Coffee Talkies 2.0 #4 – Survival

Picture Source: Pinterest

I’ve always loved March. Just like the coffee I’m sipping. No, scrap that. Coffee is Life. I just love March. Or used to. Oh well, that’ll take some time to cover.

Me at SoulSlam Kolkata, ’17.

My March of 2017 had been awaited with a lot of trepidation. It started off with my first performance poetry at SoulSlam Kolkata, 2017. I wasn’t nervous as I often perform impromptu amongst my friends on their demand, but that’s not officially, so that cannot be counted really. The names were being called on being picked up at random by the hosts and as luck would have it, guess what? I was called as the very first performer! (Dammit, happens with Me every time!) We had been told to confront our inner demons and as their theme, will have to confess to something that we wouldn’t usually say or admit to in public. To be weird and just be ourselves. I have no idea how I did get the guts to just go out there and say it all in front of 50 odd performers, added to that the pressure of being the first performer, but I did. God, I did it! Seeing people connect to my poetry pieces, my story of clinical depression, and the overwhelming sounds of finger-clicking and claps, mine had been a sure success and crucial for setting the pace for the next stories to follow up on. The entire event had felt to me as if I had been sitting in a therapy session and we had all gathered there to share our experiences, our battles with life. And I had just been showered with public support and empathy for mine, without any judgement. It had been definitely one of the finest evenings I ever had.

This beautiful experience was soon followed by a nail-biting anticipation of my post-graduate seminar where Masters final-semester students had to present their thesis in front of external professors, all faculty members and guess what, all the batches of my department. In fact, our batch turned out to be the guinea pigs to be tested on for an idea of this kind. It hadn’t happened in the history of our department before and we were to create one this year. My supervisor landed from his holiday just 2 days before our seminar and while some of my friends have had already 2 mock seminars by then, we on the other hand, especially if I talk about my situation, I not only had my speech not ready, I also had my presentation total incomplete. I remember not sleeping even a wink in that span of 48 hours and I also remember writing my speech at 2 in the morning and sitting down for the presentation at 5 in the morning, with the deadline at 6. I remember going to Univ with an unprepared speech and I also remember freaking out on the inside looking at my well-prepared friends. All that had me going was my love & eagerness for my research and before I knew it, I had given my life’s first seminar presentation and successfully (at least I hope so!) answered all the questions. No matter how many hardships I get to face later, this will undoubtedly remain etched in my mind for a long time to come.

Me at the Gulal Run, Pinkathon Kolkata.

And then, came along my much-awaited marathon run! I had started running since the start of this year as one of my resolution (yeah, I tend to adhere to my resolutions or at least try to) and intended to follow it up with actual marathon run. Right then, Pinkathon, the biggest women’s race in India managed by the actor Milind Soman entered into the scene with its very first edition in Kolkata and I just couldn’t let go of such a golden opportunity to prove it to myself that yes, I am indeed a runner! First happened the Gulal Run, which was a fun run of 5KM conducted on the day of Holi, which was my first official public run with hundreds of other amateur & professional runners in the midst of rains. While on the run, I came to realize , what an amazing day to start off! It was a wonderful pre-run before the main event that was to be held on 24th March and it is here where I had my fan moment (actually not mine, one of my sister-friend is a huge fan of him and I had to take the selfie for her to give her that beautiful smile!) with Milind Soman. (I swear, I’m never going near any celebrity ever. God, the crowd I had to cut through!! Thank Heavens, I don’t have any fan feelings for any celebrity!)

Yay! I’m finally a marathon runner! at Pinkathon Kolkata.

Now the main run which was to start from 5:30 in the morning at Rangers Club Ground, Maidan. I had literally forced my father to come with me to the marathon so that he can see his youngest daughter trying to do at least something fruitful in her life! We were made to do Zumba for one whole hour and oh my God, the fun we had with the super cool Zumba instructor! And finally, the run for 3Km was flagged off. (I had to choose 3km as by the time I had registered, the 5km run had been closed) Wearing the Pinkathon shirt and running with thousands of women, both amatuer and professional ones, all women who are trying hard to become a bit fitter was such an inspiring moment for Me. I had timed my run and I think I did well for my first run. Everytime I felt I just couldn’t run anymore, the volunteers who were there at every turn clapping & cheering us on, saying, “Yes, you can do it! We’re proud of you!” gave me goosebumps every single time and I just kept running. I had no clue where my father was and when there was only a few meters to the finish line, I heard someone shouting which sounded like my father’s voice from the stand-lines, “That’s my girl! Go, Eshita!” And I had turned to see my father clapping for me with a huge grin. I swear it was such a moment of pride and before I knew it, holy shit, I had just crossed the finish line! I finally became a marathon runner with the unique medal and certificate provided by Pinkathon and no matter how many marathon I run from now, this first marathon will always remain special for Me.

Me with Uni friends at my birthday celebration.

All the years that has preceded this year, I used to do this countdown before my birthday date, like a week to go, 3 days to go and so on & so forth. But probably because I already knew the fate of my birthday of this year, I had almost totally forgotten about my birthday maybe because I didn’t want it to come. But then, it did come on 30th with half of my family out of city, University classes to attend (with a cake-cutting ceremony, sure, but hell! Who wants classes on Birthday!) and a low-key birthday plan to follow up on. Last year I had partied with so many people that I had eventually gotten tired and decided to have a low-key birthday next year and here it was happening, as desired. At the end of the day, I had a full belly stuffed with delicious foods and an amazing homemade cake courtesy my Mom who had worked really hard to cover up the void of my father who was out of the city. The calls had been only from my significant friends, with the midnight call from my school best friend, who had been with Me since the time when I looked like a guy! To end with the call from my workaholic brother who did his customary two-liner happy-birthday call only an hour before the end of my birthday. And with all this, I decided to not celebrate my birthday from the next year at all. Because really, I came to realize that birthdays are a reminder of people I’ve loved and lost, increasingly losing and just forgotten. Birthdays are being a reminder of the fact that I came alone and will go alone.

I just realized that my coffee is tasting awful and I definitely need another refill. Also, if I get to survive next month too, given that I gotta submit a dissertation which I haven’t even started writing even one word of the required 10,000 words… See you then!
P.S Gravest apologies for the extremely long post. I had quite a…difficult time in my favorite month, of all! Bear with Me?
Big and tight hugs if you had the patience to read it all.

Coffee Talkies 2.0 #3 – Mumbo…Jumbo…Limbo!

Happy New Year!
Erm, too late to wish, is it? Yeah, I know it is the end of the first month of this year already but hey, that’s the way of going on with your first post of the new year, okay? *sticks her chin out, grinning*

So, the new year started with a lot of resolutions from this end, 17 to be precise (yes, you read that correct!) and hence naturally there was a lot of pressure to adhere to it mentally, given the fact that I like sticking to whatever has been decided, particularly resolutions. Some of them I’ve been doing religiously and I wanna talk about them a bit, first. But before that, did you know I’ve changed my entire look for this new year? Ah huh! I’ve went short hairstyle this year and I tell you, the way my whole demeanor has changed alongwith the attitude! It’s almost as if I’d been waiting for this Me all along. More so, because you know, short hair is really a lifestyle. A lifestyle, I believe, would be staying this whole year.

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

Okay, so the first thing I’ve started doing rigorously (or at least tried to) is going for running everyday. How many kilometers I’m clocking ain’t or will not be mattering much to me in this initial stage, given that I do the walking as well. So it’s basically 2K run and 2K walking. Given that I’m an amateur at this and yeah okay, I’m a bit fat too (everyone around me would disagree, sure but hey, I consider myself way too fat than I should technically be) and thus, all of this & that adds up to my inability to push more than 2K everyday. Lately, I have been skipping running and been hogging way too much food than I should be (that too fat-rich ones, I tell you) and I know for sure, there’s a special place in hell for people like Me who whine about being fat and not losing calories and then eating the food of probably twice her size! But there’s a reason why I’ve been hogging food like anything in January and partly to blame for this, is my University. Surprise!

Me! Me! Me!

Me! Me! Me!

For my university, the well-reputed Presidency University held its 200 year celebrations this January and we had been provided with excellent food for at least three days! But then, I would have eventually come to this point of talking about celebrations because well, there are some times when you feel really proud of where you belong to and this was just that. Getting to hear in person so many acknowledged, reputed people like Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak (she was totally fire on stage!), Nobel Prize winners like Amartya Sen, Muhammad Yunus, Jean Tirole and many, many more literally had me in goosebumps! Visit by the President Pranab Mukherjee and former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had only been the icing on the cake.

This had been immediately followed by the Kolkata Literary Meet and holy cow, the line-up this time! Got to meet again so many personalities this time around, some of them being Ruskin Bond, Paul Beatty, P. Chidambaram, Sunil Gavaskar, Shashi Tharoor & Kanishk Tharoor, Rishi Kapoor, Javed Akhtar, William Dalrymple, Ashwin Sanghi, Ashley Judd, Abhinav Bindra and so many more! (Actually, these are the ones I could remember right at this moment, the ones I didn’t mention have slipped up from my mind, sorry!) So you see, it has been some great few weeks spent!

At the Meet and Draw. Photo Courtesy: Anumita Ghosh

At the Meet and Draw.
Photo Courtesy: Anumita Ghosh

Coming back to hobbies again, I have checked another item off the resolutions list, by cultivating a new hobby of comic doodling and ending up attending the first Meet and Draw held here in Kolkata, which saw a handful of extremely good artists turn up. I’ve seldom been this inspired than watching their work come to life so casually and yet lively. Unfortunately, I simply haven’t been getting much time to go back to that, due to stressful academic schedule. I can only hope to go back to that as soon as I can.

The good thing(s) of this month has been that, so far I’ve been able to balance both reading books and watching movies. Till the year that has gone by, I had been extremely irregular with watching movies, being more interested in books as usual. However, this new year, I’ve been doing both, though initially I did have to face difficulties like when I started to find movies far more worthwhile of time than investing time in reading an entire book of around 200-300 pages, something which had never happened before with me, this mentality. But then, given that my Goodreads reading challenge of this year is 40 books, and I’ve already finished 10 books in the very first month of the year (all standalone books, mind you and not series, where I can pass off saying I’ve read 5 books, when all I’ve read is just one series. Hah!), so that must be saying something about my reading streak, anyway. I can only hope to continue in this manner.

The only problems that I’ve faced and will be plaguing me for the next 4 months, at least is two-fold. Firstly, trying to maintain the balance between running, storybook-reading, academic-studying and movie-watching. It’s like, I cannot stay up late watching movies because then I won’t be able to wake up early for running (largely the reason why I’ve been missing a couple of days’ running, damn it!). I cannot read story books if I only watch movies. And academia has been giving me a whole different lot of stress. I’ve been stuck in a limbo with my dissertation being mentored by the most brilliant but difficult to the nth degree professor. He has so far rejected 3/4 drafts of my dissertation and he’ll be leaving for the entire month of February and I have my graduate seminar in the second week of March. Hence, for the first time in my 5 years of the university, my academic life lies in absolute tatters.

And thus, as you can very well see, I’ve been trying to hold up just barely there and that’s actually because I’m trying to do too many things at the same time. Or to be precise, I’m trying way too hard to get real busy being a perfectionist. Sigh.
Won’t ask apologies for the long post, because by now, you already know I write ’em this long!

P.S Did you see there was no reference or mention of emotions or feelings in this entire post? How was that even possible!? Was that even Me?! Maybe, new year did bring in a change, after all! *winks*

See you next month? Happy living!

I Want To Take My Blog To The Next Level #Blogchatter

(I was tagged by Anindya to write this post.)

Moment of Pride!

Moment of Pride!

So what do you do, when you see your interview-byte coming out in a leading newspaper, the go-to paper for the youth, The Telegraph You (courtesy your journalist-friend)? Of course, you put up your collar and show it off to your family, only to be… disappointed and have your bubble burst mercilessly when they shrug off saying, “You’ve been doing this, since ages. Pshaw!” Oh well. Sigh!

 

 

I remember the days when I’d initially started blogging. To my dismay, whenever I’d introduce myself, among many other definitions, a blogger, people could hardly relate with the term. And thus, every-time the drill went like explaining what a blog is, in the simplest of terms. “It’s just like an online diary, you know! Where earlier I used to pen down my thoughts in that leather-bound diary that I used to keep, now I do so digitally…”, and thereafter was followed by the wistful nodding. Funny thing is, most of them used to (and still do) sum up all my attempts to explain blogging into a simple “Oh, you’re a writer!” After a point, when I’d thought I’ll grow tired of all the explaining, surprisingly it didn’t! Instead it became a source of amusement for me, each time I had to explain my position. But of course, there were those rare times when I found myself talking to a fellow blogger and spend the time, sharing our similar & dissimilar thoughts over blogging.

It has been almost 3 years since I first rode onto the train of blogging. Innumerous bloggers-turned-friends and a couple of meets, not to forget the sheer joy of finding so many bloggers in your circle of friends, can really talk a lot for the increase in the pursuit of blogging in today’s times. I’d started my blog initially with the thought of keeping an online journal of poems, which I usually used to scribble down somewhere and eventually forget where I had! After a few months, I added writing stories to the list of poems, a new series called Coffee Talkies, which traces the journey of two diverse people, Shoi and Ayan. Sadly, with the dearth of time in my extremely tight schedule, I have been able to write only three installments of it till date. Hopefully, I should be able to continue it soon.

The next phase would be signing up with BlogAdda and Indiblogger, two nation-wide blogging forums. Winning the BlogAdda Newbie Award and then as most of us do, gaining those crucial gift vouchers in return of blogposts, which saves a lot of real money while online shopping!!

And then, Blogchatter happened. It feels so amazing to think that I’ve been part of it since its early days of inception and since then, the circle has increased and how! It’s such a pleasure when you see so many bloggers from different parts of your country connecting with each other in a common platform and trust me, there’s so little formal about it, proving true to its name, ‘chatter of the blog’-gers! It could have been just so easily any other cuppa sessions with your friends, the banter despite being virtual, so smooth! Though being a late entrant to Blogbuddy, a recent initiative of Blogchatter, I feel glad to be a part of it, though sadly I wish I could contribute to it way more than I probably could.

In recent times, there have been several instances when I have found myself surprised when it has come to blogging. The first one would be the moment when I came across the blog of a friend of my brother, which not only was started way back almost 9-10 years ago, but is also a wonderful blog with a considerable number of followers, of course. To think the tenacity, the passion revolving the blog, to be a part of the blog for almost a decade, is so awe-inspiring.

The second time I’d felt humbled was the time when a high-school bestie, with whom I didn’t have much of a contact these few years, happened to reveal to me an interesting fact, during one of our recent meets. While I’d been telling him yet another funny escapade of me with life, he had looked at me quite wistfully and said, “You might not know this, but I had saved your story of exploring new places with your dad, but you and not your dad leading the way, in my desktop and I still read it at times for inspiration, for the way you live your life.” There are times when a person finds himself utterly speechless and at that moment, with the bus cruising along the empty road and the night breeze chilling us, it had been both a stab of pride and humility for me.

The third would be attending the BlogAdda meet that happened in Kolkata, my home-city, this February and the associated feeling of pride of being a blogger, standing amongst the other bloggers in the historical Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata.

In all these times, if there’s anything else I’d wished, I wished I had a bigger blog, going much beyond where it is standing now. I’d felt this even more acutely when I started writing in association with Child Rights and You (CRY), a nation-wide organization, which works for the protection of child rights across different parts of India. I wished I could reach out to even more audience, to share and enlighten even more people about the plight of these children. And thus when the offer came from Blogchatter to take my blog to the next level, of course I just had to say yes!

For, I want to take my blog to the next level with Blogchatter.

I now tag Shinjhini to write her take on the topic. Cheers!

Casualties of War As Collateral Damage

The session "Casualties as Collateral Damage" as part of AKLF 2016  (L-R) Salil Tripathi, Kavita Punjabi, Nayanika Mookherjee, Ruchir Joshi. P.C Sourodip Ghosh

The session “Casualties as Collateral Damage” as part of AKLF 2016
(L-R) Salil Tripathi, Kavita Punjabi, Nayanika Mookherjee, Ruchir Joshi.
P.C Sourodip Ghosh

Any and every year, January means fests and being a voracious reader, the fests I’m primarily concerned and excited about are the literary fests. So when the opportunity came to work for the social media team of the Social Bong and Streets of Calcutta in association with the prestigious Apeejay Kolkata Literary Fest 2016, it was just the icing on the cake. Out of all the events that I covered, the session which moved me, more so academically, was the session entitled “Casualties as Collateral Damage” (with emphasis on the Bangladeshi Independence War of 1971). Moderated by Kavita Punjabi, the panel included authors Salil Tripathi, Nayanika Mookherjee and Ruchir Joshi, at the backdrop of the impressive Western Quadrangle of the Victoria Memorial.

While Ruchir Joshi opened the session in a light tone, being in his funny witty persona, it was the statement by Nayanika Mookherjee, which according to me, really set the mood for the wintery afternoon. “Itihaash kagojer paataye, khataye noye.” (History can be found in its pages and not in its books) Such a statement!

Salil Tripathi was of the view that earlier, wars were more like Test matches than T20 matches. According to him, India has been incredibly welcome to the refugees. According to the statistics quoted by him, 10 million of ‘em had come and 95% had went back, after a few months/years. None anywhere in the history of UNO can it be found that a poor country, in this case India, has borne so many refugees, yet they went back, after reaping the shelter of the same.

They spoke about 3 kinds of silences of war: A. People who knew what was going on but couldn’t care less. B. The Media, who had been silenced and blacked out. C. People like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the famous poet, who had actually taken efforts, for instance, signature campaigns but by virtue of curtailing of freedoms on part of the state, had been silenced and thus had to come back.

In fact, in order to vent his despair of the failure of his efforts, Faiz had went on to write a poem entitled, “Dhaka Se Waapsi Ke Baad” (After the Return from Dhaka), where he talks about his efforts and struggles, best captured by the verse,

“Ankahi keh gayi who baat, jo kehne gaye thhey Faiz.”

(The words remained unspoken, which Faiz had went to say.)

Talking about the unspeakables of war, Nayanika divulged that while the husbands of the women victims coaxed ’em on, the women themselves refused to get grilled. It was indeed the men who were more enthusiastic in letting the real stories be known, telling the researchers that the history lay with them, the “Talkable Itihaash” (The Talkable History).

She also talked about several incidents on the fragments of narratives that could be found. Two stories particularly hooked me on and needless to say, raised goosebumps. In the first story, a woman, on watching the oncoming of Kaalbaishakhi (The Norwester Storm), had mysteriously whispered, looking at the storm brewing, “Shedin erom chhilo” (That day was like this day). An eerie silence had followed, as the woman could later nowhere be found, having disappeared without a trace.

It was however the second story which absolutely moved the audience and loud gasps had filled the air. In this story, a young lady in a bid to protect her family members & the other girls of her village, kept forwarding herself to the army every night, without showing any kind of emotion. While her family kept crying, fully aware of what was happening to her but the lady herself remained stoic. Instead, on being asked how she had felt, the lady refused to tell her tale and rather said, “I’ll keep my silence.” But she did give away one statement, which was, “They (the army) took what they could take from me but they couldn’t get anything from Me.” And this happened to be one of many hundred similar stories.

While the session was drawing to an end, Salil Tripathi talked about the obstacles he faced, during the research, saying he was constantly reminded of his foreign-ness, to not being able to feel any kind of real empathy, for of course, he couldn’t, just couldn’t. He also said, while dealing with sensitive stories like this, it is important for the researcher to keep in mind that in no way should they do an intensive, entirely target-oriented grill, so much so they go on to recreate the terrible past in the minds of the victims. He also revealed a particular insight, saying to fill certain specified quotas, armies sometimes have to open fire, no matter the existence of any actual need to do so!

Nayanika Mookherjee said, what she discovered was this dark humor among the women. In fact, she was quite taken aback how ‘banterific’ these women victims can be regarding the after-effects of the 1960s-70s wars. They totally demasculated the men, when it came to talking and dealing with them, during and after the wars. She also said that, perhaps this dark humor actually served as a source of bonding, as a mode of acknowledgment of their painful struggle, without falling back into any kind of depression.

This thought-provoking session couldn’t have ended better, without the words of Salil Tripathi, who remarked, “Forgiveness is not possible, unless and without a tinge of remorse.” I say, forgiveness should never be done, cannot be done, to this phase of the history.

#AKLF CELEBRATES 125 YEARS OF AGATHA CHRISTIE AND HOW!

 

The Friday night, 15th Jan, Tollygunge Club. The stage was set and almost all the dignitaries for the evening had already made themselves comfortable. A few minutes after the clock struck 7, a sophisticated lady went up on the stage, to welcome the guests, sipping on red wine. Just when she gave up on the social niceties, seemingly drowsy from the wine running in her nerves, suddenly after barely having raised the guests a toast, she choked, to everyone’s horror. Aye, she choked, clutched her throat and staggered right in the middle of the stage! Some dignitaries panicked, some rushed ahead to inspect the collapsed lady and then! A gentleman made an entry, butler-style and announced, oh-so-calmly, that it seems the lady has been poisoned. But fortunately, the antidote to that poison and many similar poisons can now be found in a novel (to be revealed later in the evening) and thus the life of the lady had been saved! While people were caught in a perilous dilemma of whether to exhale in relief or roll back in laughter or just be simply embarrassed by their panicked reactions, the lady in question, with a little help, from the gentleman-cum-butler, strode down from the stage, nodding her head disbelievingly. A loud round of applause and there went the start of the session, entitled “Bloody Scotland and Dame Agatha” held by Apeejay Kolkata Literary Fest 2016, in true Agatha Christie flair, to pay homage to the 125 years of the Grand Old Dame.  If the start was anything to go by, the release of Kathryn Harkup’s novel “A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie”, with attendance by the lady herself, Dom Hastings, the director of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers Festival Stirling (to be held from 9-11th September, 2016) and Miss Anuja Chauhan, the lady behind all the great commercials, especially ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’ of Pepsi and a great novelist as well, with the likes of The Zoya Factor, Those Pricey Thakur Girls and such to glow in pride, made the evening all the more better!

The Session "Bloody Scotland and Dame Agatha"  (From L-R) Dom Hastings, Kathryn Harkup, Anuja Chauhan and Sumit Ray. Picture Courtesy: Sourodip Ghosh

The Session “Bloody Scotland and Dame Agatha”
(From L-R) Dom Hastings, Kathryn Harkup, Anuja Chauhan and Sumit Ray.
Picture Courtesy: Sourodip Ghosh

Moderated by Sumit Ray, the session opened with Kathryn lauding Agatha Christie’s amazing quality of brilliantly putting scientific elements in the book. The desire to prove justice to her scientific-ness, creativeness and intelligence, was at the back of Kathryn’s mind while writing the novel on Agatha Christie, whom she quoted saying, being the greatest novelist of all time, only to be outbid by Shakespeare and the Bible. On being asked to describe Agatha Christie, Kathryn called her an entertainer. Not only she solves brilliant puzzles, she proves forward little intellectual challenges. Dom expressed his choice of Christie for the timeless classic element of & in her stories, no matter whether you have heard it or read it. Anuja exclaimed saying, Christie gets everything so bang on, even the science as well! Christie could be given any genres and she’d make it ring so very true!

Dom Hastings during the session. Picture Courtesy: Sourodip Ghosh

Dom Hastings during the session.
Picture Courtesy: Sourodip Ghosh

In response to the question that why crime writing as a genre is still popular and what is that still intrigues people, Dom, the director of a crime-writing festival himself, simply put it down saying, “we live in a world of crimes.” Kathryn took it up a step further, saying, it is apparently easy, in fact, frighteningly easy to kill a person. What led a person to commit such a thing is something to figure out. The human psyche and the compulsive nature of it is what is intriguing. Anuja described a whodunit as ‘who does it’ and it is precisely the “propulsive thrust” of any genre, that leads us to reading the same. In fact, it is the ‘little abode’, that is a lovely satisfaction to receive, at the end of a whodunit.

Kathryn Harkup during the session. Picture Courtesy: Arpita Pramanick

Kathryn Harkup during the session.
Picture Courtesy: Arpita Pramanick

On her justification of using poisons and their applications as the theme of her novel, Kathryn said, her role as a chemist (Yes, she is one!) could make her understand what a poison could do to a person, which was scientifically intriguing and besides, just for the sheer entertainment of it. As of getting all the alphabets of all the poisons (Christie had used 30 different compounds as poisons in her novels!) and whether she intended to take the alphabet series forward, Kathryn was quoted saying, it was a challenge, that unfortunately she is done away with, at the moment. It is otherwise just so exotic. On her interest behind the usage of poisons in her novel, she goes to give the definition of poison as a compound that changes everything in a body. Likewise, she calls everything a poison and thus her interest behind using ‘em. (She even says, too much of a water is a poison as well. Oh my!)

Anuja Chauhan in one of her light moments during the session. Picture Courtesy: Arpita Pramanick

Anuja Chauhan in one of her light moments during the session.
Picture Courtesy: Arpita Pramanick

Anuja, on being asked of the lack of visibility of Indian authors in the crime-writing genre, responded saying that Christie’s books are just so available and the bar is just so high (echoing Kathryn’s similar views), that maybe the Indian authors are afraid to tread in on that genre. In fact, Christie herself was an inspiration behind Anuja’s writing of novels and her construction of strong women characters. She wanted to have the power, the control to do anything with the lives of the protagonists. Her choice behind romance as a genre was the propulsive thrust of it, for she loved writing romance and reading ‘em as well, if the book was good enough. Her most interesting response came in the form of how much of her characters are from real life, quoting it as 60%, attributing ‘em as mostly being a result of shameless eavesdropping or just eager personal observations. Most of her characters are from real life, as she finds reality much more strange than the reality itself.

According to Kathryn, the most intriguing poison is Valium, that has such ghastly effects, it is very rarely used, and yet Christie uses it so well. In fact, given that in today’s times, there are antidotes to poisons available, but they are antidote in the sense that they can only correct the symptoms, and not really heal the person himself. In fact, she expresses her awe at Christie’s ability to talk and use those poisons in her books ably, almost 50 years before their application became widely talked-about.

The session, as it draws to an end. Picture Courtesy: Arpita Pramanick

The session, as it draws to an end.
Picture Courtesy: Arpita Pramanick

On their choice as their most favorite Agatha Christie novel, Dom chooses the novel Murder on the Orient Express as a classic novel. While both Anuja and Kathryn concur on Five Little Pigs as their favourite novel, but on being asked to choose her most favourite, she chose the novel And Then There Were None as her favourite. And last but not the least, with Black Coffee being moderator Sumit Ray’s favourite, let’s just raise a toast to the Grand Old Dame with our own dose of caffeine! Un-poisoned one, of course. *wink wink*

(Thanks to the Social Bong and Streets of Calcutta for making me a part of their social media admin. You guys are just great!)

Musings of Jhumpa Lahiri: Looking Back at Time

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Ever felt the joy when you stumble upon a favourite article of yours that you had written long time back and had forgotten all about it? I felt the same when I chanced upon this article I had made on Jhumpa Lahiri, after attending her much-talked-about prologue session in conversation with Rudrangshu Mukherjee, a notable historian, as part of the Kolkata Literary Meet 2014, at the epic Victoria Memorial, Kolkata. Not only was I impressed by what she had said, I could also connect with many of her thoughts, as I’m sure many of the readers will as well. So, without further ado, here it goes.

(Jhumpa Lahiri obviously doesn’t need an introduction. However, for the ignorant mortals, she is an Indian American author. Lahiri’s debut collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies (1999) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award and The New Yorker Debut of the Year. Her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications and was also adapted into the popular film of the same name. Her book The Lowland, published in 2013, was a nominee for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is also a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama.)

 

‘Absent presence and present absence.’ The first of her musings that struck me was her above statement. In the subsequent conversation that followed, what the audience got was a peek into her mind, her life. Jhumpa Lahiri claims to feeling like literally living in ‘double worlds’. She didn’t quite feel attached to a single place. Wherever she went, the very presence of Calcutta went along with her. But whenever she used to come back to Calcutta, she just couldn’t connect with the city with that same intensity. Feeling herself under constant scrutiny like an outsider, she felt frustrated at the lack of personal connection. She had to continually face this personal alienation, first at the age of 2 and then at the age of 5. (Her family had shifted and moved to provincial old town of west England.) For her, Kolkata was an unknown scary city. A city she wanted to grasp but always went out of her reach, one with melancholic undertones. Her parents had a yearning for the city which she couldn’t associate with. The goodbye nights, when they would return to England, after spending vacations in Calcutta, were terrifying for her. Though being a difficult decision to move out of Calcutta, she also felt exposed to her parents’ longing for the city, being their child. It was a source of constant anxiety for her due to consistent inability to connect to one particular place. But on the other hand, it was a source of freedom from any kind of belonging. According to her, any feeling whatsoever, is psychological, not reality based as such. It is more a figment of mind, this feeling of belonging to a particular place or a thing.

She started her reading in English. She was a passionate and voracious reader. She felt quite nervous in social interactions. In those times, books were her companion. She feels more at home inside a library. Thomas Hardy was an inspiration for her book The Lowland as she tried to recreate his idea of a place. She claims to have 99% of inspiration from English and American writers. Mavis Gallant, a Canadian writer very much inspired her. The writer’s work on exile and many varieties of them. She considers Hardy’s novels as very clean. Because she likes reading both novels and short stories, she likes writing them both. She disagrees that short stories are inferior. In fact, she considers them as one of the most powerful of all literary works.
Coming back to her personal life again, she lamented the loss of the Indian citizenship of her parents. She was again, acutely aware even as a child, that her English was something her parents could not relate with. She considers herself a very confused person, if not and without writing. Finding her calling in writing was a relief for her, because at a particular phase, she was in an utter loss as to what to do. She found her solace in writing. Writing makes her feel whole. She muses; ‘the connection created through writing between you and the outer world is so beautiful. The connection almost feels spiritual connecting with people you don’t even know.’ This is, according to her, literature’s biggest achievement. It gave her life a sense of purpose, which wasn’t really there before.

Her maternal house (at 110, Vivekananda road, Calcutta) were her inspiration for her first two stories. She was quite an observer, with her object being the constant flow of life. It was something quite fascinating for her. Acutely aware that she was a foreign import, an outsider in her own city, she had to grow into it. Accept the reality that she, in fact, felt like an outsider everywhere. She couldn’t call the Americans her own and she couldn’t call the Calcuttans as her own, facing an identity crisis. She obviously had this desire to fit in everywhere. In her book The Lowland, she dealt with a story her parents were trying to piece together, what had happened way back their home in Calcutta. An incident had happened a stone’s throw away from her parents’ house in Calcutta, involving a Naxalite who had been shot in front of his parents. She says, death does kind of pervade Lowland but there are many chances of redemption as well. She also mentions about the flight of the bird Heron, attributing it to the writer Thomas Hardy, who she considers, will be known for noticing such subtle changes or the things going on in nature.

She is of the view that sometimes ignorance is beneficial because with that comes the curiosity for it. She admits to having a superficial knowledge of Indian history yet has the desire to know it more. She finds places near or by the sea very beautiful and her personal favourite. She falls back into leisure musing that the older she is becoming, more is she discovering how fragile Life is. Nature has a profound influence on her as much as time and life has witnessed too. The book The Lowland is so titled because it is literally a place of absence and presence. She mentions of a Cape, a place which has so many ramifications for her life. She liked observing  the high and low tides of the sea, as they came and went. She liked the continuity of Life and the constant cyclical thing of change. She mirrors the her Life as a reflection of the coming and going of seasons. No one particular person or a thing really stayed or had a constant presence in her Life. Just as she said, an absent presence and a present absence in her Life….

I had then and again, refuse to give a conclusion to her thoughts. Some thoughts are best left to be mused on.

Chamcha Who?

This post is an entry to the ‘The Great Indian Blogging Contest’, as a part of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2015.

Sitting on the steps of the stage, with hands on his hips, Ayan’s face bore a murderous expression. Finding me, he pulled me down and exhaled a breath, saying, “I vow to never volunteer for any wedding decorations in future. Gosh, I’m so tired!” On seeing me laugh, he gave a wry smile.

People were slowly trickling in. I asked him, “You know about ‘The Great Indian Chamcha’ contest?” Ayan nodded, “Oh yeah, saw it in the papers.” I smiled and said, “So, who is a ‘chamcha’ for you?” He smirked, “A person who sweet talks and nods his head at every damn thing!” I pointed to a girl, pulling at her heavy and gaudy dress, looking visibly distressed and said, “Look at her.” Ayan snorted, “Gah! Why wear something that makes you uncomfortable?” I nodded and said “So, she isn’t a chamcha for you?” Ayan looked at me in disbelief and sputtered, “Kidding, right?”

I laughed and said, “She is wearing a branded dress, that too under her family’s compulsion, most probably.” Ayan challenged, “So?” I replied, “So, we often go by what has been the existing pre definition of ‘chamchas’. We just have to open our eyes and see that alongwith these so-called ‘chamchas’, there are many invisible ‘chamchas’ as well, who are very much present in the society, yet have a facade on, which makes them look oh-so-normal!” He threw up his hands, saying, “What exactly are you trying to say?” I took a breath and said, “Look around yourself, Ayan. Everything, starting with the very basic family to friends, society, education, politics, religion, money, career….Everything has bound our hands. From the formal diktats to informal rules, we all nod to these meekly, don’t we? Look at you and me!”

 

A number of people talking and expressing their own opinion at the same time. Result? Nothing!

A number of people talking and expressing their own opinion at the same time. Result? Humbug!

 

“Remember the time when we cringed, while shelling out some extra money, just to ensure ‘fame’ in our circle? You left your family business for an IT career. I drove my BMW here as a pointer to my position. Even our families, look at them! I was taught to always talk in English, for it looks posh and chic and your family didn’t even want us to be intimate, the only reason being girls and boys can’t be ‘just best friends’ in the eyes of the society! So, aren’t we all ‘chamchas’, in that sense of the term?” He dropped his head and remained silent for some time.   Turning back, Ayan cocked a smile, saying, “So, we all are ‘chamchas’, eh?” I smiled. Keeping my arm around his neck, I mused.

Yes. We all are chamchas. Knowingly or unknowingly. Visibly or invisibly. Love it or hate it, ‘Tis a necessary Evil. Survival in this world and especially in a place like India, is impossible without having even a little bit of ‘chamchagiri’ in us.

We drifted off; eyes and mind seemingly lost somewhere while the inevitable truth laughed at us.

And there goes my story of ‘The Great Indian Chamcha’.

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