you subscribe to the latter school of thought, Amitav Ghosh’s latest title, Gun Island will not pique your interest. Because, Ghosh, in his latest endeavour has vividly painted the canvas in all grey shades.

Ghosh’s Gun Island extracts the best techniques of storytelling to narrate issues pertaining to the existence of human species as well as planet earth. Exploring the narratives of folklore, science and things in between, he prompts the rationalists to look beyond what is perceived. What seems to be an enigma initially, reveals something so interesting that you keep turning pages holding your breath, to reveal what lies next.

Set in Sunderbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world and Venice, one of the oldest habitats of modern civilisations, Gun Island brings forth some of the major challenges human civilization is dealing with in recent years. Ghosh with his erudite storytelling skills establishes a connection between climate change, capitalism and the rise of human trafficking, only to tell us it is too late to bell the cat.

The protagonist Deenonath Dutta, who is an antique bookseller based in Brooklyn embarks on an unusual journey to trace the routes of Bonduki Sodagar (gun merchant). Despite being skeptical, he visits the temple of Bonduki Sodagar, on insistence of an old, erudite scholar, Nilima who has been working for the communities of Sundarbans for several years.

However, some uncanny incidents start unfolding ever since his arrival in the island. The temple, mainly a seat of goddess Manasa, is made in the style of Bishnupur temples of Bengals and have frescos inscribed on the wall which indicates to a particular time in history. Meanwhile, the outbreak of something unpleasant compels Din and his companions Tipu and Horen to leave the island immediately only to get tangled in a more mysterious series of incidents.

Piya, a Los Angeles based marine biologist who is doing her research in the Sunderbans get connected to Din through Nilima, the lady who insisted Din to visit Bonduki Sodagorer Dham. Later on, Din develops a strong feeling for Piya and visits Sunderbans on a boat to learn how an illegal refinery up the riverfront is disbalancing the marine life of the delta. He learns about the dead zones in sea and how they are calling on catastrophes on dolphins, fishes, and enormous varieties of marine creatures.

The character of Tipu adds to the uncanny feature of the novel. His fits, ability to predict future, his vast knowledge at such a young age makes one think more about the millennial kids who gather a major chunk of knowledge through the internet, and not from the traditional source of knowledge banks. Tipu who had once been to the US comes back to Kolkata only to form some secret connections with the dalaals in the neighbouring countries who are involved in human trafficking.

Cinta’s contradictory character baffles you for her erudition and vast pool of knowledge. Hats off to Amitav for sketching the character of a woman who personifies in her nature the best of both the worlds. Through Piya and Cinta, Ghosh points out some of the crucial facts about global warming and climate change, the common men are completely unaware of. Whether it is about the extinction of dolphins due to the poisoning of water bodies or the availability of poisonous snakes in the seashores of Los Angeles, everything seems so part and parcel of the mundane life, yet you know the alarming side of the story.

If nothing else, the novel deserves a read to fall in love with Cinta time and again. She is a mysterious character and her strong arguments against all your rationales or for that matter analysis of the folk stories and myths inspires the neo rationalists to rethink. Her existence remains an uncanny matter until the end of the story.

The two same-sex couples that we find in the story add to the organic nature of the novel while the story of migration, just adds to their plight. As a gay man, I am inspired to think about the ever-hidden love stories of same-sex couples separated by displacement, which would never unearth in the course of time, unlike the stories of hetero couples. Ghosh deals with only the human part of it and portrays the same-sex couples as one of this society, without making their story a pulp-fiction narrative.

Ghosh finishes the novel channelizing infinite series of questions our way. His narrative leaves us in the middle of an endless ocean of thoughts. He compels us to think a little deeper about the anticipated doomsday. In short, this is a must read for people who love to taste the dose of a thriller hidden in various layers of human emotion. Plus, one whole novel on climate change without compromising on its literary quality, not a joke in the era of self-claimed writers.

Tracing Sisterhood, a Rare Phenomenon in the Era of Consumerism

Tracing Sisterhood, a Rare Phenomenon in the Era of Consumerism

Women in villages share a very candid bond. They bitch about each other, hurl slurs at each other, yet extend their helping hand in raising kids of the neighbor. They would cry at the loss of the neighbor and hold their boinari (a Sylheti Bengali word for sister) strong whenever needed.

I still remember, back in my village, how on the sudden arrival of a guest, women from our neighbouring household would leave the house from the back door only to fetch some grocery or sometimes even cooked food to hold their husband’s head high.

In the monsoon, when there will be incessant rain for may be 10-15 days at a stretch, women would gather at each other’s house to stitch Kaantha together. I have grown up to this environment. For a gathering of may be 50 – 100 people, my maternal grandmother would ask help of 2 – 3 women (mostly distant relatives), who would walk 5 – 6 kilometres in the morning to join her in the chores.

To your surprise none of these women would charge for the work they have done. In return, my naani (maternal grandmother) would help them the next time they were in need. Every other day, there would be some occasion at someone or the other’s place. All these women would first finish their work at home and then embark on a journey to help their sakhi (female friend).

I had the honour of being raised by my great grandmother who would smoke biri and share a few puffs with her neighbor lady. Not just this, she would baby sit her neighbour’s kids while taking care of the entire household.

As I grew old, I see these bonds are shattering. Ever since we have shifted to a city, I see women do not share that bond any more. Even in villages, I see the conversations women have are no more organic. They are more polished and tailored. Women do not hurl slurs, neither do they talk about homoerotic stuff. Homoromanticism is strictly kept at bay.

Doesn’t this mean, we are becoming more artificial (read patriarchal). I feel, it does. All these years, men have been living up to their superficial ego and masochistic outlook. Are women also embarking on a journey to feed their ego. Aren’t they going to cry hugging each other when needed? Under immense pressure to prove themselves as competent as men (which they are anyway) do they have to behave like ‘men’?

The answer is unclear. Because there is no universal answer to it, just like there is nothing called universal womenhood. As long as they are not being a victim of patriarchal construct, we do not have to be concerned. Because in the end, my rant might just be a result of my middle-class romanticism. I wish people irrespective of their gender identity embrace their real selves and always nurture their feminine self to save this nature/world from much-anticipated destruction.




How does it feel to see wishes dying a slow death?

Wishes that grew in my womb –

Kicking, gliding, trembling, giving me goosebumps.

I stayed up till late night,

Fearing if she would look as dark as my hopes.

Prolonged wait to hold her in my arms,

Craving to have her first glimpse.

To plant a kiss on her forehead and say,

You are as bright as the forlorn nights.

Then there comes a night, I feel she is desperate to see the world outside.

I feel, the power of imagination and the lack of it,

One and the same thing.

Premature! Incubation! Life Support.

Wishes, my dearest wishes!

An end to your life –

But, I am alive, heartbroken

Waiting for the inception of your unborn sibling.

Our Roots are Drying: Store the Essence Before they Disappear

Our Roots are Drying: Store the Essence Before they Disappear

If we compare ourselves to grown up trees, then our roots would be our older generations. They are the ones who tell us about our traditions, way of being, and proximity to nature. In today’s world, when sustainable development is a buzz word, and organic farming looks to be the way forward, looking back to our roots is not a choice, but a necessity.

Mastanamma and her You Tube Channel

The realization came to me when I came across a video of Mastanamma, a 100 plus year-old granny from the southern part of India making finger licking delicacies using traditional utensils and techniques, thanks to her grandson who started a You Tube channel called Country Foods. His You Tube channel educated us about the recipes the modern chefs might not dare to show in the ultra-modern Master Chef contests. And even if they do, they might just choose to not mention where the recipe is taken from.

Are old cooking techniques unbeatable?

I saw many videos of that super old chef, where no modern-day kitchen utensils were used. She would cook in an open area in a ground oven, where banana leaves, thorn of lemons, clay pots would be her utensils. I learnt to make an egg curry from her videos, what made me trace back to my roots.

Tracing my roots

Often, we get so accustomed to our surroundings that even the most astonishing events around us get unnoticed. But, Mastanamma’s videos made me realize how my didima (maternal grandmother in Bengali) used to create magic in her kitchen. I recalled how my great grandma used to make malpua (a sweet dish made in Bengali households) with designs around the rim.

A lady who would shift a 10 kg kadhai all alone

My Didima

My didima, who was an equally competent chef cooked chicken to its perfection years without tasting even the gravy of it (she would not eat chicken or mutton in her life). Didima’s aamer aachar (mango pickle) would taste like something made in heaven. I noted the recipe multiple times but could not even make an attempt to go closer to what she made. When didima would put sambhash (a process of frying five spices in hot ghee or oil) in khuchudi, the whole hall size kitchen would be filled with a divine mouth-watering fragrance.

A homemaker who would cook for 50 people all alone

On a daily basis she would cook for 10 people, but during some special occasions like a puja or some Hindu rituals, didima would cook for at least 50 people without complaining even once. A half vegetarian herself (because she had only fish and that too without onion and garlic), my didima cooked both vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacy and not a single person complained about the taste.

One-woman multiple roles – cook, tailor, artist, weaver

Kantha or light-weight quilt
Kantha Work of Bengal

Today, when we are hired for a role in corporates, we are expected to play multiple roles. Someone who multi-tasks is hired on a high salary. Unfortunately, women of my didima’s ilk never received a vote of appreciation, forget salary for playing roles they were not even hired for.

My didima used to knit, tailor clothes (literally making frocks and stuff), made drawings on the big aangan, made tempting pickles, made pithas (homemade desserts) whenever there was a guest, helped neighbours in their cooking, and if time permitted, even weaved gamcha (a kind of cotton towel) for men’s use. All these after completing the regular housechores like cooking, cleaning, cutting woods for woodfire in the the kitchen.

Sheer negligence causes the roots go dry

Didima, a great folk singer, who had stitched more than 20 kaathas with her hands left us forever last month after fighting cervical cancer for 6 years. By the time I could realize what a gem of a person she was, she had already left.

Great human beings are remembered for the knowledge they pass on from one generation to the other. However, people like my didima or Mastanamma do not come under the spotlight, one for their silent works and secondly for being women. In reality, it is the women of my didima’s generation who must to be remembered for being intensely close to nature. The simplicity of their living, the vast body of their work (which often remains undocumented), and above all their in-depth knowledge without any institutional degree inspire us to learn the art and crafts of bygone eras before they eventually die an unnatural death.